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Watowan - Cottonwood - Murray MBW Summary

May 12 - 13 - 14, 2017

There may have been too much dust on the gravel roads all three days, too much wind on Saturday, and then there was Sunday’s amazing but disconcerting birding report of a Western Sandpiper from those mudflats where we were on Saturday. But we certainly came up with a very nice assortment of birds as evidenced by our composite total of 145 species, with 121 of these on Friday’s pre-MBW (all but 3 of them in Watonwan Co), and 128 on the main Cottonwood-Murray MBW.

Our effort in Watonwan County was especially satisfying, since this under-birded county is generally considered as less interesting than the other two we visited. Besides the Summer Tanager, our other highlights that day included an unusually cooperative and visible Least Bittern, a pair of Red-necked Grebes at their Case Lake nest, two Orchard Orioles, and 17 warbler species – including a close Cape May and multiple Golden-wingeds.

On Saturday we were only able to add two more warblers to bring our final list to 19 species, but we certainly did much better on shorebirds. While we could only manage to find seven shorebird species in Watonwan (we only ran across one flooded field), there were 12 species in Murray just at that nice flooded area on the Lyon County line. A Hudsonian Godwit was the best bird, but there were also American Golden-Plovers, several White-rumped Sandpipers, Short-billed Dowitchers, and Dunlins. (Unfortunately, though, we would have done much better there on Sunday after a whole lot more migrants had arrived: a total of no fewer than 21 shorebird species (!), including a photographed Western Sandpiper, an avocet, a count of 17 Hudsonians (not just one), and around 1,000 peeps.)

Also of interest on this windy Saturday was a lone Lark Sparrow in Cottonwood and two apparent and out-of-season Red-breasted Mergansers in Murray, on Sunday there was a boldly visible Virginia Rail just east of Windom, and most of us on the way home had time to coax a reluctant Henslow’s Sparrow out of a Brown County grassland that Brian had found the day before. (A few in the group also stopped at the Sleepy Eye sewage ponds later and “unofficially" found Willet, Ruddy Turnstone, Stilt Sandpiper, and Sanderling.)

Bird List

W = Watonwan Co May 12

C = Cottonwood Co May 13-14

M = Murray Co May 13

Canada Goose        WCM

Trumpeter Swan        WCM

Wood Duck        WCM

Gadwall        WCM

American Wigeon        M

Mallard        WCM

Blue-winged Teal        WCM

Northern Shoveler        WM

Northern Pintail        M

Green-winged Teal        M

Redhead        WC

Ring-necked Duck      (Blue Earth Co only)

Lesser Scaup        WM

Hooded Merganser        W

Red-breasted Merganser        M

Ruddy Duck        WCM

Ring-necked Pheasant        WCM

Wild Turkey        WC

Pied-billed Grebe        WC

Red-necked Grebe        W

Rock Pigeon        WCM

Eurasian Collared-Dove        WCM

Mourning Dove        WCM

Common Nighthawk        C

Chimney Swift        CM

Ruby-throated Hummingbird        WC

Virginia Rail        WCM

Sora        WCM

American Coot        WCM

American Golden-Plover        M

Semipalmated Plover        M

Killdeer        WCM

Hudsonian Godwit        M

Dunlin        WM

Least Sandpiper        WCM

White-rumped Sandpiper        CM

Pectoral Sandpiper        WM

Semipalmated Sandpiper        CM

Short-billed Dowitcher        M

Spotted Sandpiper        WCM

Greater Yellowlegs        W

Lesser Yellowlegs        WM

Ring-billed Gull        W

Black Tern        WCM

Forster's Tern        WCM

Double-crested Cormorant        WC

American White Pelican        WCM

American Bittern        WC

Least Bittern        W

Great Blue Heron        WC

Green Heron        W

Turkey Vulture        WCM

Bald Eagle        WC

Northern Harrier        WCM

Sharp-shinned Hawk        C

Broad-winged Hawk        WC

Red-tailed Hawk        WCM

Belted Kingfisher        WCM

Red-headed Woodpecker        WC

Red-bellied Woodpecker        WC

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker        WC

Downy Woodpecker        WC

Hairy Woodpecker        WC

Northern Flicker        WCM

Pileated Woodpecker        W

Least Flycatcher        WCM

Eastern Phoebe        WC

Great Crested Flycatcher        WC

Eastern Kingbird        WCM

Yellow-throated Vireo        WC

Blue-headed Vireo        WC

Warbling Vireo        WCM

Blue Jay        WC

American Crow        WCM

Horned Lark        CM

Purple Martin        M

Tree Swallow        WCM

Northern Rough-winged Swallow        WCM

Bank Swallow        WM

Cliff Swallow        WCM

Barn Swallow        WCM

Black-capped Chickadee        WC

White-breasted Nuthatch        WCM

House Wren        WCM

Sedge Wren        WCM

Marsh Wren        WCM

Ruby-crowned Kinglet        WC

Veery        W

Gray-cheeked Thrush        WCM

Swainson's Thrush        WCM

American Robin        WCM

Gray Catbird        WC

Brown Thrasher        WCM

European Starling        WCM

Cedar Waxwing        C

House Sparrow        WCM

American Pipit        CM

House Finch        WCM

American Goldfinch        WCM

Ovenbird        WC

Northern Waterthrush        WC

Golden-winged Warbler        W

Black-and-white Warbler        WC

Tennessee Warbler        WC

Orange-crowned Warbler        W

Nashville Warbler        WC

Common Yellowthroat        WC

American Redstart        WC

Cape May Warbler        W

Magnolia Warbler        WCM

Blackburnian Warbler        C

Yellow Warbler        WCM

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler        WC

Palm Warbler        WCM

Yellow-rumped Warbler        WCM

Black-throated Green Warbler        W

Wilson's Warbler        C

Chipping Sparrow        WCM

Clay-colored Sparrow        WCM

Field Sparrow        WC

Vesper Sparrow        WCM

Lark Sparrow        C

Savannah Sparrow        WCM

Grasshopper Sparrow        C

Henslow's Sparrow     (Brown Co only)

Song Sparrow        WCM

Lincoln's Sparrow        WC

Swamp Sparrow        WCM

White-throated Sparrow        WCM

Harris's Sparrow        WCM

White-crowned Sparrow        M

Summer Tanager        W

Scarlet Tanager        W

Northern Cardinal        WC

Rose-breasted Grosbeak        WCM

Indigo Bunting        C

Bobolink        CM

Red-winged Blackbird        WCM

Western Meadowlark        C

Yellow-headed Blackbird        WCM

Common Grackle        WCM

Brown-headed Cowbird        WCM

Orchard Oriole        W

Baltimore Oriole        WCM

BIRD LIST (compiled by KRE) ~  Composite total = 162 species

• M = Murray County (May 10; 109 species)

• C = Cottonwood County (mostly May 11-12, plus some May 10; 149 species)

• species not annotated with M or C found in both counties

• J = Jackson County only (early afternoon option May 12; 5 species)

Greater White-fronted Goose     (unusually late)

Canada Goose

Trumpeter Swan

Wood Duck

Blue-winged Teal

Cinnamon Teal          M (male @Slaughter Slough WPA)

Northern Shoveler


American Wigeon          M


Green-winged Teal          C


Ring-necked Duck

Lesser Scaup

Hooded Merganser

Ruddy Duck          C

Wild Turkey

Ring-necked Pheasant

Pied-billed Grebe

Red-necked Grebe          C (Wolf Lake WPA)

Rock Pigeon

Eurasian Collared-Dove

Mourning Dove

Common Nighthawk          C

Chimney Swift

Ruby-throated Hummingbird          M

Virginia Rail          C


Common Gallinule          C (unexpected pair @Bat Lake)

American Coot

Sandhill Crane          C (rare/uncommon in SW MN)

American Golden-Plover          J


Semipalmated Plover          C (also in J)

Hudsonian Godwit          C (also 3 in J)

Dunlin          C

Baird’s Sandpiper          J

Least Sandpiper

White-rumped Sandpiper          M (Currie sewage ponds)

Pectoral Sandpiper          J

Semipalmated Sandpiper          C (also in J)

Western Sandpiper          C (uncooperative @Long Lake; casual in MN))

Short-billed Dowitcher          C

American Woodcock          C

Wilson’s Snipe          C

Spotted Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper

Lesser Yellowlegs          C

Greater Yellowlegs          C

Wilson’s Phalarope

Red-necked Phalarope          M (Fulda sewage ponds)

Franklin’s Gull          M

Ring-billed Gull

Black Tern

Double-crested Cormorant

American White Pelican

American Bittern

Least Bittern          C (heard especially @Wolf Lake WPA)

Great Blue Heron

Great Egret

Snowy Egret          C (Bat Lake)

Cattle Egret          C (partial view near Bat Lake)

Green Heron

Turkey Vulture


Northern Harrier

Bald Eagle

Red-tailed Hawk

Eastern Screech-Owl          C (heard by a few @Pat’s Grove)

Great Horned Owl          C

Belted Kingfisher

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Downy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker          C

Northern Flicker

Pileated Woodpecker          C

Eastern Kingbird

Olive-sided Flycatcher          C

Alder Flycatcher          C (singing)

Least Flycatcher

Eastern Phoebe          C

Yellow-throated Vireo

Blue-headed Vireo

Philadelphia Vireo          C

Warbling Vireo

Red-eyed Vireo          C

Blue Jay

American Crow

Black-capped Chickadee

Horned Lark

Bank Swallow

Tree Swallow

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Purple Martin

Barn Swallow

Cliff Swallow

Ruby-crowned Kinglet          C

Cedar Waxwing          C

Red-breasted Nuthatch          C (unusual this far south)

White-breasted Nuthatch

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher          (uncommon/rare in western MN)

House Wren

Sedge Wren

Marsh Wren

Gray Catbird

Brown Thrasher          C

European Starling

Eastern Bluebird          C

Gray-cheeked Thrush          C

Swainson’s Thrush

Hermit Thrush          C

American Robin

House Sparrow

American Pipit          J

House Finch

Pine Siskin          C

American Goldfinch

Grasshopper Sparrow          C

Chipping Sparrow

Clay-colored Sparrow

Field Sparrow          C

White-crowned Sparrow

Harris’s Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

Vesper Sparrow          C (also in J)

Savannah Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrow

Swamp Sparrow

Yellow-headed Blackbird


Eastern Meadowlark          C (@Wolf L.; local in western MN)

Western Meadowlark

Orchard Oriole

Baltimore Oriole

Red-winged Blackbird

Brown-headed Cowbird

Brewer’s Blackbird          J

Common Grackle

Great-tailed Grackle          C (3 or 4 @Wolf Lake WPA)

Ovenbird          C

Northern Waterthrush

Golden-winged Warbler          C (@Pat’s Grove)

Black-and-white Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

Orange-crowned Warbler

Nashville Warbler

Common Yellowthroat

American Redstart

Cape May Warbler          M

Northern Parula          C

Magnolia Warbler          C

Yellow Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler

Palm Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Black-throated Green Warbler          C

Northern Cardinal

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Indigo Bunting          C

Dana Sterner photo

MBW Summary

by John Quinn [with edits by KRE]

Friday  ~  "The Wanderer"

Most of us know by now that Kim loves southwest Minnesota. Rightfully so. But not many of you know there is a hit song associated with his love of birding. There is an extra prize if you can the name the artist whose 1961 song is referenced below. Hint 1: It’s a single name. (By the way, there is another single name somewhere in the beginning of The Damn Book – aka A Birder's Guide to Minnesota – that you will want to remember for future trips to Fulda.) Hint 2: It isn’t the Continental Co-ets, America's first touring all-girl rock & roll band, that originated in Fulda in 1963.

After yours truly was recognized for his continued contributions with a Junior Tour Leader sash and keepsake remnant of Kim’s lost-in-Florida speaker, and the newbies were introduced to his partner, Barb, and due gratitude was expressed to our other leader, Craig Mandel, we headed west out of Windom towards Murray County.

We first had a productive stop at H.J. and Loretta Koob Family Tract Clear Lake Farm. If this was an WMA it might rival ADMSMSUELA – the longest birding site name in MN. (Look it up, page 182.) We spotted Blackpoll Warbler and four thrushes grouped together – Hermit, Gray-cheeked, Swainson’s, and American Robin. If a Wood Thrush could have flown in scaring the others, this would have amounted to flushing a flush of thrushes.

The rest of the day in Murray was less productive than hoped, after we crisscrossed the Des Moines River many times, until we decided to wander in the direction of Slaughter Slough to find a Cinnamon Teal. The following is best played with a 12-bar blues-base verse and an eight-bar bridge – and any association with Dion’s "The Wanderer" is mostly true, but MBW liability insurance coverage for plagiarism is excellent ...

The Bird Wanderer

Oh well I’m type of birder who will never settle down

Where pretty birds are well, you know that I’m gonna find.

I spot 'em and I tick 'em 'cause to me they're never all the same

I watch 'em and I love 'em and try to learn their name

They call me the wanderer, yeah the wanderer

I roam around around around

Oh well there's Sora on my left and there's Cinnamon on my right

And Screech is the owl that I'll be with tonight

And when they ask me which one I love the best

I tear open my guide to get Bittern off my chest

'Cause I'm the wanderer yeah the wanderer

I roam around around around

Oh well I roam from town to town

I go through life without a care

'Til I'm as happy as a noddy, brown

With every county list I dare, I'ma going there.

I'm the type of guy that likes to roam around

I'm never in one place I roam from town to town

And when I find myself a-fallin' for some bird

I hop right into that car of mine and ride around the state

Yeah I'm the wanderer, yeah the wanderer

I roam around around around, let's go.

Saturday  ~  "A Gorgeous Day"

Starting in Windom we found Lakeview Cemetery was mostly dead. But our poet laureate and leader offered this hope: “Aim for the sunlit trees, that’s where the bugs and therefore birds will be.” Near String Lake (a name less common, according to the MN DNR, than the 201 Mud Lakes, 154 Long Lakes, and 123 Rice Lakes), we made great sport of trying to find the Grasshopper Sparrow sitting in plain sight in the straw colored field – a reminder of how coloration aids survival.

Pat’s Grove followed, probably the largest woodland in Cottonwood County. (In 1866, Patrick Conlan, an Irish immigrant, homesteaded 80 acres. He built and lived in a 12’x14’ dugout. He and his housekeeper, Celia Schuster, had a son Peter. “Peter of Woods” as the locals called him for his antisocial behavior, built the stone house and lived there until 1936. Cottonwood County purchased the property in 1982.)

In an odd way, I felt his presence while we were there. We pursued White-crowned Sparrows on the drive in, and the fly-by Green Heron and Northern Harrier were nice additions. Farther down in the park, Dana’s sharp ears heard the Golden-winged Warbler. Eventually we all got on the bird working high in the trees, contrary to our leader’s observation that they typically work lower in the understory. Indeed, I’ve observed them on the ground. The black chin and cheeks contrasted beautifully with the bright yellow cap and wing epaulettes. Gorgeous bird.

We swung by Talcot Lake WMA and approached the lake's outlet spillway. As we prepared to leave, Frank called to Matt and me that he was seeing a warbler. We chased it along the riverbank and near the refuge. Frank kept seeing it while Matt and I kept missing. Finally, Frank figured it out to declare a new species of warbler – a Drop-dead Gorgeous Warbler! (aka, a Magnolia Warbler).

On our way to one of MN's 154 Long Lakes, we found an Olive-sided Flycatcher calling “Quick Three Beers”. It was almost noon so some of us were ready. At Long Lake we did not see the Garganey found there a couple weeks ago, but we did find shorebirds. The Stilt Sandpiper and Semipalmated Plover were highlights until Kim spotted a Western Sandpiper. But I was so confident I could find the Western among the Leasts on my own, that I missed my opportunity to take a turn at Kim’s scope. Live and learn.

As the afternoon started slowly, Roy commented that “there was little point in birding.” This was offset by a highway-speed sighting of a pair of Sandhill Cranes. We did a flip-around. Next was Dutch Charley Creek County Park. (Dutch Charlie was Carl Zierke who arrived in the area with his wife Christine in the 1850s. Dakota people living in the area nicknamed him Dutch Charley, partly because of his accent – they called white men like Zierke who spoke halting English “Dutch.” He built the first log cabin in Cottonwood County, and Christine gave birth to the first white children born in the county.)

As we continued in Cottonwood, our group spent several minutes – seemingly hours – of indecisiveness on whether to quit altogether, or eat early and go to Wolf Lake WMA, or go directly to Wolf Lake then eat, or go someplace else... Input was welcomed but no definitive direction occurred. This leadership style would come into play the next day. Determined to see Eastern Screech-Owls after dark, I went back to the hotel, took a shower, removed another 6-7 ticks, and napped.

I caught up to the others after an early dinner at Wolf Lake, as we enjoyed a lovely evening listening to calling American and Least bitterns. The jungle noises of the Pied-billed Grebes provided a backdrop for the chorus frogs. Suddenly, Frank called out “Look, that grackle has a long tail” (or was it “Look, there's a drop-dead gorgeous long-tailed grackle”?). He burnished his reputation with another sweetheart identification, as a pair Great-tailed Grackles flew across the marsh and into the reeds. Everyone had good looks and we celebrated a good day. Great job, Frank – and Kimberly Emerson who first spotted one that morning at Wolf Lake. This was a Minnesota first for me and many others.

I left for Pat’s Grove, while Frank, Dana, and Brad stayed at Wolf L. for American Woodcock, Great Horned Owl, and Common Nighthawk. Cruising Highway 62 into the setting sun with my windows down, I heard the Kinikinnick of a Virginia Rail on the side of the road. Proud of myself for recognizing it all by myself, I found a safe place to park and walked back. In a small wetland, I listened to the rail and two Soras as the sun descended. Ain’t migration great? I think there is a country western song in here somewhere.

The screech-owls were cooperative, but the northern lights were not. Sitting in the dark, I once again felt the presence of Patrick and Peter of the Woods. I imagined coming to this country 158 years ago and scratching out a living. The wildlife must have been amazing, but eking out a living had to have been a constant challenge. I was thankful to return to my hotel room.

Sunday  ~  "County Lister Mutiny"

Seeking to gain some insight into what makes my boss tick, I asked Barb if she could provide a few comments. She said, “just how long did I want my summary report to be?” A wise and lovely woman. We started a little later today, as our leader insisted on reviewing yesterday’s county list. Tensions were high. Everyone knows discipline is essential when die-hard county listers have been cooperating/competing with others. You know who you are. We all know Discord can lead to misinformation.

We had a nice start to the day back at Wolf Lake WPA, with Harris’s Sparrow and more calling bitterns. Then, as we headed north, our self-proclaimed Spineless, Wishy-washy Tour Leader changed his mind. We turned east instead and headed for Bat Lake (or is it, Rat Lake?). Uneventful, until we climbed back into our vehicles. A Common Gallinule called. We all leaped out of the cars as two continued calling several times, but, unable to visually locate, we left for our daily sewage pond adventures at Mountain Lake WTP.

There, Brad spotted an Empidonax flycatcher (The genus Empidonax is in the tyrant flycatcher family, Tyrannidae, and Empidonax is from Ancient Greek empis or "gnat" and anax or "master.") As the tyrant ( i.e., my boss) walked over to help identify the bird, “free beer” was heard and clinched the ID as an Alder Flycatcher. Shortly after, Kim called out a Philadelphia Vireo and several of us got good looks at the yellow chest wash, while my Merlin app called it a Red-eyed.

We left the WTP, drove around the ponds, past a cemetery, and stopped to confirm a possible Bullock’s Oriole song was really that of a Baltimore. There we observed our only Indigo Bunting (nice work, Angela), and a Northern Waterthrush heard by Brad. We had then caravanned to nearby Lawcon Park when Brad and Dana got the text from Kim Emerson. Mutiny occurred as we ditched our spineless wishy-washy tour leader and his car mates at the park's restroom to chase the other Kim's sightings of Snowy and Cattle egrets back to Bat Lake. There, after a 1/4-mile slog uphill both ways, we were rewarded with great looks at the Snowy Egret among some Great Egrets. The cattle egret had decided a two-fer was not in the cards and had flown. But we were rewarded with decent views of the Common Gallinules. Thankfully, the Cattle Egret had  reappeared, sort of, as we got partial looks at mostly the head and neck.

We returned to Windom properly chastised but the undercurrent of rebellion festers, as some made the short, optional drive to a flooded Jackson County field for golden-plovers and godwits. But others like me had to head home. I did pump up my Watonwan County list en route with a stop at the wayside rest. Blue-headed Vireo was a nice find.

Mammals: Muskrat, Red and Gray squirrels, Woodchuck, Mink, Racoon, Coyote, Cottontail Rabbit, White-tailed Deer.

Reptiles/Amphibians: Garter Snake, Painted Turtle, Chorus Frogs, Toads (at Wolf Lake we watched their throat sacks swell to bubble-gum size as they sang their love songs).

Fish: Carp in drawn-down Long Lake. (Note: lake drawdowns are effective at reducing this invasive species.)


May 10 - 11 - 12, 2024