June 9th was one of six full days I would have to bird on this trip with lots and lots of driving interspersed. Josh and Evan pulled up to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport at 5 A.M. in the morning on June 9th, and we headed in the direction to Sakatah State Park. Heavy rains had hit the area during the night, and some of it was still coming down in the morning. We hoped that the rains would stop before we hit Sakatah State Park, and luckily, they did. Cloud cover still remained and made the habitats dark with poor lighting. But I didn't care about the lighting, I was glad to see the Minnesota habitats. At Sakatah, the park was filled with a beautiful deciduous forest environment. The trees and cover made birds difficult to observe. Josh and I were after a rarity and life-bird-for-both-of-us Kentucky Warbler. Josh told me Kentucky Warbler is casual in Minnesota, so not only would it be an awesome life bird for both of us, but it would also be quite the Minnesota rarity. As we pulled into the park, birds were everywhere. Despite the fact that birds were everywhere, it took us quite awhile to see the first bird. However, this was one of the coolest things I have seen as a birder in a awhile. It marked my first time of birding in an eastern deciduous forest outside of winter in the United States! All we could hear for awhile were Red-eyed Vireos and American Redstarts. I had to film the sequence....
The deciduous forest was teeming with birds, and I was waiting for that 499th life bird to appear any second. As you can see from the video, Josh really had that look on his face that he wanted that Kentucky Warbler. The skies were still overcast and the woods were still dark, but the male American Redstart still stood out like a place mark.
Eastern Wood-Pewees and Eastern Phoebes were going off in the woods, and American Robins constantly added to the song mix. Red-eyed Vireos seemed to be most numerous, and then Josh pointed out the song of my 499th lifer, the Yellow-throated Vireo. After some scanning in the jungle, we found that 499th life bird of mine singing near the top of a tree. The Yellow-throated Vireo was striking, but this original life bird moved away once I got my camera out.
As we continued to bird, Josh shouted out, "TOMMY!! Get over here. A Scarlet Tanager!" The Scarlet Tanager is epic, gorgeous, and would have a lot to say during the course of our trip. It's like the Vermilion Flycatcher of the east and it is one of those birds that never gets old despite how many you see. I'll remember Scarlet Tanagers for those reasons, but I'll also remember that it was the 500th bird I scored for my life list! With plenty of lifers on the way for the trip, I can't think of a better bird for me to reach the 500 milestone with. Only a stunning bird like this could look good in blurry photographs.
Josh and I observed this male Scarlet Tanager in amazement. I've wanted to see this bird whenever I have glanced at it in my field guides. Wow, wow, wow. It was soon joined by it's mate, which is a duller yellow, but still with the contrasting black wings. Josh and I then searched more for the Kentucky Warbler, which was present for the previous week before we arrived at the spot. While waiting, this Red-eyed Vireo showed up next to me and gave me a show.
Some of you may remember, but I found my first Red-eyed Vireo last year as a vagrant in Arizona. Even though I already had this bird locked up, it was cool to hear and see them on their breeding grounds, which is a true species experience.
After close to two hours of birding, the Kentucky Warbler was a no show. With the bird being very reliable for about a week prior to our arrival, sadly, the last day it was seen was the previous day. A four hour search by good birders later in the day after we left resulted in a missing bird also. While the Kentucky Warbler would have been my 501st life bird if we landed it, the fact is we didn't. The 501 slot went to a calling Great-crested Flycatcher nearby. With this being our first stop, Josh, Evan, and I had more stops to make during the morning which would host more amazing birds. Stay tuned...