I've been noticing birds in my backyard that I haven't seen regularly this summer. The Black-capped Chickadees, Downy Woodpeckers and White-breasted Nuthatches are always visiting but now I'm seeing new species.
This Rose Breasted Grosbeak likes to hang out and fill up on sunflower seeds. He (juvenile?) has been a regular for over a week now.
I also had a Yellow Warbler hopping around in my apple tree this morning looking for a meal. and a drink from the birdbath. It's nice to have the chance to let the birds come to me instead of having to go out and chase them all over. The temps are just too high for that kind of exertion.
Later in the week it should cool down and then I'll head out to see if any shorebirds are stopping over. Banding probably won't start in a big way for a couple of more weeks.
Of all the groups of birds that are seeing a decline in their populations, one of the most worrisome is the grassland birds. Many of our native prairie species are becoming less and less common as the years pass.
Fortunately one location in my county has a nice variety of prairie birds that are dependable for showing up year after year. Some of these birds used to be common birds around the family farms but aren't any more. I was lucky enough to see a few of these species recently.
A favorite grassland bird of mine is the Meadowlark. Always a great sign of spring as they show up on local prairies. We get both eastern and western varieties here and the easiest way to ID them is to hear them sing. Western Meadowlarks are more "melodious" in their song.
A species that is more hit and miss is the Dickcissel. It seems that when we see one we see many everywhere we look. Other years they are few and far between. This year is a good year for Dickcissels but not quite as good as a few years back when there was a report of the species in every county in Minnesota (that's 87 total), even up in the northeast part of the state that is more know as a pine and lake region.
Perhaps though, my true love of all the prairie species is the Bobolink. In some regions it's been called the "skunk" bird because of the color pattern it displays. Their plumage certainly looks "backward" when compared to most species. It is the brightly colored back and their wonderful flight song that make these birds make my heart race a bit when I first hear them in the spring. True neotropical migrants, these guys have tremendous site fidelity when it come to their nest sites. During banding we have caught the same bird on the same little hill two years in a row. Really mind blowing when you think that they had a journey of thousands of miles in between the nesting seasons.
Go out, walk a prairie. Plant some native plants. Listen for the early morning chorus in a grassland. Try to find the native sparrow, be it Grasshopper, Henslow's or Savannah that blends in so well with the terrain. While summer may seem to be a "down" time for birding it's a great time to discover life in the grasslands.
We're in the second half of June and just celebrated the summer solstice but in the bird world we are in the middle of nesting season. Behavior changes and young start to appear as if by magic. I was lucky enough to find a this nest on my school campus.
There are 2 young in the nest but this one seemed to be pretty greedy when a parent came in.
While I was watching this nest I noticed a lot of commotion just to my left. Sure enough, another nest! This woods is a real nursery right now.
Parents were very busy feeding young and doing nest maintenance. They pretty much ignored me while I sat there. These babies were very quiet so I imagine they are a bit younger than the woodpecker young.
It's hard to believe but in just a couple of weeks some of our birds will begin their southward journey and their summer will be over. They must not read calendars.
Birding has been a tough row to hoe lately. The numbers of birds seems unusually low this spring and while the species are as diverse as we would expect, it's one here and one there. Pretty slow in general
Having said that we weren't sure what to expect for this mornings banding program at Ritter Farm Park in Lakeville, MN. Well, the numbers don't sound impressive but we had fun handling birds that are not an every day capture.
We had 9 birds of 8 species. The only species we caught 2 of was Common Yellowthroat. One male and one female. Everything else was a single but fun none the less.
This Bluejay was unexpected only because jays are smart enough to avoid our nets. When we do catch one it tends to be a youngster who will know better the next time.
Our only Brown Thrasher of the day was nice to have in the hand. We do catch these once in a while but it's always fun to show the people attending our program because many have never seen on before, especially up close.
Other species caught were American Robin, Gray Catbird, Baltimore Oriole and Red-winged Blackbird (female).
The star of the day was this White crowned Sparrow. A surprise since they are not that common in this area and when we do see them it is usually a bit earlier in the migration season. I believe this bird was the most photographed of the day.
By looking at the coloration of the supercilliary line (the white line above the eye) and the white stripe on the the top of the head we could determine a couple of things. One was that this is an after second year bird (hatched in at least 2014 if not earlier) and that it was of the eastern subspecies of the group.
I think it was obvious to the visitors to our program that this was a special bird just by the way the banding team reacted. A bunch of fanboys couldn't have been happier!
I'm not sure what the next week or so hold for migration activity but keep looking because you never know what might show up.
Finally a night with good migrant movement in my area. It looks like the migration intensity is slowing down in the southeast and is concentrated mostly in the states of Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. The southwest coast of lake Michigan is really heavy. It looks like the main activity right now is just reaching the Minneapolis area. Tomorrow might be a busy day.
The stars aligned today with sunny skies, warm temperatures and no demands on my time for a big chunk of the day. So what do I do? Go see who has arrived back in the midwest recently.
I spent the afternoon hitting all the usual spots and had a pretty good day. One stop was at a spot that had traditionally been really good. It is a small marsh along 140th street in Rosemount, MN. A few years ago the public works department did some work there and what was a once thriving wetland all but disappeared. Since then it has not been a regular stop. Heard from another birder though that the marsh held more water this year because of the rains this spring. Even though much of the state is pretty dry, the marsh looks better. Not what it used to be but good enough to host at least 3 male Yellow-headed Blackbirds. I have never seen them there before!
Went on to other good locations and ended up with a pretty good day list. Here are the highlights:
I had 2 Lark Sparrows along the road east of the 140th St. marsh. Good look while they perched on a fence.
1 Loggerhead Shrike in the traditional location along Emery St. Most likely nesting again this year.
The mudflats at Lake Byllesby are extensive and there were 9 species of shorebirds right along the shoreline. These included - Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper and Wilson's Phalarope. Not big numbers but nice variety.
Final stop at Ritter Farm Park in Lakeville had FOY Olive-sided Flycatchers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Swainson's Thrush.
Had it not been so windy I would have probably seen even more species but for a sunny Sunday afternoon this was pretty nice.