Learning the killdeer ways
Baby killdeer are born with their bright eyes wide open and all their damp feathers clinging close to their tiny bodies. As soon as those feathers dry and fluff up, the babies are up, and out, and they hit the ground running, hanging with their mom and dad looking for food on the gravel terrain. They are not able to fly immediately so they skitter around on the ground. Sticking close to their parents learning the killdeer ways for a long time.
These adorable, cute, baby birds, remind me of Dr. Seuss characters, with their long, spindly legs, and round, fluffy, stout bodies. Plus, their comically quick, darting movements beget entertainment. It would be hard to catch a baby killdeer. Really!!! They can disappear into the grasses or flatten out in the rocks, becoming invisible in an instant.
Killdeer are plovers, which are shorebirds. (Killdeer are shorebirds who do not live near water.) They lay eggs on the ground in rocks. They like the tops of flat buildings or gravel on hiking trails and roads. Killdeer nests are usually near the edge of the trail or road, surprisingly near grasses not water. Generally they lay four speckled eggs. Their eggs actually look like rocks. The killdeer nests are just depressions in the gravel. The eggs incubate for 24 to 28 days. The parents feign a broken wing if a human get too close to the nest, which is often considering killdeer habitat. These birds are “precocial” birds — when the chicks hatch they are ready to be in the world as soon as they dry off. (Wood Ducks are precocial. Their parents kick them out of the nest on the day they are born.) This is a stark contrast to other chicks, like robins, eagles, goldfinches, and cardinals that are reliant on their parents to keep them safe in the nest and feed them constantly by bringing them food, 24 hours a day. These dependent types of birds are called “altricial.” They are unable to move about on their own and need immediate care, totally reliant upon their parents for their survival in the first few weeks of their lives.
Until yesterday, when I saw the momma killdeer, on her nest, on the gravel road, in the Fish Lake Meadow State Natural Area, in Grantsburg, WI. (Whew!) with one baby killdeer head peeking out, I never considered any parallels between the life of a bird, let alone the life of a killdeer, and the life of Halle O’Falvey. Silly me. As I started researching killdeer for my column, I saw the similarities in their immediate venture into life. Running! I know I was born with my eyes wide open and my largest organ, my skin, fully developed, although the Irish in me showed barely any hair on my head.
I did not hit the ground running at birth, but at nine-months old, I stood up, took a few steps and started running. I have not stopped. Some of my friends say they get tired just listening to what I do in any given day. I have been clinically diagnosed with ADHD. It keeps me moving, exploring, yearning, interested in life, thus, always seeking what is new. Killdeer live on the edge, and manage to thrive with humans, laying their eggs in conspicuous places, along heavily traveled pathways and gravel roads. They are constantly on the move, exploring, looking for food, and seeking the sunlight. Although, they have a nervous trill in their distress call that include a sharp “dee,” while in flight they seem to draw us humans to look into the sky, as we have to look up when we hear their beautiful, high pitched, “Kill DEER, Kill DEER, Kill DEER.” I think killdeer are representative of the ADD/ADHD of the human race. Calling out with their beauty and grace with wild scuttlebutt and movement. I on the other hand am pretty quiet in my nervousness or boasting.
I cannot stop thinking about that moment we barely encountered the momma killdeer sitting on her baby, on that gravel road. It was a gift to notice her as we were taking our drive, my friend, Lori McNally, who grew up in Grantsburg, and me. There, momma killdeer was bright with her two-ringed black necklace. Strikingly beautiful white rings on black contrasts. As killdeer generally have four chicks in their brood, maybe that was her first chick that stuck out its head to see the commotion we caused stopping our car next to their nest. I wish we could have stayed. It is all about taking in that one moment. In stopping that locomotion we are all on everyday, taking note when just being there in life presents itself is amazing. I will return to Fish Lake to visit the chicks soon and report back on the Dr. Seuss like characters we encountered, on that fine, misty June, summers day.
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Robins and Snakes
Well, I cannot believe I am writing for the June edition. I am sitting here in my kitchen, doing a “fake bake” to keep warm. I should really throw a potato or two in the oven, since I’m Irish, and always have them on hand. I am freezing after this Monday’s torrential rains. As I was driving over the river to Minneapolis this evening, my commute took nearly 50 minutes. First rainfall. Panic drivers. Fire trucks. Me, sopping wet.
Yesterday I came home from a day trip to Fergus Falls and back. We toured the State Hospital building, a Kirkbride wonder, one of the more spectacular state hospitals (kirkbridebuildings.com/buildings/fergusfalls).
But that’s another story. After 12 hours, the kitties were anxious to get out onto the porch. So, then, I went around opening the windows in the house for some fresh air and right there in the spirea, camouflaged, was a baby robin. Looking as fat as a fat baby robin could look, speckly speckled. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Momma was nearby, talking but not worried much, and baby just sat there. I took a few photos and stuck my head out the window to get a close up. Baby robin just sat there. The boys wanted to come in and see me; so, after some loves, I put them up by the window and pointed out the baby robin. They did not take note for about ten minutes, and then started the Siamese howl. The baby robin started to fluff up, and stood up. I was amazed it could even stand on those short, fragile, barely bent baby bird legs. Soon, it flew off, and the howling kept on, growing louder and louder.
Today, momma, poppa, and cousins were all hopping around on the new pile of fresh dirt pulling out worms just before the rains. Aww, catching a glimpse of nature in my own back yard on Arbor Street, knowing if I had some chickens, I would not have any Japanese beetles.
On the other hand, I have my snakes. I love my snakes. They represent good ecology. They are in my yard. Not everyone likes snakes. I know this from my previous neighbor, who would pay my son, Myles, MONEY, to remove them from her yard.
Garter snakes belong in the yards and gardens. They do not belong in the house or the sewer, or a trap. They eat unwanted pests, like spiders, flies, mice, voles, moles, June bugs, beetles, grasshoppers, millipedes, and centipedes. They go after the pesky pests. Who wants a mouse in the house? I HATE MICE. I am one of those who jump up on the chair in fright. (I have never seen a mouse in the yard — because I have snakes in my yard!!! And I do not have snakes in my house.)
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (dnr.state.mn.us/reptiles_amphibians/snakes_turtles/commongartersnake.html)says that garter snakes are important because they eat destructive rodents (mice) and should not be killed. They have no special status in Minnesota. Although they are not venomous, garter snakes may bite when handled, and they may defecate on the person holding them, releasing a foul smelling odor. (My son, Myles, begged to have them as pets our first year on Arbor Street. After three days in the aquarium, they were back out in their yard. Too Stinky For This Momma and they belong outside.) FYI, the common garter snake is a medium-sized snake reaching up to three feet in length. They are black with three yellow lengthwise stripes on their back and sides. They have their babies in the late summer or early autumn. I have pulled up a rock or two to find momma and babies sleeping. It is a wondrous sight. Please forgive your snakes, for they are precious, and will not harm you.
Art of Birding
As the birds return to Minnesota we return to the outdoors ourselves. We long for vibrant, vital, vivid images of the green and each other.
Now is the time to watch for migrants as they arrive. We will have a steady stream of various birds and ducks. We have the luxury of living along the Upper Mississippi Flyway, sharing coastal lines with our own “Victoria Park” plan.
Please keep feeding the birds this spring — with all this snow and frozen tundra they will be needing food. And, if you dare, put out meal worms for the robins and bluebirds.
The art of birding. What does that mean? One definition says, “Art, at its simplest, is a form of communication, as well as the ideas and feelings it engenders in the viewer. Art is in the eye of the beholder. Birding is considered an art form. And not everyone appreciates the art of birding. To bird or not to bird, that is the question.”
If we look at the art of birding we could consider the fact that people can come together with all skill levels for harmonic convergence. Consider my most recent birding trip. I was in Gilbert, AZ, at the Riparian Preserve Water Ranch (riparianinstitute.org/riparian.cfm). Wikipedia says: Riparian — plant habitats and communities along the river margins and banks — riparian vegetation. It is the interface between land and a river or a stream. We have transitions between land and water here in Minnesota.
At the Riparian Preserve Water Ranch, our party of four consisted of a snowbirder from Minnesota, who is an expert; me, an amateur birder; a world renowned birding expert, who leads birding trips worldwide; and my lovely pal and newbie birder, JoAnn, who has fresh eyes. We all hung out at the Riparian Preserve for a few hours one weekday morning. We saw 58 different birds and waterfowl. It was amazing, awesome, and spectacular. We were all on equal terms enjoying sunshine, warmth, camaraderie, curiosity, the love of the land, and the delight of birds.
The birds are returning and the migrants are passing though Minnesota. Many lay over for a few days, others for a few weeks. We have our transient resident red-winged blackbird that stays on Arbor Street for a few weeks each year before heading for his cattailed swamp home in Northern Minnesota or beyond.
Over the net few months I will be at Tradition Creek, 933 West Seventh (traditioncreek.com/storefront/camping_store_saint_paul) holding birding salons. Look to their website for dates and time and to my blog (halleofalvey.wordpress.com).
This is a good time of year for renewal, revitalization, and rediscovery; let us all rejoice in who we are and how we operate in the world and just “be.” Take time to stop, look and listen. The birds will bring us joy and remind us of who we are as a person. Notice. It is who we are together that is important and what we have in common that brings delight to our world.
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I was snowshoeing down in Crosby Farm on a recent winter day; it was 40 degrees for a minute, and I took advantage of it midday. Snowshoe and cross-country ski tracks, meshed in with dogs’ and deer’s, and the “fat bike tire tracks” I know of because my cousin Martha Flynn rides bicycle all year long; not only that, she races bicycle.
I was just below I-35E-S alongside an open stream that flows into the Mississippi River. I heard the chickadee’s first chick-a-dee-dee announcing spring fertility. February is delightful when the chickadees sing; they bring hope for us all in Minnesota. I was traveling on a remarkably shared trail.
Migration. Believe or not it will happen here in Minnesota, 2014. After this winter I question the validity of spring ever entering into summer. The birds will return. They do. They return no matter what the conditions. Soon there will be buds, bees, and bugs. The chickadees were singing their February song, today, “chick-a-dee-dee dee.” They will be nesting soon. This is true.
March migration. Eagle watch, the Mississippi River in Wabasha, MN at
nationaleaglecenter.org. They have bald eagle and golden eagle birding trips down there that I would highly recommend with or without a guided tour. I would lead a few trips if anyone is interested. Let me know. email@example.com.
Migration. On March 13, 6 to 7 p.m. I will be teaching a class on Birding 101 at Tradition Creek. 933 West Seventh. Children are welcome, especially those busy ones. The store has fabulous outdoor gear. See traditioncreek.com.
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How Many January Thaws?
by Halle O’Falvey
The definition of a brutal climate is when the temperature changes 90 degrees in 90 days. That nearly happened to us in the beginning of January. I think between January 4th and 6th alone the temperature changed 55 degrees, not counting the wind chill factor; plus, school was closed for two extra days. How many January thaws will there be in Minnesota this year?
Because of the cold we have an occasional visitor that comes with regularity to winter in Minnesota. It is Quebec’s provincial bird, the snowy owl. There have been 176 official sightings. Google “snowy owls” for a wealth of information.
My friend Barbara and I drove down to Dakota County, near Vermillion, MN to find a snowy. There was a gathering of folks along a country road about 4:30 p.m. binoculars in hand, inside and outside of their cars. There was the snowy, on a telephone pole. Soon, the owl started to fly around. We were witness to a great display for a good half hour. On the pole, off the pole, on the ground, off the ground, back and forth, soaring just a few feet away. This was so exciting; the feathers so white, the snowy’s striking yellow eyes that still could be seen at 4:45 p.m. So, here we were at dusk, on January 11th, an obscure gathering of mostly strangers, certainly foreigners from the city, total camaraderie, standing around in the cold observing the behaviors of this beautiful snowy owl. There was sheer joy on everyone’s faces. We met one man who was curious about our nativity. He said he liked having people come down to see the birds and owls. I guess he was doing his own count. See ebird.org/content/ebird/news/gotsnowies2013/.
The Bell Museum of Natural History’s Audubon and the Art of Birds is excellent. I highly recommend going to see it. John James Audubon’s action oriented paintings, and life size renditions caused quite a stir during the early settlement of the United States during the early to mid-1800s. There is great historical documentation about Audubon’s life and many stories told through the works of worldwide, renowned-featured artists. The Bell Museum is at University Ave. and 17th Ave. SE: see bellmuseum.umn.edu/ForAdults/Exhibits/AudubonandtheArtofBirds.
I have two new kitties who share the same mother; these boys are about nine months old. Now that we are feeding the birds, they hang out at the bay window that overlooks the willow tree in the side yard. It is their most favorite place. They like the birds but it is the squirrels that capture their desire. They even move their heads in the same direction at the same time. It is hysterical. My son Myles put some birdseed on the outside window ledge. Oh don’t ya know, I had kittens yowling, hissing, and scratching at the window as the squirrel had a snack.
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It’s Cold Outside
It’s cold outside and the water is freezing; I have seen people walking on the ice, as early November 26 in fact, on Tanner’s Lake, with a fish house already. And you can hear the ice moving, if you are quiet enough, as I heard on a recent walk at Fish Lake in East Bethel, looking for the redheaded woodpeckers. We found two of the five that live there. And we saw a lot of blue jays, chickadees, a few nuthatches, and a yellowbellied sapsucker. The sun was shining. It was about 30 degrees. It was a fine day to be outside. The redheads are not quite so red as in spring. But still magnificent.
My naturalist friend Linda and I even went out skating on the ice; though we only had our boots on, it was great fun. I found my Doc Martens are great for sliding. We found coyote tracks and ice-skater marks near the shoreline where some snow had gathered at the tiny, little beach. The ice was at least six inches thick and very smooth. Ice is fascinating. We have a lot of it up here in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” Water expands as it freezes into ice and it floats because it is lighter than water. You can see the fish swimming down below through the ice because the water freezes from the surface down. Weird eh? It’s science.
As we walked further along the shoreline we found small puddle-like depressions in the ice, with bits of dusty snow buildup at the edges. Maybe they were caused by wind — we were not sure. It looked like scales of a fish. I thought I saw a prehistoric long-toothed sea needle, a garfish. Linda told me that garfish jump out of the water, especially if they are confined in an aquarium in a nature center.
Happy New Year! Don’t forget to notice the birds. It’s time to feed them, if you are so inclined, and if you can give them water all the better.
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Who is Staying for Winter?
Migration is winding down. We can look forward to our wintering birds from Canada and The Arctic. A great grey has been seen already in Grand Marais. A trip up to Sax-Zim Bog is always great in winter. It is best with an overnight stay. Last year I did a day trip and was gone for nearly 18 hours. That was intense and I was not even driving. Thanks to Linda and Rob Whyte.
There are about 25 red headed woodpeckers over-wintering in East Bethel’s Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Center (cbs.umn.edu/explore/cedarcreek). There was a bountiful crop of hazelnuts, so they are staying. For an easy view, there are about five redheads along the Fish Lake Nature Trail. At the trailhead, there is a parking lot, a kiosk and an outhouse. Walk through the prairie to the lakeshore — continuing on the lakeshore there is a savanna-type habitat with a lot of oaks, dead and alive. The redheads love to nest in dead oaks. I am planning a few birding trips up there over the winter; e-mail if you are interested, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Bell Museum features bird art in its show, Audubon and the Art of Birds, including a gallery conversation “Is Bird Art Real Art?” with University of Minnesota professors of Art History, Robert Silberman and Michael Gaudio on Thursday, December 5, 5:30 p.m. West Gallery, free with museum admission: see bellmuseum.umn.edu/ForAdults/Exhibits/AudubonandtheArtofBirds/index.htm.
I am so grateful to live in this neighborhood with all our interesting palettes, dances, hopes, and dreams. I am so grateful I have this opportunity to share my love for birds, nature, and art with you all. Best wishes, love, peace, and happiness. Soon the days will be getting longer.
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Chicken or Egg?
A couple of weekends ago I was farm-sitting for my friends, Laurie and Keith, on their organic farm. I was caring for their eight chickens, three cats, protecting the honeybees from the bears, watching the deer, the chipmunks, the birds, the hawks, the owls and the stars. Their chickens are pets and they are really pretty cute and pretty funny. They want your attention just like any other pet. They love their snacks. And they want to hang out with you in the yard, roaming around. They aren’t much different from other pets that live with straw except their poop is just a little wetter.
Lavender is a beautiful gray Cochin Bantam rooster. He is very small and docile. He has feathered legs and weighs about two pounds. He wakes up about 4:30 a.m. with a cuc-a-dudal-du. But there were some amazing sunrises around 7 a.m. on the farm this time of year.
Lily is a Buff Brahma chicken. She weighs about nine pounds and has feathered legs. She is buff colored with black tail and neck feathers. She lays a lot of nice light brown eggs. Lily is a screecher; she does not have a quiet bock, bock, bock, bock, bewwwwk. She’s in your face BOUCKKKKKK.
Next, there are three rare Ameraucanas. They resemble quails and weigh about six pounds. Buttercup is yellowy, Iris is gray, and Astor is black. They have muffs and beards. They are sweet and very hardy. Their eggs are greenish blue and very pretty, just like their legs. They are lovers just like the sounds of their names.
Olive is a Production Red chicken, very similar to a Rhode Island Red only a lighter red in color. She weighs about six pounds, and lays a lot of medium brown eggs.
Coco is a Cuckoo Marans chicken from France. She is very rare in the United States. She has black and white feathers and weighs about seven pounds. She lays brown eggs.
Daisy is an Orpington. She is the lead hen and took in two chicks this spring. She was lonely; needed to be a mom. She is a gentle, friendly, mother. Orpingtons have very fluffy buffed copper colored plumage, and lay extra large brown eggs well into winter.
The eggs from these chickens are so delicious, tasting like eggs of old. It is best to baste them. Eggs from a bygone era before mass production.
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Bird Watching, People Watching
A great new exhibit is opening at the Bell Museum on the University of Minnesota campus: Audubon and the Art of Birds opens October 3rd. More than 400 prints of John James Audubon, the renowned birder and illustrator, will be shown, as well as works of other artists from across the country. This could be a Community Reporter fieldtrip — contact email@example.com for details. The museum website: bellmuseum.umn.edu.
Bird watching is like people watching. One big difference is you can really stare at a bird for a long time without someone questioning your intention. Your response may be activity, a song or a call from the bird. Observing birds or people is always done in local habitat. You are observing aspects of everyday life. If you travel you can still observe birds and people in other environments. Seeing new places, new birds, new people brings excitement and thrill for those who love to watch others, be it a bird or a person. We can learn about new things. There is always going to be something going on in the transition areas; water to forest, sidewalk to pub. What about a trip to the Southern Hemisphere? The birds and he people look very different. Green parrots run rampant in Argentina as robins do here.
What is unique to identifying birds is their silhouette. It’s rather boring to identify human beings that way, I think. In the glare of the sun or the stasis of cloud cover one can identify a birds in size, shape, proportion, posture with clues from the habitat. One does not always need to rely upon color or markings.
So it is high time for migration again. I think the only month there is no migration is July. The airways will be full right now. Hawk Ridge in Duluth will be a busy spot on the road and up above as will the Upper Mississippi Flyway. It would appear the proposed plan for Victoria Park will be welcoming for these travelers as they head up river or down river.
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60 is the new 40
I was up on the south shore of Lake Superior. Rarely did I hear a bird at the Cranberry Creek Lodge. There was a woodpecker banging on the tin roof of the shed way yonder. I never could identify it. It is always pretty quiet for birding when I visit Herbster, WI in August. The tradeoff is swimming in Lake Superior. This year I tried paddle boarding. I loved it. Another way to play in the water and to work on my core, I do believe 60 is the new 40.
The robins have returned to my yard after their summer jaunt. I love their song but it is a sure sign of summer’s wane. Baby bird babble is constant. And the goldfinches are in the sunflowers.
There will be a lot of activity in the skies soon heading south. Starting with the small, beautiful, colorful kestrel, a falcon. “Upper Miss” Refuge is filled with marshes, upland prairies, bottomland forests and wooded islands. In the 260 miles of river there are more than 233,000 acres, including backwaters lakes, sloughs (holding treetop-nesting herons) and pools. St. Paul District (Pools 1–3), Winona District (Pools 4-6), La Crosse District (Pools 7-8), McGregor District (Pools 9-10), and Savanna District (Pools 12–14). Then there are the zones within the pools. Braided stream zones are home to many birds, fish, and mammals, and 44 species of fresh water mussels, including the endangered “Higgins’ Eye” and other wildlife, not forgetting the ever enduring, elusive river otter. The central zone shallow water with marsh habitat that is attractive to many ducks, muskrats and pan fish. The open water zone is deep open water where you will find more diving ducks, lake sturgeon, and American eels.
Get ready for the thousands upon thousands to descend along the river, the Upper Mississippi Flyway.
Here is a list of activities within the districts along the river. umrcc.org/Reports/OREIT/Stewardship%20Guide/St.%20Paul%20District%20Beach%20Locations%20with%20Lake%20Pepin.pdf.
Crex Meadows will host many birding tours as nearly 14,000 sandhill cranes stop over to fatten up before their journey to the North Platte River: crexmeadows.org.
Contact me if you would like to go to Crex Meadows in October 2013 — firstname.lastname@example.org.
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My Beloved Toez
It is with great sadness that I write this article without my beloved Toez, the Cat. He would always hang out with me when I was writing, since it is one of the only times I really sit still. He was really happy when I started my master’s degree with all its writing. Toez, the Cat, was about 17 years old. We took him in because he was freezing to death, abandoned by a family a few blocks over because he lost his kitten cuteness. It was difficult to keep him in the house the first few years. We told him he could not kill birds (maybe those menacing birds I detest) but mice; bring them in dead, since that is what he did when he was younger, onto the side porch.
A new book has been written! Bright Wings: Poems about Birds edited by Billy Collins, former U.S. poet laureate and illustrated by noted bird illustrator and author David Allen Sibley. I just recently found out about Collins, in my master’s class, as we explored integrating poetry into classroom curriculum. I have Sibley’s bird book and tree book; this seems a magical progression for Sibley. This will be in my library soon.
I received a very cool book for my birthday this year. Avian Architecture How Birds Design, Engineer & Build by Peter Goodfellow. I have never really thought much about birds’ nests. I can identify a few. Now, I have information for a new exploration. I will be looking at trees differently. The photographs, the drawings, the classifications, and the case studies shared in laymen’s terms are very nice. Birds are expert builders, using their beaks and their feet and then using their breast or belly to mold the inside. They do not spend a lot of time building their nests, since they do not use them very long. Except for the male bowerbird. Such a courtship: see youtu.be/GPbWJPsBPdA.
I found there is a flock of yellow-headed blackbirds, a most beautiful bird, south of the Koch Plant, at the 180th Street Marsh, which is 2.7 miles east of Hwy. 52 on 180th Street, between Fischer and Goodwin Avenues. The red-winged and yellow-heads live in the same habitat, only the latter prefer the prime real estate of the low vegetation in the emerging wetlands, leaving the red-wings to seek higher ground. You will find both species sitting on top of the cattails and they have very different songs. Take a ride down Hwy, 52, it’s not far.
There are a lot of baby birds in the yard right now; baby robins are bathing in our birdbath even as we sit in the yard with them this year. In “Bird Language” that means we are invisible; the birds trust us. And a big thanks to my friend, Gracie!!! A big rock in the birdbath helps the birds jump around in the water. Duh! Baby mourning doves and baby starlings galore. We had a baby chickadee stuck in the side porch. It was so frightened; it kept flying into the corners and the windows. Mr. Myles came to the rescue.
I’ve had bees on my mind and beekeepers as well. Bees are in peril right now, as I have said before. Colony Collapse Disorder is one phenomenon that has increased tremendously since 2006. This is an interesting Ted Talk. About urban beekeeping. ted.com/talks/noah_wilson_rich_every_city_needs_healthy_honey_bees.html
The honeybees are busy with the berries on Arbor Street. We await the harvest of my berries and their honey.
Honeybees do not sting you randomly and they are not aggressive. They live in a highly organized society. They are responsible for the pollinations of nearly one-third of our food supply. Honey harvested in your region is best for you. Honey is antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal. It can help with asthma. It has brain improvement functions with some fancy new terms, antioxidant and pinocembrin. Be sure to stop at the bee exhibit at the Minnesota State Fair and talk to a beekeeper and get honey lemonade or honey sunflower ice cream. See mnstatefair.org/competition/ag_hort_bee.html.
Consider planting some native plants and wildflowers, and please do not use pesticides on your turf grass. You could set some bowls of water for the bees to drink. Just as for the birds, squirrels, and rabbits. (And bloodroot for the delicacies in the gardens.)
Notice the birds.
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Buds, Bugs and Worms
The warblers were coming through town before, during, and after snow. Whew!!! It was a tough year, with the dazzling yellow-rumps most evident. They could be seen everywhere in flocks that overtook the walkways and midway through the trees. They are so darned cute and very busy. Their field markings are somewhat varied in color, and have male to female differences, but the yellow rumps distinguish them from all others. And they are generally the first to arrive during migration.
A mockingbird was sighted; it was life bird sighting for me, at the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, below Mounds Park on Commercial Street. (See nps.gov/miss/planyourvisit/ventosanctuary.htm). There were marsh marigolds in full bloom along the stream, ducks in the ponds, and all kinds of birds scavenging for bugs in the recently burned ground on a blustery, sunny afternoon. The landscape is dramatic with the most beautiful naturally sculpted limestone rocks. The restoration of this sanctuary is hopeful if we have species like the northern mockingbird pass through or better yet, stay to breed. Just up the river a bit at the barren Xcel plant, we had an explosion of Dickcissels last year. We can provide habitats for many types of birds. This is a fabulous corridor of the Upper Mississippi Flyway and we can make this a very special place indeed, with the Great River Passage Plan and Victoria Park. (Check out allaboutbirds.org/guide/Northern_Mockingbird/id.)
All the bird activity has been so exciting for me. I went down to Frontenac last month. I go out to look at Victoria Park regularly, to see who’s taking up residence. I watched as two male killdeers vied for the affection of the female. About now I start to anticipate the arrival of my favorite, the nighthawk. I generally hear the goatsucker in the first few days of June. We’ll see — it has been such a crazy year for weather.
This spring was so hard on birds, especially the migratory birds. Their food source was covered in snow, and the dark days of March did not appear to help the earth warm up. The birds have food now though: buds, bugs, and worms. We do not need to feed them anymore; unless that is something you enjoy. Remember water is even more important. It is said that the birds come for the water and stay for the food. I have many native plants in my yard; so, I have a goodly array of seasonal food for them. Green coneflowers and sunflowers bring the goldfinches for sure. Hummingbirds like bee balm, honeysuckle, and red columbine.
Be happy for bees. Honeybees are the pollinators of plants and they like a lot of variety too. They support flowers and trees and everything in between. Honeybees also keep our food source vibrant and productive. This past winter was very difficult on the bees. In January, in Minnesota, it got so warm the bees left their cluster (bees snug together) and when it got cold again they could not recluster in time and died. Climate conditions are so bizarre these days and unpredictable it stresses the honeybees to death. The use of pesticides and the growth of monocultures across the country make an impact too. Historically, there are cycles where bees die mysteriously. But now they are threatened. There are bee farmers in the United States — bees are shipped across the county in trucks. Really! And they transport thousands and thousands of bees in one load. Love your honeybees. Don’t be afraid of the honeybees. Unless, of course, you are allergic to any type of bee stings which could be life threatening. (See xerces.org/2011/07/19/the-important-life-of-bees/.)
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The birds. They always return in spring. Unsuspecting of Minnesota and its heralds. Trusting little things, they return, it is in their DNA. This has been a most miserable spring. Cold, wet, snowy, dreary. The birds. They set their internal antennas and fly north. It’s all about the food. Right now as you are reading this, the birds have been shivering and searching for food. They only have so many shivers each day. It’s all about the calories. SO, PLEASE DO NOT FEED THEM CHEAP FOOD. Otherwise, it is like they are eating potato chips, or buying knock-off brand-name jeans. They need high caloric foods. Especially now. Late spring is the most crucial time for birds—this is the time to feed them. Love your birds. They are barometers for the health of our community. It’s all about the birds.
I have a huge flock of robins and a smaller flock of starlings hanging here on Arbor Street. I ran out of mealworms one day, so I threw outseveral pounds of raisins. They will eat them. Although they prefer berries on bushes and trees, as was documented outside of Mississippi Market on West Seventh, a flock of robins stripped a fruit tree of its dried berries in one day. Last night, at 8:45 p.m. with a midnight blue sky and the sliver of a moon way up high, we heard the killdeer, in the market parking lot. April 15. Dang, it was worrisome to hear it call so late in the evening. Why they choose to live on the manicured, vibrant green lawn on Olive Street is besides me. But they do, and they return every year as they grace us with their beauty, hilarity, and call. Have you ever seen a baby killdeer? They are a wonder, almost Seuss-like.
I have had the red-winged blackbird arrive too early. He always comes to Arbor Street in late spring, stays a few weeks, fattens up before he heads up North. The males always arrive before the females and scout a home out. Looking for lodging, the speckled momma always finds her man. My friends, Laurie and Keith, in Stillwater, have an organic farm; they had a large flock of robins but then a flock of their relatives, the bluebirds showed up. They were on the vehicles in the driveway, drinking the slush on the shiny, black rooftops of the Hondas. What is that about?
I had hoped to spend April 14 birding down in Frontenac State Park and Hok-Si-La campground for the day with friends. One of my many birthday celebrations this year, as it is the 60th year on earth. The Eastern River bed is one of the best-kept secrets in Minnesota. (Oh, no the words out now) but I can see upwards of 80 different birds in a day in April. We had to cancel just as the Twins had to cancel their third game with the Mets that day.
Now, don’t forget about your bees. If they aren’t around we are in trouble. They are the pollinators. We cannot live without them. Notice the bees, notice the birds, and consider how long you look at a bird? Is it as long as when you look at a piece of art?
The warblers are a-coming next. I dreamt I saw a Blackburnian Warbler at my birdfeeder. Bright with its oranges, yellows, grays, whites and black.
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Bird watching. It sounds like a simple enough experience. Right? Well, most recently, I asked a dear old friend of mine, who has only heard of my birding ventures for the past 25 years, to go birding with me. She was like, “AWW, NO! I am not able to go tromping through the woods.” I paused for a moment, thinking, geez, what image have I portrayed for her of my birding experiences all these years? Well, it is true I do go tromping through the woods any time of year in any type of weather. But it turns out she had her own idea of what I did when I was birding.
A few weeks ago, I took a day trip up to Sax-Zim Bog, the nationally known home, northwest of Duluth, to a unique array of bird species and habitats, before their annual winter birding festival. We did a lot of bird-feeder birding, which is unique in its own way, so predictable and noteworthy with a grand appreciation for those homeowners who put up the birdfeeders so we birders can see many birds at one place. They do have a donation box supporting the view. But we also walked a good mile in deep snow to see the great grey owl and the black-backed woodpecker — neither of which we found, but I have seen both on other birding trips. Fortunate for me. On this particular trip, there were five life birds (my first ever sightings) for me — pine grosbeak, boreal chickadee, gray jay, red-breasted nuthatch, and the common redpoll. Awesome!!!
So, I told my dear friend, I would take her to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Bloomington (3815 American Blvd. East). There is an awful lot of concrete near by, but they have a fantastic overlook of the Minnesota River, with a multitude of bird feeders. It is always a delight and a sure bet to see birds. Not as remote as the family homes up at Sax-Zim Bog. But very productive and quite enjoyable with no tromping through wooded woods unless you walk down the steep path below the overlook. (Which I do.) You can walk to Bass Ponds which is a stone’s throw away, and the Old Cedar Bridge, which is not too far south either.
Spring migration will be starting when this article comes out. My favorite time of year. Love, buds, new growth, brightly colored birds and each week new bird songs prove their arrival back for nesting. I long for the robins’ cheerily, cheeriup, cheerio, cheeriup and the long pull of the earthworm under its warm rusty breast.
Have a look at birdjam.com/birdsong.php?id=1. Who will be the first to notice the return of the robin? Or the beautiful bluebird, another early arrival to Minnesota.
Cheerily, cheeriup, cheerio, cheeriup. On we go.
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Two quarters clicked together can trap a squirrel any day, squirrel enthusiasts tell me. Who are these enthusiastic squirrel enthusiasts? They like to hunt them, dress them, and barbeque them, immediately, least the moisture leave the meat.
In Minnesota we have many-a-squirrel. Grey squirrel is the dominant species and they have strains of black and albino. We also have the fox squirrel, red squirrel, and the gopher squirrel, which is actually a thirteen-lined ground squirrel. And we have southern flying squirrels and northern flying squirrels. I have never seen the latter. Have any of you? Do tell. It might be like seeing a walking stick. A rarity. I have only seen a walking stick once. It was truly amazing; I was at Wild River State Park along the St. Croix River, on the Minnesota side. Who knows if I’ll ever see a flying squirrel? Oh wait — there was Rocky the Squirrel!
Anyway, I do not really care for squirrels. Except sorta, kinda, maybe, the gopher squirrel, because he is really not a squirrel, right, We are the gopher state (chosen in 1857), and we have the Minnesota Golden Gophers football team at the University, named by WCCO sports commentator Halsey Hall (old St. Paul folks would remember him, I do. He was inducted into the Museum of Broadcasting Hall of Fame; he is also noted for using the phrase “holy cow”).
So, these little menaces have really cute nicknames. Bushytails: Argh!!! Let’s ask Pat Lindgren what she thinks about squirrels. She has mega squirrel drama.
Squirrels are a favorite of small game hunters in Minnesota, 150,000 per year are taken. My son, Myles, continues with his father’s legacy, as camo-gun-guy-hunter-and-gatherer and grill master. Squirrel tastes like chicken. I think the city dwellers are plumper.
Fifty million years of hunting and gathering on earth. That is how long the squirrel has been around. Aristotle even had a description for them: “He who sits in the shadow of his tail.” Really, they sit a lot! And they run in our backyards, damaging our vegetables, not really eating them, just taking a bite or two.
It was surprising to me to find out the squirrel’s life span is only about eleven months. But they can live up to six years. The babies are being born right now. There may be up to four in the nest. Momma kicks them out, abandoning them by eight or nine weeks.
Now is the time to notice squirrels. You will find townhome-like dwellings in the canopy of the trees that are near restaurants. I looked out the second floor window and in the canopy of an oak on James saw six nests. Six. Well, they live a few houses from Shamrock’s. There is a tree filled by Leitner’s as well.
How many squirrels live on your block?
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Just Turn Around
It is not always at the destination that you will find special things. And as another birder once told me, if you aren’t finding anything, just turn around.
I was walking on the boardwalk at the old Cedar Bridge, just taking my time, amazed at the harvest colors blazing at sunset.
I stopped at the pond just south of the parking lot. I saw a few mallards, boring, but always deserving of a look, they are curious enough. I saw a pair of wood ducks swimming away, and then noticed in the rushes a juvenile Sora. They are most secretive birds that live in cattails and lily ponds walking in the muck. With their thick cover gone, I believe I scored.
The continued warm weather has birds staying here much later this year.
Many of you have heard of the hundreds of thousands of sandhill cranes that winter on the Platte River in Nebraska. It is a safe place because the waters at the riverbanks are deep and the center of the river is low, keeping out predators. Plus, there is a lot of corn in Nebraska farm fields. We have a small contingent of cranes that fatten up in Crex Meadows in Wisconsin before their flight south (about 70 miles north on I-35 and 10 miles east on Hwy 70) This year more than 12,000 sandhill cranes were hanging out in Crex, some are still there at this writing. In October alone, more than 1,500 people came through for observation doing the auto-tour. I met some friends up there for Crex’s annual Sandhill Crane event in October. See youtube/DDXRttuLEmE or youtube/4D_hQW_YJu8.
Last month, I heard a thump while I was in the kitchen cooking. I knew it was from the picture window. I knew it was a bird. I felt it. I did not want to look. Alas, there was a baby bird lying on the ground under the willow. It was a bird that I could not identify the day before in the melee on the front sidewalk next door. My neighbor was watering her grass preparing for a dig and fall planting. There were more than 30 birds drinking, bathing, hopping, and preening in the softly moving water that sprayed over them. There was a small light brown bird I did not recognize, even with the binoculars. But, alas, I did find it today. It lay on its back with its tail up, which looked broken, at the base of its small body. When I turned it over I saw in horror it was a baby cedar waxwing, the tips of its tail with brilliant waxy looking yellow. I couldn’t touch it. I just left it and went in the house and called my son, Myles.
Birds have been really thirsty this season with the drought; Bohemian waxwings showed up and stayed a while at Joe Landsberger’s recently. Don’t forget to water your birds.
A trip to Brownsville, Minnesota, to watch the tundra swans in December, migration will be late this year. It is a great day trip or plan to spend the night. See brownsvillemn.org/tundra.htm or greatriver.com/swan.htm.
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American White Pelicans
I was down in St. Peter, Minnesota, at the State Hospital Cemetery, doing some research for my project, Remembering with Dignity. It was a steely, dense, sunny day, smoky from a fire just north in Henderson. Someone shouted “Look at the pelicans!” They were difficult to locate immediately, because they fly very high, in their cross-country flight pattern. Not at all like the recognizable V-formation of Canada geese.
I looked with my naked eye and saw a group of about 50 of them. They were flying as one big pulse. I ran and got my binoculars and tried to locate them again. It was one of the more difficult attempts. But when I finally did see them, they were stretched out flying in a wide rectangle, resembling Braille didactic. What is Braille didactic you say? That image was from the previous day’s work at Homewood Gallery, where I had just installed the most current VSA art exhibition (VSA is the state organization on arts and disability). We applied ADA labels (Americans with Disabilities Act) of each piece with a similarly shaped Braille labels — “You are what you know.”
American White Pelicans are really quite interesting in that they live in two different ecosystems. They breed in freshwater, preferably on islands in the middle of the USA (Minnesota!!!) or the “interior” as some may call it. During that time they feed in lakes, rivers or marshes, in the shallows. And then they winter in coastal bays, inlets, and estuaries, in the shallows, mostly in the Gulf of Mexico with their cousins the brown pelicans. They are great swimmers and hang out together. They will gather in a circle, get the water moving and the fish trapped for dinner.
The first time I ever saw white pelicans was when I was lying on the white sandy beach in St. Croix Beach, MN. I was watching the clouds and saw white movement with black specks. An ah-ha! Moment: American White Pelicans.
Yesterday, we saw the hummingbird going after the flowers of the basil plants. Humm. And we have seen the dreadful English sparrows on the broccoli leaves. It’s weird. They like to drink the water on the giant, rubbery leaves but now they are eating them. It’s where there is water.
I just discovered another official hawk migration site, in Mankato at Bethany Lutheran College: hawkcount.org/siteinfo.php?rsite=704. And of course, there is Hawk Ridge in Duluth. (see youtube.com/watch?v=XDDfjD1G8_U).
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My garden looks terrible. I am watering only the vegetables these days. The flowers have just had to fend for themselves. But today when I noticed the some of the native plants wilting, I brought out the hose. Maybe the garter snakes will come out of the rocks.
Even the hummingbirds have been suffering from dehydration in this unbearable summer of high heat and humidity. I have taken to setting out homemade nectar. But you must be careful in making your own. One part sugar, four parts water. Boil the water, then slowly add the sugar and stir. Notice the time; do not boil for more than two minutes. One wants to make sure these tiny birds are well fed and hydrated. Scientifically speaking, if too much water is boiled away there is more sugar than in the flower blooms and bees will show up to compete for their food.
Well, I rediscovered purslane in my garden this year. I use it in salads, stir-fries, and on baked potatoes. Lots of anti-oxidants and omega-3 fatty acids in purslane. I ate the new dandelion leaves in the spring, from my boulevard. One of my neighbors thinks my boulevard is a mess of weeds — whatever! They are delicious and nutritious. Check out invasivore.org — they have recipes for fish, too. Carp in sour cream with wild mushrooms was in Audubon Magazine (Oct. 2004: “Eat Your Invasives”).
I went over to St Mark’s on Marshall Ave. on August 16, for a chimney swift release. This is a very unusual occurrence because swifts rarely are brought in for rescue. Someone repairing a chimney had insight, knowledge and training about chimney swifts and took the chicks. It was a unique experience. Seven swifts were successfully released and went down the chimney to roost for the night. There’s a story about it at kstp.com/article/stories/S2731512.shtml?cat=12196.
Join me for my “Swift Sit” at St. Francis’ parking lot at James and Daly St. 6:45 p.m. on, Sept. 3 — bring a chair to sit and watch. We counted over 120 swifts at St Mark’s.
After the tornado ripped through north Minneapolis last year, the Great Blue Herons lost their home, too. Many have relocated further south on the Mississippi between the Camden Bridge and the new Lowry Ave. Bridge. It was a great site. At least ten new nests on an island, with a new human tent below were spotted. Wonder how long the camper will stay with that entire poop drop?
Have you seen the colors of the goldfinches lately? They are still pretty bright but soon they will be fading and the migrants will have started their flight. The nighthawks were gathering and soaring in clusters of 100–125 birds up in Duluth over Hawk Ridge preparing to fly south. The kestrels will have already left by this publication.
The American kestrels are pretty little falcons, blue-grey, rufous, and white. One of my favorite birds ever. The smallest of all the birds of prey or raptors. Kestrels like insects and, of course, mosquitoes. They mostly live in the prairie, but my relatives up on the hill with those huge old-growth trees have a nesting pair.
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The summer’s heat has everyone and everything down for the count. The birds are not moving much either, except to eat and to teach their young to fly and hunt.
The chimney swifts are certainly busy with that too. Their original name was American Swifts; formerly nesting in hollow trees, they now roost in chimneys or more recently, with conservation efforts, 12-foot swift towers. They are cute little mosquito-eating machines that also snag flying ants and biting flies. And that’s a good thing.
For “A Swift Night Out” join in for the Annual Swift Sit, August 31-September 3. Check out mn.audubon.org/chimney-swift-conservation-project for details. Volunteers can count on one night or on several nights during this designated period, and also at more than one location. Bring a kid or a friend or three and introduce someone new to the wonders of Chimney Swifts. Linda Whyte, a member of the Minnesota Ornithology Union, and I, were scouting out swift activity ready for the “stake out” starting August 31. You can contact me email@example.com for my “Sit” on September 3, at 6:45 p.m. We will meet at the east side of the parking lot of St. Francis De Sales, at James and Daly. There are many chimneys to observe within a two-mile radius.
Chimney Swifts are five inches long and look like little cigars with short pointy wings, resembling bats and/or acrobats. They are very social, so where you see one, you will see many hunting together. They have sharp, shrill, chattering, “twitters.” They sound similar to goldfinches but their flying patterns are very different. They catch all their food in the air, and how they drink, I’ve never seen. They do not perch, ever, so when they sleep they cling vertically to the side of the chimney, their twig nests are held tight with their sticky saliva along the wall, inside the chimney.
Then we have the dickcissel invasion of 2012. Apparently, these seed-eating birds are renowned for population fluctuations. We see fluctuations of bird species because of food supply, but I have not found anyone to explain this explosion. Minnesota has 87 counties, many forested. Dickcissels have been reported in 83 of the 87 counties. These are prairie birds that like to stay close to their nest, which is on ground vegetation and in grasses. They like older well-established growth. So we are very lucky they chose to nest on the old Xcel Energy site at the end of Randolph across from the dog park. Again, kudos to Xcel, and let those grasses keep growing.
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What is a disckcissel?
The emergence of the dickcissel along the Mississippi River is a great ecological sign. So you ask, what is a dickcissel? It is a bird with a yellow breast and a black bib. It looks like a cross between a house sparrow and a meadow lark, with a great, insect-like, tinny song. ‘dick dick’ ciss ciss ciss’ but unless you notice, you might just think it is a house sparrow. They nest and feed on the ground. And just guess where they are nesting? At the old Xcel plant, immediately south of the new dog park on Randolph. You must look through the new, towering black fence. But you can see birds moving. Xcel has indeed planted wildflowers in the fenced area where the old plant stood. Prairie restoration and wildlife management. We should thank Xcel for that and encourage them to continue plantings. In this particular area, bobolinks could breed, even meadowlarks. If only the prairie would not be mowed until after breeding season.
There are spotted sandpipers in the holding pond there, plus there are bell’s vireos in some of the trees. If you look up just a little to the north, there is a pair of peregrine falcons under the Smith Ave. Bridge. One of their fledglings was just returned to its parents today after sustaining an injury.
We have a lot of life returning to the river. It is a very diverse life now. One that needs tending and stewardship. There was a northern mockingbird sighted today. And we’d like him to stay.
Even the former ammunition plant out in Arden Hills is restoring what they are calling the wildlife corridor. I was there recently, for a hike. The plant is not open to the public very often. So, I took advantage of being there. At the highest point you can see both downtowns and you can see three counties come together. It is quite impressive and lush.
One of our many favorite West End gardeners, Gracie Bernal, rescued a baby parrot recently. She was getting her yard prepared for the West End Garden Tour when she heard an unusual noise. She had heard it for a few days but now she was right directly at it. She was watering when she looked up and saw a baby parrot with blue eye-circles. It was so cute, but in distress. Gracie went and got some food and tried to coax the little baby, it was very thirsty too, and loved the little shower it got. Another West End Gardener, Laurel Severson, waved hello as she was on her way to work on the Cliff Ave. Project. Gracie flagged her down, and pleaded for help. So, Laurel found the neighbor who owns birds and he brought a net to save the day. Everyone pitched in to save the baby. But we do not know its fate. Where is it now? Whose pet was it? Is it trying to sneak out again? It was too young to talk. It was too young to tell.
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Migration has been early, fun
The leaves are thick on the trees, full and vibrant with color, and that is chlorophyll! Wind blowing gently though the trees as they are swaying, pulsing like breath. Who wouldn’t want to hug a tree?
Migration has been early and fun. Sightings in various locations, like Hok-si-la City Park in Lake City, MN, recently, recorded 84 species in a day trip. And now with thicker leaves and migration done we listen, drive up north or be content with our resident birds.
Our neighborhood includes Crosby Farm and the Mississippi River. If you take time and notice you will see an amazing abundance of wildflowers right along with the birds. Phlox and wild geranium, pussy toes, and violets are blooming. I have native flowers in bloom in my garden too. Check out Outback Nursery in Hastings (outbacknursery.com). They give classes around town too.
I saw two pairs of blue-winged teals and four pairs of wood ducks in Crosby. I also saw two pileated woodpeckers. One near the wetlands dock and the other near the boat launch where, if you look to the northeastern shoreline at the treetops, you will see an active eagles nest. Down river a bit near the Island Station there is an active osprey’s nest on the most eastern point.
On a ride through Lilydale one afternoon I got off my bicycle and walked a dirt trail to the southern end of Pickerel Lake, near the swamp. As I stood, being the observer, cottonwood was falling all around me. It was like one of those wintery days with fluffy, giant snowflakes and warm weather. The cottonwood was thick. There were great blue herons, egrets, Baltimore orioles and the usual suspects, including wood ducks. I watched six males spar for the attention of one female. At one point the female was up on the end of a 20-foot tree, like a Cinderella at the top of the stairs, suitors below. Three males were evenly spaced on the fallen tree and three were circling the waters below. There was a bit if squawking and then after about five minutes the female just flew off. Wood ducks are the most colorful of all the ducks; they have clawed feet to climb in and out of dead trees with cavities as deep as 15 feet sometimes. They do not build their own nests and they do adapt well to nesting boxes build by us humans.
On a recent trip, at Cedar Creek Ecosystem in East Bethel (only about 45 minutes north and west) with my new best birding buddy, Valerie, an astounding birder and music director for The Addams Family, which just finished its run at the Ordway, I saw a few “life birds” too. The grasshopper sparrow and the orchard oriole. We watched baby bullheads working the shoreline. We saw thousands of dragonflies. And the highlight was the redheaded woodpecker. They are “threatened,” having to compete with European starlings for nesting cavities. And because their habitat is diminishing. They need old dead oaks that are not cleared away. As we were observing a fisherman passed us by and said, “Is that a red-headed woodpecker. I have not seen one for over 30 years,” so that was way cool.
And of course, my favorite, the common nighthawk, the sure sign of summer for me, was back three weeks early. I love their call at dusk, right after the doves have cooed and the chimney swifts have twittered.
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Okay, so my new favorite website besides “W 7th is where the cool kids hang out” is moumn.org. Twenty-two years of birding and I never have been connected to this group for current bird sightings. I have for the Audubon Society, but the moumn.org has an incredibly active group.
April 16, I went down to the Old Cedar Bridge because there had been sightings of a white-faced ibis. And dang, it was still there, plus, other birders with telescopes. The ibis was cooperative. Just hanging out, preening, and taking a drink. Days earlier there was a black necked stilt there but we could not see it today — that did not mean it was not there.
There were flocks of green-winged teals, blue-winged teals, northern
shovelers, coots, great and lesser yellow legs, bald eagles, Canada geese, turkey vultures, flickers, cardinals, robins, great egrets, phoebes and swallows.
Warbler migration is beginning and it is early. The yellow-rumps have been here a few weeks already.
Look overhead in the morning and in the evening and watch the great-blue herons. They go out fishing everyday from the rookery on the Mississippi.
One of my favorite books is Richard Wright’s Haiku: This Other World.
How the rain washes
Wrinkled skins of writhing worms
To a tender pink!
Worms that are not native to the U.S.A. But they exist and the robins love them.
An apple blossom
Trembling on a sunlit branch
From the weight of bees
We need to protect our bees. They are struggling with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and losing their food sources. Can you imagine a life without honey?
Look, look, look!
These are the violets
Left by last night’s rain!
I have Canadian violets and purple violets this year, fuller than ever and I love them.
I am slowly transitioning to native plants. No store-bought seeds for my birds. No-Mow Lawns by Evelyn J. Hadden.
Send me some of your haikus for summer.
Favorite time of year
Motorcycles, muskrats, warm sunshine, snakes sunbathing, croaking frogs, red winged blackbirds, mosquitoes, active eagles’ nests, bicycles, dogs running, babies swinging, ice receding toward center, take a breath. The earth opening up after a long sleep, faint hues in the treetops, yellowy willow buds, double-breasted cormorants hanging on deadheads, and great blue herons soaring, a blast of spring. It’s here. But, alas, the maple syrup is not. It never got cold enough, long enough at night for the sap to run. Not so sweet.
This is my favorite time of year, mostly because of bird migration. It’s been an explosion, almost overnight with the early arrivals. Killdeers are here already.
Have you ever noticed how black the robin’s head is in spring? Most males have brilliant feathers for mating and the dance. Aw, spring. Fresh and anew.
American robins are another of my favorite migratory birds, a thrush, one of the first to return. Although, many do not even leave because of open water. I love their even song. Least we not forget the other early thrush, the most beautiful eastern bluebird, which I saw on March 10th.
I rode my bicycle down along the Mississippi at Kaposia Landing, in South St. Paul; it is a great bike path once you get there. The landing site is lush all around and the birds are thick. It is rather industrial down there. The juxtaposition is pretty good. Railroad tracks, boxcars, graffiti, warehouses, metal castings, birds of prey, song birds, waterfowl, gulls, herons, shorebirds, frogs, snakes, and bugs. A symphony of songs until you pass under the 494 bridge.
Just south of Pig’s Eye Lake, at Kaposia Landing, (read the historic marker) on the east river bank of the Mississippi is a heron rookery. At one time it held claim to having the most black-crowned night herons in the country. If you look up on the cliffs you will see a small domed church, above the railroad tracks, and the rookery is straight across the river. If you look long enough you will see birds flying in and out of the trees — it is like an airport. At peak it has great blue herons, great egrets, double-crested cormorants, green herons, and of course the black-crowned night heron, and it is very noisy when the chicks are born.
There was also a flock of either ringed-billed or herring gulls — they were too far away to identify. These are two of the three breeding gulls in Minnesota. All the others are migratory. These are considered nuisance birds by the Department of Natural Resources. Well, they do like K-Mart parking lots. I mean really. Sea gulls they are not, call them by their rightful name. The frigatebird would be a sea bird.
There are many groups holding all kinds of birding gatherings. You can check birding-minnesota.com and mntrails.com to see what might interest you. Choices include nighttime American woodcock mating displays in April, in Wadena, MN; just contact Kent at firstname.lastname@example.org for a reservation. And, the bird festival in Detroit Lakes, May 17-20 is unique in that three ecosystems come together there, making for a wide variety of fine birding. The festival hires buses for day trips, and experts who give talks, share stories, and have telescopes. YEAH!!!
E-mail me if you would like to go out birding during migration: email@example.com.
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Night lights and bird flights
Night lights and bird flights, the Upper Mississippi Flyway is very important. It is a freeway, with stars as mile markers, and the moon as a guide. So I firmly believe.
Because birds of prey fly during the day, most birds that fly overnight are migratory songbirds. They begin their flights just after the sun goes down and fly until early morning. These birds rely on the stars as their mile makers. Night city lights appear to be stars and confuse the songbirds. So, they end up flying into the light and crashing into buildings. They react like moths. They are not likely to fly back into the darkness. Many that are stunned cannot get their bearings to get up and fly out of the city, so get scooped up in the trash. If you add in fog or rain with low cloud cover, the birds will fly at lower altitudes with more confusion, and more deaths. There are millions of birds that die in this way every year across the U.S.
Fatal Light Awareness Program, FLAP is an organization that has volunteers whose mission is to work to safeguard migratory birds in the urban environment through education, research, rescue and rehabilitation. Their vision is to create a 24-hour collision-free urban environment for migratory birds. See lap.org. Toronto is in a legal battle just about this very thing.
Our governor, Mark Dayton, signed a bill in 2011, authored by State Senator Sandy Rummel that requires structures owned or leased by the state to turn out the lights after midnight during spring and autumn migrations. There are energy savings and the fact that we as urbanites can see more stars. It’s healthy. So, adding soccer lights in Victoria Park is not a good idea.
Have there been any sightings of snowy owls yet in the hood? They are virtually pure white. Fledglings are grey puffs with a white face and are covered in dark bars in their first years. They are the official bird of Quebec, summering 60 degrees north latitude, in the Arctic Tundra. They are the most recognizable, with yellow eyes and a black bill. Although they are one of the largest and heaviest owls in North America, they are the most agile.
Snowy owls like to perch in open areas, sitting and waiting for their meals. As do all owls, they eat their prey whole: bones, teeth, fur, scales and all. Their stomach juices digest the flesh, and the rest is compacted into oval pellets that the owl regurgitates a day later.
Owl pellets are really cool to find in the woods. If you do, please be respectful, and not hang around long, because that is most likely where the owl lives. They get nervous around people and may abandon their nest, or you may disturb their owlets. But if you find any owl pellets you can dissect, sometimes there may be bones of a prior meal. When my son Myles was in fifth grade, one science project required them to dissect owl pellets. He found three femurs.
The reason we have snowy owls down here on 44.95 degrees north latitude is because of the fluctuations of food sources. Snowy owls prefer lemmings, which are small rodents that do not hibernate. Their populations fluctuate every seven years or so. And then the warmer weather is also a factor. So they must fly south for food.
Migration begins soon in Minnesota. I have heard many birds are back already, but I wonder if some just never left. The robin is my favorite.
What are your favorite spring arrivals?
No bird grows faster in North America than the bald eagle. Go down to see them starting at Red Wing, MN, Colville Park, or all the way to Wabasha to the Eagle Center. Plus, there have been flocks of coots hanging around longer — eagles’ favorite food.
E-mail me if you would like to go out birding during migration: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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January in Minnesota
January in Minnesota, warmer than normal, and no snow. I would have been on my cross country skis at least ten times by now. Unfortunately, I have not been once. I am going to the state of Wyoming to find snow because they have it!
Nova Classical charter school arises over the mud and muck with remarkable grace and speed sometimes silhouetted by the evening rise of the crows.
Have you noticed the crows over in Victoria Park? Every evening they gather in a murder before going off to roost for the night. But what are they doing just hanging around. Have any of you walked Victoria Park? It is a venture to get there right now — nothing is posted. One has to find the road underneath the railroad tracks. You can see intentional development. The space is slated as a soccer field not as a park.
Four soccer fields, actually, with a berm overlooking the Mississippi River. I have mentioned before, the Mississippi River is actually the “Upper Mississippi Flyway.” Well, that means when birds migrate, they use the Mississippi River and also the Minnesota River, which flows into the Mississippi River just above the proposed Victoria Park. Well, the birds use these rivers as roads to go back and forth to their respective summer and winter homes. Migrations of birds are in the spring and autumn. Soccer teams gather to compete in the spring and autumn and need lights to play. Many birds migrate at night. This would not be conducive to night travel for migratory birds.
I will be investigating this further; night migratory flights and bright, shiny lights. I would much rather have access to a really cool park that overlooks the river, that I can use all year long versus four soccer fields with limitations and a lot of traffic.
What do you envision for your neighborhood here in the West End? For Victoria Park? Let our legislators know. Let your council member, Dave Thune know. Let Mayor Coleman know for sure. As the development of the river comes forth, we have the most undeveloped land. So, there will be the biggest changes here in the West End. Speak up!
I know Andrew Hine and I are wondering what happened to our beloved juncos. They showed up in November and now with all this warm weather, they are gone. Has anyone banded any of these little buggers? Where are they anyway?
The dark–eyed juncos are two tones of grey, with a white underbelly. They have beaks like sparrows. They like to eat off the ground, dirt or snow, they don’t care. They love backyards in winter that have seeds and even dried fruit on the ground.
Also, look out for the Snowy Owl, there have been sightings already. They are coming down for the winter.
And check out the Eagle Center in Wabasha, the eagles are hanging out.
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| |Trumpeter Swans
Trumpeter swans were on Lake Phalen last week; they looked like big hunks of snow. It was a peculiar sight, surreal, like snow sculptures. As I neared I could see Canada geese too, but the white blobs had no head. I drove by again two hours later and the white blobs were all up; it was so cool to see them, resting before Brownsville, Minnesota, eh!Lots of birds stay for the winter. One in particular, the (feral) pigeon, originally bred for food, fancy, and racing. (They escaped and multiplied. Gazillions.) These birds are rather annoying, they bow a lot, walk, eat litter, poop, but their cooing is similar to the beloved mourning dove.We see them everywhere, hanging out on concrete. My son Myles and I saw thousands of them in London, in Trafalgar Square. These feral pigeons are generally blue, gray, and white with two dark wing bars. There are hundreds of species of pigeons and doves around the world. Fancies were bred to be pretty. Some are just beautiful, like the Victoria crowned pigeon of New Guinea and the Wompoo fruit dove of the east coast in Australia.Today, their natural predators are humans and birds of prey. Peregrine falcons love to eat them. We trap them and/or shoot them. In 1957, my father moved our family of four to Chicago to eradicate pigeons; his title was “Pigeon Piper.” I remember pigeons in the back of the station wagon. That is where we children sat too.Pigeons can find their way home. They do not like to go anywhere, though. They carried messages in both World Wars. They helped Charles Darwin with his theory of evolution. They are the favorite food of the peregrine falcon. They were the first airmail carriers — Auckland, New Zealand to the Great Barrier Island. They are members of “Project Sea Hunt” (saving people lost at sea). They recognize the ABCs, really, all 26 letters. They can pass “the mirror test” (recognizing themselves). And they can pick you out of your family photograph (with a reward of course). They like flying games, like Triganieri, something to do with lofts, birds flying in and out, and occasional gunpowder (1328 CE). It must be a guy thing. I don’t understand it. Throughout history, pigeons have flown from lofts and played games for humans.Passenger pigeons became extinct in 1914, when Martha, who lived in captivity most of her life, died in her cage in the Cincinnati Zoo. They lived in vast flocks. John James Audubon reported seeing one billion in the Kentucky sky, in 1813. They were exterminated as the buffalo were in America with the advancing settlers. The gigantic colonies darkened the skies so the settlers took it upon themselves to eradicate them. It is a sad story, but they may not have survived limited space. The term “stool pigeon” comes from live passenger pigeons, eyes sewn shut, which were used as decoys to lure other pigeons to their death.Homing pigeons are still alive and well and played with regularly. How can we use our pigeons? They are really intelligent, and learn quickly. There are so many of them in the world. Let’s green up our pigeons.back to top
| |Bird food for winterGet your last dust bath in, so the birds say. Lovely November, a repeat of lovely October, too much an Indian Summer. HA! I’ve been watching the sparrows — there must be 30 of them in my backyard. ARGH!!! Does that call for open season on them? They are creatures of the universe, I know. And they are really cute taking a dust bath. Have you ever noticed birds taking dust baths?Why do they do that? Feather maintenance, mostly; the dust soaks up moisture and oil and parasites. Taking a dust bath may even help birds cool down on hot day — it was 50 degrees today, and the sparrows were in a frenzy, like it was 90 degrees. There’ll be no more sand available by the time this goes to print.Bird food for winter.I was down at the Wabasha Eagle Center a few weeks ago. (And I say go, go, go — it’s beautiful and has a lot to offer for all age groups and varied interests in eagles.) I bought a few books while I was there, one being “Cooking for Birds” by Adele Porter. (My son, Myles, the boomeranger, was like; “You’re cooking for birds now, what about the rest of us?”) Anyway, Adele has a great website wildaboutscience.com. The first thing I made was the zebra-striped suet-sicles. They are really cute, and easy to make but terribly time consuming. It’s the Zen thing, finding new ways to slow down. Anyone interested in cooking for birds, join me at my house on December 13, 6:30 p.m. Contact me by email if you are interested: email@example.com. Birds eat a variety of foods; cardinals eat different foods than chickadees for example. Here are some good foods for birds this winter. Black oil sunflower seeds, suet, peanuts, nyjer seed, dried fruit, millet, salt, mixed seeds and cracked corn. We have a great bird store in Highland Park, Wild Birds Unlimited. You can ask the staff about what foods attract the types of birds you would like in your backyard.When purchasing your bird foods or ingredients you want to consider good quality, nutritious, high caloric content. This will give the birds energy to build up their fat reserves for their overnight sleep. You may encounter a few squirrels at the feeders so you may need some devices to keep them away. Consider doing the 112th Christmas/Holiday Bird Count, which will begin on December 14. Go to aubudon.org/bird/cbc/index.html. Snow, the beautiful, white ground cover limits the birds’ search for food and water. Feeding the birds can be a delight all winter long.back to top
| |Lovely OctoberLovely October, 2011, I saw a few woolly bear caterpillars on the bike path on Shepard Road. I had to pull over and get off my bicycle to check them out, because I think they are so cute and they move across the path slowly. Woolly bears? They are crossing sidewalks, asphalt trails, and dirt road in the autumn, looking for some bark or a log to crawl under. They hatch in spring. Maybe you’ve seen them. These caterpillars have black bands with orange/rusty middles. Legend has it they predict the length of winter by the length of their middle strip. Narrow stripe, mild winter; wide stripe, long winter. These caterpillars turn into Isabella Tiger Moths, which are rather innocuous yellow and green moths.We’ve also got garter snakes slithering under rocks, burrowing into their winter homes. I watched one slither up from the alley over the basketball court in the backyard. I have a lot of garter snakes. This spring I lifted up a rock and found a momma with four babies all would up on each other. It is good ecology to have snakes in an urban garden. My neighbor, Geri, hates them. She was always calling on my son, Myles, to get them out of her yard. Ha!!! Like that is going to do any good.Many birds are still migrating (Tundra Swans are just starting). Some birds are a little later this October with the 80-degree weather we have been having. Last week there were a lot of warblers in the hood. A flock of robins stopped over in my yard for about a week.I was at the opening of “1968: The Year That Rocked the World” at the History Museum; there was a kiosk of Minnesota history outside the entrance. The loon was there. Can you guess? It is our state bird. It’s also the provincial bird of our neighbors in Ontario.We have the common loon in Minnesota but there are several species in the north, northern America. The arctic loon, the yellow billed, the white billed, the black-throated, and the red-throated loon. And the chicks ride on their parents backs until they learn how to swim. Loons have four distinct calls. A wail, a hoot, a yodel (the most recognizable) and an aggressive maniacal laugh. They are built like a torpedo, diving to depths well below 30 feet in pursuit of dinner (some reports say they go as deep as 250 feet). We have more loons than any other state except Alaska.Here is a late autumn suggestion. Take a trip down to Brownsville, Minnesota on Highway 26 (the Great River Road) to see thousands of Tundra Swans. They are lying over until early December when they head further south. Make sure you stop in Winona at the Eagle Center too.back to top
| |Migration | 10.11The other day I was standing in my side porch, looking out, when I saw a rush of dreaded English sparrows fly into the bridal veil bush. A Cooper’s hawk flew out of the bush with an English sparrow in it talons. I blinked in astonishment. It was like, what just happened? I did not see the Cooper’s hawk fly into the bush. It took a moment for my brain to register what my eyes had just witnessed, as I watched the hawk land on my neighbor’s roof. Cooper’s hawks typically hunt with a short dive through dense cover using their tail like a rudder to stop and turn and snatch their prey. They can be seen running on the ground, half flying, and half running after their prey, and they are relentless.Cooper’s hawks frequently visit my yard and sit on the fence, especially in winter. I also see a lot of them hanging out on the steeple of St. Frances de Sales Catholic Church (Osceola and James). They share the roost with peregrine falcons and a multitude of crows.The Cooper’s hawk is a bird of prey, an accipiter, also known as the chicken hawk. They like to eat birds, along with small mammals, lizards and snakes. There are many categories of hawks: buteos, accipiters, kites, harriers, falcons, even eagles, and you could throw in an owl or two. The Cooper’s hawk is a smaller hawk (14-18 inches) with shorter, rounded wings and long (striped) tails which make them agile hunters. They have red eyes, a black cap, blue-grey wings and a white breast with flecked reddish bars and a white underbelly. And they are seen more often at bird feeders in the city. They are bigger than their look-alike, the sharp-shinned hawk, which are 9-12 inches and more blue. It can be hard to tell them apart. Just like the hairy (9-11 inches) and the downy (6-7 inches) woodpeckers.Well, the migration will be in full force by the time you read this article. A drive up to Hawk Ridge in Duluth may be in order—see hawkridge.org.You could do it in a day trip. Migration can start early in August for kestrels (a falcon) and go through mid-December with broad-winged hawks (a buteo). Thousands of birds of prey fly over Hawk Ridge. There will be a lot of movement in the sky, especially along our Upper Mississippi Waterway. Notice the honkers in v-formation.back to top
Who Cooks For You | 9.11
I am in woods right now, with no contact to the media world, unless I leave the lodge, which I have done a few times to swim, visit folks, or check in. I like it up here alone. Even with the huge pile of bear scat along the road near the house. I hear the barred owl every night. It is one of our more common owls in the Upper Midwest.But first I saw the owl on the road and was not sure what it was until later from other accounts the same evening.Ten at nightMassive bird wings startle meGrazing my windshieldOn the gravel road detourAdrenaline rushWhat was that I say?MidnightBarred Owl magistrateHerbster WITaking the roadHalting travelersNow aware“Who cooks for you”“Who cooks for you, who cooks for you” is one of its many calls. The owls are about 20 inches tall with grayish brown crossbars on their feathers and giant, yellow talons. They like to live in the woods, with a lot of pines, and a lot of water. They like to fish. They stand in the water to fish. That would be a sight to see, I must say.Barred owls mate for life but they live alone after the owlets leave the nest. They like to live in old crow or squirrel cavities and they have four or five eggs in the nest.Owls swallow their food whole and regurgitate the bones and hair. You may find owl pellets on the ground. If you dissect them you can tell what they had for dinner. When my son, Myles, was in fifth grade, they got to dissect owl pellets in science class. It was his most favorite thing ever. We had to order a couple for a project at home. Geez, that was like when I found the dried up newts as I was vacuuming earlier that year.Notice the bird songs are less but they are still hanging around. I have planted some native plants the past two years, and I am delighted the goldfinches stay all the time now. They love the green coneflowers for sure.
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Baby bird babbling | 8.11
I was having breakfast with my friend, Wendy, at Day by Day Café, out on the beautiful patio. When all of a sudden we have a fledgling, right next to us, like two feet away on a branch, practicing new songs. It was one of those cute, sweet, tiny, acrobatic, agile birds. A half ounce of fluffy, downy feathers. Black and not so white, undetermined bib distinctions with grayish baby cheeks, just hanging and singing three of its songs.Baby bird babbling.Just like human babies babbling.A whole new world of songs. Sometimes singing only one note, or a sub song, they are practice songs. Babbling. We were presented with a medley for the whole time we were there. We did not see either parent, but I’m sure they were near by. These fledglings stay about one month with the parents.Have you guessed? It was a baby chickadee. There are seven different kinds of chickadees. In our region it is the Black Capped Chickadee. The chickadee is part of the titmouse family. In the 14th century, “tit” was anything small, and “mose,” mouse, applied to any small dull-colored bird of that time period. Chickadees sing their name and they must learn their songs from their parents, for unlike most songbirds it is not in their DNA. Their song is the first sign of spring. Chickadees have what is considered the most sophisticated means of communication, with over 13 distinct classified vocalizations and over 5,000 alarm calls. Chickadee dee dee…. More dee dee dees when predators are around, up to 23 “dees” have been documented. “A so yennee” – what?! They say that too.Chickadees are in the nest for about two weeks, and with their parents for one month after they learn to fly, before they literally vanish one day. Researchers have not found out when or why that happens. So, anyway, they do not have a lot of time to learn. When they fly the coop, the chickadees do find another group to live with and stay there. Some loosely organized groups. Some other family groups. But not their own. Protecting the species, eh!!! The Cherokee Indians believe the chickadee is the bird of truth. Truth and knowledge.And then, I saw our theatrical killdeer in the neighborhood. It is named for call, like the chickadee. The killdeer will feign a broken wing to keep predators away from their nest. It is a plover, which is a shorebird, only they live in the city, they like rooftops, fields, and pastures. They stand tall with a robust body and thin legs with two wide black rings around the neck and breast.I saw a baby killdeer at the compost heap on the east side of St. Paul. I was worried for its life because there was so much traffic there. I wanted to rescue it and bring it home. It was the darndest, cutest, lankiest, little thing. Almost a miniature, but with really, really long legs. Its call was tiny — babblings of killdeer. It would just stop and look up at me.Notice: Doves, taking their fledglings for a walk down the alley ways. Cute too. Coooo, cooo, coo, co.On a personal note, my fledgling has moved back home: thank goodness he is not babbling. back to top
| |English sparrows, starlings and grackles | 7.11English sparrows, starlings and grackles. Argh!!! I have been hearing stories of these invasive species wreaking havoc at bird feeders and in gardens. I also heard a rumor that the English sparrow population is declining in England. We should trap them all and return them to their native land, as far as I’m concerned. The sparrows have taken over my spirea; the bridal wreath, and it looks like crap!!! It is thin, from broken, chewed branches; late blooming, from too much bird poop; and has very few flowers, compared to my other spirea, the Grefsheim, which they’ve left alone. That is very healthy, with fabulously, alarmingly, full blooms. The starlings are the bullies at the bird feeders. It’s a hostile takeover. The songbirds bolt. There are a few things you can do to deter them, like taking the bird feeders down for a few weeks, so the starlings look elsewhere, changing the placement of the bird feeders, or changing the food. So, while I was riding my bicycle to Mississippi Market and coming along the empty lots with tall flowering weeds, like thistle, I saw that the grackles are plentiful there. Parents and the little mucky gray chicks that were full-size already were shooting up out of the weeds like missiles, straight up, hundreds of them. Making lots of annoying noise. The grackles may even be more prolific than the sparrows. (And I have heard that the English and the house sparrows have up to five clutches. Let’s see 5 x 3 would equal 15 new birds just in my yard alone.)But we have indigo buntings on the riverbeds. I found several when I was riding along Shepard Road, between Randolph and 35E. I was not sure of the first one’s identity because of the glare from the sun, but I saw two more just before the 35E bridge. And we have an osprey nest near 155 Randolph, just across the street. I have not seen any osprey chicks yet, but I might with a telescope. The parents are actively working it.I think May and June are the most beautiful, lush, green months of the year. Everything looks so brilliant up above. Oxygen. So, we have to listen more right now with the thickness of the leaves. We just won’t see the birds much. I received “The Singing Life of Birds” last month and I am just able to start learning about the art and science of listening to birdsong. Thanks, Jean-Marie.Notice the sounds of the birdsongs. Many birds have up to five different songs or alarm calls. Notice the night birds: the owls do not have the monopoly on evening dinner. Get in touch by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org
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| |Notice the Birds | 6.11May 13, I was up in Grantsburg at a friend’s cabin on the St. Croix River. I saw so many wildflowers blanketing the hill and the river bed. It was so exciting and beautiful beyond compare. Jack in the pulpits, skunk cabbage, trout lilies, Solomon’s seal, trillium, wild ginger, violets, wood sorrel, wild strawberries, wild raspberries, and ramps, to name a few. It was a great, quiet, reflective walk. I did my tick check, went into the sauna, and thought I was safe. But Sunday night I felt pain in my head and a bump, and there was a female deer tick.May 14, I was sitting outside in the evening, drinking a glass of wine, and I heard the common nighthawk a bit early. Nighthawks are not actual hawks; they are related to the whip-poor-wills. Unfortunately, their population is declining. They come out late afternoon and fly all night. They like to catch flying insects, like mosquitoes, moths, and other night fliers. They have a short “peet” sound, and their wings make missile type sound when flying downwards. They are very distinctive, kind of flat, with grey and white fluffy feathers with white bars on their wings, almost like circles. They have a wide face with a huge mouth, with fringed bristles … “A flying insect trap.” Ancient lore has it that these birds fed on goats’ milk all night long since they were hovering near the goats all night long. Hence, their other name “goatsuckers.”May 15, I met with the Friends of Lilydale, at Lilydale Park, early in the morning. I saw a few friends there too. It was great. We saw or heard more than 40 different birds and ducks. The entry at Annapolis and Highway 13 has several trails and a great vista for sunsets. I would highly recommend a walk. Below, you can see Pickerel Lake and our neighborhood, plus downtown St. Paul. Pickerel Lake is also great for boating, kayaking, or fishing this time of year — not too buggy or weedy.May 16, I heard a flock of chimney swifts outside of Mississippi Market, little black cigars flying around. We have many along West Seventh. They never stop flying; they cannot perch, constant motion. They are among the fastest fliers, too. They also like flying insects, mosquitoes, gnats, and small flies. In past years I have seen them flock up and swoop down into chimneys at dusk. Their populations have declined by 50% in the past 40 years. You can help chimney swifts, if your home was built before 1960, and you have a brick chimney that is not in use and squirrel proof. Or you could build a swift tower. There is a chimney swift sit each fall. Contact the Audubon Society for information: mn.audubon.org.Notice the night birds: the owls do not have the monopoly on evening dinner. Get in touch by emailing: email@example.com
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| |Very Exciting Time for Birding | 4.11I have been preparing for my upcoming installation with the members of the leadership circle from Self-Advocates Minnesota, and the members of Advocating Change Together who are assisting me, so I have not written a lot, but this is a very exciting time for birding. Especially living along the Upper Mississippi Flyway. I am awaiting the arrival of our neighborhood red-winged blackbird. As I listen to the evening song of the robin. And notice. Hearing all the bird songs.The Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union hotline for bird sightings is 763-780-8890, or you can go to moumn.org for all kinds of interesting things about birds and migration.This will be an exciting month. The first turkey vulture was sighted last week in southern Minnesota. On my way back from Faribault on March 16, I saw a flock of pelicans flying over Buck Hill on I-35. That was very exciting. And the robins have been singing their evening songs for about a week now.A few migrants who have returned are the tundra swan, cackling goose, northern pintail, American widgeon, ruddy duck (with its cool blue bill), common loon, great blue heron, American coot, eastern meadowlark, rusty blackbird, brown-headed cowbird, common grackle, northern flicker, and the eastern bluebird (one of my favorites), which can always been seen at Carpenter Nature Center just north of the confluence of the St. Croix River and the Mississippi, 12805 Saint Croix Trail S., Hastings (651-437-4359 or carpenternaturecenter.org).
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| |Snow Fleas | 3.11On February 13, it was 48 degrees. I went down to Fort Snelling Park, in search of springtails, more commonly known as snow fleas. I thought they might be out because of the warmth, and the sticky, wet snow. That brings them up from the ground below. When it warms up, usually in March, the springtails climb up plants to the snow surface and feed on decaying matter. Plus, it is their mating season. Snow fleas are no more than one tenth of an inch long, (they are not bugs, they are insects), and they look like ash from a campfire sprinkled on the snow, only the ash is hopping. They actually do not move with their legs and wings. They have abdominal appendages held under their body that spring when released.Larry Weber, naturalist, and author of the “Backyard Almanac,” describes it as “pepper jumping.” Alas, I saw not a one. They must know it will be cold again very soon. So in March we can be assured of finding them. Probably not in our backyards. We will have to travel a bit: Crosby, Fort Snelling State Park or Battle Creek and certainly out of the cities. Just look around for a lot of black specks, and notice, they will probably be moving.Then after the snow melts the snow fleas hang out on the leaf layer of the earth. Although, this year, they may have to burrow down low. The Army Corps of Engineers predicts that there is an 80% chance of flooding in St. Paul. We have the confluence of the Minnesota and the Mississippi Rivers at Pike Island, in Fort Snelling State Park. Whoa, that’s a lot of water converging. March 17, there will be a press briefing about the state of the rivers. You can follow the projections at nws.noaa.gov/htm, or you can look up dnr.state.mn.us.html. Savage is the place to start for our predictions.The flooding will bring many changes to the wildlife on the river. As far as the birds go, most will not be affected. The waterfowl will love it. And we will see a lot more ducks. But the ground feeders, like the robins, juncos, cardinals, blue jays, nuthatches, and brown creepers, will be looking for new places to feed. So, you may want to consider hanging out a bird feeder this spring or having more bird food available. March and April are critical months for birds anyway, since their food source becomes sparse. I remember the 2001 flood. I had so many more birds at my feeders. It was a delight. The birds will go back for nesting when the water recedes. Migration will start next month — so soon! Look for birds traveling on the Upper Mississippi Flyway. They may even layover and fatten up in your backyard before heading further north. We have a male red-winged blackbird that rests on our block every spring for about two weeks. Happy Birding!back to top
Omnivores | 2.11
New Years Eve I was at a party where we had a “White Elephant” exchange. I think it’s a new rage for an old game. How do we entertain ourselves on little or no money? And how do we get rid of stuff?
Well, I ended up with the “Omnivore’s Dilemma.” It is a book about how we eat. Humans are omnivores. So are crows, ravens, and many other birds, like wild turkeys. Since I have been seeing them around town a lot in the past year in particular, I thought I would write about them this time.
Wild turkeys have no predators. Their normal habitat is in hardwood forests with scattered openings and swamps. They like to sit up in the trees. Being opportunists, they left the forest for suburbia; indeed, as many have. Bored there, looking for organics, they ventured into our urban landscape.
As omnivores, we will eat anything we can find. Oh, I mean “them” – the wild turkeys. Insects and salamanders in summer, for protein. Corn, one of their favorites, especially in dirt along railroad tracks. Acorns, seeds, fern fronds, buds and berries in summer.
Right now you see them moving up and down the river corridor and hanging around in your back yard. They live fairly undisturbed. We have a lot of green space here and large trees where they roost for the night.
The Department of Natural Resources says, DON’T FEED WILD TURKEYS. They become very territorial, messy, and aggressive. Plus, a huge conflict can ensue. Turkey lover versus turkey hater.
Wild turkeys are considered Minnesota’s greatest conversation story. There are more than 30,000 in Minnesota, where once there were only a few to be found.
I want to encourage you all to listen for the Black Capped Chickadees this coming month. They will be singing a lot. They have many songs that have different meanings.
Their most common song and their namesake is “Chickadeedeedeedee.” There is a gargled “tseedleedeet” (for aggressive encounters) and a contact call, a simple, short, hissing sound of “tsit.” My favorite “see saw”, and “fee beeee” or “fee beeyee,” and the alarm call is a “teeteeteeteetee.” These birds are so cute and the most friendly of them all. They will come to your hand to take seed.
The Great Backyard Bird Count for 2011 occurs on February 18-20. Go to gbbc.birdsource.org/gbbcApps/checklist/ to get details. Come meet me one hour before dusk, February 19, 4:45 p.m. at Crosby Farms, by the fire pit, we’ll go counting.
| |A Flock of Robins, a Murder of Crows, and a Gaggle of Geese
| 1.11Just before the first big snowfall in December, I was amazed to see robins everywhere. They form large flocks and gather in trees to roost or eat berries in winter. I had a large flock on Arbor Street too. Since there are no fruit-bearing trees, I put out some dark raisins and Goji berries for them. They love to eat berries and worms. What a diet. The robin migration seems never ending these days. It occurs later and later in the year.
Have you seen your murder of crows (a group of crows) hanging out? The term comes from 15th century English lore, and the negative attitudes that developed as crows lost their habitat to the new agrarian lifestyle. Crows congregate during winter, foraging and living in communal roosts. Upward of 1,000 crows per night.
Love them or hate them, crows are by far the most intelligent of all the birds. They communicate with a wide range of messages through their calls, varying the “caw, caaw” in many ways. Crows sound the alarm in the forest. They are inquisitive, mischievous, and brilliant innovators. They make their tools and use them. They devise solutions to problems, notice unusual sources of food — they eat anything. Crows thrive around people. Unfortunately, crows succumb to the West Nile Virus more than any other bird, dying within one week.
Then amid the frozen snow and frigid temperatures, a gaggle of geese flies overhead. It was really weird to hear them this late December evening, honking their way along their winter route, maybe stopping along the Mississippi River. Just where they were coming from or going to I could not tell.
Pretty soon the tundra and trumpeter swans along with the snow geese will be heading for Wabasha, Minnesota, resting there and fattening up for the next flight. It’s pretty awesome. Then you get all those eagles flying around checking out their annual intruders. Saying “There goes the neighborhood!” So, I am going out on the bird beat — looking forward to hearing from you.Editor’s note: last month Halle wrote about robins, chickadees, nuthatches, and downy woodpeckers. Each bird has its own behaviors that are really important when identifying the birds. We mistakenly edited out the chickadees, which flit around, while robins hop on the ground. This might have caused the reader some confusion.