Winging it for a Western Meadowlark
April 8 was a big day, but I didn't know it when I woke up! I decided to bike all the way to work, but I did't have any concrete plans for birds to look for. I knew I wanted to head by the Ames Crossing area to check for Northern Shrike again, but beyond that I was just going to bike to work because it was such a nice day out.
As I passed by Historic Fort Snelling, I heard an Eastern Phoebe calling - sweet, the flycatchers are starting come back! I continued along and took a route through Resurrection Cemetery in Mendota Heights. The cemetery was birdy, including my first-of-year Brown Cowbird. There is a small pond at the cemetery, which usually doesn't hold more than Mallards and Canada Geese. But today it was a little migrant trap with Ring-necked Ducks, Redheads, and Blue-winged Teal. After the cemetery, I was biking along a road with a number of pine trees and I heard a Golden-crowned Kinglet. I did go to Ames Crossing again, but no sign of a shrike this time either.
While I was at work that day, I noticed a post on Facebook from Bob Dunlap that both Western and Eastern Meadowlarks were singing at Holman Field - the downtown St. Paul airport. For this half year, I was pretty sure I'd get Eastern Meadowlarks, but that they would be a significant bike ride outside the city. I thought that Western Meadowlarks were a long shot - there are some locations within an easy drive from Minneapolis, but a very long bike ride. So, to hear that both meadowlarks were right in St. Paul - well I had to get there ASAP. I plotted my course and figured I could make it to the airport after work and hope that the meadowlarks would still be singing late in the afternoon. It would make the day a fairly arduous one with a long bike home against a strong wind, but I had to try for the Western Meadowlark.
I biked up to St. Paul, stopping once along the way to buy a refreshing drink from a child's lemonade stand along the side of the road. I hadn't been to the St. Paul airport before, but I knew it was a much smaller place with a lot less traffic than the main MSP airport. When I arrived near the entrance, I quickly heard a singing Eastern Meadowlark. It was a good sign that the birds were still active. From the entrance area, there is a long road around the river side of the airport that goes to a viewing point at the end. One of the nice things about this viewing area is that there is a mound that gets you up a little bit, so you can look at birds over the airport fence instead of through the fence. I made my way down there, and I once I got there, I saw someone with a scope This is good news - I wasn't able to carry a scope that day, so another birder with optics would make finding birds easier. I got closer that person turned out to be Ise Varghese, who I know well from Birds and Beers and the Minnesota Global Birders group. After a bit, we both heard the distinctive song of the Western Meadowlark - and Ise got it in his scope to get visual confirmation of ID via the yellow in the malar stripe. Boom - another great bird for the big half year! Bob Dunlap had also said that there were Lesser Yellowlegs and Bonaparte's Gulls in the flooded fields at the end of the runway, but even with Ise's scope those birds were no longer visible. There were a number of Song Sparrows actively fighting over territory and quite a few Killdeer taking advantage of the flooded field.
Then it was a long ride home into a strong wind - but my spirits were high because I got the bird!
Miles biked on these trips: 44.3 (17.7 to work, 26.6 from work to Holman Field and then home)
Miles biked year to date: 273.2
Species count: 67
My bike birding eBird profile:
https://ebird.org/profile/MTIxNDg5NQ (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: