May 10-13, 2014 Minneapolis-La Crosse WI, Adams WI, Grantsburg WI, Ashland WI -Odessa MN
Well, my wife had a meeting north of Minneapolis on Saturday and I had to go to Ripon College to retrieve college dorm room stuff so knowing I had a few birds to see, I made it into a bird chasing outing.
I went nude birding in East Bethel on Saturday as the sun came out, to say it was glorious and wonderful would not give it justice. I saw 47 species, including a golden-winged warbler, lots and lots of Nashvilles, Magnolias, ….wow what a day!
May 11, Gray Cloud Dunes WMA. I hit this area which is prime Henslow’s Sparrow habitat. It was a sea of sparrows, Fields and Savannahs mostly but I worked the grass. It was a place I could have shed it all, even though I was near to civilization, as I had the place to myself, but I refrained. Finally, I heard the little bugger and then flushed him, and a friend, seeing three in all. You know how in the field you can instantly tell a Henslow from a field sparrow? The Field stops and will let you take a photo of it. Then Henslow sparrow doesn’t. You just about have to step on them to get it to fly.
It was photographed so it was a field sparrow. So got a life bird out of the way and then I drove the river south and checked out the flooded bottom lands along the Ole’ Mississippi.
At a park near Lake City MN I found a hoard of warblers and even yellow ones but this Wilson’s was the wrong one, but a first of year bird
It started to rain and so off I went and crossed the river and ended up in Trempealeau NWR in Wisconsin, there were thousands of Yellow-rumped warblers in the grass, I spotted a FOY Scarlet Tanager, heard a sora but didn’t find it and saw more Henslows, no Prothonotory, so I drove on
Goose Island Park, La Crosse WI.
This park was flooded out and was overrun with Yellow warblers (see first photo) the roads where closed, I had to ford parts of rivers but near a place called shelter 5, as far as I could go and about ready to give up I heard him, then I played his song and he stormed out of the flooded maples and scolded me.
Bird number 644, Prothonotory warbler. A bird that avoided me in America so far. It was a high five moment but I was by myself. so I thanked the bird and walked off.
I got to Ripon at 910 that evening, and by 930 I was packing stuff from Tyko’s and Allwin’s dorm room. They thought they had enough room in their Subaru for everything but my F250 was nearly loaded as I drove to my motel. The Welcome Inn in Ripon is half price from the other places. I think it has not been re-done since 1988 when I left college.
I cautiously had reminders of El Centro and bugs. I left everything I owned in the car. I walked in my room stripped off everything just in the door. walked naked to the bed and went to sleep. I was not bringing anything home. Unlike El Centro, I wasn’t itching and it wasn’t Bart Simpson that woke me up at 5, it was thunder.
I drove in the rain to Adams, Wisconsin the home of Wisconsin’s small Kirtland’s Warbler population. I stated to anyone that would listen in college that Kirtland’s Warbler had to be in Wisconsin. Somewhere five years after I graduated, they were found. Now I don’t know how many there are as it seems it is a closely guarded secret or at least the one’s that know are not too helpful. I sent out phone calls and emails to WI Orthilogical Union, the US Forest Service, the guy who photographs them for magazines, nobody even was so kind as to email me back to tell me to go to hell. No response made me even madder, I grumped at them all while I drove. The guy who has published photos had marked them on ebird the day before. I didn’t believe the location, but needed a place to start. It seemed simple enough. In all I found three spots and in one as you will see I seen and heard one, but the exact spot shall remain, like those that ignored me, classified.
I bought coffee at the truck stop in town and found that the road he marked them was closed by the ag plant to west by a locked gate. I drove around to the other side in a scene from Whooping Crane chasing in nearby Necedah NWR and saw the road was more of a trail with ruts and low hanging jacks. It went right past a guys house and despite being 7 am there were cars there but no lights on. Humm……….
I looked for access in the middle and there was no safe place to park on the north. I wasn’t clear who owned the land. I came back and gunned my F250 and hit the trail but in about 50 yards a tree was in my path. Humm……
The south side was a railroad. I used to photo railroads. I got pinched by the railroad as they are not too happy with driving, walking, or trespassing on their right of way. I got out my spotting scope and noticed something odd. There were no trespassing signs on the parcels all around the parcel with the Kirtland’s ticks. I grew up in Wisconsin. I think like I from the woods in Wisconsin, I’m not stupid. Why would all these signs be up and fresh ones from maybe last spring UNLESS they were keeping someone out…birders, had to be birders. This was too close to town to be a hunting spot. I pulled up along the tracks and drove in quite a ways so that it wouldn’t be easy to see a huge red f250 truck, well a guy can only do so much.
I got out put on my snake boots and looked at the sky. It could open up at any time so I left my $10,000 camera equipment safely in the truck. A went to check out the younger stand of Jack Pines. I was only a few hundred feet from my truck and I played the warbler song, it was IMMEDIAYTELY answered! I had one! Now to see it. I couldn’t get it to repeat and then trying to sneak, well can Big Olaf sneak, trough two trees I tripped and snapped a fallen branch and I saw something fly out. Swear words? Yes, I said my piece.
I slowly circled the trees and never heard another Kirtland’s BUT in a tree I got a bird feeding in the tops of a 20 year old Jack Pine ( I used to harvest jack’s in the timber business in my youth). Finally, I saw its face…bingo! A Kirtland’s, which I saw somewhat well sneaking around and then I lost it and it was gone.
It took an hour before I began to imagine the 8 am drive to work of the police chief seeing my vehicle so I got out of there.
I checked out two other 2013 sighting locations around Adams and up Hwy 13, if they could be believed and hiked around in “posted” property. I called and called and stealthily snuck up on an ovenbird for something to do but no more Kirtlands were seen and then at exactly 847, the sky opened up, and it rained like the days of Noah. Kirtland’s warbler was found no more for Olaf and I bugged out, I had to give a scholarship in Grantsburg at 7pm and so I made tracks NW, bypassing a look for the Whooping Cranes.
I birded around Grantsburg, found the Garganey again, froze in the woods and then slept overnight.
I worked my way on the 13th to Ashland, looking for interesting birds mostly in the woods and cemeteries. Palm warblers were about all that had gone up here. I heard some drumming ruffed grouse and saw common terns over Lake Superior and the usual ducks. I visited my publisher at her house and heard a cuckoo, saw purple finches, and lots of Rose breasted grosbeaks there. I pointed out her first Magnolia Warbler to her for the year.
I circled back towards South Dakota. It was nearing 1930 when I was about ten miles from the border and then I spotted it in a muddy field. I put down rubber slamming on the brakes…….I brake hard for birds….I got up my bins. I was right. Buff-breasted sandpiper. I almost got ran down by a truck as I started to snap bad photos, whipping my camera out the window. It spooked and was gone.
It was a thousand mile plus 72 hours but I got ALL my target birds, the Wisconsin triumvirate, and I got them the hard way and I think the Kirtland’s was a bit of a lucky coup, considering I didn’t trust the intel I had.
……and a buff-breasted sandpiper as the bonus bird. I must live right, the lucky birder lives! I even found the garganey again….and my 47 nude birds on Saturday was one of the happiest birding days of recent memory!