Big Trip, Chapter 9, Mosquito Coasts

Mosquito Coasts

27 June

5:30 came early. Mr. Jorgenson, my host and maker of congenial signs, was a great cooker of eggs and bacon. He was wide-awake and one cup of coffee up on me. We talked through breakfast by first comparing the pros and cons of our respective states. I reminded him that Oregon had far fewer mosquitoes than the millions foraging from every shore of every Minnesota Lake. Laughed, he scratched an ugly welt from an ugly mosquito. He discussed his thoughts on access to Little Pine Lake. He told me that private property surrounds most of the lakes, with either homes but mostly little resorts attempting to catch the tourist dollar. He told me that he hoped to encourage more people to provide campgrounds for tourist.

I wished my host much luck and thanked him for his generosity for directions to get back to the highway, and on to Brainerd for my next general delivery mail. Not far west of Brainerd, I crossed the Mississippi River for the first time in my life. I expected the river to be wider but reminded myself that I was not all that far from its headwaters, Lake Itasca at 1475 feet above sea level in the northern woods of Minnesota. The river flows 2,552 miles before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico south of New Orleans, Louisiana. Mississippi is a Ojibwa (Chippewa) Indian word that means great river or gathering of waters, and the Nile, Amazon and Yangtze are the only rivers that exceed the mighty Mississippi River. The watershed of the Mississippi River drains from the Rocky Mountains to Allegheny Mountains in the eastern United States, a region including 31 states and 3 Canadian provinces. That is approximately 40% of North America. Millions of birds migrate up and down what we call the Mississippi Flyway. Some of these birds use the Upper Mississippi River NWR, the longest refuge in the lower 48 states. It extends 261 miles along the Mississippi River from Wisconsin to Illinois and covers 242,400 acres. The only bird I noticed crossing the Mississippi in Brainerd was a Rock Dove [=Rock Pigeon].

I was east of the Mississippi at last. I put Pettingill’s west of the Mississippi guide away. Wow, I was east of the Rocky Mountains, east of the 100th Meridian, and east of the Mississippi. I had already put in storage my western Peterson, my familiar guide not to be used until my return next year. Reigning in my excitement of birding in the East, I followed directions from a service station on how to reach the Brainerd post office. A letter from my parents was there. They each wrote, sometimes writing about what they did individually and together. It is comforting to know your parents are close. My little sister, just barely a teenager also wrote. There even were a couple of notes from Oregon friends. Everyone was fine, and I was fine. Mail from home was a good thing. My stomach was sending me messages; my early breakfast fooled my system in believing it was already lunchtime. I made the difficult decision to ignore the hunger pangs. I could wait until my next birding site, which was about an hour away.

I arrived at Rice Lake NWR about noon and checked in with Alex Claud, the refuge manager of 15,000 acres of bog, marsh and lake in central Minnesota. Before the trip began I had sent the refuge a note, maybe it was considered a warning, of my plans to visit. Mr. Claud surprised me by offering their visitor cabin during my stay. The cabin was a little cracker box building known as Antler Inn. A Baltimore Oriole was calling nearby. The cabin was equipped with electricity, running water, and a stove. This was better than the CCC mess at Malheur NWR. All of those days camping this month made me appreciate even more the comfort of a real roof and 20th Century conveniences. More importantly, as I was learning, Minnesota grew some very hungry and persistent mosquitoes. After all, I was in the land of a thousand lakes and a zillion mosquitoes.

Following a hastily prepared and welcomed lunch, I met Mr. Claud who gave me directions and a map for some of the better birding areas of the refuge. The dusty road from headquarters brought me to a marshy area near the lakeshore where I heard a horse-like whinny. I recognized the sound from hours of listening to Peterson’s LPs of bird songs and calls. My first Sora was, like most rails, seen but not heard. Practically in the same spot a Short-billed Marsh Wren [=Sedge Wren] jumped briefly in and out of view. In a field nearby Bobolinks flew all around, singing. Not far up the road the wetland gave way to grassy open habitat where I got a good look at a Field Sparrow, in this case, not a life bird but definitely a new species for the trip list.

Common Loon was still not checked off on the trip list. Mr. Claud provided explicit directions for a guaranteed loon. I parked the car at an intersection just west of headquarters as instructed, and hiked down an obscure road that angled off the main dusty route. The intersection I left baked under the afternoon sun; the route I hiked was at first felt cool in the shadows of the tamarack and other hardwood trees. The narrow seldom-traveled road led to Mandy Lake, small and hidden in the deep-forested ridges of Indian Point. Small pin sized shafts of sunlight penetrated around layers of leaves in the still air. What might seem to be picturesque soon turned to, for a lack of a better word, hell. The mosquitoes that now and then attacked by bare arms began to be more than a little annoying. The further I advanced toward the unseen lake, the more intolerable became the mosquitoes. Soon I was trotting down the road in an attempt to keep the mosquitoes at bay. Trotting didn’t do the trick so I tried running until I reached the lake. I stopped, raised the binoculars to scan the lake and spotted a solitary Common Loon. My arms held motionless for the long seconds it took for my brain to process a confirmation of the species was more than enough time for them to be blackened by thousands of mosquitoes, each dipping their piercing mouth into my exposed skin.

Ok, it was definitely a Common Loon. My arms weren’t enough so those mosquitoes unfortunate enough to not make it to my arms, neck and face, went through my thin t-shirt. Dancing up and down, waving my arms, screaming words incomprehensible to the buzzing bloodsuckers did not help. My actions probably routed the loon but by now, I could care less about the emotional state of anyone but myself. It was fight or flight. Fighting was useless; I was too outnumbered. I had earlier noticed that the junction of the main road where I left the car and the road to the lake was a 45 degree angle for a few yards then appeared to parallel the main road. Frantically, I made a dash through the forest in the direction I hoped the road to be. Crashing through the underbrush, tripping over rocks, and slipping down the side of a steep ridge was part of my great escape. The ground became wetter and spongier. On came the mosquito charge. I soon was in a black bog, where each step from the smelly decay tried to take my shoes. I barely glanced at more carnivorous pitcher plants than I had ever seen. At least it was cool and it felt welcome compared to the sweat that the exercise had worked up. My progress was slowing and the mosquitoes seemed to gather new forces faster than I could wipe away their blacked bodies and my blood. Gradually the rotting ooze changed to more sold ground. In a minute I saw the road, dusty and reflecting the hot sun. I jumped into the middle of the road where no mosquito dared to follow. That was a Common Loon the hard way.

The car was not far from my escape route. The run through the woods left me scratched, muddy, and I itched almost all over. Back at Antler Inn I cleaned away the adventure and cooked my dinner on a real stove. Occasionally a familiar buzz revealed an indoor mosquito but these were soon silenced by a slap of a rolled newspaper. The Clauds asked me to join them to look for turtles that were laying eggs. On the way, we stopped at Mandy Lake where Mr. Claud whistled a very good imitation of the Common Loon. His whistle was so good that two loons responded by calling repeatedly as they approached Mr. Claud who was hidden at the shore. This was a Common Loon the easy way because I watched from the safety of a car with the windows rolled tightly. Mr. Claud didn’t seem bothered by the pesky mosquitoes; it made me flinch just to see him engulfed by the bloodsuckers.

We found several turtles laying eggs. They actually do shed tears during the process. It must be a strain. Once the female has laid the last egg, the soft earth is pushed over the set of eggs and the cavity she dug is filled. We carefully examined one of the turtles that had just completed its tearful behavior. The intricate lacework of the net-like pattern of the shell suggested that it was the western painted turtle otherwise known as Chrysemys picta. If our identification was incorrect, it was of no consequence to the turtle as it ambled steadfastly away from our curious eyes.

A favorite enemy of the turtles in the refuge is the striped skunk. They eat turtle eggs. The skunks even go so far as the follow turtles as the female searches for a place to deposit the eggs, usually in the soft soil of the dike roads. Sometimes skunks will eat the eggs as they are being laid, grabbing them in their paws and biting into them before they hit the ground. That may sound brutal but every natural animal has to eat to live. Unlike humans who eat more than they need (my apologies to those who don’t or cannot), most other animals eat what they need. The turtle lays lots of eggs, some eggs do not hatch for various reasons, the eggs are destroyed or eaten, the young die or are eaten, and some of the young gain maturity, reproduce and lay eggs. The skunk may not find enough to eat, so it cannot produce enough milk for its young, which most die, some reach maturity and reproduce. It is a balance. Of course, human activities often and universally interrupt the balance Some people may be distressed to know that skunks eat turtle eggs. After all, turtles are cute and more steadfast than a rabbit or a stinky skunk. Did I mention that the tears of egg laying turtles are believed by some to be a sign of motherly love? Huh? If the female turtle loved her eggs so much why did she not defend her nest? We humans are quick to assign emotions to animals out of ignorance and how cute, cuddly, colorful, or some attribute that enhances our own emotions. We are also quick to pave over places where these turtles might lay their eggs.

On the way back to headquarters, we surprised a striped skunk that was digging out a turtle nest on the side of the dike road. Up went its banner tail. The skunk was on my side of the car and the window was down. Somehow, Mr. Claud didn’t see the skunk, probably because he was attempting, through the yellow headlight beams, to dodge the dugout nests of generations of laying turtles and preying skunk. He later said that he knew something was wrong when I lunged forward and away from the window. He said he knew why when we all got a strong pungent whiff of what was sprayed on the side of the car.

*****

My first crossing of the Mississippi was a landmark. I would cross the Mississippi again in 1963 in St. Louis, Missouri, but it was night. Years later, I crossed the river at St. Louis during the day when I appreciated the immensity of this huge waterway. In 1996 Linda and I crossed an even wider Mississippi further downstream at Memphis, Tennessee, where Martin Luther King was assassinate, and where, in the 1820s, the burgeoning town was visited by John James Audubon. Memphis was where Elvis Presley’s career got its start. In fact, the first house Presley owned was on Audubon Drive. Linda and crossed a long bridge at a relatively narrow point of the Mississippi River that took us into West Memphis, Arkansas, where, tired and hungry, we stopped for the night in a place devoid of nature except for a few spooked House Sparrows, rodents we couldn’t see and didn’t want to, and lots of human truck drivers. We were upstream from where Audubon had roamed the lower Arkansas River not far from the Mississippi. It was there that he found what is now considered the first Willow Flycatchers.1 The only bird on my first crossing, thankfully, was finally called a pigeon, which are big doves just as rats are big mice. It was good that the AOU finally put things into prospective.

In 2004, the Rice Lakes refuge checklist of birds was up to 500 species. The refuge tallied over 3 million visitors annually, a figure that competes with Yellowstone’s visitation totals. High numbers for visitation offers the distinction of just high numbers. Visitors upset about skunks eating turtle eggs may rest assured that both prosper. On the other hand, many humans avoid eggs because of their cholesterol. Why bother, when, according to a friend, an average American 70-year-old will have consumed 14 cattle, 12 sheep, 23 pigs, 880 chickens and enough fish to equal 770 pounds. It seems insane that an organism that weighs an average 150 pounds eat a whole farm. More than likely skunks have fewer heart attacks than humans do.

Rice Lake NWR is now known for its migrating Ring-necked Ducks, a species long gone in late June 1962. According to 2004 information, the grassland habitat hosts LeConte’s Sparrows, a species not on the checklist I had, which had been revised in 1961. Their current checklist listed the species as common. According to breeding bird surveys, LeConte’s Sparrows have increased in Minnesota. I must have been there at the wrong time; I still have not seen the species. Although Indians from several tribes formerly gathered wild rice at the site of the refuge, today only members of the Ojibwe of the Chippewa Nation harvest wild rice on the lake. White settlers first came to the lake in the late 1800s. I wonder how many turtle eggs they ate and skunks they killed. Loggers cleared the white and red pine from the refuge. The logs were floated on Rice Lake to a sawmill or they were moved to the Mississippi River 20 miles to the west. In 1970, the refuge added 2,045 acres called the Sandstone Unit, which, according to the refuge’s official web site, was once known for its towering white pine forests. Apparently, that forest also became horizontal. Oddly, a web site goes on to advertise that the Sandstone Unit has “breathtaking scenery in an unaltered landscape.” Huh?

My continued experiences with mosquitoes led to discomfort and curiosity. During 1962 and early 1963 I should have had a better insect repellent. There are 3,000 species of mosquitoes worldwide, and 150 of them plunder the United States. Well, maybe I shouldn’t say plunder because they do have a place in nature, maybe. There are 28 different genera; they are not all in the genus Anopheles, even in the United States. They breed in all kinds of habitats including running water, and pools, ponds, lakes, and seas of fresh and salt water. Some species lay their eggs in the water collected in old tires. The genus Aedes breeds in snow melt. They are everywhere.

Males and females feed on plant nectar. The females, the only sex that plagues bare skin, bites to get our blood which is needed to complete their, not our, reproductive cycle. (Anyone attempting reproductive like behavior in the presence of mosquitoes knows that the mosquito’s behavior does not enhance our behavior at the moment.) When the mosquito bites, regardless of which body part one might have exposed to her, a small amount of mosquito saliva is first injected. This mosquito spit prevents our blood from clotting her straw-like mouth part that she uses to bloat her body full of us. About the same time, we feel a slight sting, swelling and an urge to scratch the point of attack. The symptoms we have after the dastardly deed depends on how much saliva was injected, the species of mosquito and our physical diagnosis including how allergic we might be. A mosquito that has not had enough time to inject the full amount of saliva don’t leave as much of an itchy welt as one that has a body plumped full of our blood. These are the ones that more often leave us a swollen and itchy bump. These are the ones that, if discovered and sent to smithereensville leave a bloody smear when its meal, our hard-earned blood, is splattered by our deft slap. The itchy welts usually do not persist for more than an hour. However, depending on where I was, which likely meant a different species, the after bite of the mosquito varied from no welt to a welt last for hours, and the amount of itchiness varied from none to lots. I have been with people who swell up less than I do, and with people, at the same time and place, that have welts bigger and that last longer than everyone else does. The welts may even last several days for those highly susceptible to mosquito spit. Even the amount of pain of a mosquito penetrating the skin varied from no pain to a sting that definitely got my attention and sometimes a four-letter word. The size of the mosquito seemed to have no bearing on its aftermath. The rather large and brownish mosquitoes that bit me in North Dakota were no worse than the smaller and blacker Minnesota marauders.

Mosquitoes, according to the experts, are attracted to us by our breath’s carbon dioxide. That means that my heaving breathing brought on from running away from the mosquitoes actually attracted more hungry females. The odor of folic acid from our skin is also an important cue for mosquitoes. As for any other smells, the mosquitologist offers no definitive answers about perfumes, hair sprays, detergent and softer residues in clothing, or other human additives. The odors from them may either attract or repel mosquitoes that are looking for folic acid fumes and blood. Mosquitoes are attracted to dark clothing because it attracts heat so it’s a good idea to go light or mosquitoes may not snack lightly.

In 1962, the buzzword for controlling insects in your personal space was not DEET. Although DEET, a shortened term for a very long chemical name, was developed in 1946 by the U.S. Army and was available to civilians in 1957, I had not been told about it. Perhaps it was for my protection, you know, the old “be careful, you might poke your eye out” advice given by parents at the first sign of perceived danger. Danger or not, in 1962 I had more mosquitoes gnawing on me than the National Debt. DEET and anything else that might work is now in my kit to the outdoors. Especially now. In 1962, mosquitoes in North America carried malaria, yellow fever, dog heartworm, and viral encephalitis, for example equine encephalitis. Now a mosquito can deliver the deadly West Nile Virus. It is a jungle out there.

28 June

The morning was cool as I loaded up and headed away from my cabin, the Antler Inn, and east from Rice Lake NWR. I was happy with the three new trip birds: Blue-winged Teal, Veery, and mosquito guarded Common Loon. I drove east on state highways to Duluth at the southern tip of giant Lake Superior. I hoped to contact the compiler of the Duluth Christmas Count for local birding information. No luck. I crossed the southern tip of Lake Superior and entered the city of Superior in Wisconsin. This was a new state for my life list of states and for the trip.

My route in Wisconsin hugged the shore of Lake Superior as much as possible. A lake that occupying nearly 32,000 square miles and is 350 miles long was too fascinating for just a glance. Markers along the way told of rich history. Etienne Brule discovered Lake Superior around 1620, and Jean Nicolet, in 1634, was one of the first explorer to what was to become Wisconsin. Both of these Frenchmen were, what else, searching for the Northwest Passage to China. Following the early explorers were the missionaries who came to proselytize whomever they contacted. Father Marquette was among the most notable of those lobbying for cultural changes. He was a French Jesuit missionary whose fame extends well beyond Wisconsin. Marquette established Michigan’s earliest European settlements at Sault Ste. Marie and St. Ignace in 1668 and 1671. He helped Louis Jolliet map the Mississippi River. Shortly after 1658, even though the French convinced themselves that they owned the Great Lakes region, the English and American fur trade stepped in to make a profit and gained a foothold in the land and lakes. Decades later the French and English left. Eventually most things were trapped, and mining became important, first the lure was lead and zinc, followed by iron ore. Some of the iron ore being removed from Wisconsin is replaced by dairy cattle manure. What they say about Wisconsin cheese is true. It is close to superior.

The first sandy beach that I found was a welcome sight and welcomed me to try the water. Late June must not be the best time for a swim in Lake Superior. After all, it freezes during winter and the thawed water was very chilled. The water was too cold for wading. The sun, although warm, was not hot. Determined, I walked away from the shore until the water line and the place where my two legs intersect came to a jolting stop. It was cold beyond imagination. The opposite of sizzling comes to mind only more painful. I took a deep breath and took two more steps down the gently sloping bottom. Then, I bent my knees until my head was below the frigid water. Turning about, I made my way as quickly as possible to dry land. What wasn’t red or shriveled was a sickly bluish white. The only sound on the lonely beach was that of someone foolish enough to think about swimming. That was me, with heavy breathing and chattering teeth. If there were any birds around, I didn’t notice.

A few more miles of driving were enjoyed because of the greenhouse effect of the sun shining through the car’s rolled up windows. It was getting late and I was getting hungry of course. I had picked up $3.49 worth of groceries, and filled the gas tank with 8.8 gallons of regular for $3.03. I was ready to travel but the groceries reminded my stomach to stop. The prospect of a bona fide campground was not good. A small farm just above a beach along Lake Superior offered an ideal campsite. The owner of the property was most gracious. I was a little cool as I had been traveling in my iced bathing suit. I had barely been able to change into the suit back at the old swimming hole. Now I was in the middle of a field and no place to hide. The wet and now itchy suit stayed on during the preparation of a hamburger and heated canned vegetables. In the meantime, a fly wouldn’t leave me along. Where’s a flycatcher when you need one?

At least the stiff breeze was too much for most of the mosquitoes. Those that were not trying to get to my pearly white legs were lurking out of the wind in the shelter of the hay stubble. Once the meal was over, the tent was unfurled in a wind that had increased in velocity so much that the pesky fly had disappeared and my bathing suit had nearly dried. The tent pegs were pounded in the firm ground and the little pup tent roof was pushed up all the while the canvas door flapped hard against the tightening walls. No sooner than when the last tent pole was fully vertical and holding the slanting walls tight did the tent stakes start to come loose from the buffeting wind. Between the worst of the gales, I found a few pounds of rocks to help anchor the tent stakes. I crawled inside and fastened the door. Just in time too. Peeking out a hole, I could see that rain was falling at about 45 degrees from the clouds over Lake Superior. The angle that the rain fell depended on the strength of the wind gusts. It was a relief to rid myself from the swimsuit and brush off any misplaced sand granules. Zipping into my cozy and dry sleeping bag, I soon fell asleep in the lull of the rain pelting the tent. Even the occasional cry of the wind was not going to interrupt a night’s sleep. However, I half woke in time to notice that the raindrops denser and the wind was blowing harder than ever. A groan from a sudden burst hit the tent hard. The cracking of one of the tent stakes was unheard over the roar of the wind and the pelting rain, but I did hear the wet thud as the tent came down on top of me. During the rest of the night I was busy trying to keep the tent upright, at least enough so I could breathe, and keep surface water from flooding the floor. In the wee hours of the morning, I fell asleep in exhausted frustration, ignoring the rainsquall that had unleashed itself. Sometime later, the storm moved on or dissipated enough for hordes of mosquitoes to enter a gaping hole in the door of the rumpled tent. How they managed to escape the storm is amazing but many of them did and they were hungry. Slowly, I woke to a sun that rose in a cloudless sky that warmed the soaked surrounding. The fallen rain was now leaving the wet tent and freshly cut hay field in a flurry of whitish steam racing skyward to form clouds another day or a different place.

*****

The ABA met in Duluth in 2002 when they saw such enviable species as Black-backed Woodpecker and Sharp-tailed Grouse, species I missed for the entire trip. In pays to have good plans and to be organized. Hurried visits in the autumn of the1980s along Lake Superior north of Duluth revealed the beauty of the secondary forests of white barked birch and buoyed Common Loons floating not far offshore. The mosquito population was also thriving.

Wisconsin changed but mining is still a going concern. The last iron ore from state was in 1965. Taconite, a low-grade iron product that required lots of water to mine was a going concern from 1968 to 1983, and sulfide ores are being mined today. That’s lots of Wisconsin being shipped elsewhere. Natural resource prices continue to rise. Gas at 34 cents per gallon is now approaching $3.40 per gallon.

29 June

The sun was kind as it accompanied a faint breeze that helped dry the tent. An hour passed. The heat from the sun was finally too much for additional blood sucking insects that now lurked in the cool shade. That allowed me to prepare a leisurely breakfast of eggs and bacon, and to sip a couple of cups of coffee without torment from mosquitoes. Slowly, my tent dried. Because I was in the middle of a field of hay stubble, no birds were to be seen. Although I could have made a few notes on birds I saw yesterday, I was content to take note that the rainsquall had done no more damage than a replaceable tent pole and the loss of a few hours of sleep.

By the time I drug myself into the packed car and drove out of the field, the sun was high in the sky. Back on the highway the car was soon traveling across the state line into Michigan. During the day I stopped occasionally along Michigan highway 28. There were few cars and few birds or at least places that looked promising to find birds. I drove a little over 100 miles, passing just north of Ironwood, the north end of Lake Gogebic, and little towns like Topaz, Trout Creek and Covington. On down the highway U.S. 41 merges more traffic from the northern tip of Keweenaw Peninsula of Upper Michigan. A ferry from the peninsula went to Isle Royal National Park, a wilderness in Lake Superior that is famous for its wolves and moose. Months ago I reluctantly shelved plans to go there.

Late in the afternoon, tired from the night in Wisconsin, I pulled into Van Ripper State Park. As state parks go, it is pretty large, with about 950 acres of pine and deciduous forests and of course plenty of campsites overlooking Lake Michigamme. My site cost $1.00 for the night. My arrival was early enough to allow plenty of time to set up the tent and set up an outdoor kitchen on the picnic table. On one end I placed the two-burner stove. It was at the end of the table because it was easier to stand while cooking. About a foot from the stove, where I would sit while eating, was a cup waiting for coffee and an aluminum plate from my mess kit waiting for food. At the other end of the table I stacked a couple of books and paper weighted down by a rock. Next to it and almost opposite my table setting, I placed my typewriter. The latter was for taking advantage of the time for catching up on my notes. I took advantage of a place to shower and used the running water at the campsite to clean away some of the dirt and grime. There were fewer mosquitoes in the park, and I was grateful. A black and orange male Redstart contrasted with a few yellow-breasted Nashville Warblers topped off the day as new birds for the trip.

1 July

A new month, a new state, and maybe today I would find a new species to add to the trip list. Energized by a good night sleep, I hurried out of the park, but stopped briefly at an important historical marker for the Jackson Mine. The marker informed that in 1844 William A. Burt, a government surveyor had noticed strange fluctuations in compass readings. This led to the discovery of the great Lake Superior iron ore deposits and formation of the Jackson Mine, the first mining company in 1847. Remains of the open pits reminded me of the badlands of Montana and North Dakota only much worse than bad. Any attempt to traverse the mined region would have been far more difficult than crossing natural badlands or even the lave flows of Idaho. Stunted pines and bushes dot the rough gullies and scrapes.

At 9:30 am, I arrived at Seney National Wildlife Refuge, hopeful for adding eastern birds. The 96,000-acre refuge, important to migrants using the Mississippi Flyway as well as breeding grounds for many species of birds and other wildlife. My day of arrival was on a Sunday. Most of the staff was absent but I did get directions for the most recent sightings of LeConte’s Sparrows. I would soon be out of their breeding range, and once during my search thought I heard one. Whatever I was hearing never came out to be seen. The sparrows I did see where LeConte’s had been recently reported turned out to be of Fox, Lincoln’s and Swamp variety. The refuge checklist considered Swamp Sparrows as abundant, Lincoln’s as uncommon, and provided no status for Fox Sparrows. The last species was new for the trip list. LeConte’s Sparrow was listed as rare during summer.

Somehow I had managed to miss American Merganser on the trip but saw one today at Seney. Rusty Blackbirds were seen for the first time. Harder to see but more intriguing were warblers singing from the dense foliage along the dike road. I wished that I had spent more time listening to Peterson’s LP of eastern bird songs. I did find new birds, Black and White Warblers and Myrtle Warbler [=Yellow-rumped Warbler]. More Redstarts, Nashville Warblers and Yellowthroats were abundant.

*****

Seney NWR had a program in the 1960s to help Canada Geese breed where the species had apparently never bred. The effort is amusing because Canada Geese now breed many places where many people wish they never bred. The species now breeds and feeds in habitats including lawns and golf courses. The latter is especially a problem as their droppings are almost the size to a golf ball.

One of the birding events Seney NWR listed on their official website is a Yellow Rail Tour. Sightings of the rails were not guaranteed. The 2004 checklist listed Yellow Rails as uncommon just as the 1961 revised edition I had in 1962. I wasn’t hoping for Yellow Rails at Seney; I would wait for them when on the east coast.

1 Although the birds Audubon found at Arkansas Post could have been Alder Flycatchers, the illustration he published is of a Willow Flycatcher (yours truly in 1993).

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