Thursday, May 31, 2007
Birding Mille Lacs
Mille Lacs (pronounced muh-LAX), lying near the geographic center of the state, is Minnesota's second largest lake, with an area of 132,000 acres, or about 200 square miles. It is probably the best-known fishing destination in Minnesota, and could probably earn the title of "Walleye Capital of the World". Walleyes are king here in MN.
To get to my meetings yesterday and today, I could not help but drive around the shores of this lake that touches the horizon. And, when my meeting was over at noon today, I wasn't in a great hurry to get back to the office. So I grabbed a chicken caesar wrap and unsweetened iced tea from a convenience store, and headed for the lake. I was not after walleyes; my lunch hour was dedicated to birds. I found the perfect wayside rest, where I could park under a tree next to the lake and watch gulls on the dock pictured above.
The gulls looked all the same to me at first, typical ring billed gulls, but after a while I began to notice other mostly white birds among the flock. There were the Forster's terns, hanging out on the end of the dock in their own group. Then there was this guy.
I don't know, I think it's an immature Bonaparte's gull, which would be likely around here, but frankly, my shorebird expertise is quite limited due to lack of experience. It's a smallish gull, with gray patches behind its eyes, and some grayish and even brownish feathers on the wings and rump. Legs were light, I think pinkish, but I'm not sure. I didn't have my good binoculars.
What the picture does not show, however, is that this particular gull had a green fishing jig stuck in its bill. I often wonder just how much lost fishing tackle is out there, and what effect it has on water birds. I heard of one case last fall where loons died of lead poisoning on one lake, from ingesting lead shot and/or fishing lures. Fishing tackle manufacturers, and anglers, seem reluctant to try non-lead alternatives, but I think this is a problem that needs much more attention. This gull seemed healthy, and I hope the problem will resolve itself.
Then my attention was captured by shorebirds. My lack of expertise at gull identification is second only to my lack of expertise at shorebirds. However, this one was distinctive enough for me to positively ID it as a ruddy turnstone. A lifer for me!!! There were a few other little brown peeps among the turnstones, which I have no clue about, other than they were not spotted sandpipers.
I finally reluctantly ended my lunch break. I had two choices in my route to the office: I could go around the south and west sides of the lake, past the condos and casino with all its traffic, or I could go around the north end, with its quaint cabins and older resorts, a slightly longer route. Guess which one I chose.
I stopped at a little beach, which is a publicly-owned Aquatic Management Area. I couldn't help myself. Even though I had exceeded my allotted half hour lunch break, there were more birds to be found. Like Caspian terns, the largest, most flamboyant terns, and the flock of long billed birds pictured above. Yes, like all of my bird pictures taken at 14x digital zoom, it's not too good. It actually looks better at less than full size.
I looked and debated for a full twenty minutes between long billed and short billed dowitchers and marbled godwits, before I finally looked at the legs (dark), size (fairly large), and general gut feeling. Marbled godwits. Ding-ding, another lifer!
I'm so glad I took the time to look at shorebirds instead of speeding by to get back to the office and sit indoors. Nobody was even there to miss me.