Recent News

MOU Article Part 2: The epic conclusion to my article in the MOU Newsletter is now live for MOU members.

MOU Spring Primer: I'll be co-presenting on our Washington Count big year in 2017 with Dr. Peter Nichols at the MOU Spring kick off event to be held March 31st at Carpenter Nature Center. See the MOU website for upcoming details.

Friends of Sax-Zim Bog: I have committed to donate and raise money for this great organization as part of their big half year for the bog. My big year is of course finding birds in the MN state parks. Follow this link to my page if you wish to donate and help fund their excellent work in preserving bog lands for future generations to enjoy. Big Douglas Bog Link.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Fort Ridgley - History and Hiking

I decided to run to this park on a whim after finishing Upper Sioux Agency limited visit. Being that I had a sweet bird list already, I decided to see if Fort Ridgley could offer me a quality hike to finish the day.

The great entrance sign showing the history of the park as you enter.

I eventually found the parking area near the historic fort site and monument. This high bluff type area certainly provides a strategic position at the top of a few valleys. I quickly spotted several Bald Eagle moving on the wind currents and both a light and dark morph Rough-legged Hawks moving back north.

After reading some signage and taking a number of historic site pictures I found the hiking club trail nearby.

One section of many building foundations that are all that remain on this location. The mixed in signage paints a good picture of the history.

Any time the sun is right with an obelisk type setup I get one of these blocked illumination pictures for some reason. This monument was erected to commemorate the site and likely provide some much needed eye appeal to what is otherwise a pretty flat historical location.

Deeper into my hike this view shows the museum building and the monument near the old fort foundations.

Much of it appeared to be in the upper prairie and Oak Savannah so I figured it would be a nice hike with limited ice and snow cover.

That was true with a few slope runs that were a bit treacherous as I had to navigate melt water runs as only a few winter hold overs were heard moving about like Dark-Eyed Junco and American Tree Sparrow.

American Tree Sparrow giving me the eye while hiking the trails.

I completed the near 3 mile loop and never saw the Hiking Club password sign so I'm not sure if I just straight missed it or if the sign was not present. I caught all the directional signs, but never saw a password sign so I'll have to see what I can do about that in the event I decide to buy the hiking club trail packet.

My list of birds was thin, but I had a great hike and noted some good prairie, lowland river/stream, and Oak Savannah habitat in the relatively small park. I would like to come back to this location with the wife for the historical value when the museum is open to enjoy the full experience of the state history on display.

The Great: Good trails, nice diversity of habitat though limited for waterfowl along with a great historic element that helps add extra value to a park. I can see coming back at some point when the wife is interested in seeing the fort grounds and museum, though it may not be during this years effort unless I make an attempt to find Red-headed Woodpecker or something on the spring/fall migration.

The Meh: Not finding a password sign sucked and I noted a couple times where the hiking club trail was actually just paved road taking you right down the heart of the campground section so I could see this trail being very people heavy during the warm months. It was still very nice and worth the effort.

The Verdict: I'll come back and enjoyed the relative solitude the location offered while I hiked. I just don't see a ton of bird value during most time frames that would force me to return for some kind of specialty, but we'll see.

Lac Qui Parle - Waterfowl Bomb - Spring Release

No doubt coming into the St. Patrick's Day weekend I was grumpy and just ready for winter to be done. It was very easy to avoid serious birding efforts with iffy weather and other things on the list to do. This one felt different though as the weather was turning at the right time and temps were looking to finally hit normal for this time of year.

Mid-week or so Garret Wee in the western part of the state posted up a note about serious waterfowl building up at Lac Qui Parle State Park. With open water confirmed I didn't hesitate to call this my target location for Saturday.

I was so jacked I set my alarm for 5AM and woke up at 4:15AM instead and got going eating breakfast and packing up my RAV4. I was out the door by the original 5AM alarm heading west out of the cities. I made great time rolling into Lac Qui Parle upper segment just before 8AM.

The look of a man who just slayed it on waterfowl for the last couple hours. Determination and  satisfaction reined supreme on this great outing.

I could see thousands of waterfowl on the open water and opted to drive to the end of the open water zone and pulled off on a nice overlook. Tundra Swans were immediately visible as I quickly started ticking off State Park year and lifetime birds in this historical hotbed of great waterfowl. Minutes after arriving Alex Sundvall pinged my cell phone telling me I had best get to Lac Qui Parle soon with the massive number of birds present. He, Liz Harper, and Kathleen MacAulay were at the south end of the lake doing the same as I was. Pegging every species they possibly could.

I later joined up with them while we ticked off species after species as I ended up pulling 23 species of waterfowl and effectively finishing the vast majority of likely waterfowl in a single day. Any missing birds I had picked up at Myre-Big Island a couple weeks ago and this day had me take in single birds like Blue-winged Teal, Green-winged Teal, and Canvasback. A single Killdeer called from overhead with it's high volume single piercing call. It is never spring for me until a Killdeer calls overhead looking for some mudflats to feed upon.

A bit into the effort another birder friend Gary Reitan stopped by looking to also add some birds to his list after seeing Garret Wee's post. It is something how influential a single social media post really can be at this time of year for people looking to get out of town and get a start on spring waterfowl searching.

First of year waterfowl aside, several were also lifetime State Park birds for me moving my life total to 196. (Adds of American Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Greater & Lesser Scaup, and Ruddy Duck.)

Eventually I had to leave the massive waterfowl grouping and checked out the main office feeders that had been hosting an Evening Grosbeak all winter. That bird was not present, but 4 Purple Finches made it a pleasant stop all the same.

The much coveted duo of Purple Finch and House Sparrow. Well, maybe the first half of that anyway.

I soon checked out the lower unit area of the park on the other side of the lake and found little moving around and wasn't ready to engage in a hike for the day so I quickly moved on and targeted Upper Sioux Agency State Park.

A signage selfie with Upper Sioux, a park I'll have to come back and hike in the future. The ground just wasn't good enough for a proper hike this day. I could see a lot of good sloping terrain that would make it iffy at best.

(I'll likely skip much of a write-up on this park at this time though as the roads were very spongy and all trails looked heavily iced and steep.)

The Great: No doubt about why this park has a waterfowl reputation for this time of year. The open water at the south end of the lake creates a great early staging zone in an area of the state with little open water. I left the day missing only American Black Duck and Red-breasted Merganser for the earlier arriving waterfowl. I will of course need to target Grebe in the near future along with Scoter and Long-tailed Duck in the fall, but for the time being I'm well ahead on these birds being found in a State Park. This should give me flexibility in the coming weeks in deciding locations.

The Meh: Given what this park has to work with, I can see it being a specialist in waterfowl. I look forward to another scoping visit as the spring moves on to see if a rarity can be pulled out of the lake. I didn't see much for additional habitat or long secluded hikes, but every park can't be everything.

The Verdict: This is a must visit for anyone looking to rack up a serious waterfowl total. The high overlook areas and platform viewing zone all provide great looks at the lake. I will be back, even if it is just a scope and go type of effort. I totaled 51 species in my time at the park and blew the doors off even Afton State Park, which I've visited 11 times already this year.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Incremental Spring - Afton

The days keep ticking by and we've already run past Daylight Savings time. Winter has had it's icy grip upon us for what feels like an eternity. With all of this many of the waterfowl are waiting to our south pressed against the snow and ice line in Iowa waiting for the farm fields to open up and the lakes. Until then we have to be satisfied with a few harbingers of spring.

Over the weekend I was limited on bird watching and wasn't able to attend a new State Park. Saturday had a scattered mix of snow to the south over the entire state that I wasn't willing to navigate and plans on Sunday to visit my parents moth balled any remaining options to find a new adventure.

That being the case I was able to get down to Afton after work a couple days ago on a breezy, but sunny day. It was remarkable in that not even a single flock of Canada Geese was to be found flying over the park or up the river. All of the usual resident woodpeckers and song birds were present along with a few American Tree Sparrows working the feeders behind the visitor center.

As I entered the park a Red-tailed Hawk could be seen working close to the road. On a short mile long walk on the paved trail I soon found an American Kestrel, my first in a State Park this year.

American Kestrel working the prairie and roadside areas of Afton State Park.

Given my 10 visits to Afton this year I'm sure this bird was not present all winter so it was perhaps an early raptor migrant starting to move north.

Little else presented itself to me as I walked in the chilled breeze. After about an hour and a half I headed home thinking we really are on the slow incremental path to spring this year compared to some prior years. It was only 2 years ago we had 70 degree days in March with open water and no snow on the ground.

On my last 1/4 mile out of the park a group of American Robins was seen working the exposed road edges for food. At the exit station a lone Northern Shrike was also working for a meal.

Northern Shrike perched low to the ground looking for a meal.

I'm so ready for open ground, green leaves, and long hikes in the parks in relative comfort. Soon.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Rice Lake - Scouting Effort

Finished with a solid hike and sky watch at Myre-Big Island I figured I would make a stop at another new to me park in Rice Lake. I didn't have much in my mind for what I could see at the park on the day, but wanted to at least add another stop and scout for possible habitat.

The entrance sign showed a Bittern (Least?) and I hoped this was indicative of the lake habitat. It certainly was. Though the park had basically shut down the entire road network space except for a single plowed dirt lot off the lake edge and a pit toilette.

I checked the lake out from a dock that was pulled up and sitting high on the banks. The lake has a very large ring of cattails and other emergent vegetation and the space looked perfect for Least Bittern habitat and related birds like Sora, etc... (I could see renting a canoe and really working the lake edges for birds at some point, maybe making a serious attempt for something like Common Gallinule to really spice up the year list.)

I picked up another Song Sparrow starting to sing and some Dark-eyed Juncos were chattering a bit as well, but the park was pretty quiet overall.

I only ended up staying for about 20 minutes as I did not have another crunchy uneven snow hike in me on the day and I had failed to stop for lunch by this time and it was already getting on towards 1PM.

I'll reserve any other comments on this park until I get a chance to really explore and look for key target species after the water melts and we get some more serious migrant action.