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  • Writer's pictureGregg Severson

Breaking the record with a Black-throated Blue Warbler

After seeing the Least Sandpiper and tying the Minnesota record, I was very keen to find another species to put me over the top! I kept an eye on birds being reported on eBird, Facebook, and through email. On September 26th, one caught my eye - Doug Kieser had seen a Black-throated Blue Warbler up in Anoka County. Black-throated Blues nest in Minnesota only in the Arrowhead region. We get a few that migrate through the Twin Cities area, but not many. I had tried for one in the spring at Wood Lake but it eluded me, so I was excited to get another chance in the fall!

I messaged Doug and he was kind enough to share some specific details about his sighting - exactly where he saw it, the age and plumage condition of the bird, and what other birds it seemed to be associating with. All of these details make it much easier to re-find a bird. Obviously, the very specific location helps (rather than just knowing an eBird hotspot, which might cover a large area), but it also helps to know that I was looking for a drably colored immature bird rather than a striking adult male and that it seemed to be loosely associating with Black-capped Chickadees (which is fairly common for warblers in fall migration, but good to know that this bird was doing this).

I biked north along the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. There is a nice route along this way, some on bike paths and some on bike lanes. Then, once I got to the I-694 bridge, I crossed the river into Anoka County. This is a new county for the year - amazingly, the counties I've touched cross the whole state and include a couple of counties in South Dakota and one in Wisconsin, but I hadn't yet been to Anoka County, which borders my home county of Hennepin! I worked my way through Fridley to the Rice Creek West Regional Trail - a ribbon of good habitat winding its way through the suburbs. This was about 15 miles one-way - about the same distance that I commute to get to work, but in the opposite direction.

I got to the exact spot that Doug indicated and I instantly found a good mixed-species flock: Black-capped Chickadees, Blue-headed Vireos, Orange-crowned Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Northern Parula, and Yellow-rumped Warbler. But I didn't see the Black-throated Blue. Just finding this group was exciting, as the area along this creek corridor that I passed through to get to Doug's spot was curiously lacking birds - it seems that all the birds in the area were concentrated in this one flock. As the birds were moving and feeding, I'd usually only be able to see a couple of birds at a time, and sometimes I wouldn't see any. Chickadees are very helpful in this situation, as they are generally quite vocal, so it is relatively easy to keep track of them. The flock slowly moved through the forest, and I stuck with them, listening to the chickadees to keep track of the group and keeping an eye out to make sure I found every bird in the flock.

After about 40 minutes of following this flock slowly through the woods, I was getting near the edge of the wooded corridor. There was a path going up a hill to a nearby residential street, and I climbed the hill to give myself a different view on the forest. I turned back to use my elevation to look into the higher parts of the trees, but then I noticed a bird flit into the trees right at my level - there was a Black-throated Blue Warbler! I got good, clear looks at it, but only for about 10 seconds. After looking for a bit through my binoculars, I tried to get a picture, but the bird was gone. I tried for another few minutes, but then I was running out of time to get back home. I really wanted a picture of the record-breaking bird, but I still had 15 miles to bike and someplace to be, so I gave up on the photo chase.

Black-throated Blue Warbler with an insect in its beak.
I didn't get a pic of my Black-throated Blue Warbler, so instead you get this pic of one that I took at the Biggest Week in American Birding in northeastern Ohio in May 2018. My bird looked a lot different from this one though, since it was a drab immature instead of this spring adult male!

I then got a strange feeling - I couldn't believe that I'd finally broken the record, and I did it before the end of September! It is weird when you've moving towards a big goal for a while and then you finally get there, it requires an adjustment of perspective to realize you've finally made it. There were a lot of miles biked and a lot of species chased, but I'd finally crested the peak and broken the record! I made sure to enjoy all the feelings coming with this special moment as I biked home.

Many things about this situation felt really right. The Black-throated Blue Warbler is a good bird to break the record with - a cool-looking bird that is unusual enough around here to be hard to find. It also felt right that it was a bird that I found only because of help from other birders, yet it still required skill and persistence from me to find. It definitely felt right that this bird was on a bike path - that just fit in perfectly with my biking big year. It would have been nice to share the bird with others - especially Kellie, but also with other members of the birding community who have been so helpful and encouraging and generous. But, I guess it is unlikely that the situation could be perfect in every way! I was very happy to get species #223!

Map of route from home up to Rice Creek West Regional Trail and then back again

Miles biked during this time: 82.5

Miles biked year to date: 2795.4

Species count (MN): 223

Species count (overall): 224

My bike birding eBird profile: (Please note that you need a free eBird account to see profiles in eBird)

Fundraising links for the two organizations I am supporting with this green big half year. These causes are really important and they could really use your dollars to do a lot of good!

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