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!

Monday, April 25, 2022

A Cold Day for 2 Rare Visitors


Two White-faced Ibises have arrived at a great little wetland in southern Dakota County, Minnesota this week. They have been really cooperative for the many birders that trekked down from the Minneapolis/St. Paul area to see them. Cold wind and temps in the 30s did not deter everyone from chasing these two.

Along with the ongoing ibis there were other spring migrants around the marsh complex. Swamp Sparrow, Ruddy Duck, Northern Harrier and  Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs are among the first of year birds for me today. If the winds ever change direction and bring us warm weather I expect things to progress rapidly. Not too rapidly I hope. 

Banding has yet to pick up to the point that I am getting out every day but I did band yesterday and had nice FOY birds such as Brown Thrasher, Northern Waterthrush, Orange-crowned Warbler and Lincoln's Sparrow. I can't help thinking about what I might be missing because of the weather. Anyway, get out when you can and...

Keep looking up!

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Spring Banding About to Start

 It has been a long winter and an even longer spring but the weather looks to be favorable for at least getting into the field and putting up some nets.

Tonights Doppler radar shows a good movement of birds up the central U.S. mainly along the Mississippi basin. With this many birds in the air there should be new species showing up in the area by morning. Southeasterly winds will make tomorrow breezy.

The Birdcast image from 10:15 Central Time estimates over 124 million birds in the air over the U.S.. Both of these maps give me hope that tomorrow will be more active in the field than the last couple of weeks. New birds are showing up in small numbers but the next 3-4 days should see that change.

Good Birding and keep looking up.

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!