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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Of Swans and Larks

A couple of outings recently had me and Melissa tracking down Mute Swan near the MN/WI border. The open sections of river best viewed from Prescott, WI were at first looking to be devoid of much beyond small groups of Mallard and Goldeneye until I spotted 3 swans way down river just about to round a corner. The recent Mute sightings were of 3 birds so I figured this must be them. Within minutes though 8 Trumpeter Swans flew overhead and knocked that theory on its tail.

We then had the idea to see about another viewing point that might offer a look around the corner in the river. It turns out just a mile or so south is a great overlook in WI that is also a nature center. This bluff line view of the river was perfect for viewing a large section of the river. We soon found another 25+ Trumpeter Swans and the 3 Mute mixed in as well. Understanding you are never fully sure the Mute are actually wild didn’t really matter to me. They are birds in the wild with a juvenile and that was good enough for me. They ended up only being on the WI side, so no MN Mute Swan for us, but still a good bird to get.

We later the next day did a Snow Bunting run, but ended up just getting 50 total Horned Larks in two different main locations. The first large group was located around Randolph’s Great Western Industrial Park and the second was sprinkled along the 180th street area from HWY 52 all the way to Northfield BLVD. This was groups of 1 to 4 all along the road. It was a nice search that also showed us a random group of Trumpeter Swan feeding and sleeping in a farm field just south of Woodbury on Neal Ave.

A fun day of road hunting as we tried for Bunting and Longspur, but just hit the Larks mostly. Oh, and a lone Kestrel working the power lines on 180th Street.

Now we are just waiting on the weather to improve so spring migration can start happening.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Bird Song Testing

Looking for a little bit better method of learning my bird songs I started looking for a quiz/test interface that would do it for me. Basically something that will allow playing of the call and then let me come up with the name and check the answer. I didn't really find anything like this as most of birding is designed as a field guide approach to paper, digital, etc. So you look up a species and it gives you the details you need.

What I want though is a quiz of a similar group of birds and to not know what I'm getting and in what order. Then to be able to test my knowledge and learn as I go. To do this I had to come up with something on my own and I decided to try and repurpose what I already had available to me. - Provides me the bird calls. I had to look deeper into tracks I wanted and then find the direct, no frills, link to the call track. Once I found that in the code for their autoplay frame as an MP3 link I was able to reference it directly without carrying along the bird name and related text.

Google Sheets - Basically Google's version of a Spreadsheet provides an online cloud solution for spreadsheet. I developed a way to mask the bird call link in a 6 character random number. In that same field I also put a note that is only visible when you ask for it to be shown.

Now when I browse to my Google sheet of this quiz from say my iPad, I see a list of 6 digit numbers. I click on one and a player opens to play the track. I have to click play button since mobile device browsers restrict autoplay. Once I'm done with the track I then go back to the Google sheet and click the note to reveal the identity.

The quiz works pretty well for my test group, which was all of the Flycatcher family that I might run into when in the Dakotas and Minnesota. I also have the structure built to quiz out all major groups of birds like Wood Warblers, Sparrows, etc... I just need to go get the valid MP3 links. Maybe at some point I'll open the quiz up to the world to use. The other feature of the quiz is that when anything changes on the screen the random numbers regenerate. This allows then the sortting of the column on the sheet which then reorders the list of calls. This effectively makes sure the quiz is never in the same order so you can't use that as a crutch. Not bad for something hacked together using tools/apps already available on the web.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Flycatcher Songs

Working on Flycatcher song lately. I’ll be seeing a number of them on my Dakota circuit this year and I’ve never really been solid on Alder/Willow/Acadian so I’m working hard on that kind of stuff this winter so that spring and summer will be a better id period for me on the trouble groups.

Example of below of my thoughts as I hear them and try to commit to memory. I associate the sound with wording maybe that I’ve read or something else if the reading doesn’t translate well in my head to the sound I’m hearing. I’m using the online Macaulay Library which is insane for how many audio and video items that have for each bird. Much better/deeper than most of the field guides and way beyond other sources like YouTube.

Alder – ReeBee to my ear going up and down a buzzy scale in pitch. Always reminds me of an old metal washboard for some reason with something wooden run across it.
Willow – Spit Zee to me. Ritz Bew by many book sources or Pit Spear. Always sounds spat out to me so the Pit Spear is better. The two notes are clear and separate with the first being much more spitty.
Acadian – Keet or Peet really loud single note with pause until the next a couple / few seconds later. Sometimes doubled up, but mostly just a loud yelled out Keet.
Cordilleran – Tweet Seet very fast with a pretty high pitch.
Dusky – CheUp Twe or CheUp Tweep or just CheUp sounding. High pitch on first double note call and then much lower with a T sounding start for the second note.
Yellow-bellied – CheBunk given very quickly. Just that two note piece run together. Didn’t seem to vary much more and spaced out from the next call by at least 4 seconds usually more.
Least – CheBec smacked out quick and often in close succession. A much sassier version of the above Yellow-bellied and a lot more urgency to the call.

The Macaulay Library is pretty sweet, sitting with an iPad tossing names in an having dozens of clips of great quality is pretty good. Even pulled out a Hooded Warbler and Veery calling in the background of a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher clip. The clips are nice and long in many cases 4 to 10 minutes allowing you to take in the whole forest of sounds and get a feel for the bird call in the environment.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Just Getting Ready for the Season

Title reminds me of Caddyshack when Ty Webb has a guest over and he says he's just getting ready for the season. The guest asks whether that season is duck. His reply is golf. Much of my free time has been me getting ready for the season, in this case birding. I have grander plans this year than those of the past where I specifically didn't allow myself to chase many birds and instead focused on birding regularity and trying to extend my birding activities well past spring migration.

This year I have already been chasing a little bit within reason and also taking several birding trips that never happened in the past. This shows in my having a great many more birds this year already than I have in any prior year.

My planning has been centered on the North and South Dakota circuit I plan on taking in advance of our family reunion for Melissa's side in the Black Hills. I have been tracking down sighting patterns during July for many key birds of the area and figuring out what driving locations are worth the effort along with what trails will be of value to hike and explore.

Spawning out of this has been my desire to include some spring activity that includes key new sites that are a bit further flung than most short day trips. This has brought into play the need to figure out if I need a bird festival in some areas or if I should just explore on my own and at my own pace. Things like the Detroit Lakes festival in NW MN and the Prairie's and Potholes festival in ND. I know my comfort level jumped a lot when I did the Sax-Zim festival last year allowing me multiple individual trips now with targetted efforts. I just wonder if all of that is really needed now and if I should just strike out on my own and explore the areas I spotlight.

Involvement: I'm signed on via Kevin Smith to volunteer at the Hastings Bird Day being sponsored by the Carpenter Nature Center this April. This should be a good opportunity to learn some things and also hopefully help others learn something about birds and birding.

Joining: I'm looking at joining one of the local Audubon groups in order to be more involved in birding and bird conservation efforts. I think so far the MRVAC group that meets at the NWR headquarters near the MOA (Mall of America) is my best bet. It's the closest meeting location of the 3 local groups and is a pretty strong member base.

Study: I have been putting a good amount of time into study on bird groups in order to be more preparred for this years birding efforts. Focus has been on the Flycatchers based on songs and look when possible. I have also been working on Gull and Shorebird groups as well lately. I have noticed an uptick on my gulls this year as I was able to read lots of content, but also apply some of it while up at Duluth Canal park multiple times this year already. That helped bring in Herring, Thayer's, Iceland, and Glaucous gulls. I'm starting to be able to pull appart the multiple cycles of birds present in a location as well as seperate species that are pretty close. I probably have a lot of work to do with stuff like Herring vs Thayer's, but I am much better now than I was. Sparrows are also getting more attention as I look to increase my life list this year with Brewer's, Le Conte's, Baird's, and Nelson's. These will need sound and visual work for me, but it's all enjoyable study time as I look forward to time in some prairie settings and canyon settings.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Duluth? Again? Yep.

The lure of quality birds and good weather was to much to ignore yet again. With little to do on a Sunday I decided on another run north. The radar and forecast was looking good and then I learned what the lake can produce on it's own. 20+ mph wind with sleet, snow, and cold. Luckily the Subaru can take care of business and I rolled into Duluth Canal park by 7:45am after getting up at 5am to leave. Birding is a special kind of crazy.

My goal on the day was gulls at Canal Park and then some specialties at Agate Bay in Two Harbors.

Gulls were just coming into the canal to rest on the ice and wait for food. I was able to snag just Thayer's Gull as a new gull on the year and figured after a little bit that I should get north fast and try to take care of Two Harbors before the weather got any worse.

Once in the small town of Two Harbors I started working the lake walk and lighthouse parking area for the reported Harlequin Duck. The wind was brutal but avoidable if you hunkered down in some less windy niches. The entire bay was open, but choppy the closer you got to the edge of the break wall. I was able to spot Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser amongst a few other groups of common winter water birds. I ran into a couple guys I had seen down in Duluth and we all began a scope session on the Ore Docks across the bay to see if we could pull in the small male Harlequin.

After a few moments of scope time while talking about what I had seen thus far and what they picked up in the canal after I left, I found the Harlequin. The bird was hard to make out, but still obvious with the white strap on the body and overall dark body tone. The others confirmed shortly while one of them found a raft of Long-tailed Duck out near the far break wall. This was excellent as it pulled in my 3rd year bird and all of my targets for Agate Bay.

Harlequin was especially good as it was a life bird for me. We pulled in another view or two from a different position, but it was tough going with the choppy water and active bird dives for food. I did get several looks at the distant Long-tails as well as a couple in flight, which was nice.

I eventually piled back in the car to get to Duluth again for a second gull session. This time fortune was with me as I picked up Glaucous Gull in a stationary position (my first) as it hulked over the nearby Herring and Thayer's Gulls. The bird even in 1st Winter is nearly impossible to not pick out against such a group. I then found the Iceland Gull, which was like looking at a mini Glaucous as it was noticeably smaller than the Herring's, but still had the nearly white with light brown washed feathers. I worked this group of gulls for a long while, watching them and comparing. I tried to working on Thayer's vs Herring with some luck as I found an adult Thayer's to use for some compares and was able to see the larger white primary tips along with slightly smaller bill and different head profile. Very tough birds to tell, but I was also able to use the many stages of Herring to look at feather groups and understand the composition and point out the many stages of life of these 4+ cycle birds. It was very fun even with the wicked wind and weather always coming down.

I left the day with just missing Greater Black-backed Gull on my list of day birds. Not to bad really. I was on the road and back home by 3:30PM so it was a pretty nice day that left me plenty of time to hang out with Melissa.

Birding and being outside, even in nasty weather, really does light up my soul.

Post thoughts on the north: I feel I've done a pretty solid job of winter birding the north. With three trips and this one being very targetted I have pulled in a lot of winter birds of the north and was able to snag many life birds while learning birding techniques for several of them. Finding birds on open, choppy water is a challenge, but possible and requires a lot of patience and scope scanning the same area multiple times.

Reasonable Misses of the North: Northern Goshawk, Spruce Grouse, Black-backed Woodpecker, Red Crossbill, White-winged Crossbill, Greater Black-backed Gull

I find the above list to be pretty small after 3 trips and I feel good about my winter efforts. I figure I'll only winter trip again if another rarity shows up on the water or in the harbor area like a Gyrfalcon or something. I also feel like Black-backed Woodpecker will be a solid shot during summer as well in the bog as it is resident so I can hopefully get it when I try for Conneticut Warbler and a few others.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Roosting Turkey & Life Owl

I decided to get on the road towards Hastings on the off chance I got bumped into viability for the Owl prowl being run by fellow birder Kevin Smith at the Carpenter Nature Center WI Campus. I attended last year, but we didn't get any owls. This year Kevin found Northern Saw-Whet in pre-birding trip scouting.

I didn't get the call, but I made a fun night of it to be sure. At Point Douglas it was pretty tame with just a handful of Common Goldeneye in the remaining open water. From the bridge view point I did spot the single male Wood Duck that has been hanging out between Prescott Marina and the bridge areas. This added another year bird for me before I decided to run down to Chimney Rock SNA.

This site is also another where I had seen Kevin Smith report Eastern Screech-Owl only a week or two prior. The site was inconspicuous, but quickly showed some interesting sandstone formations just off the road. I saw Turkey signs pretty early as they had tread nearly everywhere in this area.

I soon found footsteps and dog prints that led me to believe they were from Kevin and his dog. I followed them a long ways back on the SNA property and eventually ran into a good number (15) of Turkey flying up into the trees to roost for the night. They were causing a pretty good racket and this is the first time I had ever seen this behavior so it was pretty fun.

While I was watching and taking a cell video to show Melissa I heard a monotone call of an Eastern Screech-Owl. This happened maybe 6 times and I tried moving closer to the owl, but never could zero in on him/her. I suspect my tramping around so much was what quieted the bird down. Still a lifer and a great auditory experience.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Open Space & Lazy Drive

I decided after work to do a little new location scouting so I drove to the Woodbury Open Space that I had spotted off of Manning and just south of 94. Upon arriving a Red-bellied Woodpecker made itself known immediately, but little else did during the walk. The largest portion of the woods no longer looks like what is seen from overhead in current satellite images. The understory has been gutted and appears to be in the process of being gutted heavily. I'm guessing a lot of dead / downed trees along with buckthorn had them go for a very aggressive strategy. The area is not a very open woodland for a good sized portion of the location.

About half way back on the trails that appeared to be travelled only by another person and a dog since the last snow opened up into a hidden track of long grass, though not likely true prairie. It at least holds some interest in that it might support some interesting sparrows in summer.

The back half nearest the sand/gravel pit was much less gutted and had some pretty thick territory. I'm not sure the birding value of the whole area, but it certainly seems to be of interest. Maybe now that the main wooded area is opened up the way that it is, we'll see Red-headed Woodpecker.

I did see a nice hole in a tree about 30 feet up and wanted to see if it worked to rub a stick on the tree to make a resident pop it's head out. Sure enough a squirrel popped up immediately to see what was happening on his tree. Almost looked like the face of a Fox Squirrel, but was hard to tell at the angle I was at before it ducked back inside.

I plan to give the area another look in the spring and then maybe again during breeding time to see what sets up shop in the area and see if I can put it on the map a bit.

After that I drove through Lake Elmo Regional Park just to take a look around. I saw a good sized (20) flock of American Tree Sparrow near the road working for seeds and grit. Just short of the equestrian center I found 3 Horned Lark (year bird) near the road also and they only hooped to the road edge and gave me a nice long look at them from the car. It was a pretty windy and brisk day, but always fun to get out and see some birds. Now if I could just get my BirdLog phone app to submit records. It quit working 2 days ago and I've tried every type of troubleshooting possible to remedy the problem. I may submit something to the app devs and see what they come up with as I couldn't find anything online about the issue I'm having.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Sunfish Lake Park

Finally remembered that locally Sunfish Lake Park is not restricted to just ski use in the winter. This is nice since 90% of trails are off limits at Lake Elmo Park Reserve in the winter. After work I took a nice long hike with my Yak Trax on my winter boots. they worked great as I never slipped once with the soft snow over the icy stuff.

Birding was slow as expected as I moved forward and paused to listen a lot. This strategy yielded just a small group of Chickadee that seemed to be concentrated near a ravine that has homes on the north side. I would assume with feeders that keep them close.

I then sought out trails I knew I had never worked before, half scouting for the future and half birding for a rarity. I did hear some good rapping on a tree at one point on a pause and found a female Pileated Woodpecker working hard on a tree.

This park has a lot of fall and blowdown in the thick woods so with any wind you get a lot of trees rubbing together causing odd noises that draw your attention. At a few points I hoped for some kind of owl, but none of the sounds were avian in origin.

Most of the way through my walk I did find a roving band of American Robin working some berry bushes near a locked in pond. The feisty bunch chased and yelled at each other a fair amount.

Eventually while out in the open on the south edge of the park I found a Bald Eagle soaring overhead. It was a quiet lonely hike, but it was peaceful and fun. I'm looking forward to some summer trips for a much deeper birding survey this spring, summer, and fall. The locked in pond has me curious for what might nest in such an area.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Ideas - Brain Dump

I've had a number of birding related ideas recently and wanted to get them down on 'paper' while I continue to ruminate on their merits and the possibility of getting them off the ground or crowd-sourcing them.

1. Birding League - Stemming from my sports background a birding league that would meet at a specific location 1 or 2 times a month or more in migration season and bird locations in a league format. Incentives like target birds for extra points, rarities, etc...

2. Birding Location Blog & Map - An updated version of Kim Eckert's book that would be eventually crowdsourced in a Wikipedia style compendium of birding. The site pages would go into deeper detail on how to bird the locations, parking, driving, personal conduct protocol, etc...

3. Video Location Blogging - The idea would be the above, but in a YouTube channel instead. So birders could watch GoPro style video for getting to a location, birding the hot spots, understanding where to find target birds, names of sub spots and locations. This could be really fun with some nice video editting equipment, etc...

4. MN Rare Bird Twitter - A feed designed to tweet out rare bird sightings around the state. Might use eBird results, but also MOU, FB, etc; As a collection point with fast turn around for retweet. Would need to define rare and keep to that program. Probably birds like Common Eider, Golden-Crowned Sparrow, Townsend's Solitaire, Varied Thrush, and Harlequin Duck as opposed to just an out of area Northern Pintail, etc... Maybe this would need a few feeds and you could have tiers or county based twitter feed. Kind of feel like eBird needs to just do this or perhaps I could figure out a way to generate automatic Twitter posts using API of eBird and TinyURL to link back to report forms.

Anyway, just some stuff that has been in my head lately as I think about long term birding projects that maybe I'm positioned to get off the ground as a technology person that loves birds.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

WI Double Shot - Sidetracked.

Melissa and I setup a lunch with my parents on Saturday. It was long overdue as it was originally planned a month or so back for dad's birthday, but things came up.

To piggyback I had been tracking the Long-tailed Duck sightings near the main street bridge in Chippewa Falls as well as the Northern Hawk Owl in Eau Claire on Lars Road.

On the way into town Melissa and I went to the boat launch location on the south side of the bridge near the city dirt and dumping location. It didn't take long after scanning the Common Goldeneye's for Melissa to spot the Long-tailed Ducks in the faster moving water near the south pylon of the bridge. Both females stuck close together and worked the rapid water area. Very easy get just for paying attention to bird sightings in my hometown.

After arriving at the parents house I started to watch the local feeders and was surprised to find abundant Pine Siskin and even a Common Redpoll. After a short time my FOY Titmouse showed up, again baffling me how easy the bird is in Chippewa Falls and how tough it is in MN.

After lunch in Eau Claire we drove a very short distance to Lars Road and on the way I explained what we'd be looking for. It wasn't more than a minute later that dad said he saw a large bird at the top of a pine tree just ahead. Sure enough the Northern Hawk Owl was sitting right at the turn to Lars road. Nice easy find and the 2nd lifer of the day for Melissa. Mom and dad both enjoyed the ultra short drive and get for a bird they had never seen either. This was the 3rd Northern Hawk Owl since last year for me when I got my first ever in the bog.

Fun day of visiting and accidental/opportunistic birding.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Future Scouting - Washington County - Part 2

Some additional sites have come into my view and I wanted to get them down...

Sunfish Lake Park: I have birded this once and done ok, but I have not come anywhere close to exploring all 9 miles of trails and gotten to know the area and what species to truely expect. I think this place could be a great resource and add to the value of Lake Elmo Park Reserve that is very nearby.

Woodbury Open Space: This is a slice of land on the east edge of Woodbury just off of Manning that appears to be a tract of forest land. Not sure what to expect, but with a small parking area and possible trails loop I would like to explore it and see if anything will put it on the map.

Carver Lake: This area in Woodbury is pretty developed, but with the park and lake it may be hiding some gems. Worth a look one day just to see what it looks like and assess the birding value myself.

Ojibway Park & Tamarack Nature Preserve: These areas are wildcards and maybe small enough that they don't provide much value. Also satellite images seem to indicate the water areas may be very low and grown over. I've heard so little about these areas that I don't know if anyone ever birds them or if they have been birded and are worthless from that respect. That is why I'd like to adventure a bit and see what I can see.

Woodbury Various Open Spaces: Various other open space designated locations exist on the edges of Woodbury that seem to be possible future parks or just designed to provide city owned land that doesn't have developed park facilities. I'm looking at these with the desire to find out if they can be birded/hiked well enough to provide insight on the species found on site. These include Dale Road Open Space, Bailey Lake Open Space, and Valley Creek Open Space.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Bog Redux

With Melissa looking to see a Bohemian Waxwing and there being a possible location just NE of Duluth and the weather cooperating we planned a day long smash and grab in the bog and Duluth area. I got some email information on the Waxwing flock from the guy that generates the RBA email. We planned a nice early exit and got out the door by 6AM and rolled past Cloquet by 8AM. On the way north on 33 we saw (well, I saw) a pair of Black-billed Magpie on a deer carcass along with a Raven and Bald Eagle. Once we got into the bog, the plan was to go direct to Admiral Road the site of the best Great Gray Owl sightings lately. Luck was with us (and me finally) as a crowd was gathered just south of the feeder station. A great looking young Owl was setup just off the road and I finally got my first Gray Ghost in my 4th attempt. Melissa got it on her first. After the owl we moved up the road to the feeder station. It was slow at first and just as we were about to move on, Mike Hendrickson stopped by and then things got interesting. Gray Jays showed up in a pair and then moments later the Boreal Chickadee came as well. After a bit we got awesome views of a Pine Marten. (No wings, but pretty cool.) Mike noted it was an event more rare than seeing the Owl in the bog. We then moved on to 444 and Lou's Feeders and picked up Evening Grosbeak, Pine Siskin, Purple Finch, and nearby on the way out Pine Grosbeak. All of these being life birds for Melissa. Pretty cool to add all of these to her life list on a sweet day of birding. We then drove down McDavitt and worked hard for Black-backed Woodpecker, but it was pretty much the only thing we tried for that didn't happen. Eventually we passed the visitor center and looked around and moved on to see about a Sharp-tailed Grouse. Luck was on our side as we first found a Ruffed Grouse and then a small group of Sharp-Tailed Grouse in the same yard space. Pretty cool as that was 2 more life birds for me. We moved on to leave the bog and stopped at Loretta's Feeders on Kelsey Whiteface Road. Neat area with a trail to walk and enjoy the wild. We got a surprise though as a Golden-crowned Kinglet was spotted just as we entered. This is a pretty rare find for the area even if it's not a rare bird. We ran back to the Duluth area and went to track down the Waxwings. On a private stretch of land we used the noted location and started scanning the buckthorn around a field edge. Shortly a huge flock of Bohemian Waxwing flew directly over the top of us and off to the north. Seconds later another flock did the same thing. I tried to run them down and see where they went if it was close. A third flock came over Melissa and that was it. We didn't get stationary long term looks, but could hear them talking a lot and I was able to get binocs on one flock enough to see the yellow on the wings. Another year bird and a lifer for Melissa. Got done birding just in time as a squall was about to come over the area. Back in Duluth we got some food at Grandma's and looked at the lake for a few minutes. I did spot a pretty dark Mallard that appeared to be a Black Duck and Mallard hybrid male. Pretty cool. We had an awesome day together and picked up a lot of life and year birds.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Future Scouting - Washington County

I've noticed several sites with low or really no eBird reports for them from the last several years. I plan to investigate these locations this spring and see what I can find. Sort of a research mission to see if I can hot spot any of the locations or at least cut them into my rotation as a fun place to find birds. Below is my short list of what I've found thus far in rearch that I wish to visit...

1. Pine Point Regional Park - North of Stillwater on Norell Ave. Sounds like a decent place with pine forest, swamps, and a lake with an island. May be a good place for Pine Warbler in migration. I'll make that my early hope anyway. 5 miles of trails should bring a half day of birding to the table.
2. Lake McKusick - Which is just south of the above location, but in town. On Owens St. a parking lot that has paved trail access to the lake length and then a boardwalk on the north end over the swamp and water into another neighborhood. Probably not a great location, but something look at and hope for a Bittern or something. Just a place that is between locations and worth a stop.
3. Valley View Park - Have driven past this park next to the Bayport prison many times, but never drove to it. Located up a hill on the bluff it might be a great hawk watch in the summer. Also noticed the satellite shows some boardwalk/path over some swmap as well. Again, not a massive area to explore, but maybe worth the effort to investigate.
4. Bayport WMA - Part 1 of this area is right across the street from the above mentioned Valley View and prison. This area is not likely huge in diversity, but it could hide some gems given the right circumstances. Looks like a an easy enough place to walk around and check out. Might be some good grassland sparrows or something.
5. Bayport WMA - Part 2 of this area is up the road on 21 (Stagecoach Rd) and may also provide a great expanse to explore in non-hunting time frames. Looks like a good size plot land with woods that may provide a good habitat for Eastern Towhee, Wood Thrush, and any number of other woodland dwellers.
6. St. Croix Savanah SNA - This area just north and east of the above Bayport WMA is a bluff region with a mix of grassland and forest has some promise based on it's proximity to the river. The north entrance area is off of Stagecoach on Inspiration Parkway and then Prairie Way. This again is a guess, but it looks like sparrows and possible Meadowlark territory and then maybe fortune will smile with a good location for Dickcissel as well. The wooded area could also pull in several nice birds.
7. Gateway State Trail - The ending trailhead is at Pine Point mentioned above, but I can get on the trail just north of me on Hadley. That being the case I can see a long day of birding by bike and then maybe an evening pickup from Melissa for dinner in Stillwater area. That could be a blast for me to just bird the entire trails lenght of like 15+ miles or so. It goes through many areas so who knows what birding may bring as it goes past small lakes and wooded stretches, streams, etc...
All areas are places I've researched on state sites and then eBird and satellite locations. I've found them to be dramatically under birded by reporting birders. That may be due to many factors, perhaps due to lack of good birds, but also perhaps due to lack of knowledge on the sites them selves as I've noticed the east metro in general is under birded as evidenced by me being one of very few eBird submitters for Lake Elmo Park. I've pulled a ton more birds at that site than the next closest person. My goal is to put one or two of the above on the map.

Birding, not Finding (Nerstrand)

Melissa and I both have wanted to see Red-headed Woodpecker so we headed down to Nerstrand Big Woods SP to see if we could track down the few that have been seen at the visitors center feeders.

On the way we stopped by Randolph to see about some Longspurs or Snow Buntings. No luck on that front, but we gave a good effort. I did get out to scope a Red-tailed Hawk at one point and saw a small flock that looked good. I saw it land and we moved the car to a point just past the church to get a look. I was able to find the flock that turned out to be American Tree-Sparrow working the grassy burm area. Kind of a miss, but also a good education on tracking a flock of small birds and gettings glass on them.

We got to the park and worked hard for over an hour with no luck. I felt I was getting call response from the woodpeckers, but couldn't see anything and the possible call was faint enough that it may have been wishful thinking.

After leaving we decided to look for Eurasian Collared Dove in Vermillion again as we had missed on the prior trip. This time we walked the main strip to the end and back for a snack at the gas station. As we got back to the car luck favored as Melissa spotted 1 and then another working a feeder just feet behind our parked car at the church. Probably our best looks in the 3 times we have seen them in Vermillion. A good year bird added to the list.

Next up we drove up to Hastings to check out Point Douglas Park and see what we could find in the open water. I was aware of sightings recently for a female Greater Scaup. That was pretty much the first bird we saw and were able to id the bird pretty quick hanging close to a Common Goldeneye. I found out later that day Kevin Smith listed the bird on eBird also within about 45 minutes of when we did. Also helped a local birder id the Scaup and it turned out to be a lifer for him so he was pretty happy.

We scoped plenty of Common Merganser and a few Bald Eagle, but that was pretty much it. On the way to Hudson for some late lunch and early dinner we spotted a 50+ strong group of Turkey that was flagged by eBird for numbers. It was a massive group of birds. They go in as my 58th bird of the year, but 57th for MN. It will be a fun year to see how my all state number grows with the future trip to South Dakota coming up in July.

It was a fun day of birding with Melissa and finding a few things. Guess we will have to target the Red-headed again in the future. Melissa also did show some interest in going to see birds up in the bog and north shore so that might happen if weather can hold a bit in the near future.

Sax-Zim Bog Plus Weather

As the morning rolled around I could tell it was going to be special. The snow had some in from nowhere and it looked like the roads were going to suck. Meeting at the mall several of us setup for car pool and headed north at a slow click comparred to a desired speed. A few even turned back, but we made it to the Meadowlands safe. The group totalled in the 20's even with the weather and one woman even drove south from Ely. We got on the road then and started looking for birds. Clint very quickly got us started with a flock of Pine Grosbeak on HWY 7. That was a solid get considering the low numbers reported in the bog this year. The day then played out like a normal bog trip, we drove to a lot of locations and tried for all the target birds that we could. Low traffic roads were filled with birders doing the same as we zig zagged all over the place hitting feeder locations and known hunting grounds and lek's. The day was a mix of snow, fog, and great fun. It was a reminder of how fun car birding can be even though my preference is to be alone in the woods hunting for a bird sighting.

We picked up Evening Grosbeak by the dozens at Mary Lou's on 444, Boreal Chickadee on our 2nd trip to Admiral road feeders, Common Redpoll by the hundreds, along with many Pine Siskin. We also tracked down 3 total Black-billed Magpie flying from point to point, a few Rough-legged Hawk (including my 2nd dark morph), several Northern Shrike, and many Purple Finch as well.

The day was a great bog effort that really only saw me come up short on the birds I expected to come up short on.

Below is my pre-trip list with successes and misses.

1. Success: Common Eider

2. Success: Raven

3. Success: Northern Pintail

4. Success: Pine Siskin

5. Success: Common Redpoll

6. Red Crossbill

7. Success: Gray Jay

8. Great Gray Owl

9. Success: Purple Finch

10.Success: Evening Grosbeak

11.Success: Northern Hawk Owl

12. Thayers Gull

13.Success: Glaucous Gull

14. Greater Black Backed Gull

15.Success: Boreal Chickadee

16. Ruffed Grouse

17. Sharp Tailed Grouse

18. Snow Bunting

19.Success: Red-Breasted Nuthatch

20. Black-backed Woodpecker

21. Bohemian Waxwing

Maybe the only real dissapointments were missing on Snow Bunting, and both Grouse. I always have trouble with Grouse and feel that with a couple days effort they wouldn't be that hard. Also a bummer to come up empty on Great Gray Owl again. I'll keep trying until it happens though. The gull misses are to be expected with the wind situation and it just comes down to a coin flip. The day of the bog I heard word both Thayers and Greater Black-backed were found at the point with ease along with Iceland as well since the wind shifted and kept many in the water.

Now that I'm back I see Bohemian have showed up in a nice consistent location straight west of Two Harbors. Like I said, with a couple days I probably could have tracked down some misses and been in a pretty good state.

Duluth and Beyond

On Friday midday I went for a trip north. Expecting a break in the weather and the Duluth Audubon was set to hold a Bog program with Clint Nienhaus leading I set out to find some birds of the north.

Only half-way to Duluth and I could already see a difference as the Crows began to give way to Raven sightings. It's amazing how quick that really does happen, but how infrequent the Ravens are in the middle to southern part of the state. I did see some cool barrel roll behavior on the way up from Ravens as they pumped wings and when normally on the glide portion they would pull the wings in and roll over in the sky. It was strange, but very cool. May have to do some research on that.

I headed directly to Canal Park for Eider and friends. I was not dissapointed seeing the Common Eider within minutes mingled in with the Mallards, Black Ducks, Northern Pintail, and Golden Eye. The Eider was last counted in MN in 1966 based on my research so it's pretty cool to get a bird that I may never see in the state again.

The wing to my lack of knowledge had moved to a position that allowed the Gulls of the area a sort of free ride so they spent a lot of time on the wing soaring well overhead and over the city. Those that came close were mostly Herring to my eyes when looking at the wing tips. I did get one treat though a nice large Glaucous Gull in 1st or 2nd Winter plummage flew low over the walk way and I was able to make the id based on size and clean white wings. The gull id reading and homework really paid off to see what was needed and make the id quick.

With that done I was ready to leave and ran into Kevin Smith and Gerald Hoekstra coming in on their way back to central MN. Always love seeing them and hope to bird with them in the future. Kevin asked me several questions and what my plans were. He shared very useful details about the Golden-crowned Sparrow location before heading to the pier with Gerald and his brother. I also got to meet Richard Hoeg a gentlemen I knew from Facebook and his posts about his 365 day birding blog effort. I had planned to check out his feeder location on Old Vermillion Trail in a few minutes.

Running up Jean Duluth Road I was in pursuit of a Northern Hawk Owl reported near Kelly J's Sewing, a shop on a farm area with the open land and large trees needed for hosting a Hawk Owl. 4 miles south of that location I got the other less common Hawk Owl that had been seen in the area. A sweet easy find right on the road with quality looks. I continued further and worked the feeder up on Old Vermillion and found Red-breasted Nuthatch and Common Redpoll. Nothing overly exciting, but knowing new locations is also of great value. The other added benefit was being on this road noted as a dead end and little used in the winter I could hear little, but the wind rushing through the trees. It was a great moment to hear the world without anything else around.

With light ready to begin fading I hurried back to town to try for the neighborhood Golden-crowned Sparrow that had been sighted for nearly as long as the Common Eider. This bird was on my list, but not at the top. Being a casual occurence and in the houses, it's not my normal desired kind of birding. Always feels a bit creepy walking around houses and throwing binocs up to look in yards. Fortune smiled though as I pulled up a few bicycle birders pulled in also. They were doing a birdathon and we started to look. After about 10 minutes another group of 3 showed and we had lots of eyes looking. As I came back to the target house I noticed two guys looking intently at the house next door. The bird had setup shop near a feeder and large bush and we got great looks from about 20' or so away.

Pretty cool to get a Casual and Accidental in the same day for life birds. That pretty much ended the day as I needed to check in at the hotel and get some chow before an early bed for bog birding the next day.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Lake Elmo Park - Snowshoe

Working Lake Elmo Park’s blue trail (one of the few non-ski trails in the winter) last night I took the snow shoes out just to keep getting used to them. Probably a bit of overkill considering the lack of true snow pack and the trodden nature of the blue trail in winter. The park was devoid of much avian activity. I had 1 Hairy Woodpecker run me down and squeak a bit to let me know someone was awake. Later I saw a solo American Crow fly across the skyline no doubt heading for night time roosting location. The bright light on the evening (besides a nice after work trek) was a lone Northern Shrike standing atop a tree a few hundred yards away from me. Having finally learned what I need to be paying attention to when looking for Shrike I have had much better luck the last couple years spotting them.


I found 1 while walking with Melissa late in 2014 at Oakdale Park and now found this one at Lake Elmo Park. I was able to saunter closer by cutting across the camping and prairie area (the only decent workout of my snow shoes) getting to about 75 yards and seeing most of the good field marks much better. The bird then flew off and I kept it in my binocs for as long as possible to watch the flight path and wing beat. I noted it to be a multiple fast pump with a pause and then repeat.


Again, little else showed on the night, but it was good to add another 2015 year bird and move to 38.


Looking forward to a big birding trip Friday and Saturday as I will drive up to Duluth to try and track down the Common Eider that has setup show for a while now. Additionally I’ll be looking at a pretty long list of birds to add to the year and life list.


1.       Common Eider

2.       Raven

3.       Northern Pintail

4.       Pine Siskin

5.       Common Redpoll

6.       Red Crossbill

7.       Gray Jay

8.       Great Gray Owl

9.       Purple Finch

10.   Evening Grosbeak

11.   Northern Hawk Owl

12.   Thayers Gull

13.   Glaucous Gull

14.   Greater Black Backed Gull

15.   Boreal Chickadee

16.   Ruffed Grouse

17.   Sharp Tailed Grouse

18.   Snow Bunting

19.   Red-Breasted Nuthatch

20.   Black-backed Woodpecker

21.   Bohemian Waxwing


Those are just some of the birds considering several other more rare birds would be welcome as well. Looking forward to it a lot and hoping for the best.


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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Oakdale Park - Birding Review

Site Name: Oakdale Park

Site Location: Washington County; Oakdale, MN

Site Directions: From the north take 50th street south off of Hwy 36. (Same intersection as Fleet Farm.) Take 50th street to a right turn on Hadley Ave. The park will be on your right 1 mile or less down. From the south you can take the county road 5 exit from 694 and go West. The first right should be Hadley and you go north for about a mile and a half, the park is on the left.

Site Parking: The above directed parking location is an ample parking lot with direct access to the paved trails.

Other Entrances/Access: This park is a large piece of land in the city and offers multiple ways into the park via trails that enter from various neighborhood locations. The main lot described above is the only one with dedicated parking for the park. Though a few good street spots are available near a playground, tennis, and basketball courts if you want to enter from the north side on Granada Ave North. This will grant you quicker access to the offshoot trail that ventures to the other side of Lake Mud Lake and the short peninsula trail. (Though it's worth noting this entire site can be birded pretty good when entering from any location.)

Site Features of Note:

1. The nature center when open is probably pretty solid for kids and they run programs out of this site moderately often.
2. The paved trails offer a good family and accessible set of options for those that want some good birding without having to go off road and trudge through the nasty.
3. The site is being actively managed with a lot of buckthorn and related invasive plant life being torn out. Not sure what this will do the birding over all, but I can't imagine it dragging it down. I only mention it as the activity last year did happen most of the summer so I'm sure a number of birds were disturbed. (Noted activity through 2014 into early 2015.
4. The limited swamp and marsh like areas on Mud Lake don't have great access without going off trail most of the time so tracking down the Sora and Virginia Rails I've often heard would be a challenge.

Birding Features and Birds of Note:

1. Mud Lake: The primary body of water at this location has not shown a great variety of migrant waterfowl as it is pretty shallow from what I've seen. By mid summer I can usually see a fair amount of exposed stumps and mounds. (Even being shallow I have also not found shorebirds to be interested in the site either.)
2. Pileated Woodpecker: The full spread of woodpeckers are pretty ubiquitous in the park with Pileated showing on roughly 50% of my trips to the park. A good city site to try and track down loud mouths of the forest.
3. Owls: Great-horned and Barred Owl were pretty regular in 2014 for me and my wife. I have found Great-horned in several locations for most of the park is worth looking at. Barred were found near a small pond in the southeast portion of the park.
4. Woodcock: I did find Woodcock performing mating flight and calls during 2014 spring season. This was in the small prairie that opens up just after entering the paved trails from the main lot.
5. Warbler: Migration is solid for warblers as this large expanse of green probably looks good from the sky compared to all the houses and highways. I often check this park out during migration on work week days where I have less time than normal since it can be covered pretty quick.
6. Broad-winged Hawk: I have also found Broad-winged Hawk to be using the park for hunting during the breeding season so I suspect they are nesting on site. My in forest finds have been centered on the same region as the Barred Owl near the small pot bunker type ponds in the southeast.

Back Dated - January 2015

A quick recap of the birding so far this year that I’ve missed.

I was able to pick up two rarities for this area already this year. I went out looking for the Eurasian Tree Sparrow spotted by a home owner south of Hastings. It wasn’t long waiting for the bird mixed in with a large group of House Sparrow. Good solid look, but still not my favorite way to bird. A bird in the yard always feels like a personal thing to me, but I get the value and the sharing of the event with the community. Just always feels deeper to go out into the wilderness and find a bird. Nature of the beast I guess and something I need to get more comfortable with on local rarities as they are a regular thing at feeders. Maybe it’s the creepy factor of staring at someone’s house / back yard that does it to me.

Anyway I then headed up to Resurrection Cemetery which is east of Fort Snelling SP over the river. This was a site for a Townsend’s Solitaire that had been spending the winter in the area. I worked for a good stretch, but had no luck. A couple out looking for the bird asked me about my thoughts on playing a call. I’ve been on both sides of this discussion and felt in this case it was acceptable. We weren’t in a breeding situation and the temp was good enough that I didn’t feel like bumping the bird was a major issue. One play of the song was enough as the bird echoed back and came into view. It soon left the near area and flew to another part of the cemetery. A fun lifer that would not have happened without a call being played. I’m sure debate is a pretty open thing when it comes to drawing in birds by a call, but like I said I fall on both sides of the argument depending upon the situation.

Additionally in the first days of the year I have gone to Point Douglas park in Hastings to view birds. Many Common Merganser in play as well as a single Red-breasted Merganser as the cool find in the masses of Common. I did find some Common Goldeneye as well and a lone Greater Scaup mixed in the group as well. I can’t remember if I kept the sighting as that on my eBird or not as another birding did argue with me that it was impossible to tell without looking at the outstretched wing. Subsequent posts on eBird have confirmed Greater Scaup at the site and I think my original feel was correct.

The other highlight was the ultra-tough find of a Snowy Owl out at the airport. Being able to get right into the middle of the runway areas on Cargo road we got the very end and were using the turnabout when I spotted a white dome on top of the small bunker on the other side of the fence. Turned out to be a Snowy that had been reported in the area recently. This was at the far end of the road past FedEd where Cargo Road is a dead end. Pretty cool sighting that Melissa and I got to see together.

That covers the highlights so far I guess.

#Snowy Owl
#Red-breasted Merganser
#Eurasian Tree Sparrow
#Townsend’s Solitaire

Black Dog Road

Starting to wonder if I will ever keep a blog active. Or if I will ever stop trying.

Over the weekend I did some winter birding at two locations Old Cedar Ave trails along the bluff for several hours in hopes of finding the Winter Wren hanging out near the boardwalk sections, no luck. I did however get 3 Brown Creeper out of the time in the woods. With the snow and rustling clothing I had to stop very often to listen hard. On the way out I thought I caught ear of a Creeper north of me on the higher trail. I made note on return trip to stay on the high path and eventually got them all together near the trail.

Another couple out walking indicated they had found a Great Horned Owl, that I missed as I had turned around sooner on the trail.

I did kick up a Hooded Merganser in a 10 or 20 food diameter pool that was still open at a run off out flow point along the trail. Him and two Mallard flew off quickly.

Also had a Rough-legged Hawk right near the lot when I got out of the car. Didn't have much of a look, but it was good.

After Old Cedar I ran over yo Black Dog Lake west outflow location to look for ducks or gulls. It was quiet finding few of anything in the shrinking open water. Trumpeter Swan and Hooded Merganser being the highlights. The things got interesting, a nice gentlemen asked if anything was in the outflow and then shared that the Peregrin Falcon was on the powerplant stack hanging out. Drove up the road and scoped the stack and and picked him/her outpretty quickly. Minutes later I found a Barred Owl standing in a short tree 10 feet off the road. Easiest Owl I have ever gotten.

Later down the road I found the dark morph Rough-legged Hawk that had been spotted recently. It had just caught a mouse and was eating contently. Cool to see my first ever Dark Morph.

Also on the road I saw a very large flock of Amerian Tree Sparrow flying along the road. It was at least 30.

Good day of birding in the cold.