Monday, May 18, 2009
We took the day off today to seek out migratory songbirds in the eastern reaches of the Cannon River Wilderness Area. Wildflowers were in evidence everywhere, and the trees were alive with the calls and songs of birds we could usually see only for a second or two at a time, if at all, as they flitted among the newly leafy (and luckily some not yet so leafy) branches. We soon realized that American redstarts were all around us. This strikingly colored member of the warbler family is a darkish gray with bright orange patches on the wings and tail. They live in Minnesota year-round.
As we walked through dappled woodland, we either heard or caught quick glimpses of indigo bunting, catbird, blue jay, Nashville warbler, yellow warbler, yellow-rumped warbler, house wren, common yellowthroat, and eastern wood-peewee. Several of these are just migrating through our area on their way to breeding grounds farther north.
The trail leads eventually to a savannah area open to the sky. This is a favorite area of mine, which at the top of the rise has a wide but secluded view and is a great place to watch turkey vultures and hawks ride the thermals over the surrounding hills. We were surprised to find evidence that quite an extensive area had been burned since our last visit. Mature trees did not seem to have been much damaged, but the low growth had clearly been burned out and was experiencing regeneration.
Up in this more open environment, we saw American goldfinches, brownheaded cowbirds, wood thrush, hermit thrush, a couple of ruby-throated hummingbirds, turkey vultures. and another unidentified soaring raptor.
These pink-tinted blossoms covered a small tree along the path. I think it is a kind of crab apple, but it might be a member of the plum family.
After a lunch break and some downtime, we headed over to the Upper Arb at Carleton to see what else we could see. Things were relatively quiet; we were there before the birds got active for their late-afternoon feeding time. The highlight of that visit was a giant oak delightfully populated with quite a flock of cedar waxwings. While I had one in view through the binoculars, another approached it and a moment later they appeared to be kissing. My resident bird expert tells me that this is food presentation by the male to the female, part of the courtship ritual that presumably demonstrates his willingness and ability to provide. Anyway, it was a charming moment and I felt lucky to have had the chance to see it.
We also saw several jewel-like tree swallows, their irridescent wings shining metallic blue in the sunlight, on or near nesting boxes that have been built in some of the young restored savannah areas, and finally we saw the other resident of those boxes we had been watching for: an eastern bluebird, our first of the season. The bluebird is a member of the thrush family; together with the two thrushes we had seen at the CRWA, a Swainson's thrush seen on our neighbor's lawn this morning, and the ever-present American robin, that made it a five-thrush day.
After we'd been back home for an hour or so, we were amused to discover an even larger congregation of the gorgeous cedar waxwings in two large just-leafing-out trees adjacent to our house. The photo above is one of the best I was able to get, since the birds don't stay still long.