New record today?

Might get a new daily record for my property today. Would’ve had a shot at it last Sunday but after a 50-bird morning, I didn’t get out to look for another eight. This morning I’m at 52 and it’s 9:54 a.m., so if I spend a little time this afternoon, and pick up a few just by paying attention, I should break my record of 57 from last year.

In fact, there’s one now: a kestrel. I knew it was there because they nest in a box I built, but they’re pretty secretive during nesting season. That’s 53.

I should also get a ruby-throated hummingbird soon, and maybe a bluebird or a bald eagle or a red-tail. There’s a hummer: 54.

Here’s my list from this morning:

Photo on 5-23-14 at 10.07 AM


Highlights were a Wilson’s warbler and a scarlet tanager (in flight). Thought I had a northern parula warbler, but it turned out to be a magnolia, which I’ve already seen a lot of this year. Also heard a veery and lots of wood thrushes.

Tons of indigo buntings on the feeders.

Last Sunday, the day after my county big day, I got to 50 even quicker, so it may be that I’m past the peak of the migration. Some of the sparrows are gone already, the yellow-rumped and palm warblers are gone, the Swainson’s and Gray-cheeked thrushes, but some haven’t shown up yet. So far no kingbirds or sedge wrens or red-eyed vireos or some of the warblers I still hope to see this year (mourning, Canada, golden-winged).

Also found a new patch of fiddleheads that came up late due to flooding. I could be eating fiddleheads for another week.

For breakfast I had eggs from my chickens, applesauce from my apple trees, and fiddleheads from the woods.

Update: I got to 58 after seeing a yellow-rumped warbler, an eastern bluebird, a least flycatcher and a killdeer.

Update: Weekend birds: First pewee on Saturday, May 24. First red-eyed vireos Monday, May 26. Didn’t get out to look for more warblers, so I might have missed some this year.

79 birds

Thought I’d do a county “big day” of birding yesterday. The “big day” is kind of a birding tradition, like the “Big Year” depicted in a book and a movie with Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson playing a trio of hardcore birders. The book’s better, but the movie’s kinda fun too.

I’ve only done a county big day once before, back in the 1980s in Dakota County with John Soshnik. Our 80-some birds was a record for a short time, probably because no one had ever tried it before. Last summer, as I got back into birding after many years, I did a big day on my property and got 57 birds. I may try to top that next weekend, since it seems like the cold weather has pushed back the peak of the migration a bit. Up at Mille Lacs, it looks more like mid-April than mid-May, with almost no leaves on the trees.

My 79 yesterday was no more impressive a feat, but I had fun anyway. Got to 51 here at home by about 11 a.m., then drove up to Mille Lacs Lake and back and got to 75. Picked up four more back here, but couldn’t quite get to 80. A drive through the country in the evening probably would’ve done it, since I missed some easy ones, but I wasn’t taking it that seriously.

The highlights were a blue-gray gnatcatcher, a northern waterthrush, and a couple new warblers for the year — magnolia and Wilson’s. What I missed was more remarkable that the ones I got: great blue heron, red tailed hawk, Brewer’s blackbird, eastern bluebird (nearly nonexistent around here the last two years), wood duck, great crested flycatcher, and the two vireos I saw last week (solitary and yellow-throated).

The oddest thing was getting stumped by a duck, which is hard to do since they’re fairly distinct. It was a diver on Mille Lacs, and I had the spotting scope on it for a good long time, but I couldn’t figure it out. Had a black or possibly reddish head, with a bill that sloped straight down from the forehead like a canvasback, but the profile of the head was all wrong, as were the colors on the back. It was mostly dark gray on the back, with some streaks of white.

All I can figure is that it was a hybrid of some sort.

I was looking at it so long with the radio on that I killed my battery and had to go to the gas station across the highway for a jump.

Enough of this. I’m heading back out this morning. My wife will not approve if I bird all day again, so I better put some time in while she’s still sleeping.


Minnesota bayou

Spent a few hours paddling my little sit-on-top kayak from Bogus Brook Township Hall to Princeton on Saturday. The river is pretty high so it was a quick trip down to Highway 13. From there, it got interesting. Basically the rest of the way was a flooded silver maple forest, many square miles of it, with the river over the banks and taking shortcuts across the oxbows. At one point I nearly got stuck behind a log jam and was wondering how I’d get over, but I found a way. I took a few shortcuts through the forest, which was pretty cool, with some giant trees. Scared a Canada goose off a nest on the roots of a fallen tree, a nice protected island about four feet above the waterline. Lots of hooded mergansers, sandpipers, and kingfishers. Also saw a garter snake swimming in the middle of the river. Stopped for a sandwich on a high point in the forest that was covered with anemones, trout lilies, and spring beauties.


Morning birds

Spent a couple hours birding this morning. Here’s my list:

White-throated sparrow, sandhill crane, song sparrow, harris’ sparrow, american robin, brewer’s blackbird, white-crowned sparrow, red-winged blackbird, American kestrel, savannah sparrow, brown-headed cowbird, unknown flycatcher, clay-colored sparrow, tree swallow, blue jay, yellow-rumped warbler, palm warbler, Swainson’s thrush, rose-breasted grosbeak, grey catbird, ring-necked pheasant, black-and-white warbler, American goldfinch, red-bellied woodpecker, black-capped chickadee, solitary vireo, solitary sandpiper, yellow warbler, ruby-crowned kinglet, hooded merganser, canada goose, barn swallow, common yellowthroat, eastern phoebe, baltimore oriole, wood thrush, sora, yellow-shafted flicker, chipping sparrow, mourning dove.

Forty birds. Not bad. Could easily be 50 with a few more easy ones.

The best surprises were the solitary vireo and the sora. I’ve heard soras many times but have only seen them a few. This one was walking and swimming in a flooded marsh by the township road, and I was really close and got a great look through the binoculars.

The other surprise was not a bird. I was in the woods by the river when I saw a rock in a flooded area, or what looked like a rock, but not quite like a rock. Too regularly shaped, probably, about 14 inches by 10 inches, oval. So I trained the binoculars on it and noticed an interesting pattern on the rock, and sticking out from the front was a snout, and slits for eyes, and a heavy paw with long curved claws, and out the back was a dinosaur tail. It was perfectly still, and I wondered if it might be dead, but when Lucy approached, it moved ever so slowly backwards about an inch.

I’ve seen a lot of snappers, but always on dry land when they’re laying eggs or crossing roads. It was fun to see one up close in its natural habitat.

Update: A few more as I canoed from Bogus Brook Town Hall to Princeton: eastern bluebird, mallard, wood duck, blue-winged teal, American crow, red-tailed hawk, belted kingfisher, white-breasted nuthatch, unknown accipiter (Cooper’s or sharp-shinned), cliff swallow, unknown swallow (bank or rough-winged).

Nurses’ Week — Kind of a big deal

May 6-12 is National Nurses (Nurse’s, Nurses’) Week, and I want to take this opportunity to brag on my favorite nurse (nurse midwife, nurse practitioner) Diane Bond Larson.

It took her a while between starting college as a nursing major in 1981 and becoming an LPN in 1996, but in the meantime, she had a lot of adventures chasing birds around the world.

After our daughter Cedar spent her first six weeks in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in 1995, Diane decided she wanted to be an OB nurse, so she first became a janitor at a hospital (with an MA in zoology), then a medical assistant, then an LPN, then an RN, reaching her goal of working in an OB unit.

She wasn’t satisfied with that, though, so she enrolled in a program to become a certified nurse midwife. After a year delivering babies in New Zealand, she came home to work in St. Cloud and got another certification to be a women’s health care nurse practitioner.

Some of our friends, family, and acquaintances don’t realize what a big deal Diane is. Being a nurse practitioner puts her at the same level professionally as a physician assistant, which means she sees patients (but unlike a PA, with no supervision by a doctor), diagnoses problems (especially those of women’s nether regions), prescribes medication, makes more money than I ever will, and basically fills the role of a primary care physician for hundreds of women in the St. Cloud region.

In other words, she’s kind of a big deal. More importantly, like millions of nurses at varying levels of certification and expertise, she has devoted her life to taking care of people, and she does it with humility, empathy, professionalism, and love.

I’ve known for a long time now that the best decision I ever made was to marry a woman with the compassion, good sense, ambition, and work ethic to become a nurse.

So follow my lead this week and give a heartfelt thanks to YOUR favorite nurse.

Finals week musings

The sandhill cranes woke me up this morning. It’s wrong to be unhappy when that happens, but it’s never stopped me before.

Actually I’m feeling fairly upbeat for a 51-year-old who is back in school with no idea what he’s going to do with the rest of his life. It’s finals week at St. Cloud State, and I’m finishing my first semester since returning for my license to teach K-12 English as a Second Language. Not sure if it was the right thing to do, but I had few options after quitting my job and not finding a new one. I was under the impression that my unique talents would be in high demand. Not the first time (or the last, I’m sure) that I overestimated my value on the job market.

I’ve spent about 15 hours a week tutoring international students, and Fridays with Somali kids — elementary in the morning and high school in the afternoon. I’m not at all certain if I can handle life as an ESL teacher for the next 15 or so years, but as I said, my options are limited — especially with one kid in college and one soon to start. I’d love to retire early and spend my days with goats and chickens and guitars and books, but I have to make money.

Fortunately, children and animals keep me too busy to think much about where I’m heading in life.

Leif went to prom on Saturday. He and his date, Bailey, looked sharp and had fun. The kids rode buses to an events center in Annandale, got back at 2 a.m., then drove to Perkins in Elk River. Leif rolled in just before the cranes started trumpeting.


(Why Annandale? I have no idea, but compared to Milaca, it must be … something else.)

I drove down to Chicago Sunday to get a load of Cedar’s stuff. It’s finals week for her, too. Left at 10 a.m. and got there at 5:30. Loaded up some stuff and went to supper at the Chicago Diner, a vegan place on North Halsted. I got a seitan Reuben and a beer, and Cedar got chick-un fried steak with a vegan shake. Came back to the car, which had a $75 parking ticket on the window. Then it was back to campus to load up, and back on the road at dark.

I was planning on going to Beaver Dam to see if I could find out anything at the paper or the courthouse about my grandfather’s death in a car accident in 1936. He was killed when my dad was 10. My grandma was driving. Dad told me later that after his father’s death, no one ever talked to him about it. Swedes, don’tcha know.

I got to town at 11 but didn’t want to get a hotel room because of the parking ticket. So I changed plans and drove back to 94, pulled off at a rest stop and made a bed on top of Cedar’s stuff. Slept from 2 to 6 and drove home.

Did some more work on my new chicken/goat condo. It’s 6×4 and about 8 feet high, with room for goats on the bottom and chickens on top. I’m building it onto the west side of the barn so I can tear down the old coop on the north side and build a 12×32 addition later this summer, once the broiler chicks are off to market.

After Diane got home we were saddling up the horses when Melvin and Gertie, our new Amish neighbors, drove up in an open-topped buggy pulled by their sorrel pony Holly. We had a nice visit. Told them we’d seen all their visitors on Sunday, and they told us they had church at their place.

Diane and I were on a walk Sunday morning and saw four buggies drive by. We were watching birds, so we had our binoculars, which we used to spy on the Amish across the hay field. There were about eight men in black clothes and black hats standing shoulder-to-shoulder in front of the white pole barn, facing east.

I didn’t ask Melvin and Gertie if they knew anyone who would want to butcher my chickens for me. That’s a question for another day.

Melvin told us about investigating the lake that’s formed on the north side of our property due to a blocked culvert. He brought in a friend with a track hoe and tried to dig it out, which caused the road to collapse on both sides. Now there’s just one lane down the middle. The township supervisor had to come up and put warning barriers on the sides.

Melvin said where they come from, down by Rochester, the culverts are all maintained. “Everything works,” he said.

Welcome to Mille Lacs County.

Soon it will be the peak of the bird migration, and I hope to have time for a full day of birding on my property. Maybe I’ll top the 57 one-day list I had last May.

On Saturday I’m going to pack up my canoe and put in at the swimming hole. It should take me three or four days to get to the Mississippi in Anoka. I’ll have plenty of time to think about where I’m not going and how not to get there.

As for where I’m going, I have no idea.