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Birdchick Blog: Adventures on Prairies and in Potholes

Friday, June 09, 2006

Adventures on Prairies and in Potholes

For me, field trips come in two categories. The first type is characterized by fantastic weather that makes me feel great to be alive accompanied by fantastic birds, especially life birds. I come home with stories of the chestnut-collared longspur I finally saw for the first time. The second category is the field trip that is just an adventure. The weather is uncooperative and you come home with harrowing stories of survival. Field trips are so weather dependent. You cannot blame a festival if the weather doesn't cooperate; you just make the best of it and muddle through.

I went out with the Chase Lake group today. Here is a view from the bus window early on. I'm not out of focus, that's just me trying to take a photo through a drenched bus window. Part of our gang had not seen sharp-tailed grouse and decided to brave the wind and rain to see it flush (thankfully, I already had seen that grouse). This has been some of the worst weather for birding I have ever experienced! Not only is the weather bad for birding in general, it's bad for the particular types of birds that are specialties like prairie birds. You try listenin' for a Baird's sparrow in high winds and driving rain--you'd have an easier time trying to find a deer tick on fishnet pantyhose.

As we kicked up dust and more rain fell, our windows became impossible to observe birds. One of the guides sitting at the front of the bus said, "There goes a snowy on the right side of the bus." We said that we would take her word for it.

The weather did not stop the intrepid guides. Here we have Stacey and Bill rubbing down the window and squgeeing them off. Way to go guys! Boy this festival really makes their bird guides work.

Look! Now we can see one of those cattle egrets through the window! Thanks Bill and Stacey!

Our bus driver was jus a boy who couldn't say no. He went wherever the leaders advised him to go. Some these roads were so less traveled that Robert Frost would have been oh so proud. Above you can see the minimum maintenance road we were on. That's our driver being reflected in the mirror. Doesn't he look like he's having the time of his life?

We did have a harrowing moment when the bus slid off the gravel road and down towards a ditch. The driver had all of us pile to one side while he worked to get us back on the road. He succeeded! I love the uncertainty behind some of the smiles in that above photo.

It was not a great day for digiscoping, which is too bad because we got some great birds like a Nelson’s sharp-tailed sparrow. Above is a nest that we found while out looking for Baird's sparrows. See the nest? It's right there in front of you. Here's a closer look:

Here it is. Notice anything weird? Take a look at those eggs. Note how the top two are a little larger, spottier and browner. Those are cowbird eggs. We think the other three are savannah sparrow eggs. There was one singing very nearby that circled around us. I won't know for sure until I get home and check my egg book. The cowbird eggs did not remain in the nest after this photo was taken.

Here is BT3's entry for the trip too.

Here is Cinnamon working the booth. She disapproves of the weather and of me being out in it. Saturday we will be at the booth all day long. We might check out Chase Lake again on Sunday morning or Long Lake. The weather is promising to be better than today and we'd like to get a lark bunting before we drive back to the Twin Cities on Sunday.

A big upside to the weather is a general lack of mosquitoes and relatively few ticks.


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