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.