Migration Photo Dump

Given that the recent material on this blog has covered events from over a month ago, you may begin to think that the birding has stopped.  Any birder will tell you the birding never stops.  Since returning from Montana, there has been a lot of local action as I’ve tried to keep up with migration while blogging, holding down a job, being a dad/husband, etc. Anyhow, here is post that will largely be pictorial with some commentary as needed.  The birds pictured will follow the taxonomic order of how birds are listed with ornithologists unions, eBird, etc.  This is not an exhaustive run-down of all the birds I’ve seen this spring, but rather just the more photogenic ones. Some are migrants; some are residents who have returned for the breeding season.


Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter Swan

Wood Duck

Wood Duck



Blue-winged Teal and Wood Duck

Blue-winged Teal and Wood Duck

Greater Scaup

Greater Scaup

Lesser Scaup

Lesser Scaup

Lesser Scaup and Greater Scaup

Lesser Scaup and Greater Scaup

Herons, Ibis, and Allies

About a month ago, I traveled to Miller-Richter WMA in Yellow Medicine County to join forces with my birding friend, Garrett Wee, to look for my lifer Willet and Short-billed Dowitcher.  Willets had been popping up left and right, but somehow I was always in the middle.  This day with Garrett would prove to be the same.  As we studied the shorebirds on Miller Lake, Garrett and I got talking about White-faced Ibises.  He was telling me how it was probably his favorite bird.  He’s seen them in southern states but never here in Minnesota.  White-faced Ibis is a rare-regular bird for MN.  He missed the group of five last year in his home county at Black Rush Lake because he was at prom.  Fair enough I suppose.

Our next stop after Miller-Richter was Spellman and Miedd Lakes.  Right away at Miedd, Garrett spotted some birds faraway on the opposite shore that looked different.  I zoomed my camera to the max and snapped a crummy photo so Garrett and I could see what they were.  Even though it was super blurry, we could tell by the coloration and sheen on the wings that they were Ibises! We immediately hoofed it nearly 3/4 of a mile around the shoreline to get a closer view.  And there were eight birds in all! It was awesome that Garrett got his Minnesota White-faced Ibises on the very day we talked about it.  As a bonus, no one has ever submitted an official MOU record of White-faced Ibises for Yellow Medicine County.

White-faced Ibises

White-faced Ibises

White-faced Ibises


Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

Pectoral Sandpiper

Pectoral Sandpiper

Long-billed Dowitcher

Long-billed Dowitcher

Wilson's Phalarope

Wilson’s Phalarope


Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl


Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher


Yellow-throated Vireo

Yellow-throated Vireo


Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Catbirds, Mockingbirds, and Thrashers

I’ve been on very good terms with Brown Thrashers this spring.  It’s a balm of sorts for the Sage Thrasher burn.

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher


Don’t let the lack of photos fool you; I’ve seen a great variety of Warblers this spring.  They just haven’t been very photogenic.  Best non-pictured species included Golden-winged, Canada, Magnolia, and Northern Parula.  American Redstarts are resident this far south in the summer, and they have been especially ubiquitous during migration.

American Redstart

American Redstart

This next photo is included only because it is a photographic first and only the third time I have seen a Bay-breasted Warbler.  Thanks for the call, Steve.

Bay-breasted Warbler

Bay-breasted Warbler

Sparrows and other Emberizids

Field Sparrow

Field Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

Harris's Sparrow

Harris’s Sparrow


Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole

Other Cool Stuff

Snapping Turtle

Snapping Turtle

There are two special birds I have left out of this post.  Both are big birds and both are BIG birds.  One was just a county bird; the other was a county/life bird.  These birds will either be combined in the next post or each have their own post. Stay tuned!

Summer’s Grand Finale

When summer began I had a list of resident birds that had eluded me for over two years. Migrations and periods of summer residency came and went with no sign of these birds that live here at home in Kandiyohi County during the summer months.  General laziness and greenhorn status is certainly a part but not the entirety of the cause.  No, this list of birds reads like the Who’s Who of the most evasive and elusive birds on the continent. They were dismissed in my early birding days because they are rag-tag bunch of drab and frumpy-looking earth-toned birds.  They didn’t bring the ‘wow’ factor like a Scarlet Tanager or a Blue-headed Vireo.  Little did I know that this ‘playing hard-to-get’ quality would make them some of the most desirable birds around.  So here they are with their current status indicated.

Wood Thrush: Heard Only – the worst way to get a lifer (is that even a lifer?)

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Black-billed Cuckoo: Conquered –  twice over with some crummy photos to boot!

American Bittern – Heard Only/Possibly Seen

Least Bittern

Black-crowned Night Heron Seen – but a pale juvenile far, far away. Sigh.

Henslow’s Sparrow – Heard Only?

Sora – Heard Only successfully converted to Flash Sighting

Virginia Rail – Ditto the Sora

So I guess I was fairly successful since I made contact with all but two on my list.  Even still, with nary a decent photo to show for my efforts, my work was anything but satisfactory. There’s no other way to put it – these birds are all just buggers, the whole bunch.  Given this C- performance on my wish list and the recent Least Tern fiasco, I’m happy to report that we’d have the last laugh over one of the species on this list and put it to rest photographically speaking.  It was a Life Bird thumping with unobstructed views requiring no binoculars.  And the icing on the cake was the cool way it all went down. Read on.

With a bathroom project choking out my time and the new school year looming on the horizon, summer birding season pretty much had all but the last nail in the coffin.  Part of my back-to-school agenda included a three-day training in downtown St. Paul.  On the surface, the Cities may not seem like a birding destination.  But I have seen some amazing birds in the Cities because the pockets and puddles of habitat are prowled and scoured by an army of metro birders.   And lately they were turning up one very cooperative and photogenic bird from my list.  Throngs of people were going to see this bird.  My Facebook feed was spammed up with countless photos of this bird in various lights and poses.  It was ridiculous how easy people were adding this bird to their life and photo lists.  It was cheap. It was unfair.  And I wanted a piece of that action.

So what bird could garner such attention?  It was none other than the Least Bittern, a couple of them in fact.  They were being seen daily from a boardwalk through a marsh at the Wood Lake Nature Center in Richfield.  Being in the Cities at the zenith of this Least Bittern mania was a beautiful coincidence.  The whole family accompanied me to the Cities.  I got trained while hey had fun with their Science Museums, Childrens’ Museums, swimming pools, and such.  But the Least Bittern fun would be a family affair.

We got to Wood Lake Nature Center that first night with about an hour of daylight to spare and quickly huffed our way to the boardwalk that cuts right through the middle of the marsh.  I wasn’t worried about the time element; I knew there would be other birders there.  We just had to look for them and that’s where the bird would be.  Sure enough there was guy with a camera as long as my leg and a lady sporting some fancy binos. We were where we needed to be.  Of course there were no irrelevant introductions, but rather my first words were to inquire if the bird was present.  The answer was no. Before too long the lady went further down the boardwalk to look while the guy stayed put.  I have a tough time sitting still when birds are not being seen, so I started in the direction of the lady.  That’s when Mr. Camera whistled at us and motioned excitedly with his hand for us to join him.  He had it.  Evan and I raced down there, and I caught a mere glimpse of bird’s butt disappearing into the reeds. Mr. Camera showed me a lovely photo of the non-butt parts of the Least Bittern that he took just seconds ago.  The aggravation!

A short time later the lady came walking back to all of us and told us she had another Least Bittern further down.  Mr. Camera was amazingly mobile with his massive apparatus and got down there just as fast as we did.  And there we saw a glorious Least Bittern unobstructed just 6 feet off the boardwalk.  It was awesome.

Least Bittern at Wood Lake Nature Center in Richfield

Least Bittern at Wood Lake Nature Center in Richfield

 We got to watch this Bittern nab a minnow from time to time.  I was never ready with the camera.  I usually caught it just before or after such a shot.

Least Bittern

It was incredibly fun to watch.  Here Evan is waiting for it to reappear after one of its many disappearances into the reeds.

EvanEven Melissa and Marin enjoyed seeing this mysterious, petite bird.  But a potential screaming fit caused the two of them to go off on their own birding venture to look at Mallards and such. All of us, from different vantage points, saw this Osprey come sailing over clutching a fat, little meal from someone’s Koi pond.


We never had to wait long on the Least Bittern to show up again.

Least Bittern

Least BitternLeast BitternEvan was captivated by this bird.  He never watches birds through binoculars, so he often misses just how cool some birds can be.  Here he needed none to enjoy the bird.  I wanted to capture him in this state, and Mr. Camera and his camera added some birding flavor to the background of the image.  Plus he and Evan were visiting about birds as the guy was asking him questions and teaching him things.  He was an incredibly friendly guy. Moments after I took this shot, the lady birder pulled me aside and whispered that Mr. Camera was Stan Tekiela, the famed author/photographer of the popular state-by-state birding field guides and other nature guide books!

Evan watching a Least Bittern with Stan Tekiela.

I recognized Stan’s name instantly but had trouble recalling where I had seen his name before.  Then I remembered a book from Evan’s library of field guides and nature books.

Stan Tekiela

The lady birder implored me to take a picture of my kid alongside Mr. Tekiela.  The look in her eye and the tone of her hushed voice indicated this was a big, big deal – so much so that if she had a kid (which she didn’t) she’d definitely get a picture of the two of them together.

It was cool to bump into Mr. Tekiela.  But what was really neat was to listen in on the natural conversation between Mr. Tekiela and Evan about all things natural.  He truly was an educator who genuinely enjoyed sharing nature with others.  Here is a snippet of conversation I overheard:

Mr. Tekiela: “There’s another bird that looks like this that’s a lot bigger.”

Evan: “Yeah, I know.”

Mr. Tekiela: “Do you know what it’s called?”

Evan: “The, uh, uh, American Bittern.  We’ve never seen one. We’ve only heard one at my Grandpa’s house.”

Mr. Tekiela: “Do you know what they sound like?”

Evan: “Like…someone throwing rocks in a pond.”

Mr. Tekiela: “That’s right, that’s right! They are called the Slough-Pumper because they sound like an old pump pumping the water out of a slough.”

Mr. Tekiela was quite social and amicable with everyone around.  He and I visited for a bit and it came up that Evan had his field guide for Arizona birds. So we visited about Arizona and all his fascinating work in making field guides for that state.  He told me for the Arizona mammals book they had to trap all the smaller rodents and photograph them in captivity and then carefully replace each one in the exact same spot they found it in.  Another fun story he shared with us was a call he got from law enforcement in the Twin Cities area about an Eastern Coral Snake someone found in the Cities!  Mr. Tekiela never was able to relocate the snake, but he showed us a picture of it on his cell phone that the police had sent him.

It was a very fun encounter.  But weren’t we looking at a bird?  Our visiting never scared it off…maybe it was hanging around listening to Mr. Tekiela’s cool stories…

Least BitternLeast Bittern

After dozens of Least Bittern photos which was still probably less than 5% of the number Mr. Tekiela had, we decided to keep walking the boardwalk to look for some of the abundant Virginia Rails people had been reporting.  Evan had never seen one, and I needed a photo.  At one point we were walking back toward where Mr. Tekiela was when he motioned wildly and whisper-yelled, “Evan, come here!”  We hustled up there just in time for Mr. Tekiela to point out a Racoon that was creeping out from the reeds and coming to the water’s edge.  Evan’s response was “Cool!”

After lingering a bit longer, the rain started to come down.  Evan and I took off running to join the girls and get back to the car as Mr. Tekiela chided, “C’mon, you fair-weather birders!”  We smiled back and kept running.  Once we were under the canopy of the woods and slowed down, I finally told Evan who he was birding and visiting with.  His eyes got as big as dinner plates.

It was one heck of a bird to end the summer with and one memorable birder encounter. That’s what I love about this game – you never know what will happen. And most importantly, everybody in the whole family had a genuine good time on this little outing.  It was the best way to wrap up the summer birding season.  It was perfect.

Going Cuckoo over Free Beer on a Blue Bird Day – Wild Birding at Mom and Dad’s

The parents' 80-acre spread

The parents’ 80-acre “farm”

Ahhhh, northern Minnesota.  It’s good for the soul.  I can’t believe June had nearly expired before we got up there this summer.  I blame bathroom remodels, snow make-up days, and birds.  June is probably the best month to be up there.  The weather is wonderfully cool, the scenery is a crisp blue and green everywhere, the fishing is fantastic, and the warblers are unbeatable. It’s a birdaholic’s dream with the great northern species and a maximum of 6 hours of darkness around this time of the summer solstice.

In fact, when we arrived at Mom and Dad’s around 7:30 last Sunday evening, I heard a life bird.  An American Bittern, also known as the Thunder Pumper, was just beginning his evening calling in the wetland across the road.  I battled the hordes of mosquitos trying to get a glimpse of it, but it never came into view.  Maybe tomorrow.

That next morning I was up early to go birding around my parents’ 80-acre spread.  The truth is that I’ve never really birded their land as I’ve seen most of my northern birds during migration back home. But this place is where the birding venture kicked off for me a couple years ago when I had a chance encounter with a Chestnut-sided Warbler. It was time to see what I could dig up when birding it properly.  My parents’ land is unusual in that it is mostly open prairie instead of being heavily forested like most of the region.  As such they get some fun prairie birds like Eastern Bluebirds and Bobolinks as well as a lot of the boreal species in the surrounding woods.

The dew was heavy that morning and the mosquitoes were unbelievably thicker than normal.  Admittedly I was quite miserable.  The beautiful song of another life bird, the Winter Wren, caused me to bear the misery a little longer.  But the Winter Wrens have an affinity for the thickest, shrubbiest, swampiest habitat.  Even if I got close I would probably not get a visual and the mosquitoes would increase tenfold.  I gave up on it after a time, deciding to go after it during migration back home. My morning was not a waste, though, as I was delighted to find a Northern Parula singing on territory.  My visual was quick but good even if I couldn’t get a photo.  Other than the Parula, the audio birding was wonderful – Veeries, Ovenbirds, and White-throated Sparrows were constantly at work creating a symphony in the woods.

White-throated Sparrow singing his "Oh, sweet Canada, Canada!" song with great gusto

White-throated Sparrow singing his “Oh, sweet Canada, Canada!” song with great gusto

Later that day Evan was begging for a 4-wheeler ride.  Usually I’m the one who takes him on such an excursion.  Eventually I relented.  Evan told me he wanted to go on “the longest 4-wheeler ride ever.”  The appeal of ATVs and snowmobiles has long worn off for me, but with all the birds around I had the sudden thought that I could probably give Evan “the longest 4-wheeler ride ever” and that it could be a lot of fun for both of us.  It would have several listening stops at key places.  Evan’s a birder and not enough of a motor-head to mind stopping every now and then to listen and look for birds.

Evan 4-wheeler

Our first listening stop was the location of that Northern Parula.  I played the song on my phone.  Immediately we got a response, but not from the Parula.  A Black-billed Cuckoo sounded off in the distance!  Holy Smokes!  That’s another life bird. I’m not sure if he responded to the Parula song or if it was pure coincidence.  Either way, we fired up the 4-wheeler and headed that direction.  We made a couple stops, playing the song each time.  Randy has said they are very responsive to tapes. Despite our efforts, we were not hearing it again.

Then I was about to give up at our last stop, when all of the sudden the Cuckoo flew in and landed in a dead tree right in front of us!

“There it is!”

“Where?!” Evan responded

“Right there!” I said, pointing as Evan sat on the 4-wheeler seat in front of me.

“I see it! Yes! Another life bird!” Evan said while doing a fist pump and standing simultaneously.

The visual was good.  The photos are another story.  It’s such a secretive, sneaky bird!

Black-billed Cuckoo lifer - Finally!

Black-billed Cuckoo lifer – Finally!



This bird flew out into this open meadow a few times checking us out.  We had really good looks at it as it flew by.  What a thrill it was to finally get this bird!IMG_9579  A good sighting like that made a beautiful day even more beautiful.



I took my dad out a couple hours later to see the Black-billed Cuckoo.  He had never seen one either.  We took the 4-wheeler, but as is the customary pecking-order of father-son relationships, I was no longer the driver.  I opted for sitting on the back rack, facing the opposite direction instead of sharing the seat with him.  I was able to help Dad see the Cuckoo.  It was also fun to enjoy the birds that benefit from the nesting boxes Dad has put up.

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Dad and I also got to see a White-throated Sparrow and a Chestnut-sided Warbler singing within each other’s territories.  While we were listening and watching, we heard the distinctive “Free beeeer!” call of the Alder Flycatcher.  Sweet.  Alder Flycatchers are one of the five Empidonax species we can see in Minnesota, and the only safe way to correctly identify them is through voice and habitat.  Flycatchers are a drab bunch. Maybe that’s why the Alder and Acadian Flycatchers try to lure in birders and unsuspecting college students alike with their respective “Free-beeeer!” and “Piz-ZA!” calls.

Dad and I found the Alder no problem.  Flycatchers love their dead snag perches above the rest of the shrubbery.

Alder Flycatcher

Alder Flycatcher

There were many other short 4-wheeler trips during our time at Mom and Dad’s.  It’s always fun to see birds that are residents here but migrants back home, like the Olive-sided Flycatcher or this Hermit Thrush.

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

I tried several times to see that American Bittern.  I may have seen it fly, but I’m not sure and won’t count it.  While searching for the Bittern one evening I had the good fortune of seeing another Black-billed Cuckoo!  But all that gave me photo-ops were this Common Yellowthroat.

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

And this rainbow.  It wasn’t going anywhere.

IMG_9609Not bad birding around the parents’ farm.  I also sneaked away one morning on a quick solo mission to hike the Vermilion Gorge trail by Crane Lake on a tip from local birder, Dee Kuder, to look for Pine Warblers.  Pine Warbler is a hole in my warbler life list, and I always forget about this drab warbler during migration and when I’m up north.  It’s like that quiet kid in the classroom – always there but greatly overshadowed by the more gaudy and boisterous warbler children. Today was the day to look for the Pine.  Evan declined my offer to go on this hike.

The Crane Lake area has the classic northern Minnesota beauty with tall pines and pristine lakes with rocky shores.  Unfortunately it was a cloudy day and I had to save my dying camera battery for a chance encounter with that Pine Warbler, so I wasn’t able to get any scenery shots.  Not even of the Vermilion River Gorge itself, a deep, narrow canyon a couple hundred yards long where the river rushes through.

Dee’s information paid off though.  I found the Pine in a large stand of towering Red Pines.  The Pine Warbler is way at the far-end of the beauty spectrum as far as warblers go, but I was ecstatic to find this drab, little bugger.  It was my 30th warbler species.

Pine Warbler

Pine Warbler

Pine Warbler

Pine Warbler

Pine Warbler

A Pine Warbler in the pines.  You can’t beat that.  I always prefer to see birds in their natural territories rather than in pot-luck sightings during migration.  Evan was bummed that I got the Pine; I guess I forgot to tell him I was looking for that bird when I asked if he wanted to go hiking.  But as bird sightings go, now that I’ve seen the Pine, I will start seeing them everywhere so Evan should get his in short order.

Our trip up north was productive both birdwise and relative-wise.  And I had yet another crazy bird/birder adventure.  Hopefully I can secure some guest photos from that encounter so I can share the fun story here.  Stick around.

Blue Mounds State Park – The Search for a Blue Grosbeak, Last Day

Read Day 2 of Blue Mounds State Park – The Search for a Blue Grosbeak by clicking this link.

Read Day 1 of Blue Mounds State Park – The Search for a Blue Grosbeak by clicking this link.

I woke up early on our last day to a strange, unexpected sound – birds singing!  There was no pitter-patter on the roof! I think the change in noise woke Melissa at the same time because she said, “You guys better get out there.”  No kidding. We had to head home in the afternoon.  This was our only chance. It was 6 AM, and I hustled out of bed to wake Evan.  He’s a hard sleeper, but he also recognized this opportunity and readily woke up.  We both quietly put our gear on, careful not to wake Marin.  When just Evan and I go out we can do some serious birding. He’s remarkably hardy for a 6-year-old, willing to go on long walks or out into wet conditions.

As soon as we slipped out the door, we heard a life bird singing in the neighboring camp site.  The sound was that of the Warbling Vireo.  Joel, the birder who put us on to Cliff Swallows, told me the importance of knowing its song in order to find it as it hangs out in the leafy treetops and is hard to see.  He said we should be able to find it in our own yard.  So I studied the song, and that’s what we were hearing this morning.  We looked for maybe a half a minute before giving up.  After all, we were here for a very specific bird and couldn’t waste these precious rain-free minutes on something we could get at home.

We got in the car to make the two-mile drive back to the interpretive center to search for our target.  Almost immediately, the rain started back up.  Ugh.  However, it was really light, and the birds were still singing everywhere.  We didn’t hear much the day before. Apparently they’d had enough too and were going to resume their normal behaviors in spite of the rain.  Good.

Evan and I poked around the interpretive center on the Bur Oak Trail for all of five minutes when he started complaining of hunger. Searching for this bird was full of starts and stops.  Rather than going back to the camper and risking waking Marin, we made the short drive to Luverne to grab some McDonald’s.  Twenty minutes later we were back in the same spot hunting for the bird.  There was bird activity this morning – Northern Cardinal, Brown Thrasher, Western Meadowlarks, Tree Swallows, Mourning Doves – but no Blue Grosbeak.

We walked back to the car to give up.  After all, it was raining.  I had a tough time letting go, though. The top of the mound where the prairie meets the the oak woods was beckoning me.  I’ve read that these grosbeaks like this type of edge.  Evan was tired and wet, but he agreed to go up the grassy mound with me.  Once on the prairie, we followed a trail that hugged that edge of the oak woods.  There were several trail junctions that would take us either back out onto the prairie mound or back into the woods.  I let Evan pick our path a couple different times. He chose one that wound through the oak/prairie edge and reconnected with the Bur Oak Trail in the woods.

As we walked we heard a very loud bird song from a nearby oak tree.  Was it?  I’ve mentioned before that my ability to remember anything involving sound is really bad, and we didn’t have the iPod along.  I asked Evan if he thought it was the Blue Grosbeak.  He told me he thought it was.  We couldn’t find it though, and I was not sure that we were actually hearing our target bird.  Finally Evan had enough and wanted to go back to the camper.  We turned around to go back, but this mystery bird kept singing.  It was close. I just couldn’t give up. Not now, not when we had a good lead.  I told him I just wanted to walk the trail a little longer until we reached a certain rock outcropping a hundred feet away.  Evan stayed put while I searched.  Once at the rock, I could tell that the bird was somewhere in the large oak right by the path.  But I couldn’t find the source of the sound.

Eventually I gave up and started to head back.  But the bird kept singing.  I decided to make one more concentrated look from a different vantage point.  I would wait for each time the bird sang to try to hone in on its location.  Then, somehow, I spotted the singing bird at the very top of this oak tree nestled among the large and plentiful leaves.  Were we right about this being the Blue Grosbeak? It seemed odd that it would be so high; I’ve read they are mostly in shrubby vegetation close to the ground. I pulled up the binoculars. I could hardly believe it.  I was looking at the very image that had been taunting us all weekend  – a dark blue bird, rusty wing patch, and a chunky bill.  The Blue Grosbeak!  I pointed it out to Evan and then started snapping away with my camera.  Not only did we find our bird, but at this particular moment there was no rain.IMG_3933

The thrill of victory was incredible.  We got our target.  What made it even better was that we got it through hard work and not just luck.  Our studying and visiting led us to the right vicinity, and learning the bird’s song is what ultimately led us to success this morning.  It was also a team effort.  Evan’s confidence that we were hearing the Blue Grosbeak and my persistent searching helped us meet our goal.  Wow.

This male was busy singing away as he’d been doing all throughout our search.  He was 30-40 feet up and was not bothered by our presence, so I was able to get closer and change vantage points.

IMG_3951 IMG_3947

Here you can see him doing what helped us find him.

IMG_3950I figured 20+ pictures was enough to get a decent image or two, so we decided to go back to the camper for real.  As we walked out, Evan said, “Dad?”

“Yes, Evan.”

“I want to go buy that key chain now.”

I couldn’t help but smile.  “You bet, Evan.” As I write this post while drinking my cup of coffee, I regret not getting myself that mug to remember this day.  Next trip to Blue Mounds.

We were feeling good.  We got back to the campsite and were greeted with pancakes and bacon!  Nice!  Not only were we flying high on our victory and good food, but the rain had quit!  Everyone’s mood improved greatly.  Melissa was able to get out for a run, and the kids and I went for a hike.  We left the dirty dishes; we didn’t know when the rain would start up again.

We didn’t see much new on this hike.  Well, Melissa did.  She saw a lot of the park as she ran much further than she intended.  Good scenery and not knowing the trails led her to a six-mile run/walk!  I got a chance to photograph some of the park’s scenery, and Evan finally got a chance to ride his bike.

IMG_3963IMG_3970IMG_3958IMG_3967Once we all got back to the campsite, it was time to pack up.  As the morning went along, the day turned out to be quite nice.  We even saw the sun for awhile.  One of our stops on the way out the park was the interpretive center.  Melissa hadn’t seen it yet, and I needed to report our Blue Grosbeak sighting for other interested birders.

IMG_3974 IMG_3978It was so nice to finally enjoy the sights of the park.  Hopefully next time we can do more exploring by hiking.IMG_3997IMG_3981IMG_3994IMG_3987 IMG_3986IMG_3998

IMG_3999IMG_4002 IMG_4003 IMG_3988

After we left the park, we took a quick drive into Iowa for no other reason than to cross the border and give the kids a new state.  Everybody was feeling good about how this trip ended after enduring nearly 36 hours of steady rain.  Good bye, Blue Mounds. Thanks for the memories, both good and bad.  We will definitely come back for more.

The Prairie of West Central Minnesota – A Photo Shoot

Today was a beautiful day in west central Minnesota.  It was 75°, partly cloudy, and there was a refreshing breeze.  I started my day by going to a meeting at work.  I couldn’t resist taking pictures of some Tree Swallows in a yard next to the school.

IMG_3699On my way home I stopped by a federal Waterfowl Production Area to do some life bird scouting for Evan.  I got my Bank Swallow lifer there last night, so I wanted to see if it was around again for Evan so we could look for it in the evening.  What was supposed to be a 5-minute stop turned into a hour-long photo shoot.  I don’t know if it was the beautiful day, the fact that I’m done with school, or that I had a really good meeting at work, but everything just looked bright and vivid today. Disclaimer: None of the birds in this post are life birds, so Evan didn’t miss out.
IMG_3767IMG_3741These next two warblers are special birds to me.  They are the first two birds I found on my first ever birding outing on my Dad’s property last year.  The first is the Common Yellowthroat.



Yellow Warbler


American Goldfinch


Eastern Kingbird


Red-winged Blackbird


Sandhill Cranes


If you enjoy wildlife or just looking at the pictures above, I’d encourage you to buy a federal duck stamp.  The money from those stamps goes toward acquiring land like this for wildlife. As you can see, you don’t have to be a duck hunter to reap the benefits.  It is an investment in conservation and money well-spent.

After this photo shoot on the prairie, I picked up Marin from daycare to go on a Daddy-daughter date.  We bought some chocolate shakes, and when I asked her what park she wanted to go to, she said, “The birding one!”  So we went to Robbins Island. Birding was not on the agenda.  I promise.  We played and played at the playgrounds there.  It was an absolutely perfect day with amazing weather, lovely scenery, and a great kid.  IMG_3790As we drove out of the park, a tree by the road was crawling with tons of birds.  It was a roving flock of dozens of Cedar Waxwings with a few Eastern Kingbirds mixed in.  They kept appearing out of nowhere and landing in this oak tree by us only to fly off somewhere else moments later.  Each one that left was replaced by another until 5 minutes later we didn’t see any birds at all.  We were in the right place at the right time, and I had my camera with me.  I’ve heard about waxwings moving in and out of places in huge flocks in a short amount of time, but this was the first time I’d ever experienced it.  I got many photo-ops of these gorgeous birds.

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Waterfowl Photo Shoot

Melissa was supposed to take today off to watch Marin because our daycare provider is on vacation.  The recent blizzard upended that plan this morning.  My school ended up closing, and Melissa’s school was late, so we flip-flopped.  I stayed home to watch Marin, and Melissa went to work.

I dropped Melissa and Evan off at their schools, and then I wanted to stop by Foot Lake since the sun was out.  It turned out to be a beautiful day!  I was hoping to catch the Redheads in good light. Marin gets tired of “bird hunting,” so I wasn’t going to stay long.  However, she fell asleep in the car and was in need of a nap.  I decided to just watch the activity on the lake while she took a 1.5 hour nap.  Here is what I captured today:




I spent most of my time photographing the Greater Scaup because it is so hard to find.  I captured a lot of the key field marks that distinguish it from the Lesser Scaup.  Here you can see the rounded head with a greenish tint.  The Lesser is more pointy toward the back and is tinted purple.  The Greater also has a brighter white look.



Seeing these brings back fond memories of spending time with my dad.  Each spring we would search the shores after ice-out for “bluebill” decoys that had broken free from their anchors the previous fall.  Lesser Scaup and Greater Scaup are commonly known as “bluebills” by duck hunters.  Do you see why?  Scaup hunters typically hunt in the windiest, nastiest weather and set out hundreds of decoys to attract the large rafts of these birds into range.  Therefore it is not uncommon for the decoys to break free.  We picked up dozens over the years.  Each was a treasure.  I got rid of many of these, but I still have a dozen.  No, I probably won’t hunt with them.  They are just a keepsake of some fun times with dad.


This next photo was my favorite of the Greater Scaup because it captured a “hidden” field mark – the extension of white on the wings.  The Lesser Scaup does not have this amount of white.


It was also nice to get a cleaner shot of one of the life birds from the other day – the Horned Grebe.


As I photographed birds, the female Northern Harrier was hunting the American Coots!  It didn’t have success, but it was fun to watch anyhow.

IMG_2890And, I can’t resist the Wood Ducks.

IMG_2900I picked up two life birds for myself today quite by accident.  Finding new birds without Evan isn’t any fun.  That feeling was only compounded when he was in tears that I told him I got a couple new ones.  So, I won’t say what they are.  One is located in these pictures.  I can’t wait for migration to get into full-swing so we can hunt the lifers together.