Birding By Bike

Birding got the better of me yesterday--you will note there is no podcast today. I had my day all planned out, serious writing to do, if I got to certain point I would ride my bike for exercise, then tidy up the kitchen, mop the floor, make dinner, record the podcast and then bed.  The siren song of 70 degree weather and spring migration poved to be too much.  I got to a good point on my writing and changed into my bike gear.  I realized that all of the lakes near me iced out the day before so waterfowl would be a good possibility.  I figured out a safe way to strap my spotting scope to my bike...tucked my camera for digiscoping into my backpack and hit the trails.  What only should have been an hour long ride turned into three.

Cool waterfowl were all over Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet.  This is part of a mixed flock of red-breasted mergansers and horned grebes.  I about wiped out on my bike when I saw this flock close to shore.  The trails were so packed with Minnesotans walking and riding that I had a tough time getting a photo without someone jogging in front of my camera.  As I was watching this flock, I heard a guy tell his friend, "Hey the dog wants to run, I'm gonna jump him in the water here."

"Pardon me," I shouted to get his attention.  "I'm actually trying to watch those birds right in front of us, would you mind using a different stretch of the 3 mile trail around the lake?"

He hadn't noticed me or the birds, was very apologetic and gladly jumped his dog further down the trail.  I could understand, I'm oblivious to people around me when I watch birds and the lake trails were so packed, I could see how someone might think a bird watcher would be no where near this place.

Here's a photo of a pair of male red-breasted mergansers.  I have to say, that when my single female friends lament about having trouble meeting someone, I always try to suggest birding.  If you want to attract attention, go to a crowded lake with a bike and a spotting scope--guys come of out of the woodwork to talk to you...although I have to wonder, is my butt in the biking pants or my Swarovski that really gets their attention?  Most of the people who came up to me wanted to know if I was watching the loons.  I'd seen the loons, but they were further out and the mergansers were closer.  One guy kept trying to get me to move my scope to watch the loons (which is a refreshing change, normally people want me to look at that bald eagle on the other side of the lake).  I kept insisting that I was really into seeing the red-breasted mergansers which have a more Dr. Seuss look than the loons.

I did find a pair of loons very close to shore on Lake Calhoun.  I planted myself on the ground to snapped away. Nothing like watching the elegant and deadly fish killing machine in bright sun.

As I took photos, one of the birds yodeled loudly and everyone on the trails stopped moving and stopped talking momentarily.  Everyone had to pay attention to that haunting sound.  It was cool to hear it and even cooler to see everyone around me to pause and take notice.  How strange and wonderful it was to hear it with the Minneapolis skyline in the background, this bird so associated with the remote northern woods and lakes.  I overheard a nearby jogger say to her companion, "That really did sound like a loon, that must be what those birds are out there.  Wow!"

I'm so grateful when I find loons in the metro area, especially biking distance from my home.  When I first moved up here, I expected the state bird of Minnesota to be as easy to find as the state bird of Indiana was.  It was actually a year or so before I got to experience a wild loon.  There seems to be a pair that hangs out all summer bouncing between the Chain of Lakes in Minneapolis.  Maybe one summer they will successfully nest and fledge a young loon?

I don't know that I got much in the way of exercise since I stopped to watch birds so many times, but it was totally worth going out.  I don't regret my dirty kitchen one bit (I made Non Birding Bill fire up the grill for dinner instead).

Next podcast will be Friday for's supposed to get nastier weather later this week so no migratory distractions.