Pounding the Lifers at North Ottawa Impoundment

Ask any serious Minnesota birder where he or she was in June of 2017, and you will get one common response: the North Ottawa Impoundment in Grant County.  While not exactly new to hosting good and rare birds, North Ottawa outdid itself this year.  Or more accurately, an army of skilled birders outdid themselves as they descended on the Impoundment in waves and created a bonafide, honest-to-goodness Patagonia Picnic Table Effect.  That term is sometimes used pretty loosely, but this was the real deal–a cascade of Accidentals, Casuals, and Rare-Regulars so intense that it threatened to rename the very phenomenon itself.  Below is the timeline of the major birding events, including my multiple trips with Steve Gardner to the site in June.  Even though this info is old news to Minnesota birders, I think the end of this post will hold a nice surprise for all.

June 5th

Shawn Conrad and Becca Engdahl separately report finding a Glossy Ibis, an accidental species that would be a lifer for me.

June 7th

Undoubtedly following up on the Glossy Ibis reports, Minnesota Big Year birder Liz Harper helps her own cause by discovering a Little Blue Heron, a rare-regular species which would be a state bird for me.

June 8th

Among the masses of birders now swarming the Impoundment, Gerry Hoekstra sends MN birders into a complete frenzy, including yours truly, when he finds a Snowy Plover, a casual species that would be a lifer for me.

June 9th

Steve and I go to North Ottawa.  Any one of the three aforementioned birds would have justified the trip.  Three in one spot was just ridiculous.  We were hoping for at least one of these goodies.  Fortunately I didn’t have to wait long to get that wish.  I got the Little Blue Heron as a flyover almost right away. Unfortunately Steve missed it at that time but got it later in the day.

Little Blue Heron

We tried unsuccessfully for the Snowy Plover but had no luck.  Considering there were over a dozen birders out looking and no one was turning it up, it was safe to say that it was gone. We did, however, see the Glossy Ibis thanks to Wayne Perala, local birding guru who knew the bird and its habits so well that he told us where to look. And almost on cue, the bird flew up out of the cattails right by Wayne as he said, “There’s your Ibis.” This bird was super cooperative giving us great looks in perfect light.  It was a life bird for me but just a state bird for Steve.

Glossy IbisGlossy IbisSteve and I were pretty thrilled with going 2/3 on our targets. In addition to these birds, we also nabbed some nice birds that we don’t get to see too often, like this Snowy Egret.

Snowy Egret

Western Kingbird never goes unappreciated in Minnesota.  We were lucky to see this one.

Western KingbirdAnd who does not love seeing an Upland Sandpiper, especially one so crushable?

Upland SandpiperUpland SandpiperSteve and I felt pretty darn good about our trip and our nice haul of birds.  We were completely satisfied, until….

June 15th

Wayne Perala (remember nice guy, Wayne, from the Ibis story?) sent another shock wave through the Minnesota birding community by posting incredible pics of a King Rail, another accidental species that would be a lifer for me.  Unfortunately timing was bad for me as I was getting ready to go on that Madeline Island trip that was highlighted by the last post.  Indeed I had to suffer through pics and reports of many people adding the most recent North Ottawa mega to their lists.

June 23rd

Finally back from that Wisconsin vacation, Steve and I sneak up to the Impoundment in the evening.  In the week since the Rail was discovered, other birders discovered there were two King Rails!  Despite now having double the chance to see this lifer, our Rail search was a bust.  The wind was raging and we were searching in slightly the wrong spot. We also tried searching for a lifer Nelson’s Sparrow reported by Becca Engdahl, but nothing likes to be out in the wind.  Except Western Grebes, they don’t care.

Western GrebeSteve and I did, however, see another casual species that was also discovered during this historic period of MN birding which I have failed to disclose in the timeline.  A pair of Black-necked Stilts had set up shop in one of the shallow pools of the Impoundment. Considering I already had Black-necked Stilts for Grant County from several years ago and that Steve had just gotten this state bird recently, we just weren’t too fired up about it, especially after our double dip.

June 29th

With a renewed sense of optimism freshened up by continuing reports of the Rail pair, Steve and I headed back to Grant County for the third time in a month.  This time we arrived at the crack of dawn on gloriously still day…in the right spot. Success.

King RailLook at the size of these things compared to the Mallards in the background.  No wonder it’s the King of the Rails.King RailKing RailBirding is a roller coaster of emotions, and Steve and I were back on top after this sighting.  Steve suggested we try for those Nelson’s Sparrows again.  Despite our good fortune of the morning, I was skeptical we would find the Sparrows.  But not looking certainly guarantees that outcome. So we walked the dike berm that we had a week ago.  This time it definitely felt more Sparrowy–no wind, early morning, etc.  We played the tape and didn’t get a response.  Then a couple minutes later, I heard the recording, or what I thought was the recording, again.  I asked Steve if he had left his phone app on.  When he replied that he hadn’t we knew were hearing the real deal! We continued to work the area, and eventually we saw two Nelson’s Sparrows!

Nelson's SparrowWith some pishing we were able to get them to pop up for some great looks at these skulkers.Nelson's SparrowNelson's SparrowSteve and I followed these birds around for a bit, thoroughly soaking up the experience.  I don’t think either of us ever expected to lifer on this bird with such good looks.  We certainly didn’t expect to get this lifer in Grant County.  This nighttime singer is often a heard-only bird that people trek to middle of nowhere (McGregor) to find in the middle of the night.  We were stupefied.  Talking it over on the ride home, we concluded that the Nelson’s Sparrow lifer experience topped the King Rails even though the Sparrow is a summer resident in our state.  More than once I have been surprised by how much of an impact a Sparrow lifer has on me.  A huge thanks goes out to Becca Engdahl for her find and her tips on locating it!

The reports out of North Ottawa definitely dried up in July.  That was okay with me because I, along with many others, were spoiled rotten by the place.  Additionally, I was okay with not having to run up to Grant County again because I had been working hard on achieving a birding goal much closer to home, a goal that has since been achieved and will be the highlight of the next post.

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.

A Tern for the Worse – One Screwed-Up Trip

More often than not you come to this blog to read about our great birding triumphs.  But we are also fully transparent and are thus required to document our most epic and comical failures.  Anyone who has birded for any length of time knows that failure to produce is all part of this game and such missteps or miserable attempts can be just as memorable as the glorious moments.  It is in that spirit that I will tell the story.

A little over a week ago an interesting report came in of a Least Tern down in Luverne in Rock County.  I generally don’t get too excited about terns, gulls, or even shorebirds – at least not to the point of going on a lengthy chase.  Luverne was nearly three hours away; it definitely was not happening.  Then I learned that the Least Tern is considered a “casual” species in Minnesota and that there are very few records of it here.  Furthermore, to see one elsewhere, I’d have to visit someplace like the Florida coast in the summer.  Now the bird was becoming more appealing.  I looked up the picture and noticed that the Least Tern is quite distinctive with its yellow bill.  Even more appealing.  But then I heard that this particular Least Tern was a juvenile – definitely an attribute for the “con” column.   A long trip for an immature bird that might not stick around?  Forget it.

The reports kept coming though.  The tern was hanging on and something very interesting happened.  One birder reported that there were now two Least Terns and that one was a breeding plumaged adult!  And the birds were hanging out all day. Now I was interested. Phone calls and texts were exchanged with local birding buddies, but ultimately three of us ended up going down separately in three vehicles.  I opted to go alone so I could turn the chase into an overnight camping trip with the kids at Blue Mounds State Park.

I was confident we’d see the tern in the morning.  The bird(s) had been around for nearly three days by this point.  Plus our chase record was strong with only one big miss on a Painted Bunting a couple years ago.  Even then, though, we managed to walk away with a consolation Purple Finch lifer.  I tend to choose chases that have a high probability of success, and this chase had the right elements for just such an outcome.  So as I rode along with two kids, a van full of camping gear, and one of my two labrador retrievers riding shotgun (she was not part of the original chase/camping plan), I was excited that in just a couple hours I’d be looking at a sparkly, brand-new bird, and a very rare bird besides.  We’d see the bird, and fifteen minutes later the kids and I would be having fun camping and swimming at the reservoir at Blue Mounds.  It was going to be perfect.

We got to the site in Luverne around 10:00 in the morning and pulled up behind Randy who had made it down there sometime within the previous hour.  Randy had mixed news for us.  He saw the bird (the juvenile) – saw it fly away not fifteen minutes earlier. My optimism was undaunted.  I was confident the bird would return.  We searched nearby wetlands with Randy to see if we could dig it up.  The kids and I returned to the original site a couple times but had no luck in locating either of the Least Terns.

One reason I thought this would be a fun trip for the kids was that I remembered the city of Luverne had a massive park down by the Rock River with multiple playgrounds.  Despite my memory, there would be no park adventure on this trip.  The entire park which was lush green in my memory was now entirely covered in black soil and roped off as crews worked feverishly to get it into park shape again.  What was going on?  Then I remembered.  This area of the state had massive flooding this spring.  Undoubtedly the grass and greenery were destroyed in the stagnating waters left behind.

So it was off to Blue Mounds to set up camp and do some swimming. We were going to have fun one way or another on this trip.  But we hit another snag when we checked in at the park office.  The park ranger asked us if we were aware of the water situation.  Uh, no. The water supply, she said, was contaminated with E. coli.  Even though that sounds utterly terrifying, it was a manageable fear since they had all the water shut off save the toilets and since they’d give us drinking water at the park office.

After we had camp set up and had checked on the Least Tern spot unsuccessfully a couple times, I decided that it was time to let the kids do some swimming at the reservoir. With kids suited up we made our way to the… mud puddle? Wait, where’s the reservoir? This place was only suitable for frogs and the few Pectoral Sandpipers poking around. The beach was hundreds of feet away from the “water.”   What was happening?  Finally I figured it out when we hiked down to the dam;  the spring flooding had overpowered the dam, knocking a gaping hole in it and depleting the reservoir.  This was turning out to be one sorry trip, and I was turning into one liar of a father.

The kids and I did do a little bit of hiking.  After all, Blue Mounds State Park is the most reliable place in the state to see Blue Grosbeaks.  Even though I had seen a gross amount of them in recent weeks, it was still fun to find six Blue Grosbeaks at Blue Mounds.  Most were near the Interpretive Center’s parking lot, but a couple were found at the north end of the prairie near the swimming area.

Blue Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeak

Blue Mounds is also famous for Common Nighthawks that swoop over the prairie and make their booming call late in the evening or early in the morning.  It is not hard to find them perched during the day. This particular nighthawk was taking a rest in the same tree as the Blue Grosbeak above.

Common Nighthawk

Common Nighthawk

Can you find the Blue Grosbeak and Common Nighthawk in this photo?

Can you find the Blue Grosbeak and Common Nighthawk in this photo?

Another fun bird that is not hard to find at this park is the Dickcissel.  Interestingly, this Dickcissel was perched in the same small, dead tree with the Blue Grosbeak and Common Nighthawk in the first two photos.  Apparently the two former birds don’t mind sharing territory with each other.  And the nighthawk couldn’t care less that these two birds were singing their heads off while he tried to close his eyes and dream sweet nighthawk dreams.



The list of uncommon birds that are not too hard to find at Blue Mounds continued with several singing Field Sparrows.  I was showing Evan this particular Field Sparrow through the LCD display on the camera and pressed the shutter button while the bird was singing. Evan thought that was pretty neat to photograph it in the act of singing, even using the phrase “epic photo.”

Field Sparrow

Field Sparrow

Another bird we had the pleasure of viewing, when binoculars and camera were not in hand of course, was a Red-headed Woodpecker in a dead tree right by a walking path. It did not care that we were 15 feet away.  Steve has told me I’m a magnet for these birds. I’m starting to believe him.  What I am certainly a magnet for is rain at Blue Mounds State Park.  As you can see in the photos above, conditions were not optimal for photography, birding, or even camping.  Rain was setting up shop for the day, and I had a sickening feeling that this trip was going to turn into the disastrous Blue Grosbeak hunt of 2013.  But a lack of good weather, terns, playgrounds, swimming beaches, and safe drinking water did not deter these two from having a good time even though I have no idea what they were doing here.

Evan Marin

We never did see the Least Terns on any one of our dozen+ trips to the tern spot that day. Hope stayed alive for a check in the morning, but it was time to put the current day to bed and get some rest.  At least that was a sure thing.  Or so I thought.  For somebody who teaches future doctors and engineers and such, sometimes I just don’t think.  I figured the three of us in a three-man tent on a full-sized air mattress would be no problem until I put the plan into action.  The mattress was not wide enough for the three of us, so I turned the mattress sideways. What I gained in shoulder room was offset by the loss of body length I could fit on the mattress. My shorter companions had no problem, but my legs hung off the end by over a foot. Uncomfortable but fine.  But then you throw in a couple of karate-chopping sleepers and a 65 lb. lab that wants on the bed and it was a red-eyed, muscle-aching disaster.  It was topped off by a close lighting storm that had me scrambling to get two sleepy kids and a dog into the van where we would attempt to sleep the last couple hours of the night.  I didn’t care about a Least Tern by that point.  Instead I was once again thinking how the desire for a bird could cause such misery.  The new day and the trip home couldn’t come fast enough.

Dawn finally came and with it was the thought that this trip had nowhere to go but up.  I was wrong again.  You see, the previous day I noticed that my two-front tires were balding really bad.  I shouldn’t have made the trip down on them, and I certainly wasn’t going to drive home on them.  So I made arrangements at the Luverne Ford dealership to get a couple of new tires that next morning.  I figured it would be fine because the kids and dog and I could take a nice walk while we waited.  The day had a different plan.  The continuing rain forced us to wait for our van in the one-car showroom of the dealership…with a big dog.  But a 6 in. by 6 in. TV playing Sponge Bob, a couple of cookies, and one firm hand on a short leash got us through the tire change.  Actually all the folks at Luverne Ford were incredibly hospitable and friendly telling me sweet lies about how well-behaved my kids were and how nice my dog was.  The truth is that the kids and dog did very well considering the circumstances.  And it truly is better to be safe as they say.  Did I mention that on the trip down to Luverne the previous day I had to call 911 to report a semi coming into my lane?

Finally we were out of there.  We checked the tern spot one last time but again came up short.  It was time to head home.  I took a longer route home in an effort to do some eBird documentation for some reported Blue Grosbeaks that other birders had found far north of their usual range.  I only managed to turn up one.  I was thrilled to be able to see and document a couple more Red-headed Woodpeckers.  I was never able to get any photos, but I did see and photograph another uncommon bird, the Upland Sandpiper, another bird I’ve been seeing more of this year than in the past.

Upland Sandpiper

Upland Sandpiper

The trip had some good birds for sure, just not the new one we were hoping for.  What we didn’t have in birds, though, we made up for in stories to tell.  I will be curious to someday hear the kids’ recollections of the disastrous Least Tern chase of the summer of 2014.  The Least Tern won this battle, but another life bird would become the hero and bring a satisfactory close to the summer the next week.

Wood Stork in Minnesota!

From reading the blog it may seem that I bird all the time.  The truth is that I squeeze in little bursts of birding around the regular stuff of life.  One of those regular things has been some home improvement, specifically a bathroom remodel.  Daily birding forays have been replaced with daily trips to Menards and Home Depot.  And instead of roaming the countryside freely looking for birds, I have been confined to a 7-foot basement bathroom with no window.  But I had been diligently putting in my time because I was looking forward to a full-fledged birding adventure with Steve last Saturday to Felton Prairie to look for Chestnut-collared Longspurs and other prairie goodies.  Even with that to look forward to, though, I was growing weary of the bathroom project.  If only there was a reprieve.

It turns out there was.  On Friday morning a very interesting email came in: the previous evening a Wood Stork had been found by a farmer in southern Minnesota very near the Iowa border when he was surveying damage to his grove from one of the recent storms that had pummeled the area.  Likely this bird had been blown in by one of the big storms.  I wasn’t even sure what a Wood Stork was, so I researched it and discovered this bird only lives in Florida and the Gulf Coast and that this was only the second time it had been in Minnesota!  There was a catch, though.  The person reporting stated that they had not yet secured permission from the homeowner for birders to come see it.  All he could say was that it was along the I-90 corridor west of Blue Earth.  Not only that but there was no fresh information of the bird being seen that morning. I would need more info than that to make the 3-hour one-way trip.  Nevertheless I had told Evan and Melissa about it, planting the seed that we may need to take off later.

Almost immediately after the email came in I got a call from Randy.  He wanted to chase it on the limited information hoping more details would trickle while in en route.  I’m surprised he called me first.  Maybe he figured I’d go because I was also a teacher and had the time off, or maybe he figured I’d be an easy sell based on my chase history.  Anyway, I turned him down saying I needed more to go on.  It was back to working on the bathroom for me.  Yuck.

Early afternoon came with a new email: the bird was refound and the exact location was given!  When I told Melissa, she surprised me by saying, “Well, I’m up for an adventure.  Do you want to go?”  Do I?!  I called up Randy and made arrangements for him to join the family on this wild bird chase.  Since Randy works with Melissa and gets along great with the kids, I knew he wouldn’t mind tagging along with the whole fam.

We had a pleasant drive down visiting and surveying all the flooding due to the incessant rains we’ve had.  As someone on Facebook stated, our new state motto will likely be “The Land of One Lake.”  Once we got to our location, though, we nearly panicked because we didn’t see a big, white stork, but even more worrisome was that we didn’t see any birders anywhere.  This was a second state record; there should be birders everywhere.  We figured this was bad news and that people had scattered to go refind this thing.  Eventually we caught sight of another birder driving slowly.  Our hopes were lifted when we saw him stop for awhile.  Did he see it?  Then he ended up going down a steep embankment onto what appeared to be a frontage road along I-90.  What was he doing?  We watched him go into this farm place.  You can see an east-bound semi on I-90.


We watched. The car never came out.  Interesting.  Then, all of the sudden, two different cars were driving out of this long driveway, and two cars full of birders were driving in!  Quickly we headed down this driveway and stopped to talk to one of the outgoing drivers.  He confirmed what we suspected; the bird was there!

And so were the birders.

IMG_9383It was quite a party.  Everyone was pretty excited.  Marin picked up on the palpable excitement as she asked, “What are all these guys so excited about?”

This is what they were excited about, Marin.

Wood Stork

Wood Stork in Faribault County, Minnesota

You would have swore the Vikings finally won a Super Bowl with how jolly these guys were.  It was pretty fun.  Even the kids wanted to see for themselves what the big deal was.IMG_9393IMG_9396Wood StorkWood StorkWood StorkWhile I photographed the bird, Melissa and the kids went with Randy to check out some of the farmyard animals.  Apparently I missed Marin nearly get attacked by this giant rooster when it was chasing her while she ran, unbeknownst to Marin.  The ensuing screams would have likely scared away the stork, and I would have been banished from the birding circles of which I participate.  Thankfully Melissa thwarted the attack by getting Marin to stop running which then stopped the rooster from chasing her.  By doing so, she was able to keep the screams and stork at bay, keeping Minnesota birders happy and my reputation intact.


The kids love any chance they get to pet a cat since we can’t have one due to my allergies.


With enough stork and enough cat, it was time to leave.  We had a fun sighting just a half mile from the farm – an Upland Sandpiper at the top of a tall utility pole.  With almost zero habitat around I was surprised to see it.

Upland Sandpiper in Faribault County

Upland Sandpiper in Faribault County

IMG_9423It was finally time to head home on the 3-hour return trip.  The visiting continued, but this time it was Marin who was talking everyone’s ear off and thoroughly thriving on the attention of a new person in the car.  By the time we got home our bodies and ears were tired.  It had been a whirlwind 7-hour adventure.  But it was a lot of fun to do something spur of the moment and witness something unique as a family.  I told Melissa that it’s probably the closest thing she’ll get to experiencing a flash mob like she’s always wanted to see.

Back to Cottonwood for some Blue Grosbeak Action

This story pre-dates the Afton State Park post.  Because Evan’s teacher likes to show the class the blog on the SmartBoard, especially after one of Evan’s birding trips, I was under pressure to get that Afton story written the night we got home so Evan could have it ready for his class to see the next day.  Furthernmore, there has been a lot of birding action lately and the posts are getting backlogged. So this post was delayed and occurred back on June 3rd.

Since Evan and Melissa were still in school and I’d been hanging out with Marin, I thought it would be a good opportunity to go to the Cottonwood sewage ponds to try to photograph some of the Blue Grosbeaks that my young birder friend, Garrett, had found down there.  Since it was not a life bird, I knew Evan wouldn’t care if I did this kind of trip without him. Blue Grosbeaks are a significant bird in Minnesota.  They breed in the very, very southwestern corner of the state.  Blue Mounds State Park near Luverne is the most reliable place to see them, which is where we got our lifer last year.  Occasionally Blue Grosbeaks are found further north and east like these Cottonwood birds.  They are almost always found in gravel pits or other equivalent brushy areas.  Their rarity and their beauty make this bird a fun find.

As I become familiar with all kinds of birding haunts, Marin is becoming familiar with a plethora of city parks.  If it’s just me and her, I try to make sure there’s something fun for her to do.  So on the way to Cottonwood we stopped in Maynard, and I couldn’t find a city park!  Since MACCRAY school was already done for the year, we stopped at the elementary school where she was able to get a playground fix before Cottonwood.

Cottonwood was pretty straightforward; the Blue Grosbeaks were isolated on a lone, brushy hill next to the path into the ponds.  This hill is maybe one hundred yards long and a hundred feet wide.  Garrett told me the Grosbeaks like to hang out in the small trees on the back side of the hill.  It was pretty muddy, so I was going to let her stay in the van while I hopped out to check out the hill.  Then Marin remembered that her mud boots were in the van, part of the cache of random things we brought home from daycare at the end of the year.  So she was eager to put them on and join me for a little walk.  That is, until she spotted a bug.  Marin has an uncontrollable, irrational fear of bugs that causes her to scream even if they are not bothering her.  It makes any outdoor activity very challenging.  So she went to the car while I continued my search. But then I heard screams from inside the car.  There was a lone fly that she just could not tolerate.  Despite all the insect drama, I was able to find one male Blue Grosbeak and get some photos.  Garrett had seen two males and a female the week prior.

Blue Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeak

Blue GrosbeakBlue GrosbeakSuch a fun bird to see!  As I photographed the bird on the sewage pond fence, the city worker who was mowing drove right up to where the bird was and scared it away.  Nuts. Then he shut off his mower, and I thought ‘Oh, great. Here we go again.  I wonder what he’s going to accuse me of.’  Instead of a suspicious inquiry, though, he asked if we were birdwatchers and then told me I should go ahead and drive on the dikes around the sewage ponds to show my daughter the baby Canada Geese.  You gotta love the Cottonwood sewage ponds where not only are there no gates keeping you out, but the city worker encourages you to come check see all that their ponds have to offer.  The geese are another story; I actually have a very strong dislike for the species.  Undoubtedly it originates from my younger years of shoveling loads of goose poop off our beach, lawn, and docks whenever they would visit the resort.  It’s kind of funny how when people see us out birding they ask us if we are looking at geese or want to know where geese are.  I always appreciate the friendliness and offer to help, but there is no way I can quash their enthusiasm and tell them how I feel about this ubiquitous bird. So I thank them and tell them I’m just checking out all the birds.

As far as the stunning Blue Grosbeak was concerned, though, I would have loved to spend more time looking for it and photographing it, but we had another date with a park in Cottonwood.  The date was shortlived, however, because of a screaming fit that resulted from a fly on the slide.

After the short park visit we were off to check out Lone Tree Lake just a couple miles northwest of Cottonwood.  Garrett suggested it as a spot for seeing nesting Upland Sandpipers. For a young man, Garrett sure knows his birds and more importantly, he knows what birds are good.  I’m glad I discovered him on eBird as he isn’t really connected and known in the other big birding circles – a problem that I’m helping to rectify, especially since he seems to be a lone birder reporting from this dynamic outpost where all kinds of amazing birds show up.

As we drove along looking for Upland Sandpipers, we saw a couple Bobolinks and other prairie birds.



Eventually I found one of the Upland Sandpipers acting uplandy way up in a hayfield and far from the lake and the road for that matter.

Upland Sandpiper

Upland Sandpiper

Not a bad morning of prairie birding and park hopping.  It was time to meander home and make it to Evan’s school on time to pick him up.  Marin fell dead asleep on the way, so I had a quiet drive through the scenic Minnesota River Valley in Renville County. After her two hour nap was over we stopped at the DQ in Olivia for a late lunch and then got to Evan’s school just in time to get him.  It was a fun, successful day.