Chapter 2.  Southwestern Manitoba

© Bert & Shari Frenz, 2005 All rights reserved.

Day 2 – May 22 – Melita

(Bert) Strong westerly winds buffet our RV’s as we head north to the border. They are but a remnant of the gale that plummeted us last night while we slept. The winds have blown away the clouds and the sky is powder blue at the horizon, deepening above. The border check is brief, the guard’s most keen interest being whether we are bringing any excess alcohol into Canada. A few miles into Manitoba, we stop at Turtle Mountain Provincial Park and circle our caravan in a large parking lot near the lake. The long-sleeve shirt weather and the refreshingly light breeze are superb for a hike in the woods beside the lake. The songs of Yellow Warblers surround us, much easier heard then the songsters are seen. Red-necked Grebes swim and dive in pairs. They stick up their head feathers like exaggerated eyebrows and parade on water like miniature dark swans. Along the footpath, a hen mallard erupts from the woods, bursting through the trees and heading to the lake. What interested the duck in the woods? I inspect the spot from which it arose, but find nothing. Bruce searches a larger area and finds a nest: a mere circle of dried leaves centered by a single sparsely speckled white egg. camera.GIF (1399 bytes) We drive to another part of the park where birdlife is more active on the lake and Forster’s Terns feed and a couple American White Pelicans soar, these in the height of breeding plumage with distinct rhinoceros-like protuberances on their pumpkin-colored bills. Later, along an open farmfield we stop for bluebirds, but also see Clay-colored Sparrows close beside the road and far in the field Jim points out skylarking Bobolinks. We break for lunch and then continue our travels to Melita, where we park for the evening. Around a campfire I talk about the grasslands of southwestern Manitoba and the Baird’s Sparrow we might find here tomorrow if we are lucky.

(Shari) Ah-oh! We are stuck nearly up to our front axle. I knew it was going to happen but my brain could not process the information fast enough to verbalize my concerns to Bert. I was thinking to myself that this end of the road looks a little soft but did not get it out of my mouth. We are in Turtle Mountain Provincial Park, our first stop en route to Melita. Everything was going so good too. The border crossing was a piece of cake and the guard only asked a few questions and wanted to look at our two liquor bottles before telling us to have a good trip and waving us on our way. We are traveling as a convoy this first day because of the border and because of the in-route birding stop. The rain last night has softened the gravel parking lot. After telling the rest of the caravan over the CB our situation and advising those that if they haven’t already past the entrance, to use the other parking lot, we get out of R-TENT-III (my nickname for our 41-ft. Dutch Star motorhome). Bert unhooks the car and decides maybe by backing up we can get out of the predicament. Good plan, because it works. I stay with the vehicles and most of the group goes birding for 3 or so hours before we again depart to our campground for the night. This part of Manitoba is flat as a pancake with farms sprinkled here and there. We make good time in spite of the ferocious westerly wind, arriving in Melita just in time for a campfire talk and hot dogs roasted on the grill. In spite of the wind, the day is gorgeous. After dinner Bert tries to get our satellite working, but to no avail, even after two calls to Ground Control. We are told to widen the search and let it go all night. It is almost midnight now and its pulsing sound above the bed makes it near impossible to sleep. It has been at its search for two hours and to me it seems hopeless.

Day 3 – May 23 – Melita

(Bert) Our procession of cars and trucks heads to the southwest corner of Manitoba, only a few miles from the U.S. to the south and Saskatchewan to the west. We are starting with our hardest challenge – the Baird’s Sparrow. Our guide Greg heard one here last week, so maybe it is still in the area. On the way we are sidetracked, first by a flock of over two dozen Cattle Egrets winging synchronously parallel to the road. These African invaders have barely reached this far north and are rarely seen in Manitoba and then only in small numbers, so this large flock is a surprise. Simultaneously, we see four Wild Turkeys in a field, but upon our watching them, they waddle toward the woods. A male spreads his tail feathers into a large fan, just before it disappears. camera.GIF (1399 bytes) At the suspected Baird’s spot we do not hear the sparrow, but are entertained by Marbled Godwits, Willets, Upland Sandpipers and Wilson’s Phalaropes. I see the godwits and Willets so often at ocean shores that they always seem out of place when I encounter them in the heartland. Strangely, the Upland Sandpipers wander about on the gravel road, behaving quite tame. Our next stop is at a Sharp-tailed Grouse lek. We keep our distance so that we can watch two dozen males perform, puffing high their tails into spiked white pillows, dipping their heads low to the ground and pompously parading to attract females. When they again raise their heads, the golden crown spot shines like a precious jewel. In the opposite field Chestnut-collared Longspurs sing and occasionally one perches on a nearby fence post for all of us to watch through binoculars and spotting scopes. The vibrant colors of its rufous nape and creamy yellow throat seem to bulge out in contrast to the duller wings and back and black belly. What a show-off! High above us we hear another bird, the easy-to-remember song of a Sprague’s Pipit as it circles. Just a black dot in a darkly overcast sky, the pinprick is hard to find. The sound grows louder and the dot enlarges. Now I can see the song only sounds when the pipit glides on stiff wings, then ceases as it beats wings to maintain elevation. Still listening for Baird’s Sparrow, Greg hears Grasshopper instead. I play its song, and it sings too, but doesn’t come close enough for a good view. Back in our vehicles, we round a corner and this time Greg hears a Baird’s from his side of the car. We pile out and then I hear the sparrow too. Soon we all hear the bird, but have yet to find the singer, so I put my iPod on a fence post and back off to the roadway. Curious, the Baird’s Sparrow comes closer, first perching on a tuft of grass long enough for me to focus my spotting scope on its buffy ochre face offset by dark lines. It comes closer and this time I see the prominent necklace of sparse black streaks. Even closer now to the electronic song post, it stays low and walks through the calf-high native grass. We all get excellent views of this rarity. In fact, Greg jokes – probably accurately – that we may have just seen one of the only four Baird’s Sparrows in Manitoba today. What a contrast to 1873 when Elliott Coues found particular spots in mixed grass prairies where Baird’s Sparrows outnumbered other birds altogether! Backtracking from this corner of Manitoba, we stop again when we see a male Northern Harrier performing incredible aerial maneuvers. He swoops downward, then suddenly pulls his wings up and does a back flip, exposing his bright white undersides to the sun. He repeats the tricky maneuver several times and then we see a female harrier nearby, the obvious incentive for his flight dance. It’s only a bit after 9 AM and we already have a good bird list going for the day. We next head to a place where I saw a Ferruginous Hawk last spring. The nest is still there, and through the spotting scope we can see an adult resting in the big pile of branches. These hawks are severely threatened in the Manitoba grasslands, but recent human aids in maintaining stable mesh bases on sturdy tree limbs has dramatically increased their success at rearing young, the prior problem of collapsing nests now solved. More common birds increase our species count so that by lunch break we’ve reached 68. Next we drive miles of country roads in search of a Loggerhead Shrike, eventually seeing two close enough to a potential nest site to consider a pair. Our last stop takes us along the Souris River. We find a Say’s Phoebe near an abandoned farm house, then cross the river and notice that a log jam of fallen trees from the recent windstorm now chokes the river. A slinky dark brown mink bounds between the logs and continues to entertain us for a few brief minutes. We check out one last stop for the day, and return with an impressive list of 90 species identified, and more impressively, among the rare sightings, life birds for all.

(Shari) I always worry about guides showing up as planned. In Mexico, it often happens that the guides never appear, so it is delightful to see the cars gone when I get up this morning. I have a leisurely morning, doing last night’s dishes before settling down with a book. Marlene and Larry come over and ask if I want to go for lunch in town with them. No sooner are we ready to go, when the birders come home. They were close enough to stop for lunch. I join Marlene and Larry anyway but we are soon back also. Nothing is open on this third day of the holiday weekend. Looks like I might finish my book this afternoon. At 4:30 we meet at the campfire for a Manitoba geology lesson and a travel meeting. A few of us stay to talk around the fire before retiring to our rigs for dinner. It has been a very relaxing day and as Marlene mentions to me, a much easier time than running a caravan in Mexico. Boy, she’s got that right.

Day 4 – May 24 – Brandon

(Bert) We burn the candle at both ends today, starting at 4 AM when we head to the Souris River to listen for owls. Our first bird songs, though, are from swallows feeding above us in the darkness. The owls are silent at first – we could have slept in another half-hour! – but then we hear a Great Horned Owl and by sunrise we hear four or five, including a pair that respond to each other, the male with a deeper voice than the female. We do better on mammal sightings than birds this morning, actually amazingly better. In route, in the darkness, our headlights illuminate two raccoons prowling the grassy roadsides, soon succeeded by a fat porcupine waddling across the gravel road. Just across the bridge at Coulter Park we watch a very dark, unmarked, husky weasel-shaped animal slowly running through the lush grass, heading toward a willow thicket. Bill and I rush toward it, but it hides before we get a close-up view. Bill thinks it’s a fisher, and so do I. Neither of my mammal field guides shows fishers in the southwest corner of the province. Within a minute or two, Bruce calls that he sees the mammal again, running from the thicket, across the road and into the grassy field. But this one is different, flatter and with a clumsier waddle. It’s another porcupine and Bruce, Bill and I hastily follow it to a lone spruce in the middle of the field. While Bruce and I fumble with our cameras, the porcupine climbs the tree and our photos show flash-illuminated spruce needles but no porcupine. From here we head back to another bridge over the Souris River, hoping to refind yesterday’s mink. Instead, three White-tailed Deer amble through the nearby grain field. Back at camp, after a leisurely breakfast we take our rigs to the next campsite. Our mammal success continues. I see a Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel and several Richardson’s Ground Squirrels. Bruce and others, who drove separately, later report that they found a coyote and a badger. In the evening we visit a couple of birding sites, ending at Douglas Marsh. There, some see a muskrat and all of us watch two beavers feeding and swimming nearby in the darkness. One of the beavers frightens us periodically by slapping its tail on the water surface and creating a sound loud enough to make we wonder if a kid canon-balled from a high utility pole above the water. But the real reason for visiting the marsh is to find Yellow Rails. The sun has dipped below the horizon before we start our search, but darkness has not set in. Marsh Wrens are in abundance, chattering and fussing and squeaking and squawking in the marsh reeds. Every once and a while one pops up long enough to see the petite bird with the striped back. Red-winged and Yellow-headed blackbirds put out a cacophony of sounds and Soras call out their weird songs, if you can call that noise a song. Finally, when the darkness is deep and only starlight shows the outlines of the marsh I hear a clicking sound. First, I wonder if it is my imagination, but then I hear the distinct patterned repetition “tik-tik tik-tik-tik”, the two three rhythm of small stones clicked together. Now others hear it too, but we have to focus our ears tightly around the subtle sound. After a short sequence, the Yellow Rail goes silent, only to restart again a minute or two later. Betty comes back to report she has heard more rails farther down the road. We move to her spot and at first don’t hear any. Then I hear one across the road and soon another starts up on the first side, then joined by a third. Now we hear clicking all around us. In the darkness, we see none of the players, but it is nonetheless rewarding to hear this elusive rail at its nesting home.

(Shari) A leisurely morning for me, we don’t depart for Brandon until 9:30. We arrive before noon and get settled quickly. Ginny and I, followed by Sally and Hoss, go to the Canadian Superstore, my favorite store in Canada. For Sally and Ginny, I give a quick lesson on how to insert a “loonie” - a one dollar Canadian coin - into the grocery cart lock mechanism, before we enter the huge store. For me, the favorite part of this store is the bin section. Here are rows of containers filled with items that can be bought in bulk. Flours, sugars, candies, cookies, nuts, cereals, soft drink mixes and soup mixes all entice the shopper to fill a plastic bag. I choose to scoop some barley, whole-wheat pasta and lasagna into bags, which I then tie, and mark with a bin number. I like this arrangement because I can buy only six lasagna noodles and not be forced to buy more than I need for one meal. After paying and bagging our groceries, we drive to the liquor store for a wine shock. The cheapest 2-liter box of wine is $28. I can buy almost 4 liters for $10 in some places in the U.S. I return home in time to fix wine and cheese for our social tonight, which we have under the shade of the trees. The weather is perfect again today and I almost hate to pack up for dinner, but Bert has a bird outing scheduled for this evening and people have to get “home” to make supper.

Day 5 – May 25 – Brandon

(Bert) First stop, a local park along the Assiniboine River, the Yellow Warblers are again out in force. This is easily the most common warbler we’ve found and I count a dozen here in a half hour. I see a White-breasted Nuthatch and then 30 ft. away Carl watches it disappear into a nest hole just above a branch of a White Ash. It or its mate leaves and returns several times while we watch. Next we head to the landfill – only birders would include both the sewage treatment plant and the sanitary landfill on their tour of Brandon – and watch gulls gathered at a swallow pond. Most are Franklin’s and Ring-billed, but with my spotting scope I separate out a few California Gulls and one takes flight and circles over our heads, giving us plenty of opportunity to note its differences. On another side of the landfill we walk through a grassy area and scare up a female Blue-winged Teal. In the 8-in. high dry grass we find a nest with 5 eggs. camera.GIF (1399 bytes) Only minutes later a Mourning Dove erupts from a short tree and here too we find its nest in a low notch. camera.GIF (1399 bytes) While driving country roads we find one with a row of birdhouses, almost all occupied by Tree Swallows. By lunchtime we reach Brandon Hills Wildlife Management Area. We start on the 2KM trail, but stop at the entrance when I see a Canada Warbler. Everyone else wants to see this one too, but it hides in the thick understory. I try playing its song from the iPod and it briefly returns, long enough for Clay and Joyce to get a good view, but not others. Ten minutes of further search efforts prove fruitless. We have better luck with a singing American Redstart that circles the trees around us, soon accompanied by its mate. The pair certainly appears to be on territory as they stick tightly to a hundred-foot diameter circle of woods, the male singing constantly. A singing Red-eyed Vireo claims a territory bordering the redstarts. This one is particularly curious about my iPod and long after I stop playing a recording, it circles our spot on the footpath. A Blue-headed Vireo is next in line to entertain us. We’ve become so engrossed in these birds that we’ve only walked about 10% of the hiking trail in the first hour, so now we hike with more vigor and the cool day becomes warm from the heat we generate. The woods and weather are wonderful, fresh leaves pushing out of buds, Marsh Marigolds in full yellow bloom, a feeling of the world coming alive after a sleepy winter. By the time we finish hiking the 2KM trail we’ve taken 90 min, a typical birding pace. We leave the park to return to camp, but stop briefly beside a small lake where a pair of Red-necked Grebes is nesting close to the road. We can see one climb onto the tiny grebe-made island that barely supports the floating nest. I take several photos and move on for the occupants of other cars to see. The grebe moves off the nest, but soon returns and turns the eggs with her bill. Certainly, this has been the day to observe nesting birds in action.

(Shari) Oh this job is so hard! Today I get up late, do some paperwork and a load of wash and go out to lunch with Larry and Marlene. Such a rough life! Our satellite is STILL NOT working, so I go to the office and buy a day’s worth of WI-FI access. Soon it is time to go out to dinner. ;) Tonight is an optional dinner out and a couple we know who live in Brandon (also Wagonmasters) suggested a German restaurant. Eighteen of us are trying their suggestion. The senior special is more than enough to eat. I have a chicken schnitzel topped with ham, cheese and tomatoes with Caesar soup, roasted potatoes and veggies. It is all very tasty and I hear only positive comments.

Day 6 – May 26 – Brandon

(Bert) We wear extra layers of clothes this crisp morning, but still too few to face the stiff wind and 40’s temperatures. Birds must feel the chill too, because they are conspicuously absent through much of the morning. We drive through pothole country: rolling farmlands with wet depressions that gather ducks. Last year at this time I probably found a thousand ducks of 11 species; this year I count 32 of 4 species, plus a few more when we find at another location. We do have one good sighting through: a Peregrine Falcon struggling with the wing of a dead gull. The falcon pays no attention to us as we watch through my spotting scope. Birding picks up when we arrive at Rivers Provincial Park shortly before lunchtime. Although we find many birds in the wooded areas, including a pair of Blackpoll Warblers, the real attraction is the lake. Thousands of swallows of six species feed near the lake’s surface. I do a rough count of the Black Terns flying above them and come up with 500. Floating on the water and periodically alighting only to return to the same spot is a small flock of gulls showing a mixture of black-and-white feather patterns. I point out the key field marks to the group, narrowing what looks like several species down to one: Bonaparte’s Gulls with plumage variations from juvenile to winter to spring. In another area, brilliantly adorned male Hooded Mergansers parade on the lake. For hours a lone American Avocet feeds on the sandy beach and allows Bruce close approach for photographing. camera.GIF (1399 bytes) The slow start of birding finishes with a satisfying climax of birds.

Day 7 – May 27 – Riding Mountain National Park

(Shari) I have been up since 4 AM and am starving when Bert gets up at 6. We head for Tim Horton’s, the equivalent of Crispy Cream donuts in the states, but offering other items as well. To our disappointment, they only offer donuts and bagels at this time of the day. I order a cup of coffee and an apple fritter but Bert wants a real breakfast. So we head to McDonald’s only to find that it is not open this early. Back at R-Tent-III, I make egg sandwiches with ham. We depart the campground at least an hour before the rest of the group in order to have time to buy everyone National Park passes and get them campsites. Unfortunately when we arrive, we find the park’s computer is down and the clerk cannot assign spots. She tells us to just pull into a spot, knowing we may have to move if it is reserved. We quickly go to the administration office to buy park permits before returning to the campground. The computer is still not up when the next four rigs arrive. By noon everyone is here and parked and I think maybe only two had to move. The day is drizzly and cold and the campground is nearly empty. Our guide Ken arrives promptly and takes the group birding before 17 of us head to a wonderful Italian restaurant for dinner. Service is slow and we take at least 45 min. longer than planned, but the food and company are delicious. I sit across from Ken in the middle of a long table and find myself turning my head like a ping-pong ball. I want to be in on all the conversations since they are so interesting. Surprisingly the talk does not all revolve around birding. From my point of view this is a well-rounded group. The other night we heard a funny story about exploding beer bottles that could have turned tragic but luckily only put an end to Ron’s beer making at an early age. Tonight I hear tales of past vacations, past jobs and future plans. I go out with the birders in the drizzle and cold hoping to see some wildlife. We do not see many birds, but are treated to a momma black bear and her two cubs crossing the road. That was well worth the trip alone. Unfortunately we get back at 11:30 PM and I know I have to fall asleep immediately to get in a bit over 5 hr. of sleep. I must be up at 5 AM tomorrow. Bah humbug!

(Bert) Birding starts at 1 PM, after our change in campgrounds. Uncooperative weather puts our guide Ken on the spot. He takes us to great birding spots where he’s seen many birds only a few days ago, but this afternoon and evening it is slim pickings. A highlight is seeing our first moosecamera.GIF (1399 bytes), a young bull and later a small cow. Cold, damp and often drizzling rain keep birds from sight. We have some success with warblers at Lake Katherine. Singing Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned kinglets first get our attention, and a handful of Tennessee Warblers and brief sightings of single Magnolia, Nashville, Black-throated Green, and Bay-breasted warblers soon join them. At the lakeshore we persist for nearly an hour on several birds, finally getting good looks at a Chestnut-sided Warbler and, even better, a Mourning Warbler. After dinner at a local restaurant we try for some night birding, but it is mostly a bust – no owls, one nighthawk and a few ducks. Obviously the birds don’t like the weather any more than we do.

Day 8 – May 28 – Riding Mountain National Park

(Shari) Bert’s alarm goes off before mine and I am really tempted not to go on this morning’s outing. But I remember Marlene and Larry telling me that they will drive home early, so I trudge out of bed and heat up some muffins. Ken stayed overnight on our pullout couch bed so I think I should make some effort at preparing breakfast. We pack some snacks and by 6 AM are out in the cold to meet the rest of the group. Marlene and Larry are nowhere to be found. Oh no! I am tempted to bang on their door, but even then they would take an additional half hour and no one would want to wait. I guess I will just have to tough it out. The morning is again drizzly and cold and the best part is seeing two Red-headed Woodpeckers. I guess I was into one of my two naps when the group saw all the warblers. To me, they all look and sound alike having some yellow on them somewhere and making a nice cheery call. So my book and my nap are more important.

(Bert) We get an early start and drive to a remote section of the park near the old Agassiz Ski Hill. Along the little used gravel road we stop to hear the warblers sing. Every few minutes we hear a drumming Ruffed Grouse. The sound of beating wings is so low pitched that at first I don’t tune my ears to that deep bass frequency. When I finally recognize it, I have the sensation of hearing my own too-fast-beating heart in plugged ears: “whomp-whomp-whomp.” The drum beating starts slowly, then accelerates, and as eerily as it starts, it abruptly stops. It’s the type of sound that leaves you wondering whether you really heard anything at all and instead might have been imagined it all.

Besides the many warblers we see a Philadelphia Vireo and Gray Catbird. Our best find, however, is a Golden-winged Warbler that Ken seeks out at a known nesting area. We hear the distant bird when we climb a slight knoll and overlook a sparsely scrubbed forest opening. We hike toward the clear sound and I play its song, immediately getting its attention. I’ve seen this species in migration through Texas and on its wintering grounds in Belize, but its beauty is nothing compared to the spring plumage we now see: the golden wing is accompanied by a golden forecrown and its white face is smartly offset by a black mask and throat; bright gray filling in the other feathers. In the morning light the crisp colors are sharply defined, a stunning display accompanied by a cheerful song. We double back on the road and a mile later see an Elk crossing the road before disappearing in the dense woods. In the open farm fields beyond, we stop for Bobolinks and then see a very distant white bird winging along the edge of the escarpment. Ken and I watch it in flight for a minute or two and decide it must be a swan, and most likely a rare Trumpeter Swan. We head to a wet area where many dead trees offer good habitat for Red-headed Woodpeckers and after one toot on my iPod, a male immediately comes to the foreground and alights on a pole in front of us. When Ken spots a groundhog on the lawn of a farmhouse, we stop to investigate. The mammal is gone, but many birds remain in the yard and we find our first Purple Finch of the trip as well as a Merlin calling in flight. Back at the east gate to Riding Mountain we check a wooded creek for warblers and are inundated with a good variety, but dominated by Tennessee Warblers. A Veery catches our attention, but we think it is too distant to see. Just then Olive describes to me a bird she is watching and, giving me directions, I see it close up in front of us. It’s the Veery and we are all delighted to see the thrush.

(Shari) We arrive home by 12:30 and after lunch I take a long nap awaking a little late to get my casserole into the oven for the potluck. Larry has already started the fire in the stoves in the kitchen shelter and it warms the place up nicely. Our before caravan survey showed that we have three couples liking potlucks, three saying so-so and two disliking potlucks. But after the meal is over someone asks to have another potluck tomorrow night. I remind them of the two that don’t like potlucks and someone else says let them stay home. Needless to say the meal was good with lots of fun conversation. Shrimp cocktail, spaghetti and meat sauce, turkey tetrazzini, chili casserole and cornbread, beans, wonderful barley side dish, fruit salad, two cream pies and a big pan of brownies with lots of conversation and fun comprise our menu. Bert poles the group about more birding trips this evening and tomorrow to find a few species that occur here but have yet to be found. He takes them looking for the Connecticut Warbler, American Woodcock and Great Gray Owl. I go to bed. Even if I miss a bear or a moose, I need my beauty rest.

(Bert) At 8:30 some of us head out for night birding. Our first stop is at a Great Gray Owl nest high in a spruce tree. Although active the past two years, the nest is unoccupied this season. The sky is still light when we stop at a stand of mature aspen known for harboring Connecticut Warblers. Almost immediately after we get out of our cars we hear one calling from deep in the forest. The forceful singer moves locations several times, but never gets near the edge and, as is usually the case, we can delight in the song, but do not see the songster. Now that darkness has set in, we head to the woodcock marshes. I can hear them as soon as we stop. Whirling wings, voices chattering high above us and silence as the American Woodcock dives to its territory. In a few seconds we hear the low burp of the woodcock as it rotates in a circle. Most of choreography is unseen, but we hear the chorus. Occasionally we see the woodcock circling above us and more often we see its rocket descent silhouetted against the gray night sky. Between acts, Clay, Joyce and I take a dozen steps closer to the ground performance, each time getting a better look at the action. But finally we must be too close and the woodcock moves to another part of the field. It was a good show.
Day 9 – May 29 – Riding Mountain National Park

(Bert) If singing is the measure, the warblers delight in the return of sunshine as much as we do. Cynthia wishes they would sing one at a time as she tries to learn their distinctive songs. We work on learning the Tennessee Warbler, as that seems to be this morning’s most common and vociferous warbler. After we decide it’s song can be remembered by its slow start, as if it can’t get its engine going, I appoint her in charge of recognizing Tennessee Warbler songs. We hear - and then with patience see – Chestnut-sided, Yellow-rumped, Blackburnian, redstart, Ovenbird and yellowthroat. Our main target, however, is Connecticut Warbler and I periodically play a recording to keep our ears tuned for this one. We hear a new call and not sure who could be its owner we creep into the woods and soon locate a parcel of about a half dozen trees from which the bird must be singing. But it takes another ten minutes of searching between green aspen leaves before we can see the warbler, and even then we only see it from below. It appears to be a Warbling Vireo, but the song doesn’t fit, so we keep trying for a better look. Finally we identify it as another Tennessee Warbler, but one whose song is much different from all the others and is not represented on the recordings I have. I kid Cynthia that she failed her first test on Tennessee songs. It’s hard enough remembering one song per warbler, much less a repertoire!

(Shari) The clock reads 6:15, I turn over and fall back to sleep. Awhile later I read the clock again and it still says 6:15 AM. Oh no, I have it set on alarm. Wondering what time it really is, I walk into the kitchen and read 9:45. My goodness, I slept over 12 hr. After lunch, I join the birders for a walk at the marsh and again in the boreal forest. I don’t see much but get some needed exercise. Last year we hiked to the accompaniment of snowflakes and ice. Today, although no sun is shining, the leaves have opened and everything is green. What a difference in years. The birders walk too slowly for me and I go off ahead enjoying the solitude of the boardwalk and snapping pictures. My digital camera is wonderful. For every picture I keep, I erase three. I get back to the car a good 30 min. before the rest return, so I read a little in the book I keep in the car for times such as these. When the group arrives, they tell me they saw a moose. Darn! Moose is my favorite animal and I want to see one so bad. Bert catches a ride with another car, while I take ours to make a quick shopping stop. The Visitor’s Center has the cutest stuffed birds. When squeezed they make sounds that are presumably from the Audubon tapes. I buy a Rose-breasted Grosbeak and a Baltimore Oriole for my grandkids and a Red-headed Woodpecker and a loon for myself.

(Bert) We take a quick break back at camp and then head in another direction in the park in search of woodpeckers. Standing in a soggy spruce forest, being careful not to step into a wet hole, we find a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers hard at their drumming work. Then to our great delight two dark woodpeckers with yellow crowns join them. We know this is one of the two species we are after and when we get a good look at their backs we narrow it to American Three-toed Woodpecker. It’s a lifer for Betty C. and I high-five her as she is obviously delighted with the find. We move on to another location for woodpeckers and Spruce Grouse. We try a different technique for finding the grouse: we all enter the spruce woods from different spots along the road, walking in parallel deep into the woods trying to see a perched or grounded grouse. No luck. But when I return to the sunlight I hear drumming woodpeckers. Motioning the others to me we follow the sound and find three more Three-toed’s. First elusive, now we’ve got five in an hour. Back at camp we bump into Bill and Ginny and hear of their finding three black bears and a Black-backed Woodpecker. So some of us drive to the Boreal Trail to see if we can find the woodpecker also. An hour’s hike is unrewarding for Black-backed, but we do get satisfying looks at singing Cape May Warblers. Shari has joined us for this hike and Joyce, who is by far our best birder for hearing Ruffed Grouse drumming, tries to get Shari to hear the sound too. Throughout our walk we must hear the drum beat a dozen times before Shari hears it too. Some birders hear the low sounds, some the high calls, some all the calls, some none. This late afternoon we get the full range from the lowest – Ruffed Grouse – to the highest – Cape May.

(Shari) Later on our walk in the forest, Joyce tries to help me hear the drum of a Ruffed Grouse. Looking like a marionette on a string, she shoots up her hand every time she hears the thump, thump. After about five tries I hear it too, but it is a very faint sound and I would never hear it on my own. Along the path, I pick some spruce branches to make spruce tea and later take the hot tea over to Hoss and Sally’s fire, our location for social hour tonight.

(Bert) It seems the birding never ends today. After dinner we check another road and fields for Great Gray Owl, but without immediate success (or ultimate success for those that stayed) some of us head to another location. On the way I stop abruptly when I see Common Nighthawks circling. Climbing out of the car I notice a swarm of insects that seems a mile long and a quarter mile high. The nighthawks know it too, as I count 25 gorging above me and over the adjacent swallow lake. I don’t recall seeing that many at one time except perhaps in migration in Texas or maybe in the floodlights of Disney World in Florida. Now near darkness we stop where we heard the Connecticut Warbler last night and find it still there. Then farther down the road we look again for the woodcock performance. This time the night sky is clear and it is easier to see the woodcocks. One comes almost fatally close to my car and swoops aside just a few feet from the windshield. Wow, what a close-up view that was!

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