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.
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.