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More coming soon on 2019 goal of 10K County Tics in one year.

Friday, October 12, 2018

2018 Grind & 2019 Goal Planning

So…yes, I’ve kind of gone dark lately on blog posting and updates. I’d say it’s for a good reason, but that is likely up to the reader to decided. The fall season does get very busy with birding events and efforts as I finally completed 2 different presentation efforts that required a combined 40 to 50 hours of prep time that included building new PowerPoint presentations and scripting, not to mention mock presentation efforts. Once those were in the bag I also had several sample stationary count efforts that led up to the 2nd annual Carpenter Nature Center/MOU migratory hawk watch at the end of September. After pilling all of that effort on the list I still got out for regular birding efforts of my own interests.
This included me starting to research in earnest an even more ambitious goal for 2019 that would likely press me orders of magnitude more than the State Park effort did this year that I’m still far behind on recounting in this blog. Though I haven’t 100% committed myself to going after this new goal of getting 10,000 county tics in 1 year in Minnesota I’m working very hard putting several hours a day into the research and discussion needed for something like this to be possible while holding down a full time job. I even drove to Duluth for a day of birding and discussion with Alex Sundvall to get some perspective on what is possible and not possible in such a massive goal. I have another meeting planned with the very well-traveled Liz Harper to further discuss this plan and the level of complete lunacy that it contains. I sat down for a period of time with good friend Peter Nichols to talk about this lunacy as well.

At the core I’m trying to super-charge my own experience in MN birding in hopes to propel several elements of my interests in birding; covering writing, presenting, and educational platforms. I feel like extending my state-wide knowledge to the next level will help add credibility to much of the platforms that have opened up to me in the last 2 years around guide work, presenting, etc…

I still want to get my writings completed for the remaining state park efforts that I engaged in this last year, but they will probably continue to trickle in slowly as I put a serious amount of effort into this goal research and preparation. Not to mention the number of new State Park stops that will be included in a year such as this one I’m proposing as many State Parks are basically super collectors for given counties that can help warp the effort needed in some counties. At an average of 115 species per county it almost seems possible, until you realize while staring at a State map that there are 87 counties to do that in during the year. Many problems exist with this plan, but I’ve gotten a number of pledges for help in counties that others know really well so it starts to seem more and more possible if you can count on those support efforts during the entire year. This may be my chance to extend out my birding efforts to include birding with online friends that come together in various Facebook groups.

This all seems like a grand adventure that can add to what I started with the State Park Big Year. More to come as I’ve continued to bird at a heavy pace while brain storming new ways to do something epic.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Glendalough – Cube Thief

It was mid-afternoon by the time I pulled into the prairie grass entrance of Glendalough State Park. It had past the peak temperature of the day, but the heat was still radiating down in this open space. I jumped out of the car for my customary sign selfie and set up my mini Rubik’s Cube that has been coming along to each park. I went and set the cube on the sign in a conspicuous location only to hear it fall. I looked behind and saw nothing and suddenly realized the massive metal fabricated sign was actually hollow. My cube had fallen several feet into the inner structure of the sign and would not be coming back out again. This was my second such cube claimed by a park sign and finally put me off bothering to include a trip avatar on my journeys.

As I cursed a bit under my breath I heard the unmistakable stuttering of a Dickcissel, followed by several others. They had made their way north and helped soothe a rankled spirit. Undaunted by my lost avatar I examined the map a bit and decided with many miles under my belt on the day I should limit my distance and take a couple of mini routes to get a feel for the park. I would start with Sunset Lake Trail a nice short loop around a small lake. The area had adjacent prairie showing at least a couple Bobolink moving about as well as some Oak Savanna that promised potential for Red-headed Woodpecker, but didn’t deliver on that this day. I hadn’t even realized at the time I was nearly halfway done with my first visit to the State Parks before seeing a Great Egret in one of them. This small lake must have been close to a rookery of some kind, but I couldn’t see it on property if it was. Though to be fair I didn’t take the large hiking club hike around Annie Battle Lake so that might have held a hidden rookery.
This park was one of the early points where I noted just hatched Wood Duck young swimming around with their mother as they complained anytime she out distanced them by more than a few feet, often scampering to her before striking out for something tasty on the surface.
After my short lake loop I drove further, avoiding the west side of Annie Battle Lake showing many cars at the campground area. I landed on the trial center at the south end of Blanche Lake hoping to check some back water areas along the Beaver Pond Interpretive Trail. Avoiding the beach area I struck off through the woods towards the biggest lake and found it clogged with leisure and sport boaters. I angled towards the wooded areas that would loop me into some backwater areas. At a short boardwalk I had my first State Park Yellow-headed Blackbirds of the year, likely nesting in the swamp area I was viewing. A Marsh Wren chatted briskly from the reeds as I made my way along the trail back towards the parking area. I stumbled upon a pet cemetery near this area that took me off guard.

Of course I snagged a pic and sent it home to my wife as we had just recently watched the Stephen King film Pet Sematary. (Yes, the title is spelled that way.) Apparently the area was a hunting club retreat many years ago and this was the resting place of many faithful hunting dogs that came with their owners to the retreat to help. I’m sure it has it’s charms, but was a creepy thing to run into in the woods when you don’t expect something like that in a State Park.
All other birds I would say were expected and nothing really crazy presented itself during my hikes in the park. I put up 45 species in 2.5 miles of hiking, which for the time of day wasn’t terrible. I know a good amount of hiking is left in this park, but honestly I did not find the space very inspiring. It was a decent space with some reasonable hiking, but many people drove all the way into the park looking to use the beach creating a sort of bustling atmosphere. I never got the feeling I could steal away from the humanity for more than a few minutes while hiking. Though I do feel I need to get a shot at the Lake Emma Trail and the floating blind that is provided. Perhaps as a spring (post thaw) or fall effort. My small slice in time for the park likely wasn’t adequate enough to make a serious determination on the quality of birding.

The Great: The park provides a nice diversity in habitat in a relatively small space. With most of the park taken up by lakes it does compress the natural space a bit, but it was nice to find Yellow-headed Blackbird and I would do well to return at some point to see what kind of waterfowl stage on the lakes either heading north or south.

The Meh: The solid dose of humanity does turn me off to some spaces just because they often don’t handle the crowd very well for the size of the space. When I have to look for a parking spot at a trail center that typically tells me it is not going to meet my primary goals. The saving grace was that the majority of the people were hanging at the beach area away from my primary hiking locations.

The Verdict: Given time I can see using this as a stop point to check out the Emma Lake area as it has Wildlife Protection zone around it that might provide some interesting spaces to explore as a birder. It might also be a lot better in the pre-vacation periods before humanity starts running into the park at a higher clip.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Maplewood - Welcome to the jungle.

I rolled into Maplewood State Park at nearly straight up noon on June 9th

My camera pretty much stayed glued to my shoulder the whole time, with a grinding hot hike of 4.5 miles. 

Certainly well into the breeding season and beyond migratory windows so the majority of birds should certainly be setting up shop so to speak. The day in the NW portions of the state was an order of magnitude hotter than in the twin cities. Back home it was 74, but in Maplewood State Park and the surrounding areas it was in the mid-80’s with a blasty sun shining down. I pulled into the trail center that is a sort of nexus for the entire park trail system with options sprawling off in all directions.
At 9,200 acres I really didn’t know how much to bite off on this trip considering I had just done 3.5 miles at Buffalo River and the heat had already set in on the prairie for that hike. I settled on some portion of the hiking club trail and some edge prairie that would loop me around and between a couple lakes (Grass, Bass, Beers). This section of the park lives up to the name and was loaded with nice forest area. The lakes provided some nice water and edge marsh habitat, but the trail segments were pure forest hiking like I used to prefer exclusively many years ago. The air was still though and the forest was nearly suffocating in the heat.
It was a non-ideal situation for bird noise, but I did find Yellow Warbler and American Redstart in droves filling in every forest and lake edge space possible. Ovenbirds filled in any remaining gaps giving at least a non-stop cacophony of song in the dark wooded spaces. Elevations rose up and dropped down regularly and I found the hike to be enjoyable and filled with solitude. Later in the hike I found a Chestnut-sided Warbler foraging in the open heat on a snag and singing from time totime as well. I had gotten onto a bit of a horse trail by this time and the more sandy path was radiating a slow burn.
I put up 52 species during the hike, a respectable number considering I was forcing a mid-day hike in the heat. With the nice forest plus lake/pond habitat I heard a Red-Shouldered Hawk calling out along with a couple Broad-winged Hawks on territory screaming in the forest.
Nothing in the effort really surprised me, but I did enjoy what I did see of the park. I kind of feel bad looking back on the park map and seeing the entire ‘West Park Area’ loaded with even higher hills (topping 1,560’) and having not gotten into that space at all. A second visit would have me explore this space by hiking and driving to the South Lida Lake areas. It seriously looks like another park left to visit and I put 4.5 miles into Maplewood in the crazy heat of the day.
With over a mile left to the car I had mis-calculated water use and was already empty. My thought was I really needed to pick up the pace back. Knowing myself I didn’t want to slow roll that mile and risk dehydration before getting to my next park on the day. I passed by the horse camp loaded with people sitting out the heat with their horses tied off in the shade. During this time I crossed few hikers on the trails and enjoyed the time alone, despite seeing a full campground and horse camp on this East Park Area.
The Great: The park is massive, didn’t feel crowded, though of course I hiked in the middle of a hot day so perhaps may more people would be moving on other days and times. I’m encouraged by the prospect of more habitat and evenelevation on the west side so this place has a lot to explore. The nexus point for a trail center really seems to provide a point to get to a large majority of the parks trail system and could easily show up at this spot and do several large loops withoutreally doubling up on any given trail.
The Meh: Beyond hitting some nasty temps, this park has a great level of available options for the hiker/birder. I’d love to see a morning effort in spring and what you can put together. Perhaps a single limiting factor is that this park is not sitting adjacent to a major river so it’s not really on the flyway in a normal sense. That can limit boom cycle bird fall out, but even in the heat over 50 species is pretty respectable.
The Verdict: This is an easy return at some point, as long as I don’t have a secondary agenda. This large of a space needs time to explore and enjoy all the elements. The prospect of some serious elevation change is exciting and I’d love to check this out in mid-May.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Blog Update and Events Coming Up...

Some readers might be surprised to find that I have actually completed my State Park Big Year already. I got myself to 73 State Parks and State Recreational Areas before the end of July. It was a feverish pace that had me grinding out awesome trip after trip with Itasca State Park being the last one on my list.

With a family reunion on my wife's side at Itasca it was always a plan to hit that park during the family event, but as it turned out I was able make it the very last planned location for my big year. I decided to at least put this up now as the date details in my posts have been pretty disjunct from the actual current date due to the massive (~30) park back log of posts I need to write.

Having also written multiple articles for publication during this time and now starting 2 different presentations coming up this month for birding programs. (Teaching Birding 101 at Midwest Mountaineering in Minneapolis coming up on the evening of 9/12 and then presenting at the MRVAC meeting on 9/27 on the subject of finding rare birds. Open to the public!) I felt I should at least get word out on what the hold up is with getting blog posts out for these parks I've long since explored and enjoyed.

I'll also be providing count support and identification work for the 2nd annual fall raptor count at Carpenter Nature Center, which will be co-hosted by the MOU with early morning hours providing passerine count and identification. This event will be 9/29 starting at 9AM. This event is one we are quickly getting tuned up and primed for with our first sample count already happening back on 9/3 with a few good raptors like (7) Osprey moving south along with a Coopers Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Bald Eagle (4), and an amazing array of Warblers along with an early Lincoln's Sparrow and Purple Finch (2). I personally plan to complete multiple pre-count efforts this month to get a feel for how migration of Raptors is progressing.

Not to be out done by myself I'll be co-running a Fall sea duck route trip for the MOU with Peter Nichols in the East and North metro areas in November on the 10th. You can pick up details on MOU Facebook page and I would expect in the next published newsletter for MOU members.  

Donation update on my Big Half Year for the Bog. As that program wrapped up at the end of June I was knee deep in planning for my last segments of State Park visits. I decided to donate $73.00 of my own money to Friends of Sax-Zim Bog and just found out my donation match request with my company was approved so FOSZB can't expect another $73.00 coming by the end of the month. I know they just finished construction on a bog boardwalk a few weeks ago, which will be super exciting during all times of the year. They have a donate button on their website and I would love to hear of others giving to them so more bog can be preserved and opened up for birders and naturalists to explore.