Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Serendipity

Piper, my cousin Bill, and me.
One night a week or so ago, I found out that one of my favorite people in the world, Piper, my cousin’s daughter, was working on the sets for her high school’s production of the Thornton Wilder play The Matchmaker. I’ve read but never seen the play performed, but one of my favorite movies of all time, Hello, Dolly! is based on it. Indeed, a great many of the funniest lines in Hello, Dolly! come directly from The Matchmaker.

Anyway, I decided it would be fun to drive down to Chicago to see the play. It was an impulsive decision, and I couldn’t be away from home for more than one night, so it also involved driving 460 miles down on Friday and all the way back home on Saturday.

Fortunately, my little dog Pip is excellent company, and spring migration was kicking in, so I could watch for swans, geese, raptors, and cranes along the drive.

Pip and I both like to take lots of breaks to look for birds, but this time we had to focus on covering ground, so we made just our one traditional stop going and coming back, at the Arlington exit to buy gas and a slice of Rocky Rococo Pizza, and to take a quick drive to Madison Audubon’s Goose Pond prairie restoration area to eat lunch while enjoying whatever happened to be easy to spot. Because it’s a long drive, I usually can’t afford too much time there and end up mostly taking photos of relatively close birds, rather than carefully scrutinizing every distant bird.

On Friday, a pair of Sandhill Cranes feeding fairly close to the road gave me a lovely study in soft lighting.

Sandhill Crane


And there were quite a few ducks and swans at the close end of the pond west of the road. Two male swans got into an altercation—they and a nearby pair of Redheads gave me most of my photo ops.
Tundra Swans

Tundra Swans

Redhead


Redhead



And then I was back on the road again. I arrived with no time to spare before we went out to dinner, so didn’t see anything but regular city birds. The play was superb, and Pip had as much fun visiting my cousin's family as I did.

Me, Piper, and Kaila, the actress who performed, splendidly, as Dolly Levi.

Chona and Pip!
Pip and Chona (my cousin-in-law?)

In the morning, one nice spring arrival—a Ruby-crowned Kinglet—flitted about in my cousin’s yard. I set out for home a bit after noon.

American Kestrel
Female American Kestrel. She was sitting pretty tight near a
nest box on Kampen Road near Goose Pond.

This time as I closed in on Goose Pond, I stopped to photograph a female kestrel and talk to some nearby people—that’s when I learned that a Brant had been mixing in with the abundant Canada Geese since earlier in the week.

Brants are tiny geese that breed in the high Arctic and winter along both coasts. Very rarely, one turns up inland. I'd seen one in Minnesota in November 2012. Its pale underside identified it as belonging on the Atlantic.

Brant at Park Point
This is NOT the Goose Pond Brant. This photo was taken in November 2012 at Park Point in Duluth,
showing my first (and only) Brant for Minnesota. You can see how much smaller it is than the
nearby Canada Geese. 
I hadn’t been paying attention to the birding hotlines, so had no idea anything rare had been seen there or I’d have scrutinized the geese way more thoroughly the day before. But now about a dozen cars were parked on the side of the road, and a bunch of people were looking through spotting scopes all pointed in exactly the same direction.  I pulled up behind a very nice woman and she instantly offered to let me look through her scope. Voila! A new state bird for me, and a lifer for Pip! It was way up the hillside, too far for decent photos, and I was in too much of a hurry to mosey and enjoy the wonderful little wanderer and all the other spring migrants.

Geese, cranes, eagles, and a Rough-legged Hawk circled over the highway as I worked my way north. Near Rice Lake I saw my first Trumpeter Swans of the year, and soon after that got to enjoy a spectacular sunset. The long drive to enjoy a high school play turned out to be well worth it, for the play, for the time with family, and for the birds. If the time spent in Chicago and at Goose Pond felt much too short, it was still way, way better than had I not done it at all.

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