Monday, June 20, 2016

Stepping into Kandiyohi County

Once birding our way in and around Sakatah State Park, Falls Creek State Natural Area, and Carver Park Reserve, Josh headed back to his home in Kandiyohi County later that day on June 9th, 2016.  This is where I would spend most of my time on my vacation with Josh and his awesome family.  Kandiyohi County has a lot of neat places to bird at and a diversity of habitats to make the birding interesting.  Once getting settled in, it was already time for some more birding.  Josh and his wife Melissa were participating in Vacation Bible School at their nearby church, where Evan and their daughter Marin were a part of.  As the VBS would last for about three hours, Josh asked his birding buddy Steve Gardner if he would take me birding around the local Kandiyohi hotspots.  Steve was very kind to take me birding, and Steve met us at the church parking lot before we would leave to go birding.

Birding can be funny sometimes when your birding in a new section of the United States for the first time.  Josh informed me that Chimney Swifts, a potential life bird for me for this area, could be seen very often flying over the church parking lot.  Sure enough, when we were all talking in the parking lot, Steve look up and said, "Swifts!".  Right when he said swifts, I could hear the chattering notes of Chimney Swifts and I looked up to see my 11th lifer of the trip and still on the first day and so early into the trip.

Chimney Swifts, along with other swifts, are remarkable birds.  Chimney Swifts spend most of their time during the day in the air and only perch when they are roosting for the night or are on their nest.  These birds technically don't perch either, put they "cling" to walls of surfaces such as chimneys, where they get their names from.  This is the fourth and final regularly occurring swift I needed for North America.

Josh, Steve, Melissa, and I looked up and enjoyed the views of these neat flyers.  Chimney Swifts are very similar looking to the Pacific Northwest Vaux's Swift, but cover eastern North American in much higher quantities.  I've only seen Vaux's Swift in migration in Arizona and never elsewhere.  The chatter of the Chimney Swift most often came in multiple notes, but at times they would give single notes throughout this trip.  I would compare it to the sound of a bat.

From the church parking lot, Steve and I were on our way to various places around Kandiyohi County, with a central stop for the exploration being at Sibley State Park.  In this time I got to see a lot of the County's birding spots that Josh and Steve call home for a solid introduction to Kandiyohi.  We started to bird some grasslands areas near the town of Willmar, and we came away with birds like Grasshopper Sparrow.  As Steve was trying to find a Bobolink, the Bobolinks decided not to show up for us.  The trek then went to Sibley State Park, which ended up being one of my favorite birding places during the entire trip.  Sibley hosted a variety of habitats from open pond and lake, marsh, meadows and lush fields, oak savannah, and a cluster of deciduous woodlands to explore.  The previous day saw Josh get a singing Wood Thrush and a flyover Broad-winged Hawk for some of his highlights.  For me a big highlight came immediately upon pulling into Sibley, a Common Loon swimming out on a small lake by the entrance to the Park!

Once we started birding the park, some cool things started to show up.  One was my first look at a Great-crested Flycatcher after hearing several of them throughout our stops earlier in the day.  This is the Myiarchus flycatcher of the east, and it is very common despite being a rather secretive flycatcher.

Up next, Steve took me to an area with grassy clearings that he said was a good stop and bet for Field Sparrows.  Before we got out of Steve's vehicle, we could hear the singing of the Field Sparrow.  This song is a beautiful one, and it sounds like a bouncing ball at times, which is similar to my Black-chinned Sparrow in Arizona.

In an area with an interpretive trail that we walked, we encountered this Eastern Phoebe.  Eastern Phoebe is one I see in Arizona annually, where it is rare but shows up in small numbers.  This was my first day to see them on their breeding grounds and to hear them singing out, "Phoe-be!".

This pair of Blue-winged Teal sat along a marshy pond edge.

And so did these young ducks.  What are these anyways?  Are they mergansers?  In Arizona, I don't have a lot of experience with growing hatch year ducks.  Chime in folks :)

I've Got An Answer:  Young Hooded Mergansers.  Hooded Mergansers are the only merganser that breeds in Kandiyohi County, MN.  Thanks Josh Wallestad for chiming in!

We then heard the song "che-bek" of the small Least Flycatcher coming from some oak woodlands.  After only hearing this bird earlier in the day as my life bird, I went and was able to get a visual of it along with some photographs.  Least Flycatchers have a distinct song and call note, and the call note is one that strikes me more as a warbler call more so than an empid Flycatcher call.

In Minnesota, the times are interesting throughout the day.  It doesn't get dark out until after 9 P.M., and in most cases throughout the state, until 10 P.M.  I took the photo of the Least Flycatcher right about 8 P.M. that night, and you can see how much light is still left!  Steve wanted to show me my first ever Ring-necked Pheasants, and we left Sibley close to 8:30 to leave our remaining hour to search for Pheasants.  Steve took me on some back roads to search for the birds, which is a common gamebird in North America in many locations.  Ring-necked Pheasants were introduced into North America from Asia for hunting purposes, and they are neat birds for the birder and from what Steve was telling me, are hard to miss in the fields they inhabit (especially at dawn and dusk).  We weren't driving for very long when Steve spied a female Pheasant standing at the edge of a tall row of grass within a field.

I was thrilled at the sight of the female Ring-necked Pheasant, and then Steve said, "Wait till you see a Rooster, the female doesn't even compare to the Rooster".  Steve was of course talking about a male Ring-necked Pheasant.  And minutes later, I was looking elsewhere up the road and not roadside on my side of the vehicle when Steve picked up for my slack and spied a male and female Ring-necked Pheasant on my side of the road.  Both of them ran away, almost in a sprint like way!  It was impressive how fast they were.  The pair didn't go very far, and Rooster allowed me to get some photographs when he turned the right way.

It was cool to see the pair side-by-side in their favored habitat.

After enjoying the Pheasants, Steve and I stopped at a marshy area and found this Willow Flycatcher, which can be pretty scarce in Kandiyohi County.

The entire day of June 9th was one to remember, with this being the third and final post of that one day.  The day ended with 12 lifers being added to my life list to bring that grand total up to 510 species.  Passing 500 was a huge accomplishment for me.  Thanks to Steve Gardner for being very generous to take me out birding for the final hours of light during June 9th and to Josh for the grand day of birding!


  1. Those Pheasant photos are beautiful--not an easy thing to obtain! I'm glad you were able to have a fun outing with Steve. Next time you come, let's get you in crushing distance of a Loon.

    Those young ducks are Hooded Mergansers. HOME is the only Merganser species that breeds at home in Kandiyohi.

    1. Thanks Josh! That was a fun outing. I'd love to get a crushing shot of a Loon next time.

      Great to know that these young ducks are Hooded Mergansers. I've learned a lot from this trip!