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  • Writer's pictureGregg Severson

Hustle for a Hudsonian Godwit

For a few days, I was traveling with Kellie in Nashville as she attended the Society of American Mosaic Artists 2019 summit. During the time, wouldn't you know that people were finding great birds that I couldn't go chase. In particular, at Holman Field there was a day with American Avocets out there - and then chasing birders found a Short-eared Owl! I was in another state, so no chance for me to get over there.

But don't feel too bad for me - the day I returned Dana Sterner found a Godwit at Holman Field. Wow - any Godwit would be really cool, but this was was worked out to be a Hudsonian Godwit - and that would be a lifer for me!

A few months ago, I was asked to give a talk about birding by bicycle at the Hastings Earth Day Birding Festival. I jumped at the chance to spread the word about green birding, and I instantly knew that I wanted to bike to the event. Carpenter Nature Center, which is the home base for the festival, is about 36 miles by bike from home. I could have gone out and back in a long day, but I really wanted to work in a lot of birding on my trip. It is relatively hard for me to get outside the city, and while I was biking that far out, I wanted to take advantage and look for lots of species that would otherwise be hard to find. So, I resolved to make it a three day trip, staying overnight on both Friday and Saturday nights and make it a full weekend of green birding. For Friday night, Pete Nichols graciously agreed to host me at his Cottage Grove home (which is also a famous birding site because of all the great birds he gets in his yard).

Luckily for me, Holman Field is right on the way to Cottage Grove for me. On Friday, I left home around noon and headed for St. Paul. I grabbed a little lunch at J. Selby's (a fantastic vegan restaurant), but then quickly headed for Holman Field. I got there, and the Hudsonian Godwit was still around! That was a lifer for me (the first time I'd seen it anywhere) and obviously a really great bird for my green half year. The views weren't great, but that didn't really diminish the feeling of excitement over this fantastic bird. Even at a great distance and with some heat shimmer, that impressively long bill stood out.

Hudsonian Godwit

Furthermore, I got 6 more year birds at the airport. I picked up three more shorebirds - Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs and Pectoral Sandpiper. Shorebirds are hard for me to get close to home - especially since my main go-to spot for shorebirds is totally flooded right now. The Bass Ponds and Old Cedar Avenue Bridge areas are usually some of the best bets near me for shorebirds, but most shorebirds require mudflats or shallow water and there are absolutely no mudflats and very little shallow water down there now. That same flooding has made Holman Field attractive to shorebirds, because the high water level in the Mississippi has flooded the unused end of some of the runways. Ben Douglas was also out at the airport - it was fun to see him since he is in the midst of his own massive birding effort this year. Ben pointed out that one of the gulls there was a Franklin's Gull - which was a nice get for me since those are hard to get in the spring (finding them in the fall in Hennepin County is a cinch). I also finally caught up with Green-winged Teal - a species which shouldn't be at all hard, but was eluding me partially because all of the river flooding had pushed them out of their normal haunts. Horned Lark was also a nice get, though I was pretty sure I was going to get them at some point this weekend because of all my travels through farm country.

After leaving Holman Field, I ventured south and east along the Mississippi until I got to Grey Cloud Dunes Scientific and Natural Area. Grey Cloud Dunes is a gem of an area includes a lot of good grassland and you can get just about every open country sparrow there. I did pretty well with the sparrows, seeing White-throated, Song, Chipping, Clay-Colored, Vesper, Field, Lincoln's, and Lark Sparrows. I also found an American Kestrel hunting the grasslands, and my first House Wren of the year. For the sparrows, that is a quality haul, and many of those species are hard to get any closer to my normal haunts. In particular, I was very happy to get Lark Sparrow and Vesper Sparrow. It would have been nice to get Grasshopper or Henslow's Sparrows, but I didn't have that long to spend there and there wasn't a whole lot of birdsong happening in the late afternoon.

Next, I headed over to the 100th Street marsh to see about some wet country birds. There were a bunch of swallows hunting insects over the marsh, including a bunch of Northern Rough-winged Swallows. I also heard a Sora calling (Soras are in the rail family and skulk around marshes, rarely showing themselves).

Finally, I headed for Pete's house. As I mentioned earlier, Pete's house is famous in birding circles for the number and variety of species that he is able to attract. I was hoping that I could get some good birds for my year just right there in his yard. And boy, was I right! When I first arrived, Pete told me that an Eastern Towhee was calling - boom - year tick within minutes of arrival. Pete frequently has woodcocks calling and displaying nearby, so we made plans to head out at dusk to try to listen for them or see them. After dinner, Pete mentioned that he thought we were about 15 from prime woodcock time. He was using that time to get ready for the next day, but I thought I'd head out a bit earlier and just sit on the porch and take in the dusk birdsong. After a few minutes out there, I heard a "Peent". Then, a few seconds later, another "Peent!" That was an American Woodcock calling! I went inside to grab Pete and he came right out, but the woodcock never called again. Lucky for me, it was enough to tick for the year, but I am glad I headed out early otherwise I might have missed it entirely! Then it was time for bed (and to dream of the birds that would visit Pete's feeders the next day).

All in all, it was a fantastic day of biking and birding! I scored 18 year birds, including one lifer! And many of those year birds were ones that it would be hard for me to get any closer to home!

My route to Cottage Grove via Holman Field, Grey Cloud Dunes, and 100th St Marsh

For this trip, since I was gone for three days, I was doing a presentation and I needed the scope for shorebird viewing, the bike was pretty heavily loaded. I should note that the forecast for Saturday included significant amounts of rain and snow, so I needed plenty of waterproof and warm clothes along with. Here is a pic of that the bike looked like on Friday when I was heading out:

My green Surly Crosscheck bike with two panniers on the front, a rack trunk and one pannier on the back, and a top tube bag

All of that made the biking require considerably more effort than my normal biking. The extra weight makes the going slower, especially up hills. And the extra wind resistance makes thing slower too - especially against the wind. I was lucky on this day that I had a tailwind almost all day!

Miles biked on this trip: 40.0

Miles biked year to date: 461.3

Species count: 113

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!

If you were planning to donate one dollar per bird species, you'd be up to ~$115 right now. I know you might be scared of how fast my species totals rose in this post, but relax, there are only so many bird species possible in Minnesota!

Friends of Sax-Zim Bog:

National MS Society:

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