Sunday, September 17, 2017

Fall Migration Banding Starts

       This weekend marked the beginning of my fall banding season. Even though birds have been moving south for a while, it's only now that my field work can start and what a start it was! Banding took place on Saturday at the Lowry Nature Center in Carver Park Reserve near Victoria, MN just west of Minneapolis. What a great day. We had the following species for the morning:

Nashville Warbler
Canada Warbler
Black-capped Chickadee (including a retrap bird that is now 10 years old)
American Goldfinch (most common bird of the day)
Warbling Vireo
Philadelphia Vireo
Black and White Warbler
Red-eyed Vireo
White Breasted Nuthatch
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Cardinal
Hairy Woodpecker

      Today, Sunday, we held one of our two fall banding sessions at Ritter Farm Park in Lakeville, MN which is south of the Twin Cities. Our numbers weren't as high as Saturday but we had some new species including:

Ovenbird
Common Yellowthroat
Blue-headed Vireo
Golden winged Warbler

Totals for the weekend were 43 birds of 16 species. Nice way to start the fall. Below are some photos from Sunday.
 This male Golden-winged Warbler was my bird of the day. This is a species of much concern and Minnesota is the home to a large percentage of the entire world's population. It was good to have one in the hand.

    Ovenbirds are on of my favorite warblers to band. We have a healthy breeding population in our region and any walk through the springtime woods will be filled with their emphatic calls.

   This Blue-headed Vireo (formerly Solitary Vireo) was the 4th vireo species we banded this weekend. While Red-eyed Vireos are a mainstay of September banding here the Blue-headed is a much less common treat. There were lots of oohs and aahs when this one came out of the holding bag.

    The weather continues to transition from summer to fall and even though the recent weather has been warmer than normal, it won't be long before the mornings turn frosty. If all goes well I won't pack away my nets until early November. Please check back often to see how the migration is progressing.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The View From Central Nebraska

     After driving 1025 miles in 20 hours yesterday, it took me a little while to get going today but I thought I'd share a few photos from yesterdays eclipse. My son Chris and I were very lucky to find a great place to watch the event with a small crowd of others. The experience at totality was indescribable. Really a life enhancing moment.
     The beginning of the event. I was very happy with the solar viewers I constructed.
       Just before totality.
     I'm glad we got pictures because all we could do in the moment was stand in awe.
     This is sometimes called the "Diamond Ring Effect". This occurred as the totality ended.
     The sun returns!
    As the eclipse nears its end, we could see a row of small, dark spots near the center of the sun's disk. These are sun spots!

   All in all it was worth all the effort and then some. Getting to share it with my son made it all the more meaningful.






Thursday, May 4, 2017

A Popular Couple in the Wetlands

Down here south of the Twin Cities we are lucky enough to have great birding areas close by. A short 10 minute drive from my house is an area of the Minnesota River Valley is the Old Cedar Bridge, a really popular location with birders, bikers and hikers. Recent improvements make the site a real birding destination.

A pair of Sandhill Cranes must have the same opinion because they have chosen a spot just off the end of the wildlife observation deck to set up a nest. These are, I believe, the most photographed Sandhills in the area if not the state. You can see a continual parade of photographers with tripods and cameras sporting long lens going to and from the observation deck.

I am no exception.

It was almost too easy to get some really nice photos and to watch the pair of cranes feed, work a bit on the nest and interact with each other.
The individual not incubating spends most of their time in the tall grasses, out of sight. The only time they are visible is as they walk to or away from the nest.
We got to see the birds switch places later in the evening and as they did one of the birds did a little maintenance by grabbing lengths of cattail stems and placing them around the edge of the nest.
Once the switch was made the bird on the nest settled in and spent most of the time ignoring the dozen or so people on the observation deck.
The second bird made a beeline to the tall grasses to the east of the nest and disappeared. What a wonderful opportunity to get to see these impressive birds so close to home.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Which Finch Is It?

Sometimes the small brownish bird at your feeder isn't so brown. Spring brings two species of finch to my feeders that give some people a hard time when it comes to identification.
                                                            Purple Finch
 A wise mentor of mine gave me a little hint that I have always used and passed along to others. If the bird looks like someone dipped it in grape jelly, it is a Purple Finch (female above).

                                                          House Finch

If it looks like someone dipped it in strawberry jelly, it is a House Finch (above).

Of course, there are other ways to differentiate the two. The strong white line above the eye of the female Purple Finch really helps from a distance.

The thing I've learned from banding finches is, if the bird is aggressive and bites, it is a Purple Finch. If it is pretty docile it is a House Finch. I'm not sure how helpful that one will be but it has been pretty consistent in my experience.

The other factor in an ID can be location. Purple Finches tend not to nest in my area and House Finches are all over the place in the breeding season. If it's migration season though it pays to take a close look at any finch you see.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Spring Fever in a "BIG" Way

On the road to Fargo, ND to take my daughter back to school I was hoping to do a little birding along the way. Only good sighting was this Prairie Chicken in Rothsay. They should all be this easy!
 It looks like a pretty small lek for such a large male.
 Dancing around, showing off for the ladies.
Ready to stare down any competitors.
Those throat pouches really are noticeable.

This is what happens when you spend too much time in a car. If you'd like to chase this bird just get off Interstate 94 at exit 38. You can't miss him.


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

"Super Moon"

     Everyone made a big deal out of this full moon. Thought I'd jump on the bandwagon.

     Enjoy!



Saturday, November 5, 2016

A Quick Update on a Quirky Autumn

     The high temperature on Nov. 5th in my part of Minnesota was 70 degrees. We are about to smash the record for longest growing season. It's at something over 200 days right now with no frost in sight. Yet, in spite of the lingering warm weather the migrants keep moving on to the south. No more White-throated Sparrows in the back yard. Fox Sparrows gone. Even the Bluebirds seem to have finally left.

     Anyway, I still headed out to the banding site today and was NOT skunked! I had 3 Northern Cardinals and 2 Black-capped Chickadees for the day. I also got to work a little on maintaining my summer tan and I did a bit of "vegetation management" for next spring. I brushed out an area that I think will fit up to 8 twelve meter mist nets. I'm having visions of spring warbler flocks hanging like ornaments in the nets.

     I had to get out to see if there were any birds in some of the other spots I frequent and the answer was pretty much - no. I did happen upon a Northern Shrike out in a field and I watched a female Northern Harrier dive after a flock of small passerines as she floated by on her way south. About the only bird I got close to was a Red-winged Blackbird who was showing his new feathers after a whole summer of sitting in a cattail marsh somewhere. In a short 5 months he'll be back on that marsh with a fresh glossy black set of feathers and bright red epaulets. For now though he looks a bit cryptic:
      I won't see these birds until the first week of March. Spring seems so far away!