June 6-7 and June 8-9, 2024

SUMMARY – by John Quinn (with minor edits by KRE)  


I hate to be late. As a diligent wanna-be JTL (Junior Tour Leader), you would think I might read the MBW emails for the start times. Before I arrived, introductions were made, waivers signed, and county list needs were reviewed. My JTL job, which involves knowing everyone’s name, was made easier with two couples – both named Ellen & Jay. [This had to be the first time in 38+ years that two couples with the same first names attended a MBW. –KRE] And, despite my tardiness, I received my official MBW ball cap from Craig Mandel! It’s my job to lose now.

Pine Warbler, Wood Thrush, Lynx

I know all those warblers and their fancy and often drop-dead-gorgeous colors are amazing, but when you hear a Wood Thrush sing, then observe the chestnut brown upper parts and bold black spots on the white breast, you relax a little in nature’s beauty. There were two at our stop at Endless Waters. But no Pine Warblers.

Julie shared that she has birded with Kim since 1979. As a working woman, she found his offer of “Pay $20 for the season of Bird ID classes; come as often as you can” created an opportunity for her to get outside, learn birds, and enjoy the camaraderie of others. She did say he was more “intense” back in the day. Hmmm, is she just being polite?

We visited several good spots from the Darn (or is it Damn?) Book, looking and listening and finding warblers, kinglets, vireos (including the ubiquitous and heard-only Philadelphia x Red-Eyed Hybrids), and several Broad-winged Hawks. Distant Pine Warblers sang weakly, but none were visible.

Best Mammal: Lynx! Mammals are normally featured only in the footnotes, but in this case the Lynx came out on the Stoney River Forest Road and walked toward us. The size and long limbs were impressive. Of course, nobody had a camera or a scope, so we gawked until it turned and sauntered into the woods.

Kim’s tip of the day

How to see birds that fly from one spot to another. Don’t give up and look away, but focus on following the bird with your eyes until it lands. Take note of where that is – a broken branch, yellow leaf, anything to help you relocate the spot and the bird. Now put your binoculars on the spot. (Oh well, it flew off again.) Keep trying. I recommend practicing on easy birds and you’ll find you get better when it matters.


It was interesting to leave the prairie flowers behind from the recent MBWs, and discover the marsh marigolds, interrupted ferns, blooming wild cherry, pink lady slippers, and cotton grass. Michelle, who is a good birder, knows her flora, too. She pointed out that it isn’t Spanish moss which we saw, but a lichen called Usnea. And we have red pines, jack pines, and white pines. Back to birds! The county listers are getting anxious.

After the Blue ones, we’re up to three jays now. But no Canada Jay. Or is it Gray Jay? Depends on how old you are. We listened and searched for Wilson’s Warbler (soon to be renamed) with only partial success. It’s interesting that the birds you take for granted during migration are harder to come by in the boreal bogs in summer. High winds, rain, more wind, a high in the low 50s, bugs, and great looks at a Mourning Warbler summed up the afternoon. Then home to a warm hotel room or cabin. No visible Pine Warblers.


White Pines, Whipping Winds, Pine Warblers

We returned to White Pines Picnic Area. The wind was brisk to say the least. This did not make for great birding, but I listened contentedly as virgin White Pines told their centuries-old stories. Pileated Woodpeckers and Ovenbirds added to the chorus. I imagined being here 200 years earlier when the pines owned the forest. “I can’t hear a thing with this wind. No Pine Warblers singing! Let’s blow this...!” No rest for the leadership.

We returned to Stony River Road. One of the amazing things about surrounding yourself with great birders is their ability to identify birds by ear. I learn a few key songs and then listen for what’s different: i.e., “That’s not a Least Flycatcher, it’s a Yellow-bellied.” Kim describes a Hermit Thrush this way: “A single introductory note followed by a song that goes sideways.” [Swainson’s goes up; Veery and Gray-cheeked go down. –KRE] Open your Sibley app and listen again to the thrushes. It might take you back to a pleasant memory. It is why I love birding.


Is this a bird or nature report? It was an amazing sight to come over the hill and see a female moose standing in the middle of Hwy 1 north of Finland. We all pulled over and watched. We even had time for pictures. Its ears laid back as if maybe a youngster was around needing protection, but she finally ran off into the woods seconds before a semi and a motorcycle came over the hill.

Golden-winged Warbler and Meat Chickens

You have to understand Kim’s curiosity and humor – such as it is – to appreciate a stop at the Clair Nelson Community Center ( We stopped in Finland, MN, for several reasons. To pay homage to St. Urho (, and to find bathrooms, a lunch spot, and Golden-winged Warblers. What we discovered were some nice people dedicated to enhancing their community in Finland. We met Kyle who told us about the community and invited us to use the facilities, picnic tables, and walk the property. My business development brain said what a great place to host a regional birding festival. Big gymnasium, full kitchen, several meeting rooms, and within 100 yards of good birding. Including a consistent Golden-winged Warbler spot. [Probably the only one in Lake County. –KRE]

Over lunch, we discussed Kim’s coming retirement and what he might do for a hobby or side gig. Early in his guiding career, he joked that he needed a hobby. Someone on the tour took him seriously and suggested reading to children. To this day, Jen Vieth, now the Director of the Carpenter Nature Center, still offers him the opportunity to read to her now-teenage kids. I am sure my granddaughters would love to hear him read “Make Way For The Ducklings” with his commentary: “Those are Mallards, kids. Common in Boston’s Public Gardens. Pay attention to the wing bars. They could be American Black Ducks, but black ducks lack…” Or perhaps he could recite all 87 county chapters from his book. I’m going to give that a try.

As he considers retirement, he might need to consider other employment options. Perhaps a greeter at Walmart... “Let’s wander around aisle 42 until you see something you like, then we’ll go listen for the buzzing of the cooler in Aisle 2. Needs work. Can’t get anybody to look at it.” And, if my JTL gig doesn’t work out, Kim did hand me a brochure from the community center describing how I could raise meat chickens. Near the community center and along the Baptism River, we follow a trail and find the hoped-for Golden-winged Warbler. Definite competition for the most drop-dead-gorgeous warbler.

We were feeling lucky as we headed to Crosby Manitou State Park, and then said goodbye to Craig, both sets of Jay & Ellen, and Sharon – all of whom had to head home. The others hiked up a trail to god only knows where, which takes faith after a long day. Mine was waning. Several ubiquitous Philadelphia x Red-Eyed vireos sang, then ok, I heard Canada and Black-and-white warblers, and yes, seeing the Black-throated Green was nice. Then an unexpected Black-throated Blue sang! The faster hikers ahead quickly come back, and we all got good looks. The male with its deep slaty blue upper parts and sides, offset by a white belly, and black face and chest was a great way to end the day. The hike back to the cars seemed like a walk in the park. (No Pine Warbler.)


New participants, a Connecticut Warbler

I was pleased to meet Brooks, a new “I’m not a birder, she is” MBWer.. (Yes, spelled with an “s,” like the suits I cannot afford.)He was referring to Sophia, who got into birding during the pandemic when her curiosity about a red-tailed hawk outside her office window led her to Craig’s MRVAC trips, and now to her first MBW. I see county listing in her future. Brooks has real ability to “get on a bird,” and his hearing is good, too. He doesn’t always know (yet) what he’s seeing or hearing, but he has a quick wit, and he sports the mustache of an aspiring trapeze artist that will soon be de rigueur on MBWs. Sophia described her job as an intermediary between two strong-willed and often opposing departments. Doesn’t that sound like a perfect role to assist MBW’s leadership – to guide non-listers and county listers alike to pursue the same birds?

Just outside Ely is the Old Koschak Farm. I couldn’t find the history of how it came to be. Perhaps there is intrigue involved. I appreciate Kim’s continued curiosity about new places to bird. Two ponds were there, so the plot thickens, and we stopped by. Planted conifers stood by the ponds. No Pine Warbler. I walked the property later and discovered a long rock wall. Big boulders piled up for several hundred feet. Why? I scanned the ponds and found them interesting, one open and viewable from the dike, the other with a border of trees made for good Least Bittern potential. A great blue heron did fly over.

We traveled up the Echo Trail, making a detour to Fenske Lake Resort & Cabins where a surprising Evening Grosbeak appeared. (My family was staying here, a great place if you enjoy a cozy quiet place to relax. We’ve come up for years, and again this year, I found a Spruce Grouse with chicks while out biking along the nearby Grassy Lake Road.) We drove north to find several warblers and Canada Jay. We found an Indigo Bunting – an unusual bird for this part of the county.

The implications of altitude are apparent as you travel the Echo Trail: higher, drier terrain hosts pines, white spruce, and aspens; the wetter lowlands with black spruce and tamaracks. About four miles from where the blacktop Trail becomes gravel, we heard loud singing in some pines and aspens. It was as loud as an Ovenbird, and Kim couldn’t place it immediately, but he knew it was atypical for any species and he had his suspicions. The Merlin app was undecided. Finally, Kim believed it was really a Connecticut Warbler only after we finally laid eyes on it, singing a strange song from atypical habitat. A life bird for me.

I forgot to mention we finally saw Pine Warblers along the Echo Trail. Even before the Connecticut. Now Kim is happy and explains his obsession with Pine Warblers, But, never a man to quit early on an MBW, he still wants woodpeckers..I think we were up to 23 warblers for the trip so far, but without those two woodpeckers. We went back to Ely.


En route to Cook, MN, we stopped by Tower’s WTPs as an homage to MBWer George, retired MPCA sewage ponds consultant. (Pop quiz: What was the coldest temperature ever recorded in MN and where was it ?) Later, at the Cook WTPs, distracted with the Barn Swallows now being listed for St. Louis (Linda’s 85th county), we forgot to initiate/baptize Sophia and Brooks as official MBWers.

Black Is Back: Black-billed Magpies & Black-backed Woodpeckers

Earlier, we had tried Johnson Road for woodpeckers (and owls and chickadees) just east of Cook with no luck. So, with no time to dilly-dally over ducks at Cook’s sewage ponds, we turned our minds and wheels again to Black-backed and American Three-toed woodpeckers. En route to Plum Creek Road, a possible hotspot for both, we stopped because Kim heard LeConte’s Sparrow. It continued to sing intermittently but declined to make an appearance, though a pair of calling Sandhill Cranes appeared beyond the LeConte’s.The humid air made them sound like clarion horns. Black-billed Magpies flew along the tree line behind them.

We drove on to Plum Creek Rd. Kim heard a Palm Warbler, but it would not show itself. The crisp, tinkly song of the Brown Creeper was followed by its flight across the road to the only tree in the clear-cut area. A singing Lincoln’s Sparrow, the only one during the MBW, did the same. We heard, chased, and finally saw a Hairy Woodpecker. But no three-toed. Most of us were ready to call it a day...

All it takes is a single call to postpone a decision. There it was! Kim heard a distant call note just as we were ready to leave. We finally spotted the woodpecker as it flew to a black spruce with food, and then we saw two. That’s when we knew we had something special. A nesting pair of Black-backed Woodpeckers was entering and leaving a cavity feeding young, repeatedly flying back across the road to the clear-cut area to gather food. Their glossy black heads, backs, and wings plus the barring on their sides were unmistakable. The bright yellow crown was visible on the male.


Mammals: The Lynx, Moose, and Gray Wolf were great finds, along with a Black Bear seen on one of my wanderings apart from the group. Beaver, Woodchuck, Least Chipmunk, Red Squirrel, White-tailed Deer, a dead shrew, and a live vole were also seen.

Weather: What is good birding weather? I find it an interesting question. My career is often spent controlling variables to ensure a favorable outcome. In birding, you capitulate to multiple factors outside your control. You pick MBW dates months ahead of time. The weather on those dates, of course, is  unknown. We buy the best gear and clothing available with disregard for our budget. The birds are still lounging in southern climes. Lots of variables stand between them and their arrival in your binoculars’ field of view. We get up earlier than we would for our job. We drive farther than is reasonable. We limit ourselves to just a few relatively small areas in a huge county of several hundred square miles. Then we listen and wait with eager anticipation for the miracle to occur. I’m surprised we don’t worship strange gods to improve our chances. There is a good reason why the MBW’s money-back guarantee is obtuse and in very fine print.


BIRD LIST – compiled by KRE

- Composite total 109 species, not incl. possible Spruce Grouse & Rusty Blackbird (see


- All were summer resident species, no migrants seen.

- No fewer than 24 warbler species – the most possible nesting in N Minnesota!

- Lynx (!), Moose, Gray Wolf also seen (plus a Black Bear seen by John near his cabin).

- Missed Great Gray, American Three-toed, Boreal Chickadee, Philadelphia Vireo, Red

  Crossbill – i.e., relatively few misses considering the rain on Thursday, high winds all four

  days, relatively cold temperatures, and relentlessly bad mosquitoes.

• L = found in Lake County (June 6-7)

• S = found in St. Louis County (primarily June 8-9)

• SRFR = Stony River Forest Road

• PCR = Plum Creek Road

Canada Goose          S

Trumpeter Swan          S

Blue-winged Teal          S

Northern Shoveler          S

American Wigeon          S

Mallard          L, S

Ring-necked Duck          L, S

Common Goldeneye          S                                                                                                                                                               

Hooded Merganser          S

Common Merganser          S

Ruffed Grouse          L, S

(Spruce Grouse - female contact calls possibly/probably heard along PCR)       

Rock Pigeon          S

Mourning Dove          S

Eastern Whip-poor-will          S (heard-only by Craig & Ron)

Chimney Swift          L, S

Ruby-throated Hummingbird          L, S

Sandhill Crane          S

American Woodcock          S (heard-only by Craig & Ron)

Wilson’s Snipe          L

Herring Gull          S

Common Loon          L

Great Blue Heron          S

Turkey Vulture          L, S

Sharp-shinned Hawk          L

Bald Eagle          L, S

Broad-winged Hawk          L, S

Belted Kingfisher          S

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker          L, S

Black-backed Woodpecker          S (pair feeding young at nest on PCR!)

Downy Woodpecker          L

Hairy Woodpecker          L, S

Northern Flicker          L, S

Pileated Woodpecker          L, S

American Kestrel          S

Merlin          L (fly-by on CR 7 seen by John)

Eastern Kingbird          L

Eastern Wood-Pewee          S

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher          L, S

Alder Flycatcher          L, S

Least Flycatcher          L, S

Eastern Phoebe          S

Blue-headed Vireo          L, S

Red-eyed Vireo          L, S

Canada Jay          S (only once on Echo Trail – why so few?)

Blue Jay          L, S

Black-billed Magpie          S (uncommon & local in Cook area)

American Crow          L, S

Common Raven          L, S

Black-capped Chickadee          L, S

Bank Swallow          S

Tree Swallow          L, S

Barn Swallow          L, S

Ruby-crowned Kinglet          L, S

Golden-crowned Kinglet          L, S

Cedar Waxwing          L, S

Red-breasted Nuthatch          L, S

Brown Creeper          L, S

Sedge Wren          S

Brown Thrasher          S

European Starling          S

Eastern Bluebird          L, S

Veery          L, S

Swainson’s Thrush          L

Hermit Thrush          L, S

Wood Thrush          L

American Robin          L, S

House Sparrow          S (unexpected at McDonald’s in Cook)

Evening Grosbeak          S (a surprise at Fenske Lake Cabins)

Purple Finch          L, S

Pine Siskin          L, S

American Goldfinch          L, S

Chipping Sparrow          L, S

Clay-colored Sparrow          S

Dark-eyed Junco          S (PCR only)

White-throated Sparrow          L, S

LeConte’s Sparrow          S (heard-only)

Savannah Sparrow          L, S

Song Sparrow          L, S

Lincoln’s Sparrow          S (only once on PCR – why so few?)

Swamp Sparrow          L, S

Bobolink          S

Red-winged Blackbird          L, S

(Rusty Blackbird - a possible/probable pair at the Wilson’s location)

Common Grackle          L, S

Ovenbird          L, S

Northern Waterthrush          L

Golden-winged Warbler          L (at traditional spot by Finland community center)

Black-and-white Warbler          L, S

Tennessee Warbler          L, S (more than usual)

Nashville Warbler          L, S

Connecticut Warbler          S (unexpected – singing a strange song in atypical habitat on Echo Trail!)

Mourning Warbler          L, S

Common Yellowthroat          L, S

American Redstart          L, S

Cape May Warbler          L, S (also more than usual)

Northern Parula          L, S

Magnolia Warbler          L, S

Bay-breasted Warbler          L (heard-only repeatedly at close range at traditional spot on SRFR @Whyte Rd)

Blackburnian Warbler          L, S

Yellow Warbler          S (singing daily by Zup’s in Ely)

Chestnut-sided Warbler          L, S

Black-throated Blue Warbler          L (singing male at Crosby-Manitou State Park)

Palm Warbler          S (heard-only in cut-over area on PCR)

Pine Warbler          L, S

Yellow-rumped Warbler          L, S

Black-throated Green Warbler          L, S

Canada Warbler          L

Wilson’s Warbler          L (heard-only in the wind but in proper alder-swamp habitat on SRFR)

Rose-breasted Grosbeak          L, S

Indigo Bunting          S (uncommon in NE Minn)