I got a surprise bird for my Big Half Year fundraiser for the Friends of Sax Zim Bog…a Townsend’s Solitaire a mere three miles from my house. This bird is a bit out of range. And normally, I’m not much of a chaser in Minnesota, I’ve seen this bird before in its usual range and years ago at bird festival in northern Minnesota but when I’ve tried to chase wayward solitaires in the Twin Cities, I have zero luck. As a matter of fact, Friday was my third trip to cemetery to look for the bird.
I’d seen the report right away on my BirdsEye app and headed out the first day. No luck. I tried again…no luck. I saw on Facebook that some local birders were getting it, so I gave it one more try on Friday. We had about nine inches of snow this week and when I arrived at the cemetery, I could see where birders had been looking for the solitaire. I meandered around for about an hour and didn’t even see a bird let alone a solitaire. Usually this cemetery has the usual suspects (cardinals and chickadees) and currently a boat load of pine siskins.
Then I found the reason why…what I at first thought was a sharp-shinned hawk. It was large so I figured female. The head looked rounded and it was a smaller bird. This is a photo I took with my iPhone and scope.
The hawk was in no hurry to leave and preened its feathers for quite awhile. This photo was with my Nikon V1 and Swarovski ATX scope. As the bird was moving around, I realized that it may not be a sharp-shinned hawk, but was probably a male Cooper’s hawk. Here’s a great break down down between sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks.
Even though while preening the bird’s head looks rounded, the back of the head is lighter than the cap and the white band on the tip of the tail is very thick, so it has to be a Cooper’s hawk. While it was preening, the poor thing got one of its belly feathers caught in its eye. But I didn’t have an accipiter yet for my big year, so this was bird number 61.
Eventually the Coops flew off and I waited for bird activity to resume. Despite all the snow, cardinals started singing cautiously, soon followed by house finches and pine siskins. I watched all the juniper trees with berries to no avail. I staked out the spots the bird had been reported on eBird and scanned and canned the junipers with the most berries. After two hours of lurking in the cemetery, I decided to head home. I needed to grab one more ingredient for dinner anyway. I sent Non Birding Bill a text to give him a head’s up that I was going to be home soon…some of the following conversation may be edited:
Me: Screw this solitaire
NBB: And yet I know that’s not an autocorrect problem
I packed up my scope, binoculars and camera, put them in my trunk and started the I car. Then I began to leave the cemetery and a robin sized bird flew over the road and I knew, I just knew that was the frickin’ solitaire. I stopped and texted NBB again:
Me: Holy crap, I just saw the solitaire!
I scurried to get get my scope and camera out, angle my equipment so the solitaire was in good light and…
As if making up for all the times I’d been out to look for it this week, the bird perched in perfect light. Someone driving by saw me take my scope out of the trunk and pulled over. “I saw you take your scope out, do you have it?”
And I was happy to give him a look. His wife showed up a few minutes later and they were kind enough to stay with the solitaire while I did a loop around the cemetery to see if anyone else was around to see it. Apparently the three of us were the last in the Twin Cities to get the Townsend’s solitaire, no one else was around.
And now I have bird number 62 for my Big Half Year. I was kind of taking a break this week to catch up on work because I have some insane travel coming the second half of March and early April that should really bump up my bird numbers, but a solitaire was too good to pass up.
If you don’t know what my Big Half Year is, it is a fundraiser for the Friends of Sax Zim Bog to help build a visitor center for all the birders who go up there to see great gray owls, northern hawk owls, boreal chickadees and well just all the cool birds you can see there. I don’t care if you donate on my behalf or any of the other really cool birders fundraising for the cause, so long as you donate. The minimum amount is $10. So if you have ever visited the bog or plan to, consider donating what you can. The visitor center will help guide people to a better birding experience and help them avoid some of the weirder parts of the bog (like the scary guy who chases you off the public Stickney Road).
My goal is to see how many different bird species I can digiscope from January 1 through June 30 (though I may keep it up for the rest of the year because I like the challenge). To see all of my digiscoped photos for the Big Half Year, check my Flickr Album.
I’m already half past my goal, so thank you everyone who has donated so far!