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  • Writer's pictureGregg Severson

Leaning into the big year: Least Bittern and Loggerhead Shrike

What does one do when you've just finished a successful Big Half Year? Well, you just keep on birding and see what you can do for a Big Year!

On July 7, I heard that I had been hearing multiple reports of people seeing and hearing a Least Bittern at Wood Lake Nature Center. I went down there to see if I could see one. This is something of a nemesis bird species for me - a few years ago there was a Least Bittern there that everyone was seeing except me. I went multiple times on multiple days and never saw the bird, but every time I didn't go, others would post all of these amazing photos of it. So, I didn't have high expectations when I went to look for this bird. But I was armed with a new tool this time - I learned the call of the Least Bittern and that would give me a much better chance of detecting it. This bird likes to stay in dense stands of marsh vegetation, so it can be very challenging to see it. I got to Wood Lake and started working my way along the eastern shore - looking at the reeds as often as I could and scanning the edges of the reed beds. I worked most of the way down the lake, and then started heading back to the entrance. I saw and heard no sign of a bittern. Then, when I got back to the visitor center, I decided to walk around to their little patch of prairie. From there, I heard a Least Bittern calling from the reeds beyond! There was no chance to see this bird, but I heard it clearly calling multiple times. I did manage to get a recording, but it is a very poor one - the bittern is hard to hear, there is lots of white noise, and, of course, the Red-winged Blackbirds are much louder than the bittern!

Map of route from home down to Wood Lake, then over past Taft Lake and back home

In early July, I became aware that people had discovered a Loggerhead Shrike that was hanging out at the Dakota County Technical College soccer fields in Rosemount. This is yet another location that is pretty close to work (although on the "wrong" side of work from home), making it a long but feasible day if I tried from work. So, on July 8, I decided to try for the shrike. I biked south from work and when I got along the road where people had reported the shrike, I heard some birds singing, including a Dickcissel! This is a bird that has a rather irruptive distribution pattern in our area. It is common and quite easy to find in the metro some years, and is quite hard some years (I've had them nesting right at work in the "easy" years). This year happened to be a hard year, and I hadn't seen one yet. So, picking one up was a great start to the trip! It wasn't too much later that I spotted the Loggerhead Shrike sitting on top of a soccer goal. This is a species that seems to be around in various areas in Dakota County every year, but the exact spot switches around from year to year. Also, on a statewide basis, this was a very tough year for Loggerheads. A bit later in July, I went birding with Ben Douglas, who has been doing a phenomenal amount of birding throughout the state this year as part of his goal to get 10,000 county ticks in one year), and the DCTC bird was his first Loggerhead Shrike of the year! So that was definitely a quality bird for me to be able to pick up for my big green year!

Loggerhead shrike sitting on a chain-link fence with picnic tables in the background
Not a great picture, but you can tell that is a Loggerhead Shrike sitting on the fence

Route from work down to the DCTC ball fields and back

Miles biked on these trips: 63.1

Miles biked year to date: 1543.7

Species count: 214

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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