It is Spring and nothing can stop it.

By , March 31, 2017 12:18 am
robin 3/30/17

American Robin 3/30/17

My dirty secret – for someone living in Minnesota – is that I hate winter.  I didn’t even enjoy it in NJ, where it was much warmer.  So, the early Spring was hoped for – and when it happened, much appreciated.  We had a warm winter but only in the last few days is it obvious the cold weather is over.  We’ve had a lot of activity in the last 3 days.

In any even here are some of the more recent photos.

American Goldfinch 3/24/17

American Goldfinch -3/24/17

Hooded Merganser 3/25/17

Hooded Merganser 3/25/17

Dark-eye Junco 3/1/17

Dark-eye Junco 3/1/17

Common Loon 3/30/17

Common Loon 3/30/17

Downy Woodpecker 3/24/17

Downy Woodpecker 3/24/17

American Tree Sparrow 3/6/17

American Tree Sparrow 3/6/17

An update to Summer and a disappointing Fall

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By , October 18, 2016 12:16 am
Black and White Warbler 8/9/2016

Black and White Warbler 8/9/2016

I’ve been lax in keeping up this blog. The biggest issue is a camera. My old camera died and my replacement is just barely adequate. So, this has been the first post for quite a while.

Every year is different and yet it is the same. Whenever I do the number, we see about the same each year. Still the migrations seasons have been mediocre. Our lake still hasn’t recovered since someone cut all the small trees down in 2012. The Fall of 2016 has been disappointing. Not very many Warblers, no Thrushes at all, so far no Duck, Geese or Swans. I wonder where the little birds have gone.

Great Crest Flycather 7/2/201

Great Crest Flycatcher 7/2/2016

We also had several appearances of the Scarlet Tanager.

Scarlet Tanager 8/29/16

Scarlet Tanager 8/29/16

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had some wonderful birds.

The Black and White Warbler came by a few times and I was lucky enough to get a photo. The July 4th party at hour neighbors upset the Great Crested Flycatcher enough that it hung around our yard and I got the best photos I ever had of them.

In the last few days we’ve seen both the Harris’s Sparrow and the Fox Sparrow, and got decent photos of them. They are the highlight of our Fall.

Fox Sparrow 10/17/16

Fox Sparrow 10/17/16

Harris's Sparrow 10/17/16

Harris’s Sparrow 10/17/16

End of 2015

By , December 31, 2015 3:08 pm
Scarlet Tanager 9/10/2015

Scarlet Tanager 9/10/2015

Today is New Year’s Eve. I haven’t put out a post in quite some time, so this is a good excuse to put one out.    My memory has this as a mediocre year, but looking at the numbers, it wasn’t so bad.  Still the effects of having broken my ankle in 2013 are still there.   We aren’t doing the bird walks we have done in the past. I also blame Molly, our dog, I simply cannot take photos were walking with her.  Sierra was great that way.  So, I don’t have as many good photos of birds that I encounter while walking the dog.

I cannot blame the weather, it wasn’t bad.   We didn’t have early snow nor did the lake ice up early.  The birds haven’t performed as well as expected, but anyone who does any birding knows that each year is different.   I do wish I could turn back the clock to 2012, I had my best second half birding season.  As anyone knows the second half of the year is harder because the birds are less colorful and the leaves make spotting them difficult.

We did have highlights.  We probably had our best image of a male Scarlet Tanager in post breeding plumage ever.  We also took a fairly good shot of an Oregon Junco, given our equipment. We had a Fall White-crowned Sparrow, something that we missed last year. We didn’t have a Fall Harris’s Sparrow, but one cannot be lucky all the time.

Oregon Junco 10/25/2015

Oregon Junco 10/25/2015

White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows 10/25/15

White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows

Nearing the end of the 2014

By , November 25, 2014 1:07 pm
Pileated Woodpecker 11/6/14

Pileated Woodpecker 11/6/14

2014 may not be over, but our birding year seems finished.   We have had an early cold spell and an early snow storm (about 10 inches here).  Perhaps we will get a late season Pine Grosbeak (we can get them in December), but our local lakes froze over about ten days ago, so we won’t see any more Trumpeter Swans or any late season Buffleheads.   We had been getting Bald Eagles, but I can imagine that any around here will be going soon.

Ever since I broke my ankle last year, my birding has slowed down a bit.  I am just about able to take longer walks now but I wouldn’t trust myself on snow and ice.  So, I am not walking the dog and seeing what she scares up each afternoon.  I have taken many fewer photos than in 2012.  When I look at the numbers of birds seen, it doesn’t look so bad, but it hasn’t been a good year no matter what the number say.  We had a very wet spring and the local lakes never went down. A lot of birds we see along the shore simply weren’t visible.   I didn’t see any Swamp Sparrow this Fall.   In general our numbers were down. We didn’t get any White-crowned, Harris’s or Fox Sparrows this Fall.  (We can still get a Fox Sparrow, of course.)   So I am looking forward to a much better year next year.   Better mobility for me and perhaps a lower lake level to show off the birds. On the top of the page you see a Pileated Woodpecker from November 6th.

Here are a few recent photos.   We’ve had Pileated Woodpeckers almost every day.  I have posted a photo of a young Bald Eagle that we saw near a local lake.

To the right is a photo of a few men putting an icehouse on the lake. Very early, the earliest anyone I know can remember. This makes it really look like Winter (if the snow doesn’t already put you in the mood).

Bald Eagle 11/8/2014

Bald Eagle 11/08/2014

Pulling an icehouse 11/22/14

Pulling an icehouse 11/22/14

A mediocre Spring – but at least it wasn’t winter.

By , July 8, 2014 11:54 pm
Northern Harrier 04/26/14

Northern Harrier 04/26/14

We had a poorer than normal migration season this April and May. The late very cold winter meant that we had very few early migrators. The Our first Bluebird was seen on April 5th, our first ducks showed up on April 7th. Our most common warbler, the Yellow-rumped, arrived on 4/19 and stay for just over a month. The last winter Junco was seen on May 5th. lack of snow meant that local farm fields weren’t a suitable substitute for a real lake, so our local temporary ponds only had ducks for a few days. Combined with my slowly healing ankle that limited my walking, we just didn’t see as much as hoped for.

Still we had some surprises. We saw a Northern Waterthrush for a few days in May. I hadn’t seen them before in MN, though they are common in NJ. We had the Harris’s Sparrow for parts of 2 weeks, a very long visit for them.

Northern Waterthrush 05/17/14

Northern Waterthrush 05/17/14

Harris's Sparrow 5/10/14

Harris’s Sparrow 5/10/14

Rose-breasted Grosbeak 5/10/14

Rose-breasted Grosbeak 5/10/14

Bufflehead 4/23/14

Bufflehead 4/23/14

Hooded Mergansers 4/11/14

Hooded Mergansers 4/11/14

Eastern Bluebird 4/26/14

Eastern Bluebird 4/26/14

Yellow-rumped Warbler 4/24/14

Yellow-rumped Warbler 4/24/14

Ruffed Grouse 4/11/14

Ruffed Grouse 4/11/14

Redhead and Ring-necked Duck 4/22/14

Redhead and Ring-necked Duck 4/22/14

Wood Ducks 4/22/14

Wood Ducks 4/22/14

A new warbler book

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By , January 2, 2014 2:12 pm

WarblerGuideCoverSquaresmallIf you know me or my wife, you know we are active birdwatchers. One of our favorite group of birds are what are called ‘Wood Warblers’ or ‘North American Warblers’ . This is a group of often brightly colored birds, usually with a lot of yellow or green. They are very active birds which you can see flitting from branch to branch, eating insects or insect larvae. Most only pass through Minnesota in Spring and Fall, but they don’t pass through silently. Particularly in Spring before the leaves come out, they are easy to see, even if not always easy to identify.

Princeton University Press has been publishing bird books for years, but mostly these were not well publicized and they seemed directed towards reference libraries. In the last few years they have started publishing books directed towards the average birder, perhaps not the beginner but someone who is not a trained biologist. The first entry was Richard Crossley’s Id Guide of Eastern Birds, and now there is a whole group ID Guides with a Raptor Guide and a Guide to Birds of England and Ireland and more on the way. The Newest Entry is the Warbler Guide, by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle. Warbler books aren’t new. The Peterson series has one and there was a wonderful song/pamphlet about Warblers that contained a cassette that was sadly never updated for the digital age. What is new is that this seems aimed at birders who take photos in the field.

In the past most birders didn’t take photographs. Even 20 years ago equipment was impossibly heavy and the cost of film would have been high (typically one may take 40 shots of fast moving birds for every usable one). Digital has changed that. The initial cost is high, but the marginal cost is low. So, what has changed is that many birders have photos taken in the field that may not be instantly identifiable. So, this book tries to solve that problem. It has numerous photos of each bird including the oddball views I have never seen before: shots of the under tail coverts. In he past if you didn’t get it in the field you were finished.

My wife gave me one for Christmas and I have looked it over and read a good bit of it. Given the change in Avian taxonomy in the last few years nothing is settled and with Warblers that is especially so. The authors have arranged the birds by name rather than by taxonomical group. A few regional favorites like the Yellow-breasted Chat have been booted out of the Warbler group but they are included at the end of the book. The book has an extensive section on the use of sonograms. They have a novel approach to remembering Warbler songs, I don’t know how effective it is, but Spring will tell. The book demands a lot from the reader in order to get the most out of it, but that is a good thing in this day of instant gratification.

It isn’t a field guide, it cannot be put in a pocket. Still for those who are trying to kick their birding skills up a notch or two, this may be a good place to start.   There are small negatives, I wish a cd of bird songs was included, instead of being an extra (not expensive though).   The quality of the binding is what one expects of an Asian printed book designed to be as inexpensive as possible.  It isn’t bad but it could be better. That would raise the price, but price isn’t everything if a book is well made.

Winter on the way and birds are scarce.

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By , November 10, 2013 1:43 pm
Bald Eagle Nov 1, 2013

Bald Eagle Nov 1, 2013

It is still early in November but it is starting to feel like winter. We are getting fewer and fewer birds each week. I am still healing from the broken ankle so I haven’t been able to look for birds while doing my daily tasks (which used to include walking the dog). We haven’t seem many of the Fall Sparrows that usually appear under our feeders each October and November. We are still taking drives to see the birds, but most of the time we come up empty. The local lakes and ponds are still open but they should soon freeze up.

We aren’t getting that many dramatic birds, particularly when compared to last year.   Still we are recording what we see.  We did see all the Zonotrichia Sparrows, but not at home and not all on the same day. The last of the Summer birds seem to be gone. We saw our last Eastern Bluebird on Oct 23rd. I apologize for some of the soft pictures. I took a few of them from behind the window.

Perhaps we will get a few warmer days and see a final push of migrating geese and ducks, but that seems to be a vain hope this year.

Fox Sparrow 11/4/2013

Fox Sparrow 11/4/2013

Trumpeter Swans 10/30/2013

Trumpeter Swans 10/30/2013

Eastern Bluebird 10/16/2013

Eastern Bluebird 10/16/2013

Harris's Sparrow 10/11/2013

Harris’s Sparrow 10/11/2013

Slow birding and injuries

By , September 16, 2013 1:41 pm
Common Loon with injured leg

Common Loon with injured leg

My last post was in mid-July and it covered the Summer birding doldrums. I had no idea that only a few days later I would break my ankle and have an even more significant birding slowdown. On Sunday July 28th, I was walking Molly, I took a short-cut to the lake and suddenly found myself on the ground with my foot at an improbable angle. I realized it was broken. I yelled for help and Shawnne pulled the car over so I could crawl in. I won’t bore you with additional details. Needless to say, I am not going to spend my mornings walking around and looking for migrating birds.

It took a while but I am able to sit outside courtesy of a wheelchair. Except for the days I have gone to the doctor I haven’t been able to take pictures away from the house. So, I have had no opportunity to take duck or swan photos, nor can I take out the telescope and scan our lake for birds.

It isn’t a total loss. Migration has started for real. We had an inch and a half of rain on Saturday. That brought the worms to the surface and we had bunch of Northern Flickers on Saturday and Sunday. It was a bit too dark to get a great photo but I posted what I had.

I am posting a few photos from August. Again not great but good considering the lighting and distance.

Northern Flicker  9/15/13

Northern Flicker 9/15/13

Rose-breasted Grosbeak 9/4/13

Rose-breasted Grosbeak 9/4/13

Kingfisher 8/28/13

Kingfisher 8/28/13

Osprey 8/29/13

Osprey 8/29/13

Summer Doldrums and Missing Birds

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By , July 18, 2013 3:52 pm

Ruby-throated Humingbird 7/16/13

Ruby-throated Humingbird 7/16/13

Now that it is mid-July it is more than obvious not only is the migration season ended but bird activity is slowing down. Usually I have been able to take a short walk during the day and pick up a few birds to add to our daily list. In the last few weeks I am turning up less and less each day. The Ovenbirds and Yellow Warblers that we hear every day have just about stopped singing. Last year was unusual. Looking at statewide observations, Dickcissels were widely reported in the Central part of the state, this year reports are few. We haven’t seen any. Some birds that we expect to see every day, such as Kestrels, that like to sit on wires, have been almost invisible.

We have started to take an evening bird run instead of doing it during the heat of the afternoon. For a few weeks we were having luck seeing Kingbirds and Bobolinks, but in the last few days we are getting very little. Bobolinks can be hard to spot in the grass, but we aren’t even hearing them.

Of course there are positives this month. We have been seeing both Clay-colored and Savannah Sparrows a few times a week. We have seen Indigo Buntings along a local read near our house. We have seen some Empidonax flycatchers and on a few occasions they have been vocal enough to identify (but not close enough to photograph).

Bobolinks 7/13/13

Bobolinks 7/13/13

Indigo Bunting 7/17/13

Indigo Bunting 7/17/13

Yellow Warbler 7/08/13

Yellow Warbler 7/08/13

Savannah Sparrow 7/16/13

Savannah Sparrow 7/16/13

Learning to Identify Birds

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By , June 21, 2013 9:01 pm
Northern Harrier 6/11/13

Northern Harrier 6/11/13

I’ve been birding since 1989. I am surprised now that I didn’t start earlier but I didn’t. I owned a copy of Peterson’s Field Guide for a number of years, but I didn’t actively go out looking for birds, I identified birds that came my way when I was hiking or canoeing. Looking back I can say that I didn’t know much for the first few years. The one thing I learned is that the only way to really identify a bird is to watch a lot of birds. Field guides are good but until you see a bird in the field you don’t really know it. Some birds may be almost unmistakable. I cannot imagine anyone misidentifying a Northern Cardinal or an adult Bald Eagle, but field guides only go so far, they cannot show how a bird moves. In the past few years since I have mostly worked at home, I have been able to spend a lot more time birding. Species that were hard to identify have become a lot easier one you see them a few hundred times. Downy vs Hairy Woodpecker, not an issue once you’ve seen them every day.. Empidonax Flycatchers another story.

Just a few days ago my wife and I saw a mature male Northern Harrier. When I was in NJ I saw a lot of them, but almost all of them were immature or female. Here in MN we have been seeing the male more frequently. Very different in color but the movement is the same. So, when we saw it we didn’t take more than a second to ID it. In the field you cannot mistake a Harrier for a Red-tailed Hawk or a Bald Eagle. I posted a photo of it above. Unfortunately the photo is static. It doesn’t give a feeling of how the bird looks when flying.

The advantage of doing a lot of birding is the ability to spot the odd birds when they show up. My wife and I take bird drives a few times a week. We live in rural MN, and only last year we started to realize that some of our best birding opportunities were within a few feet of our home (yes, the good witch Glinda was right, there is no place like home). We have seen some fantastic birds. A few weeks ago we saw an unfamiliar bird, my first reaction was that it might be a Mockingbird (possible in MN but not likely up here). It was the Western Kingbird. Not a rare species but neither of us had ever seen them before.

Western Kingbird 6/10/13

Western Kingbird 6/10/13

We were seeing bunches of different Flycatchers and for a few days the Olive-sided seemed to be everywhere. It is gone now (they have a very easy song to identify so I know they aren’t nesting here). Here is a photo taken 2 weeks ago.

Olive-sided Flycatcher 6/7/13

Olive-sided Flycatcher 6/7/13

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