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  • Writer's pictureGregg Severson

"Let's tie the record," said the Least Sandpiper

After seeing the American Wigeon on September 14, I was itching to find a new species to tie the MN Green birding record! I saw multiple reports of Wilson's Snipe being seen at the Old Cedar Ave Bridge area of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge (MVNWR) and I thought this would be a good chance to tie the record! I had also seen a couple of reports of Northern Pintail, so I thought there would be a chance for that as well.

Kellie and I biked from home out to the refuge. We got there and first went out onto the new Old Cedar Ave bridge. Lots of Mallards, but not a lot else. Then we walked over to the boardwalk. At the end of the boardwalk is a platform that is traditionally one of the better spots in the metro for seeing water and marsh birds. There is a ton of marsh habitat with emergent vegetation, as well as a lot of shallow lake habitat, along with some low islands where birds can roost and loaf, away from people and most predators. I was hoping we might spy a snipe among the marsh grasses, or perhaps in flight as one moved around the marsh. We pulled out the scope and scanned through the islands, but mostly found Mallards and Canada Geese. There was also a small variety of other waterfowl around like Northern Shovelers, Blue-winged Teal, and Wood Ducks. A group of American White Pelicans flew in and landed on a distant beaver lodge. Around the low islands, we could see a couple of shorebirds that were moving around the edges. One was a Lesser Yellowlegs. A little later a Pectoral Sandpiper moved into view. There were quite a few gulls flying around, including Ring-billed and Franklin's Gulls.

Then, as we were looking at the shorebirds, Kellie spotted one that was much smaller than the others! This couldn't be a yellowlegs or a "pec" - it had to be something new. And I hadn't seen many peeps (a birders nickname for a number of species of small sandpipers) yet this year, so it would likely be a year bird if we could get a good enough view to figure out what it was! The birds were moving around, and we couldn't see all of any of the islands because of nearer marsh grasses blocking our line of sight. It was all the more confusing because sometimes we'd see the little peep in the binoculars, then look through the scope where we thought it was and we'd see the Yellowlegs or Pectoral Sandpiper. "Wait, I know what I was looking at before was much smaller, why I am I seeing the yellowlegs now?" Eventually, I got the peep in a scope and saw yellow-colored legs (no, that doesn't make it a yellowlegs - many other species besides yellowlegs actually have yellow legs). Yellow-colored legs are one of the key ID features to distinguish peeps from one another. That, combined with other ID features, made me confident that this was a Least Sandpiper for #222! I had just tied the record!

View of a Great Egret with a very obscured Lesser Yellowlegs in the foreground
Do you see the Lesser Yellowlegs? Not the Great Egret - that is easy! Seeing the shorebird in this photo gives you a sense of how hard it was for us to see the Least Sandpiper (that is much smaller than a yellowlegs)!

As I was explaining to Kellie later, I had gone hoping for Wilson's Snipe, but Least Sandpiper was even better. Leasts will be gone from our area within a few weeks, so if I was to see one it would have to be very soon. However, some Wilson's Snipe might even winter on the open streams in the Minnesota River Valley, so I should have a bunch more chances to try to see them.

We both then biked up towards the Bass Ponds area of the MVNWR to see if we might see any other birds up that way while Kellie went towards the light rail station so she could catch the end of the LOLA Art Crawl. I biked towards South Minneapolis to see some friends from my fall league Ultimate frisbee team at the bar after the game (I am currently unable to play until I have surgery to fix a hernia). I shared the news with them that I was now tied for the MN Green Birding record!

Miles biked during this time: 181.9

Miles biked year to date: 2712.9

Species count (MN): 222

Species count (overall): 223

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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