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.


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!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Another Banding Season Almost Over

      The days are getting shorter, colder and less birdy. All signs that this banding season is about to wrap up. However, as long as the days aren't freezing and as long as people are reporting birds around I'll get out when I can. Here are a couple of interesting catches lately.
     There have been a pretty big number of Brown Creepers moving through the area. Lots of people are seeing them in numbers when they're out birding. Love having these in the hand but boy are they small!
     A peek at a creeper from behind.
    A close up of the creepers tail shows how similar it is to a woodpecker tail, pointy and stiff.
    In my last banding session I caught this Bluejay. We don't catch that many Bluejays because they tend to be pretty smart (a corvid, you know) and avoid nets pretty well. I didn't really notice anything unusual until I starting taking data. As soon as I started taking the wing measurement I realized the odd primary covet on the right side. Taking a closer look it seems this bird had odd feathers on each wing.
    Here's a close-up of the single white primary covert on the right wing.
    I checked to see if the oddity was symmetrical and discovered the left wing had 2 white feathers. I love getting to see something I had not seen before while the bird is in my hand. Not a clue as to why these feathers formed as they did but I do know that this is not "partial albinism". Technically, that condition doesn't exist. At most you might call this a partially leucistic bird but even that seems to be a stretch when only 3 feathers are affected. My best hope is that I can get this same bird next year to see if these feathers stay white through the next molt.

      Just one more reason to keep getting out into the field.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Warm Autumn Keeps Birds Around

We are having an unseasonably warm spell here in the middle of October. Had a great time visiting a "Big Sit" program that the National Park Service held yesterday at Coldwater Spring in south Minneapolis. The bird list from the sit shows how unusual the fall has been. There were several warbler species still around and mixed in with a flock of Robins was a Varied Thrush! All this was seen while people were walking around in T-shirts.

The nice weather has also made banding really easy. Not having to freeze while waiting for the next net run is a pleasure. That doesn't mean that fall isn't progressing. Below is a photo from the last blog entry of what the banding site looked like on Oct. 9. The photo below that shows what the area looks like today.
This is what it looks like at Murphy-Hanrahan Park on Oct. 16th:
Fall colors are starting to peak here and to the south.

Along with being beautiful, the area has had lots of bird activity the last 2 days with many migrants found flitting around through the goldenrods and low bushes.
This male Golden-crowned Kinglet was caught Saturday at our program at the Lowry Nature Center in Victoria, MN. It's not often we see the high numbers of GCKI that have been present lately. Lots of people have mentioned seeing many more than usual.
In the hand it was easy to show our visitors the orange feathers on the male crown. Usually in the field all you see are the upper yellow (golden) feathers.
Newly arrived in the area are Fox Sparrows. One of my favorite sparrows! Beautiful and large so they're easy to handle. This time of fall the Fox Sparrows overlap the last of the Hermit Thrushes so sometimes when walking up to the net I'm not sure what we have until I get close.
 By the look of the bill on this bird it appears to have been feeding on berries of some type. My guess is European Buckthorn. Most of the native berry bushes and trees have been picked clean for a while now.

Totals for banding from both days this weekend are as follows:

Ruby-crowned Kinglet        4
Golden-crowned Kinglet     1
Dark-eyed Junco                2
Black-capped Chickadee   11
Orange-crowned Warbler   3
White-throated Sparrow     3
White-breasted Nuthatch   9
Hermit Thrush                    2
Downy Woodpecker           2
Northern Cardinal              1
Fox Sparrow                      2
American Robin                 1

Total Species = 12
Total Individuals = 41

I'll take those numbers any day but especially in mid-October. Here's hoping the weather cooperates this week too.