larus (ravenous seabird) pipixcan (Aztec word, suggesting Mexico)
Tuesday, July 16, 1991 — 11:20 am
Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge, Minnesota — west border between Pool B and Northwest Pool
I was miserable. This day wasn’t going at all like I had planned. I wasn’t seeing any of the birds I wanted to see. Over an hour had gone by since I’d seen the Black-billed Magpie. The heat was wiping me out. (My Honda Civic didn’t have air conditioning.) I was thirsty, but all I had to drink was a can of Diet A&W Root Beer that was lying on the back seat getting hotter and hotter. I decided to save it for an emergency. Nothing was moving, not even the wildlife. I came upon a Red Fox lying in the meager shade of the roadside grass. As I crept forward, it got up and crossed the road into the marsh. A few moments later it popped back out. It trotted lazily down the road, keeping about 30 yards in front of the car. I stopped to look at a bird, and the fox disappeared around a bend. When I drove on, there was the fox, standing in the road. It resumed its lope, seemingly unwilling to put forth any effort.
I gave up. I cut down a side road to the refuge boundary where I was greeted by another locked gate. I stumbled out of the car to unlock it. As I pulled the key from my pocket, I spotted a gull flying over. I knew it had to be a Franklin’s Gull. The refuge supposedly had a massive breeding colony of them, and I’d expected to be inundated with them, but three hours had gone by and I hadn’t seen one. Until now.
It flew in from the west, over the farmland that borders the refuge. It circled slowly above me about 30 feet off the ground. I unlocked the gate and walked back to the car. Before I could get my binoculars, the gull had disappeared. But I had seen its black head, red bill and diagnostic wing pattern.
I pulled through the gate, locked it behind me and started down the road back to headquarters. I’d only gone a short way when I saw the gull circling low over the marsh. The sun was behind it, and the white on the wing bars, trailing edge of the wings and tail glowed with a silver-white translucency in the light. It was a very pretty view, although I’m not usually excited by gulls. For four hours I hadn’t seen another human being.
I drove the Lost Bay Auto Tour without seeing anything interesting. I used the key to let myself onto the observation tower near headquarters. The tower is 100 feet tall and catches the wind. While I was up there, some clouds rolled through and blocked the sun. As a result, the time I spent up there was the only time I wasn’t hot and miserable all day. I had a great view of the marsh, but saw no new birds.
I returned the key and headed out of the refuge. Along the road I spotted something in a field along the road that looked like a giant rabbit. I approached slowly and discovered a cow Moose grazing in the vegetation. She allowed me to pull up next to her, about 30 yards away. I took some pictures as she ambled off into the brush.
I headed south for some birding on the prairies near the Dakota border. I had three new birds and a Moose, so it wasn’t a wasted day. But it was a long way from what I’d anticipated. I’d love to get there at dawn in early June sometime.