Category: breeding birds

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

Baby Birds: Life is Fragile but Life Can Be Tenacious

By , August 23, 2012 1:18 pm
barn swallow chicks

barn swallow chicks 8/9/12

I took this photo not knowing that over the next 2 days 2 of the chicks pictured would be found dead on the ground below the nest. One of these birds would leave the nest but hang around on the ground for a few days until it gained enough strength to finally fledge.

Barn Swallow chick

Barn Swallow chick

Barns Swallow 8/14/12

Barn Swallow 8/14/12

On Friday evening we saw this bird on the ground by Shawnne’s flower/vegetable garden. Both of us tried to place it in a safer location but the bird would have none of it. We were sure it was going to die, but next morning it was on the ground very much alive. Its parents were feeding it and chasing off probable attackers. Lucky for us there are no cats and that Sierra is long past chasing anything. After the bird left our front steps it was in the bushes by the driveway for a day or two. After that it seems to have fledged successfully.

Sometimes there really is no place like home.

By , July 8, 2012 1:27 pm

Dickcissel 7/2/12

Dickcissel 7/2/12

Gas prices are down but they are still 60 to 80 cents higher than in 2010. Summer weather is here and we don’t like taking long walks in the really hot weather. The state parks this time of year are crowded and noisy so we have been avoiding them. We have been taking short trips on local roads near our house and we have been surprised at how much good birding can be done in a short period within 5-10 miles of home. Just 2 days ago we saw a Black Tern only a few miles from home in a small secluded lake. This is not a rare bird, but you needs to be looking in the right habitat. Please excuse the poor photo but it was the best of the bunch.
Black Tern

Black Tern on Mud Lake

There is a road we travel every time we go North or East from our house (if we go to Brainerd, St Cloud, Little Falls etc.) so we have passed it numerous times in 23 months. Still just in the last 2 weeks we have seen Bobolinks, Dickcissels and a lone Savannah Sparrow. The Sparrow is easy to miss but the Bobolink is not and the Dickcissel sings loudly so if we had ever stepped out of the car I am sure we would have heard it.

Below is a picture of the Savannah Sparrow, it looks a lot like the Song but if you see it close up it is clearly different.

Savannah Sparrow 6/30/12

Savannah Sparrow 6/30/12

Waiting for Warblers and Sparrows

By , April 30, 2012 5:04 pm
Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler 4/26/12

April was a disappointment. We had a rush of birds coming in during the middle of March until the end. That coincided with unexectedly warm weather. 35 birds made their first appearance for 2012 in March. We expected more for April. We were hoping to get a larger group of Wood Warblers earlier than we did. We had only 3 early Warblers: the Yellow-rumped, the Yellow and the Tennessee. April 2011 had been a very good birding month, April 2012 only brought 14 new birds.

Lark Sparrow

Lark Sparrow 4/25/12

That does not mean we weren’t busy. We saw about 29 birds per day. We did have one new bird (new for us anyway). We saw a Lark Sparrow in Lake Maria State Park on 4/25/12.

Last fall we setup a second post for a Bluebird house and it appears that we have a breeding pair this year. Now that May is at hand we are expecting a very busy month.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Brown Thrasher 4/23/12

Brown Thrasher

Osprey 4/24/12


White-throated Sparrow 4/29/12

White-throated Sparrow

The Ospreys are back

By , April 11, 2012 8:50 pm

Osprey taken 4/10/12

Osprey taken 4/10/12

We live on a lake, so it is no surpise that we have had a pair of Ospreys nesting very near to our house. Still we were worried this year. The Osprey pair was using a nest that was at least a few years old. Last fall the local power company had to remove that nest in order to do some repairs. Given the very early start of Spring, I had expected to see the Ospreys return in March, but none of them showed up. We saw our first Osprey last Saturday afternoon 4/7/12, but there was no move to start a nest. The pair flew over the lake and left. Yesterday, though it appeared that the Ospreys had chosen the same location (the flag was erected by the repair crew). As you can see they Ospreys are making a start even if it appears to be a slow start. The photo is mediocre (the bird doesn’t like to be approached) but it does show bird.

Eagles and an Early Spring

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By , February 23, 2012 9:29 pm

Female Cardinal

Female Cardinal late in the afternoon

Here is a photo of the female Northern Cardinal. It is a common bird, but for some reason it only appears at our feeder station close to dusk. In the last few weeks the male has come around 5:45. The female seems less devoted to a schedule. This one was taken at 4:40 in the afternoon yesterday. This photo was taken through 3 layers of glass, so much of the resolution of a decent camera is ruined by the extra layers of glass.

In the years we lived in Randall, we would see our last Bald Eagle in December and then usually not see them until March.  For the last 2 Winters we have been in the rental house near Long Prairie, and we have seen them all through the fall and winter.   We have seen them 3 times in the last 2 weeks (twice while walking Sierra after work).  Unfortunately I have not had my camera when the Eagles have made their appearance.  I assume the warmer temperatures are driving the Eagle’s behavior.  When I lived in NJ, the Eagles would be visible in the Winter once the Northern water’s had frozen.   In Minnesota, I don’t know whether that is true. Certainly there isn’t much open water even if our weather is far warmer than normal.

Are we going to have an early Spring?  The temperatures are warm, as much as 8 degrees about normal, this year.  Some of the Chickadees are singing.   The Red-bellied Woodpeckers have been very active of late (not that I know what their activity means).

Below is a photo of a female Pileated Woodpecker. Taken through 3 layers of window glass.

female Pileated Woodpecker

female Pileated Woodpecker

Sandhill Cranes

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By , September 10, 2011 2:16 pm

Sandhill Cranes Sept 18, 2010

One of my favorite birds to see here in MN is the Sandhill Crane. They are beautiful and fun to watch. While we have heard them all summer, they have become very vocal. Over the past few weeks, we have been hearing them call in the fields across from us. Often you can see them while driving through the countryside, in fields. I love the way they fly and the sounds they make. I am sure they will be migrating soon and will miss them. They have to be one of the most beautiful larger birds we get here during summer. Never can get enough of them!

Fall birding

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By , September 10, 2011 1:29 pm

about to leave the nest

It was 88 degrees yesterday but that didn’t do anything to stop the oncoming start of Fall and with it, the Fall birds.   In astronomical terms, fall starts with the Autumnal Equinox and this year it comes on September 23, 2011.  For birders in Minnesota, Fall starts in August  once birds leave their breeding spots and start moving out prior that final migration.  That is different for each species.  For example the Barn Swallow chicks left the next on July 26th, the brood stayed around for another month.

We keep a bird list, in the past it only included birds seen on days when we took bird trips of some kind, now we track every bird that we see (except for nasty birds like the House Sparrow).  We can look back and see when each species last visited us. This year we haven’t seen the Robin since August 8th, last year we didn’t record any Robins in August but saw them in early migration in late September until early October. 

American Redstart

Redstart in our driveway

We are starting to get our first undeniable fall migrants.  We saw a Gadwall yesterday. We saw a Pied-billed Grebe the say before. Loons are now in fall plumage.  Redstarts are a bird that should be visible much of the summer but it isn’t quite as common at our location as I would have expected. We had some in late Spring until early July, but they were not visible until August. We didn’t see them last year at all after our move, so we don’t know how long we will have them here.

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