When Will It Ever Happen?

April 22, 2016, that’s when.


Willet has been my nemesis shorebird for a couple years now. I’ve chased and searched but could never catch a break with this one until Joel Schmidt called me up after work on Friday.  Joel asked me if I still needed a county Willet.  I practically stuttered when I admitted my shame of telling him I needed a Willet period. My bag of shame birds got a little lighter, but I still tote a few around.

Funny thing is that I took this bird for granted in my early birding career.  It’ll come, I told myself. One time I even turned down a similar call from Joel two or three years ago when he found a Willet in the county.  Learning that it was over a 100 yards from the road in the disappearing light of the evening, I turned Joel down thinking that there would be better opportunities.  I have not been more wrong. On Friday I didn’t hesitate. I got Joel’s call as I was pulling into the driveway after picking up kids from school. I promptly dropped them off in the care of their mother and then sped away.

Willet To a non-birder this is pretty drab bird, but it can be quite flashy when it flies revealing a striking white and black pattern.  I watched the bird for over a half hour hoping to catch a glimpse of it flying, but it never did.  Eventually I had to get back to the house.  Flashy wings or not, the Willet never fails to impress Minnesota birders because it is such an uncommon migrant.  As such I posted Joel’s sighting on FB. I love posting birds like this because we are such an underbirded county–good birds may attract a few visitors who in turn could find something great in the home county.

Feeling the energy that a new life bird can bring, I went out birding this morning looking for nothing in particular, hoping to find a rarity.  Cinnamon Teal is always high on the want list for a county bird, but I won’t snub a chance to finally get a good photo of its much more common cousin.

Green-winged TealGreen-winged TealAs I was Teal-gazing, though, someone answered the Willet ad in the classifieds. Visiting birder Brad Abendroth struck out on the Willet but instead discovered a whopping 23 American Avocets at that pond!

American AvocetThe birding fun doesn’t end there. Later in the day I took the kids on a short hike at my Gray Partridge spot.  As we walked a fence-line in 20 mph winds we got lucky and kicked up a single Gray Partridge from just 2 feet away! It startled Marin pretty good; she wanted to walk behind me after that. Evan enjoyed seeing this lifer.  Based on the deep rusty color of the outer tail feathers, it must have been a male.  When I saw the two the other day, one had bright rusty outer tail feathers like this and the other had lighter-colored ones, possibly indicating a pair.  If that’s the case, perhaps the female we didn’t see today was sitting tight on a nest. We can only hope.

4 thoughts on “When Will It Ever Happen?

  1. Congrats on the new life bird Josh! Sometimes the ones like that who avoid us end up being the funnest life birds. The Gray Partridges almost seem like they may be reliable…

    • Thanks Tommy, and you are right about that–very satisfying to finally get an elusive bird. I have a handful of such potential lifers that either reside or migrate through my county every year; I should double my efforts to make sure I get them here. It’s definitely much more thrilling that way.

      Perhaps when you come there will be a whole Partridge Family…

  2. Way to blog about needing a Willet and then three days later get one! That happened with me with my county Snowy Owl a few years ago, too. The follow-up post about Eskimo Curlew did not pan out, however.

    I like the term “shame bird.” I have three big ones that now have a new name.

    • Well, as much as I like serendipity like the next guy, my focus on Willet wasn’t random: the median migration date for Willet for my part of the state is April 23rd, so it was that weekend or bust for another year! Just glad I got my present a day early on the 22nd and in the home county no less!

      I think Seagull Steve gets the credit for Shame Bird. It’s so appropriate.

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