With the continuing warming (admittedly in fits and starts) I've been trying to get around and see what new birds have been arriving. At the same time I was able to spend a few days in Tampa, Florida over my spring break. It was a family trip so I didn't do as much birding as I would have on my own but we got to see a Twins spring training game and got to the beach a couple of times. I really felt out of my element in Florida. Trees with leaves, humidity and bird calls that were unfamiliar to my ears. When we got back we found snow still on the ground but a variety of new migrants in the field.
Here is a collection of photos from the last couple of weeks.
This is a very distant photo of the Long-tailed Duck that showed up above the Coon Rapids Dam in Anoka, Minnesota a couple of weeks ago. It is still there as of today but should be moving on soon.
In Florida I discovered some really nice county parks that were close to our hotel. I had a lot of fun using my new camera lens on these birds along a boardwalk. This Limpkin acted like I wasn't even there.
My wife pointed out this Black-crowned Night Heron as we walked through a cypress swamp one morning. Again, a very cooperative bird.
I was very excited to see Swallow-tailed Kites while in Tampa. I haven't seen one since I was in Costa Rica years ago.
Back home I went out and drove the back roads in the county where migrants are slowly beginning to show up. Horned Larks have been around for quite a while now but they are beginning to really sing recently.
A young Red-tailed Hawk was looking for a meal along a roadside in Dakota County.
It must have figured it wouldn't have much luck as long as I was sitting there trying to get its picture. The interesting thing in this photo is the contrast between the wing feathers. It looks like the secondaries and tertials have been replaced and are fresh. The primaries look dull. I don't know much about wing molt in Red-tails but I'm thinking this is a pretty good example of a molt limit. Along with the tail I would guess this is a second year (SY) bird.
Migration is picking up so make sure you get outside and keep looking up!
So I went up to northern Minnesota with a couple of friends yesterday to do a little winter birding. It was COLD. The temperature never got above zero degrees but we did see some great birds. Top of the list was a Great Gray Owl that we saw as we started to head home. Literally the last tick on the checklist for the day. Saw big numbers of Pine Siskins, Purple Finches and Common Redpolls. Which brings me to the purpose of this post.
I saw what I believe is a Hoary Redpoll in a small group of redpolls along Admiral Road (just south of the feeders for those who know the area).
Here are some photos that I hope will be definitive.
The bird was very light. Only had faint streaking on sides and color on chest confined to small area.
Compared to other bird in picture bill looks shorter. Yes, I know head angle can distort this but I'm giving it a shot.
Unfortunately I couldn't get a shot of the back. I'm throwing it out there folks - does anyone think this is good enough to be called a Hoary Redpoll. We saw dozens and dozens of redpolls yesterday and I saw 2 that I put into the Hoary category. Now I'm hoping you can tell me if you agree or disagree and why.
Besides this puzzle we had a really good day but struck out on a couple of what should have been easy finds. No White-breasted Nuthatch and no American Goldfinch. Go figure!
Just some quick photos of some of the birds that we typically see during the month of October. These are a sure sign winter is not too far away.
The last of the "spotted" thrushes to move through Minnesota are the Hermit Thrush. Easy to ID and fun to handle we'll see this species early next spring.
You gotta love that rufous tail!
One of the shy sparrows that we get once in a while is the Lincoln's Sparrow. Below I also ran into a young Swamp Sparrow. Notice the pointy tail feathers.
A common bird we don't usually catch is this Common Grackle. Large, mixed flocks of blackbirds can be seen moving through our region right now. A large flock landed near one of our nets and this was the result.
I just love the iridescence of these birds. Even on cloudy days they seem to glow.
It won't be long before another season is over but as long as the weather cooperates, it's worth a shot to unfurl those nets!
Here is a shot of the fall colors at our banding site:
Checking radar tonight before tomorrow morning's banding session at Carver Park shows good migration movement. What I really like are the returns from the north shore of Lake Superior.
It looks like lots of birds are making the jump from Minnesota to northern Wisconsin and the U.P of Michigan. Duluth looks a bit lighter in migration activity but Milwaukee, Chicago and points south are still very active.
We should be seeing these movements begin to lessen in the next week or two in the Great Lakes region. Activity will continue in the south for a while yet.
Many of the birds moving south are likely species like Dark-eyed Junco, Kinglets, other late Sparrows (Harris', Fox, etc.) and waterfowl. Warblers, except for Yellow-rumped are pretty much gone from my area. I did have a good number of Hermit Thrushes last week at my banding station.
I will post results for tomorrows banding session on Sunday.
The weather radar is very active tonight, especially in the eastern half of the U.S.. There is a line of showers moving across Iowa along a frontal boundary that looks like it is stopping southbound migrants to it's north.
As this line of rain slides to the east it may mean a grounding of migrants behind (north) it. This may be good news for birders in southern Minnesota and Wisconsin. With the reports of heavy movements of birds in the Lake Superior region the last couple of days there may be lots to look at on Thursday morning.
Banding this weekend was quiet and slow. The weather was unseasonably warm with a wind from the south. As much as we enjoyed the weather it really didn't push any birds south in big numbers. I did catch a few migrants and a Black-capped Chickadee I banded earlier in the month. It was fun to compare data from earlier and notice that the chickadee had changed it's molt pattern.
A bird I always like to see is the Ovenbird. We have breeders locally but see migrants through September.
A significant change in the weather is coming later in the week and I expect more leaves to fall and more migrants to show up. We have a banding program next Saturday and it should be busy.
I had the good fortune to be banding last Sunday with just beautiful weather. Sometimes for banders this isn't the best but for us it worked out just fine. Our biggest worry was the moderate and constant wind. When your nets look like a sail on a boat you tend not to catch as much but all our nets were pretty sheltered.
We had several migrants for the day, all pretty typical of mid to late fall. The Gray-cheeked Thrush above was one of the last captures. It's always nice to get to check out field marks close up. The face on this bird is the giveaway.
This Philadelphia Vireo is one that we see on an irregular basis and almost always in the fall. Nice and brightly colored this bird was probably the "best" bird of the day.
When the Orange-crowned Warblers show up you know the warbler migration is coming to an end. Yellow-rumps and Orange-crowns wind down September and segue into the sparrow migration of October. We did have the first White-throated Sparrows last weekend and they were all juveniles. Adults will show up in about a week or two.
The common bird for this banding site is the Gray Catbird and they are still present. What I like to show visitors is the eye color of the young birds. A brownish eye with a gray edge is a young bird. Along with eye color, the roof of the mouth of young birds is pink to gray.
As adults (above) their eyes will be a plum red that is so dark you can't really even see the pupil. The mouth lining will be black.
These are the kinds of characteristic changes that we just wouldn't know about without having these birds in the hand and being able to study individuals over long periods of time. And the best thing about bird banding is that there are still a ton of questions out there about birds that we haven't answered yet!