Great Tales of Local Listing

After I dropped the kids off at school Monday, my day off could be spent however–catching up on housework, catching up on real work, or birding. Tough decision–thought no birder ever. What was a tough decision was how I was going to bird. A tantalizing list-serv report came in the middle of the night of a Great-tailed Grackle just 40 miles away.  Though it may be a trash bird in the south, this potential state bird has already been the object of two failed chases but could have the honor of being Minnesota #300 if the third chase was successful. But would it be there the next day?  Would I fail again and own that disgraceful statistic?  I have also been hard-pressed to find a Willet for my life list and with the median migration date fast approaching, I thought it would be prudent to look for such a thing instead of going for the Grackle.  The possibility of exploring and discovering was winning out over the possibility of chasing and being disappointed.

I started the day by heading down to the Bird Island sewage ponds, a known mecca for shorebirds during migration.  Except this day; one Yellowlegs sp.  Looks like I chose wrong. The day was young, though, so I thought I’d check one more spot for shorebirds before joining Evan for lunch at his school. On the way I got a text from Melissa who added Common Loon to our yard list as a bird flew so low and yodeled so unmistakable (to any Minnesotan) and loud that she heard it from inside the house.  This was a pretty exciting addition to the list as there is not water around us for several miles!

I knew my next stop for shorebirds was a long shot for a Willet.  But I had to try. As I walked a fence line on the property, the ground exploded at my feet with rushing wings. Pheasants? Small-bodies, gray birds, no long tails, rusty outer tail feathers…not pheasants–GRAY PARTRIDGES!!!

Gray PartridgeSure, it’s a crummy photo but this was taken on the draw as I stalked the two birds for a second flush.  The thrill of this encounter is tough to put into words. Gray Partridges are  tough, tough birds to find in anywhere in Minnesota.  They are most often seen in the dead of winter at dawn or dusk when they are feeding out in the plowed fields. Their dark bodies are easy to spot against the snow.  But even this is a rare occurrence for the luckiest of birders who happen to be traveling down the right gravel road.  Gray Partridges like short grass areas where the cover is “thin” and small in area, quite the opposite of Pheasants.  They hold tight and can hide among little/no cover. Unless a birder is getting off the beaten path and hiking old fence lines, drainage ditches, and abandoned farm sites, they likely will never see this bird.  I actually have seen this bird before and in Minnesota, but I did so as a Pheasant hunter. A few years before I was a birder, a buddy and I kicked up a covey of about 10 birds and harvested one (it was and still is a legal game bird).  But that was the last time I laid eyes on one.  Since then I have started doubting their existence and begun to think, as some bird bloggers have, that this is a mythical bird. The thought of one in my own county was even more preposterous.  Yet with a new county bird–and an exceptional one at that!–count me among the believers again.

Because I have seen Gray Partridges in Minnesota in the past but could not recall the date, this has been the one species that has caused my MN eBird list and my actual MN list to be out of balance.  This find rectified that; I am still reveling in the synchronization.

I have literally hunted (successfully) Gray Partridges, or Hungarian Partridges, in Montana two decades ago; but no worries, I won’t be chasing these two with a shotgun.  In fact, I’m not even sharing the location with birders because I think these two might be nesting at this site. I will be taking Evan out there in the coming week as he told me he would like to get this lifer.

Speaking of Evan, I dashed into town full of birdrenaline to meet him for lunch. And then I went for dessert up in Swift County:

Great-tailed Grackle

Great-tailed GrackleNew yard bird (the state bird!), new county bird(!!), eBird list harmony, new Minnesota bird, 300th MN bird–all in one day.  Good times!!

7 thoughts on “Great Tales of Local Listing

  1. I’ve only got a life list of 277*, I haven’t put together my state count lately.
    I tried to increase both with shorebirds last weekend but came up empty.

    *includes 1 feral, 1 distinct subspecies (Harlan’s Hawk), and 3 hybrids (a gull and two ducks).

    • Slow web-based meeting today gave me some time to count…

      My MN list is 211, but
      1 was window-kill only (Nelson’s Sparrow)
      1 was a distinct subspecies (Harlan’s Hawk)
      1 was a feral domestic (Swan Goose)
      2 were hybrids (Mallard x Gadwall and Mallard x Black Duck)
      So that gives me 206 “Countable”

      In addition, I have reservations on my IDs of 5 species, some from years ago, some from just fleeting notes or distant views: Mute Swan, Eared Grebe, Common Tern, Short-eared Owl, and Dickcissel.

      So that leaves me with a state list of 201 that’s fully countable and without reservation. #200 was my Canvasback at the Coon Rapids Dam on the last day of February.


      As you may remember, I’m keen on my patch list (at and around the Coon Rapids Dam). That list is 177, but
      1 was a feral domestic (Swan Goose)
      So that gives me 176 “Countable”.

      Further, ID of four of them is with reservation: Eared Grebe, Short-eared Owl, Eastern Screech-owl, Red-breasted Nuthatch.
      (On the nuthatch, I have a gamecam photo taken at about the same time I was pretty sure I heard one, but couldn’t find it.)

      So that gives me 172 countable without reservations at my patch.

      Further, 6 were a mile or two outside my regular limits of my patch but I was biking from my patch: Northern Shoveler, Willow Flycatcher, Horned Lark, Field Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Eastern Meadowlark.

      So that leaves 166 strictly in my patch: the Coon Rapids Dam Regional Parks, the Brooklyn Park Environmental Nature Area, my yard, and my neighbors’ yards. Getting to a round number like 200 will take a heck of a lot of work and luck.

  2. Congrats on the two awesome birds Josh, with the awesome Partridge find and the GTGR state bird for 300! Finding an elusive species like Gray Partridge is very rewarding. Well done!

    • Thanks Tommy! Honestly I was more excited about the Gray Partridge even though it wasn’t a state bird. Not even a lack of a good photo can detract from how good getting this bird felt.

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