Papers in the Biological Sciences


Date of this Version

April 2004


Published in Birder's World 18:2 (April 2004), pp. 30-37. Copyright 2004 Kalmbach Publishing Used by permission.
A text-only version is also attached as a "related file".


Two hundred years ago this May, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, together with the three dozen army volunteers and hired hunter-interpreters who made up the Corps of Discovery, departed their winter camp at the mouth of the Missouri River, north of St. Louis, Missouri, and set out to make history. President Thomas Jefferson had charged them with the monumental task of exploring the unknown lands of the Louisiana Territory, purchased from France the year before, and trying to find a navigable route to the Pacific Ocean via the Missouri River. The explorers were also asked to make extensive geological, geographic, anthropological, and biological observations. Their biological duties included the collection of both plant and animal materials, with special consideration to the discovery of possibly medicinally important plants and economically valuable animals. After breaking winter camp, the group took five weeks to travel 300 miles to the mouth of the Kansas River, the future site of Kansas City. By then, they were in true wilderness and began to see many unfamiliar birds and mammals. Through the summer they gradually worked northward, and in late October they reached what is now western North Dakota. There they built Fort Mandan and prepared to endure a long winter prior to heading farther upstream, and farther west, in 1805. The five-month, 2,000-mile trip made by the Corps of Discovery in 1804 can now be made in a car in only a few days. Very few stretches of the middle Missouri River even remotely approach the ecological conditions that it exhibited two centuries ago, yet nearly all the birds and mammals that Lewis and Clark documented in 1804 still exist. The Carolina Parakeet and the Passenger Pigeon, seen later during the expedition in present-day Montana but now extinct, are the sad exceptions. Many refuges, state parks, and historic sites provide birding opportunities to tourists wanting to trace the explorers’ steps two centuries later.

Fort Randall Dam, Mound City, Missouri, Pollock, South Dakota Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge, DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge, Karl E. Mundt and Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge Complex, Pocasse National Wildlife Refuge, Audubon National Wildlife Refuge, Knife River Indian Villages National Historical Site, Cross Ranch State Park and Nature Preserve, Lake Ilo National Wildlife Refuge, Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge

Bald Eagles, Snow Geese, Whip-poor-wills, Carolina Parakeets, Ruffed Grouse, pronghorn, white-tailed jackrabbit, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Greater Prairie-Chickens, Whooping Cranes, Common Raven, Long-billed Curlew, Bobolinks, Clay-colored Sparrows, Common Poorwill, Baird’s Sparrow, LeConte’s Sparrow, Sharp-tailed Sparrow, Sprague’s Pipit, Marbled Godwit, Canada Geese, Common Nighthawk, Great Horned Owl, Baltimore Oriole, House Wren, and Least Flycatcher

John Colter, Sacagawea, Sakakawea, Touissaint Charbonneau,

In Explorers' Footsteps--text only.pdf (44 kB)
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