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Spring is finally coming. After grinding out birds in 8 counties over the weekend I crested 1000 county ticks on the year.

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.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Midweek Quad Owl

As this year just kicks off I started to see the need for my weekday efforts to begin targeting specific unique birds after work. The amount of time from 3PM to dark (roughly 5PM) is so small that I need to be efficient with my time and the ability to binge on birds in a county drops each day as I cover the core counties more completely.

So on Wednesday (16th) I had a plan. I would drive into Minneapolis after work in the traffic looking to track down an Eastern Screech owl that had been provided to me by friends. I would then couple that with an airport snowy owl hunt, which I'm never really confident in honestly.

I assumed these efforts would take my available time and maybe I'd stop somewhere to listen for other owls. My first stop along the river was a success after about 20 minutes where I found the red morph Eastern Screech soaking up the waning sun in a tree cavity facing the river. (Pictures on my Instagram under hj70ft username.) The hardest part of this hunt was realizing this bird is an absolute champion at hide and seek even in good light. I quickly motored down Cedar Avenue to get to Cargo road at the airport to give myself a chance at the Snowy Owl hanging out this year.

I believed I found the bird after a couple minutes in a pile of snow that remained on a runway edge. I got my camera and confirmed with some long range shots. At the same time a gentlemen stepped of his car indicating he had taken a picture of the same area, but no owl was in the pile. I kindly noted the bird was present and showed picture to him from my camera. He was amazed to have missed it with his camera pictures and asked what my reach was. After he heard 3000mm was the Nikon P1000 reach (125x zoom) he understood better that as a non-photographer I was under a lower quality option that had the ability to cheat distance in a way high end optics can't.

Brimming with confidence I ran to Bass Ponds area looking to maybe add Hennepin Brown Creeper or a freshly reported Tufted Titmouse while my luck was up. I arrived at the lot and started putting my backpack together. I hadn't left the parking lot when I heard 2 Barred Owl hooting back and forth in the adjacent valley. 3 Owls in about 1 hour total of time!

I hiked in and ran into Pete Hoeger looking to add the Tufted Titmouse also. I didn't have any luck on that front, but soon multiple Brown Creeper sounded off as well as a Northern Flicker from nearby. Later near sundown I was able to get my Hennepin American Tree Sparrow. As I hiked the last 1/4 mile before going back up the long entrance road a Great Horned Owl started to sound off as well from the hillside trees. It entered as my 4th Hennepin owl species in about 3 hours time and certainly something I won't soon forget.

My targeted efforts netted 9 new county tics even though I was laser focused just on the first 2. I'm guessing the very active Bass Ponds area was benefiting from our first bought of sunshine in many days with birds being extra active until late into the daylight hours.

Just goes to show how much you can accomplish from 3PM to dark and even after the sun drops.