Monday, September 1, 2008
Birding Minnesota - Hawk Ridge
Common Loon. Photo by David Powell
It was a quick trip to Minnesota, just a long weekend, really. My purpose was to join my cousins in saying good-bye to my dear old uncle Lowell McLaughlin, and to go through the possessions that he left for us. However, being a nerdy birder type, I decided to check out what migrants I might find in nearby Duluth and did a quick scan of my "Birder's Guide to Minnesota" by Kim. R. Eckert. It turns out that especially during fall migration, Duluth is a true hot spot. However, the family obligations limited me to a few hours on Saturday morning. Destination Hawk Ridge, in the hopes of seeing a passing raptor or two. I was so excited that I was wide awake at 5 a.m. - way too dark to see anything. I arrived on site at a more reasonable 7:30 a.m. to find the official observer way ahead of me, already set up and counting. What was surprising to me is that, at this site, they document the passing of all migrating birds, including swallows, warblers, and today, a number of passing Common Nighthawks winging their way south. The brisk, chilly wind was straight out of the north, helping them along. I began scanning the skies, looking for that distinctive dot on the horizon that might morph into a bird, and within a few minutes I found, too distant to identify. I brought it to the attention of the observer as I detailed its progress. As I watched, I continued to decribe the vision calmly, until I suddenly blurted out, "It's a duck!" At least it flew like a duck and looked like a duck -- to me. But the observer, with more experience if northern avifauna responded that it was a loon. "A Loon! What a wonder! I've never before seen a loon in flight! Only a few times, I've seen distant loons on a lake. I know that they migrate and that they do fly, but it was a whole new experience for this southern birder! And, the loon gave us quite a show, flying directly overhead, giving all of us a good look at its plumage. I'm sure those hardy northerners must have thought that I was a loon-atic with all my excited antics. Next time you have the opportunity to be in Minnesota during spring or fall, check out this incredible viewing site. Oh, and we did see some raptors too: Bald Eagles, a Sharp-shinned Hawk, a Red-tailed Hawk, and a Merlin. All in all, a wonderful morning, but way too short.