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  • Writer's pictureGregg Severson

Connecticut Warbler crashing the Prothonotary Party!

Updated: May 25, 2019

After having a good day for birds at Wood Lake, what is any good big year birder going to do? Head right back to Wood Lake, of course! On May 14th, I headed right back to Wood Lake in the morning and there were still many birds who were very active! I once again did not see the Prothonotary, but I did see first-of-the-year Blackburnian Warbler (quite possibly the most stunning warbler, which is saying a lot) and American Redstart. I didn't have a lot of time, as I had to get to work, and it was hard to leave the spot where I knew more cool birds were lurking.

Farther along my bike ride to work, my route often takes me right by the headquarters and visitor center of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge (MVNWR). On my way by, I often make a quick stop to poke around the back where the feeders and overlook are to see what is around. Kellie and I have seen Harris's Sparrows and Yellow-headed Blackbirds at these feeders, so a quick stop can be very productive! This time, there wasn't much at the feeders, but the overlook had a lot of bird activity. There were at least three Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Blue-headed Vireos, a singing Indigo Bunting, Lincoln's sparrow, and a Canada Warbler. In just a 15 minute stop, I got three year birds!

Indigo Bunting at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge
Indigo Bunting

After work, I decided to head home via the Old Cedar Avenue Bridge. This is a prime birding area - it is mostly on the Hennepin County side of the Minnesota River. This year, the river has been so high that the area was severely flooded and impassable. I was checking the MVNWR website, and it seemed to indicate that flooding had receded and this area was passable again. When I got down there, I found that the floodwaters were still quite high. It would have been a long way around to get back up to the 494 bridge to cross there (not to mention missing out on trying to see birds at Old Cedar), so I waded through and carried my bike. Once through the deep water, I found there were some warblers in the flooded forest. I was really hoping for Prothonotary (and they love flooded bottomland forests) so I stuck around there for a little bit. No Protho, but I did see a Chestnut-sided Warbler.

Scene along the river bottoms of the Minnesota River showing how high the water used to be based on the driftwood stranded in this location.
All of this driftwood was carried in when the waters were higher. And the waters are still high, as you can't normally see water from this location.

Then it was back to Wood Lake for another visit. Once again, no Prothonotary, but I did see a Magnolia Warbler. All of these visits over time were accumulating more and more warblers for my list.

The 15th of May was a work-from-home day, which was good because the backyard was active! There was a Willow Flycatcher actively hunting insects and occasionally giving its "whit" call which let me know it wasn't an Alder Flycatcher. We also had a quick visit from a Philadelphia Vireo. And we also had an interesting song while we were eating lunch. I hadn't heard it in a while, so I didn't recognize it at first, but later unscrambled my thoughts enough to remember that distinctive song belongs to the Golden-winged Warbler!

Willow Flycatcher perched on a tree in our backyard
Willow Flycatcher. I know you are all disappointed that I didn't get a picture of the Philadelphia Vireo or Golden-winged Warbler, but sometimes the showiest species isn't the one you see the best!

Again after work, the siren song of Wood Lake called me. There were just too many good birds being reported there and had to go again! Although by this time it seemed that 400 people had seen Prothonotary Warblers there (some even reporting two at once!), I was once again not among the lucky. On this trip though, I had a sighting that was even better than a Prothonotary - the notoriously skulky and hard-to-find Connecticut Warbler showed off well enough for me to get a picture!

Connecticut Warbler
Connecticut Warbler. Contrary to the name, the best place to see Connecticut Warblers is actually Minnesota, where they breed in our northern bogs. This is a hard bird to see, as they love dense foliage.

After spotting the Connecticut, I was pretty happy! But on my way out, I happened to notice a blooming tree that was attracting a fair bit of warbler attention. And I got good views of a Cape May Warbler working the blooms. Cape Mays will pierce the flower with their bill, and the drink the nectar with a semi-tubular tongue.

Cape May Warbler from below in a tree with many flowers
Cape May Warbler

Miles biked on these trips: 48.8

Miles biked year to date: 777.9

Species count: 174

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!

Friends of Sax-Zim Bog:

National MS Society:

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