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.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Birds Crossing Gulf of Mexico in Big Numbers

This is a radar image of the Texas gulf coast. From the returns it appears that there are large numbers of birds arriving along the coast today. The surprising thing to me is that it is midday so these are probably birds that have been flying all night just getting to land. If anyone is in the area and can get out, it would be interesting to know if this is an indication of a true "fallout" of migrants.

If nothing else, it means that those of us to the north can still expect a big influx of birds sometime in the next week or so I would imagine.

Texas birders - you out there?

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Water is a Magnet for Birds

After a slow few weeks of activity in my yard, i was amazed today when I had a crowd of birds hanging out most of the day and it all had to do with water. I have a heated birdbath on my deck and as soon as I filled it up today the birds came in like nails to a magnet.

The first birds in were a flock of robins that had been in a neighbors yard. There was such a competition for a bath that some of the birds got belligerent.
Even birds can be bullies I guess.
 A couple of cardinals waited their turn with patience.
Lots of American Goldfinches took advantage of the water. It also looks like they are beginning their spring molt. A few of the males are showing patches of black feathers on their foreheads.
I was very happy to finally have some Pine Siskins show up in the yard. I know a few friends who have had them for a while but today was the first I had them around.
One Cedar Waxwing showed up and only stayed a few minutes.
I even had this Northern Flicker come in to take a turn in the birdbath. All in all I ended up seeing 18 different species of birds in the yard today. I hope they stick around a while longer, they made it sound like spring .

Sunday, November 11, 2018

How Many Field Guides Do You Own?

 Let me start by saying 2 things. First, I cannot answer the question posed in the post title. I have more field guides spread through my house than I can count. I have a hard time getting rid of books in general but field guides are never disposed of. Second, I LOVE field guides, including from places I may never visit. I prefer guides whose illustrations are paintings and not photos. I know not everyone agrees. The first field guide I ever owned was the Golden Guide to Birds and it served as the "textbook" for my first field ornithology class.

I still have it.

When I heard there was going to be a seventh edition of the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America I was excited to see what was new because this is the guide I carry in the field. At first glance it is very similar to the previous additions, it covers all of North America, it is a bit larger than many guides, it is heavy by field guide standards and a Bald Eagle is featured on the cover. However a closer looks shows some significant advances. Here is how the publisher describes it:

About Field Guide To The Birds Of North America

ï Paperback:†592 pages
ï Publisher:†National Geographic; 7 edition (September 12, 2017)

This fully revised and updated edition of the best-selling North American bird field guide is the most up-to-date guide on the market.

Perfect for beginning to advanced birders, it is the only book organized to match the latest American Ornithologists' Union taxonomy. With more than 2.75 million copies in print, this perennial bestseller is the most frequently updated of all North American bird field guides. Filled with hand-painted illustrations from top nature artists, this latest edition is poised to become an instant must-have for every serious birder in the United States and Canada.

The 7th edition includes 37 new species for a total of 1,023 species. Sixteen new pages allow for 250 fresh illustrations, 80 new maps, and 350 map revisions. With taxonomy updated to recent significant scientific rearrangement, the addition of standardized banding codes, and text completely vetted by birding experts, this new edition will stand at the top of the list of birding field guides for years to come."

It's all this and more that will keep the National Geo guide as my go to book in the field. The book is reflective of our new knowledge about bird taxonomy based on DNA sequencing. A geneticist I know said that in 10 years we won't have to buy any new field guides because the taxonomy will be all figured out. We'll see. The new taxonomy has its pluses and minuses. I am excited to see the subspecies maps at the back of the book but the concept of subspecies is still being worked out (how many subspecies of Song Sparrow are there???)  The rearrangement of the order of bird families is something to get used to. If you are good at flipping to specific sections of the guide without thinking about it you may be surprised where you land now.

As a bird bander myself the addition of the Bird Banding Laboratory 4-letter species codes is nice to see though I don't know how many people will use them as shorthand. In some birding groups people get upset if your mention an AMRO instead of saying or writing American Robin. I did find one error in the codes, the banding code for Yellow Warbler has been changed to YEWA whereas the guide lists the old YWAR. I don't know of any other errors.

It is a beautiful book with useful, detailed illustrations and descriptions. I recommend it as a top choice when friends ask for advice about buying a field guide.
You will not be disappointed.

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