Monday, June 14, 2010

Birding with John

Sunday, June 13th was a day I had been anticipating for quite some time as this was the day my local Audubon Society had scheduled for a birding trip with one of Minnesota's finest birders, John Hockema. John doesn't do very many local birding trips, so even though Sunday's forecast was for fog and possibly even rain, I knew I would still be at the designated rendezvous point by 7 AM. I had sent John an e-mail earlier last week with my request for a Henslow's Sparrow to add to my life list. His response was that there was a very good chance we could find a Henslow's and asking me whether I would also be interested in adding an Acadian Flycatcher to my life list (YES!)

By 7 AM, our small group of 9 intrepid birders had assembled and divided up into our little birding convoy. First stop: Bill Barnacle Forest Management Area, a beautiful tract of forest and prime bird/wildlife habitat. I knew it was going to be a good birding day when we got out of the cars and an Osprey was spotted flying over the parking lot!
Because of the drizzly weather, the birds weren't quite a vocal as they might be on a sunny morning, but they were still quite willing to respond to recorded calls that another birder provided. He called in a Wood Thrush and Scarlet Tanager for all of us to see. As we ventured further up the hill and deeper into the woods, John finally heard the call of the Acadian Flycatcher. (The sighting of this bird has been particularly exciting for local birders as the Acadian Flycatcher hasn't been documented in Olmsted County for many years, but was discovered just recently during the Breeding Bird Survey that another Audubon member is participating in.) We stopped on the trail and the recording of the Acadian Flycatcher was played to see if the bird could be drawn in for us to see and sure enough, it cooperated. We were all able to get great looks at the flycatcher (although it was too dark and the bird moved too quickly for me to get a photograph).

I enjoyed walking through this forest. Even though the birds weren't plentiful, there were still plenty of interesting plants and fungus to see along the way.
It's located far off the beaten path in rural Olmsted County, but hopefully I'll be able to find my way back there some day. I'm guessing this would be a fabulous place to bird during spring warbler migration!

Our next stop was Chester Woods Park, just east of Rochester. This is a great local park featuring easy hiking trails and excellent bird/wildlife habitat. Before we even got out of the parking lot, everyone got a nice look at a gorgeous rooster pheasant and an extremely cooperative Orchard Oriole. We headed over to the grasslands in search of the Henslow's Sparrow. Along the way we spotted this really nice Wild Lupine in bloom.

Little Wood Satyr butterfly
We continued walking around the grassland trail, but John's super-sensitive birding ears were not picking up the call of the Henslow's Sparrow. As we neared the forested edge of the trail, John thought he heard the call of a Yellow-Billed Cuckoo. I pulled out my trusty BirdJam and played the call of the Yellow-Billed Cuckoo a few times. Then someone in our group spotted the bird in a small shrub nearby. Binoculars were raised and John quickly identified the bird as not the yellow-billed, but a Black-Billed Cuckoo! (woo-hoo, Lifer #2 for my day!)

We continued on the trail still hoping for the Henslow's Sparrow and finally, as we got almost to the end, John was able to pick out the small hiccupy tsillik call of a Henslow's. The bird was spotted far across the field, but John was able to find it in the spotting scope and we all got a pretty good look at this little sparrow whose population numbers are rapidly declining due to habitat loss. (Lifer #3!)

It was almost noon, but John wasn't ready to quit birding yet. He knew of a spot where a Lark Sparrow had been seen recently, so the 4 of us remaining in the group headed over to an area of Rochester that used to be known as the 100 Acre Woods, but is currently being developed into a housing subdivision. After only a few minutes out of the car and walking in the grass, the Lark Sparrow flew up to the trees and we got a good look at it. John felt the bird was probably nesting nearby, but we were unable to locate a nest. I hope that area it was in doesn't get developed too soon and that grass stays unmowed for a while. This wasn't a lifer for me, but it was the first time I had seen it in Minnesota, so another good one to check off my Minnesota list!

We also got good looks at this Spotted Sandpiper in the same area. All the rain we've had lately filled up a little pond nearby that was perfect for the birds and dragonflies.

Also at this soon-to-be-developed spot was a large sandpile where a small colony of Bank Swallows was nesting. Unfortunately, some stupid yahoos had decided to climb this hill (on foot and with a bicycle) and as you can see from this picture, the center section of the sand hill collapsed, destroying several of the nesting burrows and actually killing one of the swallows (if you click to enlarge the picture, you can see the bird sticking out of the sand in the lower center part of the picture). While I was standing there taking this picture, a couple of swallows flew out of their undamaged holes on the left, but I'm not optimistic about their future in this neighborhood.
I finally headed for home around 12:30. But even the pouring rain wasn't able to dampen my happiness at being able to add 3 new birds to my life list in less than 5 hours. Thanks John for a leading us on this excellent birding adventure!


Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

Wow Ruthie- those three would all be lifers for me too! Congrats--

Gaelyn said...

Another great birding adventure. Sorry to hear about the development in good birding habitat and the yahoos that destroyed the nests.

stephen said...

Wonderful to read that you successfully added to your life list. I definitely should go birding with you! My current list of sightings is still far short.

Sad to read of the development...never could understand why it's referred to as progress...and of the devastation caused by such (insert expletives here) people.

troutbirder said...

What an outing. I'm sorry I missed it and several lifers to boot. Instead I was heading to St Croix State Park camping i.e. to be drenched in rain and surrounded by mosquitoes. Bad choice on my part. Good choice on yours Ruthie. John is the best