Category: bird species

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.

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

Spring Warblers by the Boatload

By , May 28, 2013 8:29 pm
Blackburnian Warbler 5/23/13

Blackburnian Warbler 5/23/13

This has been a very strange and very late Spring.  Some birds are coming in very late and some, like the Spring Sparrows, came in more or less that same time as usual.  For both my wife and I the Spring Warblers are among our favorite birds.  They are popular because they are among the most colorful birds in North America, and in Spring they display breeding plumage.   In the Fall, the birds are often far less colorful and they can be much harder to see against the leaves.  Our first Warbler this year was the Yellow-rumped Warbler.  This is probably the most common Warbler among the migrants.   It is always the first to come, but usually it comes in late March or early April.

We had 6 days of rain from May 17th to May 22nd and the weather broke on the afternoon of the 22nd.  That evening we had a groups of Vireos fly through.  The next morning brought a flight of Warblers.  They were particularly active at the public access just a few hundred feet from our front door.   Warblers in the tall trees can be hard to identify but when they are jumping around in the grass, one doesn’t have any problems. Most of the time these ‘flights’ last a day or 2 but this one has gone on for 6 days. What was nice is that we barely had to go past our front door.

Tennessee Warbler 5/23/13

Tennessee Warbler 5/23/13

Blackpoll Warbler 5/23/13

Blackpoll Warbler 5/23/13

Pine Warbler 5/23/13

Pine Warbler 5/23/13

Cape May Wabler 5/23/13

Cape May Wabler 5/23/13

American Redstart 5/28/13

American Redstart 5/28/13

Wilsons's Warbler 5/25/13

Wilsons’s Warbler 5/25/13

Canada Warbler 5/24/13

Canada Warbler 5/24/13

Magnolia Warbler 5/24/13

Magnolia Warbler 5/24/13

Spring perhaps? Well, not quite, but it is coming.

By , March 1, 2013 11:21 pm

horned lark

Horned Lark 3/2/2013

We can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Spring looks like it is on the way.   Like all people who live in Minnesota, we are used to Winter weather.  Like most Minnesotans, we tire of it long before it is over.   After a very normal, that is cold, Winter, the signs of Spring are finally visible.   Last week, the man who sells us wood, saw a Robin near Sibley State Park.  Yesterday, in our first attempt to look for birds in quite some time, we saw a Horned Lark. In fact we saw at least 3 groups of Horned Larks.   That was a first for both of us.   We haven’t had any other migrators yet, but one is better than zero.

Sunset is now after 6pm, so the days much longer now.  The weather is getting warmer.  We are seeing highs in the mid and upper 30’s on most days now.  We both have Spring fever.

Today we made another attempt to see birds and saw what was probably 20-30 Horned Larks in at least 3 different places along the road.

horned lark

Horned Lark 3/2/2013

horned lark

Horned Lark 3/2/2013

So few birds these days – when will spring come?

By , February 18, 2013 1:44 pm
Redpolls on Valentine's Day

Redpolls on Valentine’s Day

I am a compulsive record keeper. When I had a large record collection, it was recorded on the pc.  I try to record local weather data, and except for days when equipment is down,  I have been successful in that.   Along with my wife we are both active birders and we use the computer to keep records.   From 1996-2004, I let the recording go but once we moved to MN in 2004 I started it back up.  Since we moved to the Long Prairie area in 2010, we have made every effort to be more consistent and more complete.  We try to make a record of almost all the birds we see.  We do leave out a few, we don’t record the common Pigeon and we don’t record the House Sparrow, a bird which has been the bane of our existence.

Right now it is still winter, but the harshest days have past. Still from a birding standpoint this is about the lowpoint of the year.  A good day for us is 10 birds, Today we may see 8 different species. Even common birds, those that winter over, are missing. We’ve only seen the Goldfinch 18 days this year.  Perhaps the Redpolls are chasing it away.  The Bald Eagle is a bird we don’t ordinarily see in the coldest part of the year, but last year was a warm winter and we saw it multiple times. This winter we have only recorded it once and that was in St Cloud.

I am tired of Winter, my wife is tired too.  We are using a lot of wood. A load that might last 3 weeks in the early December, probably lasts 10 days at the coldest point of the season.  It isn’t just the expense of the wood,  I am tired of splitting wood each day.   My hands are aching and my shoulder is sore.   I have just worn out another pair of work gloves (quality on common items is a thing of the past).   I know that Winter is nearly at an end, but my patience with Winter is also at an end. I have uploaded a picture of a group of Common Redpolls for your enjoyment.

Bird Summary January 2013

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By , February 4, 2013 12:02 am
Pheasant 1/3/2013

Pheasant 1/3/2013

Data doesn’t lie. Sometimes it is reveals things our fallible memories miss. We have just finished with January and my own assumption is that we didn’t see many birds. In an absolute sense that is true, we certainly didn’t see as many birds as we would in a July. We only saw 17 different species, but 17 is the second highest species total in the years I have been counting them in MN. Below is a list of the birds we saw and on how many days we saw them.  What is fascinating is that we saw the Pileated on half the days of the month, yet my perception is that we barely saw them at all (and that is somewhat true, since Shawnne saw most of them.)

American Crow 29
American Goldfinch 12
Black-capped Chickadee 31
Blue Jay 29
Common Redpoll 31
Dark-eyed Junco 3
Downy Woodpecker 31
Hairy Woodpecker 26
Mourning Dove 8
Northern Cardinal 8
Northern Shrike 1
Pileated Woodpecker 15
Purple Finch 2
Red-bellied Woodpecker 31
Ring-necked Pheasant 28
White-breasted Nuthatch 31
Wild Turkey 1

We didn’t manage to get any spectacular photos in January but I have posted a few shots we took this January. Above is a male Ring-necked Pheasant below is a Pileated Woodpecker.

Pileated Woodpecker 1/2/2013

Pileated Woodpecker 1/2/2013

Favorite Photos of 2012 – pt 10 – Pine Grosbeak

By , January 28, 2013 12:25 am
Pine Grosbeak 12/2/2012

Pine Grosbeak 12/2/2012

January is a dismal month for birdwatching in Minnesota and 2013 has been no exception to that rule. What is worse is coming after a warm year with a very warm winter, this Winter has been much colder than last and many birds we get regularly haven’t bothered to show up.  We haven’t had any Red-winged Blackbirds or Northern Shrikes this year. In order to fill the gap I have made a series of posts featuring my photos of last year. In part this is to disguise the dismal start we have had this year, and in part to display some of the better photos that almost nobody sees after they are shot.

I have a few other birds I haven’t covered from last year, but most are common birds like the Chipping Sparrow, or birds that I cover each year, such as our Zonotrichia friends. So, I will end my series here.

So, the last favorite photo will be the Pine Grosbeak.  This bird is one we had never seen before. It does appear rarely in NJ, but we never saw it there.  It showed up 5 times, twice in November and 3 times in December.  It is one of the more beautiful birds, even more so considering we only saw what was either female or immature examples. The red colored male didn’t stop. It is not skittish at all. The bird was hanging out chomping on berries in our neighbors yard and it didn’t seem bothered by my attention.

Pine Grosbeak 11/14/2012

Pine Grosbeak 11/14/2012

Pine Grosbeak 12/1/2012

Pine Grosbeak 12/1/2012

Pine Grosbeak 12/2/2012

Pine Grosbeak 12/2/2012

Pine Grosbeak 12/17/2012

Pine Grosbeak 12/17/2012

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