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  • Writer's pictureGregg Severson

Pedaling for a Northern Pintail

One surprising species that I still had left on my target list for the year was Northern Pintail. This species is relatively common in Minnesota during migration and someone who birds as often as I do is really likely to see one during the spring or the fall. But somehow they had eluded me! I know that high water levels likely had something to do with it, but still, I should have seen one.

It was now getting past the prime time for seeing Pintails, but I wasn't too worried yet, since there are usually some individuals that stick around until December. But I did really want to get this species on my year list! Ise Varghese told me that Bassett's Creek in north Minneapolis had quite a bit of open water and lots of ducks. Then, when I saw an eBird report of a Northern Pintail up in Bassett's Creek in Wirth Park on November 23rd I knew that the 24th would be a golden opportunity to finally tick the Pintail!

I biked up to Wirth Park and headed by Wirth Lake on my way to Bassett's Creek. I know this park quite well from nordic skiing, trail running, mountain biking, and birding through it many times! So I headed first towards the area where a bike path in the eastern park of the park follows Bassett's Creek for a while, including an area where the creek widens out near the golf course and frequently has lots of waterfowl. This is the area where Kellie and I had seen a Ross's Goose back in November of 2013.

I looked at the open water and found 10 or 15 Mallards, but not nearly as many as I was expecting. I also saw a decent-sized flock of Canada Geese (but nowhere near as many as I'd seen on Lake Hiawatha a few days earlier). I scanned all areas of open water that I could see to make sure the Pintail wasn't hiding in some little corner of the lake, but I saw no sign of it.

Then I kept moving and went for a small bridge built for golf carts that would let me cross the creek over to the golf course area. When I got up on the bridge - boom! there was the Northern Pintail!

A male Northern Pintail
A beautiful male Northern Pintail. One of our field guides to the birds of Europe described this species as having a "smart white shirt." That is definitely a fun and memorable way to describe its plumage!

I was very happy to finally get the Northern Pintail on my list and not have to worry about finding one anymore! I used the rest of my time before dark to walk and bike around Wirth looking for owls and shrikes. Northern Saw-whet Owls were likely in the park right now, but finding them is a big challenge! There is some decent shrike habitat too, so I kept my eyes open for them. I got over to an area near Eloise Butler WIldflower Garden. I heard an owl making a loud, hissing call. This was an area where Great Horned Owls have nested in the recent past, but I thought that the hissing call sounded a bit more like a Barred Owl. Once I got out to the parking lot for the wildflower garden I hopped on my bike and started biking down the hill and then a Barred Owl flew across the path and landed in a tree! It wasn't a new species for me but it was a fun way to end the afternoon of birding!

Map of my route from home up to and around Wirth Park and back.

Mile biked on this trip: 14.1

Miles biked during this time (since the last new bird species): 26.9

Miles biked year to date: 3,259.4

Species count (MN): 236

Species count (overall): 237

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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