Monday, June 6, 2011

In Search of the Blue Grosbeak

My mandatory 3-month layoff has finally wound down to the final 2 weeks and I'm taking advantage of these last remaining days to try and squeeze in a few more birding day trips. Yesterday's birding adventure took us clear across the southern part of Minnesota to Blue Mounds State Park just north of Luverne in search of the beautiful Blue Grosbeak.

One of the outstanding features of this park is a herd of bison in the park. Unfortunately we didn't see any of the buffalo, but we did see a couple of white-tailed deer.
I checked at the office when we arrived to see if there had been any sightings of the Blue Grosbeak lately and the woman behind the desk told me either on the paved path beyond the buffalo viewing deck or at the interpretive center (where I had seen a female Blue Grosbeak on a visit years ago). OK, well let's head up to the paved trail that was closest to see if the grosbeak was there.

I had my trusty birdJam along to review the Blue Grosbeak song and maybe with a little luck I'd get a look at a male defending his territory from the Blue Grosbeak in my iPod. No Blue Grosbeaks showed themselves as we walked along this path, but there were still plenty of other things to see. Do you like Dickcissels? There were lots of them singing nearby. This is one of my best Dickcissel photos ever......givin' me the big stinkeye!

They're very enthusiastic singers -- I like to catch photos of them with their beak open and belting out a song (this would have been a perfect picture except for that stupid stick right in the way!)
Bobolinks were also present and singing their beautiful bubbly song. However, they're not quite as cooperative as Dickcissels when it comes to having their picture taken, so the best I managed to capture were these 2 quick shots as the Bobolink flew away.

Some kind folks have placed many of these nice Gilbertson Bluebird houses throughout the park. Although we didn't see or hear any Bluebirds, many of the boxes were occupied by Tree Swallows. I like Tree Swallows a lot. Plus they love to pose for the camera -- you don't even need the telephoto lens because they allow people to get really close.

Female Tree Swallow

Such a fun little bird whose stay here in Minnesota is all too short.

In the vegetation near the small lake, I spotted this pair of Eastern Kingbirds. I'm used to seeing these birds as individuals sitting on a fence or fence-post, so I'm guessing this is a mated pair getting ready to nest here along the riverbank.

We did hear lots of Yellow Warblers chirping along the trail and with the help of my birdJam, I was able to get a male to fly down and investigate the interloper in his territory. He sat just long enough for me to snap this photo through the shrubs.

Another outstanding geologic feature of Blue Mounds State Park is the pink quartzite rocks and boulders coming up out of the ground all over the park.

There was a small lake there with a swimming beach and just big enough for a leisurely Sunday afternoon canoe excursion with the family.

A family of Canada Geese was also out for a Sunday afternoon paddle around the lake.

I'm always amazed to see wildflowers growing right out of the rock!
And even more amazed when I see cactus growing in Minnesota! This is a Prickly Pear Cactus also seeming to grow right from the rock.

Isn't the lichen growing on these rocks beautiful too? I love the contrasting colors.

Having visited this park before, I knew that I would get my Western Meadowlark here and I wasn't disappointed. Even though it was 90 degrees, I made Mr. Johnson turn off the A/C so I could roll down the car windows and hear the Meadowlark song (one of the most beautiful birdsongs, in my opinion!) Then the Meadowlark posed obligingly atop a traffic sign so I could snap his photo through the windshield.
Quite the handsome bird, don't you think?

We headed up the hill to the Interpretive Center. This striking building was built right out of the quartzite cliff and was once the home of author Frederick Manfred. He later donated this home to Blue Mounds State Park.
There were some interesting exhibits about the birds, animals and geology of the park, including a buffalo hide that we could touch and a stuffed, full-sized buffalo (the little kids inside were loving that!) I did a quick walk-through, but I was definitely more interested in this Barn Swallow nest that was being constructed right outside the front door.

We took Miss Sophie along on this trip. The day ended up being a little bit warmer than had been predicted, so we tried to keep her cool since she's not able to take much heat anymore. This picnic table under a big ol' cottonwood tree provided a nice shady spot for Sophie and Mr. Johnson to take a break.

On a previous visit to this park, I saw a female Blue Grosbeak near the interpretive center, so I was really hoping to get the opportunity to see one here since we hadn't spotted any at the other end of the park. It was getting close to the time for us to start heading for home and I still hadn't seen one. I thought maybe I heard one singing in the trees behind me, but playing the birdJam in response hadn't yielded any results, so with a sad heart I started packing everything away to walk back to the car. Then all of a sudden, a bird flew out of nowhere and perched on this common mullein stalk about 15 yards ahead of us. "That's him!" I gasped. I swung the camera up and snapped 3 quick pictures before he flew away again. This was the best photo of those 3. I was SO happy to see this bird, and the male besides! He flew past a couple times more and then he was gone.

Walking back to the car, we also got the chance to see these Turkey Vultures perched in a dead tree down the hill. As I focused the camera, one vulture decided to fly away. It's not often that we humans get to look "down" on a Turkey Tulture in flight, so I was happy with this shot.

To commemorate my visit, I also purchased a new piece of "flair" for my binocular straps.

Since this little birding excursion ended up being a 400-mile round trip, I also took advantage of the driving time to get some knitting done. The cabled half-mitts were about two-thirds completed before the trip, so I finished them up and also got this cardinal dishcloth and baby gnome hat completed.


Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

I would love to see a Blue Grosbeak. Your photo is great! Love those TUVUs too. :)

You really saw a lot on your long day-trip!

RuthieJ said...

Thanks Lynne. Blue Mounds is a great park. I hope you get a chance to visit there some day too.

Anonymous said...

Great photos, Sissy. Looks like a really pretty State Park. I like the knolls with the rocks peeking out. I can almost see the Indian warriors cresting those hills on their painted ponies, in search of buffalo. Very cool!

Gaelyn said...

What an amazing day and place. Felt like I was along and so glad we got to see the blue grosbeak.

Your knitting speed never ceases to amaze me either.

Birdsong said...

I am soo envious of the spring you have been having! It's been all rain, all the time, here in CA, until last night. The blue grosbeak is amazing, but then you had lots of other wonderful sightings too. I might have to get birdJam myself! Not bad on getting so much knitting done, either...

Jayne said...

I've never seen a Dickcissel! What a day you had Ruthie! So glad you got that Blue Grosbeak at the end of the day!

judy said...


Cindy said...

We have been to Blue Mounds five times over the years. Hiked many trails. Saw lots of wildflowers and several mammal species. Even a rattlesnake. Buffalo several times. But never, ever, never have I seen a Blue Grosbeak. I am so jealous. Sounds like you had a relaxing time.