The Whitewater State Park Trifecta – a Rare Bird, an Old Friend, and a Patch

IMG_4476It is really quite crazy how certain events can unfold and line up to create a birding trip that seemed as if it was destined to happen.  That was the case on this most recent one-night adventure that Evan and I took to yet another state park.  While it may appear we fly out of the driveway and head off to a distant land for any old bird, that simply isn’t true.  If it was, we would be on the road every day because there are a lot of birds in Minnesota that we haven’t yet seen. But I recognized this latest chase as being a very rare opportunity that in all probability would not happen again.

Before I go into the details of the chase, it’s important to build the background for this latest story.  It started 14 years ago at the University of Minnesota-Morris when I met Malcolm – someone who shared my enthusiasm for mathematics and a different sort of birding.  Malcolm and I were both avid waterfowl and upland game hunters who quickly found ourselves sharing a jeep or a canoe as we hunted the birds of the prairie pothole region of western Minnesota.  Though we became roommates, we eventually lost track of each other after college.  That changed this winter when I posted a bird photo to a Facebook birding page asking for identification help.  One of the people who commented was Malcolm!  We reconnected online and mutually discovered we had both gotten into birding in recent years.  It was a fun discovery.

On one of our first bird chases, when we went after the Painted Bunting in Aitkin, I ended up searching for the bunting right alongside some of Malcolm’s birding companions.  As we corresponded about the small world of birding and the sport of chasing, Malcolm planted a seed in my mind when he said there was a Yellow-throated Warbler taking up residence by the Nature Store at Whitewater State Park.  He said if we felt like chasing it, we were welcome to stay at his house which was only a half hour away from there.  At the time, I didn’t know a Yellow-throated Warbler from the dozens of other warblers I hadn’t yet seen.  I think I had only seen a few warblers by that point. I didn’t realize that the Yellow-throated Warbler is a special find in Minnesota; this bird’s range is in the southeastern part of the country.  They are rare strays here.  In fact, this particular bird was a first for Winona County.

As spring and summer rolled on, we had racked up the warblers.  Last time I checked, our warbler list grew from just a few species to 26.  Any regular reader knows that warblers are the birds I enjoy most.  With each new warbler found, the desire for the rare warblers increased – hence the trip to Oberg Mountain for the Black-throated Blue Warbler or the trip to Lyon County for the Cerulean Warbler.  Now I was eyeing up this Yellow-throated Warbler and trying to find a way to justify another bird trip to see it. After all, it was four hours away to Whitewater State Park.  I tempted myself to go on this trip by emailing Malcolm to find out if that bird was even still present. Malcolm responded that he hadn’t checked for over a month, but he showed me how I could query the MOU database to look up other birders’ reports of sightings to find my answer.  I also learned through our correspondence that he was moving to Kansas City in mid-August.  The window for going birding with an old friend was closing fast.  Besides the fact that we had a limited time to meet up with Malcolm, we also had to worry if the bird was still around.  Then, if it was, we had to consider that the warbler would be heading south soon as fall migration starts near the end of summer for this species. I discovered from my queries, though, that this warbler had, in fact, been consistently active all summer.  It was there as recently as July 20.  Many of the reports said it was right in the vicinity of the Nature Store and was singing loudly on territory and easy to find.

So the bird and birder were still there, but could we go?  We’ve traveled a lot this summer and were scheduled for another trip the last week of July to Madeline Island with my family.  At some point I had to start restricting myself.  But then a turn of events made the Whitewater trip more probable.  Marin’s Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease forced us to cancel our trip to Madeline Island.  Now there was a little more freedom with time and money to be able to go after the Yellow-throated Warbler.  After Marin started recovering, I became ill for a couple days.  By this time I was wondering if we were too late for the warbler.  The end of July is getting really late to find them as they typically don’t sing as much on territory since they are busy taking care of their young.  If you can’t hear a bird this time of year, chances are you won’t find it.  But then I got a welcome email from MOU-Net on July 25th in which a person reported that the bird was still there singing loudly.  It was go time.

Not only were we going after a rare warbler for Minnesota and seeing an old friend, but we were headed to another state park.  This means one thing for Evan: a new patch for his ruck sack.  On the day I decided to head off to the southeastern corner of the state, I called Whitewater to find out if they had any camp sites available.  I knew it was an extremely popular park, so I was worried.  It turns out they only had three left out of nearly 70.  Our plan to leave after lunch was moved up to 10:00 AM.  The decision to go was made so fast that I only emailed Malcolm to tell him what we were doing.  I didn’t know if he would be able to join us, but I hoped it worked in his schedule.  En route he replied to me saying he would like to go birding with us and could even help us find some of our secondary targets that were southeastern Minnesota specialties.

Once we got near Rochester, I called the park again – no vacancies! No! I anticipated this, so I went to plan B which was Carley State Park – a non-descript state park 8 miles from Whitewater.  From touring it 10 years ago with Melissa, I knew this place wasn’t somewhere I wanted to camp.  Because that’s all it is, a place to camp.  There is nothing special about the park unless you want to play Bocce Ball or Croquet on its one picnic ground area. Whether we liked it or not, we had to race to get there because Carley only had four sites open.  Thankfully there were a couple still open by the time we arrived.

IMG_4522This created a patch dilemma since our rule is that we have to spend the night at a park for Evan to earn that park’s patch.  I was hoping it would be the Whitewater patch since that’s where our target bird was.  I consulted Melissa, and we concurred.  We’d override our rule and make it a two-patch trip.  After all, Whitewater was where we were birding, and I know we will go back and camp there someday. The beauty of these bluff lands is amazing.  The park is nestled at the bottom of the Whitewater River valley surrounded by very large bluffs or mini-mountains. The Whitewater River runs right through the campground and has the feel of a mountain stream – complete with ice-cold, crystal-clear water and rainbow trout. You’ll forget you’re in Minnesota if you ever visit.


Once camp was set up, we went to Whitewater to check things out.  We listened for the Yellow-throated Warbler at the Nature Store.  Nothing.  I was secretly hoping to check it off right away to take the pressure off.  Well, morning is the best time to find any bird, so hope was not lost even if it was diminished a bit.  We went back to Carley to have supper, work on Evan’s Park Naturalist workbook (something that when completed earns him a patch from the Minnesota State Parks system), play some cards, and go to bed.

We woke up early to get over to the Nature Store parking lot before our meeting time of 7 AM with Malcolm.  I was hoping we’d hear our bird while we waited for Malcolm.  Nothing again. Were we too late?  Did the recent drop in daily temps force this southern bird to leave early?

Malcolm showed up on time, and it was a lot of fun to reconnect and visit while we looked for this target bird.  After spending some time in the parking lot, we ambled over to the adjacent picnic grounds toward the river.  There was still no sign of the bird.  It was now becoming worrisome.  After nearly an hour we decided to go after another warbler that Evan and I needed that was a reliable find at this park – the Louisiana Waterthrush.  We hiked along a trail that had us go next to and criss-cross the Whitewater River which was more like a small creek the further upstream we went.


As Malcolm and I discussed careers, life, and birds, Evan would run ahead looking for trout in the stream and occasionally throw rocks.  It was a pretty relaxed walk even though we were after a specific bird.  We never did find our secondary target, though. Now we had struck out on two birds.

It was now time to head back to the parking lot to make another check for the Yellow-throated Warbler.  Again there was no song.  Malcolm said that when it sings it can be heard from a fair distance.  In other words, if it was there we should hear it.  We continued our visit as we waited and watched.  At one point I consulted the latest MOU-posting from two days ago and picked up on a detail I missed.  It said the bird was found around the parking lot and througout the adjacent picnic grounds.  We hadn’t searched the picnic grounds much at all.  It was worth a shot.

We headed that way, but Evan needed something back at the car.  He and I went back while Malcolm searched.  After that errand, we went to rejoin Malcolm.  Evan was more interested in listening to Justin Bieber than listening for our bird.

IMG_4479I no sooner took this photo then heard Malcolm holler my name.  I could tell by the sound of his voice that he finally found it.  Evan and I began to jog his way.  Malcolm had, in fact, found the bird in a small white pine near the highway.  Though he’s seen this bird before, he got his best view of it on a low branch.  It normally hangs out in the tops of tall, tall white pines.  It was a good thing we had Malcolm to guide us; otherwise we probably would have never located the bird.

After a little bit of searching, we finally got our eyes on it too.  The flash of that brilliant yellow throat was exhilarating.  Now it was time to work on getting a good photo – something that clinches a target bird for me.  As we watched and chased the bird from tree to tree, we saw that there were other warblers with it.  Malcolm quickly got excited because it appeared they were juveniles with the parents.  Up to this point, this male Yellow-throated Warbler was the only one observed.  It alone was a record for the county, so a breeding pair would be big news.

Now we were keeping close track of these birds for different reasons.  I wanted my picture, and Malcolm wanted proof that these were juveniles.  We got many good views of the birds, and I was able to get some photos of the male.


Here is a picture of one of the juveniles we saw.

IMG_4497As we chased the Yellow-throated Warbler family around the picnic grounds, other birders started to join our ranks.  Apparently they, too, wanted to view this special visitor before it was too late. It’s kind of funny because the faces are unfamiliar, but the names are not.  Through our online birding, we frequently meet birders that we’ve heard of before.


Here is a picture of a funny moment that occurred while Malcolm sought his evidence. Malcolm excitedly claimed to hear a second male Yellow-throated Warbler and pointed in the direction of the sound.  But it was not a bird.  It turned out to be Evan playing the bird’s song on his iPod.

IMG_4490This was a monumental lifer, and now our trip had been made complete.  All the birders there that morning got to see this cool warbler. Everything afterward was a bit more relaxed.  There was more conversation among the birders, and we all just continued to watch this family of birds.  I’m not sure what kind of conversations Evan had while I was taking pictures, but one guy told me how impressed he was with Evan’s bird knowledge and another one politely ate a lone Pringle chip that Evan offered him. Here Malcolm is quizzing Evan about some other bird.

IMG_4516With a lighter mood all around, we decided to make one more try for that Louisiana Waterthrush.  We didn’t end up finding it this time either, but it was nice to have more time to hang out and visit.  Finally, though, it was time to part company with Malcolm.  It was a phenomenal trip.  Evan’s trip was made by getting two state park patches for his ruck sack.  Mine was made by getting a chance to bird with a friend I hadn’t seen in over a decade.  Seeing the target bird was the icing on the cake for both of us.

Another Lifer in the Bank Despite a Terrible Day

One might think from reading this blog that we go birding all the time.  While we do like to get out whenever we can, today was not supposed to be a birding day.  Instead we were supposed to be packing and getting ready to join my entire immediate family for a reunion vacation in the Apostle Islands off the north shore of Wisconsin.  Getting the entire family together is a biennial occurrence since my sister lives in Nigeria and only comes back to the U.S. every other year.  The kids were excited to see all their cousins. I was excited to hang out with both my siblings and their families.  I was also excited to get another crack at getting the Blue-headed Vireo, maybe photograph a Mourning Warbler, and possibly see the endangered Piping Plover. But we don’t always have control over the circumstances of our lives.  Last night Marin’s illness morphed from just a fever into a horrendous case of itchy feet.  She writhed all night long and got no more than an hour of sleep.  We tried every remedy we could think of to bring relief to her feet.  Nothing worked.

The itchiness only intensified in the morning, so I brought her in to the doctor.  The conclusion? Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease – a highly contagious viral infection of which there is no topical relief.  Only time can alleviate the symptoms of this nasty bug. When I asked the doctor how long Marin had to be away from other children, I was dumbstruck by the response: one week.  That was the length of this reunion vacation. I knew then that we would not be joining my family.  There wouldn’t be an Apostle Islands birding adventure. It was devastating. Even if Marin did start feeling better, we couldn’t risk spreading the virus to her cousins.

While that news was tough enough to take, Marin’s feet weren’t getting any relief and we were all subject to a day of incessant screaming and crying.  Evan became a TV zombie logging in nearly 8 hours on the tube while Melissa and I spent our day trying to somehow help and console someone that couldn’t be helped or consoled.  On top of the pain, she was exhausted.  She had been awake for well over 36 hours. It was an awful day.

Since Marin was calm in the car when I took her to the doctor, I suggested we take a drive to hopefully get her to relax.  After all, she often will easily fall asleep in the car when she won’t nap at home. She needed rest.  We needed a reprieve.  So we went birding even though we never were supposed to. Today we birded to escape – to escape the disappointment, to escape the screams, to escape the TV and the confines of the house.

My hypothesis about Marin being calm in the car was wrong.  She continued to writhe in agony for nearly 45 minutes.  Finally, after one scream-fest to end all, her body gave in to sleep.  Who cares if we saw a bird; we were finally catching a break.  But we were birding, kind of.  I took a long route to check Joel’s marked locations for the Wood Thrush and the very rare Henslow’s Sparrow.  We birded for the thrush by sight only as Marin was still screaming at that point.  Even if I was willing to roll down a window, we wouldn’t have heard a bird.

It was fun to find another Indigo Bunting.  I seem to find them each time I go out now. Just a couple months ago I had never seen this cool bird before.


As we neared the location of the Henslow’s Sparrow in our now quiet van, this caught my eye:

IMG_4451I recognized it as being a nesting colony for Bank Swallows.  I got my Bank Swallow lifer this spring, but Evan still needed it.  The two of us hopped out of the van while the girls slept inside.  After watching for just a couple of minutes, we started to see swallows flying around and diving into the holes.  I had the camera zoomed to the max, but here you can see three (possibly young) birds, waiting inside one of the cavities. IMG_4443The habitat indicated Bank Swallow, but I wanted my conclusive proof that that’s the bird we were looking at.  With much difficulty I finally got the photographs I wanted to help me make that determination.  Do you see the dark band across the breast?  That’s the signature field mark of the Bank Swallow.

IMG_4449IMG_4448This was a nice find for this birding trip that we wish we weren’t on.  We ended up striking out on the Henslow’s Sparrow.  Oh well.

Who knows what the coming week will bring.  We have several days’ worth of Plan Bs to come up with.  I imagine we will try to knock off a few of the lifers that still remain in our part of the state.  It definitely won’t be the same as chasing warblers and hunting an endangered species, but we will make the most of it.

A Quick Life Bird Before a Swim at Sibley State Park

IMG_4436Having a young family often means that birding takes a back seat to other things or gets rushed when it does happen.  This is a busy time of life.  Thankfully I’ve got good birder friends who can lead me right to a good bird with minimal effort.  Tonight we took advantage of another tip from Joel and got a lifer in a matter of minutes.  Joel has taken the time to create a cool Google map pinpointing locations where he’s seen target species of ours.


Today I took advantage of Joel’s map.  It was a terribly hot day, and our family just spent the day hanging around inside the house.  The heat was part of the reason.  The other part was because Marin has been sick.  Despite having a fever for a second day, she was mostly herself and insisted she was well enough to go swimming at Sibley State Park – something we had talked about doing on this hot day if she was well.  We decided that it wouldn’t hurt her to cool off in the lake for a little bit, so at 7:00 this evening we headed to the lake.

It turns out that just a couple miles north of Sibley State Park is a field that Joel mapped as having numerous Grasshopper Sparrows.  This was a bird we needed.  I never felt like making a special trip for this LBB, but tonight we were going out there anyway.  So before we got to Lake Andrew for a swim, we went to this location indicated by the blue and purple sections on the map above.  Because I trusted Joel that there were lots of these birds and because I had a couple kids who were antsy to swim, I was birding at 40 mph, sending a dust cloud high into the sky.  Even still, we found our target with no problem. Just as Joel said it would be, this bird was “teed up” on a flower singing away.

IMG_4437With lifer #192 for Evan and #201 for me, it was time to go swimming.  It was nice that this bird worked itself into our schedule.  Thanks for the help, Joel.  #200 for Evan will be here before we know it.  Don’t miss your chance to guess the date it will happen and win an awesome field guide. Click here for more details.

Upper Sioux Agency State Park and the Lark Sparrow

IMG_4412I really never had any great desire to go to Upper Sioux Agency State Park near Granite Falls.  I had researched the park a while back when we started camping since it is less than an hour from our house, but I did not think it was really a compelling place to visit. I thought it might be more appropriate to go to it when the kids start to study Minnesota history and learn about Minnesota’s first inhabitants and the Sioux Uprising of 1862.

This past week I was compelled to visit this park since Joel emailed me telling me that he had seen numerous Lark Sparrows all over the park. This may not seem like a big deal, but Minnesota is not even included on range maps for this bird.  Range maps aren’t always definitive, though. I knew that Lark Sparrows occasionally visit Minnesota as sightings are usually posted on MOU-net.  As further evidence that they were unique for Minnesota, Joel also told me he just had seen his second one for our county.  This is a good bird for our state. Besides that, the Lark Sparrow is a sharp-looking bird.  It was definitely on my short list of birds to see, and Upper Sioux Agency State Park was the place to do that. After Joel’s report, I even read in Kim Eckert’s book, A Birder’s Guide to Minnesota, that the area of the Minnesota River Valley near Upper Sioux Agency was the best place in the state to find the Lark Sparrow.

Here you can see on the park’s bird check-list (Each MN state park has one of these), that the classification for a Lark Sparrow in summer is O.  The classifications go like this: C=Common (Easy to find), U=Uncommon (You may have to look for it and know what you’re doing), O=Occasional (It may or may not be present in a given year), and R=Rare  (self-explanatory).  An “O” definitely means it’s a good bid.


A good bird and lots of them all at a new state park meant one thing: Evan and I were going on another quick overnight in the tent.  I picked Evan up from daycare late in the afternoon, and we made the short drive down to the park.  It would have been even shorter had I not had to complete a Craigslist-type transaction for Melissa at Clara City. But we were still there in no time.  As we drove down the Minnesota River Valley on the way, I was reminded just how scenic this valley is. It’s definitely worth taking a drive in this part of the state.  Once at the state park, we first went to drive around the completely vacant campground to pick out a good site before registering.  Along the loop, we found our target!  That was fast.

IMG_4411It was time to register.  We pulled into the park office parking lot and walked up to the office.  I walked, but Evan was running ahead of me because he wanted to get the park’s signature patch – a tradition we have when we stay at a new state park.  We pulled on the door, but it didn’t budge!  The place was locked up without a soul in sight! What was going on?  No campers or park staff were around anywhere.  It was weird.  I had to calm Evan down who was in tears because he couldn’t get a patch.

I realized that maybe this park office has limited hours since it is not a high-use park.  I discovered I was right when I self-registered for camping that night.  It turns out the office wouldn’t be open until the weekend.  I guess we’d have to have them send us a patch.

After making camp, we drove all around the various parts of the park which is split by MN Hwy. 67.  It was too buggy and hot to bird by hiking.  We found more Lark Sparrows at the horse rider’s campground.IMG_4426

I also got a long-overdue picture of a Barn Swallow.

IMG_4421Evan was intrigued by this hay bale and wanted to see how big it was compared to him. This seemed to fascinate him more than the birds.IMG_4422

We got back to camp to make a fire and cook some hot dogs.  We didn’t last long outside with all the mosquitoes, so we headed into the tent to play Kings on the Corner and Go Fish and then read a book before bed.  With the target bird achieved, we were sleeping in the next morning.  As we laid in our tent, we enjoyed watching the fireflies and listening to the hoots of Great Horned Owls.

We didn’t wake up until well past 9:00 the next morning.  We got packed up, had a bite to eat, and pulled out.  I wanted to drive around some park roads again before we went home.  It’s a good thing I did.  I happened to meet a state park worker driving a truck.  I motioned for him to stop and asked him through our driver windows if we could buy a patch from the office.  He said he could do that.  Awesome.

With the target found and the patch in hand, we had a successful trip.  As we continued to drive around the park, we heard a bird song that we recognized from playing it on the iPod just that morning – the Field Sparrow.  This was another life bird for us.  Its classification is “uncommon” for this park in the summer, so it was a good find.  This bird belied its name – we found it at the very top of a 30 ft. tree.

IMG_4433Without recognizing that bird song, we would have had trouble identifying it.  The Field Sparrow is pretty drab, but its pink bill is diagnostic.

It was another good trip.  We got the bird.  We got the patch. We added a bonus lifer. Plus we got to spend a fun night in the tent playing games.  It was a good trip.  By the way, Evan is now at 191 species, and I am at 200.  We are giving away a Kaufman Field Guide to the Birds of North America to whomever guesses the closest date on which Evan gets his #200.  See the previous blog post for details.

Honoring 200 Species with a Giveaway!

kaufmanIt seems like just yesterday that Evan and I were well below the 100-species mark for our life lists.  Then migration hit, and we easily achieved that benchmark and went well past it.  We are now on the precipice of 200 species as Evan sits at 189, and I have 198.
One reason I take pictures of birds and write our stories on the blog is to show the reader the plethora of beautiful birds all around us and inspire him or her to start watching them.  To help one lucky reader get started in birding and to honor this impending milestone, we will be giving away a copy of the Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America.  We love this book and have learned a lot from it.

So how do you win?  Here are the rules:

1. In the comment section for this post (found by clicking the caption bubble to the right of the title), guess the date on which Evan will get #200.  The person who picks the closest date wins. You can guess a second date by posting that date to A Boy Who Cried Heron’s Facebook Page, and you can guess a third date by tweeting it to us @birdingbuddies

2. If multiple people choose the winning date, one person’s name will be drawn from a hat.

3. Entries will not be accepted after July 21st.

4. Follow the blog: The winner will be announced in the blog post detailing #200 and will have to email me a shipping address within 3 days.  I will provide an email address in that post.  If I am not contacted within 3 days, the book will be given to the next best guess.

5. All international addresses are excluded.  I will only ship within the U.S.

Camden State Park and a Cerulean Warbler

IMG_4383I am fascinated with the warbler family of birds.  They are birds that burst with color, and there are over four dozen species in the United States.  We have well over half of those in Minnesota.  One warbler that’s been on my wish list is the Cerulean Warbler.  The Cerulean is a pretty blue-backed bird with a white belly and throat and a black necklace.  Besides being visually stunning, this bird is scarce in its known range and is said to be DECLINING.  Sadly, as I read through descriptions in the field guide, there are many species of birds that are in decline, threatened, or endangered.  Needless to say, seeing a Cerulean Warbler would be an outstanding find. Interestingly enough, as I wrote this story, KARE 11 did a feature news story on the decline of another warbler who resides in Minnesota – the Golden-winged Warbler – and how conservation of this and other species can be best be achieved through international partnerships because of the distances that these birds migrate.  To see this story which features one of my photographs, click here.  Through birding I am beginning to understand how delicate our ecosystem can be and that international activity can help or harm bird populations.

While we were on vacation in northern Minnesota, a Cerulean was found and reported on MOU-net in Lyon County which is a mere hour-and-a-half drive from home.  That’s an easy distance compared to some others we’ve traveled for birds.  My mind was made up.  Once we got back from Up North, Evan and I would make a quick trip to look for this bird.  After all, I was willing to blindly search for one at a different location of similar distance, and now there was a confirmed Cerulean in a known location on multiple days.

As my interest in birds could be modeled with an exponential growth chart, Evan’s would look more like a roller coaster.  Since he can identify well over 200 species of birds, I sometimes forget he is six and likes to do kid things too, like play with friends, ride bike, go swimming, and so on.  Lately he doesn’t have the same zeal as his dad, and his patience for going on long searches is nil.  Knowing this, I wanted to make this adventure something fun for him that wasn’t all about birds.  One thing I knew that would entice him would be a stay at Camden State Park.  Evan loves state parks, even more so now that we buy him the signature patch for each park we stay at.  These patches are then sewn on a nice canvas backpack that Melissa got him.  He loves collecting patches depicting his adventures.  Our rule is that we have to spend a night at a park to get the patch; we can’t just pull into a park office, buy a patch, and leave.  Evan knew what Camden’s patch was since we checked out this park on the way home from our Blue Mounds State Park trip.  It was the bluebird that you see above.  A bird + a patch = one happy kid.


Besides dangling a new patch in front of him, I also told him that since it was just the two of us, we’d tent it.  Evan got really excited about this.  He’s stayed in the two-man tent just once in the back yard, so it was a big deal.

The other day we left our women around 4:00 and were headed southwest to Camden State Park.  We stopped at Subway in Granite Falls to redeem a certificate for a free sub that Evan earned for completing a reading program.  That was a perk for him since he’s wanted to do it for a long time.  We also stopped by a marsh near Cottonwood to check out the birds.  This American White Pelican was begging to have his photo taken.  I was excited about this photo since I finally got to make use of reflection in a photo of a bird on water.

IMG_4362We made it to Camden State Park in short order and stopped at the park office.  I went to talk to the ranger and Evan went straight for the patch.  We then picked out a site in the nearly vacant campground and set up camp.

IMG_4363I always bring Evan’s bike to campgrounds, but this time I drove the van so I could bring mine too.  Being just the two of us, it would be a good opportunity to go for an over-due bike ride.  In fact, that was the first thing we did after setting up camp.  As we drove our bikes down the campground road, I realized how much fun it was to ride a bike and do some non-birding stuff with my son.  I remembered how much fun I had going on bike rides with my family as a kid.  Nevertheless, I still carried my camera.  Just in case. Don’t tell my wife, but I took this next photo while riding my bike.

IMG_4366Doesn’t the cruise down this hill look fun?  It was for a lonnnggg time. But every revolution of the wheels made me realize how stupid this decision was.  I kept asking Evan if he wanted to keep going down since we’d have to come back up.  He said it was fine.  So I listened.  Dumb.  When we finally got to the bottom to turn around, he made it all of twenty feet before hopping off to walk the bike up.  So we had a nice bike ride and walk.  Oh well, it gave us a chance to do some birding, like observing this Indigo Bunting pecking around the railroad tracks.

IMG_4369The reported location of the Cerulean Warbler was not at Camden State Park.  Rather, it was at Garvin Park, a county park and campground about 15 miles away.  It would have been cheaper and more convenient to stay there, but they don’t have a patch.  It is a cool place regardless.

IMG_4380Our plan was to get up at 6:00 AM, head over to Garvin, and then come back later to pack up.  Birds are active early.  That is why I wanted to spend the night so we could be out there right away.

The alarm went off.  I got up.  Evan didn’t.  I figured we probably didn’t have to go that early, so I let him sleep while I went about getting packed up.  I tried Evan again later. Nothing. Then a little later after that.  Nothing.  Finally it was 6:45, and I was practically dragging him from bed.  We got completely packed and loaded and were to Garvin by 7:45.

Once on site, we were looking for the campground host’s campsite because that is where our target had been hanging out.  But we couldn’t find it, so I parked the van and we were just going to walk the campground loop.  I knew I couldn’t expect much birding stamina out of Evan, but the van door literally had just closed when he said he wanted to go.  You’ve got to be kidding.  But after all, he was tired, and we had just driven by this:

IMG_4372I was frustrated that he couldn’t even put in a little bit of time.  Just then a campground worker came by who pointed out where the host’s site was, which had no host.  We walked straight there.  I stared at trees, and Evan wandered to the much smaller playground nearby.  Within minutes I heard the Cerulean Warbler, but I couldn’t locate it.  This didn’t even hold Evan’s attention.  Before long we walked back to the van to get his bike so he could ride around the loop.  Okay, good, he is occupied having fun.  That didn’t last more than one loop, though.  I realized he was tired, so I drove the van to where we were searching, parked it in the shade, reclined the seat, and had him rest.  I continued to stare at treetops in vain since that’s where Ceruleans hang out.  Evan became restless again and wanted to go to the big park pictured above.  I knew it was important to do this, so I agreed to take him there at 9:00.  It was currently 8:40.

So there I was, crunched for time, making my search all the more desperate.  I occupied my time by looking at every moving bird.  I was treated to a Great-crested Flycatcher, numerous Cedar Waxwings, and an Indigo Bunting.  One time I pulled up the binoculars on a bird that looked black-and-white and was hanging out halfway up to the tops of the trees.  A woodpecker? A Black-and-White Warbler perhaps?  Then I saw a faint hint of blue on this bird as it moved about the leaves in the shadows! It was the Cerulean Warbler! I hollered at Evan, who quickly ran out of the van to stand next to me. The best I could do was point out the clump of leaves where I saw it.  He wasn’t able to see it. After that I had to try to get my camera on it which was tough to do.  I spied the bird again for just a flash, which was enough for this quick shot.  The quality isn’t good, but considering the distance and this bird’s rarity and propensity for disappearing, I was very thankful for this one and only photo.IMG_4371We watched for a little longer and listened to its distinctive buzzy song.  Though I could tell where he was, I never saw it again after the photo above.  Evan agreed to let me look until our previously agreed time of 9:00.  Whether we found it again or not, I was thrilled. I thought it would take me years to find this bird.  It seems we’ve already found most of the birds we’ve dreamed about in just our first year of birding.  Maybe my friend Patrick is right – it won’t be long until we’ll have to head to someplace exotic like Costa Rica to find a new, interesting bird.

9:00 came – time to be six again.

IMG_4374IMG_4377I played on the playground too (it was super cool, after all), but a birder is always birding…


I could have gone back to keep searching for hours for the Cerulean to help Evan see it and to try to get that ever-elusive perfect photograph.  But when your birding partner is six, you have to fit the birding into his attention span.  Today it was more than good enough to see this incredible target and get a photo that is very recognizable but not remarkable.  So we left the home of this cool bird to get back to our home where there were more important things for Evan to do, like swimming in the back yard with the neighborhood children.