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  • Writer's pictureGregg Severson

Saunter for a Sapsucker

It was April 9, and I knew that waterfowl were on the move and the lakes were opening up. Some of the smaller lakes around south Minneapolis can be really hopping under these conditions. I noticed a couple of intriguing reports from one of these small lakes, Grass Lake. On the evening of April 8, a Greater White-fronted Goose was reported from there. This species is really hard to get in the city unless you get a flyover flock on the right day. So I was really interested in following up on this report quickly to see if I could see one at its overnight spot.

So, in the morning on my way to work, I left early so I could go by Grass Lake on the way. The lake isn't exactly on the way, but it doesn't add that much distance to the ride. I got down there, and there weren't that many birds on the lake, and no trace of the Greater White-fronted Goose. However, there was a decent diversity there given that there were relatively few individuals, and I picked up Wood Duck, Northern Shoveler, Lesser Scaup, and Bufflehead.

As I went farther east, I biked past Lake Hiawatha. Along Minnehaha Creek there are a number of pine trees. Biking by, I heard some drumming sounds. I stopped to find the source of the drumming and there was a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker in the exact same tree where Kellie and I had seen a Sapsucker 2 years ago (when we were in the area to visit a Great Horned Owl nest). I don't think it was just a remarkable coincidence that this bird was in the same tree. The tree was well-marked with sap holes, and it is likely that it has been visited many times over the years. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers don't often breed in Hennepin County, but plenty come through during migration. It seems like this little migrant trap of pines on the shore of Lake Hiawatha might catch them on a regular basis. I have seen Sapsuckers in plenty of other places over the years, but it was pretty cool to see one in the exact same spot we'd done so two years ago.

Sap wells and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Sap wells and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Route from home to Grass Lake then to Lake Hiawatha and then to the transit station

On my way home, I wanted to look for waterfowl again, so I stopped by Diamond Lake. Many years in the early spring, Diamond Lake is just covered with waterfowl. Not so this year, as there were just a few ducks around. But among them was a Pied-billed Grebe, so I got to tick that off the list.

Then I had a choice to make. Canvasbacks had been reported from Bde Maka Ska (Lake Calhoun) for the last couple of days. But also, Rusty Blackbirds had just been reported from Roberts Bird Sanctuary. I probably had enough time before dark for a try at one of those spots but not both. I ended up decided on going to Roberts Bird Sanctuary, figuring that Rusty Blackbirds were harder to get than Canvasbacks, plus there were a few other early songbirds that I had a chance to tick as well. I didn't get the Rusties, but I did manage to find Winter Wren, Fox Sparrow, and Yellow-rumped Warbler in the sanctuary.

Route home via Diamond Lake and Roberts Bird Sancuary

I may come to regret my decision to not go for the Canvasbacks as they were not there the next day when I tried for them! A snowstorm descended upon Minnesota, bringing heavy winds just as the ice was leaving the city lakes, and the birds must have found a spot more to their liking somewhere else.

I did get an easy year bird on the 10th, though, as a Hermit Thrush showed up in our backyard!

Miles biked on these trips: 24.9

Miles biked year to date: 298.1

Species count: 77

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!

Friends of Sax-Zim Bog:

National MS Society:

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May 16, 2019

Fun to see a sapsucker in the same tree! And I like that snowy path photo with your bike track. :)

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