This service was just a portion of a special all-day birding event being held in Fillmore County (in the far southeastern-most corner of Minnesota).
Our little congregation was led by one of Minnesota's premier birding experts: John Hockema. In the photo below (from L. to R.) you will see Troutbirder (yes, I finally got to meet this blogging friend who lives only about 23 miles from me!), Chris Hockema (John's brother) and John.
John had only recently gotten back from leading birding trips at Boreal Birding and Northern Landscapes Festival in Grand Marais, Minnesota. He mentioned that North House Folk School was planning another birding festival coming up Labor Day Weekend that he was going to be leading field trips for also, but I couldn't find the event listed on the North House home page (if I find out more information--I will post it in the 2009 Birding Festivals & Events section on my sidebar).
It was a great experience to have John as a trip leader. I knew this was going to be a great trip when we got out of the car and he came over and asked us if there were any special birds we were particularly interested in seeing this morning. I immediately asked for the Cerulean Warbler and one of the other folks asked for the Louisiana Waterthrush. John said he would do his best to find those birds for us and we headed down the trail.
I've birded many times in Forestville State Park, but we walked a trail I didn't even know existed and it was a fantastically birdy area right along the creek. We never did find the Cerulean Warbler or Louisiana Waterthrush, but we saw and heard lots of other great birds including the Yellow-Billed Cuckoo and Blue-Winged Warbler, plus we got really good looks at a Scarlet Tanager who flew down to find that "other" Scarlet Tanager that had invaded his territory via my birdJam!
Because we were in the "Lowland Hardwood and Floodplain Community" of southern Minnesota's Deciduous Forest biome, there were plenty of other interesting nature sightings along the way. Look at all the insects flocking to the blossoms of this wild Cow Parsnip plant. These huge plants (most around 6 feet tall!) were blooming everywhere in the woods.
We're starting to see more butterflies now that the weather's finally warming up here. This Mourning Cloak was taking advantage of some horse poop left behind on the trail. (The next time I go down to Forestville, I'll have to remember a big baggie to pick up a few "road apples" so I can set up the butterfly feeding station again in my backyard.)
On our way back, Chris happened to notice a male Baltimore Oriole hanging around what appeared to be a nest in a tree right over the trail. I had to check this out and sure enough, there was the nest! I believe this is the only time I've ever spotted an active oriole nest during the nesting season.
I also found my first active Red-Winged Blackird nest in a roadside ditch. I could see Mrs. RW Blackbird sitting on the nest and as I approached she flew away--revealing the eggs in her nest. (I know they're nesting in the lower part of my backyard, but the grass and weeds are just too thick for me to ever locate a nest). I was surprised to find this nest built so low--it wasn't more than 14 inches above the ground--making this nest an easy target for predators and over-zealous highway departments who feel the need to mow every road ditch to the ground.
The field trip for Troutbirder and me ended at 11:30 because we both had previous commitments for Sunday afternoon. The rest of the group was continuing their trip deeper into Fillmore County where spotting Henslow's Sparrows was planned for the afternoon. John told me of a couple of places where Henslow's Sparrows have regularly been seen, so I've got that on my agenda for another birding trip this summer. John also told me about a pair of Loggerhead Shrikes (possibly nesting!) less than 3 miles from my house in Olmsted County......watch for pictures of this fabulous sighting in my next post!!