2008 Detroit Lakes Festival of Birds

This year's Detroit Lakes Festival of Birds was more challenging than in the past. Due to the long winter, migration was about two weeks behind, so instead of warblers dripping from trees and the shorebirds crowding the mudflats we really had to work to get participants their target birds. This year, the organizer added a new trip to Red Lake's Big Bog State Recreation Area--which should have been primo for Connecticut warblers, black-backed woodpeckers, three-toed woodpeckers, and boreal chickadees. However, when we got off the bus and I was not swarmed by insects and the bog was silent, I knew we were in trouble.

Although birds were scarce, we did find that there are still a few moose here in the bog and that someone has too much time on their hands when they take the time to arrange moose poop in the shape of a heart! The bog was a hard trip for me--as a participant on a field trip, it's frustrating when you come to a festival for a specific species and can get it. It's just as frustrating for field trip leaders who are anxious to help you find those target species. I hadn't been to the bog area for a few years. I was invited on a familiarization tour about four years ago, right before the boardwalk was complete. Depending on gas prices, I will have to get up there again sometime this summer.

The next day I was on the trip for Glendalough State Park and that was exciting for me because Scott Weidensaul was on that trip (can I saw what a sweet guy he is--when I was packing up my Swarovski booth at the end of the festival he helped carry some of the boxes to the car even after he'd been leading trips and autographing books--what a guy). Glendalough rocked--warblers were just arriving to the northern part of Minnesota. Many were singing on territory and I was able to get photos like the above common yellowthroat (and some video as well). This was also the park with the funky oriole (the consensus seems to be that it is not a hybrid but a young male Baltimore growing into his adult plumage).

A big highlight came as we were watching a warbler, one of the trip's participants said, "Oh, there's a common nighthawk sleeping in the tree." Sure enough, there was a common nighthawk roosting! That was a good spot on his part and makes me wonder how often we pass nighthawks on a daily basis.

Something very telling about our times: a bald eagle flew in and landed fairly close and I set my scope up on the raptor right away. I stepped aside so people could line up for the perfect view of an eagle in great light...and there was not a rush for the scope. I commented that are we that jaded in Minnesota that we can't take a look at an eagle and a few people stepped in to take a look. I thought back to growing up in Indiana and how rare and eagle sighting was and now they are commonplace and that kids are growing up with the idea that eagles are easy to see. I think that's great, but hope they don't get taken for granted.

Many American redstarts were chasing each other and a few came close to beaning a few participants. What fun! Our groups broke apart into some smaller groups to make it easier to see birds and a few heard the coveted Connecticut warbler. It wasn't supposed to be at Glendalough, but it's migration and anything is possible.

Sunday we went to Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge. Again, migration was a tad off so we didn't quite get the shorebird bonanza that we did last year, but Agassiz is still a special place to visit.

I got a kick out of a unique use of deer antlers as an oriole feeder. I could hear orioles overhead, but none of them came down for the fun photo opportunity.

Sparrows were all over the visitor's center and one of my favorites was around--the Harris's sparrow--love those guys.

There were several robin nests around the center. Here is one right one a window. On the window ledge to the right was another nest, but I'm not sure if it was also being used this season.

The big stars of Agassiz that day were all the Cape May warblers hanging out in the pines. They were surprisingly accommodating for warblers and everyone got great looks.

While we were scanning the pines for the warblers we came across another robin nest. She remained hunkered despite the 50 some odd birders and half dozen Cape May warblers surrounding her.

So that is a brief Detroit Lakes update. Even though the birds weren't what they normally are, it was still a great time and it was fun to connect with new people and reconnect with old friends. Alas, if we have learned anything in the last few years it's that we really cannot control the weather and certainly not bird migration.

Detroit Lakes Bird Festival--Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge

Sandhill cranes flying off the road as our jam packed 57 passenger bus was creeping along Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge. That place is definitely worth the hype.

Well, I learned an interesting tid bit at the festival--the field trip to Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge sold out before the field trip to go birding with David Sibley! I'm pretty sure that it had more to do with the awesomeness of the location rather than the cool factor of guides. I don't care, I'm so glad that I was one of the guides for the Agassiz trip--we saw 25 species of shorebirds on the trip!! Whoot! Whoot! Whoot! And really cool shorebirds at that! Above are some of marbled godwits (the big birds). Check out the dunlin in the back--that's the little guy with the black belly.

We had some unusual birds, above on the lower left is a red-necked phalarope (the other bird is a semipalmated plover). We were expecting Wilson's but we ended up getting the red-necked too. I couldn't do a lot of digiscoping because the priority was making sure the 53 paying customers got to see the birds and the light wasn't that great for it either. It was fun though, because as soon as someone would point out one really cool shorebird like the red-necked phalarope and then get the group focused on it, then someone else would shout, "Stilt Sandpiper!" It was a good problem to have. We even had crazy numbers of more unusual birds--like 90 some odd hudsonian godwits.

I loved this scene--it's a black-bellied plover surrounded by a posse of semipalmated plovers. Wish we could have been closer, but at least we got to see the bird. That was a cool new bird for quite a few people on the trip.

The place was lousy with American bitterns--at one point three of them were flying around the bus. Bitterns are secretive birds who stand straight up and use their stripey plumage to hide amongst reeds. The above blurry guy was one that I saw running in short grass. When he noticed our bus coming he shot his head up to hide himself but then suddenly realized that he was surrounded by short grass. We stopped the bus and he ran to a very sparse patch of taller grass and assumed the position. The bus windows distorted the shot, but you get the idea.

It was a diverse group and people wanted different birds--some wanted to focus in on shorebirds, others wanted better looks at area specialties. While Doug Buri and Kim Risen would focus in on peeps (small shorebirds that give me a headache), I would call in a sora or get some yellow-headed blackbirds (above) or bobolinks in the scope. By the end of the day, our bird list topped out at 135 species, which may be a festival record. It was awesome. I get the sense that they will offer the trip again next year and hopefully we will have more time than just four hours to bird there. We had such limited time. The trip was two hours out there, four hours to bird, and another two hours back. Next year they could easily add another two hours for birding--we really could have added more warbler species and I would have loved the chance to photograph red-necked grebes.