Minnesota and North Dakota May 30—Jun 07, 2011
Posted by Brian Gibbons
Hidden in the marsh, his "peents" were easily heard. On twittering wings, the Timberdoodle (American Woodcock) ascended into the night sky, silhouetted against the clouds, only to dive down and peent again. The following morning a Great Gray Owl was hunting Sax-Zim Bog for all to see; we had wonderful looks at the bird of the trip as it stared at the ground, intently seeking voles.
The first morning of our Minnesota & North Dakota tour was filled with great warblers and cooperative birds. Sharp-tailed Grouse, Mourning Warbler, Le Conte's Sparrow, Sedge Wren, Trumpeter Swan, a loon, and Olive-sided Flycatchers all put in appearances. Superior National Forest the next morning seemed quiet; the chilled air and ripping winds kept the birds down, but we had some successes. The male Black-backed Woodpecker investigating the mobbing screech-owl tape was the highlight of a warbler-filled day. Blackburnians seemed inescapable—a good problem to have. We saw numbers of freshly fallen trees that morning; one blocked our path along the Stony River Road and another delayed us along county road 2! A drumming Ruffed Grouse throbbed the woods with his wings.
In the afternoon, blown out of the forest, we birded for migrants at Park Point in Duluth. A cooperative male Canada Warbler was rewarding, but the yearling black bear that dawdled across the street was our favorite. Our return to the Sax-Zim Bog was dedicated to the Connecticut Warbler. We heard several singing males and saw one that sneaked in two times. A couple of porcupines lumbered, and a weasel zipped across the road.
Along the way to Detroit Lakes, a stop at the Walker sewage ponds produced Common Goldeneye, Bonaparte's Gull, Caspian Tern, and Yellow-throated Vireo. The Fireside Restaurant hosted us for one of our best meals of the tour (the parmesan and almond-crusted walleye will not soon be forgotten).
The next morning, gray skies greeted us on the prairie. In Audubon, Minnesota we saw the world's largest Purple Martin house: 250+ compartments, filled with chattering martins. At the Felton Prairie we watched Greater Prairie-Chickens dance at midday, thanks to the clouds. Upland Sandpipers and Marbled Godwits obligingly sat on fence posts. Bobolinks and Grasshopper Sparrows sang from weed stalks everywhere. In its summer finery the Chestnut-collared Longspur was a crowd-pleaser. Northern Harriers cruised the prairie, hoping a mouse would betray its presence with a twitch.
In the afternoon we headed to North Dakota. Near Valley City we birded the Potholes and added many new birds. Red-necked Grebe headed the list, but we also enjoyed White-rumped Sandpiper, many dabblers, Yellow-headed Blackbird, American White Pelican, Western and Pied-billed grebes, and American Avocet.
Our first morning in North Dakota found us amazed at the number of Grasshopper and Savannah sparrows in the wide-open prairie, but we failed to track down our targets of Baird's Sparrow and Sprague's Pipit. Along the way we found Ruddy Duck (bluebill), Blue-winged Teal, Northern Pintail, Gadwall, and American Wigeon. A handsome Horned Grebe showed off as well. A very inquisitive Virginia Rail investigated an iPod. Marsh and Sedge wrens cooperated for scope views. Forster's Terns and California Gulls flew over the prairie. Wilson's Snipe sat on a fence post, and we finally tracked down the breeding Eared Grebes. Another pothole marsh delight was the American Bittern; we saw a couple extremely well.
Our return to Minnesota was into the deciduous maple-oak forest of Maplewood State Park. We weren't even out of the parking lot before adding Black-billed Cuckoo to our list. While pursuing the cuckoo, we heard a Golden-winged Warbler. After that we actually drove into the park and added Red-shouldered Hawk, heard a gobbling Turkey and hooting Barred Owls, and watched a Pileated Woodpecker fly past while a Field Sparrow sang. The chill was finally out of the spring air, and our hot drive over to McGregor was cooled by a stop at a Dairy Queen. The night hunt for Yellow Rail in McGregor Marsh resulted in a heard-only bird. We were also serenaded by Le Conte's and Nelson's sparrows, Sedge Wrens, and a bittern. On our final morning we added a couple of birds before heading to Duluth: Indigo Bunting and Pine Warbler.
The un-challenged bird of the trip was the Great Gray Owl. It was a relief for me when I saw the bird a few days before the tour started since there were no reports for the last couple of months. It was a bigger relief, on our first morning, when we found it flying from perch to perch hunting voles. As we left the area Clayton said, "May you catch many voles and sire many children," wishing the best to the Great Gray Owl.