Tuesday, November 30, 2021

 Well it has been a while since I've sat down and updated the blog but lots was going on this summer besides the pandemic chaos. I spent over 100 days in the field banding and am still working on wrapping up the records for this season. I'll post more on that later.

What I'd like to talk about today is a rare bird that showed up in Minnesota 3 days ago. A Ross' Gull, which is a far northern species usually seen in Alaska and Siberia, somehow found its way to a sandbar at the confluence of the Mississippi River and the St. Croix River at Prescott, Wisconsin. Prescott is just across the river from Washington County, Minnesota at Point Douglas Park.

                                             Juvenile Ross' Gull at Point Douglas Park, Minnesota

I'm not one to make a habit of chasing rare birds but this is a bird that I would never have expected to see in Minnesota, if ever. When it shows up so close to home though I had to make the attempt. This is a really cooperative bird and seem unfazed by all the people looking for it. It spends most of the time on the water under the railroad bridge that crosses the river or on the sandbar that is formed on the Minnesota side of the river. The only thing that seems to agitate the bird is the trains that rumble across the bridge occasionally.

Yesterday the birding gods were smiling because not only did I get great looks at the bird, the weather was unusually warm and sunny. It was the perfect day to look for birds, not just mega-rare birds. As we birders are getting ready to wrap up the year lists from 2021 and start a new one on 1-1-22 it's nice to add a tick or two on the checklist so late in the year.

The bird has stayed for 4 days now so if you haven't had a chance to get down to see it you still have time.


Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Sax-Zim Bog


In spite of the really harsh cold snap we experienced in February, the weather in March has been quite pleasant (at least for the first 3 days). I decided to make the annual pilgrimage to Sax-Zim Bog before the northern visitors left for the year. Some birds like this Black-backed Woodpecker are year round residents but hiking through the bog is easier in winter so getting a nice look at this species is usually a winter experience.

Some birds do stay year round and are easy to find near feeders, particularly suet feeders or in this case the rib cage of a deer that was set out just for Canada Jays and Boreal Chickadees. Canada Jays recently had their name changed (reverted back) from Gray Jay. It was selected by the people of Canada as their national bird.

A couple of species that were targets for this trip were Evening Grosbeaks and Pine Grosbeaks. This was a very good year for Evening Grosbeak reproduction and I saw more this trip than I had in a long time. Back in the day when I was in college and just starting as a birder this species was the most common bird at the feeders on campus in northern Wisconsin. Their population has taken a real dive in the last 30 years and there is no one clear reason for it. Needless to say, seeing them brought back a lot of memories.

Pine Grosbeaks have been a more regular species at the feeders in the bog on previous trips. They mingle in mixed flocks with the Evening Grosbeaks and sometimes Common Redpolls. The birds were quite "chatty" the entire time I was watching them. The daylight length is getting longer and is triggering spring breeding behavior. Locally we have gained around 2 hours of daylight since the winter solstice and each day adds 3 more minutes of sunlight.

If you have never had a chance to get to Sax-Zim Bog in northern Minnesota it is a trip worth making. In fact it is a trip worth making several time over the year. Winter specialties include northern owls, most notably Great Gray Owls and Northern Hawk Owls. Summer is good for nesting warblers including Connecticut Warblers. Spring is a good time to look for Sharp-tailed Grouse and Fall migration can produce almost anything if you're in the right place at the right time. 

Even if you can't make it visit the website for the area and see what you're missing!

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Doing a Double-take

Sometimes when I'm banding I'll catch a species of bird I've never handled before and that can be both exciting and frustrating. Then there are the birds I catch that I have handled before but one individual is different enough to give me pause. I had that experience recently when I walked up to one of my nets and pulled out a bird that made me say "What the...."

Here's a close-up:
The neck band was something I had never seen. However, once I looked at the whole bird, it was actually more obvious than you might think. If you look at the whole bird it can only be one species.

Take a look:
The whole body view tells you this is obviously an American Redstart. At first glance the thought is what an odd looking female...but it's NOT a female. This is a second year male. It takes males 2 years to get their complete black plumage. Second year males can show all sorts of odd patterns of spots and blobs of black feathers that are not consistent. I've never seen a second year male that shows a neck band like streak of black feathers.

What a cool bird. This is an individual I would love to catch again and see how the next molt makes him look. Should be a normal male Redstart plumage.

Remember, just because something doesn't look exactly like the field guide picture doesn't mean it's a hybrid or a previously undiscovered species.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

The Birds Have Finally Started Arriving

The weather forecast sounded good. The prediction on Birdcast looked great. Was it finally time for a great migration movement here in Minnesota? I got up and checked the radar at 5:30 this morning and it did not disappoint:
All those pretty colors represent thousands and thousands of birds streaming into Minnesota and getting ready to, hopefully, land in my backyard!

This was too good to pass up so I jumped in my van and headed to my banding site.  For once my expectations were met and I spent the next 9 hours banding a variety of birds, many of whom had just landed minutes before.

 There are still some sparrows moving through and some of them will stay to nest. This Field Sparrow is a common grassland resident here with a call that sounds a bit like a ping pong ball bouncing on a table.
A species that is just moving through the area is the Lincoln's Sparrow. Identified by the finely streaked buffy chest.

A surprise for me is not this Ruby-crowned Kinglet but is how many I have seen and banded. I don't think I've ever had this many kinglets for so long.

 Of course, for lots of people spring migration is all about the warblers. Well today they made an appearance in good numbers. Above is a Nashville Warbler which is one of the earlier migrants.

 The first Wilson's Warbler of the spring was this male. Only one graced my nets today but there should be plenty more behind him.

The most numerous warbler of the day was the Palm Warbler. There were so many that when they passed by it was like decorations on a Christmas tree. Spots of yellow and bouncing tails all over the place.

 And finally this handsome bird. A Yellow Warbler who flits from branch to branch proclaiming "Sweet, sweet, I'm so sweet!" I re-trapped one individual exactly 2 years to the day from when I first banded it. Based on data I have for this bird it is at least 4 years old.

Below is a summary of the species and numbers of each that I banded today:

American Redstart              1
Nashville Warbler.              3
Ruby-crowned Kinglet       4
Wilson's Warbler                1
Palm Warbler                     8
Field Sparrow                    1
House Wren                       2
Yellow Warbler                 5
Common Yellowthroat      2
Black-capped Chickadee  2
Lincoln's Sparrow             4
White-throated Sparrow   6
Rose-breasted Grosbeak   1
Gray Catbird                     2
Bluejay                             1

Thursday, February 13, 2020

A Trip to Sax-Zim Bog

I decided to take a run up to the Sax-Zim Bog area of northern Minnesota last week to take advantage of good weather and to avoid the visitors arriving the following weekend for the annual Sax-Sim Bird Festival. There were some good birds around and I wanted to see them without having to fight the crowds.

I wasn't disappointed even though I didn't see all the species I had expected.

I was by myself when I ran into some cooperative Canada Jays foraging along one of the road sides. They didn't seem to be bothered by me as I tried to get close.

I got real nice views of the birds at the feeders along Admiral Road along with the regulars like Black-capped Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches.

The "best" birds of the day were the owls. While Sax-Zim is famous as a location to see Great Gray Owls but I didn't luck onto one of them that day. I did observe a very nice Barred Owl hunting mice below the bird feeders at the Winterberry Bog location. In spite of there being an audience, this bird was successfully hunting.

The real gem for me for the day was this Boreal Owl. It had been a very dependable bird at a feeder station and I was glad to see it still there. While I was getting these pictures, I ran into 4 other friends at this location that I didn't know were coming to the bog. It can be a pretty small world at a good birding site.

I saw 2 other owl species but didn't get good photos. Snowy Owl and Northern Hawk Owl gave me a total of 4 owl species for the trip!

I also had a lot of the usual feeder birds like this Hairy Woodpecker. Also saw Red-breasted Nuthatch, Downy Woodpecker and Bluejay BUT didn't see any grosbeaks, Pine Siskins, Common Redpolls or Boreal Chickadees.

I did see Black-backed Woodpecker and Black-billed Magpie late in the day.

If you have the chance to get to the bog there is probably just another 3-4 weeks left before these winter visitors head back north. Don't put off your visit!

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Migration Continues

I've had the great fortune to be able to get out into the field quite a bit in the last week. Radar returns at night have shown very heavy migration movement lately and the birds in the nets back that up.

New species for the fall are showing up in numbers. Ovenbird, Swainson's Thrush, Red-eyed Vireo and all the flycatchers have been increasing in abundance this week.

 Mourning warblers have been fun to work on daily. This male looks like he has a bit of attitude but he was calm during processing.
Northern Waterthrush is a pretty common migrant in spring and fall. Caught this one in a forest/grassland edge, not near water which is more the case usually.
Sparrows move through this part of Minnesota mostly in the month of October but we do see some early movers like this Lincoln's Sparrow.
The highlight of Sunday's banding was not one but two Yellow-throated Vireos. In spite of the cool temps and off and on rain we had some nice birds but none was as exciting as this bird.

The weather for the next 2-3 days looks to be poor for field work. Rain and wind are predicted until Saturday. Another glitch in the system is that the National Weather Service Doppler Radar in Chanhassen, MN has be shut down for maintenance (they're replacing the radars base). Not sure we'll be able to check night migration for a week or so. Might have to go outside and just listen.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Fall Migration is Ramping Up

Had a chance to spend 4 of the last 5 days banding out at one of my sites and boy was it fun. Thursday the 29th was sunny, warm and windy so I only caught one bird before I bagged it and went home. Friday was better with 6 birds for the day. Saturday was perfect as far as conditions go. It had the 3 Cs of banding: cloudy, calm and cool. My friend Amber was there to help and we end the day with 30 birds of 14 species including 5 species of warbler. Took Sunday off and headed back out this morning. Not as busy as Saturday but we (help from Amber  Chris and Laurie) did get 12 birds. We also had some nice flyovers from things like Common Nighthawks (~40), American White Pelicans, and any number of migrating songbirds that weren't low enough to hit our nets.

Here are a few pictures from the weekend:

 We don't handle a lot of Mourning Warblers usually but did get both this male and the female below. It's always fun to walk up to the net and see lots of yellow.
 Ageing these birds can be a bit tricky so we tend to spend a little more time with them than some of our regular captures like chickadees and catbirds.
 A common summer resident around here is the Blue-winged Warbler and we do catch a few of these both during migration and breeding season.
 A very common summer resident is the American Redstart. This male has just molted in its plumage for the winter.
While I was away from the banding site I caught a photo this visitor on my trail camera that monitors the site. A small set of antlers still in velvet will being changing in the next couple of months.