The first two days of 2019, I just stayed close to home and did some walking in the neighborhood. It was fun to try to find birds close to home to start off the year list.
Then, on the 4th, I did my first big ride of the year. I knew I had some time that day, and I wanted to get out to try for some rarer birds. The temperature was forecast to be in the upper 30s or low 40s, which in Minnesota is really warm for January! I wanted to take advantage of the unseasonably warm weather and get out birding and try to find some good birds. I was really excited when I saw a report on the 3rd that an Evening Grosbeak was seen in Hillside Cemetery in Minneapolis. Evening Grosbeaks are a bird I see every year up in the Sax-Zim Bog in northern MN, but they rarely get this far south anymore (they used to be relatively common in the Twin Cities in the winter 40+ years ago, but have declined significantly). The last record for Evening Grosbeak in Hennepin county was 13 years ago! This would be a great bird for my big half year!
So, in the morning, I biked north with Kellie. She had an appointment in the morning in Northeast Minneapolis, so we biked that way together. I "dropped her off" at her appointment and then continued up to Hillside Cemetery. When I got there, there were already a few birders onsite looking for the Grosbeak. I exchanged numbers with a few and then moved along so that we could all spread out and cover the greatest amount of area. This is a large cemetery, and there is another cemetery adjoining it, and then a large golf course adjoining that, so there is a lot of area where the bird could be. The bird was reported to be associating with a large flock of robins, which turned out to be a bit of an understatement - there were robins everywhere in the cemetery. With the place just covered in birds, it was going to be a lot of sifting through common birds trying to find the one that looked different.
I spent about three hours at the cemetery - all with no luck on the Grosbeak. There were many other birders that showed up, but no one saw or heard any sign of our target. We all figured that it was probably still around, but with such a large area to search and so many other birds, we just were not detecting it.
I gave up looking (although hoping that someone else would refind it so I could return and tick it off), and I biked down to Hard Times Cafe for a quick lunch with Kellie before she was off to her next activity. The food was good and cheap and quick. After lunch, I biked down the Mississippi River. I wanted to try at a known spot in the river gorge where an Eastern Screech-owl likes to hang out and catch a few rays when it is sunny. Alas, when I got there the owl was no where to be seen. It was just using a different roosting spot that day. I'm confident I"ll catch up with a Screech-owl sooner or later in this half year, but it would be a nice tick early in the year! I'll have to try back soon. I did get to see these cool ice falls in the gorge!
After checking the owl spot, I was headed toward the Mute Swan that has been consistently hanging out at Fort Snelling State Park. This species is not native to the area, but is an introduced species. When I arrived at the spot, there were about 30 swans in the area, but a quick glance just showed Trumpeter Swans. Trumpeters were a year bird, but I could find them on any day of the half year. There is only one or possibly two Mutes around, so that species is the one I was making this long bike effort to tick! The easiest distinguishing characteristic of the Mute Swan is that it has an orange bill. Many of the swans were sleeping with their heads tucked under a wing, so I looked closer at the sleeping swans. I identified one that had a different body shape than the rest - in particular the tail was longer. I watched that one closely to see if I it would raise its head. It didn't, and I decided to move along to get on towards the airport. However, as I was biking away, I kept my eye on the swans - and my bird raised it head. I swung off the bike and pulled my binoculars up and got the view of the bill I was hoping for. It tucked its head and went back to sleep before I could get my camera out, but I was able to tick it off.
Now to head to the airport. Most years, the airport hosts some Snowy Owls, and it is the easiest and most consistent spot to try for this species. Furthermore, Snow Buntings have still been hanging around the airport and those are a really hard species to get close to home. The best spot for viewing these species is at the aircraft viewing area at the end of Cargo Road. We are lucky to have such a spot at the MSP airport. Taking Cargo Road gets you out into the middle of the runway areas of the airport, where those airport specialty species are the most likely to be and all without having to purchase a plane ticket and get through security!
Unfortunately, when I get there, I had trouble detecting a single bird! Eventually I spotted a few House Sparrows, but the Snowy Owl was hidden somewhere, and I didn't see or hear any evidence of the Buntings. So, my big day of biking and birding had turned up just one hard bird and I had dipped on the rest. Oh well, it was a wonderful day to be outside and to get a nice long ride in! I track all my riding on Strava, so here is a map of the longest portion of the day (from lunch down the river to Fort Snelling, over to the airport and then finishing at our dinner spot):
Miles biked year to date: 38.4
Species count: 27
My bike birding eBird profile: