Sunday, 10 July 2005

Trip report - Minneapolis, 29 June - 3 July 2005


This is a summary of birds recorded at Coon Rapids in Minnesota on our brief visit there in summer 2005. The purpose of the trip was primarily to attend my sister-in-law's wedding in Minneapolis, and birds were seen along the way, rather than vice versa! Unlike the Nigeria bird trip report on this site there is no need for general info on travelling to the area, or its birds, so only a few brief highlights are mentioned.

Flights and preparation

We flew from San Francisco on Delta, via Salt Lake City on the way out and Atlanta on the way back. At Salt Lake City we could see many swans spread out over local lakes as the aircraft came in; in Altanta we disappointingly saw not one bird from the airport terminal in over an hour of observation!

Bird information

Detailed information for the state is available here: The Minnesota Ornithologists' Union. We also got useful information at both the East and West visitor centers in the park, with monthly bird logs available and daily sightings updates, together with help and advice from knowledgeable local staff. Clearly, visiting in mid-summer, we had missed the main warbler passage and were rather early for returning shorebirds - nevertheless, the trip served its purpose as an introduction to the range of interesting and generally colourful passerine residents in the area.

Bird records

Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park (Visitor center info is here: East Visitor Center and West Visitor Center).

This Regional Park straddles the Mississippi River at the Coon Rapids Dam in northern Minneapolis, Minnesota. We visited on 4 dates (30/6-3/7) and spent at least 12 hours in the park on both sides of the river.

On first arriving at the East Visitor Center on 30/6, in very warm and humid conditions, we set off towards the dam and scanned the sandy islands in the downstream side of the NE river branch. Some small brown birds could be seen lurking at the water's edge which looked exciting - but once pinned down these turned out to be House Sparrows, familiar to us from our garden back home in the UK! Thereafter things only got better.

On the upstream pond there was a loafing 1st-sum male Common Goldeneye and a pair of Spotted Sandpiper, and upstream of the main dam there were a pair of Hooded Mergansers, the male apparently also a 1st-sum, i.e. in an eclipse plumage.

At the dam itself there was a large flock of hirundines feeding over the water; this eventually yielded all five expected species of hirundine, though the majority (over 100) were Bank Swallows ("Sand Martin" in the UK). At least 8 Tree Swallows were present, though these tended to feed over the edges of the river and along the river bank. There were a few Cliff Swallows and these were nesting under the dam itself; by the last date juvs were out on the wire fences on the river bank, see photos. Northern Rough-winged Swallow was also breeding, visiting a pipe in the wall under the viewing area nearest the East Visitor Center. A single Barn Swallow was seen in the evening, over the river bank, and a nest was later found under the pavilion by the Cenaiko Trout Lake on the east bank. Finally, a handful of Purple Martins turned up in the evening and fed over the western river branch round the main island, hanging low at the tip of the island itself at times. Chimney Swifts also showed up in the early evening.

On the west side of the river, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird was glimpsed at the West Visitor Center. An Osprey was seen over the west river bank and the nest there later seen care of the "Osprey Man" (Paul Fusco) (see photo showing the two juvs).

Following the Cotton Trail on the west bank we caught up with a number of delightful species, including 2 Downy Woodpeckers*, 2 Northern Flickers, Eastern Phoebe, 2 Blue Jays, White-breasted Nuthatch, Grey Catbirds, Cedar Waxwings, several Yellow Warblers, American Redstarts, Northern Cardinal, and a number of American Goldfinch. A catharus thrush species was seen very briefly, probably a Veery, and an equally fleeting vireo species which was probably Warbling. None of these proved easy to photograph, the only success being a single Downy Woodpecker.

At the West Pond the most prominent species was the noisy Red-winged Blackbird, along with Common Grackles*. Two Green Herons showed themselves and a Belted Kingfisher was seen fishing at the far bank. A party of 3 Northern Flickers perched high in a dead tree on the east bank. Noisy wrens there were later confirmed to be the common House Wren. A stunning Baltimore Oriole was seen.

Back on the east bank, I explored the dam island, were 3 Cedar Waxwings were seen - seeming rather out-of-place in the humid heat to a Brit accustomed to seeing "waxwings" in the depths of winter. One small clearing near the top of the island provided a fine set of Grey Catbird*, American Robin, Yellow Warbler, American Redstart and Song Sparrow, the first-mentioned uttering its plaintive mewing call which gives rise to the species name.

Back at the north river branch dam a Great Crested Flycatcher was observed feeding over the pond and another Green Heron came down to the islands.

On the second trip we focused on the east bank trail. A Cooper's Hawk passed overhead at the mouth of the Coon Creek. At least 3 Great Blue Heron nests were observed at the end of the main island, one containing three well-grown juvs. American Kestrel was also nesting there, with a juv calling for food - I was later informed that they breed inside the metal pylons using holes cut by woodpeckers. Spotted Sandpipers were on the river along the island. A single Ring-billed Gull flew over the Cenaiko Trout Lake. Yellow Warbler*, American Redstart, Baltimore Oriole and American Goldfinch* were again delightful. Savannah Sparrow was logged and one of the numerous Song Sparrows* well photographed.

On the third visit I went down to the swamp area on the west bank, and visited the Cotton Trail and West Pond again. I discovered that the best place to see the latter is from the West River Rd outside the park.

Near the West Visitor Center I met Paul Fusco, the "Osprey man", and got great views of the Osprey* nest through his 80x magnification astronomical telescope. We also saw and heard an Eastern Wood-Pewee* perched briefly in the top of a nearby tree.

In the savannah area (Cotton Trail) an Eastern Kingbird was hunting from the nest boxes and a pair of Northern Cardinals were feeding. A Warbling Vireo was watched for some time but eluded being photographed.

The southern wood yielded Red-eyed Vireo, another Northern Cardinal, several American Robins and the Cooper's Hawk was seen again. A Doubled-crested Cormorant flew up the river. A group of Canada Geese* were on a small pond, one of which was distinctly more sturdy than the others in the group, with a very thick neck base, c.f. photos; I wondered if this might be a maxima race bird, the others being moffitti, c.f. Wilson and Sibley ID articles. Nearby, a pair of Red-bellied Woodpeckers were found at a nest hole at the junction of West River Rd and Russell Ave N.

At the West Pond blackbirds and grackles were again very evident and a Great White Egret* was seen feeding.

On the final visit I again concentrated on the west bank, seeing many of the same species, including the 3 heron species, Red-bellied Woodpeckers and Blue Jay. The pond yielded a Wood Duck which flew off W, and there were at least 7 House Wrens there including 4+ singing birds and a family party with squeaking juvs.

Tipped-off on the location of the Pileated Woodpecker nest tree on the east bank I made a quick visit but found nothing there except a White-breasted Nuthatch. Perhaps the young had flown? A Great Crested Flycatcher was hunting off the riverside trees opposite as I departed.

Elsewhere in Minneapolis

Killdeer chicks at large at the side of the Liquour Mart at 1921 Coon Rapids Blvd (junc with Hanson Blvd NW) on 30/6, adult Broad-winged Hawk over HW694 at Fridley at 17:00hrs on 1/7, male Common Nighthawk hunting over Edinburgh USA golf course, Brooklyn, in the early hours of 3/7, Great White Egret by HW94 at Lowry Avenue on 3/7, repetitive cricket-like call in the hotel car park (at 155 Coon Rapids Blvd) tracked down to a singing Chipping Sparrow on 4/7.

Systematic list for Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park

  • Double-crested Cormorant - single upstream 2/7
  • Great Blue Heron - 10+ including juvs, (at least 3 nests)
  • Great White Egret* - 1 West Pond
  • Green Heron - 2 West Pond, 1 NE river branch
  • Canada Goose* - 38 (12 juv) NE river branch, 9 (4 juv) S swamp; one of the latter was distinctly more sturdy than the others in the group, with a very thick neck base, c.f. photos - possibly a maxima race bird, the others being moffitti?
  • Mallard - 8 NE river branch pond 30/6, fb5 West Pond 3/7
  • Wood Duck - single m, West Pond, 3/7
  • Hooded Merganser - pr daily upstream of main dam
  • Common Goldeneye - 1st sum m daily upstream of main dam
  • Osprey* - nest with 2 juvs
  • Cooper's Hawk - singles 1,2/7
  • American Kestrel - up to 3, nest
  • Spotted Sandpiper - pr daily, possibly 2 prs
  • Ring-billed Gull - single, Cenaiko Trout Lake, 1/7
  • Feral Pigeon - at least 10, nesting under main dam bridge
  • Mourning Dove - common
  • Chimney Swift - 3+ in evening, 30/6
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird - single, West Visitor Center, 30/6
  • Belted Kingfisher - single, West Pond, 30/6
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker - pr at nest-hole, junction of West River Rd and Russell Ave N, 2,3/7
  • Northern Flicker - pr west river bank, 3 West Pond (5 in total?) 30/6
  • Downy Woodpecker* - at least 2 on 30/6 and 3/7
  • Eastern Phoebe - 4 seen 30/6
  • Eastern Wood-Pewee* - single near W end of main dam, 2/7
  • Great Crested Flycatcher - single East Visitor Center pond, 30/6, single main island 3/7
  • Eastern Kingbird - hunting savannah area, 2,3/7
  • Red-eyed Vireo - single, southern swamp, 2/7
  • Warbling Vireo - single, southern Cotton Trail, 2/7
  • Blue Jay - pr west bank 30/6, 1 3/7
  • American Crow - common
  • Tree Swallow* - at least 8, mainly feeding over river banks
  • Purple Martin - at least 5 over N end of island 30/6
  • Bank Swallow - at least 105 feeding over river 30/6
  • Cliff Swallow* - several daily, nesting under main dam
  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow - nesting near East Visitor Center
  • Barn Swallow - pr nesting at Pavilion by Cenaiko Trout Lake
  • Black-capped Chickadee - common
  • White-breasted Nuthatch - singles 30/6, 3/7
  • House Wren* - at least 7 near West Pond; also on east bank
  • Eastern Bluebird - attending nest box behind East Visitor Center
  • Catharus thrush sp. - two singles, probably Veerys
  • American Robin - common
  • Grey Catbird* - common
  • Eurasian Starling - common
  • Cedar Waxwing - 4 on 30/6, 2 on 3/7
  • Yellow Warbler* - common
  • American Redstart - common
  • Song Sparrow* - common
  • Savannah Sparrow - at least one
  • Northern Cardinal - about 5 on the west bank
  • Red-winged Blackbird - numerous at West Pond (10+); also on east bank
  • Common Grackle* - plenty West Pond (5+)
  • Brewer's Blackbird* - present
  • Brown-headed Cowbird - juvs on the dam island; others on east bank
  • Baltimore Oriole - singles West Pond, 30/6 and Cotton Creek, 1/7
  • House Finch - family on dam island
  • American Goldfinch* - common
  • House Sparrow - common

We missed Bald Eagle, Common Turkey (present daily with 7 juv in savannah area), 3 Black Tern (3/7) and Pileated Woodpecker.

Linked page

* = image formerly on linked page.

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