SUMMARY by John Quinn ...

... aspiring MBW Junior Tour Leader and pulp fiction author [with minor edits by KRE]


Please check the MBW TikTok channel for my soon to be released Country Western song: “County Lister Blues.” Here are a few lyrics to tempt you:  

I chased that bird, but she won’t be seen

I want it on my list so bad it makes me mean

I drive the back roads searching for wings

To set my heart all aflutter when she sings

MBW Overview

Five days is a lot of material. I write these stories the way I do because I have an appreciation for the eccentricities of life. However, if you prefer not to have the intimate details of your life laid bare, I am happy to change the names. Anyway, let me know. And my editor has a fine eye and holds all responsibility.

Ira Glass’s This American Life’s podcast this past week was about lists. I highly recommend listening because listing is a unique human phenomenon that includes people who watch birds. Here I must limit my allotted space to county listers. (I wonder if Kim would sit for an interview with This American Life. Wouldn’t that be a story.)  

Let me start by saying I am not a county lister. Yes, the birds show up in my eBird by county by default. Yes, I do check it occasionally to see if I have any birds in a new county. And I wonder how many birds I would have to see to pass Kim in St. Louis County. But I am not a county lister. You’ll understand later.


Our day started with discussing curmudgeons of MBW’s penultimate year. A list was quickly made. We were all sorry Roy could not join us. We wish him a quick recovery so he can return to muttering about Kim’s various cranky behaviors. Later our gentle mild-mannered co-leader gets on the list.

We pulled into the Big Stone NWR with an American Bittern and flycatchers calling. We listened and learned that “Free Beer” is Alder and “Fitzbew” is Willow. Leasts were also singing. A tip I learned for identifying nondescript flycatchers is “squeeze it till it sings.” Unsure if this is an Audubon-approved technique.

Quiz: Which was the best MBW stop on Thursday?


A. Amongst the glacial boulders and rock outcropping at the NWR with a Mourning Warbler and Olive-sided Flycatcher? Not quite drop-dead gorgeous, but it was a beautiful morning.

B. At a flooded field with American Avocets and Hudsonian Godwits in breeding plumage with an afternoon sun at our backs? That’s what we live for – beauty and grace. And a couple of nice year birds for me. And a five-day total of 21 shorebird species.

C.  The bituminous production area and equipment boneyard hosting Say’s Phoebe and Black-billed Cuckoo? Would a casual birder ever go in there? Never. But it counts for my year list and for a few people’s life lists. And many Big Stone County lists. Interesting to observe how nature adapts or can’t.


All the above

– None of the above, because I didn’t need either of those birds for this county. I need American Redstart!

At the refuge we ventured across the bridge into Lac qui Parle, where I learned that years ago Kim would refuse to enter another county if it wasn’t scheduled. This earned him many curmudgeonly points. I’ll return to this point later. I think it’s an interesting position after I had the pleasure of riding with Ron, Craig, and Brad for both Big Stone days. They are all county listers with good numbers of birds in every county. They are all excellent birders. Ron and Craig have a few years on Brad. Brad has hearing that all of us envy.

In Lac qui Parle County I learned that Forster’s Tern’s, both immature and non-breeding adults, lack a distinctive black bar on the leading edge of the wing, known as a carpal bar. Common Terns have a carpal bar. I am likely to develop carpal tunnel in my tongue if I say Common Terns are conspicuous with black carpal wing bars.

Later we added breeding-plumaged American Golden-Plover at one of the many mud flats/flooded fields that populate western Minnesota in spring. The layered golden-leafed back contrasting with the black chest and belly was spectacular. It had rained hard recently so every few miles you strained to see if shorebirds were present among the ubiquitous Blue-winged Teal. Brad’s ability to spot shorebirds at 50 miles an hour is impressive. Maybe I do need to fill that prescription? And get hearing aids.

Friday: County listers

Ron’s enthusiasm for county listing after 50+ years of birding is remarkable. We had Alder Flycatcher in Big Stone County. He needs it for Traverse. On our way to Traverse, he must have asked a dozen times if we were in Traverse yet. My granddaughters are more patient. Finally, as we approached the county line, Craig said, “Tie those shorts on tight we’re approaching the county line.” Curmudgeon points for Craig! Ron was giddy. No Alder. Amazingly, Ron was unflustered. I guess you get used to not seeing birds when your lowest county list is 217.

Later in the trip Craig called him about the Barred Owl we found in LQP. He left home within the hour to drive 100 miles round trip. Here’s a sampling of county listers...


Birder        Age   Lowest Co.   Highest Co. 

Ron           70s          217               294           

Craig         ~70          184               284           

Brad          50s          126               282           

John          60s              0               unsure       

My observations are that time, timing, and persistence are the keys to county birding. The obsession really kicks in when you subscribe to and start adding your records. First you think, I’ll just get a dot in every county, then you find a compulsion to eradicate the dots, then to be “legitimate” you need to turn each square green with at least 150 birds. From there, it’s 160, 200, then how many does Linda have? Paul got this bird in Stearns County; I need that bird! Off you go on a jealous, zealous race to find that next bird.

Which leads me to what I think is Kim’s rationale. These people are not rational. If the county listers see the slightest opportunity to migrate towards another county, you end up with a multitude of “I need this bird!” You don’t end up watching and learning about the birds present and their environment, you’re off to the next acquisition for your county list.

As a leader it must be a fascinating decision process between spending 45 minutes looking at an American Redstart, or stopping at a dead-still row of trees, a prairie area, or a downtown park for 30 minutes. Or do we continue driving to locations that are known hot spots, at all times being aware that something interesting could show up anywhere, or better to spend time learning more about individual birds versus just ticking them off? Anyway, as Bob Russell once said: “Oh well, think about things.”

We stopped in Browns Valley (Traverse County), and if I had unlimited space I would love to share the story of Richard Johnson, the curator of the Sam Brown Historical Park. I’ll have to leave it at fascinating. Get out there yourself – he seemed desparate for company. We did add Lark Sparrow in the parking lot nearby. A good county bird.

We returned to Big Stone County and while traveling toward Graceville for a restroom stop, Claudia wondered “What is the motto of Graceville?” After a day of 20-30 mph winds with gusts to 40, Brett answered, “Hold onto your hats!” Claudia replied, “With grace.” Kim is contacting the Graceville community development committee. The motto is expected to be big on Twitter. We added Upland Sandpipers by the side of the road and were blessed with great looks at Red-necked Phalaropes at the Graceville WTP.

Saturday: Bird Bling 

With the role of OJTLIT (Obsequious Junior Tour Leader In Training), you’ll need to demonstrate that your loyalty knows no bounds. In my case, I presented Kim with a gold-encrusted seashell hand-painted locally with a European type of chickadee complete with gold chain. Lear’s Fool perhaps?  

We returned to Big Stone NWR. At the trailhead, some heard and some even saw Mourning Warbler, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, and Indigo Bunting. But no chickadee. That’s going to be important. An Eastern Phoebe had a nest under the outhouse roof. Amazing how after returning to MN just a couple of weeks ago so many birds are busy bringing food or sitting on nests. 

We wandered around LQP county looking for chickadees, ending up in Madison for lunch. Madison is the county seat of Lac qui Parle and proclaims itself to be the "lutefisk capital of the USA.” The population was 1,518 as of the 2020 census. Lou T. Fisk is still a local celebrity. And somewhere along the way, Linda “sacked” Black-capped Chickadee – i.e., she now has seen the species in all 87 MN counties..An incredible achievement.

We stopped at one more wet spot. Or was it a dozen or two? Craig found an American Black Duck (which refused to morph into a Mottled Duck). Stilt Sandpipers and a lone Dickcissel were seen. I need that bird! American Wigeon, too.

I was tired after a long day of battling wind, rain, and chasing chickadees, and I was a little concerned my tent had blown away in the high winds. I stopped on the hillside overlooking Big Stone Lake State Park to eat and wait for the rain to subside. It was a spectacular view of the storm – dark clouds, lighting, and rain coming from the western horizon. Just at sunset a giant double rainbow appeared in the sky behind me. Even as the sun set the rainbow remained. Remarkable. I found my tent had held on by one stake and slept like a rock.


Lac qui Parle is a French translation of the native Dakota name, meaning "lake which speaks.” Ah, if it would only tell us where the ibis are. Mariann was assigned the herculean task of finding us some. After a solemn transfer of the precious Bird Bling to Linda for her chickadee accomplishment, we headed off toward LQP again. A stop at the Plover Prairie SNA yielded Grasshopper Sparrow and great looks at an unexpectedly late Rough-legged Hawk and winnowing Wilson’s Snipe. I like unmistakable birds.

Sometimes a nostalgia stop is required on MBWs. We had to go by the massive brick schoolhouse in Louisburg. It’s even on Google Maps. Craig was a tad cantankerous in declining to tell the story since Kim’s car was not in radio range. At yet another flooded field at Louisburg we discovered a possible Snowy Egret. Craig’s texts to Kim about it suggested he was getting a little testy. “Probable Snowy Egret” at first, followed by “Defiantly a Snow Egret.” More curmudgeon points. Even if he really meant to type “definitely.” (By the way, we had found another Snowy plus a Cattle Egret on Thursday in Big Stone County.)

We were welcomed at our stop in LQP State Park by clouds of mosquitoes. First of the year for me and Minnesota’s State Bird. Our only good bird was Barred Owl. A Wood Thrush was heard by some, but just stepping into the woods raised voracious clouds of insects. (Even without stepping into the woods the clouds appeared.) We swept them out of the car as we hastily departed for the ride back to Ortonvillle.

I made another effort to find a Western Kingbird on my way back to Big Stone State Park. Although unsuccessful, I had dinner in the picnic area near the park observing Ring-necked Pheasants strutting and defending their turf until it was dark.

Monday: Memorial Day

Mariann was under a lot of pressure. It was ibis or else… Even Kim was excited as he shouted Ibis at another wet spot on the side of another road. We were treated with three White-faced Ibis in good light close enough to tell with binoculars they were not Glossys. It was already a good day.

We wandered toward Salt Lake and got an education on the SD-MN state line, as Rick and Kim had left the main group to check the far side of the lake. It’s somewhere beyond a tall “Rick Gibson Crane” rising above the grass, and past a trailing Kim, but before the white plastic encased hay bails which none of us ever saw. But they flushed Northern Pintails and called out Sanderlings. Visible to us as white-and-dark dots scurrying on the sandbar, but a good bird for ending the MBW. Time to head home.

My county list: Lac Qui Parle 110, Big Stone 111, Traverse 65, Swift 43, St. Louis 116.

Curmudgeon Points: the list goes on and on.

Mammal List: Richardson ’s Ground Squirrel, Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel, White-tailed Deer, Eastern Cottontail, Raccoon (oddly in broad daylight in the same field as a Greater White-fronted Goose), bats (unidentified).

Reptile List: Garter Snake, Painted Turtle, Spiny Soft-shelled Turtle.

Prairie Plant List: On Monday we visited Yellow Bank Hills SNA near the SD border. There were not many birds, but I admired the beauty of the rolling landscape, and I took a moment to look down at the complexity and variety of plant species and their singular small beauty. Mouse-ear Chickweed, Wild Foxglove, Leadplant were just a few I stopped to identify. I can only imagine what it looked like prior to the industrialized farming landscape we live in today.

*          *          *

BIRD LIST [Compiled by KRE]

Composite total 162 species (the exact same total as the Murray-Cottonwood MBW two

   weeks previously)

• BS = Big Stone MBW, May 23-24     

• LQP = Lac Qui Parle MBW, May 25-26-27

Note - The main BS and LQP annotations for a species refer to the MBWeekend, which usually – but not always – coincides with the county where the species was. Part of the Big Stone MBW was in Lac Qui Parle, Swift, and Traverse counties, and the Lac Qui Parle MBW was briefly in Big Stone, Chippewa, and Swift counties.            

Greater White-fronted Goose          LQP (injured?)

Canada Goose          BS, LQP

Trumpeter Swan          BS, LQP

Wood Duck          BS, LQP

Blue-winged Teal          BS, LQP

Northern Shoveler          BS, LQP

Gadwall          BS, LQP

American Wigeon          LQP

Mallard          BS, LQP

American Black Duck          LQP (rare in western MN)

Northern Pintail          BS (Traverse only), LQP

Green-winged Teal          BS (Swift only), LQP

Canvasback          BS, LQP

Redhead          BS, LQP

Ring-necked Duck          BS, LQP

Lesser Scaup          BS, LQP

Hooded Merganser          BS, LQP

Ruddy Duck          BS, LQP

Wild Turkey          BS, LQP

Ring-necked Pheasant          BS, LQP

Pied-billed Grebe          BS, LQP

Red-necked Grebe          BS, LQP

Eared Grebe          BS, LQP

Western Grebe          BS, LQP (nesting along CR 62)

Rock Pigeon          BS, LQP

Eurasian Collared-Dove          BS, LQP

Mourning Dove          BS, LQP

Black-billed Cuckoo          BS, LQP (plus possible Yellow-billeds heard on both)

Common Nighthawk          BS, LQP

Chimney Swift          BS, LQP

Ruby-throated Hummingbird          BS, LQP

Virginia Rail          BS, LQP

Sora          BS, LQP

American Coot          BS, LQP

Sandhill Crane          LQP (uncommon/rare in summer here)

American Avocet          BS (along CR 21 north of CR 10)

Black-bellied Plover          BS

American Golden-Plover          BS

Killdeer          BS, LQP

Semipalmated Plover          BS, LQP

Upland Sandpiper          BS (also in Swift)

Hudsonian Godwit          BS, LQP

Marbled Godwit          BS, LQP (Swift & Chippewa only)

Stilt Sandpiper          BS, LQP

Sanderling          LQP

Dunlin          BS, LQP

Least Sandpiper          BS, LQP

White-rumped Sandpiper          BS, LQP

Pectoral Sandpiper          BS, LQP

Semipalmated Sandpiper          BS, LQP

American Woodcock          BS, LQP (reported by Brad & Deb after dinner)

Wilson’s Snipe          BS, LQP

Spotted Sandpiper          BS, LQP

Lesser Yellowlegs          LQP

Wilson’s Phalarope          BS, LQP

Red-necked Phalarope          BS, LQP ( = 21 shorebird species)

Franklin’s Gull          BS, LQP

Ring-billed Gull          BS, LQP

Black Tern          BS, LQP

Forster’s Tern          BS, LQP

Common Loon          BS

Double-crested Cormorant          BS, LQP

American White Pelican          BS, LQP

American Bittern          BS, LQP

Great Blue Heron          BS, LQP

Great Egret          BS, LQP

Snowy Egret          BS (near jct of CRs 21 & 62), LQP (Louisberg)

Cattle Egret          BS (along MN 7), LQP (loc?)

Green Heron          BS, LQP

White-faced Ibis          LQP (3 along CR 7)

Turkey Vulture          BS, LQP

Northern Harrier          BS, LQP

Cooper’s Hawk          LQP

Bald Eagle          BS, LQP

Broad-winged Hawk          LQP

Swainson’s Hawk          BS (Swift only), LQP

Red-tailed Hawk          BS, LQP

Rough-legged Hawk          LQP (very late migrant)

Barred Owl          LQP (preying on mosquitoes at the state park?!)

Belted Kingfisher          BS, LQP

Red-headed Woodpecker          BS, LQP

Red-bellied Woodpecker          BS, LQP

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker          BS, LQP

Downy Woodpecker          BS, LQP

Hairy Woodpecker          BS, LQP

Northern Flicker          BS, LQP

Pileated Woodpecker          BS

American Kestrel          BS, LQP

Great Crested Flycatcher          BS, LQP

Western Kingbird          BS

Eastern Kingbird          BS, LQP

Olive-sided Flycatcher          BS

Eastern Wood-Pewee          BS, LQP

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher          LQP

Alder Flycatcher          BS, LQP

Willow Flycatcher          BS, LQP

Least Flycatcher          BS, LQP

Eastern Phoebe          BS, LQP

Say’s Phoebe          BS (1-2 stake-outs north of Odessa)

Yellow-throated Vireo          BS, LQP

Philadelphia Vireo          LQP

Warbling Vireo          BS, LQP

Red-eyed Vireo          BS, LQP

Blue Jay          BS, LQP

American Crow          BS, LQP

Black-capped Chickadee          BS, LQP

Horned Lark          BS, LQP

Bank Swallow          BS, LQP

Tree Swallow          BS, LQP

Northern Rough-winged Swallow          BS, LQP

Purple Martin          BS, LQP

Barn Swallow          BS, LQP

Cliff Swallow          BS, LQP

Cedar Waxwing          BS, LQP

White-breasted Nuthatch          BS, LQP

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

House Wren          BS, LQP

Sedge Wren          BS, LQP

Marsh Wren          BS, LQP

Gray Catbird          BS, LQP

Brown Thrasher          BS, LQP

European Starling          BS, LQP

Eastern Bluebird          BS, LQP          

Swainson’s Thrush          BS, LQP

Wood Thrush          LQP

American Robin          BS, LQP

House Sparrow          BS, LQP

House Finch          BS, LQP

Pine Siskin          LQP

American Goldfinch          BS, LQP

Grasshopper Sparrow          BS, LQP

Lark Sparrow          BS (Traverse only)

Chipping Sparrow          BS, LQP

Clay-colored Sparrow          BS, LQP

Field Sparrow          BS         

Vesper Sparrow          LQP

Savannah Sparrow          BS, LQP

Song Sparrow          BS, LQP

Swamp Sparrow          BS, LQP..

Yellow-headed Blackbird          BS, LQP

Bobolink          BS, LQP

Eastern Meadowlark          LQP

Western Meadowlark          BS, LQP

Orchard Oriole          BS, LQP

Baltimore Oriole          BS, LQP

Red-winged Blackbird          BS, LQP

Brown-headed Cowbird          BS, LQP

Brewer’s Blackbird          BS, LQP

Common Grackle          BS, LQP

Black-and-white Warbler          LQP

Tennessee Warbler          BS, LQP

Mourning Warbler          BS, LQP

Common Yellowthroat          BS, LQP

American Redstart          BS, LQP

Magnolia Warbler          LQP

Blackburnian Warbler          BS

Yellow Warbler          BS, LQP

Blackpoll Warbler          LQP (also in Big Stone)

Northern Cardinal          BS, LQP

Rose-breasted Grosbeak          BS, LQP

Indigo Bunting          BS, LQP

Dickcissel          LQP


~  May 23 - 24 & May 25 - 26 - 27, 2024  ~

Mariann Cyr photo

Mariann Cyr photo