May 23rd, 2019: A long sought-after bird…
It’s been another amazing week of spring birding in Minnesota, with huge numbers of migrants still pouring in! I headed out today with a good friend to check out nearby hotspots and see what we could tern up.
BIG numbers of warblers were showing up everywhere with this late migration, so it’s not like I needed to leave my patch (the Carleton Arb was still hopping). But I was excited to hit some larger prairie habitats, proper water habitats, and sewage ponds that I can’t easily walk/bike to.
Before we got to those other spots though, we needed to check out a private residence for a Lazuli Bunting. This is a bird I can find without a ton of difficulty in Vancouver, BC (at Colony Farm), but it’s definitely rare in MN. The gentleman who kindly invited birders to his home had an astonishing array of feeders in his beautiful riparian backyard habitat. His yard was quite large and it was across from a great pond and marsh, backed up to a short bluff with a creek below, and right across from a huge prairie he also owned.
A very kind and unassuming guy who didn’t know a lot about birds, but was very excited to find a new one (and thoughtful enough to call someone about it). We waited for about 20 minutes in his kitchen–from which I quickly tallied over 20 species–before the Lazuli (LAH-zoo-lee or LAH-zoo-lai) Bunting showed up, gave us a quick feeding show and vanished again.
Having enjoyed seeing the stunningly iridescent male bunting, we headed off to check out some nearby ponds and marshes. The wind really picked up, so we weren’t having much luck. Nice to see so many Bobolinks settling in for the season though!
We decided to head out to Rapids Lake: a beautiful spot along the Minnesota River.
I’d never been before, but it turned out to be sheltered from the day’s wind and a great place to bird! We quickly found over 60 species in two quick stops near the lake (eBird list 1; eBird list 2), including some highlights: a Common Nighthawk (in the morning), Golden-winged Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Philadelphia Vireo, Lark Sparrow, Cape May Warbler, and Red-headed Woodpecker.
Sadly, since neither of us had the time to make this a full-day venture, we had to head back. But we couldn’t resist a stop at New Prague WTP. And boy was I glad we did!!
We really just wanted to stop for a quick look at the Wastewater Treatment Plant, thinking we might find a few new birds for the day and before we even parked I just said (well, kinda yelled) “Holy cow! Those are Black Terns!” My friend, who has lived in MN for several decades, was only a little surprised because they were a little out of habitat, but I was pretty psyched!
The WTP was clearly kicking up a TON of bugs because the air immediately above it was absolutely packed with swallows, swifts, terns, and nighthawks! In the middle of the afternoon!?
Black Terns nest in marshy pond-/lake-side areas all over MN, but I spend most of the late spring and pretty much all summer outside MN, so I had never seen one. They’re a long way from common in Vancouver too, so it was a life bird I’d wanted to see for quite a while. For me, Black Terns were one of the birds that captured my imagination early. The kind of bird that arrests you as you flip through your first field guide and makes you think, “I want to see that one!”
Flying above the pond, I counted over 200 swallows (made up of Cliff, Barn, Tree, Bank, and Northern Rough-winged), 12 Chimney Swift, 8 Common Nighthawk, and 13 Black Tern! It was a great way to finish our half day of birding, and not a sight I’ll soon forget.