Going birding at Purgatory Creek

Today I got an email that told me that two rare species of birds and one uncommon bird for this area were spotted down in Eden Prairie at Purgatory Creek Park.

A Hudsonian Godwit. Photo by Ron Taube
A Hudsonian Godwit. Photo by Ron Taube

I had never been to this park before so I had to Google directions.

The rare birds were the Sabine’s Gull which summers near the Arctic Circle and the Hudsonian Godwit which summers in certain areas of northern Canada and Alaska.

I had never seen either one before and thought that this might be my only opportunity. The uncommon bird was the Franklin’s Gull.

I called a couple of birding friends and alerted them, one of them was on his way before my wife and I could get into our car.

We drove the 30 or so miles from our Coon Rapids home to Eden Prairie and quickly found the park which is behind a large office building.

The Purgatory Creek Park is quite beautiful and has paved trails around most of it.

The area where we were to go required us to cross a nicely built foot bridge and walk onto a grass trail that overlooked a pond with two islands in its midst and on the east side of one of the islands we quickly saw the Sabine’s Gull.

It looked to be an immature bird. It had dark wing bars that were wider than a Franklin’s Gull. This was one way of distinguishing it from the Franklin’s but since it was a immature it didn’t have the dark head of the Franklin’s anyway.

The Sabine’s Gull is distinctively smaller than most other gulls as well.

As we watched the Sabine and looked around the pond for other birds we saw the Black Bellied Plover and Green Winged teals and one by one half a dozen Franklin’s Gulls landed near the Sabine so you could see the differences between them.

The Sabine which is 12.5 to 14 inches long is even smaller than the Franklin’s which is 14 to 15 inches long.

Much as I wanted to see the Sabine’s it was the Hudsonian Godwit that got my greatest interest.  The other birders there told me that they had seen it but not for half an hour or so.

My friend who I had called, called me back to say that he had left before I arrived but he saw the Hudsonian Godwit and the Sabine’s and some plovers so I kept looking.

My wife and I scanned the area but in spite of all the bird species that we saw there didn’t seem to be any Godwits, then as I was about to leave one of the birders who I knew from past birding adventures said that he was going to the east side of the pond and look at the eastern most island for the Godwit.

I walked with him and began to wonder what had happened to my wife. Well when we found an open viewing area there she was.  So I found my wife and soon after the Hudsonian Godwit was spotted by several of us.

One birder called some others on his cell phone and soon there were several of us watching this rare bird. I took some photos from quite a distance and even got one of him taking off.

This group of 10 or so birders soon grew as others walking around the park stopped to see what was going on.

I showed some of them who didn’t have binoculars my photos and there were lot’s of oohs and aahs to be heard.

My wife was delighted that she went along and all of us remembered why birding can be such fun.

Editor’s note: Ron Taube is a member of the creative writers group at the Coon Rapids Senior Center.

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