Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Mountain Bluebird - Rare in Minnesota

We had seen reports of a way-out-of-its-range male Mountain Bluebird at Schaar's Bluff near Hastings, Minnesota, and were fortunate to be able to get extended good views of it Monday evening after work. What a beauty!

The overcast sky, fading light and rather diffuse color of the bird when seen from the front created some photographic challenges. At one point it flew to a perch within 15 feet of where I was standing, but with a network of high-contrast tree branches in the background, I could not get my camera to focus on the bird. The photos show here were all taken from many yards away with high zoom, and then cropped.

The normal range of the mountain bluebird is primarily the western mountain and plains states and up the western part of Canada into Alaska in the summer breeding season. Winters are spent in the southern part of that range and well south into Mexico. Normally it would not be closer to us than the western edge of the Dakotas.

For comparison, here (below) is the male eastern bluebird, which is the bluebird we normally see in this part of the country.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Spring Birding Begins! - Ducks and Geese

With temperatures heading high into the 50s today, we headed down to the Wells Lake causeway west of Faribault and saw hundreds of greater white-fronted geese as well as many common mergansers and some redheads and coots (in addition to gulls and oodles of mallards and Canada geese). The large lake has already opened up enough that all of these were hundreds of yards away and a strain to see, even through binoculars and spotting scope, so there may have been other species that we couldn't identify.

In contrast, at the Superior Drive pond in Northfield, which now has a lot of open water as well, we got some lovely views of several lesser scaup, a diving duck that is usually one of the first migrating ducks I've recorded over the past few springs (here are other posts I've written about scaup -- in the exceptionally warm spring of 2012, on March 7 the ice was almost completely out on that pond and I counted 42 scaup). Lesser scaup moving through our area are on their way to summer breeding grounds in the northern plains of Canada after wintering in the southern states, along the Gulf Coast, or maybe in Mexico.

Look at that beautiful blue beak, golden eye, and dark head shining purple in the sun.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Dark Water in Winter

I'm endlessly fascinated by the relatively rare (in Minnesota) sight of unfrozen water in wintertime. The contrast to the snow on the banks makes the water look so dark and mysterious, and the bare trees are beautiful when reflected. My friend Adele and I went for a walk on Saturday and I captured these scenes.

In the first photo, you may be able to see a group of mallards at the back.

As my friend Adele and I looked down at this next bit of the creek on Saturday, it almost looked like a summertime scene where skimming insects leave constant dimples and ripples on the water -- but this was late January, so insects weren't a possibility. We soon realized that there was very fine drizzle, which we hadn't noticed until then, making the drop marks on the water.

This next one is a crop of the photo above. Click the photo to see the larger version showing the many overlapping ripple marks.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Watching Birds on Winter's Coldest Morning

It was about -15 F. when I spent some time watching birds at our feeders and in nearby trees this morning. Our coldest days tend to be cloud-free, so the light was good. Since I take many of my feeder photos through my living room window, I do some color correcting afterward to take away the dullness that the window and its glare can impart.

I love female cardinals. This one's red eyebrow is illuminated, matching her beautiful red bill. She's accompanied at the feeder by a goldfinch and, barely visible, a house finch.

This female white-breasted nuthatch caught my eye because, unusually, she was head-up on the trunk of our big maple tree, rather than upside down as one usually sees nuthatches. She's well-fluffed for maximum insulation from the cold.

This male house finch is also doing a puffball imitation to keep warm.

And this bright-eyed chickadee sat in the same position for quite a while. Was he or she miserable in the cold, or doing just fine? Our northern birds seem to handle the cold remarkably well, Here is a good overview from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology of some of the ways birds cope with severe cold, which include not only fluffing up those down feathers but eating as much as possible and sheltering from the wind.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Peace, Joy, and the Christmas Bird Count

This lovely male house finch, high in a tree above Sibley Swale, was beautifully illuminated during the Christmas Bird Count last Saturday. The morning was cold, cold -- with not much wind, but enough so that walking west made the eyes water and the face go numb.

During the count it helps to put a highly visible notice on one's vehicle explaining why you're driving slowly and peering through binoculars at people's houses (but really, at their bird feeders, trees, shrubs, and lawns).

It was good to once again do the count in the company of Dan Kahl, the caretaker and naturalist at Mount Olivet Retreat Center in Farmington. My husband Dave joined us for part of the morning as well, but unfortunately his one good eye was bothering him and he wasn't seeing well, so he bowed out about halfway through.

Our territory, as usual, covered a rural area east and south of Northfield as well as much of the south side of Northfield itself. We drove most of it but walked a bit of Sibley Swale, the Sibley School nature area, and the marshy area just west of the south end of Archibald Street.

This was our count for the morning -- 20 species, which is two more than last year:
  • 60 house sparrows
  • 40 European starlings
  • 32 American crows
  • 26 dark-eyed juncos
  • 14 blue jays
  • 14 mallards
  • 12 American goldfinches
  • 9 house finches
  • 7 pine siskins
  • 6 downy woodpeckers
  • 5 black-capped chickadees
  • 5 rock pigeons
  • 3 white-breasted nuthatches
  • 2 American tree sparrows
  • 2 mourning doves
  • 2 northern cardinals
  • 1 Canada goose
  • 1 red-tailed hawk
  • 1 ring-necked pheasant
  • 1 red-bellied woodpecker

Gene Bauer always does a meticulous job of organizing our regional Count, and it's so much fun to breakfast with all the other CBCers at Gene and Susan's house and return to report in and warm up over soup at lunchtime. Many thanks to them, as always.

To all: Wishing you peace and joy in this season of darkness and lights, and the restorative and transformative blessings of nature in the year ahead.