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  • Writer's pictureGregg Severson

Canvasback off my back!

As we exited April, I realized that there were certain species that I expected to get in that month and didn't. In particular, there are a few species of waterfowl that I thought I would have no trouble finding that somehow eluded me during their prime migration window. Northern Pintail and American Wigeon are uncommon, but not rare, but I hadn't come across either. Green-winged Teal almost avoided me, until I saw one while looking at shorebirds at Holman Field. The other species that was slipping through my grasp was the Canvasback.

On May 2, I was heading to work, and decided to head down to the Old Cedar Avenue Bridge. This spot in the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge is usually a great spot for waterfowl, but this year the water has been so high that there don't seem to be as many birds. Also, the high water means that you can't actually cross the Minnesota River and continue on to Eagan, so it makes visiting here on the way to work much harder. But I made my way down there, and I was able to tick off three female Canvasbacks out in the middle of Long Meadow Lake. Getting that species was a relief!

As I crossed the Minnesota River on I-494 (as mentioned earlier, I couldn't cross at Old Cedar), I saw the first arrivals of the large Cliff Swallow colony that nests under that bridge. As I was sitting at work, I got a year bird sitting in my cube as a Sharp-shinned Hawk flew over. Ever since I moved cubes and lucked out by getting a cube with a view of the outside, I've kept a cube birding list. I am up to 19 species, but this one was special since it was a bird for my big green half year as well!

On the way home, I decided to make my way back to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, but this time to go to the Bass Ponds area. I was hoping to run into the Barred Owls that nest there, or a Virginia Rail in the swamp, or some other awesome thing that turned up in this prime birding spot. And some other awesome thing is what I saw! After a bunch of birding that was turning up nothing new for me - no traces of the owl or the rail, and overall not a lot of avian diversity, I walked along an almost flooded path that gave views of Long Meadow Lake. I looked out and saw three birds perched on a log that still managed to stick out above the very high water. I could tell they were terns, but I wasn't getting very good views with my binocs, so I pulled out the scope. When I did, I noticed the distinctly grayish breast and a red-orange bill - both of which are field marks for Common Tern. Despite the name, Common Terns are much less common in Minnesota than the very similar looking Forster's Tern (away from really large lakes like Superior and Mille Lacs). Knowing these were likely a very good bird species for my year, I continued watching for as long as I could to really nail the ID and be sure of myself. I snapped some photos with my phone through the scope, and then want back to simple watching. Eventually, the birds flew around some, with one bird leaving the low spot and flying back around to try to take the highest perch away. This chance to observe the birds flying a bit allowed me to see the darkened wingtips, another field mark for Common. Perhaps the high water helped to attract the large-lake-loving Common Terns? In any case, another sweet bird for the year.

Common Terns sitting on a branch in Long Meadow Lake
Common Terns

On May 3rd, I led another bird walk for Mill City Commons at T.S. Roberts Bird Sanctuary in south Minneapolis. One surprise of the walk was a nice Veery that decided to come in and give us some great views. The other new bird for the day was one of several Northern Waterthrushes that were lurking around the vernal ponds in Roberts.

Veery on a log in Roberts Bird Sanctuary

On May 5, Kellie and I were together when she heard the first Chimney Swifts of the year! Chimney Swifts are one of the birds that is strongly associated with summer to me, as they breed near our home and we can hear their chittering calls almost constantly through the summer months. Kellie usually manages to get them first in the spring, and this year was no exception. Luckily I was right there with her so she could point them out to me!

Route from home to work via Old Cedar Ave bridge but not crossing the MN River there
See how much easier it would be if I could cross the MN River along 77 instead of having to go up to 494?

Route from work to home via the Bass Ponds

Miles biked on these trips: 45.1

Miles biked year to date: 613.0

Species count: 136

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. Please donate!

Friends of Sax-Zim Bog:

National MS Society:

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May 16, 2019

Happy to keep up my streak of being the first between us to get the Chimney Swifts! ;)

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