Late spring was “big” for grassland songbirds near the Polk-Marshall County line. I’ve never seen - and heard - so many Bobolinks and Dickcissels.

    Late spring was “big” for grassland songbirds near the Polk-Marshall County line.  I’ve never seen - and heard - so many Bobolinks and Dickcissels.  The roadside ditches and power lines were also full of Savannah Sparrows and Clay-colored Sparrows singing their buzzy, insect-like songs, along with the bubbling warbles of Western Meadowlarks and rhythmic cadence of Common Yellowthroats.    
 

   My focus abruptly changed when I spotted an Upland Sandpiper a couple of weeks ago.   Seeing that bird sparked my curiosity.  What was this shorebird, or any shorebird for that matter, doing here in a part of Minnesota not noted for the scenic shorelines associated wooded lakes and beaches?

    I seldom see shorebirds this time of year – other than the ubiquitous Killdeer doing their “broken-wing distraction” charades. I know shorebirds are out there, but I don’t go out of my way to look for them.

    But I wanted to know.   Was this sandpiper nesting here, or just passing through?  

    The Upland Sandpiper winters in the grasslands of Argentina and nests primarily in the grasslands of the Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas, but also in Alaska and the northeastern states .   According to the Minnesota Ornithologist’s Union, they arrive in the Red River Valley mid-April to late May.   Fall migration can start as early as July – but most of these birds are on their way south by the end of August.  

    So it’s possible that this Upland Sandpiper might be nesting here.  But I don’t think so.

    I say that because I’ve been out doing bird counts almost every day for over a month, and I haven’t once heard the Upland Sandpiper’s signature call – a throaty chatter followed by a loud “wolf” whistle.  Those who’ve heard it say “there’s nothing like it in nature.”  Like the howl of wolves and yodel of loons, it’s an unforgettable sound of the wild.

    Why don’t I see shorebirds in my neighborhood?   Who do we get, and where can I see them?    I found the answers in “A Birder’s Guide to Minnesota” by R. Kim Eckert.  He recommends a visit to the sanitation ponds (a.k.a. the lagoons) west of Warren.

    I knew the location and headed over to City Hall first, to get permission to drive up on the dike.  I was not disappointed.   The lagoons were packed with birds.  Ducks, geese and terns.   Plovers, sandpipers and phalaropes.

    Some are relatively easy to identify:  Wood Ducks, Canada Geese and Black Terns.  Killdeer, Lesser Yellowlegs and Wilson’s Phalaropes.  

    The others, I still have to stop and spend time trying to figure them out:  the godwits, the “peeps” and those medium-sized (8-10”) sandpipers.

    But I’m getting there – with the help of a bird checklist (yes, there’s an “app” for that at eBird.org), a field identification guide (Kaufman’s Field Guide to the Birds of North America) and my camera.  

    If you’d like to see, photograph and/or learn how to identify local shorebirds, Agassiz Audubon is leading tours in July and August.  Call 218-745-5663 for more information.

    Check out the Agassiz Audubon facebook page to see who’s been spotted in Northwestern Minnesota, and call (9am-5pm) if you have questions about birds and other wildlife.  If you have time to volunteer – Agassiz Audubon could use your help to maintain the NW Minnesota Pollinator Garden.