Monday, April 28, 2008

The Birds Keep Coming!

Last weekend I headed up to Audubon Center of the North Woods for a work retreat. The birds were a treat. At first we saw the same of suspects. There were downy woodpeckers, black capped chickadees, grackles, mourning doves, red-breasted nuthatches, song sparrows and juncos. LOTS of juncos. When we started to hike around we also saw hermit thrushes and took a closer look at some of those sparrows that were everywhere. True, lots of them were song sparrows but not all of them. I noticed one looked very orange. I knew it was something different. Paul Ron and I identified it as a La Conte sparrow. There were a number of them around the property. When people heard that we had seen one they came out to look with us as no one had ever seen one. Some of these folks were life-long birders so it was fun to see them get so excited. We soon realized that there were also savanna sparrows around the buildings as well. While up the I saw an osprey hovering while looking for food and a yello bellied sap sucker. Both were firsts of the year. On a hunch I scoped out a litter ephemoral wetland after lunch and saw my first Black and White Warbler of the year. There was a female Northern Shoveler in the pond but sadly no male. I was bummed to not see a Harrier (aka marsh hawk) at the marsh that another group saw. Luckily we spotted two of them on the drive home! We also saw several cormorants flying near a rookery along Hwy 35.

Yesterday, Tuesday April 29th I saw an eastern towhee while doing a roadside clean-up for work. No, photos, sorry. Great news though, my new digital camera arrives this week! Look forward to lots of photos!

2008 Running Bird Tally
71 La Conte Sparrow
72 Savanna Sparrow
73 Osprey
74 Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker
75 Black and White Warbler
76 Harrier
77 Double Crested Cormorant
78 Eastern Towhee

Friday, April 25, 2008

70 birds

Yes, I'm a little embarassed by the photos in this post. It looks like I may buy a new camera soon so hopefully that will help. The other problem is brown birds in a brown landscape. These photos explain camouflage pretty well. As usual, click on them for larger photos.

Wednesday April 16th I swung by Lake Como on the way home for approximately 3 minutes. That was all the time I had before I had to be home to take over baby care duties. Think of it as speed birding. I mostly wanted to see how much ice was out. I saw a number of different types of waterfowl which was nice. The gem of the three minutes though was a pair of Red-Breasted Mergansers (first of the year) in the middle of the open water. There was still some ice but lots of open water too.

Thursday, April 17th was the day of my saga with the Great Horned Owl. I had technically already seen one this year but what an up close view! When I left the school there was a Killdeer walking around in the front yard. I had the camera in my hand as we had taken photos of the owl so I figured I might as well get a shot of the Killdeer. It was only about 10-15 feet from my car. I set my other gear down and right then a car pulled into the lot and scared it off. Oh well. When I returned to the nature center I saw a golden crowned kinglet and a white throated sparrow. My co-worker Paul had pointed out a white throated sparrow that morning under the feeders. The golden-crowned kinglet, white throated sparrow and killdeer were all first of the year species sightings for me.

I did finally manage to get a half-way decent photo of a hermit thrush while on a lunchtime hike. Still a little blurry though.

Somewhere around this time I spotted a Common Loon at Keller Lake while I drove by at high speed.

On Monday I had the day off so I headed to the bass ponds for some birding. I had never been there before. I ended up with a pretty impressive list of species for the day. I saw lots of American Coots, Canada Geese, Blue Winged Teal, Pied billed grebe, Hooded Merganser, Red-winged Blackbirds, Black-capped Chickadees, Turkey Vultures, Mallard Ducks, American Robins, tree swallows, white throated sparrows, wood ducks, White Pelicans, a Great Blue Heron, Northern Shovelers, Brown Headed Cowbirds, Northern Cardinals, Song Sparrows, Eastern Phoebes, a Downy Woodepcker, Yellow Rumped Warblers (Myrtle), and what I thing was a greater-yellow legs but couldn't be sure. I will definitely have to go back there when I get my new camera.

After the bass ponds I drove though the refuge on Black Dog road and stopped at the east outflow. I'm glad I did as I spotted a Nashvile warbler! There were also song sparrows, coots, mallards, and robins. I also stopped off briefly at the visitor's center (which was closed being Monday) and saw a cooper's hawk.

That was a good morning of birding. I saw 7 first of the year species. The Northern Shoveler and the Blue Winged Teal were lifers for me as I had never seen them!

April 22 the first chipping sparrows showed up at work.

April 24th I headed out for an outreach event at work and on the way back I saw a Green Heron in a pond along Norell Ave/Co. Rd. 5. That makes for an even 70 bird species spotted so far this year.

Running Bird Tally 2008
59 Red-Breasted Merganser
60 White-Throated sparrow
61 Killdeer
62 Golden-Crowned Kinglet
63 Common Loon
64 American Coot
65 Pied-billed Grebe
66 White Pelican
67 Brown Headed Cowbird
68 Nashville Warbler
67 Northern Shoveler
68 Blue Winged Teal
69 Chipping Sparrow
70 Green Heron

Thursday, April 24, 2008

NSA Hard at Work

Here's a screen shot from my traffic statistics program that tracks who visits my blog. Looks like someone at the NSA was reading my blog yesterday. First off, what does my blog have to do with National Security? The person landed on my page by googling the word "cephelopod." I'm proud to say my page comes up a respectable 9th on google. Still though, what do cephelopods have to do with national security? I can only assume someone was bored and surfing the web at work. Don't you think if you worked for the biggest electronic spying agency in the world you would be a little more careful with how you use your time on your computer? I mean come on, if I can tell this person is screwing around at work don't you think his or her bosses can figure it out to? Such is the quality of our national security I guess. Good to know the government is keeping tabs on cephelopod fossils and not wasting time keeping us safe. So, to user with IP address in the MD Procurement Department thank for for visiting my site. You might want to consider doing it from home.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Another Day at the Office

I got a phone call a little after 9:00 this morning. Marine Elementary, which is about a 10 minute drive away and one of our partner schools called to say that an owl was caught in their net batting cage at the school. "Is it a big owl I asked?" Yup. Sounded like it was a big owl. I was picturing an owl caught up in the air but luckily they told me it was down on the ground. It could have been tangled since yesterday evening and hanging upside down would be pretty hard on it.

No one there knew what to do and we're the closest people with any experience with raptors. I grabbed a pair of gloves and a raptor toolkit and jumped in my car. When I got to the school I proceeded down the hallway to the back door and I could see the owl through the window in door. Even from about 50 feet away I could immediately tell it was a Great Horned Owl by the size and "horns" raised high. Lucky me. The largest owl in North and South America. Great horned Owls have a 44 inch wingspan and needle sharp talons over an inch long. All of the teachers came out to watch as it was conference day and there were no kids in school.
When I approached the owl it struggled just a little but I think it knew at this point it wasn't getting away. It only hissed once. I did a quick assessment. I'm looking at the bird in the photo above and I have my big blue gloves on. The owl has backed away from the netting a little. The towel on the ground was in case I needed to wrap the owl up to keep it calm while I worked on it or if I had to transport it.

One of the Owl's feet was caught in the netting pretty badly. It had made things worse by struggling. It looked like the bird had gotten a foot though the netting and then caught. Parts of the net were tightly wound around the foot and leg. It probably tried to fly away at some point and did some spinning around. There was about a foot of netting twisted around below the foot and then bird was holding onto that. I could have easily cut this away but my primary concern was not letting the bird go with netting still wrapped around the foot cutting off circulation. This was clearly a gloves off job. I removed the gloves and set to work cutting one strand at a time. I felt along the birds leg to make sure I got them all hiding under the feathers. I couldn't see them so I was going by touch. I didn't look the owl in the eye to help keep it calm but you can see it was staring at me the whole time. There was some abrasion to the foot but not real bad. I added some styptic to the foot to help the wounds heal up but there wasn't any actual bleeding. In the photos above and below I am cutting away at the net. There is a mini van in the background in the lower photo. Word must have gotten out about the owl as there were people in the van watching and there were some neighborhood kids on the playground as well. I was pretty focused on the task at hand so I didn't even notice the kids.

Once I was sure the foot was free of entanglements I was ready to help it let go of the net. I slipped the last few loops off and the owl just laid there not sure what to do. I realized that the owl was going to have trouble getting out. I thought one side of the batting cage was totally open but it turns out there is only a small hole. What are the odds he/she would fly in though that hole? I lifted the net and pulled it back behind the bird so it would have a clear flight out. It sat there for a moment and then took off. It flew a few feet and then did a 180 toward a wetlands to the south. The second it was off the ground it was being chased by crows. A small chorus of cheers from the staff and kids on the playground went up when it flew. It looked like it was flying fine. I was glad I could help it out and glad that I felt comfortable enough to work around the owl since I have the honor of working with raptors at work. Just another day on the job!


Monday, April 14, 2008

The First Warbler!

Monday April 14th I took a quick lunchtime hike around the bog. On the hike I spotted two firsts of the year. There was a Hermit thrush and a Northern Waterthrush. Sorry, no photo of the hermit thrush, I forgot I had a camera in my pocket!

I did snap a photo of the waterthrush and this is a sad sign of things to come. I don't have a good telephoto lens so pictures end up looking like this. This is cropped too! I know you're looking at it thinking, where's the bird? Click to see the larger version. The bird is right in the middle. Great camouflage. Technically the waterthrush is in the warbler family so that's the first warbler spotting of the year!

On Tuesday, a strong wind blew all day and I knew some birds would be riding in into the nature center. While walking through the downstairs I spotted a bird in the trees through the windows. I was a good distance from the windows but something told me to take a closer look. Bingo. Hello my prettie. Myrtle is back! The Yellow Rumped (Myrtle) Warbler. I grabbed a camera and luckily he kept coming back to the same tree. The autofocus was driving me crazy though and I have a LOT of photos of a blurry bird with really crisply focused branches. An Eastern Phoebe also landed on a branch about six feet away but of course the autofocus completely messed up the photo. Bah!

2008 Running bird Tally:
56 Hermit Thrush
57 Northern Waterthrush
58 Yellow Rumped Warbler (myrtle)

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A couple good days for Birds

On Saturday, April 5th I headed out to work to teach a Girl Scout Try-It program. On the way there I passed boot lake and there were one or two muskrats at each little hole in the lake. It was like they had just come out of hibernation and were worshiping the sun. It was a very cool sight and there were lots of them on the lake.

When I arrived at the nature center in the morning, the American robins were calling loudly and I saw the eastern phoebe singing while perched on the tripod for our weather station. Inside, I quickly worked to set up the program and noticed a female turkey at the feeders. Just behind her was a large make turkey strutting around with his feathers all fluffed up in full mating display. I sadly had to interrupt their little courtship to go outside to fill the feeders. I grabbed the camera on my way out but only managed to snap this shot of the male turkey taking evasive action against me.

Part of the Try-It I was teaching was to watch for birds. Great! We all grabbed binoculars and hit the windows. We saw downy woodpeckers, hairy woodpeckers and red bellied woodpeckers. There were white breasted nuthatches and black capped chickadees. We saw a brown creeper and American goldfinches. There was also a flock of slate colored dark eyed juncos (about 20). This has been an interesting flock. It showed up after the big snow last week. There have been a number of birds mixing in with the flock. On Saturday there was a fox sparrow (click picture to left for larger view of the fox sparrow) but also another bird I at first thought might be the American Tree Sparrow I had seen with them a few days earlier. It wasn't a tree sparrow.

It was actually a song sparrow! Woo hoo, my first of the year. You can click this photo to enlarge it as well.

We decided to go for a hike and take our binoculars with us. When we reached the prairie I had the kids listen for birds. Sure enough, there was some honking and a Canada Goose flew over. Within seconds I heard Sandhill Cranes and one flew right over our heads at tree top level. It was a fantastic view and the kids were fascinated by this enormous bird. That was just the first of many great views of Sandhills we got that morning as multiple birds made slow fly-bys. Just a little ways further, a large Turkey Vulture came over the rise in the prairie and showed of his flying technique. While we talked about it, one of the parents asked how I could tell it wasn't an eagle. Well, I explained, you usually only see bald eagles in Minnesota and (at least the adults) have white feathers on their heads and tail. It tends to stand out, well, like THAT I said as I pointed to the large bald eagle soaring 40 feet over our heads. Nice.

We later spotted a kettle of bald eagles and when I looked more closely, circling up with them was a red-tailed hawk.

We hiked up though the prairie and looped back when suddenly we were surrounded by swirling birds. Ah ha! The Tree Swallows are back! The second new bird of the day! Just for good measure, we also saw a crow before we left the prairie.

That was all the birds we saw that morning but my afternoon group also saw a red-shouldered hawk. That made for a total of 20 different birds that day. I cleaned up and headed home. On the way home I spotted a female American Kestrel along Norell Ave (likely the mate of the male I saw a few days ago) and I saw a Great Blue Heron in the marsh on the corner of Norell and Co. Rd. 7. Carefully watching the ponds, I slammed on the brakes and pulled over on Co. Rd. 7 when I came upon the only open pond. There were 3 ducks in it. 2 males and one female. That could get ugly later! They were scaups. But which one? Lesser or Greater? They look almost identical but thanks to my trusty Sibley guide in my car I was able to tell after studying them for a while that they were lesser scaups. I had such a great view. It is times like this that really makes me want a good camera and lens. My old film camera is pretty good and I like my lens pretty well but I would have a hard time going back to film now. For one thing, it is so expensive to develop!

To top off the day I saw some mallards, red-winged blackbirds and starlings so that put my final bird count for the day at 26 species (3 of which were new for the year) which isn't too shabby for this time of year!

Wednesday morning (4/9/08) on my drive to work I saw lots of gulls flying about. They seemed to come back starting last Friday. I'm assuming they are ring-billed gulls but I will hold off on counting them until I can verify. At the marsh on the corner of Norell Ave and Co. Rd. 7 in Washington county I saw white in the now slightly open water and pulled over. Trumpeter swans! There were two of them. One was swimming and another was nestled back in the dried vegetation. Through my binoculars I also now could see that the open water was covered with ring necked ducks. That's two new species for the year at once. Nice!

I pulled down the driveway at work and immediately noticed the water in the "peeper pond" directly across from the building was now open. Sure enough, there was something on the surface. I slowed down and raised up my binoculars. There were a couple of mallards but lots of wood ducks. They were beautiful! Oh, and what's that on the other side of the pond? Why a male hooded merganser! That's two more firsts of the year. Four new species in five minutes.

On my way home I stopped at the same marsh on the corner of Norell and 7 and spotted a bufflehead in with the ring necks. I also saw a great egret in the marshy area next to Fleet Farm on Hwy 36. That was first of the year sightings for both of them.

2008 Running Bird Tally

47 Song Sparrow
48 Tree Swallow
49 Lesser Scaup
50 Trumpeter Swan
51 Ring-necked Duck
52 Wood duck
53 Hooded Merganser
54 Bufflehead
55 Great Egret

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


On April first I started out the month by seeing my first Great Blue Heron of the year in stream along County Road 7 in Washington County. They'd been seen on the river in Stillwater for a few weeks now but with water slowly starting to open up elsewhere I finally spotted one.

Wednesday, April 2nd I saw my first Turkey Vulture of the year on the way home from work. I thought I saw a wood duck too but I thought better than to slam on my brakes on a busy road and flip a u-turn. I had done exactly that about 10 miles back where the road was more rural but I was only a mile from hwy 36. The reason I turned around before was that I caught a glimpse of a large hawk on the passenger side of my car and in the rear-view mirror I could see that it had landed on a fence post. The hawk looked HUGE and at first I thought there was no way it could be a red-tail. It flew off though and sure enough, there was a big old red tail. It must have been a large female.

Since I made great time with traffic, I also stopped in quickly at Harriet Alexander Nature Center for a quick stroll. I saw cardinals, robins and red-winged blackbirds but I was even more excited to get a pretty good look at a northern shrike. Out in the middle of the wetland area I also came upon a beautiful flock of common grackles. When I looped back past the building a heard a noise back out near the edge of the wetland and brought up my binoculars. I saw a blue jay. The sound didn't seem right though. I soon found out why. The northern shrike was in the same tree and he was pissed off about the blue jay. He keep chasing him out of the tree. Blue Jays are big but he kept his distance. Don't mess with shrikes. Funny thing though. He kept on coming back. The fight between the two was really interesting.

The next morning I had to run some work related errands and saw a pond in Stillwater full of geese, gulls and two-tone ducks I am assuming were ring necks but I only caught a glimpse and there was no where to pull over. Just as I arrived to work I got a good look at a pair of sandhill cranes in farm field by the entrance. They looked funny pecking at hte ground with their showy plumage sticking up in the air. Not the "classic" sandhill pose to be sure.

Before lunch I had a meeting in the library at work and I realized after the meeting I had left my laptop computer behind. I went back in the room to get the computer and when I looked up I saw a bird land on a branch outside the window. I immediately recognized it. The Eastern Phoebe! We've been waiting for this bird to show up for weeks. We all guessed and were terribly wrong. My guess was that it would return on March 22 (same day as last year) but it was much later this year. It was lunchtime so I quickly made my lunch and went over to the windows to watch for the bird and snap a photo. It didn't show but this bird did!I had to really crop and zoom as this camera isn't the best and it isn't really in focus either. You can still tell it is an Eastern Bluebird though. Wonderful! Paul had spotted one last week so I was excited to see it. The colors were fabulous. I love spring! He flew off right away and I only got this one photo.

A little later in the day I saw yet another first for the year. A lone pine siskin was hanging out with the goldfinches at the feeders. It really threw me for a loop. I was thinking, "that's way too small for a female purple finch." Paul suggested pine siskin and it all made sense. What a great day for birds. They seem to know spring is finally here. We also pulled hte last of the maple taps today. I have photos and I'll post some in a couple of days.

2008 Running Bird Tally

41 Great Blue Heron
42 Turkey Vulture
43 Common Grackle
44 Eastern Phoebe
45 Eastern Bluebird
46 Pine Siskin