Thursday, 13 November 2014

Birding in Minneapolis - day 2!

On the second day of our holiday, Chris's conference started and I was up super early to go and meet up with Bob, who I'd arranged to go birding with via BirdingPal. BirdingPal is a great website that enables you to get in touch with local birders in locations all over the world, so that you can meet up on your travels and make the most of birding opportunities thanks to their local knowledge. Bob picked me up outside our hotel at 7am and we headed off to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, in Bloomington near MSP airport and the Mall of America. The sun had just risen as we arrived and there was a bit of frost on the ground.

Just after dawn from the viewpoint over the reeds.
Here is a map I picked up of the area! We parked at the Old Cedar Avenue car park and set off south down the trail and then along a boardwalk through the reeds to the viewpoint.

Map of Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Long Meadow Lake unit.
As well as myself and Bob, Bob's border collie Buddy also came along - he was ace, kind of like a friendly and placid rug, no bother at all to the birds. En route to the viewpoint we saw a Great Blue Heron, and from the viewpoint we saw plenty of Pintail, Shoveler, Greater Scaup and Trumpeter Swan. There was a moment of excitement when an American Crow chased a Peregrine right past us over the reeds!

Great Blue Heron.
We then walked back up to drop Buddy off in the car for a sleep on his comfy bed, and headed in the other direction for a longer walk towards the Bass Ponds. The weather was chilly and there was a brief flurry of sleet but it didn't last. We saw plenty of Green-winged Teal on Long Meadow Lake when we walked under Highway 77. There was also a fair bit of awesome raptor action! We saw a few Red-tailed Hawks and Northern Harriers, at one point one of each in a chase - great to see them alongside each other to compare. We'd bumped into a couple of birders too who said there were some Rough-legged Hawks around, and indeed one flew over us soon enough - it was a dark phase bird, and was indeed incredibly dark! Finally we also had great views of a few mighty Bald Eagles. Bob works for a security company which as well as providing security systems for the Walker Art Centre (which I'd visited the previous day), also provided a camera for this Bald Eagle nestcam in Minneapolis! I'm going to enjoy checking in on that over winter and spring; the eagles have been visiting occasionally in recent weeks to add new grass to the nest, and breeding should commence in January!

Bass Ponds.

Bass Ponds.
Further along on our walk we encountered a big flock of sparrows. Argh! I am very confused by American sparrows! The checklist I picked up back at the car park helped narrow it down somewhat; there were definitely lots of American Tree Sparrows in there. But with them flitting in and out of thick scrub, we weren't able to ID them all! Also in the flock were a few American Goldfinches, Black-capped Chickadees and a female Northern Cardinal. A little further on we got SUPER CLOSE to a Downy Woodpecker which was clambering about in some branches next to the path. I also saw a quick glimpse of bright red fleeing rapidly down the trail ahead - my first view of a male Northern Cardinal, but I was soon to get much better views. I also got a bit overexcited when I saw this next to the path!

A Beaver was here!
Bob remained chilled - pretty much his general demeanour most of the time (although not when talking about hunting - he is not a fan. No disagreement from me there) and pointed out a Beaver lodge too on our way back to the car.

Beaver lodge! (Probably not really visible unless you view full size).
Our next stop was the visitor centre (inset A on the map)....from the car on the way there I saw my first Wild Turkey, just strolling along the grass at the roadside! The visitor centre had great big windows at the back looking out onto a well-stocked feeding station, and here there were great views to be had of Black-capped Chickadees, House Finches, White-breasted Nuthatches, Dark-eyed Juncos, Downy, Hairy and Red-breasted Woodpeckers, the ubiquitous House Sparrows and best of all, Northern Cardinals! These were another of my favourite birds that I saw during my trip, who can resist their jaunty red charms!

We still had a bit of time before Bob had to get to work in the afternoon, so next we drove to the Chain of Lakes in western Minneapolis. We checked out Lakes Harriet and Calhoun and Lake of the Isles; there were plenty of American Coots about, the usual Canada Geese and Mallards, and I saw my first Pied-billed Grebes. I had been thinking of visiting these lakes at some point during my trip but wasn't sure if I'd have time, plus I could only have got to them by bus, so it was great to be taken there - Bob was very generous with his time and knowledge, I saw a lot more of Minneapolis than I thought I'd be able to in the time we had there! The areas around the lakes are pretty swanky and it was fun to look at all the fancy houses and neighbourhoods.

Lake Calhoun with downtown Minnepolis in the distance.
Finally we drove back to downtown Minnepolis and Bob dropped me off at the hotel. I had a great morning with him and Buddy, they were superb Birding Pals! He even gave me his old fourth edition copy of the National Geographic Birds of North America field guide - mine was only the second edition and he'd recently updated to the newest version.

I didn't do any more birding that day, but in the afternoon I visited the Bell Natural History Museum which was also great. Here are a few of the things I saw there!

Outside the Bell Museum of Natural History.

I folded a Passenger Pigeon. See for more info!

The museum is famous for its dioramas of North American wildlife. This was one of my favourites.....the Ground Squirrel has escaped the Golden Eagle's clutches!

My favourite fact that I learnt at the museum is at the end of the second paragraph.

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