Monday, October 08, 2007

Inland sea birding, part 2

After we exited the LL Smith (which now I realize I left my insulated Caribou Coffee cup aboard...sigh...), our first objective was to go get lunch somewhere...somewhere WARM. Steve, a birder from the Twin Cities whom I had met on the Pine County Christmas Bird Count last year, joined us for lunch at Grandma's, a Duluth fixture. Lynne and I shamelessly gobbled down cups of wild rice soup...we needed to warm ourselves up!...and then had some excellent sandwiches.

After lunch, we decided to drive down Minnesota Avenue, across the famous Aerial Lift Bridge, to Park Point (aka Minnesota Point). There are many good places to view birds there, both on the harbor side and the lake side.

On the harbor side, we first pulled over when we saw a few birders with spotting scopes. This had to be good. We encountered a flock of 200+ diving ducks, including Greater Scaup, Surf Scoter, Black Scoter, redheads, American Black Ducks, Common Goldeneyes, and a few others. My interest in birding was revived my senior year in college when my Vertebrate Zoology professor took our class on a field trip to a small lake which at that particular time held a great diversity of ducks. It was a magic afternoon, and I felt some of that same excitement as I scanned the flock in the harbor. Both Scoters were lifers for me.

We pulled over a few blocks later when we saw a group of birders with spotting scopes looking at...a couple of specks out in the harbor. Kim Eckert, master birder of the area, said that there was a probable Barrow's Goldeneye they were checking out. That would be a rare species here. I saw it flying, but I can't say as I could tell it from the Common Goldeneye it was flying with, so I won' t claim a lifetime sighting for it today.

We drove on to the end of the point, parked, and walked along the beach on the lake side, where we observed a flock of little shorebirds, which we would find out later were sanderlings and dunlins. Then we relocated our trip leader, Mike Hendrickson, in front of the public beach house (closed for the season) at Park Point, scanning the turbulent water for birds. He had heard reports of a Sabine's gull, a rarity in the area, so he was looking for it.

There was a loose flock of ring billed gulls working the beach, so any one of the flying or walking white feathered things could be the unusual creature. But, after a few minutes of active looking, I had the quintessential novice (who you calling a novice? I Id'd a painted bunting when I was 5!) birder's moment. I, looking with my 8x binoculars, asked, "What's that darker backed, smaller gull out there? On the beach!" For a few perplexed moments, a few birders with spotting scopes tried to figure out what I was talking about. Then the joyous call: "Sabine's Gull!" It was sitting there, oddly enough, in a footprint in the sand. I wonder how long it had been there. You'd think we had struck gold. The Sabine's is a rarity around here, and to see their underwing markings in flight is a precious experience. I had unwittingly pointed out a highlight of the day for more than one birder.

Ah, the wonder of it all. Just when you think you've seen everything, you see the unexpected if you look just a bit closer. That, I think, is why I love watching birds. There is always something new, something unexpected, and something to learn.

I still have a lot to learn, but I thoroughly enjoyed spending the day with another birder, Lynne, who also feels she has a lot to learn. Wouldn't it be boring if we knew everything, could ID every bird at 500 yards, if everything was predictable? The great joy of this trip was, nothing, including the weather, was predictable, it just happened. When the big waves hit, I was scared, but thinking back on it, when was the last time I was at the mercy of Nature? I have a hard time describing how this made me feel; excited, to say the least. Alive. More alive than in a long time.


Anonymous said...

What a great shot of Lake Superior! Thank you for posting it - I can almost feel the wind on my face... I think I liked being out there most when the weather was blustery & the Lake was 'wild'!
Carla in ID

Thunder Dave said...

Nice photos, but it certainly looks cold!

I also wanted to let you know I've been watching "The War". My Grand Father was in WWI (2 Purple Hearts), my Uncles in WWII, my Father and Father-in-law in Korea, my cousins and several friends in Vietnam, and now our Son, a nephew, and a cousin in Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan (sp?). I can't turn away either!

RuthieJ said...

Hi Deb,
Wow, those waves on Lake Superior look serious. I've often wondered what it must be like when there's big waves along the North Shore.

I've seen the listing of the Sabine's Gull on the weekly MOU rare bird e-mail I receive. How cool that you and Lynne were able to see it in person!

Anonymous said...

A Sabine's Gull sitting on the cool is that?!! You and Lynne had a great adventure. I think adventures, especially heart-pumping adventures are good for what ails you. As I told Lynne, I think the two of you are kindred spirits. I hope you have many more adventures together!


Deb said...

Carla- I'd love to take a day or two off work and just let the wind and the waves hit me...

Thunder Dave- That was a good series, with excellent music as usual. My father in law went through more that I can ever imagine...he has never wanted to talk about it, and probably never will. But I thank him.

RuthieJ- I am very much a "gulls are gulls" person. But just seeing that one, knowing it was different...that was special!

Cindy- it was way cool. And Lynne and I get along so well it almost scares me! She's already said she's coming up for the Christmas bird count in my

Jim said...

Wonderful adventures, great birding, and there's nothing like a scare on a rough sea to enhace ones appreciation of life, warm fires, and good beer.


Deb said...

Jim- The first things I wanted to do when I got home were: drink a home brewed Porter, warm up in front of the wood stove, and crawl under the down comforter. In that order. But I am still reeling from how I see my life somewhat differently...a little adventure is good for the soul. :)

pablo said...

Um, I saw a kingfisher at a local lake recently.

Lynne said...

Deb- you hit the nail right on the head- a little adventure IS good for the soul. That will be an adventure I'll NEVER forget. Thank you- thank you for inviting me.
(I do think we make a good team and good friends too!)

Floridacracker said...

Sheer bird joy ripples through this post.
What a fine day and sounds like your company was excellent. I love big seas ... so exhilarating!

It is adventure that reminds us we are alive.
I'm catching up, but I like your idea of the supportive/goals post.

Deb said...

Pablo- a kingfisher was one of the day's sightings that I did not report. I think kingfishers are cool birds.

Lynne- I consider you to be a very good friend, especially after this weekend's adventure. Here's to many more adventures together!

FC- Good to see you checking in. Yes, the day was adventurous enough, and filled with the novelty of new birds, that I did feel very much alive. I've only gotten to know the local birding community recently, through the Christmas Bird Count and this trip, and I have to say, they are some of the nicest people I've met.

The kids want to go Halloween costume shopping on Saturday, and I'm thinking of making it contingent on them driving out to Park Point with me for a quick look. Fair enough.

Larry said...

When it comes to ducks,it sounds like this lake really is superior!
Nice to hear that you and Lynne are making a great birders in training team!