Monday, April 14, 2014

Migration in Pacific Northwest

Hey everybody -

     Looking at this mornings radar it appears there might be a lot of migratory movement in the area of northern Oregon and western Washington state. I'm not as familiar with that region as I am with others but I think there is a pretty good number of birds present. It would be nice to hear back from folks in that area to see if what I think I'm seeing on the radar is actually what's present "on the ground". It would also be interesting to find out what species are actually moving.
   Anyway, here's the image from approx. 8 am (CDT):

It's still cold and gray here so migration has slowed a bit. Lakes are beginning to open up in the southern part of Minnesota but northern Minnesota and Wisconsin are still "wintery".

Hang in there.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Mississippi River Valey Migration

    Tonight it looks like the majority of migration movement is in Texas and the Mississippi River Flyway.
    Texas and Louisiana have good movement and it looks like Illinois is the heart of movement in the midwest. Further north of this image is not showing much activity at all. From various listserves from around my area (MN, WI, IA) it sounds like new species are arriving in more of a trickle than a wave. That may change as long as the wind is out of the south BUT the forecast for Minnesota Monday and Tuesday is horrible. Falling temps, precipitation that will vary from rain to snow depending on how far north you are and possible blizzard conditions in western and central Minnesota. Mother Nature's April Fool's prank I suppose.

   Got out this weekend and had FOY (first of year) American Coot, Sandhill Crane, Killdeer, Eastern Bluebird and Blue-winged Teal. This year list builds slowly but surely...

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

And So It Begins

     Tomorrow is the first day of spring. I'm looking out my window at a fresh layer of snow that fell overnight. Luckily the storm went a bit north and we were spared the brunt of the snow. The one thing that will get me through the gray, cold days of March in Minnesota is the ability to live vicariously in Texas by watching radar returns every night. The first few nights of bird movement have started to appear and it brings me hope. Watching the listserves for neighboring states I know that it will only be a few days before I will see my FOY Red-winged Blackbirds, Killdeer and Sandhill Cranes.
    Unfortunately the first Yellow-rumped Warblers, Hermit Thrushes and Ruby-crowned Kinglets are still weeks away. Until then it's late nights with my friend - Doppler.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Quiet Day at the Bog

    I took my annual trip to Sax-Zim Bog northwest of Duluth, Minnesota with my two friends Bill and Russ last weekend. It just happened to be the same weekend as the Bog Bird Festival but rather than participate in the hoopla we thought we'd just see what we could find on our own.
   One of the dependable spots at the bog for birds is a feeder station set up on Admiral Road. We spend a lot of time sitting and watching the feeders for specialties like Pine Grosbeak, Boreal Chickadee and Gray Jay. Our best looks were at this male Hairy Woodpecker who was hogging some globs of peanut butter on a tree branch all to himself. He couldn't have cared less that we were only about 10 feet away.
  Of course, the Hairy Woodpecker wasn't a bog specialty but this little bird is - a Boreal Chickadee. This feeder is the only place I have ever been able to count on seeing this species. Once in a while you can find them at other feeders but this one is almost a sure thing if you have the patience to wait. They don't spend long when they show up and it could be 20-30 minutes between appearances.
   The big goal of any winter trip to the bog is for northern owls. Great Grays nest here but the owls we saw this day were 2 that only visit. This Northern Hawk Owl was cooperatively sitting at the top of a tree right along the west side of Owl Avenue (yes, that really is the name if the road). And if seeing this owl wasn't enough, as I walked down the road to get a closer look I stumble on my good friends Nick and Kristen. They were on a day trip just by chance. Talk about a welcome coincidence.
   This was one of 2 Northern Hawk Owls we saw that day. They seem to be here (Minnesota) in decent numbers this winter.
    The owl of the year, as far as numbers, is the Snowy Owl. Got a good look at this one sitting way up in a tree in the middle of a field. I can't remember seeing a Snowy in a tree before. Telephone poles and snow mounds yes but not a tree. This has been a crazy year for Snowy Owls all over the eastern U.S.. Even down where I live, south of Minneapolis/St. Paul, I have seen a bunch. I took my oldest son out on Jan. 4th and saw 5 just in a small part of my county. I believe the count for Snowy Owls in Minnesota this winter is well over 200. That's crazy.
   Even though we had some nice sightings on our trip, it was a quieter than normal day. We worked real hard and only came up with 15 species for our efforts. The weather is incredibly cold and long lasting. I remember winters being like this when I was in college but we haven't had an "old fashioned" winter in a while. Spring will get here eventually. Horned Larks are starting to move north and this cold can't last forever. Not sure how long it will take to melt all this snow though...

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Visitor From the North

    I've never really been a "chaser". If an unusual bird shows up in Minnesota there are plenty of people (those of more means and free time than I) who don't hesitate to jump in a car and go to see the current rarity. I don't resist based on some philosophical basis, I believe I'm just lazy. What gets me is that deep down I'd really like to do the chase too. A case in point is this week when a friend of mine sent a photo with the question "What is this?" Well wouldn't you know it's a dandy!
     Up by McGregor, MN a guy has this Varied Thrush hanging out around his house and says it's been there a while. I even have directions to his house. The drive would be well over 100 miles one way and would be through the cold and snow predicted this weekend. So my decision? Maybe I'll wait until the bird shows up in my yard. Then I'll can tick off a new species for Minnesota on my list and sit back in my rocking chair with my coffee. I think I'll start a new movement called "Slow Birding" (with apologies to the Slow Food community). Anyone care to join me?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Birds Moving Across Lake Superior?

    Looking at radar tonight there is what I think is an odd signature showing up in the Minnesota/Wisconsin area of Lake Superior. It looks like radar is picking up a movement across the lake from the north shore of Minnesota to the Bayfield Penninsula. The following images are in chronological order. They cover an hour and ten minutes, approximately 8:50 pm to 10:00 pm.

   I believe these may be birds because the signature is developing in a different orientation than the prevailing weather pattern in the area. Notice also the developing radar returns over southern Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois. I will be very interested to see if there are any observations in Wisconsin tomorrow than confirm this radar pattern.
   Anybody out and about on Sunday morning around Bayfield, Washburn and Ashland may notice a change in bird numbers. Of course, it's early and the birds may continue to move or I may be completely wrong about what radar is showing. Fun to speculate though isn't it?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Still More Migrants Arrive

    In spite of the cold morning I headed out to the banding site and put out 3 nets hoping to take advantage of the clear weather. In October you never know what the conditions might be. Many of the trees are now devoid of leaves and the Gray Dogwood doesn't have any more ripe fruits clinging to their panicles.
    I only had 6 birds total for the morning but one of the birds, this young Bluejay, was a great example of a bird showing a "molt limit". This is a contrast between newer replaced feathers and older retained feathers.
    You can see in this wing photo that the primary coverts and one of the greater coverts has been retained and are not the bright blue they will be in the spring. As we go from October to November aging birds gets trickier and on January first all wild birds have a "birthday" so a bird that would be aged hatch year on Dec. 31st would be aged after hatch year on Jan.1st. In some species we just admit we don't know age or sex of an individual until later in the spring.
    First of the fall arrival for Fox Sparrows (for me anyway) brought this bird in along with 2 other Fox Sparrows making this the most common catch of the day. I like this species. Their big and chunky sparrows and are easy to handle. I also think they are beautiful.
     As I went to check one of the nets we saw a bird hovering over an open grassy area and my first thought was it might be a kestrel but it was too small and the wings weren't the right shape. As it flew up and perched in a nearby tree I saw white wing patches and a black mask and I knew it was a shrike.

     This is another first of the fall season for me. it hung around all morning and was still sitting in a tree as I drove home.
    If the weather  is reasonable next weekend I may push the envelope and try to get in one or two more banding sessions. A mid-week storm may change my mind.