It’s great to be underway with the Birdman of Lauderdale Blog! We’re “Open for Business,” ready for your questions and comments about birds, feeders, habitat…anything bird related. I look forward to hearing from you.
This will be my last Birdman of Lauderdale blog entry for 2012, and for the foreseeable future. Our Park Bugle website is undergoing revision. I hope to return to the blogosphere when that update is complete.
For the last couple of days, we’ve had a male Red-bellied Woodpecker coming to our suet feeder. We’ve had a female all fall and winter long. I think she is a first year bird, led to our feeders this past summer by her father… and I’m supposin’ that this male is her daddy. Just a tad of anthropomorphism here!
Last week, driving along Roselawn Avenue, north of the U of M golf course, I spotted a large brown bird sitting on the snow, just inside the golf course fence. I slowed down and saw that it was an immature Bald Eagle, with a rodent dangling out of its beak! That really surprised me. I think of them as fish eaters, but with all the lakes frozen over, a bird’s gotta find some other sources of food.
That’s it for now. Have a Happy New Year! Hope to see you back here sometime soon. And enjoy those birds!
Our Monday Morning Birding group usually goes out regardless of the weather. But we had decided to cancel this morning because of all the holiday preparation and commitments people had.
Then I suggested maybe we could do something as simple as a walk through Como Park, nothing too strenuous. And so, five of us took a hike in the cold December morn, through the golf course, along the ridge in the woods, past the conservatory, and past the amusement park.
Some of the paths had slick spots and in some places we weren’t on an actual path; we just followed foot trails that other hikers had made.
As we came through the entrance at Hamline Avenue and Midway Parkway, I spotted a spruce tree with lots of pine cones on the ground beneath it. Now wasn’t that supposed to indicate that Crossbills had been feeding there?
I looked at the tree itself, and there on the far side was a little bit of motion. I said to Bonnie, “There’s something in there, right there!” She got her binoculars up, focused and described a beautiful greenish-yellow bird of some sort.
At first she thought it was a warbler, but it was too big. And no self-respecting warbler would be out in this weather…they’re bug eaters!
It was indeed a Red Crossbill, a visitor from the North. The yellow-green one was a female. And there were brick red males, too. There were four of them altogether, working on the little pine cones. They were very tame, unconcerned with the five of us gawking at them.
They’d pluck a pine cone, grasp it between their feet, then use their uniquely designed bill to lift up the cone petals and get at the tiny seeds up under the petals. Their upper bill curves down at the tip and overlaps the lower bill, which curves up, overlapping the upper bill. So the bill is designed to make it easy to pry open a pine cone.
(When my wife first saw a Crossbill years ago, she was concerned that it had a deformed beak and wasn’t going to be able to eat! “Honey, come look at this poor bird!”)
And so, after munching as many of the seeds as they can get out of the cone, the Crossbills drop it to the ground beneath the tree…hence the signature Crossbill indicator. So watch for cones under spruce trees this time of year. And you, too, may find some of these gorgeous Crossbills.
December has been a very interesting month with some pretty special birds visiting our yard. For the last three days, we’ve had a Hoary Redpoll. It gets its name from the frosty appearance of the feathers on the underside and the rump. Apparently, it’s fairly common in northern Minnesota, but this far south, it’s something of a rarity. Pretty neat!
And, we’ve had small flocks of Common Redpolls visit a couple of times since December 16th. The Common Redpoll is a small bird, smaller than a Goldfinch, with a very tiny, sharp bill. It likes thistle seeds, just like the Goldfinch. It has a red cap on its forehead and a black mask that blends into a black “goatee” on its chin. Male Redpolls have a pinkish caste to the chest, upper tummy and sides. The sides of both males and females have heavy brown streaks.
And our good friend the Carolina Wren made a return visit last Saturday (now, I can’t be sure it’s the same Carolina Wren that stopped by in mid-November…but why not?). They’ve been seen all over Minnesota this year. It’s a gorgeous bird with a reddish-brown back and top of the head. The underside is a beautiful, clear beige, buffy orange. It has a bold, white eyebrow mark and a white chin. It usually hops around with its tail cocked up. It got itself a chunk of suet from the suet feeder then carried it to the patio where it could work on it. It then did a brief tour of the feeders up by the kitchen windows. What a very pleasant surprise!
I led a small group on the St. Paul Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count on Saturday, December 15th. It rained all day, as you’ll recall. It was rather miserable to be out looking for birds, but we did have a good day. We saw 21 species and 574 individual birds. Pretty good, considering the weather. Our territory covered Roseville, Shoreview, and part of Arden Hills. We had the area from 35-E west to 35-W and from Highway 36 north to 694. There were 84 mallards on Bennett Lake in Roseville’s Central Park, and I don’t think there was any open water. We also saw a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers in the park and had a good chance to see the differences in the markings of the male and female (the female’s “moustache” is black, male’s is red). Oh, and we also saw a flock of about 30 Pine Siskins eating seeds up in the treetops. They’re such sweet winter birds, tiny, beautifully streaked with a thin, wispy call that sounds like an ascending question.
I gave a talk “In Defense of Crows” at the St. Paul Audubon Society meeting on December 13th. It was very well attended (biggest crowd of the year, according to President Louis Asher). It’s a fun talk to give. There were lots of good questions afterward.
On December 10th, we had hundreds of Canada Geese flying over in large, noisy Vs. It had snowed more than 12 inches the day before, so I’m sure these birds had lost access to their usual food supply and were heading south to warmer climes. Good for them.
Our last visit from the Red-breasted Nuthatch was on December 7th. I wonder how long into the winter we can expect to see it.
On a cold evening, just before sunset, I spotted a large bird perched up in a tree across Roselawn Avenue. It looked interesting enough that I went into the house, got my scope, and set it up on the deck to try to identify the bird. It had its back to me. I was pretty sure it was a Red-shouldered Hawk. It looked rather small, had some white flecking on the back, and as it turned its head, the beak seemed small, too. I watched it for 10 or 15 minutes, getting rather chilled, until just as it was getting quite dusky, it lifted off the branch, spread its wings, and its RED TAIL! Here it was a Red-tailed Hawk! And I was so sure I had a Red-shouldered Hawk. Ah, well. It was still a beautiful bird.
I’ve seen flocks of European Starlings in flight in the neighborhood and around town, but none have come to our feeders yet. I’m kind of glad, ‘cause they can be rather piggish with the seed!
I look forward to what other avian surprises are in store for us before the end of 2012.
We’ve had a rather up and down beginning of winter here in Lauderdale. We’ve had 60 degrees one day, 10 degrees the next, with a wind chill of 3!
Yet we still see birds. Even on very windy days (30 mph!), birds make it to the feeders.
We’re seeing Dark-eyed Juncos nearly every day. They’re such cheerful birds, scratching at the ground with both feet, flashing their white outer tail feathers as they take off chasing each other.
We’ve had a couple visits from a Sharp-shinned Hawk, seeking a slower bird for a meal. Not successfully as far as I’ve been able to see.
On November 7th, we saw our last White-throated Sparrow for the fall (barring another wanderer). I’ll have to look forward to seeing them come north again next spring.
That same day, we had a small flock of about 15 Cedar Waxwings stop for a moment in our Juneberry tree. Waxwings tend to wander in small groups all year around. We often see them on our Monday birding walks, but you can’t really predict when you’ll see them.
There are still a few Song Sparrows around, at least over at the fitness club I visit…not here in the yard this month.
One of my favorites, the Red-breasted Nuthatch, began visiting our peanut feeder and suet feeder on November 11th. It’s been back nearly daily since. Such a sweet, little colorful critter.
The next day, a small flock of Pine Siskins began daily visits. They have needle-sharp bills and a slight yellow wash on the wings.
We haven’t seen many European Starlings this year (knock on wood) but we did have one across the street mid-month. They can really devour the feed when a flock descends on the yard!
Then, on the 17th, we were re-visited by the Carolina Wren! It had been here back on November 4th, visiting several times in the morning that day. But this time, all the visits were in the afternoon. One bird watching couple set up their tripod and high-powered camera right on our patio (with my permission), and, even though they were right there in the yard, the bird came in and they got a number of great shots. They did use a taped call on their iPad, which helped to pull in the bird.
Just a few days ago, I observed a pair of American Crows high up in my neighbor’s oak tree. They sat right next to each other and one groomed the other by pecking gently at the back of its neck. This could be pair bonding behavior of a couple planning to set up housekeeping (nestkeeping?) next spring. Neat.
I took a road trip yesterday with a couple of my birding buddies down the Mississippi River to Weaver (south of Wabasha) to see the Tundra Swans. The photo shows what is probably a family group walking across the ice.
I estimate we saw 7-800 swans on the water and on the ice. It was a sunny day, so they were beautiful across the water. After they bulk up on wild celery tubers, they’ll head to their winter quarters on the Chesapeake Bay. They make that in one non-stop flight, so they need to be fully “fueled” up.
This morning, I had a lot of visitors. Well, actually, all the human visitors were due to one avian visitor. About 9:15 a.m., a Carolina Wren visited my feeders here in the front yard. So, I posted the sighting on the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union web site. And within 15 minutes, I had my first human visitor, Bob. I went out to meet him and chat a bit. After about a half hour, the bird hadn’t reappeared, so I got Bob’s cell phone number and went back into the house. He left, too.
At 10:20, it showed up again! I called Bob and said I thought the bird was on a one hour feeding schedule. He said he’d be over in about a half hour. In the meantime, two other cars had pulled up in front, one driven by a woman, the other a man. And the bird stayed around, so they each got good looks, and I got a thumbs up from each as they pulled away.
The bird was back at 11:05, proving my hourly schedule to be wrong. Just after its appearance, Bob showed up and got a look at the bird! He’s doing a Ramsey County Big Year, trying to find as many species as possible in Ramsey County this year. He’s at 205 so far; pretty good!
I had to take our dog out at 11:20 and one of the observers from across the street called out, “He’s right there!” And there was the wren on the patio table. It wasn’t impressed by either me or Buffy. It flew to the bird bath, got a sip, disappeared into the shrub and sang a fragment of its song! How very cool!
I had a couple more cars stopping in the afternoon, but no more wren appearances. Looks like it’s a morning bird. I think I had eight folks trying to find it and I’m pretty sure 5 or 6 were successful.
This is probably the same bird Jean and I saw on October 9th and 25th. They’re not unknown to stay well into the winter if there’s a food source. It did seem to like the suet. That’d be a good energy source as the days get colder. I’m sure it knows what it’s doing!
I follow the postings on the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union’s list service where members describe birds they’ve been seeing, their regular sightings and occasional rarities.
Yesterday, several people posted that they’d seen a Clark’s Nutcracker near the intersection of County Road I and Hodgson Road in Shoreview. Well, I was due for my annual checkup at the clinic just a mile south of there, so after my appointment, I headed north about a mile, toward that intersection.
As I drove east on CR I, I tried to picture where this bird might be. It’s a large bird, big as a Blue Jay. The colors are grey, black and white…a beautiful bird. It has a long black sharply pointed beak which it uses to get at the seeds in pine cones. It’s really more of a western bird, found in the Rocky Mountains, but it wanders as far east as Wisconsin occasionally.
I didn’t see any pine stands on the right side of the road, just homes and yards, but as I approached Hodgson Road, there were three people standing looking north across the road at something. This could be it!
I circled the block, parked, and joined the little cluster as another car stopped and unloaded four folks with binoculars on their necks.
“It’s on the ground,” said one woman. “Oh, great,” I thought. “Now I have to wait for it to fly up into a tree again.”
“Right there!” she said. And there it was, right in front of us on the embankment across the roadway. It was pecking at things in the grass, very unconcerned with us or the traffic. Just finding something to eat.
This was a life bird for me. I’d never seen one before, and never expected to see one in Minnesota! It’s been there for a couple of days. If you get a chance, go out and take a look. It’s a beautiful bird!
White-throated sparrows have been sparse since about the 25th. (Further review of my notes shows that one showed up on the 27th. None since.) I really hate to see them go. They’re such a beautiful bird and some of them practice their song even on fall migration: “Poor Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody.”
We had an Eastern Phoebe visiting during the second week of October. It sipped from the bird bath then hopped down to the patio and picked up a wasp that was crawling sluggishly on the ground. The Phoebe had to whack it a few times before it felt comfortable gulping it down. I wonder if a bird eating a wasp is like a jalapeño pepper for us!
We’ve also had a juvenile White-crowned Sparrow in the yard. The youngsters have brown stripes on the head, a clear tummy, and none of the white throat that the White-throated Sparrows have. It was a tricky ID for me the first time I saw it.
Speaking of youngsters, we had a juvenile Harris’s Sparrow at the bird bath and on the patio. The Harris’s is one of our largest sparrows. It has a dark cap and dark neck area, although the juvie’s neck is more speckled than the solid of the adult.
Fox Sparrows were present from the 7th till the 13th. They’re also a larger sparrow, rusty brown and heavily streaked. They tend to hop as they scratch the ground with both legs at once. Neat bird.
We’ve even had a Chipping Sparrow occasionally, but they won’t stay long. They’re pretty much south of here by now. The Chipping has a beautiful rusty cap and a “tie tack” dot in the middle of its breast.
And the Red-Winged Blackbirds have made an encore! We’ve had up to six at a time on the platform feeder. Most appear to be youngsters. They’re refueling for migration, I’d say.
A Ruby-crowned Kinglet was hovering in the branches of our Juneberry, checking for spiders or any other kind of arthropods. It’s one of our tiniest birds.
And one of my most favorite winter birds showed up on the 21st: Pine Siskins! Just a pair at first. They’re very slender, nicely streaked in brown and cream with a very tiny, pointed beak. Their wing bars have just a hint of yellow in them. By the 27th, the “flock” had grown to five. Hope they stay around this winter.
On the 24th, we had a female Purple Finch at the feeder by the window. She might look like a House Finch, but she has a prominent white eyebrow. She was another bird I had to stare at for a while and then turn to the field guide to be sure.
My wife saw the Carolina Wren again on the 25th, the day of mixed snow and rain. It’s possible there’s a pair that spent the summer in Lauderdale. That would be cool!
Yesterday, I led our little band of Monday Morning Birders on a trip to Lake Hiawatha, Lake Nokomis and Minnehaha Creek. We had a chilly morning with very few bird species. But we did have one really interesting experience.
Several crows were mobbing something, squawking, flapping about. They were centered on a large willow tree. As we examined the area, we found a Cooper’s Hawk perched in a nearby tree. That was their target, or so we thought.
Pretty soon, the Cooper’s began its “kek-kek” call, a stressful kind of call, and doing so quite continuously, as it worked its way into the willow, even toward the crows. Strange!
Until my buddy Val put her binocs into a cluster of willow branches and found a Barred Owl perched in there, trying to sleep! We got the scope on it and saw what all the commotion was really about! The Cooper’s Hawk was joining the crows in harassing the owl! None of us had ever seen a Cooper’s doing that before!
I was surprised this noon by a wren-like bird hopping through the Isanti dogwood shrub out front. I watched it with my binocs and caught a glimpse of a strong, white eyebrow line. Could it be a Carolina Wren? And it zipped away up into the maple, out of sight! I put it in my “Birds of Retirement” log book with multiple question marks and went back to my reading.
Then it was right there in front of me, at the tube feeder hanging two feet from the window! I got some real good looks at the eyebrow and the beautiful buffy beige undersides. I tried to get my cellphone camera into photo mode, stumbled around a good deal and didn’t get a picture.
The wren dropped to the patio furniture, checking underneath for spiders and such, I’m sure. Then it got chased by a pesky White-throated Sparrow. It flew across the street to my neighbor’s boat trailer, but, even with the unaided eye, I could see its bright white eyebrow.
It came back again to the shrubbery and the lawn for a brief reprise.
The Carolina Wren is designated as a “casual” bird in Minnesota. It apparently shows up very irregularly. I saw my first one in North Carolina, where they breed. That was over 20 years ago. And I saw one at a feeder in Bloomington, MN, back in January (!) of 1991. Today’s was a first for our yard list.
It is a beautiful bird. I wish it would have sung, but it’s heading south…no time for romantic or territorial declarations.
We’ve been having quite a visitation by accipiters, that is, Cooper’s Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks.
I mentioned in my last post about the Cooper’s Hawk that landed on the little wooden table on our front patio.
Yesterday, a juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk landed on the same table, walked across it (I wonder if it had seen the Cooper’s and was imitating it!), then hopped down to walk around on the patio for a closer look. It even crouched down and went in under a low-spreading Russian Cypress, perhaps looking for the chipmunk that usually hides in there.
Then it flew to the big planter box next to the porch and stood under the Korean Boxwood, daring any of the House Sparrows in there to make a move. None did. It made another walking tour of the patio, tried the Boxwood planter again, and then disappeared.
And today, my wife was sitting at the kitchen table, reading, when a Sharpie flew in and nailed a White-breasted Nuthatch that was on a feeder just two feet from the kitchen window! She said it took its prey, flew from there to the top of the platform feeder, stood there for a moment and then headed out. She asked me if she should have run out to try to rescue the Nuthatch, but I thought it was probably dead right after it was caught. The talons on these predators are pretty lethal: long, curved and sharp.
On a lighter note, we had a young Harris’s Sparrow in among the White-throated Sparrows pecking away at the cracked corn and millet on the patio. It’s a larger sized sparrow. Adults have a lovely black crown, throat and a black V-neck pattern on the chest. The first year birds have more of spotty V-neck look to them. I don’t see very many of them; not enough, that’s for sure.
I spotted one of our smallest birds a few days ago. It was a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. They’re about four and a quarter inches long, tip of beak to tip of tail. They often hover like a hummingbird trying to get a bead on a spider or other little crawlie. They’re fairly common, but always exciting, spring and fall migrants.
And we’ve had another Nashville Warbler come through, blue-gray and greenish on top with a bright yellow underside. They feature a strong white eye-ring which makes the eye look very large; a beautiful bird.
Robins are beginning to gather in small flocks, those that are planning to migrate. We often get some that over-winter, usually on the St. Paul Campus of the University of Minnesota, where they can take shelter in the lee of the buildings and feast on the crab apples that are left on the trees. We’ve also seen large flocks in Roseville’s Central Park during the Christmas Bird Count; hardy souls.
The White-throated Sparrows are beginning to come out of hiding and sample the bird seed that has fallen onto the patio out front. They’re so timid, usually heard for a few days before they’re seen. To me, they’re a sure sign that fall is here. I offer them a mix of millet and cracked corn, them and the chipmunks and squirrels, I should say.
I surprised a dark brown bird scooting along in the garden along the foundation of the house. It’s about the size of a mouse and just as secretive. Since I’ve had a similar visitor in year’s past, I identified it as a Winter Wren. It seems it would rather run than fly. And it has one of the longest, most beautiful songs in the bird world; just Google “Winter Wren Song” to hear a sample. You’ll love it! Unfortunately they seldom sing on migration, so you’ll have to go up north in the spring or early summer to hear it.
The Winter Wren was seen again four days later.
We had our first Dark-eyed Junco in the yard on September 23rd; another sure sign that winter is on the way.
My next Birdman of Lauderdale column will be on the Cooper’s Hawk, and, as if for inspiration, I’ve had two encounters with two (maybe one) in the last few days. Buffy and I were in the alley one afternoon when a Cooper’s came swooping down the alley, right toward us, below eye level. It banked to the right, zoomed between the houses, right out to the front yard where our feeders are. I hustled out to see if it had nailed anything, and it zipped up into the neighbor’s maple tree. I saw no victim’s remains on the ground and nothing in the hawk’s talons, so I’m assuming it was a miss. But the approach was so stealthy, almost at ground level. What an awesome hunter.
Then yesterday, a Cooper’s swooped down in front of our windows and landed on the wooden patio table out front. It stood tall on the table, surveying the area, and then walked across the table to get a better look at the shrubs next to the house. It apparently didn’t see anything, or nothing moved, so it took off, zoomed across the street and between our neighbors’ houses, to where one of them has feeders in back. Again, this one flew no more than four feet off the ground.
Last Saturday, three friends and I did a day trip up to Hawk Ridge in Duluth. It was a cool, windy day with occasional sprinkles, but the Ridge is always beautiful. We didn’t witness any spectacular volume of migrants, but we did see several Red-tailed Hawks and Bald Eagles, a couple of Broad-winged Hawks, and lots of Sharp-shinned hawks.
The volunteer staff up there often brings out hawks that they’ve caught and banded at the nearby banding station. They brought out a magnificent trio of birds, all accipiters: A Northern Goshawk (21”), a Cooper’s Hawk (16.5”) and a Sharp-shinned Hawk (11”). What a great opportunity to see their comparative sizes! It’s so much easier to distinguish the Cooper’s and the Sharpie when they’re next to each other.
Julian saw four Sandhill Cranes out over Lake Superior. A couple of us were in the car having lunch and dodging a shower, so we missed it.
I recently reviewed Laura Erickson’s book “Hawk Ridge: Minnesota’s Birds of Prey” for my blog. Laura was up on the Ridge, along with the illustrator, Betsy Bowen, giving a seminar that afternoon. I don’t usually get a chance to discuss my review with the author, so that was quite interesting.
There were lots of White-throated Sparrows up on the Ridge. Several other observers reported flocks of hundreds around Duluth that weekend.
We also birded out on Park Point, south of the Lift Bridge, hiking along the border of the airport. My favorite bird in that stretch was a Harris’s Sparrow, a larger bird with a black face mask; very impressive.