2014 – The Biggest Year I Never Dared to Dream

What’s this, you say? A re-cap of 2014’s birds halfway through February?  Right now heads are shaking as they contemplate my foolishly late posting.  Well, to the detractors, I say the timing couldn’t be more right.  For you see, I did not rush to compile a “Top Ten” list in the waning hours of 2014 when the pressure of an artificial deadline might cause errors in judgement.  No, these ideas have been marinating and brewing for the most authentic and satisfying post possible.  Actually, the reality is that the birding has finally just flat-lined here in February and all this extra time has allowed me to steal a lot of cool ideas from those who have posted before me.

2014 was a monumental year–a year that will, in all probability, never, ever be matched again.  I do not anticipate doing future “Best of” posts, but I would be remiss if I did not commemorate the year that gave so much and so freely.  Though the word often loses its meaning in today’s vernacular, no other word is more qualified to describe 2014 than “epic.”  Evan and I began the year with a hefty-number of life birds, 200+.  So how many new birds could  a person reasonably expect to add in a new year at this stage in our birder development? 30? 40? 50?   No, we blew those figures out of the water.  I lifered 96 times and Evan 74.  Yes, we traveled out of state a couple times, but most of those life birds were found right here at home in the great state of Minnesota. The numbers don’t tell the half of it.  The actual birds included in those numbers are beyond anything I could have dreamed for us.  The stories of the finds, the chases, the hunts are dripping with adrenaline.  In fact, it was only just recently that my resting heart rate dropped below 120 BPM.

We’ll get to all that excitement in a bit, but first one must be grounded and look at the ugly side of birding.

Worst Birding Experiences of 2014

Far and away, this award goes to the Least Tern chase to Luverne.  I suckered the kids into going on an overnight camping trip with me to Blue Mounds State Park to see this bird.  My wife suckered me into taking along my dog. Now I’ve been to Blue Mounds before, so I promised the kids a great place to swim and a really cool city park in Luverne.  Long story short is that the drinking water at the park had e. Coli, the swimming reservoir was drained from a broken damn to due heavy spring flooding, and that beautiful city park was completely destroyed in that same flooding.  Not only did I have disappointed children and an overcrowded tent with two kids and a lab, but an overnight rain and lighting storm caused us to take shelter in the van at 4 AM and try to get some sleep.  The next day I was desperate to replace two balding tires before our return trip.  I found a dealership to do the job, and my plan was to take a walk around town with the kids and dog while it was being done.  Unfortunately a downpour caused the three of us and the dog to take shelter in the one-car showroom while we watched Sponge Bob on a 6 in. TV and waited for our car.  Oh, and that Least Tern we were after? Missed it by 15 minutes. Not even all the Common Nighthawks, Blue Grosbeaks, and Red-headed Woodpeckers we saw could salvage this trip.

Common Nighthawk

2014 also saw a few engagements with local law enforcement in the name of birding, mostly for the perfectly acceptable birding reason of speeding to get to a bird.  However, one low point was getting “stopped” at the Pennock sewage ponds.  I distinctly remember being shocked to see flashing red lights in my rearview while driving a dirt path around the ponds and then watching as the officer nervously approached my van from behind with his hand on his holstered gun.  Even after I explained I was just birding, he ran my license, checked my insurance, etc.  And when I thought it was all over? He stayed to watch me watch birds.  Not enjoying the company, I left…and discovered a back-up squad car with two more officers on the other side of the pond!  I guess a dirty mini-van at a rural sewage pond does seem a bit shady. But on an unrelated note, how about them nice treads on those tires?!


Thankfully I didn’t end up tased or have my accompanying daughter placed in child-protective services so that we could go on to better days ahead.

Best Birding Experiences of 2014

2014 saw plenty of travel and with it, plenty of great birding.  Last March we made our first annual trip to Maricopa, Arizona to visit my snowbird parents.  The trip allowed us to pad the life lists with a couple dozen lifers and meet up with Phoenix birder/blogger Laurence Butler for some memorable Sonoran Desert birding.   In July we took a road-trip to Colorado to visit my Aunt Carol and Uncle Jon.  Birding the Badlands of SD and the Wet Mountains of Colorado pushed the life list even higher by about another 20 birds.  Not only did we go cross-country this year, but I went on several chases across the state with local birding friends Randy Frederickson and Steve Gardner and met many friendly MN birders at the stake-outs of the rarity after rarity.  2014 was ripe with such birds.  I think Randy added a half dozen state birds; usually he’ll get one every couple of years or so.

As fun as all the traveling was and all the great birding it brought, the best birding experience occurred in August when I had to attend a training in St. Paul for work.  This afforded me the opportunity to bring along my family for a mini-getaway. It also afforded me the opportunity to check out an extremely accommodating and wildly popular Least Bittern at Wood Lake Nature Center.  It took a little bit of effort on the part of some other birders to help us all see this cool bird just 6 feet away from the boardwalk on which we were standing.

Least BitternAnd one of the birders who helped us find this bird was none other than Stan Tekiela!

Evan watching a Least Bittern with Stan Tekiela.

It was a joy to watch Evan as he was really digging this lifer, just watching it and watching it.  The whole family was having fun watching this Bittern and the other wildlife. And Stan turned out to be an incredibly nice guy engaging Evan in a conversation about Bitterns and excitedly calling us back to look at a Raccoon. Evan had no idea who he was talking to at the moment.  His eyes got to be the size of dinner plates when I told him later on.  It was a memorable experience like none other.

Rarest Personal Finds of 2014

You can imagine how hard it was for me to make a Top-10 in a year with nearly a hundred life birds.  I struggled to whittle down the list. So here is a tribute to some really cool (I mean REALLY cool) finds I had this last year.  All these birds were previously undiscovered by others.  You might consider it cheating as I’m extending my Top 10 by including these birds, but remember that 2014 was epic. I posted to the listserv so much that people either love me or loathe me.  My luck was enough for a lifetime of birding. I’m still pinching myself. These birds are ordered from least rare to most rare and surprisingly none made the final cut for Top 10.  Any bird marked with an * means that it had the bonus distinction of also being a lifer at the moment of discovery.

7. Eastern Towhee – Kandiyohi County – an Occasional bird for the county and a solid find for a county that mostly consists of prairie and fields.

Eastern Towhee

6. Western Kingbird* – Kandiyohi County – also Occasional.  This was just a plain ol’ feel good find, an East meets West kind of bird.


5. Swainson’s Hawk – Kandiyohi County – Occasional.  Ditto above.

Swainson's Hawk

4. White-winged Scoter – Kandiyohi County – Occasional.  I went Snowy Owling and got a Scoter hunch when I drove by Green Lake. I had the good fortune of that hunch being right. This Scoter brought in dozens of birders, some just getting a county tick, but many others getting the more important life tick. And in a Patagonia Picnic Table-Effect of sorts, one of those county listers also turned up a Long-tailed Duck when viewing this White-winged Scoter and yet another found a Snowy Owl!  I missed the former by an hour and drove right by the latter.  The agony of defeat still burns, but hey, it’s good the home county gained an even greater birding reputation.

White-winged Scoter

3. Mute Swan* – Renville County – First MOU official record for Renville County.  I dismissed it in my peripheral vision as a pelican or Trumpeter Swan.  I only gave it a look after my wife asked what it was.  Wow, I should listen to her more often.  BTW, not a bad bird for a trip to see the accountant is it?


2. Spotted Towhee* – Kandiyohi County – Considered a Rare Regular for the state, showing up once or twice annually.  It has been seen in the county before, but this one was the first official MOU record for Kandiyohi County.  This one really got the blood pumping when I found it.


1. Lesser Black-backed Gull* – Kandiyohi County – Also a Rare Regular for the state but this one was the first official MOU record for Kandiyohi County.  Unlike the Spotted Towhee, though, not even the Kandiyohi birding greats of Randy Frederickson, Ron Erpelding, and Joel Schmidt have seen this gull here at home.  Unfortunately, it didn’t hang on for anybody else.


Biggest Upsets for not making the Top 10

Again, more Top 10 stretching.  Any of the aforementioned birds could have easily made Top 10, but there are even more phenomenal birds that missed the top honors that are listed below.  Seriously, you have to wonder what’s in the Top 10 if these birds didn’t make the cut.

10. Harlequin Duck – If only you’d been mature, little drake, you’d be right near the top!

Harlequin Duck

9. Eastern Screech Owl – How does an owl lifer miss the top spots?  Maybe if it had opened its eyes or been a red-phase…  Regardless, here’s a shout-out and thanks to Tony Lau for sharing his yard bird!


8. Prothonotary Warbler – A great, great warbler for MN and quite the looker too!


7. Hooded Warbler – This warbler nests in extremely small numbers in certain parts of the Twin Cities metro area.  I made a special trip just to look for it, and I saw three in one day.

Hooded Warbler

6. Greater Prairie Chicken – Crazy, right?  This was a bonus find when hunting for one of the top birds.

Greater Prairie Chicken

5. Vermilion Flycatcher – Gorgeous, gorgeous bird and Target #2 for the AZ trip.  Again, crazy.


4. Varied Thrush – Any other year it’d probably be in the Top 10, but not even bonus points for showing up right here at home was enough to get it in the top tier.

Varied Thrush

3. Eurasian Wigeon – Casual in Minnesota. I saw one. Kinda.


2. Common Eider – Not even making its first reappearance on MN waters since the 1960s could land this duck in the Top 10.

Common Eider

1. Wood Stork – Minnesota’s second state record.  Its rarity is the only reason it’s in this list.  Since this bird is ugly, here is a more fun picture of people enjoying that ugly.


THE Top 10

So here is what you’ve all been waiting for–the real Top Ten. You might find yourself a bit surprised by my choices, but keep in mind that the bird itself is only half the fun–often circumstances, the birding company, or the hunt itself influenced my decisions.  The list is not indicative of the rarity status of these birds.  A surprising twist to this Top Ten is that nearly half of the birds are not even lifers (Indicated by an *)! Moreover, a great majority of these birds were found in-state.

10. Snowy Owl*

Now hold on a minute, I know you’re sick of these things on this blog and wondering how, in their great abundance, could they make the cut?  Snowy Owls added life to both the dull winter landscape and the business-as-usual halls in which I work in 2014. When I got my lifer in late 2013 and learned of the impending irruption last year, I sent out an all-staff email requesting coworkers let me know of any sightings. That opened the floodgates.  I was opening email after email of sightings, taking calls, listening to wild-eyed students and giddy staff members tell me about yet another sighting.  It was an incredibly fun time.  The owls made for instant ice-breaker conversations with all kinds of people.  Though I never found my own Snowy Owl in 2014, I was able to point many people to their first which was quite a thrill.  Additionally, driving anywhere became fun as every pole top or barn roof could hold a Snowy.  And the amount of down time for Snowy Owl hunting was a mere 7 months as they were back in early November to begin an echo flight of last year’s irruption.


9. Black-billed Cuckoo

This is an uncommon bird and nowhere near rare for the northern half of MN during the breeding season.  Still, it is an extremely elusive bird.  Evan and I found our lifer quite by accident.  We went for a four-wheeler ride on my parents’ property and stopped to play a tape of a Northern Parula only to be answered by the exotic sound of the Black-billed Cuckoo.  We eventually were able to lure it into the open for some good views using playback.  It was haunting how that bird moved and watched us from the shadows.  And the sound of that thing is the craziest and most awesome bird noise I’ve heard.  How could I have grown up in the northwoods and never heard or seen this bird?  I know how. They hide like ninjas, watching your every move as you walk through the woods.

Black-billed Cuckoo

8. American Avocet

Ever since Evan and I got into birding, we talked about the awesomeness of the American Avocet.  It just stands apart from all the other shorebirds with that black and white plumage with the crazy orangish head and neck, not to mention the long, upturned bill. Not only did we finally see this bird in 2014, but we found our lifer ourselves right here at home–the best way.  I’ll never forget seeing it and then hustling down the sewage pond embankment to tell Evan.  His eyes got huge, and he scrambled to get out of the car.  We ended up seeing this species on three separate occasions in the county last year.  Such a bird! Such a year!


7. Cerulean Warbler*

This was not a life bird, but it was a special treat to see one at our very own Sibley State Park right here in Kandiyohi County, and I finally got some killer photos of the bird. This was now the third Cerulean I’d ever seen, and I cherish each sighting as this bird is fighting for its future on two continents.  Evan’s seen this species a couple times now, but I hope that this beautiful, buzzy warbler will still be around for his kids and grandkids.

Cerulean Warbler6. Chestnut-collared Longspur

This striking Longspur is a state-endangered species.  Only a handful of pairs nest annually on a small tract of land known as the Felton Prairie IBA just east of Fargo.  Steve Gardner and I finally made the trip this summer just to look for this bird.  Picking up a bonus lifer Greater Prairie Chicken and seeing plenty of Western Kingbirds, Loggerhead Shrikes, and Marbled Godwits was pretty neat and all, but we nearly dipped on the main attraction at Felton Prairie.  This guy was a buzzer-beater, showing up just 15 minutes before the deadline Steve and I had set to go home.  This bird did not disappoint us in its looks.

5. Spruce Grouse*

This bird was a buzzer-beater for 2014 and slipped into this list at the eleventh hour. This was the first Spruce Grouse I had seen since circa 1999. Even Minnesota birders drool over laying eyes on this beautiful gnome of the deep spruce bogs. I happened upon this one while driving the short distance between my parents’ house and my in-laws’ house in the final days of 2014 while we were home for Christmas.  It felt so good to finally see this bird again and be able to photograph it.

Spruce Grouse

4. Long-eared Owl

I had the great pleasure of birding the Phoenix Mountain Preserve with Laurence Butler when we went to Arizona last March.  As we talked plans ahead of time to bulk up my life list with some desert species, Laurence mentioned the possibility of the rare Long-eared Owl prize. I honestly thought, ‘Pssshht. Whatever-like we’ll see ever that.’ But inwardly I was secretly excited too.  As someone who connected with birding because of the thrill of the hunt, it was a magical experience to wind our way through a tree-choked gully in the Sonoran Desert with the possibility of coming face-to-face with an owl that is coveted everywhere.  Then it happened. One exploded into the air in front of us leaving throbbing hearts and cursing mouths in its wake.  Eventually Laurence and I pinned it down and stared right into those yellow eyes.  It was a mountain-top high on the valley floor.


3. Blue Grosbeak*

Yes, Josh, it’s a beautiful bird, but c’mon, #3?!  This is a bird I dreamed about seeing when I first saw it in the Kaufmann Field Guide and noticed that the very southwestern tip of MN was in its range.  Eventually I learned it’s a reliable find at Blue Mounds State Park which is where we got our lifer in 2013.  Getting deeper into birding, I was finding out that they are actually found much further north and east of that tiny corner of the state.  My curiosity was peaked after seeing them in Cottonwood and then when Joel had said he and Randy had seen a family of them a couple years ago just 25 miles away from Willmar in Renville County.  So I investigated the site and struck out.  However, I noticed a gravel pit in the vicinity and stopped to check it out since Blue Grosbeaks have an affinity for such desert-wash environments. I rolled down the window and was almost instantly greeted with the sweet, sweet sound of BLGR.

When I got home I looked at the gravel pit with satellite imagery and discovered that the tract of gravel pits stretched for nearly four miles being intersected neatly with a county road every mile.  I had to go back!  And so I did.  And I found a Blue Grosbeak on every county road that intersected that gravel tract for a total of four Blue Grosbeaks over a three-mile stretch.  As a bonus, another birder following up on my reports turned up a 5th one.  We were no longer dealing with a far-flung, slightly out-of-range individual bird or two.  Instead we had a thriving population of Blue Grosbeaks in Renville County which is far north and east of where they are supposed to be.  And they are only six miles south of Kandiyohi County!

Finding rare birds by chance is great fun, but investigating a theory and having that theory validated with multiple birds was a birding achievement that I prize more than any of my rarities mentioned in this post.  Contributing data to a possible range expansion is exciting stuff. I cannot wait to check on them again this summer.

Blue Grosbeak

2. Burrowing Owl

Since Melissa has taught the novel Hoot for years and since Evan and I are birders, this owl has a special connection with our family. It was the one bird that we simply had to see in Arizona above all others.  Laurence had told me Zanjero Park was pretty much a lock, but my dad, the chauffeur, went rogue and opted to drive us along random roads in the countryside south of Maricopa.  As zero new birds were being seen, especially not the Burrowers, I thought the day was going to be lost. So then a quiet, non-aggressive Norwegian stand-off ensued complete with beatings around the bush and passive-aggressive attempts to commandeer the situation.

“I think Zanjero could be a sure thing.”

“It’ll be more fun to find our own.”

Folks, let me tell you, always listen to your dad and kiss your wife because as my heart was sinking in despair along with the setting sun, Melissa hollers from the backseat that she found one! And another and another and another.  Dang!  The fun didn’t stop there either. I finally found a couple, and even my mom found herself one.  We had eight Burrowers in all!  Let me tell you, these Scandinavians were rocking that van with whoops and hollers.  It was a fun, memorable experience for the whole family.

In all, we saw 12 Burrowers on our trip with a pair even within biking range of my parents’ house.


1. Garganey

You’ve seen the kind of birds we put up in 2014.  Honestly, could this spot be held by anything other than Wisconsin’s first state record of a Garganey that Evan and I went to see?  If you look up the word “serendipity” in the dictionary, you are bound to see a picture of a Garganey.  Kaufmann writes that it can show up on any marsh in the spring.  How awesome and hope-inspiring is that?!  Plus it is a gorgeous duck that I had been yearning to see someday before my time is up. And if seeing a Garganey wasn’t a thrill enough, we went on this adventure with long-time birding great, Ron Erpelding, and got to witness someone who has amassed over 50 years of birding and over 675 life birds see this bird for the very first time just as Evan and I were seeing it.  It was life bird #678 for Ron.  Not even the cats-and-dogs rain could detract from our joy that drenched us when we watched this bird just 15 feet out the car window.  It was, by far, the best bird of 2014.


So, 2015, it is unlikely you will live up to the high bar you’re bigger, all-American, older brother, 2014, has set.  But take heart because you will be special in your own right. Perhaps you will be known as the year of the Gyrfalcon!

Chasing the ABA Code-4 Garganey at Crex Meadows Wildlife Area

Any birder reading this probably has shivers running down his or her spine right now just seeing the title of this post.  For non-birders, this post title can simply be translated as “This is a really, really, really, really big deal!”

What’s a Garganey?  What’s ABA Code-4 Mean?  How the heck do you pronounce “Crex” and where is it?  First off, a Garganey is a Eurasian duck that means it normally resides in Europe and Asia.  Yes, Europe and Asia.  It’s true; I looked it up in Evan’s field guide to birds of Europe.  Every now and again, one finds it’s way into North America.  Kaufmann’s Field Guide to Birds of North America calls it a “very rare” visitor.


But it does visit occasionally and sporadically.  Do you see that line in Kaufmann’s entry that it “might show up on any marshy pond, especially in spring”?  That is the best line in any bird book – ever.  That gives anyone living near a marsh or pond the eternal hope that one day, one just might just stumble across this rare, exquisite duck.  That’s good news for us birders on the prairies of Minnesota.  It’s a fact we tuck into the back, deep recesses of our minds as we go out and scan waterfowl every spring.  In fact, this thought came to mind just last week as Steve was headed out birding one evening, and I couldn’t join him. Being always hopeful and having found my own rarities recently, I told him to go find us a Garganey.  He dismissed my green-horned wishful thinking with a bit of sarcasm – all part of good birding fun.

But back to that second question, ABA stands for American Birding Association, and they have a numerical system to indicate just how rare a bird is.  The highest rating given to the most rare birds is ABA – Code 5.  So a Code 4 is a big, big deal.  It’s a drop-everything and go deal. It’s a Wisconsin state record sort of deal.

And pronouncing “Crex”? Well, let’s back up and talk about Friday night first.  Late Friday, a vigilant birder who resides in the Los Angeles area and has birding ties to Minnesota and Wisconsin and monitors both states’ listservs and Facebook groups, made a shocking post on MOU-net – a male Garganey had been found just a few miles across the Minnesota border in Wisconsin at the Crex Meadows Wildlife Area!  Moreover, this was only 2 hours and 45 minutes away.  2 hours and 45 minutes!  I can’t even get to the Sax-Zim Bog that fast.  My mind was spinning and my guts were churning.  Never mind that I was coming down from an adrenaline rush of another successful rarity chase earlier that day that caused me to get a sub and dash out of school early. (That’s a story for another post).  Well, I’ve already done a lot of birding and a lot of irrational birding lately, so I was really wrestling with the thought of dragging the family to Wisconsin to see a once in lifetime bird…a once in a lifetime bird.

I shook it off and instead went birding early Saturday morning at the Atwater sewage ponds before the family was awake.  I wasn’t going to let birding take over my day.  I had to contain the beast. But then I had another incredible discovery that morning of solitude birding that brought the birding adrenaline back with a vengeance (Yet another story to come later).

As I was mopping up the reporting and documentation of my find, the birding landscape was exploding around me bringing in incredible reports.  Not only were people still seeing the Garganey, but now a Cinnamon Teal shows up 45 minutes away, a mile or so from my Uncle Larry’s house!  This was a chase that was the most logical to discard. We had seen a beautiful Cinnamon Teal drake up close in Arizona a month ago.  But, still, the proximity and the combination of being at my Aunt and Uncle’s house was gnawing at me. And it was a Cinnamon Teal.

Now I was fighting the adrenaline of two major life birds in the last two days and the bombardment of continued reports on the Cinnamon Teal and Garganey.  Then my phone rang.  It was Ron Erpelding, one of the state’s premiere birders who just happens to live in our county.  Ron told me that he had asked Joel and Randy if they were interested in going for the Garganey.  Both declined but told him that I had some interest.  Ron asked me if I wanted to go.  One of the state’s top birders asked me to go along to see – the Garganey.  I’ve never been along with Ron before. This had to be the pinnacle moment of my birding hobby.  The planets were aligned for the most incredible adventure I couldn’t have even imagined.

I think Melissa understood that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and gave her blessing for me and Evan join Ron.  And Evan wanted to go.  He was quite upset over the bird I saw without him on Friday.  The decision was made. We would leave Willmar at 6:00 AM on Sunday morning.  The calm sets in once the decision is made.  I was at peace as I got Evan to bed early and started prepping for the next day.  But the peace disappeared when I needed it most – bedtime.  I don’t think I slept more than a fitful hour or so.  The birding events of the past couple days and the possibility of what the next day held were wrecking havoc on my mind and robbing my body of rest.

I think I finally gave up on sleep and got out of bed by 4 AM to get the coffee going, take care of dogs, double-check gear, and go over maps and reports of other good birds at Crex Meadows.  Crex is pronounced like the cereal Chex, by the way.  Even though it’s in a state that has many French roots, it’s not pronounced “Cray.”  We know because we later asked at the visitor center.  Anyhow, I got Evan up by 5:30.  It’s never hard to wake him to go on these epic adventures.  Waking him on school days is another story.

By 6:00 AM we were loaded in Ron’s car and headed to the Badger State.  I think the birding talk started at 6:01 and didn’t really stop until we got home some 12 hours later. Ron has pretty much seen it all and is a treasure-trove of intel and stories.  Even the guy’s car is birdy – about an hour into our trip he turned on the radio for the first time and some program he regularly listens to on WCCO radio was giving bird feeder advice and highlighting recent migrant arrivals around different parts of the state.  Are you kidding me?

The only other sounds besides our bird talk was the incessant, pounding rain the entire trip.  It was an all-day rain.  It was not ideal, but when going after a Garganey, you can’t be too picky.  One thing that began to worry us as we drove was the noticeable lack of ducks anywhere.  Had the ducks moved out with the front?  It wasn’t a good sign, but as Ron said, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” True enough.

By 9:00 AM we made it to Crex Meadows.  It didn’t take long to find the correct spot – a marshy pool at the intersection of two roads.  It didn’t take a map to find it.  We could see the numerous hazard flashers of cars parked in a row on the side of the road as best they could with no shoulder.  That was a good sign.  We pulled in line and didn’t cut to the front.  The pool was still a couple hundred yards away, but we were parallel with a 10 foot wide ditch with about 5 feet of prairie grass separating the road from the water.  Seeing nothing, we wondered what was happening.  Finally we pulled alongside one of the cars and asked if they’d seen it.  The gentleman replied that the Garganey was here and that it was in the ditch right next to the cars!  We couldn’t see it because it was tucked up against the grass on the road side of the ditch.  Boy, were we giddy now.  It would just be a matter of time.  We got back in the line of cars and waited.  The rain was pelting the passenger side window like you wouldn’t believe.  We’d see a duck emerge, roll down the window to check, and roll it back up quickly after seeing a mere Blue-winged Teal or Northern Shoveler.  I bet I repeated this process 20 times.  My legs were drenched.  Ron could at least look out the windshield but at a bad angle through windshield wipers.  Evan was standing and on full-alert in the back.

All of the sudden Ron hollered, “I see it!” with all the excitement of a kid seeing Mickey Mouse at Disney World.  Ron caught a flash of the diagnositc head as it swam along the near side of the channel.  One down and two to go.  Now Evan and I were really straining to see it.  As our hearts thumped a little faster now, Ron was meticulously recording all the details of his 678th life bird with the same care and precision as doctors and nurses recording the details of a baby’s birth. 68 years old and lifer #678.  And this novice birder and his 7 year-old kid were on the verge of seeing it at any moment. Wow.


As Ron wrote, we were watching and watching.  Then it happened!  The duck swam into the channel giving us remarkable views even if it was raining cats and dogs.  It turned out our car was in prime position.  We had the best seats in the house as the bird was 20 feet out my window. Windows down, legs soaked, camera splattered – I didn’t care. I was snapping like crazy hoping for something, anything that would be decent.  But really, we saw the bird and that was incredible in itself.  Pictures were secondary.

Garganey at Crex Meadows!

Garganey at Crex Meadows!


The excitement of everybody was palpable – and insane.



After getting my record shots, I waited for an opportune time to sneak outside with my umbrella where I could somehow do my best with the worst photography conditions possible.  In that time, though, the bird went out of view.  And in a matter of minutes all traces of ducks and birders disappeared.  It happened so fast.  I guess we all got our great looks at the bird and moved on.

We continued to explore Crex Meadows for a bit to hopefully turn up a reported Chestnut-collared Longspur and a Mountain Bluebird. No luck on them, so it was time to head back.  But, Ron is a county lister which means he tries to see as many bird species as possible in all 87 Minnesota counties.  Ron has averaged over 200 birds for each and every one of those counties, tallying a massive 17,000+ county birds.  His Toyota has 216,000 miles and his last car haad 238,000 miles.  Even so, the guy’s got holes to fill.  We spent some time searching for Greater Scaup and Canvasbacks in Chisago County.  I was the navigator and told to get us by some water.  0427141304

We missed on the Scaup and Canvasbacks, but we were delighted to find a concentration of 66 of our state bird, the Common Loon.

Common Loon

Common Loon

It was also good to be able to get out every now and then to stretch and look at birds.

IMG_7997After several more stops, a lot of bird talk, and some very hazardous driving in the Cities in the downpour, we eventually made it home.  I could only be so lucky to see the Garganey again.  It was a bird and a trip of a lifetime. What a pleasure it was to get to know Ron a little better and go on a thrilling Garganey chase.