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

Sunday, December 9, 2018

2019 - Planning and Recon Continues

Since my last update I vaguely noted planning stages and work for a goal of 10K county tics next year. I've been working hard at building a Facebook group of county birders willing to help me in spaces they have great knowledge. At the same time I've been building my county level Google maps that is not approaching 2500 map points culled from eBird, Birder's Guide to MN, The Nature Conservancy, as well as several other county parks sources and related web sites. (Not to mention the All Outdoors Atlas editions [3] I have for the state and the State Forest, SNA, WPA, and WMA details from the DNR.)

I'm pulling all this information into a single mega map (I hope it doesn't crash or need to be split into multiple maps.) so that I can build efficient routes in 2019 for attempting to count as many species in each county as possible.

I've also been running out on multiple late season routes to get a feel for how many species I can put up in a county or at a hot spot late into fall. This included efforts down to Brownsville in Houston county to count Tundra Swans and anything else that was present in the area and most recently a route hitting agriculture areas south of the cities. During this 8 hour span I travelled from Washington to Hennepin to Scott, and then wound my way around Le Sueur, Rice, Steele, Dodge, Goodhue, and Dakota. What all of this told me is that there are not many birds out on the dirt roads in these ag locations. I ran into one large group (17) of Horned Lark; which isn't even a true winter ag bird since you can get them easier in the spring. I also ran into a large flock (2) of Eastern Bluebird, making the trip really stick out that running ag routes is not likely to net me what I'm looking for in Jan/Feb. I had nothing in the raptor side of things beyond Red-tailed Hawk and Bald Eagle the entire day, meaning in all those counties I didn't see Rough-legged Hawk, Northern Shrike, or Snowy Owl the entire day. In fact I didn't pick up any American Kestrel or Merlin either.

All of this informs my leaning to focus my Jan/Feb on getting north for finches and owls in the boreal locations while also giving the open water river areas more time for Merganser/Goldeneye and related water birds. During the day yesterday I found Brown Creeper in 2 counties while looking for waterfowl at least providing some winter value. Beyond this I will also look for feed stations to provide value also in key locations like State Parks, Nature Centers, and places like Sax-Zim Bog. Now perhaps with good shared knowledge I'll be aware of nice private (but friendly) feed stations that I can see as well in cities to help bolster numbers. The big thing I'm seeing is that I can't count on winter ag routes to really provide a much value beyond having a shot at finding some birds as I drive from location to location looking to focus on other bird groups.

In the center one of the Mute Swans hanging out at Old Cedar Ave in Hennepin County lately. This was a state bird for me mostly because I've put off making an effort for one and dipped several times on other ones. You can just see the orange bill and knob on this bird tucked in and luckily it was visible while sleeping.

This Northern Flicker was in Morristown near the open water cannon river. Also present was a Belted Kingfisher and a White-throated Sparrow at a nearby feeder. Now I'm not saying I need to work for Flickers in the winter, but I'm rejecting the notion that such birds won't add value to my year. I never know when I'll be in a county again so every bird gained it 1 more I don't have to get later. Knowing this small town with open water produced 12 species in just 10 minutes is a big help. 12 species in a deep winter month is a big number in one spot and takes a lot of pressure off that county.

These crazy Eastern Bluebirds were in a flock of 20 on dirt road and river crossing in Steele County near Medford, MN. The water was open and these little river crossings could be key in deep winter efforts to just shoulder the car and give a 5 or 10 minute listen and look for overwintering birds. Or even just to tic Junco and related birds with relative ease.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Season of Giving

An update on volunteer time and charitable giving. As I started to enter my volunteer time into my companies giving portal I realized I had put in a healthy number of hours as a volunteer already this year with more yet to go. (>30 hours) For any readers that do volunteer time with charitable organizations, make sure to look into whether your company offers any matching programs. My company will match personal monetary donations, but also will let you enter time donated and once you reach 30 hours in a year they will deposit $500 in a giving account to be donated as I please. This effectively means my organizations of choice this year will get paid twice in many cases.

I still have volunteer efforts coming up with a November 3rd bird walk guide effort at Carpenter Nature Center starting at 9AM (filling in for the always excellent Kevin Smith) and then the next week on the 10th I’ll guide a North-East Metro Sea Duck trip with Peter Nichols for the MOU. (See the MOU Facebook page for details on the event and remaining open spots.)

My main point on this post is to note that it pays to pay attention to what programs your work may offer relating to volunteer efforts. I now consider it a serious benefit from my company that my volunteer time can pay up to $500 for donating to the same organizations I put my time into, creating a double-bonus. 

With my cash donation memberships in some of these organizations coupled with the $500 earned donation money I’ve help bring in…
$250 to Carpenter Nature Center
$250 to Hawk Ridge
$246 to Friends of Sax-Zim Bog

On top of the 30 hours + 7 more hours planned this year yet that I’ll volunteer.

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.