top of page
  • Writer's pictureGregg Severson

Lots of biking leads to a Louisiana Waterthrush

Updated: Jul 6, 2019

After having such a successful day at Afton State Park, it was time to head north. Kellie and I biked together up to Stillwater, where we met up with my parents and our niblings

for dinner at the excellent Tilted Tiki restaurant. After a dinner with many flowery drinks (the kids loved the decorative flowers), Kellie drove and I biked to our Hipcamp that was just north of William O'Brien State Park. Originally, I had wanted to stay at William O'Brien, but they were all booked up on this summer Saturday night. Luckily, there was a Hipcamp (think airbnb for camping spots) a couple of miles north of William O'Brien, which was great because we could camp there and because it was a couple of miles closer to our primary birding target up there - Crystal Spring Scientific and Natural Area.

One species that had managed to elude me through all of the spring was the Scarlet Tanager. There were many reported around the Twin Cities, including at places such as Wood Lake that I visited, but I never ran across one. I thought I might see one at Afton State Park, since they definitely breed there, but I think we spent too much of our time looking for other rarer species (and in other habitats) that we didn't get one there. But Kellie was chatting with our Hipcamp hosts and they said there were Scarlet Tanagers breeding in the neighborhood, so we were on high alert when we woke up in the morning for those beautiful tanagers. We didn't see or hear any during breakfast or when packing up camp, so we decided to take a walk along the road before we left. We walked up past the neighbor's house and heard some things that sounded promising, but when we started to head back, we heard a song that was clearly the Scarlet Tanager. As is typical for this species, it was up in the treetops, and now that the trees were fully leafed out, we couldn't catch a glimpse of it.

Then we headed out to Crystal Spring SNA. This SNA is a fair bit north and east of Minneapolis, so it felt a little bit odd that we were looking for southern species here! I received a tip from Ezra Hosch that this location had Louisiana Waterthrush, Acadian Flycatcher, and Cerulean Warbler. That is quite a trio of rare southern breeders to find in the metro! (Later, I found out that Yellow-throated Warblers were sometimes spotted here too). All of those species typically nest farther south, and we are at the far northern end of their range. This SNA contains a clean, clear stream that starts at the namesake spring and runs through a wooded ravine. As Kellie and I walked along the path above the ravine, we heard more Scarlet Tanagers as we kept our ears peeled for our targets. The wind was very strong out of the east - and that made it hard to listen for birds like Cerulean Warblers that would be up in the treetops right where the wind was blowing strongest. Once we descended the stairs into the ravine, it was much calmer and it wasn't long before we heard the distinctive "peet-SUH" of the Acadian Flycatcher. Bird #199! I was getting close to that big, round number of 200 species.

(A big thanks to Kellie for the landscape photos to show you this special place!)

After we got to the head of the ravine, we decided to sit and have a little snack in this beautiful spot. Sitting here would give us more of a chance to listen and look for Louisiana Waterthrushes that should be down here along the streamside. And as we were sitting there, we heard the clear song of a Louisiana Waterthrush! That was it - #200 for the half year! Louisiana Waterthrush is a rare bird this far north, and a great get for my year.

When I was starting this adventure, I came up with a spreadsheet listing all of the species ever seen in Hennepin County (as listed on eBird). I then assigned rough probabilities to the species by dividing them into different "codes" (much the way the American Birding Association does for birds on a continental level). Based on this analysis, my initial number that I thought I would get for the year was 190 species. So, to hit 200 was exceeding my expectations by quite a bit! It was trips like this one that really helped push that number up, since it allowed me to get to different habitats to see different species. And, of course, it helped tremendously to have good information from other birders as to where to find these rare species. Pete Nichols, Ezra Hosch, Ben Douglas and Larry Sirvio all directly contributed by providing me helpful information, as well as countless others who posted their sightings in eBird where I could access the data. Even on this weekend trip I thought I had an outside chance at hitting 200 - but it required lots of things falling into place for it to actually occur. I was thrilled to hit 200, and getting the Louisiana Waterthrush in the incredibly scenic spot of Crystal Springs SNA was a great way to hit 200.

We never did hear any Cerulean Warblers, but I was still very happy with how things turned out. Then it was a simple matter of biking 46 miles to get home against that strong wind and with the threat of rain! The route back from that area is largely on the Gateway State Trail, which is a great paved trail. There is even a food truck along the way that is often open on busy summer weekends! This day was cold and wet, so there weren't many customers but luckily they were still open when I got there (and I got a hot tea to warm up!)

food truck along the Gateway Trail

And I took the obligatory picture with the giant snowman in North St. Paul.

Route from our camping spot to Crystal Springs SNA and then home

Miles biked on this trip: 117.3

Miles biked year to date: 1186.0

Species count: 201!!!!!!

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:

47 views0 comments


bottom of page