Dakota County Bird Trip

Saturday, I led a field trip with my buddy Stan Tekiela to Dakota County, through Staring Lake Outdoor Center. It was a small group and loads of fun. I love birding this place because it's just south of the Twin Cities metro area and you can see some great birds: loggerhead shrike, dickcissel, grasshopper sparrow, indigo bunting, even a Swainson's hawk (they're not really supposed to be in Minnesota).

We started the morning by checking one of the Outdoor Center's bluebird boxes. Some of the participants got to hold a young bluebird--what a great way to start a Saturday morning!

I had driven our route on Friday looking for target birds and didn't find all of them but hoped for the best on Saturday. I did find lots of song sparrows (above). It's interesting to note the abundance of corn growing in many of the fields and I wondered how much more there will be in the coming years with the popularity of ethanol. One spot that has traditionally been great for yellow-headed blackbirds was all corn.

I like going with Stan, because he likes to help put the adventure in a trip.

Case in point, the above photo. Note in the background the sign reads "Road Closed"--that's where we parked. Well, this was our unplanned last stop of the day. We had seen all target species except for dickcissel. I had an email with me that someone in the past week had seen dickcissel off of Hwy 52 and 117th Street--just off the exit. That was on our way back to the Outdoor Center, so we decided to stop there, what did we have to lose? As we drove on the exit, I had my window down and I immediately heard, "dick dick cissel cissel" and there on the exit sign was a dickcissel. Stan pulled his vehicle over right on the exit, I went a little further ahead to an area blocked off for construction. We hopped out and everyone got a good look at the dickcissel.

Incidentally, we were across the highway from the Koch Refinery. Even though we were far away, my spotting scope though aimed at the dickcissel, was pointing towards the refinery. Two security vehicles approached us in less than five minutes to insure that we were not taking any photos--I opted to not try and digiscope the dickcissel.

One of the target species (and on that put on the best show was a northern shrike). I had seen one along this stretch of road on Friday and at first I drove past it, but Stan called out on the two way radio, "Shrike." We pulled back and there it was perched on a telephone pole.

Look at that little shrike loaf. The bird was totally dosing off--slacker. It was hunkered down and periodically the eyes would close--certainly wasn't too stressed out by us humans. I even pulled out my Handheld Birds and played the call of the northern shrike versus the loggerhead and it still continued to dose off.

Eventually, the shrike did wake up and went through a series of stretches. Here is your basic wing stretch.

And this? I don't know, perhaps a bird version of downward dog? I'd never seen a shrike stretch quite like this before--kind of a butt up pose. Boy, it doesn't look anything like it does in field guides. After this stretch it flew across the street to some spruce trees and teed up. It looked like it was on the hunt. I wonder if the shrike was thinking, "Alright, you got your pictures, you got to see me, I'm off the clock, so buzz off."

Another highlight of the day was watching some young kestrels that had recently left the nest learning to fly and hunt. The young birds would fly and perch right over us...that is until the adults showed up and started screeching a warning.

All and all a fun time. Up next is a bee entry. Brace yourself, we find out what happened to Kitty.