The Story of the Kandiyohi County Blue Grosbeak (Somebody Pinch Me)

Anyone who has followed this blog over the years knows that fewer birds can get me as excited as the Blue Grosbeak, specifically Minnesota Blue Grosbeaks. It is doubtful that I’d even caste a second glance at one if I were birding in some southern state.  I take that back; I mean, it is still an insanely good-looking bird.  It’s the combo of that beauty and the Blue Grosbeak’s industrious efforts to colonize North America that have captured my imagination. Ever since 2014 I have been interested in the species’ northward movement in Minnesota by digging them up in new places and imploring others to do the same.

Of course, much of my drive came from a burning desire to see one in Kandiyohi County.  Time and time again, I’d go out to likely spots in the county only to come back empty-handed. Same story year after year. Each year I’d rethink my strategy and add new locations to my checklist of probable Kandiyohi sites, but I couldn’t manufacture a sighting to save my life. Instead, I’d have to get my annual Blue Grosbeak fix by finding new locations for them in neighboring counties. This year I used satellite imagery to find a few gravel pits in Chippewa County along the Minnesota River. Visiting the sites one July  morning yielded two previously undiscovered Blue Grosbeaks. This first one was so vocal that I heard it over a quarter mile away over the incessant noise of trucks at a very busy pit.

Blue GrosbeakThis second fellow was the quiet type. In fact, I stopped at this abandoned pit and didn’t see or hear a Blue Grosbeak. Playing a tape certainly couldn’t hurt in this situation. I’m glad I did because this bird materialized out of nowhere in an instant.

Blue GrosbeakThese were hollow victories. I wanted one in Kandiyohi in the worst way, especially as county first records fell in county after county: Anoka, Hennepin, and Washington. While I was happy the Blue Grosbeak was continuing to expand its range, I also kept wondering when it would be our turn. Always the bridesmaid. The Washington find really amplified these feelings. Pete Nichols and Ben Douglas set out to find themselves a county record BLGR and succeeded…minutes into their first attempt. I was both super proud and super jealous of these friends.

As we went deeper and deeper into August, my hopes for finding that elusive Kandiyohi Blue Grosbeak in 2017 had completely died. Like any losing sports team, hope was immediately placed on next year. Besides, there was something new and shiny in the bird world to divert my attention–an insane irruption of Red Crossbills! Blue what? We Kandi birders were red-eyed trying to tally this species that had eluded the likes of Randy Frederickson and Ron Erpelding for over 25 years. Now it was a very real possibility we would all get one. Efforts had shifted suddenly and dramatically.

Joel Schmidt was the first Kandi birder to break the ice with the Red Crossbills, seeing a flyover flock at the Little Crow Golf Course in New London on the evening of August 17th. At the time, I was camping at Sibley State Park with my brother and was not far away. I had to abandon my brother and kids the next morning to go look for an hour or so. We were unsuccessful, and so I returned to camping.  While I was playing cribbage with my brother, I got a call from someone in Grand Marais. Who the heck do I know there? I declined the call figuring if it was important that they’d leave a voicemail. Nothing. I then put my phone in the camper to charge it. Sometime much later in the afternoon during a pause between cribbage games, I went to check the time on my phone. It had blown up while I was away from it and was littered with crazy numbers of text messages, missed phone calls, and voicemails. Something really big was going down, and I couldn’t process the information fast enough. As I tried to make sense of the messages, my initial thought was that someone had landed the Red Crossbills, but instead of “red” I saw “blue” and “grosbeak” was where “crossbill” should be and there was a “Hockema” and a “Watson” mixed in. Then it hit me. Oh. My. Gosh.

I quickly learned that visiting birders John Hockema, Chris Hockema, and Josh Watson had stumbled into a private gravel pit, found a Blue Grosbeak, and had secured permission for a small band of us to return. The Grand Marais caller now made sense–Josh Watson was from there. But that call was almost a couple hours ago! Thankfully the guys were still on the scene by the time we got all this info sorted out.  Another bonus was that this pit was just a few miles from my present location at Sibley. I could literally be there in 5 minutes. Once again I abandoned my brother and kids to go on another crazy bird chase.

The entrance to the pit was a long, private road leading west from U.S. Highway 71. The Blue Grosbeak victors were waiting at the gate to meet Randy Frederickson and me and lead us to glory. The greetings were joyous with much laughter and banter. These fellows were relaxed and in good spirits while Randy and I were trying to hide the tension that comes when a county bird is nearby but has not yet been notched. Finally, we hopped in our cars and followed these visiting birders as they led us in our own backyard.  It was a surreal experience, to say the least, when we traveled into this vast complex of gravel pits we had never seen before, not even from a road. It was perfect Blue Grosbeak habitat. I may as well have been looking at Mars, I was so awestruck with the terrain. I had viewed this area on satellite maps many times but had never gotten around to getting permission to enter.

Once we finally got to the spot well over a half mile from the main highway, we got out and started looking. We had other birders on the way, so we were refraining from using a recording until all arrived.  We did not want the recording to lose its effectiveness. While we looked, Chris Hockema showed me the exact spot where Josh Watson had first spotted the bird. And suddenly I saw a bird fly over that had the right GISS. Josh had seen it too from a different angle and confirmed it was the Blue Grosbeak! So it was official, but not yet satisfying. We continued to search and search. Finally Ron Erpelding and Joel Schmidt had arrived, and we could try the tape. Ron played the tune, and instantly the bird teed up on a cedar! Unbelievable! It finally happened!!

Blue GrosbeakBlue GrosbeakAfter hanging out there to our wild delight, it changed perches and hung out for a solid 10-15 minutes not moving. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a Blue Grosbeak this confiding. This was the first time I had shared a county bird with long-time Kandi veterans, Randy and Ron. Giddiness abounded.


In a year that I had been pursuing new birds for my Kandi list, this one was more than just another tic. This is a bird I have pursued relentlessly for many summers.  This is a bird I simply love to find–anywhere. A wave of joy and rest washed over me. Indeed there was some self-loathing from the Kandi crew that we had not found this ourselves, but in the end it did not matter. We were still overjoyed.

A MEGA thanks goes out to John Hockema who was in a Blue Grosbeak mood that day and decided to try for one in Kandiyohi. It took guts to drag his birding companions into a county that had been searched so hard for this bird already and at a time that was the tail end of the Blue Grosbeak season. One might even say it was a fool’s mission. It’s a good thing John is no fool and that Chris Hockema and Josh Watson are top notch birders. They all are deserving of the honor of having the Kandiyohi County first record Blue Grosbeak along with the case of beer I had publicly offered on social media for anyone who could find this bird.

Randy Joel John

Hero Josh Watson points to where he first spotted the elusive Kandiyohi County first record Blue Grosbeak. L-R: Chris Hockema, John Hockema, Josh Watson, Joel Schmidt, Randy Frederickso

The Blue Grosbeak was Kandiyohi bird #252 for me. #253 was another shared county lifer with Ron and Randy, and it fell the very next day. In fact, I literally still had the camper hitched to my vehicle while in hot pursuit…

You Answered the Call (of the BLGR), Minnesota

Since my last post in which I explored the possible range expansion of the Blue Grosbeak and how it might be occurring via waterways, there have been a couple of exciting developments. Two new county records for Blue Grosbeak have been found! Those two red markers in the upper left of the photo are new since my last post.


On August 13th, a new county record Blue Grosbeak was found in Big Stone County by Milt Blomberg, John Hockema, and Lance Vrieze.  Not only is this significant for being a county first, but these guys found a family of this species the furthest north they’ve been found in Minnesota, vagrants excluded. Moreover, their find fits the pattern of the bird being found all along the Minnesota River Valley.  These guys stopped at a gravel pit, thought the habitat looked right for BLGR, and played a recording. Instantly they had Blue Grosbeaks come in without ever having seen or heard any before playing the recording.

I don’t know whether or not my article influenced their decision to try for Blue Grosbeaks in Big Stone County, but Dan Orr had told me that my last blog post got him curious about Swift County as the very southwestern corner of that county is along the Minnesota River.  Swift previously had no BLGR record.  I was excited about Dan’s search and started to scout satellite imagery in southwestern Swift for appropriate habitat.  I shared with him a gravel pit area just north of Appleton. However, Dan told me he had already birded that spot in early summer. Since Blue Grosbeaks seem to be actively singing in August, I encouraged him to try again and told him how Milt Blomberg et al. “cold-called” their Blue Grosbeaks. So Dan tried it on August 15th. He went to that area, played a tape, and bam–a pair of Swift County record Blue Grosbeaks showed up!


As exciting as the Big Stone and Swift Blue Grosbeak finds are, I am concerned. Now that two county records have fallen, birders have been going to these stake-outs to get their tics.  And once they have their tic for a county, many birders are less likely to explore new areas to look for more Blue Grosbeaks in those counties.  With the Swift and Big Stone records, now very few counties along the Minnesota River still do not have a record.  In fact, I believe Sibley, Carver, and Hennepin are all that remain. Hopefully the county-listing bug will help turn up new records in these counties. But I continue to think that there are many, many more Blue Grosbeaks to be found in Minnesota where county records already exist, namely along the Minnesota River Valley and anywhere in southern Minnesota. So call up a birding friend, go exploring, and find some Blue Grosbeak habitat. There is probably a two-week window left to find these birds before they head south again. And if you find appropriate habitat and don’t hear or see one, play the recording and see what happens. You might be surprised.

Hey, Minnesota Birders, Go Find a Blue Grosbeak

Just like the birds themselves, birders have certain habits and habitat preferences at certain times of the year, almost reliably so. When August rolls around, most birders will seek out a good mudflat for some shorebird action. For me, though, my preferred birder habitat for August looks something like this:

Gravel Pit

I explore gravel pits like this and other scrub lands in the hopes of finding one bird:

Blue Grosbeak

The Blue Grosbeak and its apparent range expansion fascinate me, especially since this bird has now been documented within just three miles of my home county, Kandiyohi.  I became interested in this range expansion back in 2014 when it seemed there were more and more reports of these birds outside of their stronghold at Blue Mounds State Park in Rock County, the very southwestern corner of the state.  Here is what the Blue Grosbeak eBird map looked like back in 2000.

IMG_0771Fast forward to 2012, and it looked like this:

IMG_0773This uptick in Blue Grosbeak observations on eBird can partly be attributed to the beginning of eBird’s popularity in Minnesota and the tenacious efforts of people like Garrett Wee and Doug Kieser.  Many of Minnesota’s experienced birders do not use eBird and have also been turning up Blue Grosbeaks outside of the “normal” Minnesota range of Rock County for years. But even some of these birders have told me that the Blue Grosbeak has definitely expanded its range and its numbers in Minnesota.

In 2014 when I became interested in this expansion, I used satellite imagery on Google Maps and eBird to find probable sites in northern Renville County.  I was interested in Renville County because it bordered my home county of Kandiyohi, it was at the northeastern fringes of the Minnesota range for this bird, and because Joel Schmidt and Randy Frederickson saw a family group of Blue Grosbeaks in this area in 2012. So in using the satellite photos, I looked for new sites that showed gravel pits or any kind of disturbed earth. The success of that endeavor surpassed my expectations as I turned up four Blue Grosbeaks in four separate locations spanning a total of three miles.  Other birders who followed up on my reports added even more Blue Grosbeaks.  Not only did it appear the Blue Grosbeak had extended its range to northern Renville County, but it was thriving there. If you want to read my account of that Blue Grosbeak investigation, click here.

2015 was a bit of a disappointing year because I could not find Blue Grosbeaks at any of the sites I found them in 2014.  Even still, I added one brand new Blue Grosbeak site in Renville County in 2015, and even more exciting was that Ron Erpelding and others found more Blue Grosbeaks north and west of the pocket of birds I found.  This put Blue Grosbeaks within about three miles of the southwestern corner of Kandiyohi County. Here is the map to this day:IMG_0770

As you can see by the red markers, 2016 has been a good year too. Here’s a close-up of the area I’m interested in.


Even though this year’s recheck of the 2015 sites turned up negative, there has been a lot happening this past week in the hunt for Blue Grosbeak.  A week ago I guided Pete Nichols and Ben Douglas around Chippewa and Renville Counties in the hopes of getting their BLGR state bird and life bird respectively, and we found two males at one of the 2014 sites!  I was thrilled; they were thrilled. There was much high-fiving, especially since we got the bird at the last possible second before Pete and Ben had to leave.

Blue Grosbeak IMG_9315So that explains one of the red markers. Here’s the story (and photos) of the others. A couple days after the Renville sighting with Pete and Ben, I went to Gneiss Outcrops SNA in the very southeastern corner of Chippewa County to follow up on Bill Marengo’s earlier report of a Blue Grosbeak.  Ron Erpelding and Herb Dingmann had found one here in 2014 that I was unsuccessful at relocating that same summer.  However, I was able to find Bill’s bird this year.

Blue GrosbeakIMG_9350And just yesterday I checked some new-to-me sites in southern Renville County where birds had been reported by others in 2012 and 2013.  It was a very successful recheck.  At the gravel pit on 200th St (pictured at the beginning), I found this Blue Grosbeak and heard a second male.

Blue GrosbeakBlue Grosbeak

Not long after that and over a half mile from these two birds, I spied a suspicious-looking silhouette on a wire. It turned out to be yet another Blue Grosbeak!

Blue GrosbeakFinding five Blue Grosbeaks in Renville County and one in Chippewa County this past week has re-energized my interest in this bird’s range and population expansion.  Lately I’ve started to think that gravel waste sites are not necessarily the only factor in finding this bird.  I think proximity to water is a key element. Thinking back on all the Blue Grosbeaks I’ve found, there has either been a pond, a drainage ditch, or stream/river in very close proximity to the birds. This bird is often found in riparian areas in the south.  I’m even wondering if water has actually been the cause of its range expansion.  Could the river valleys and streams actually serve as conduits for its range expansion? Consider the stronghold of Rock County where the first MN Blue Grosbeaks were found–the Rock River runs right through it and the Big Sioux River that runs through Sioux Falls (a stronghold for BLGR sightings) is not far from there either. Then consider the Minnesota River Valley.  Many Blue Grosbeak sightings have happened along the valley from Granite Falls all the way down to Mankato.  Even the far northern sightings in Lac qui Parle County are within 30 miles of the Minnesota River.  The pocket of birds I found in 2014 is about 12 miles from the MRV, so now when I look at satellite photos of the landscape, I get curious. Did the northern Renville County birds come up from the MRV along the creeks and drainage ditches?



Could the Minnesota River playing a key role in the expansion of the Blue Grosbeak’s range across the entire state? Or is something more random going on? Right now this is just an idea that gets me out looking for Blue Grosbeaks and other birds in new locations. I get excited when I look at satellite imagery of Minnesota River tributaries and see stuff like this:

IMG_0774This spot turned out to be negative, by the way, at least from what I could hear/see from the roads during my brief check.  However, there are a LOT of places where the roads transect these creeks and ditches in Renville County, so there are a lot of places to check.  While I have found Blue Grosbeaks in gravel pits, I do not think that is the exclusive habitat preference for this bird.  They are described in some literature to be habitat generalists that will occupy a variety of habitats in the southern U.S. where they are much more common.  I would think any brushy or waste area in this bird’s Minnesota range could be good, especially the more numerous they become. One of the 2015 sites I was most excited about was just an ordinary farm yard.

What does all this mean for Minnesota birders?

If you are birding anywhere south and just barely north of the Minnesota River that cuts through Minnesota like a giant V, Blue Grosbeaks should be on your radar as a possibility even if the habitat doesn’t have the classic “feel” of being an exposed gravel/waste area.  Doug Kieser wrote in one of his eBird reports this summer that he was surprised to find a PAIR of Blue Grosbeaks while scanning a mowed hay field of all places. Most of us would be surprised because, through our Minnesota experiences with this bird, we tend to associate Blue Grosbeaks with their more typical habitat.  Those more typical habitats south and barely north of the Minnesota River should ESPECIALLY be looked over carefully.  Anywhere there are municipal brush sites, sewage lagoons, rock outcroppings, landfills, brush-filled drainage ditches and creeks, and yes, gravel pits, you may just find a brand new Blue Grosbeak.

Besides habitat/location, what else could help a Blue Grosbeak search be successful?

  1. Learn the song well.  It’s pretty distinctive.  Most of the Blue Grosbeaks I have found have been by hearing these loud singers first.
  2. If you are lucky enough to hear one, scan the tops of shrubs, trees, and other perches. They are conspicuous birds that often sing from high, open perches.
  3. Know the profile. This is something I have just keyed into lately that has helped me spot three non-singing Blue Grosbeaks from a distance, sometimes in bad light. Blue Grosbeaks have a near vertical posture when sitting on a wire, and they appear very top-heavy with that short tail.  Their big, blocky head also helps set them apart from other wire-perching birds. Then there’s that massive, conical bill…IMG_93754. Don’t think of them as a rare bird in the previously described areas of Minnesota.  If you expect to see them, you are more likely to stop the car to investigate a bird on a wire or drive slowly by a shrubby pasture with the windows down to listen for one. True story: I have seen/heard 11 Blue Grosbeaks in Renville County compared to just 2 Eastern Towhees there, yet the Blue Grosbeak is still considered rare in that county by eBird while the Towhee is an expected species.

Final Thought

Most of the Blue Grosbeaks sightings on eBird are fairly well pinpointed and therefore chaseable.  And, if you’ve never seen one before, by all means, go look for one of those. But if you have seen one already, strike out on your own and turn up a brand new Blue Grosbeak. I guarantee you’ll have a lot more fun exploring and discovering something new than chasing something old. Who knows, you may have one a lot closer to home than you thought!

Scrawny To Buff In Just One Month

Like so many lottery winners, young professional athletes, and bird bloggers everywhere this past month, ABWCH has fallen on hard times lately after enjoying a ridiculous fortune of good birds and lifers this past spring and early summer.  It’s been downright pathetic–my highly local and infrequent birding in July has sent me on several fruitless chases for petty things like a county Red-necked Grebe.  I even took a picture of an INBU. Sad, I know.  Actually, the break from serious birding and blogging has been delightfully refreshing…sleeping in every day, binge-watching TV shows on Netflix, going camping with the family, selling off baby/little kid stuff and making beaucoup bucks (not really) for a Florida trip someday. Poor men excel at dreaming, and even though I’m enjoying plotting a Disney trip as a Trojan Horse to get to Florida, it was time to put up a solid, meaty post that might even turn a vegan’s head. I was *this close* to putting up a post highlighting an eclectic assortment of blasé sightings from this past month.  Thankfully today’s events spared us all that embarrassment.

I don’t know if it’s the first wave of an attack from Canada or not, but the Buff-breasted Sandpipers showed up en masse all across the state on the same day last week.  I’ve never seen a more coordinated campaign by any migrating species before, let alone by a really good one. Ron Erpelding found a pile of them about a half hour from here in Renville County as well as an equally impressive pile of Upland Sandpipers. For good measure he also turned up a Blue Grosbeak in this area which is NORTH of where I found a bunch last year.  Followers of ABWCH know that this area is already pushing the envelope of the north and east range limits of this species and that I’m keenly tracking the movement since BLGR are now just 3.5 miles away from the home county.

Last week I went and saw the 25 Buff-breasteds and 13 Uplands but got abysmal views of both.  I capped my mediocre outing with a dip on the BLGR. Other birders, though, in their Buff-breasted quests exercised the power of the Patagonia Picnic Table and turned up an additional Blue Grosbeak and a Western Kingbird.

Though I lacked good photos of Buff-breasted Sandpipers, those BLGR gnawed at me more than anything.  I had to go back.  Plus my dad was visiting and had never seen a Blue Grosbeak before. So I got back in the game today and set an alarm. An hour later we were treated to out-of-this-world looks at seven remaining(?) Buff-breasteds.Buff-breasted SandpiperBuff-breasted SandpiperThis ripped bird was a lifer for Dad.

Buff-breasted SandpiperBuff-breasted SandpiperI did not take this photo-op for granted.  These birds are usually only found with the aid of scopes.  Having them 100 feet out the car window is about as good as it gets.

Buff-breasted SandpiperBuff-breasted Sandpiper

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

Dad and I also found a few of the much more conspicuous, albeit backlit UPSAs.

Upland SandpiperDad’s not sure if this is a lifer or not.  No doubt about its existence on his list now though.

Upland SandpiperUpland SandpiperAs delightful as the Sandpiper appetizers were, it was time for the main course: Blue Grosbeaks. We struck out on finding the one closest to the hay field, but not the other one a mile away.  As soon as I rolled down my window I heard that sweet, sweet familiar sound of a singing male.  After a bit of patience I was able to get Dad his life look at this special bird.

Blue GrosbeakEven though this male impressed us with his vocal abilities over and over and over, he did not want to show off his studly rusty wing patch.

Blue GrosbeakDad was getting some good looks at his lifer, but I wanted him to get the full effect and see that wing patch.  Eventually the bird bared it all with pride and great gusto.

Blue Grosbeak

I know it sounds insane, but this Blue Grosbeak sighting was more exciting to me than ABWCH’s unprecedented looks at Buff-breasted Sandpipers.  I am absolutely thrilled with their apparent range and population expansion.  This bird was 2 miles further north than those last summer.  Just 3.5 miles to go.  I cannot wait.

Blue GrosbeakSo where does the birding and blogging go after a morning like this? Nowhere but down again, of course.

Investigating a Probable Range and Population Expansion of the Blue Grosbeak in Minnesota

Blue Grosbeak

Though we racked up double-digit lifers in Colorado, that trip is a distant birding memory.  The birding back home has been incredibly exciting.  More is at play than just adding a life bird or getting that beautiful photo.  Instead, there’s been some serious citizen-science going on.

Let me get to the point.  I believe that the Blue Grosbeak is expanding its range in Minnesota and growing in numbers, so I have been doing some investigating to back up my theory.  I can remember when I first became a birder how I badly wanted to see a Blue Grosbeak. Imagine my surprise then, when I learned that they are a rare, regular species in the very southwestern corner of Minnesota.  Specifically, Blue Mounds State Park in Rock County is the place to see them.  That’s where we got our lifer last year.


Range map of the Blue Grosbeak from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

But then I saw them further to the northeast at Cottonwood in each of the last two years when they were discovered by Garrett Wee.  I started to get curious about this species growing in numbers when Garrett reported them two years in a row.  Additionally he found a nest this year.  The site fidelity was intriguing.

Randy Frederickson furthered my curiosity when he said he was hoping to someday find a Blue Grosbeak in Kandiyohi County.  I could hardly believe that he would think it was possible, but then he told me how he and Joel Schmidt found a family of Blue Grosbeaks in Renville County just six miles south of the Renville-Kandiyohi county line in 2012.  So last week I decided to head to this location in Renville County which was the Olivia compost site.  I wanted to see if the Blue Grosbeaks were still around a couple years later.  If they were, I wanted to document them for eBird.  Some birders have been documenting their Blue Grosbeak sightings, and it is apparent that the Blue Grosbeak has gone beyond its normal Minnesota home of Rock County, the very southwestern corner of the state.

The red dot is where we live.  Blue Grosbeaks have traditionally been found in just the very southwestern corner of Minnesota which is much less territory than what this sightings map indicates

The red dot is where we live. Blue Grosbeaks have traditionally been found in just the very southwestern corner of Minnesota which is much less territory than what this sightings map indicates

I did not find any Blue Grosbeaks at the compost site where Randy and Joel found them two years prior.  Not wanting to waste a trip, I had scouted satellite imagery of the area ahead of time looking for any gravel pits or waste areas as Blue Grosbeaks prefer this type of habitat.  In our sea of green, these areas are habitat islands.  Unlike the arid southwest, this type of desert-wash habitat is rare here and makes for easy places to look for the Blue Grosbeak.  If they are in the area, they are going to be in one of these pockets of habitat.

Blue Grosbeak

I checked out the gravel pit pictured above just a mile from where the Blue Grosbeaks were seen in 2012.  Almost immediately upon arriving I heard a singing male Blue Grosbeak. I was absolutely thrilled, even more so when I finally got to lay eyes on it.

Blue Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeak at NE corner of gravel pit on west side of 300th St. just south of 840th Ave.

I was pretty pleased with the find and reported the bird to the listserv, MOU-net, so other birders could see it.  But after I was at home and studying satellite images again, I realized I didn’t fully explore the area.  It turns out that the pit I stopped at is part of about a four-mile tract of old gravel pits. I went back two days later intent to check out more of the area.  When I got to the site of the Grosbeak pictured above, I ran into Ron Erpelding and Herb Dingmann who had just seen the bird and were listening to a second bird nearly a mile away from the first one!  Now I was really excited to get my search underway.  I took every north-south road that intersected this tract of gravel deposits.  And on each road I found a singing male Blue Grosbeak!  With Ron and Herb’s bird, that made for five male Blue Grosbeaks. It was unbelievable yet believable because of the habitat I was exploring.

Locations of where I found Blue Grosbeak males; the bottom-right marker is the bird found by Ron Erpelding and Herb Dingmann

Locations of where I found Blue Grosbeak males; the bottom-right marker is the bird found by Ron Erpelding and Herb Dingmann

Blue Grosbeak at the Danube Brush Site

Blue Grosbeak at the Danube Brush Site just north of Danube on Co. Rd. 1

Blue Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeak on 280th St. south of 840th Ave. where 280th intersects the gravel pits.

Blue Grosbeak sub-adult male on 270th St. in the trees just south of 840th Ave.

Blue Grosbeak sub-adult male on 270th St. in the trees just south of 840th Ave.

Several birders have made their way to Renville County to find some of these Blue Grosbeaks.  What has been phenomenal is that they are turning up more Blue Grosbeaks at these sites and in other counties while en route!  One was found in Chippewa County by Ron and Herb that same day, and a family of three was found by Ken Larson to the west in Lac qui Parle County.  With this volume of Blue Grosbeaks so far from Rock County, it seems that this species is definitely making its home further north and east than where it is “supposed” to be.  Any bit of suitable habitat in the southern half of the state should be investigated by Minnesota birders.  I have been studying satellite imagery for any hint of gravel or waste areas in area that is dominated by agricultural fields.  I’m particularly interested in finding one here in Kandiyohi County.  We are hopeful that one will make the jump six miles north if one hasn’t already.

The green line is the Kandiyohi County and Renville County Line - Blue Grosbeaks are only six miles away!

The green line is the Kandiyohi County and Renville County Line – Blue Grosbeaks are only six miles away!

The only problem, though, is that we have no gravel pits to speak of in the southern half of our county.  The best and closest habitat, a very large area of several gravel pits, is about 30 miles northeast of all these Grosbeaks.

Blue Grosbeak

We have already been getting a lot of the necessary permissions to enter these lands to begin our search.  Hopefully we can turn one up.

It has been very exciting to not only see Blue Grosbeaks, but to be a witness to a potential range expansion.  Evan asked me the other day, “What’s the big deal about the Blue Grosbeak anyway, is it because it has that red wing-patch or something?”  Yeah, something like that.

Coming up: cool by-product birds from the Blue Grosbeak searches.