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With nearly 9500 county tics this year I'm tired, but not done yet. I have planned efforts nearly every weekend for the next two months to bring this on home. I'll make 10,000 at this point and look at pouring on additional items as time allows.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Focus and Intensity (3 Weeks of Unreal)

So it can go without saying that I've not blogged in a long while now this year. The main reason for that is this 10,000 ticks goal effort has been the most intense effort of my life. I've sunk everything I have into this goal and have often left nothing in the tank to reflect, write, or do much of anything else. Those moments where I did take a breathe I was actually doing guide work or presentations for groups. I presented an inspirational talk to the St. Croix Birding Club in River Falls, WI about my State Park big year in 2018, I also provided emcee support for the annual MOU spring primer a role that was very new to me and was an amazing experience. In the guide category I provided my 5th year in a row doing guide support for the Hastings Earth Day Bird Festival and then followed that up with guide support at Grey Cloud Dunes SNA for our 3rd (4th?) Big Sit put on by Sharon "Birdchick" Stitler.

Of course much of this fits with my interests as I continue to expand my presentation and public speaking skills while also working on birding in groups and guide support in general. Though I don't personally think I'm a great guide, I enjoy the process and getting people on quality birds along with providing tips and tricks for identifications that can be challenging.

So back to the 10K effort and where things sit today and what has happened. I just wrapped up 3 weeks of vacation from work (literally all I had available) and in that time I touched 75 of the 87 counties in Minnesota with serious birding efforts in all but a couple of those 75. (I personally drove over 5,000 miles during this time.) The weather was a challenge in some cases and in others the birds were just plain late. Having timed my efforts in the far north to the best window possible I still ended up several days ahead of the migrant crush and often struggled to pull in large numbers that should have been much easier to get.

Where I had hoped to knock out a dozen counties in a single shot almost none breached the 100 mark meaning I will definitely need to return this summer or early fall for more species. (Not the end of the world.) All else has fallen into place though as I pulled in nearly 4,000 ticks in the month of May and really put myself in great position for the remainder of the year. At this point my total is over 100 days ahead of pace to complete at the end of year. (Meaning if I get basic numbers daily to about September I will finish the goal of 10,000.)

I have many stories to tell and pictures (Instagram - hj70ft for some of the pics) to share, though I'll continue that process with written articles for Minnesota Birding Newsletter (MOU publication) and then begin to outline a broader effort that will go into the book I wish to write in 2020. It is not always the case that we can have things mapped out for the future, but I feel more clear on this than on many things in life. Working on this goal after last years State Park big year and then mentally working out my desires to write something big and fun like a novel are all on a roadmap in my mind that continues to arc in the directions I'd hoped they would. I'm confident that I can write something of substance and value to the birding community and hopefully something others on the fringe of birding can appreciate and enjoy as well. I don't want that written form to be just a recounting of the events of the year, I deeply desire to delve into many topics and peel back my own feelings and interpretations of the things and situations I found myself in throughout the last couple years.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Spring Waterfowl - The Grind - Beastmode Days

Thanks to a run of good weather the road to making up a slow February is clear. I touched 20 counties in the last 7 days as I worked a full 80 hour week. (Grand total of 53 counties this year) In just 2 days over the weekend I put up 310 new county ticks against 176 in all of February. This thanks to a 19 hour odyssey with Liz Harper that had us hit Steele, Freeborn, Faribault, Martin, Jackson, Nobles, Rock, and Murray. The final stop was thanks to a key tip from Aaron Ludwig. He had reached out earlier in the day noting with coordinates 2 stops that had serious waterfowl numbers. We continued our efforts and then made Murray our final stop before dark, scoping out a lot of waterfowl and picking up pretty much everything you could with the exception of Ruddy Duck, Ross's Goose, and Blue-winged Teal.

That weekend feast of waterfowl allowed counties like Rock and Murray to jump in with 45 and 42 species in just and hour or so  of birding each with no prior birds to bolster the numbers since it was my first visit of the year.
Dakota County officially took the top overall spot with 64 species and Goodhue leapt up to 3rd with 55. I'm now no longer 100% sure that Washington will take the top spot at years end. With the amount of work I have to do out of county it is possible places like Dakota with more natural migrant density will end up reigning supreme.

In the species battle to 87 we have now American Crow tied with Rock Pigeon at 48 counties and Black-capped Chickadee at 46. I'm hopeful that I can get more than one species to a full 87 by years end, but I'm curious which one will win the race to 87. Should be a fun mini game.
I continue to be amazed at Pine Siskin as it moved up with 33 counties now. As a heavily irruptive winter visitor it is awesome to see even with February being heavily impacted on effort by weather that I could record this bird in so many counties already. Horned Lark has also quickly run up to 35 county ticks and is a good litmus as the first real migrant in the state for how well I'm covering the southern half of the state so far.

With MOU Spring Primer duties (I'll be the emcee of the event being held at Carpenter Nature Center) coming up on Saturday I'll need to grind extra hard this week and Sunday to attempt to get fully back on or even ahead of projected pace. This last weekend moved the needle from a top of being 14 days off modified pace to just 3.8 days behind. Though this is always tough as every morning I wake up a new day is added to the count so 3.8 was last night and now it is 4.8. This gain though has been a huge mental boost to know with the effort and good weather I can erase such a deficit due to weather.
This week will continue to be waterfowl focused and I'll be looking to see how far I can stretch out from metro on a weekday after work and still be successful. Knowing I can put up 40+ ticks on a county in an hour helps to get a vibe on what is possible, especially if I know a quality spot in advance for migrants.

Today I sit at 1450 species ticks out of the desired 10,000. This has already been an amazing adventure and extreme challenge and I'm still strong and excited to continue. Life is good.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Spring Routes - Updates

This blog has fallen behind mostly due to the load of effort needed to bird in 87 counties towards my 10K ticks in one year goal. The weather stopped cooperating a little bit into February and really very little was to be said about things. I was on pace to hit 1500 to 1600 species ticks by end of February and I didn't make 1000 until 3/16 with an American Tree Sparrow in Sherburne county.

With flooding now hitting or threatening to hit in the key places I need to be in the coming weeks it is going to be very interesting how to handle things.

Ag road routes have really picked up with Horned Lark migration really surging and being able to find Snow Bunting with more regularity. I've also continued to pour on Pine Siskin ticks with 29 counties so far, which is super cool for a semi-irruptive bird.

I even found Purple Finch in 2 counties over the weekend thanks to males singing spring songs now. I got visuals in both cases, but their songs grabbed my attention first in both cases. Really helps to know the finch songs as well as contact calls for the ag birds. Rolling down a country road slow with the window down you can pick out Snow Bunting over Horned Lark with relative ease.

I even had a super flock (150) of Common Redpoll over the weekend that I thought were Lapland Longspur until I saw a number of them move from corn field to tree tops. Guess I've never seen Redpolls land in a corn field before.

My hopes right now are that a melt is reasonable enough to not flood out the entire southern half of the state when I need to visit it for waterfowl, ag birds, and migrant hawks. If things do flood out to a serious degree, I'll have to come up with a different plan.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Good Birds at -40

I set out at 4:00AM back on Saturday morning getting picked up by Kevin Smith and Gerry Hoekstra for a northbound adventure. They had been planning a Koochiching County circuit and invited me along knowing I needed all counties for my 10K year effort. As light was just starting to come up in Virginia, MN (St. Louis county) we found some warm water outflow on a lake in town and noted some basic water birds (plus a Hooded Merganser) with an Otter being attacked by a Bald Eagle.

We made a stop in Cook also to drive Johnson road hoping for woodpecker magic, but managed just some Pine Grosbeak and a Canada Jay for the effort. We eventually made it to Koochiching and started racking up good birds with double-digit negative temps the entire time.

My first visual interaction with a flock of White-winged Crossbills happened and it was amazing. The light was perfect and we got to see male and female birds feeding on spruce/fir cones with some of my pics showing some cool tongue shots as the birds extracted seeds.

This trip featured Pine Grosbeak nearly everywhere we went in the county, it was amazing how many have come south this year in the northern forest areas. We continued to put up quality birds including both Redpolls and Pine Siskins in the expected strong numbers. Even an American Robin in Big Falls was present to round out the numbers. Though we dipped on key boreal woodpeckers we had plenty of quality up into International Falls with a flock of Bohemian Waxwing showing at one of our last locations. The birds flew shortly after being found and actually headed to Canada at that point over the Rainy River.

The next morning we woke up to -40 degrees and car doors that had frozen seals making door latches close very poorly. It was crazy as even the neoprene strap on Kevin's bins froze stiff. The biggest bonus though was stepping out of the hotel in the morning and hearing Red Crossbill calling from nearby stand of pines. We weren't able to get on the birds with optics, but the calls were good as Pine Grosbeak and Siskin joined the morning chorus. These are some hearty birds for sure.

We began driving to Beltrami County at this point and got Northern Shrike and Ruffed Grouse on the way for a couple more bonus Koochiching birds giving us 25. Beltrami was pretty cooperative also as we pulled in some nice birds, but dipped on Boreal Chickadee and Black-backed Woodpeckers. Some city feeders gave us good hits on winter finches though and we stopped for some open water hold overs giving us Hooded Merg, Ring-necked Duck, and Pied-billed Grebe as really tough January birds for the area.

It was at this time we tempted fate and drove to Callaway towards the incoming snow storm in hopes of picking up the Brambling that had been reported by a home owner. We made the 1.5 hour drive and picked up some Becker County Redpolls on the way. As we got to the driveway snow was starting to fly and within minutes we pulled in Pine Siskin, Purple Finch, and several others for key Becker county winter birds. In short order the Brambling (European and Siberian resident) dropped down to the feeder station and gave us great looks.

We lingered for a short period and then got on our horse looking to outrun the storm. It snowed most of the time we were on the road (4 hours) but we stayed at the front edge pretty well and the roads were great. Kevin Smith drove the entire weekend and provided me with some great non-driving rest time for the second time this year. I owe him big time at this point and can easily say he's helped me get a lot of tics this year that I may have missed otherwise.