Monday, August 9, 2010

Weekend Birding Trips

The past 2 Sundays have been spent on our continued quest for the Yellow-Headed Blackbird. We've expanded our search to the west and still haven't been able to see any signs of this elusive songbird!

Last Sunday we headed over towards Waseca, an area that seems to have a few more lakes, small ponds and wetlands, and also an area where we used to see these birds years ago on trips to Mankato. Maybe spring is a better time to search for the YHBs or maybe their numbers really are declining as we didn't find any in the Waseca area. After leaving there, we headed south towards I-90 and the return trip towards home. Along the way, while we were standing alongside the road scanning another cattail shoreline for YHBs, we were fortunate to have a woman (who was also a birder) stop and tell us about a spot just few miles ahead where there was a flooded field and she had just seen a tremendous number of Common Egrets. She was right! We were able to pull into the field drive and experience this amazing sight.
This photo shows just a small portion of the huge number of Common Egrets in this field. Our best guesstimate was that there were between 75-100 egrets here (certainly the largest number of these birds I've also ever seen in one spot). Mixed in with the egrets were a few Great Blue Herons, Giant Canada Geese, a number of big gulls (Ring-Billed or Herring, I couldn't tell for sure), and some White Pelicans. And if you click on the photo above to enlarge it, you'll also spot an Eastern Kingbird on the fencepost in the lower right-hand corner.

Shortly after we got out of the car to look at all the birds, the pelicans decided to take flight and I was able to get this nice photo of their fly-by. These birds are so beautiful in flight, don't you think?
Yesterday, we decided to head to the far western portion of the state where I was sure we wouldn't have any trouble finding YHBs. We took Sophie with us so we wouldn't have to worry about her staying home all by herself for a long time......besides she's a bird dog anyway so maybe she'd bring us some luck on the trip!

We turned off I-90 at the Lakefield exit and headed north towards South Heron Lake. Took a couple detours to county parks and other wetlands, but no YHBs were spotted. After arriving in the town of Heron Lake, we turned east on our way to North Heron Lake. Just out of town and right across from the Heron Lake BioEnergy plant, we came upon another flooded farmfield that offered our best bird sightings of the day. Unfortunately, no YHBs were present, but the pond was full of gulls, geese, shorebirds, and a few ducks.

My shorebird ID skills are poor, so I'm unable to positively identify some of these birds and I hope that any of you who are reading this blog may be able to provide names for these birds (in spite of my somewhat poor photographs).

This first one I do know.......Killdeer!

There were large numbers of these gulls -- I'm going with Franklin's Gull, based on thewhite wing-tips and large white eye-ring (plus the range map in my field guides indicated this is the summer range for this gull).

There were juveniles and adults.

Here's a cute little unidentified peep. Any thoughts? Maybe a Least Sandpiper? It was pretty small and I'm going by the white spots on the wings and the light stripe over the eye and darker stripe behind the eye. I believe I've heard shorebirds have already started their southward migration through Minnesota also.

Here's another look at the huge numbers of gulls that were hanging out in this pond. Look at the size difference between the Franklin's and those big ol' Ring-Billed or Herring gulls in the middle of the picture!

Here's another shorebird I need help with identifying. Sorry the photos are such poor quality! This one was a bit larger and taller......maybe the size of a Lesser Yellowlegs. Could it be a Lesser Yellowlegs?

The dark wings kind of threw me off, plus in the photo below, it looks like it has a lot of white underneath its chin. I didn't notice that its legs were a really bright yellow, so Solitary Sandpiper was another possibility....

One more look........

Another Least Sandpiper?

Here's another Killdeer. I just put this photo in because I liked the reflection in the water.
Special thanks to Hap in New Hope who left a comment to correct my ID of this bird from a Killdeer to a Semi-Palmated Plover -- LIFER!!

And here's one more with 3 different peeps, reflecting nicely in the calm water!
Do you think those 2 bigger peeps are Pectoral Sandpipers? They have the yellow legs and are just a little bit smaller than that Killdeer on the right.

So I'm officially giving up on the search for the Yellow-Headed Blackbird for this year. We put over 360 miles on the car just yesterday and it's time to stop the insanity! I'm thinking it's just way too late in the year to find them and maybe next year we'll start earlier in the spring, when territories are being established and hopefully the YHBs will be more active and vocal.


Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

Ruthie, I'm not even going to try on those shorebirds. I am the WORST at shorebirds. I keep thinking maybe I should do the shorebird workshop in South Dakota but...

Tommy said...

Hola Ruthie!

I'm another that dislikes id-ing shorebirds, but it can be fun to try!
The Franklin's Gull I'd agree with, based on the larger eye-ring and the group pic - do you get many Laughing Gulls in your area?
The 2nd Least Sandpiper looks good, colourings - my guide here says to note yellowish or greenish tarsi, I think I can see yellow :)
No idea on others...

Shame you couldn't find your YHBs, maybe they'll turn up when you're NOT looking for them ;)

Deb said...

I know, I'm bad at shorebirds too, but the bird you ID'd as a Lesser Yellowlegs looks like a bird I ID'd as one last week. Birding by consensus, right? And I'm sorry you could not find YHB's. I thought I used to see them by the thousands migrating on Rush Lake by Rush City in August.

Gaelyn said...

Such a great journey for the elusive YHBs. Yet seems like you saw a lot of other birds and I'm sure some great scenery.

troutbirder said...

Yah but what a great outing you had anyway. Looked like a lot of fun! For the YHB I do use the stumble on them by accident technique.

RuthieJ said...

Hi Lynne,
I thought you did took that shorebird workshop already, but it was just the sparrow one, right? I'd like to take it too, but maybe on a less intense level....cuz when it comes right down it it, I'm kind of a lazy birder. LOL!

Gracias Tommy! Laughing Gull would have been cool, but rare here.
Unfortunately, even though Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes, there are very few lakes or wetlands near where I live, so I need to go farther afield to work on my shorebird ID skills.

Thanks Deb. I thought I heard what sounded like a Lesser Yellowlegs call, but it wasn't exactly like what was on my BirdJam -- another variation in nature I think.

You got that right Gaelyn. It's been fun visiting some places in Minnesota that we normally never get the chance to see and seeing lots of other neat birds.

Thanks Ray, we did have some good trips and lots of chances to work on my ID skills.

Jayne said...

Shore birds just baffle me. So many incremental differences in plumage, depending on juvenile vs adult, breeding vs non-breeding... makes my head spin!! But I enjoyed your outing Ruthie and will say.... sure, I agree with all the ID's you made... hehe. :c)

Richard said...

When it comes to your search for YHB, the phrase "Elvis Has Left The Building" comes to mind.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ruthie,
Looks like you had a fun day, even
without the Yellow-heads. I think
you are right on with the Solitary
Sandpiper ID because of the dark shoulders,eyering,and dark barring
on the tail. And the two standing
with the Killdeer, I also think
they are Pectorals. Best of all,
though, that last Killdeer, with
the reflection in the water, I can
only see one breast band. That and
all that black on the face make it
look like a Semipalmated Plover to
me. Check it out and see what you
think. Take this same trip about
the 10th of May next year and see
how many 'lifers' you'll find!
Hap in New Hope (MN)

stephen said...

Sorry to read that you'd not been able to locate/see and add to your lifelist the YHB. Sounds as though you'd had quite an adventure and saw quite a bit during your quest.

RuthieJ said...

Thanks Jayne. I tend to approach birding more from a fun aspect than challenging myself to ID those shorebirds -- it's head-spinning for me too! Thank goodness for field guides and other birders who are willing to share their knowledge!

You got that right Richard! Have you seen any of those YHBs in your neighborhood this summer?

Wow Hap, thanks so much for your comment. The Semi-Palmated is definitely a lifer for me and now that you've pointed out those field marks for me, I definitely do see the difference from the killdeer. I'm going to plan on making this trip again next spring for sure!

Hi Stephen,
It actually wasn't too disappointing of a day....since I was the passenger and not the driver, I also got LOTS of knitting done during the round trip!

Ruth said...

There are restored sewage lagoons a couple of hours away from home and I have taken upteen pictures there of various shorebirds. But I become so confused when trying to ID them that I have never posted the pictures I have. So many Egrets!!