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  • Writer's pictureGregg Severson

Hunt for a Hoary Redpoll (and Commons too)

You may recall in January when I went on a chase after a report of Common Redpolls in my neighborhood. At that time, there were very few reported Redpolls nearby, and even farther north in Minnesota, numbers were lower than normal. However, as we've gotten towards the end of February, there have been more Redpolls around, with many people starting to see them at their home feeders. Then, I saw a report that a large flock of Redpolls was at Cancer Survivors Park in downtown Minneapolis. This is one of the most consistent spots for these little birds in the county. The reason? Birches. Redpolls love to eat birch catkins and much of Cancer Survivors Park has been planted with a monoculture of Paper Birches. The relative abundance of birch catkins here seems to draw in the Redpolls at some point every winter.

Cancer Survivors Park with Marquette Plaza building in the background
All of those trees in front of the building are densely planted birches.

But what got me even more excited than just the Common Redpolls, is that people were finding at least one Hoary Redpoll mixed in with the Commons. The general rule of thumb in Minnesota is that we get about one Hoary for about every one hundred Commons (note - as a rule of thumb, this is not at all precise - it is just intended to give you a sense of their relative abundance). Since Adam Roesch observed about 200 at this location the day before I did, that would give a pretty good chance of finding a Hoary. And find a Hoary he did, so I really wanted to get to this spot soon so I could tick off these two special winter visitors. It is only about three miles from my house, but the best time is during the middle of the day, so it can't be a day where I am off working in Eagan or taking a trip to the Bog!

The biking was slow, but went well (see below for more notes about road conditions and winter biking). I got to the park and didn't see any birds in the birches. Oh no! I knew Adam had seen Redpolls here this morning, but could it be that they had left for the day already? I decided to walk near all of the birches to be sure that the Redpolls weren't hiding out anywhere. After I had walked through most of the birchy area of the park - I finally noticed a bunch of little birds flitting into and out of the treetops. The Redpolls were here! I knew at that second that I'd get to tick the Commons, but now I had to get in position to start the search for a Hoary among them. After a bit of scanning through the flock, I was able to ID one bird as a solid Hoary. Score! That is a hard bird to find in Minneapolis and one that I'm glad to have on my list.

Another thing I wanted to blog about it about getting around in Minneapolis by bike in the winter. This winter has been one of the tougher ones for bike transport, since we've experienced freezing rain, extraordinarily cold temperatures, and lots of snow. Minneapolis generally does a pretty good job with snow removal, with good attention given to bike facilities. When things get bad out there, it often pays to try to stay to dedicated bike facilities like the Midtown Greenway or the Minnehaha Creek Path. The city plows these routes (they plow the Midtown Greenway starting pretty early in the morning - I will often meet the plow as it is working to clear the Greenway between 7:15 and 7:45am. Since the Greenway (and other off-street bicycle facilities don't get car traffic, they tends to stay in good shape once they are plowed. The surface is often covered in snow, but that snow is hard packed and makes a decent biking surface. Here is a picture I took as I was going through Loring Park of a perfectly bikeable snow-covered path.

Snow-covered path through Loring Park
Even the sections that had more snow on them than appears in this image (from snow drifting after the plows went through) were pretty passable on a mountain bike.

Let me contrast that to what the back streets were like. On back streets such as Bryant Avenue, the conditions were slow and difficult. While the streets had been plowed, there was a lot of brown, disturbed snow on top of the firm surface. This is snow that has been affected so that it will no longer set up a firm surface and presents one of the hardest obstacles to biking in the winter. The unconsolidated snow prevents your tire from touching the road surface or hard packed snow underneath to get traction. It also creates a soft, deep sand-like area that slows you way down.

Dirty brown snow on a street
That brown stuff is hard to bike through - especially if you get extended stretches of it.

On dedicated bikeways, the city rarely puts down sand or salt (which help to create this modified snow), and the lack of heavy traffic means that hard packed snow will just stay as hard packed snow. But on the streets, the traffic and salt and sand create this brown mess. Luckily, today the brown snow wasn't so deep or extended that I couldn't get through it, but it definitely made my bike ride slower and harder!

Miles biked on this trip: 7.5

Miles biked year to date: 138.1

Species count: 38

My bike birding eBird profile:

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