Beginning Birders Tour at MIWR
By Betty Salter, MINWR Volunteer and FBMN Citizen Scientist
What a lovely day! Cary and I always do a scouting trip before our tours, so we often see things that have moved on by the time the tour begins. We got to Black Point about 7:30 a.m. and the views were awesme. the sky was filled with pink and purple clouds, watching spoonbills fly between us and those clouds was wonderful!!!! Early morning on the refuge is incredible. One species we saw early, but did not see on the tour was the Black-crowned Night Heron.
Now let me tell you about our tour... We managed to get all 9 members of the group into the van and started off. Our first sighting as we headed diredtly to SR3 for the scrubjays was a red-shouldered hawk which flew across the road in front of the van to land in a small oak tree well lit by the rising sun. It was a beautiful sight and everyone with us got great looks at it. "Oh Wow!!!!" We saw the usual kingfishers, kestrels, grackles and assorted vultures as we headed on toward the scrub areas of SR 3. Before we reached Wilson Corner I spootted our first jay so we stopped. As soon as we stopped another scrub jay popped up just across the road from the van. Cary talked about the scrub jays of MINWR giving lots of facts. Several folks who had small digital cameras crossed the road with me and got some excellent pictures of the jay who was most cooperative. Really good start to the tour!
This group was comprised of true beginners mostly. Before we even started out Cary went over with them how to calibrate the loaner binoculars 4 of them were using. After the tour I reviewed with most of the group the field guides available at the VIC Book Store. When I am asked about field guides, I point to my favorite, then Cary's favorite and then I go on to others and explain why some folks prefer them. Cary and I always carry two or three field guides with us.
There weren't many birds at the beginning of the wildlife drive. It seems that one of the adult eagles that has been using the nest seen from the beginning of the drive is no longer with us. I do hope that the remaining one of the pair finds a new mate and comes back to the same nest next year.
That wonderful area just past Stop 2 where all the ducks like to come was still wonderful when we got there. A group of Avocets and Hooded Mergansers were the most entertaining. Here the group got to watch their first reddish egret feeding. The egrets and herons are very busy right now preparing for breeding. Some of the Great Egrets were showing the beginnings of their fancy plumage though the lores had not yet taken on that lovely green yet.
As we went through the drive we spent a lot of time talking about behaviors and plumage. We saw Reddish Egret feeding in several areas and the group began to recognize them by their behavior even without using optics to confirm fieldmarks.
At Stop 7 there was a nice assortment of gulls including a good many Herring and Black-backed gulls. Here we saw a good number of Caspian Terns as well. Those who were not looking through the spotting scopes at the birds were looking at the butterflies that seemed to gather there just for us. This was the second time I have seen a Red Admiral butterfly at this location. Even Cary stopped to take a good look at this lovely individual. OK so this is a birding tour, I won't go on about the butterflies.
We didn't get any rails on this tour. I am still looking for our clappers. Perhaps I am off on when they should be here. We did get Wilson's Snipe on the mud flats there the grass was burned of last summer...between stop 10 and 11. Some folks couldn't find them so I stepped out of the vaqn and clapped my hands... a half dozen or so that had been near the van took flight. This was another oooh moment.
When we got to the eagles nest after stop 11 another volunteer was doing the eagle watch. We added our scopes to the one he had set up. Only one eaglet has been seen at a time. Carlie said if anyone sees more than one baby at a time let me know. One person said I see a baby on the right side of the nest as another said I see a baby in the middle. Now I am fairly certain there are two young in the nest. The adults were active flying in and out of the nest tree.
The tour started out well and ended even better!