22 Feb update

Robyn and I are on board second leg (in Chicago) of Duluth to San Francisco flight. We will drive two hours east from San Fran to Merced County to look for the Ruff that has been there for a couple of weeks, and to bird the Bay area for a couple of days.

We had an enjoyable but exhausting Saturday and Sunday birding northern Minnesota. This was with John Richardson, who I met twice before when looking for and at the Ivory Gull in Duluth in previous weeks. He was an enthusiastic and personable local birder who seemed to know a lot about regional birds. I asked him if he'd like to help me find a couple of my targeted birds - especially Great Grey Owl. It turned out he was in the process of setting up a bird guiding business, so it worked out perfectly for both he and I. When he informed me that he’s just starting out with his own bird guiding business, there was no choice – and it proved a good choice. John is a great birder (he’s an ex-pom, so that figures), knows the region, and has an instantly likeable personality. We went in my rental SUV to the far reaches of northern Minnesota for 14 hours the first day and 12 the next. Although we never crossed paths with a Great Grey Owl, we did see a Northern Hawk Owl, a Snowy Owl, Sharp-tailed Grouse, and a bunch of other cold-north specialty birds. The landscape and the people are truly not far removed from the characterisations of ‘Fargo’ the movie, which was shot in the region, and meant to depict the region. Most folks seem almost over-the-top nice, sure enough do often say “Shuuuure”, “ohhh yeah”, and “youbetcha” in at least a third of their sentences. We drove past Judy Garland’s home town, and near Bob Dylan’s. We pulled off the main highways at many small towns to cruise up and down residential neighborhoods (and yeah, looked for wood-chippers coughing out red spray) looking and listening for Bohemian Waxwings – and eventually found flock of forty chowing into the frozen hanging fruit of a crab-apple tree. Whew. Beautiful birds that don’t differ much from the far more common and accessible Cedar Waxwings, that similarly look as if they were molded from plastic and expertly air-brush painted. I’ll try to attach an image.

As it is, we’ve changed our plans around so that after tomorrow’s twitch (Tuesday) for the Ruff, we’ll bird northern California only til Wednesday night (we’ll try to hear a calling Black Rail), and get to Lubbock Texas Thursday for a shot at the Common Crane Friday morning. Then we fly back to the Northeast to Seattle, Washington, and make the two hour drive to Westport on the Coast in preparation for Saturday’s pelagic. Is that smart? I don’t know. But this is the third rescheduled date, and its presence on each occasion on my itinerary has definitely cost me a couple of rarities, so I don’t want to miss it and later hear of tube-nose rarities.

Speaking of west coast pelagic trips, I’ve talked my way onto a full tour of birders on a repositioning trip for massive luxury cruise boat from So Cal (San Diego) to Vancouver in late April. They are led by legendary pelagic birder Paul Lehrer and more often than not turn up crazy shit like Hawaiian Petrel and several other Pterodromas that I can’t think of the names right now, for the only records each year. So it’s a big win.

I’ve got a lot of other stuff I could talk about, but the Bud Light has kicked in, getting drowsy and bored, so may end this post, and try and import some images of pretty birds later. Best regards everybody. I feel much better knowing you lot are ‘rooting’ for me. Getting a bit bummed out from time to time, and that helps a lot. I’m making voice recordings a couple of times each day with tonnes of anecdotal stuff for future inclusion in some sort of publication. It just seems a bit hard to type that stuff up – but will give you more next time. Cheers

Images are Yellow-crowned Night Heron Long Key Florida; Monk Parrot, Miami, Florida; Spot-breasted Oriole, north of Miami, Florida; Evening Grossbeak, Northern Hawk Owl, and Southern Hawkeye, all from frozen north of Minnesota.