.......and Reflections

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Landscape Is Changing

This leg of my trip is always much anticipated. Up till today the new species I've enjoyed are those associated with the north woods. Going east to west in Minnesota and crossing the Mississippi River is where the reluctant north woods gives way to prairies and agriculture. The joy and challenge of birding North America has much to do with how our continent changes east to west and north to south.

I had a wonderful day. I saw 106 species of birds from 6:30 am to 7:30 pm. It was a rewarding day because all my experience and expertise was required as well as a measure of good luck to have such a good day list. But that more than 100 species is possible, is a testament to transitioning from forest to plains and changes in habitat types.

Today I traveled from Grand Rapids, Minnesota to Thief River Falls, Minnesota. The first half of the day was birding about 50 miles north along Minnesota Rt. 23. This road is known and advertised as the "Edge of the Wilderness" Scenic Byway. It is a winding road that weaves through many lakes with many access points along the way. The road bisects quality mixed deciduous and coniferous forest. It also accesses Tamarack Bogs and other boreal wetlands.

I saw 11 species of nesting warblers, the highlight being Golden-winged Warbler and Mourning Warbler. I found two Golden-winged warbler nesting sites and heard more than a dozen singing male Mourning Warblers. Other songbirds of note were Pine Siskin, Purple Finch, Swanson's Thrush, Veery, Hermit Thrush, Philadelphia Vireo and Alder Flycatcher.

Surprise Lake lived up to its name by revealing a male Common Goldeneye. This is a rare breeding duck in Minnesota. Either this was a non-breeding male or the female was elsewhere hidden on a nest. A Merlin made a pass across another unnamed lake and perched conspicuously on a Birch snag. Just seeing these birds is enhanced by seeing them in their place in association with other species in their neighborhood. Standing on the Laurentian Divide was a high point along the way!

The next destination is Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge in the northwest corner of the state. The drive from the Edge of the Wilderness to the refuge is where one can see the forest give way to the prairies. It isn't a pretty picture. The logging is evident everywhere. There are many established farms carved out of the wilderness long ago and now evidence that logged tracts will eventually become agricultural areas as well.

This transition area has rewards such as Sedge Wrens, Bobolinks, both Eastern and Western Meadowlarks,
Brewer's Blackbirds, Sandhill Cranes, Bank Swallows and under every culvert, Cliff Swallows. The back roads skirt Red Lake and this is where you see the first Western Grebes and American White Pelicans. By the time you get to the refuge, the forest is all but disappeared.

Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge and adjacent Minnesota Department of Natural Resources managed lands comprises nearly 84,000 acres. It has a wildlife auto tour that is open daily. It is a special place where every pool offers new western species. Some examples are Red-necked Grebe, Eared Grebe, Western Grebe, Black Tern, Franklin's Gull and an occasional Cinnamon Teal. The high point of the time at Agassiz was having an American Bittern flying along side the car at eye level, for what seemed like an eternity.

Tomorrow I will spend time getting re-acquainted with familiar places and getting to know others a little bit better. Tomorrows forecast calls for some bad storms so we shall see how that all plays out.

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