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  • Writer's pictureGregg Severson

Fortuitous fly-by (of a Rough-legged Hawk)

The week after seeing the Black-throated Blue, I was down at Minnehaha Falls to lead a bird walk for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. On October 4th, I biked down there with Kellie and we met the participants over in the Waubun Picnic Area. The spot gives easy access to the gorge along Minnehaha Creek, with a gentler slope than there is closer to the falls. The day was very birdy, with high numbers of White-throated Sparrows, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Cedar Waxwings, and American Robins. After spending most of our time in the creek gorge, we decided to head back to the picnic area to see if any species were up there. We found one grove of cedar trees that seemed to be attracting lots of birds - perhaps because it was windier up there and the cedars provided excellent wind protection, in addition to a food source via the cedar berries. Down low there were a number of White-throated Sparrows. After a bit, I noticed that some had moved out into the grass on the lee side of the cedars, and there was a different-looking sparrow with them. One of them was a White-crowned Sparrow! This was a species that is fairly hard to get in the spring, and although I looked for them, they had eluded me. But I knew that it was much easier to get them in the fall, and I was fully expecting to catch up with them at some point. It was nice to share the moment with my birding group, although I'm not sure how interested any of them are in my big year.

After the bird walk finished, we went to Sea Salt for lunch, and afterward Kellie and I decided we had extra time before she had to be at her appointment for a blood donation. We decided to bike down to Coldwater Spring to see if we could find more sparrows. In particular, I still needed a Harris's Sparrow for my biking year, and I've gotten them at Coldwater Spring in the fall in past years. We arrived at the parking lot, parked our bikes, and started walking the trail. There were lots of sparrows about, but many of them were staying hidden in the long grasses. Kellie pointed to a raptor flying overhead and it was a Rough-legged Hawk! That is on the early end for this raptor - they normally are a late fall migrant, with occasionally a few individuals overwintering in our area. After getting home I checked the Minnesota Ornithologists' Union website, and they list October 4 (the very date we saw it) as the median early arrival date for Rough-legged Hawks in southern Minnesota. So this sighting was spot-on for the start of their fall migration through our area. The Mississippi River near here is a definite migration corridor, and it was cool that being there worked in my favor and gave us this unexpected, early-season surprise!

White-crowned Sparrow sitting on a dried up leaf
This isn't the first White-crowned Sparrow I saw that day, but it is the first one I got a good picture of!

A map of my route home from Coldwater Spring via the Minnehaha Creek Trail
My route home from Coldwater Spring

Miles bikes on this trip: 15.6

Miles biked during this time (since the last new species): 76.7

Miles biked year to date: 2872.1

Species count (MN): 225

Species count (overall): 226

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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