Sunday, April 7, 2013

Checking out the Survey Route

To maintain my active volunteer Master Naturalist status, 8 hours of continuing education and 40 hours of volunteer activity must be logged for each calendar year.  Last week, my sister notified me of a Frog & Toad Survey project coming up this spring/summer and the Minnesota DNR was looking for volunteers to work on this project.  I was definitely interested and checked out their website to apply for a route.  Fortunately, there was a route available in rural Fillmore County, not too far from where I grew up.  I sent in my application and found out late last week that I had been accepted for this route.  Hooray!  Since the monitoring has to be done after dark and the roads are all mostly unmarked and in a totally rural area, my sissy thought it would be a good idea for us to check out the route in the daylight.  I agreed, mainly because this could also be turned into a birding trip!  Mom was supposed to go along with us, but wasn't feeling well today, so Mr. Johnson & Holly went instead. 

Here you go Mom -- a look at some of the sightings you missed.  We'll take the drive again someday soon when you're feeling better.....

There were still some winter birds hanging around.  We saw plenty of juncos and this nice horned lark who posed very nicely for us in the middle of the road.

A big surprise for me was finding the Minnesota Karst Preserve!  I had read about this cave and knew it was in Fillmore County, but had never taken the time to find it.  If you're a caver, or have any interest in caving at all, you will want to read the book "Opening Goliath" which takes place at this very site in Southeastern Minnesota.

While we were at the intersection of the Minnesota Karst Preserver and the turn to our next survey spot, Mr. Johnson spotted this large bird in the trees just ahead.  Could it be a Red-Tailed Hawk?

Yes, indeed!  Right on cue, this beautiful raptor made its distinctive "keeeyahh" call and took off from its perch so I started snapping pictures.  I especially love being able to capture these "in flight" shots!

There used to be a farmstead here, all that remains is the foundation of a barn and this windmill.

We drove through all types of habitat on this route -- tilled farmland, grasslands, and even some woods.  My observant sissy spotted this deer in the woods.  She's got good eyes, until this deer moved, it had blended in so well, I almost missed it.

In another tree near an old cemetery, a Rough Legged Hawk was perched.  Of course it decided to fly away as soon as the car slowed down, but I still managed to snap a few photos -- here's the best one.

The end of our survey route was pretty close to Preston, so we stopped for an early supper at our favorite restaurant, The Branding Iron.  We had a really fun afternoon and were glad that we took the time to explore this route in the light of day because it's going to be a little tougher in the darkness of this totally rural area.  We thought our adventures were done for the day and my camera and binoculars were already stowed away in the trunk, but on our drive home, Mr. Johnson spotted something in the ditch.  We stopped the car so I could get the camera out and then turned around to see if I could get photos of this last and best sighting of the day.

There it is!  Can you see that big dark spot in the ditch?  A Turkey Vulture feasting on a dead deer!

Aw cool!  Of course, it didn't want to stick around with a car driving past slowly.

By this time I had my car window rolled down and I was halfway out the window snapping pictures as fast as my camera could go.

Because you see, it's not very often you get the chance to photograph a Turkey Vulture up close, and certainly not with the sunset shining through its wings!

I know some people think they're ugly and horrible birds, but I also know for a fact that there are many of us who think they're fascinating and beautiful birds. 

What an awesome way to end a very special birding adventure with my loved ones. 


Tonyia said...

I look forward to hearing more about the frog and toad survey. What a cool thing! And another thing I've never heard about - thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Oh boy I really missed all the good things, birds roosting and flying and walking Lynn would have been very pleased to see that vulture both sitting and flying. Besides all this I also missed a great supper at the Branding Iron in Preston. These bloody noses that I get sure do take the fun out of life.
I hope I can go next time to hear frogs and toads in Fillmore County where I live. These are fun things to do and don't cost much.

Mollie said...

Thanks for sharing your trip! I like turkey vultures too. Fascinating and doing a good & needed job in the food chain. I love that shot with the sunset shining through its wings. The photo of the windmill and the barn foundation--they always make me sad. A homestead once full of live has disappeared. And a way of life for so many has diminished. On the bright side: you're a volunteer Master Naturalist! You're amazing!

Lisa said...

I also happen to LOVE Turkey Vultures and think they are an awesomely magnificent bird. They are huge and with such presence when one gets close. You get the best flight photos!

Perchance, could you help us identify a raptor who recently came to visit? I just posted photos and would love to hear what you might think. Thank You! Lisa
@Shady Grove Journal

KGMom said...

Thanks for taking us along on the ride.

RuthieJ said...

Thanks Tonyia. Now that spring has finally arrived & I'm hearing the frogs, I need to get out on this route for the first survey trip!

Fun things indeed Mom. I'm glad you're feeling better and hopefully you will be able to go along with me on the next frog & toad survey.

Thank you Mollie. Lots of vultures back here now that spring has finally arrived. Lovely to see them soaring in the sky.
I had that windmill photo made into one of those canvas pictures from Snapfish & it's awesome! I was going to give it as a gift, but may decide to keep it for myself.....

Thanks Lisa. Sorry I didn't check these comments sooner -- left a comment on your blog about your Red Shouldered Hawk. Very nice photos from you also!

Glad you could come along Donna!