Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Lake Elizabeth and a Restored Prairie

Day two of my Minnesota birding trip fell on June 10th, 2016.  This second day was bound to be a crazy one as I would eventually head up north to North Dakota to spend time looking for Short-eared Owls (see previous post, TOBY Goes to North Dakota).  But the first half of this second day resulted in some epic birding with Josh in more places in Kandiyohi County.  After a packed-full first day of the trip, Josh and I took advantage of an extra hour of sleep instead of getting up at unholy hours.  Josh decided to show me some places near home as well as some locations further south in Kandiyohi County.  Once we hit the road, we were greeted by a few Ring-necked Pheasants near the road, who were crossing a railroad track.

The first destination Josh took me to was 75th Avenue in the Lake Elizabeth area.  Lake Elizabeth was a beautiful place and held a lot of potential for things.  Josh has had a lot in this area during his recent explorations.  Because Lake Liz was surrounded by private property, we had to bird from the road.  Despite our roadside limitations, the birds were cooperative and some of them provided us with amazing shows.

It wasn't long before we were greeted by a few Trumpeter Swans.  Throughout the trip to Minnesota, the sight of the Swans became a regular thing.  It was cool to hear them vocalizing at times, where the species gets its name from.

We were also greeted by this Snapping Turtle, which is one of the coolest reptiles I've ever seen.  A few minutes were put aside to observe this neat animal.  Josh said to not get too close to it, because it has a reason it is named Snapping Turtle..

A mix of wetland and woodland habitats gave us a variety of birds to search through.

Seeing a Rose-breasted Grosbeak on his breeding grounds was a neat sight.  This was something I recently got lucky enough to see in Arizona just migrating through.  A few times throughout the trip, our paths would cross with these stunning birds.

Once we really started to bird the thick deciduous woods, bird sound was everywhere.  Rose-breasted Grosbeaks.  Red-bellied and Pileated Woodpeckers.  Eastern Wood-Pewee.  Least Flycatcher.  Eastern Phoebe.  Yellow-throated and Red-eyed Vireos.  Blue Jays.  Gray Catbird.  American Redstarts.  Baltimore Oriole.  American Goldfinch.  Just a few.  This Great-crested Flycatcher decided to finally pop up at a close range.

Looking down 75th Avenue resulted in seeing this White-tailed Deer family.

A sweet song and a flash of red later, we had an epic bird fly in and land in front of us.

Yep, it was a male Scarlet Tanager.  This male Scarlet Tanager was at a territory along Lake Liz where Josh knew about it's whereabouts from last year.  And this year, it was right were Josh said it would be.  Words can't really describe how awesome this bird is.  I'll leave a selection of photographs rather than words.  I don't think words can do this bird justice anyways.  But I will say, this Scarlet Tanager seemed to be reminding me how epic my 500th life bird was and that it will be a supreme bird to go down in my birding books.

After seeing an epic Scarlet Tanager, you've gotta wonder what else is awesome down the road further..

The answer was a Wood Thrush.  But like my first Wood Thrush, this one played the same game.  Josh and I stood by the road listening to the Wood Thrush and hoping to catch a glimpse of it by scanning all we could from the road.  The Wood Thrush was close, but it was too well covered by the thick woodlands.  However, the song was great to listen to, and I managed to get a recording of it to document the Wood Thrush's presence.

Someday I'll see a Wood Thrush!  For now I'll remember it's song, one of Nature's best.  Near the Wood Thrush, some other birds did pop into view after lingering in the thick deciduous woodlands.  One of them was this Yellow-throated Vireo.

And another was this Eastern Wood-Pewee.  This EWPE's distinct song carries a long ways, and it is commonly heard in any of these woodland settings.  

The Lake Liz area was awesome.  Josh also has heard another life bird of mine that I really want in this area, the Black-billed Cuckoo.

From Lake Liz, we continued southwest further into Kandiyohi County to explore some grasslands, agricultural area, ponds, and a small chunk of prairie.  En route we had our eyes peeled for Red-headed Woodpeckers, which was a potential life bird for me and was one Josh hadn't seen in the County in some time.  Several Eastern Kingbirds along the way was fun for me.

One stop was at Blomkest Wastewater Treatment Plant where Josh has found some neat birds including Gray Partridge along the fenced perimeters of the Plant.  That was one of our morning targets.  After walking around the plant, we couldn't kick up any of the Partridges.  That was a bird I would have a shot at later in the trip, so I didn't worry about it too much.  This male American Goldfinch in the area was awesome.

In the closing hour of our exploration, Josh and I went to a restored prairie area where Josh has seen another big life bird hopeful of mine, the Bobolink.  Once we entered the area the habitat looked great, and I could see why Josh had Bobolink there.  Rolling down the window and listening resulted in hearing the Clay-colored Sparrow's buzzy songs.  As we started to scan, it didn't take very long to find that awesome Bobolink!  The Bobolink was my 13th life bird of the trip already on just the second morning.  Minnesota was treating me well!

The sight of the male Bobolink was awesome, and this bird is distinct and striking.  Duller females did pop into view several times, but the males constantly flew around while actively singing in flight.  Just a few colors make the male Bobolink striking:  the straw-colored nape, white rump, and all black front from top to bottom.  The song of the male Bobolink flying over this prairie put me in a good mood.

Bobolinks can be very gregarious birds, especially in migration where flocks can number in the thousands.  Here on their breeding grounds the numbers aren't that high, but these birds are still present in good numbers.

Josh really knew where to find birds on this trip, and the Bobolink was an example of that.  Amazingly, this prairie habitat was a small patch of land and there wasn't a lot of it.

Despite the Bobolink excitement, a Sedge Wren popped up and stole some of the time with the Bobolinks.  I never thought I would crush a Sedge Wren with photos.  As soon as I saw the Sedge Wren singing, I put off looking at Bobolinks for a few minutes.

The restored prairie was a neat habitat to bird in.

The morning of birding Kandiyohi County in the morning was great.  Thanks Josh!


  1. That Scarlet, such a cooperative fellow! Glad you enjoyed the local action before your big TOBY trip.

    Your third BOBO shot is so cool with the eye blacked out. Awesome profile.

    1. Thanks Josh! What an epic outing it was. I still can't believe that cooperative Scarlet Tanager.

      With the BOBO, a lot of times my camera takes pictures that turn out darker than the circumstances really are. I think that may have been the case with the BOBO!

  2. Dang Gina! Nice! The Sedge Wren is a tricky one! We have several hanging out here and they have yet to "pop" out. But I am still hoping that one does. I keep trying:) Great birds in this post!

    1. Thanks Chris! I saw quite a few Sedge Wrens actually, heard many more. I heard they are more friendly in MN than WI ;)

    2. Thanks Chris! I saw quite a few Sedge Wrens actually, heard many more. I heard they are more friendly in MN than WI ;)