Interesting sightings

Taking the babies for a ride

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

Earlier this year I watched Western Grebes in their courtship dances at Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge north of Aberdeen, South Dakota. Last week, in the same spot, I watched young grebes being fed atop a parent’s back. This pair of grebes had two young, both tucked beneath the wings of one of the parents. Sometimes you couldn’t see the small birds. Other times they had their heads and necks extended, mostly when food was offered. The non-carrying parent was fishing for minnows to feed them. What do you do with the babies when it’s your turn to fish? You just extend your wings and rise out of the water. The babies unceremoniously slide off, promptly climbing aboard the other parent. It didn’t look like the grebe chicks were ready for the change, and neither was I, my camera’s shutter speed not fast enough to capture a clear shot of the sliding chick. My favorite spot to watch these birds is the bridge where South Dakota Highway 10 crosses the Sand River in the northern part of the refuge. The river is wide here, lake-like, bordered by high reeds. The grebes fish in the water flowing beneath the bridge. They sometimes are as close to observers as 15 or 20 feet. Terns, gulls, pelicans, and cormorants also feed here.  west-grebe-family-low-rez-51491.jpgwest-grebe-feeds-low-rez-51431.jpg grebe-unloads-trib-5182.jpg  

Osprey banding

Saturday, July 11th, 2009

Young Ospreys being raised in the metro area were banded recently. The work was done by personnel from Three Rivers Park District and others involved in the Twin Cities Osprey Project. Fifty nests were visited, the young birds removed briefly for banding, then returned to their nests. There are 61 known Osprey nests in the greater metropolitan area, those 50 active and occupied. All but one of the nests are on platforms erected for the birds. One pair chose to nest the old-fashioned way this year: they used a tree. Judy Voigt Englund, project coordinator, told me that it’s hoped that as our Osprey population grows more and more pairs will chose trees as nest sites. She said that the chicks raised this year in the tree nest hopefully would be more likely to choose a tree site when they mate and nest. The photos were taken at two nesting sites in western Hennepin County. Doing the climbing is Jim Mussel of the Tree Guys. The young birds are put into that box you see in the photo for the ride to the ground and back. They’re out of the nest for perhaps five minutes. While their chicks were out of the nest, the parent Ospreys flew over the work, calling loudly. They then returned to the job of seeing that each nestling gets the pound of fish it needs each day. Of the two nests we visited, one had three chicks, the other two. Both nests held one unhatched egg (see photo).bird-in-hand-5882.jpg  banding-tight-5806.jpg osprey-egg-5851.jpg 

Hard to swallow

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

While working my breeding bird atlas territory this morning (Wednesday) I found this Great Egret along the shore of Lake Independence. It had just captured a sunfish large enough to fillet and fry. It maneuvered the fish in its bill for about five minutes, until the fish could be swallowed head first, dunked it once in the lake — perhaps to freshen its slipperiness — and then down it went. Progress of the fish down the bird’s long neck was easy to see, and almost painful to watch. egret-one-3649.jpg egret-swallows-3669.jpgdistended-neck-3673.jpg 

Red-throated Loons in Duluth

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

Two years ago I was in the Alaskan boonies, an hour’s flight out of Bethel, looking at Red-throated Loons. You can see the same bird today with a much shorter trip:
Duluth. As many as 15 of the Arctic breeders were seen this morning (Sunday) on Lake Superior off Park Point. This is most unusual, both in number and date. To see photos taken by Duluth bird-guide and photographer Mike Hendrickson go to and click on Recently Seen (upper right portion of the page).

Let’s go fishing

Monday, May 25th, 2009

A quartet of Caspian Terns has been feeding in a lake near our home for the past few days. I assume they’re migrants; a few nest as far south as Leech Lake, most in this part of the continent continuing north to Canada. Caspians, the largest of the world’s terns, found on all continents except Antarctica, plunge dive for the fish they eat. The birds I was watching usually began their dive from about 30 feet above the water. They go straight in, like rocks. They recover quickly, back on the wing in a couple of seconds. This bird came up with a large fish. It struggled to get altitude once airborne. Prey fish often are swallowed on the wing. I doubt if this one went down with one swallow. (Two photos.)



Take a deep breath

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

This isn’t about a bird. It’s about the American Toads that were singing endlessly in the marsh behind our house. They’re as good as birdsong for me. There are several out there, along with at least three frog species. They were singing me to sleep, and greeting me in the morning. Each toad picks a pitch at which to sing (one note held for as long as 20 seconds). The next toad selects a slightly different pitch so he can be recognized as an individual. I finally saw one a couple of days ago, just before they went quiet, thanks to a friend with sharp eyes. The toad takes a deep breath, inflates his throat pouch, and sings away. Toads, by the way, don’t give you warts if handled. They will, however, urinate on you, and also secrete a foul-smelling liquid if annoyed. Best just listen to them.amer-toad-sings-9712.jpg 

Hooded Merganser chicks

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

The female Hooded Merganser that nested in a box near our home was on the water this morning with 12 new chicks. The group functions as one organism: the chicks do NOT stray from mother’s side. One chick remains in the nest box. It was struggling this morning to break out of its shell, as much as 12 hours behind its siblings. We’ll check again in the morning to see if it made it.


Creepers building nest

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

A friend told me the location of a pair of Brown Creepers building a nest. I spent yesterday morning with them, in Frontenac State Park, south of Red Wing. Brown birds working on a brown/gray tree trunk in dim light filtered through a green canopy made good color difficult for me, but my subjects were cooperative. The pair of birds made a trip to the nesting cavity — beneath a piece of bark pulled loose by a break in the tree — about once every five to 10 minutes. They brought strands of grass and what looked like fluff from thistle plants. They were working at this Sunday as well as yesterday. They stuffed a lot of material into that hole. Here is one of the color shots, and two in black and white. I told someone last week that bird photos don’t work in b&w. Well, it depends. Frontenac, by the way, was very birdy. It’s an excellent birding location during migration.brown-creeper-nesting-7233.jpgcreeper-portrait-bw-4-7441.jpgcreeper-in-hole-7296.jpg 

Find the bird

Friday, May 1st, 2009

The color of a Mourning Dove matches closely the colors of Red Pine bark. That explains this nest site. These is a nesting dove in each of these photos, taken this morning from two sides of a Red Pine branch extending over a neighbor’s driveway. I used a long telephoto lens. The bird is almost impossible to see unless you know exactly where to look. Can you find it?



Visitor from the west

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

A Sage Thrasher, a bird usually seen west of the Dakotas, has been hanging around the canoe racks on the northeast side of Lake Harriet. It first was found yesterday, and was seen again this morning. It has been foraging on the ground near the lake shore, perching on nearby trees, and sometimes feeding on last year’s crop of hackberries. The species has been seen in Minnesota before, about once every eight or 10 years.