September – A Review on Birding and Life

Hopefully we haven’t lost all our devoted readers to this month-long hiatus from blogging. No, the birding hasn’t stopped, but the uptick in life activity along with the decline in birding activity has provided little opportunity to write. Fall migration has been slow, but we’ve still managed to see some good birds.  Life, on the other hand, has been fast and furious. The start of a new school year is always hectic for Melissa and me as we both teach.  First-grader Evan is also busier as he now has homework, Cub Scouts, and piano lessons. Add in a birthday party sleep-over and a new obsession with playing catch with a football, and there is very little room (or interest) for birds.  Marin is also experiencing her own busy little life as she started a new daycare this fall and is enrolled in a dance class.  And we are all busier with church as small-group Bible study and Sunday school classes have resumed with the fall season.

One thing that’s been keeping me busy in my limited spare time is the development of a a new birding website called Birding Across America. This site is a national platform for birders across the country to connect with each other allowing traveling birders to see more birds when they are in unfamiliar lands.  On the site each state has its own page with a featured photo gallery where registered users can upload photos, share sightings, and read the rare bird alerts of that particular state’s listserv.  It has been time-consuming to say the least, but the site is growing and I have met a lot of friendly birders through the process. It’s my hope that this new website will satisfy my own birding and coding interests and allow me to stick to the integrity of this blog: writing about birding outings with my family and documenting those memories and sharing them with you.

Speaking of that, I’d like to start the birding part of this post by showing you some pictures of one of our regular birding stops in early September – a mudflat near Willmar that was a stopping point for many shorebirds.

IMG_5171 Here are two Wilson’s Snipe. Yes, Jeff, snipe do exist.IMG_5142

A crazed Green Heron flew in and ran about the mudflat.IMG_5129

And this next one is a lifer.  The problem is we don’t know what it is.  It’s either a Baird’s Sandpiper or White-rumped Sandpiper.  Shorebirds are so frustrating.IMG_5158 On one of our trips to this mudflat, there was just a trio of yellowlegs – two Greater Yellowlegs and one Lesser Yellowlegs.  They are very similiar in appearance and their size is only discernable when they are next to each other.IMG_5189 As we watched these three, we heard a sharp “Ki-ki-ki-ki” and saw a Merlin fly in and try to nab one of the yellowlegs!  It was very cool to see this raptor.  If only I could have gotten a decent shot of it.IMG_5186

Another local haunt that I brought the kids to in September was Robbins Island Park.  I don’t even remember how many times we came out to look for migrating birds.  We saw lots of warblers and vireos.  I even managed to see my nemesis bird, the Blue-headed Vireo, but was unable to relocate it for Evan or for a photograph. On one of my solo outings I did capture this migrating vireo – the Philadelphia Vireo.IMG_5085On these frequent outings to Robbins Island, the kids were more interested in being kids while I scanned the trees for birding activity. Looking down at the ground showed some other activity. Note Marin’s “birding” boots.


One time when I was alone at Robbins Island, I happened upon this very tame Red-tailed Hawk sitting on top of the swings!  I was able to walk within 10 feet of it. It freaked me out a little, and I made sure to put a light pole between myself and the bird while I took these pictures. I didn’t want a face full of talons. I found its perch to be humorous as I wondered if it was waiting for an unsuspecting toddler.




One time that Evan and I went by ourselves to Robbins Island, we caught up with our Cooper’s Hawk again that we wrote about in the last post. Last time we saw the Cooper’s Hawk being dive-bombed by crows. This day, however, the hawk was chasing the crows!



In late September we were able to sneak away for a camping trip to St. Croix State Park with Melissa’s parents and nieces.


It was a gorgeous weekend with perfect weather. The cousins enjoyed their time together as did the adults, and I even managed to take a couple bird photos of some migrating birds. Here is a Yellow-rumped Warbler.


And another late-migrating warbler – the Palm Warbler.


It’s hard to go birding/camping without playing around the water.

IMG_5242IMG_5245IMG_5247Looking up from the water into beautiful blue sky revealed a kettle of Broadwinged Hawks riding the thermals as they migrate.IMG_5253


After our St. Croix trip, the kids and I found ourselves out birding again the following weekend.  I had to find something to write about for my October contribution to Birding is Fun!. So we went out with no real birding plan but happened upon a pair of Trumpeter Swans. This is always a fun bird to see. Evan and I first became enamored with them when we read E.B. White’s The Trumpet of the Swan. Seeing as this bird has a limited range in the United States and that is was once endangered, I figured it would make a good article for Birding is Fun!

IMG_5342The size of the Trumpeter is massive! That’s a Mallard in the foreground if you have any idea how big they are.IMG_5344On this same day, the kids and I went on to check out another favorite birding haunt: the Atwater sewage ponds. Among the hundreds of Canada Geese and Ring-billed Gulls, we were delighted to find seven more Trumpeters!  This was the bird of the day.

IMG_5364 IMG_5363On the way home I stopped to take some pictures of sparrows.  Here is a Savannah Sparrow.

IMG_5385Speaking of sparrows, I finally filled our bird feeders at home just in time to see some of the neat migrating sparrows.  This next picture is very bad, but it is also very cool.  In this one shot you will see three migrating sparrows.  From left to right: White-crowned Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, and Harris’s Sparrow.


Here’s a better shot of the Harris’s Sparrow.  IMG_5438

In addition to these fine three, we had a new yard bird – the Lincoln’s Sparrow! I didn’t get a picture, and Evan didn’t see it (he’s seen a Lincoln’s before), but he was really excited when I told him the news.  And just today we saw our first returning Fox Sparrow – also not pictured.

The best yard bird, though, and arguably one of my favorite birds, has also been showing up regularly – the Eurasian Collared Dove.  Evan first discovered this bird in our yard over a year ago and proved himself an observant birder as he argued with me (correctly) that he saw this bird I had never even heard of at that time.  You can read more of the story at More Than Just a Name. Moreover, during the past year I’ve learned that this is a good bird in Minnesota that people get excited to see.  Almost every day I get to see it and remember how this whole journey of birding began.  I don’t know what kind of birding adventures we have in store for the fall, but we are eager for winter to come so we can chase after northern owls and other migrants from the north.


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