Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Post #107 - My first time visiting and birding Minnesota!

I'm so sorry to have two full weeks between posts. Between logistics surrounding our move from LA to SF and a 10-day road trip, writing has fallen temporary casualty to other responsibilities. That will all change with this post as I had on that road trip some wonderful birding experiences that will provide great fodder for this blog. Without going into too much detail, Sonia and I spent 4 days in Minnesota before driving from there back to California. Along that arc we did a fair amount of birding (notably in MN, SD, and UT), and I'll use a series of 3 posts to share my experiences from this recent journey.

Our route from Minnesota to California

Prior to this trip, I had visited 43 of the 50 states, the outliers being Oklahoma, Arkansas, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Montana. That I didn't visit any part of the Midwest on my 2014 Biking for Birds adventure was probably my biggest regret of the entire endeavor, but a visit to that geography simply didn't make sense given the distribution of species and the physical limits of my body. So, when Sonia and I were invited to a wedding in Alexandria, MN, I was stoked for my inaugural visit to the Gopher State!

My 2014 Biking for Birds Route. I completely missed the midwest.

In my last post, I wrote a bit about birding during the nesting season, and, while birding around my Bay Area home is admittedly a bit slow during those summer months, nothing could be further from the truth in Minnesota. Warblers, vireos, and orioles were everywhere in great abundance. Particularly striking was the presence and diversity of flycatchers. Least Flycatchers, Great-crested Flycatchers, Eastern Phoebes, and Eastern Wood-Pewees were everywhere. I also, and finally(!), saw my lifer Alder Flycatcher for ABA-seen #717. I know, it's totally crazy that it took me so long to add such a relatively common bird to my life list. Alder Flycatcher was just a species that I figured I'd run into at some point but never did, even on my bicycle Big Year (they migrate late and don't call on the Texas Coast for ID anyway). Once photography came to rival birding for my fullest attentions, it is understandable that I instead focused on other, more photogenic species. Anyway, Alder Flycatcher is finally a done deal, a loudly calling individual begging for my attention at Fort Snelling State Park just outside Minneapolis.

A typical Minnesota summer scene

Though I only spent a few days in Minnesota, I can say that the birding seems to get better as as one moves north. This isn't shocking as population also thins in that same direction. I only wish that I had more time to visit farther reaches than I did. I didn't, for instance, make it to true boreal forest on this trip. Interestingly, it seems as though summer and winter are the best birding times to visit Minnesota. This contrasts with many other areas where it is the spring and falls migrations that make for the most exciting birding. So, when things near your home are slower between those migrations, head to Minnesota for non-stop birding action. I'd love to make it to the Sax-Zim bog in the northern part of the state in winter to photograph owls at some point, but that will have to wait for another trip.  For those thinking of visiting in Spring or summer to avoid those frigid winter temperatures, may I suggest the Festival of Birds in Detroit Lakes each May. It looks like a really cool event. David Sibley was this year's keynote speaker, so the event clearly attracts some notable birding names.

More Minnesota scenery

As a a last note, I want to mention a particularly wonderful morning that I spent in Minnesota. In the weeks leading up to the trip, I put a post up on the Minnesota Birders Facebook page asking if there was anyone who owned a boat who might be willing to take me out on the water to photograph loons, grebes, and terns. Detroit Lakes birder Beau Shroyer saw my request and contacted me saying he'd be happy to take Sonia and I out for a morning.

Captain Beau at the helm!

We met Beau east of Detroit Lakes at 5:45am on a Saturday morning. In his small boat he toured us around Round Lake, a body where he and his family spend at least some time each summer. Though he is now a real estate agent, Beau knows a ton about the ecology and natural history of Minnesota. His personality was warm and his commentary informative, and our time with him highlighted exactly the sort of personal connections that are so often made through the common interest of birding. I managed a few nice shots that morning, but my time with Beau will certainly be the most memorable part of my entire Minnesota experience.

Red-necked grebe - Podiceps grisegena
Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS II on EOS 7D2
1/2000 at f/5.6, ISO 1250

Common Loon - Gavia immer
Canon 500mm f/4 IS + 1.4x III on EOS 1D Mark IV
1/2000 at f/5.6, ISO 800

Common Loon - Gavia immer
Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS II on EOS 7D2
1/2500 at f/5.6, ISO 1000

Common Loon - Gavia immer
Canon 500mm f/4 IS + 1.4x III on EOS 1D Mark IV
1/1600 at f/5.6, ISO 800

Black Tern - Chlidonias niger
Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS II on EOS 7D2
1/2500 at f/5.6, ISO 800

So that's what I have for you after a too quick trip to Minnesota. In the next installment I'll visit South Dakota, another new state for me! Please stay tuned for that post sometime next week!

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