The Savage King and Swedish Meatballs Too

So much for a summer of little birding and blogging.  The good birds need to stop.  At least there were some chases on which I put my foot down (and I don’t mean on the accelerator). One was a Yellow-breasted Chat–200 miles was just too far for a possible glimpse at a skulker. The other was a very interesting but bothersome find.  Bruce Fall, the Minnesota state eBird reviewer, discovered a large, “yellow-bellied” Kingbird at Murphy Hanrehan Park Reserve in Savage.  It was clear from the photos obtained by many birders that this was either a Tropical Kingbird or a Couch’s Kingbird and not the more expected Western Kingbird stray.  The first two Kingbirds are practically identical visually speaking, so they can only safely be identified by voice when outside of their normal ranges of Arizona and Texas.  One problem, though. This bird wasn’t talking for anybody.  Either of these Kingbird species is a significant vagrant, but what fun is it to chase a bird that no one knows for sure what it is? I dismissed this one pretty quickly.

Anyhow, I was having a pretty good day birding around the county on the morning of June 30th without even thinking about that CO/TRKI.  My day started by tracking down a county Lark Sparrow that Joel Schmidt had discovered in a gravel pit a couple days prior.  I was stoked.  I hadn’t seen one of these since my lifer two years ago, and now I had one for Kandiyohi County.

Lark Sparrow

Even still, I wanted another bird for my county list that day, so after the LASP I went looking for some Red-necked Grebes that Joel Schmidt also found earlier in June.  I struck out, but a pair of COLOs next to the road was a nice consolation prize.

Common LoonHmmm…I wonder why they didn’t have a chick with them.  It’s best not to think about that.

Common LoonI got back to the house, happy with my morning, and was busy documenting my LASP sighting. Then an email came in that changed the course of my day.  After nearly 15 hours of observing the mystery Kingbird over the course of a week, Bruce Fall clinched the ID after hearing the Kingbird vocalize when a Brown-headed Cowbird got too close for comfort. Tropical Kingbird.  Holy smokes. This is a scarce bird in even the tiny corners of Arizona and Texas that it calls home. I told Melissa I would have to try to squeeze in a fast trip to the Cities to try for this one.  This was a Minnesota first state record of a Tropical Kingbird after all.

Melissa has apparently learned the skills of opportunism from watching me.  Usually I find a way to see good birds on trips or other outings that are non-birding.  This time Melissa was using this bird to get back to Ikea in Bloomington where she had been the day before.  She had her eye on a loft bed for Evan and now saw an opportunity to go get it.  Gee, a rare life bird and Swedish meatballs with lingonberry sauce? Yeah, I suppose we could go.

The four of us got to Murphy-Hanrehan about three hours after the decision was made.  We hiked the 3/4 of a mile to trail marker 36, and the Tropical Kingbird was there right away. It stood out like a giant sore thumb in the dead branches of this tall, lone Cottonwood.  It looked utterly massive in real life.

Tropical Kingbird

From this lone Cottonwood island that towered over the open fields below, this bird was King of his domain.

Tropical Kingbird

Tropical KingbirdThe bird was out there a ways, so I did the best I could for photos.

Tropical KingbirdTropical KingbirdI showed the kids the bird on the camera’s LCD.  With another check mark for his list, Evan was out of there (and Melissa and Marin too).

Evan and MarinI was hoping for better photos, so I stayed for a little while. After ten minutes of observation, something incredible happened that two other birders present and myself witnessed: the Tropical Kingbird stretched out its neck, pulled its wings behind its back, and vocalized! It was a 1-second higher-pitched trill.  I later listened to the sounds of TRKI on the iPod, and it was a match for the first call listed.  I felt bad for all the birders that have watched and watched this bird just waiting for such a moment.  Luck of the draw I guess.  Just like when something even better then happened–the Kingbird flew to a low perch right on the path!  Matt Stratmoen, his 600 mm lense, and I hustled down the path to get near it.  We’d snap some photos, creep closer, snap, creep, snap, etc.  We eventually got within 100 feet or less.

Tropical KingbirdMatt is the one who took that amazing image of the Orr Black-backed Woodpeckers with the mom and dad in profile perched on either side of the nest hole with the baby sticking his head out screaming.  Amazing image.  It’s on MOU’s website.

Tropical KingbirdWe won’t talk about the quality difference between Matt’s photos and mine of the Tropical Kingbird from the same distance.  But I can live with mine.  The views were phenomenal and more than I hoped for.

Tropical Kingbird

Tropical KingbirdThe Kingbird had enough of this low perch and went back to his tall, remote Cottonwood.  I got what I came for and then some, so I hustled back to the van after just a half hour of observation.  After all, Swedish meatballs and a fight loading Ikea furniture in the van were calling my name.

Savage Birding – Hooded Warblers at Murphy-Hanrehan and Tufted Titmouse at Hidden Valley Park

On June 10th I went on a solo birding mission to the Twin Cities metro area, specifically to a couple of key parks in Savage.  With Melissa still at work I had splurged to get a babysitter to watch Marin so Evan and I could bird these parks like a couple of savages and go after such wonders as Hooded Warblers, Cerulean Warblers, and a pair of vagrant Tufted Titmice.  The two of us can cover a lot of ground when it’s just us. However, Evan found out that the kids’ favorite babysitter was coming, and he turned me down and opted to stay home.  When Randy heard of Evan’s choice, his comment was that it will serve Evan well later in life to choose girls over birds.  True enough.

Regardless of Evan dropping out, I was set to go.  Since it was a solo venture, I’ll keep the words short and let the pictures do the talking.  Suffice it to say I had some awesome birding.

I birded Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve in search of Hooded Warblers – a rare, regular species that nests in a couple locations in the Cities.  I found 3 males at Murphy-Hanrehan.  All were first found by voice – setting my phone’s ringtone as the HOWA song several months ago really paid off in helping me learn the song and thus be able to find the bird. The Hooded Warbler was a spectacular life bird that I’ve been wanting to see since last summer.

Hooded Warbler at Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve in Savage, MN

Hooded Warbler at Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve in Savage, MN

Hooded Warbler


Murphy-HanrehanIMG_9335Hooded WarblerAnother fun sighting was a Cerulean Warbler.  This was my best look which is not an uncommon look at this tree-top dweller.

Cerulean Warbler at Murphy-Hanrehan Park in Savage, MN

Cerulean Warbler at Murphy-Hanrehan Park in Savage, MN

I also got good looks but terrible photos of a Blue-winged Warbler.

Blue-winged Warbler - no-winged sub-species

Blue-winged Warbler – no-winged sub-species

After Murphy-Hanrehan I stopped by Hidden Valley Park in Savage for the fourth time in a week hoping to see at least one of the two Tufted Titmice that had been reported.  This time I was successful.  It made for a two-lifer day which is getting harder and harder to come by.

Tufted Titmouse at Hidden Valley Park in Savage, MN

Tufted Titmouse at Hidden Valley Park in Savage, MN

It was fun to see a pair of Broad-winged Hawks doing some aerial courtship.

Broad-winged Hawk over Hidden Valley Park in Savage, MN

Broad-winged Hawk over Hidden Valley Park in Savage, MN

So I went, I saw, I conquered.  Should Evan ever want to go after those Hoodeds, I now know the lay of the land and would be thrilled to go back with him.