Recent News

Article for MOU Newsletter: I wrote a new piece on Blue Mounds State Park and birding in rough weather. MOU members only.

Article for St. Croix Lowdown: I wrote a piece on the bird soundscape of William O'Brien State Park. Hope you enjoy.

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.