But for a young puppy, Pip is remarkably calm and well mannered, and is quickly learning the rules. It may have seemed rather crazy to try to do any kind of a serious Big Day with such a novice, but I had to start sometime, so on May 21, I took her out with me. I’d been out of town on the 16th—the day set aside as the Hawk Ridge Birdathon, when people do Big Days as a fundraiser for Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory. That day turned out to be ideal, with a migration fallout in Duluth and plenty of birds seen elsewhere in St. Louis County, too especially at the Sax-Zim Bog. May 21 was far less ideal: sunny and very windy, so not only were birds not gathered at migration stopover points; the ones that were around were much quieter than normal.
To make things worse, I had hurt my back the day before, and could hardly move when I got up until the extra strength Tylenol kicked in, so not only did we not get out by midnight, or at least 2 or 3 am, the way a respectable Big Day should begin—we didn’t set out until 8 am—ridiculously late for catching all kinds of species.
I’d set the modest goals of getting at least 100 species, which is usually fairly easy anytime in the second half of May, maybe even with a puppy along; and of getting Pip’s life list up to 175, which would mean seeing at least 13 species I’d not seen with her before. We started out with 21 species from my backyard, counted before 8 am. My Red-bellied Woodpecker didn’t show up, so we entirely missed that one. I thought the Canada Warbler we did see in my yard might end up being the only one of the day, but we saw several more of them elsewhere—this has been a big year for them. So those first critical hours, we didn’t get anything we actually needed.
|Photo taken by Sandra van den Bosse|
Next we went to the Western Waterfront Trail. I thought we could probably race through there, but it turned out to be rich with warblers, so we took our time. In that one spot we saw 58 species, including 16 different kinds of warblers. I got some of my best pictures ever of Wilson’s Warblers, which happened to be as abundant as redstarts and Yellow Warblers that day. It was already lunchtime, when birds are usually quiet, but a Sora started calling from the marsh, and that inspired two more Soras and a Virginia Rail to answer. I also had an unexpected Marsh Wren and a late female Common Goldeneye there.
We didn’t do nearly as well as we should have, but the day was hardly a bust. We ended with 116 species—way better than I expected at the start—and added 21 species to Pip’s life list. I’m lacking every possible skill as a fundraiser, so I donated $100 to Hawk Ridge myself, but kind people donated an additional $165 to Hawk Ridge, to support our little effort. Next year maybe our little Great Expectations team can be real contenders again.