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'Painted Desert' area of Imperial NWR

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A couple of wildlife firsts for me today

Rachel and I were on the road early again today to survey the Wauboose Lake block for the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas.  It sure is nice to have a second pair of eyes and ears along, as well as someone to do the recording and opening of gates.  I’m getting spoiled.  Since Rachel’s boss is on vacation this week, I’ve been able to have her help me each day.

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As we began the Egg Lake Trail, my usual place to see an eagle didn’t disappoint.  We actually saw two adult eagles, and three other eagles that were at least two years old, but not old enough to breed yet.  When I first took an interest in birds, over three decades ago, the bald eagle was on the brink of extinction.  To see one in the wild at that time was a most rare and exciting occurrence.  Today, we saw at least ten eagles, and it made my heart sing to see this species now holding it’s own and off of the endangered species list.

IMG_3412 IMG_8971As we stopped to listen for birds at one point, I found the first Indian Paintbrush bloom of the season.  It was just glowing in a beam of sunlight.

Then we rounded a corner down one of the trail roads, and a black bear was in the middle of the grassy road.  I can tell you that this black bear was as surprised to see us as we were to see him.  (Since there were no cubs in tow, I assume it was a male.)  He literally spun around and high tailed it for the woods before either of us could get a camera up for a shot.  Seeing a black bear in the wild is a first for me in Minnesota.

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We turned down the lane to the Big Egg Lake access, but were stopped by this curmudgeon in the middle of the track.  No way did we want to run over this big snapping turtle or mess with it.  We got out and walked the rest of the way to the lake.  Lots of turtles are on the move right now to lay their eggs.  Most of the nests are dug up by raccoons, but enough survive to carry on.  If it were a painted turtle, we would have picked it up and moved it, but snappers are another thing altogether.  Best to leave them alone, and that’s just what we did after a few pictures.

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One of the birds we confirmed as breeding today in this block was the red-eyed vireo.  Rachel caught a good view of a female gathering little strips of white birch bark to build her nest.  Check that one off!

Some of the trails we were on today hadn’t been driven on in a long time, so I had to go slowly since the grass was so high and we couldn’t see any hazards.  We came across two different ruffed grouse today in our journey.  The first one, a female, was taking a dust bath in the middle of the trail in a sandy depression.  The second one was a male that I watched strutting around with its tail up and cheek pouches extended in full display.  I’ve never observed either of those behaviors.  I usually only see grouse blasting away through the forest at my approach.

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Our next confirmation occurred when I slammed on the brakes as a bird crossed in front of us.  It was a male rose-breasted grosbeak that wasn’t singing, but appeared to be on patrol.  After waiting a few minutes, I spotted the female as she moved about collecting small twigs to build her nest.  Another one checked off!

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And last, but not least, today, a broad-winged hawk flew through the forest in front of us.  We couldn’t confirm breeding of this smallest buteo, but it was great to see it.  It’s a forest dwelling raptor that finds prey under the treed canopy.  The only other time I’ve seen this hawk is high up in the skies during migration. 

It was a truly outstanding wildlife day for both of us until Rachel couldn’t find the refuge camera that had been loaned to her to use.  We tore the truck apart looking for it, and checked the only areas along the trails where it could have fallen out of the truck, to no avail.  Being young, Rachel was in tears over it’s loss.  She is a very responsible young person, and was quite devastated by its disappearance.  With all the searching we did, I can’t imagine where it could be.  I think it is just one of those frustrating bumps in life.  Best to not dwell on it too long.  Move on young woman! 

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                                                                               THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy