Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Third Time's the Charm!

Duluth Common Eider

On November 5, 1966, a hunter shot a duck out of a flock of four on Lake Reno, in Pope County, Minnesota. It turned out to be a Common Eider—such a rare species that he turned it over to the Bell Museum of Natural History in Minneapolis, where it lies in state in a museum drawer. The Bell Museum also holds 3 other Common Eider specimens, all taken by hunters in 1959. Other than those four specimen records, we have two reports from Minnesota: a single female Common Eider was seen and identified at close range in Grand Marais in 1953, and another, either a female or immature, was seen on January 16, 1966, in Two Harbors.

The specimen from November 1966, 48 years ago this month, was the last Common Eider ever documented in the state until just this month. On November 10, while I was across the continent in Vancouver, Karl Bardon discovered two Common Eiders at Brighton Beach at the east end of Duluth. And on November 13, while the two were still being seen in Duluth, Bob Myers found another one in the Silver Bay marina.

All week while I was in British Columbia, I was reading posts from people who had seen and photographed the Duluth birds, which were seen from a variety of easily accessible vantage points, often near shore and sometimes even loafing on the rocks at the edge of the water. Russ and I got home on Friday night and we tried to see them the next morning but missed. That happened to be the last day the two were seen together. I’d like to think that the missing one flew off and found its way back to the Atlantic Ocean where it belongs, but it almost certainly ended up dying somewhere.

I tried to see the remaining bird again later in the week, running into a birding acquaintance, Dave Bartkey. We thoroughly checked the shoreline from the main places where it had been seen, arriving less than a half hour after the latest report, but didn’t see it. Fortunately, as some sort of consolation prize, a gorgeous red fox turned up and allowed me to take several photos from my car.

Red Fox

Then on Saturday morning, my good friend Don Kienholz sent me a message saying the Eider was being seen right that moment below 21st Avenue East. He added that a Golden-crowned Sparrow was also being seen at a feeder in my own neighborhood. I’d seen bazillions of them in British Columbia just a week before, but there are very only 10 or so records for Minnesota. I did get to see one in 1989—that one spent the winter at Dave Gilbertson’s feeder in Duluth—but it’s the last one I’ve seen in the state. So as soon as I got Don’s message, I jumped in the car and drove off.

This time the eider was right there, not too far from shore directly in from where I first looked. A couple in the condominiums asked what it was—they’d been puzzling over it all morning. He thought it was a weird duck, but neither of them were familiar with diving ducks and couldn’t understand how a duck could spend so much time under water, so she thought it might be a fish. The lighting was poor, and though the bird wasn’t very far out, it was far enough to make my photographs only marginally good. But a new state bird is a new state bird.

Duluth Common Eider

Then I drove off to try to find the Golden-crowned Sparrow. I was the only one there for a half hour or so. Then a couple of birding acquaintances showed up, and we all searched. Mike Hendrickson finally located it a few houses away from the feeder where it had been reported, and I got one lousy but conclusive photograph. Two “accidental” species in one day! I wish I could have seen them better and for longer, but with birds, we take what we can get.

Duluth Golden-crowned Sparrow

(The birds were seen again today—November 25)

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