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  • Writer's pictureGregg Severson

Walkabout for a Willet

On April 29, I thought I might have a rest day. I'd just had a weekend with a lot of biking, and I was hoping that I could take a little break. But the birds said "No! Keep Biking!". I was working from home that day, and Bob Dunlap reported that he found 81 (!!!) Willets at Holman Field. Oh wow - that is a lot of Willets. Not only would it be fun to see so many Willets, it also meant that all 81 were unlikely to leave before the evening when I could get over there. The news got even better when someone reported that there was one Avocet at the same location. I knew I had to go. The trip actually fit in pretty well with my plans, since there was a St. Paul Birds and Beers that night. Birds and Beers is a social gathering of birders to converse about birds (and other subjects) while having some tasty beverages. I go to both the Minneapolis Birds and Beers and the St. Paul Birds and Beers whenever I can. My plan was to head over to St. Paul in the late afternoon, do some birding, and then go to the Birds and Beers!

I biked over after work, and found a group of birders gathered at the airport. I instantly saw the Willets (not hard when there were 81 of them!). That is a phenomenal number of Willets to be gathered in one place, and I was happy that I could be there to see them!

Willets at Holman Field
A photo showing just a few of the Willets that were there

Then I set to work seeing the Avocet. Other birders had seen it, but it was waaaaay out there, and a bit of help from others and a bit of searching to get it in the scope and get decent views. But I did see the American Avocet! It was nice to get complete vindication for not going to Lake Byllesby the day before. Of the three species I thought I had a chance at, I had gotten Lapland Longspur in another spot that day, and then today I got both Willets and Avocets, so I didn't miss anything by skipping Byllesby. It is nice to have subsequent events justify your decision! Further scanning produced a Caspian Tern and a Spotted Sandpiper, but failed to reveal a Wilson's Phalarope (which had also been spotted recently).

I was about ready to go, figuring I had found everything that I could and I was already late for Birds and Beers. But just as I was about to go Liz Harper showed up. Liz is a fantastic birder, a big supporter of my fundraising efforts, a genuinely nice person, and I figured there was a decent chance that she could pull something out that everyone else had missed. I very quickly made the decision that I wouldn't leave until after we could bird together for a while.

She had been to that location a couple of times already that day, and was particularly keen on finding the Wilson's Phalarope. I (and others) had been looking for it for a while and having no luck. There are a number of spots at that location where birds could be hanging out close the edge of the water but hidden from our view by bit of a hill. At one point, we had a bird that could have been it that was mostly hidden by the bank, but after a while, it poked its head out enough to realize that it wasn't a phalarope. As we were looking for the phalarope, Liz mentions a peep (small sandpiper) that looks interesting. She gets me on it, and we both notice that it has a very tapered back end (produced by having long wings that stick out far behind its body when folded up). Liz was able to see some other field marks that were good for Baird's Sandpiper. At one point, the bird flew a short distance, and I saw that it didn't show the distinctive white rump of the White-Rumped Sandpiper. The combination of Liz's birding prowess and my persistence in watching it until it flew made us confident to call it a Baird's Sandpiper. That was very exciting - a Baird's is a bird I would never have guessed I would get on this big half year unless I got tremendously lucky. And tremendously lucky is how I felt that day on the way home realizing I had gotten three really uncommon shorebirds right in the middle of the city!

Another reason it was great to run into Liz is that she is someone who is supporting my big half year by donating a set amount per bird species. We talked some about how my year was going, and she gave me intel on birds that she has seen around. She also offered to keep a lookout for species I need if I gave her a list of things I was looking for. One really fun thing about doing a big year (or any other extreme birding effort) is the way that other birders rally around you and do their best to help you to your goal.

Speaking of rallying around birders and meeting goals - please consider donating to the two causes I'm fundraising for. Friends of Sax-Zim Bog is a wonderful organization working to protect a wonderful place and its inhabitants. The MS Society is working to end a devastating disease. Both could use your support! Please donate!

Route from my house over to Holman Field, then to Sweeney's Saloon for Birds and Beers, and then back home
Route from my house over to Holman Field, then to Sweeney's Saloon for Birds and Beers, and then back home

Miles biked on this trip: 28.4

Miles biked year to date: 567.9

Species count: 129

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

But the birds said "No! Keep Biking!" - haha!

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