Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Solar Eclipse 2024

 I've been back from chasing the eclipse for a few days now and after taking a look at the photos I brought back I thought I'd post a few. I'm going to arrange them chronologically, pre to post totality. I've enlarged a couple of photos to show more detail of some interesting finds.

The beginning of the eclipse event was about 12:45 local time in our southern Illinois location. We were about 30-40 miles southeast of Effingham, IL. The exact location was a wayside south of Newton, IL.

This is the "first bite" as the moon began to cross the sun.

A close up of the photo shows 3 small sunspots on the surface of the sun. An active sunspot period can have many more spots.

 The above series of shots shows the progression of the moon over the sun. The last photo I turned the camera slightly. The reddish haze is, I believe, caused by some high thin clouds that were passing overhead.

Totality, the 4 minute experience we drove 1200 miles round trip for. It was totally worth it.

Enlarging the photo revealed 3 flairs on the surface of the sun that could only be seen during this stage of the eclipse. Look at bottom of moon and on the right above the "diamond".

The beginning of the end. It was at this point most people jumped in their cars to beat traffic out of the area. We stayed a bit longer to watch the sun uncover.

I always marvel at how quickly the whole thing goes. By the time the slightest sliver of sun is visible again it feels like everything is back to normal. The entire transit takes about 2.5 hours but the change in temp and the return of the animal activity seemed like someone threw a switch.

The next eclipse that I would consider chasing is in 2044 and I'd have to got to North Dakota. I'd also be 87 years old so we'll see.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Brewster's Warbler

 Hybrid birds, while unusual, are more common than most people think. Some bird groups show more hybridization than others. This would include ducks and gulls for example. There are well known hybrids from songbirds too. This bird is a “Brewster’s” Warbler, a cross between a Golden-winged Warbler and a Blue-winged Warbler. This pairing also produces a hybrid called a “Lawrence’s” Warbler.

Because Minnesota has a large breeding population of both parent species finding hybrids does occur regularly but catching and banding one is pretty rare. At my first glance of the bird when I pulled it out of the bird bag it gave me pause and I wasn’t sure exactly what I was looking at. But a quick consultation with a field guide confirmed our suspicions. 

It is a really cool looking bird and because I had it in the hand I was able to take some time to see all the unusual plumage on the bird. I took a few pictures and whenever I  have a chance I pull them up and try to stump someone as to identification.

Here are views of the bird from a couple of different angles.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024


 As a songbird bander I get to handle and study a pretty wide range of small, familiar perching birds from local Black-capped Chickadees to the migrant spring warblers and thrushes until, finally, I see the local summer residents on their territories. 

                  However, when you put up a mist net you never know what might show up. One morning as I made the rounds checking nets an unexpected loud whir of wings came up from the ground. My heart jumped as the bird flew straight ahead of me and right into the mist net I was going to check. There, in the bottom tier of the net was my first ever American Woodcock (Scolopax minor) or “Timberdoodle” as some of the local hunters call them. A large, plump bird of wetlands and forests this was a real treat. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

The Butcher Bird


Banders all know that, in general, if you have a bird in a good “banders grip” the odds of hurting the bird are minimal and it can be processed quickly and efficiently. I had an experience last fall with a bird I was banding who didn’t seem to understand that the “grip” should also keep the bander out of harms way.

           In October I caught 2 Northern Shrikes (Lanius excubitor) moving through my area on migration. These were the first shrikes caught at this site and the first I’d ever handled. Now I’ve handled thousands of birds for banding, and I know how to avoid things like grosbeak and woodpecker bills. Shrikes were a whole new ballgame. I’ve never handled a bird of this size that was so quick, agile and strong. The nickname “Butcher Bird” is absolutely appropriate. 


                Eventually I had the bird banded, measured and safely released but not before that hooked bill had taught me a lesson in being cautious. As you can see from my finger, I think I got the worst end of that encounter. On the bright side, the second shrike was much easier, and no more blood was shed that day.

Friday, April 21, 2023

A Rough Start to the Spring Migration


 After a LONG, snowy winter here in Minnesota I was more than ready for the changing over to spring. However, the transition has been slow and irregular. Last week we had 2 days in the 80's and now we're back to high temps in the 30's and 40's along with spits of snow. We had one good night of migration last week and many nights of little or no movement. Northern Minnesota looks more like mid-January than mid-April.

  In spite of that we are getting some migrants showing up but it is far from heavy movement. The radar image from last night shows how the strong weather systems moving across the country can interfere with migration. The weather front moving east is about 1200 miles long from Texas to the Great Lakes. Ahead of the front shows significant migration all over the eastern U.S.. Behind the front - nothing. That swirl of blue in northern Minnesota is snow.

  The upshot of all this is that, for us in the midwest, migration will be weak until the winds shift and the temps rise. I've only gotten out banding 3 days so far. Certainly the latest I've started my banding season recently. As things progress we'll get back to conditions that are more typical of spring. Now if we could only get the rivers from rising anymore....

  ...of course the flooded fields might be good for shorebirds!

Friday, August 12, 2022

An Interesting Radar Image

      It's been raining pretty heavily all morning so I didn't head out to my banding site. I was checking weather radar to see what this afternoon might look like when I noticed a really interesting image on the screen. All over the eastern U.S. I noticed the formation of what I believe are "roost rings" growing in size and then disappearing. These are radar images showing large flocks of birds rising up from their night roost to go off and feed.

If you look at Ohio on this image you will see 4 of these "rings". As far as what species this might be I'm not sure but my best guess is they could be Purple Martins and other swallows which are known to roost in flocks of up to 40,000 or more birds in some locations called pre-migratory roosts on their way south. It might also be groups of blackbirds which can form really large flocks. In some cases (not this one) it might also be insects or bats. Biologic returns on radar are fascinating and can tell us things we might not otherwise be aware of such as locations of these large roosts and the timing of movement by these large flocks.

There are still folks who argue that these images are either false returns or moisture in the air but not birds. I can assure you that radar ornithology has been understood for the last 50 years and is an extremely useful tool when it comes to tracking spring and fall migrations. So if you want to understand how useful this technology is you should check out the ebird related site called Birdcast, a great tool for birders.

Or maybe it's aliens....

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Things are Getting to be More Springlike

 The weather here in Minnesota is finally starting to resemble true spring though it is still on the cool side and the trees have yet to break their buds. Some of the usual spring migrants are here in good numbers even if a week or so behind schedule.

Banding continues every day the weather allows. The wind died down today and my friend Mark came out to help at my banding site. This was the first bird of the day. It is a male Sharp-shinned Hawk and I seem to get one or two each year. Based on plumage this is a second year bird so after hatching somewhere north of here this fella made it south to their wintering grounds and is now headed back to the "homestead".

The most numerous species I've banded to date is the Ruby-crowned Kinglet. They should move on and be replaced by waves of warblers soon. When the winds switch to out of the south I think migration will explode here in the midwest. Be Ready!