Monday, May 18, 2009

A Day of May Birding - CRWA and Carleton Arb

Click on the photos to see much more detail.

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.


Patrick said...

What a beautiful day to be outside, enjoying nature!

John T. said...

I've thought of myself as an observant person, but I must be wrong. I don't "see" warblers. I fear something in the back of my mind has made a classification of "little brown bird" which has given me a blind spot.
A post like this makes me aware I'm missing something.
Sometime soon I'm going to start to learn about these little birds everyone else seems to see. Thanks for your writing.

Chautauqua said...

Glad you saw the bluebirds! I'm the guy who maintains and monitors the 30+ bluebird nesting boxes in the upper and lower arboretum. We actually had one nest already fledge 4 young birds last week!

Penelope said...

Patrick - Yes, it was. So much better than the last two days with that heat and wind. It was windy on Monday too, but where we went in the CRWA you're kind of in a sunken bowl and the wind became less bothersome; by the time we went to the arb it had died down somewhat.

Chautaqua - How exciting, and what an interesting job to have. Thanks for writing. I'd love to hear updates.

John T. - I never saw them either until I started to spend time with my current husband (whom I often refer to here as "my resident bird expert"). We often hear them before we see them; he has learned to recognize quite a lot of bird calls, and I'm gradually learning some too. It helps to be aware of when the migrants are likely to be passing through, and of course once the trees have leafed out it's hard to catch any glimpses at all. And they move so fast, since they eat insects rather than berries that stay in one place. It's the little flashes of color that can draw the eye: the yellow spot on the hind of a yellow-rumped warbler in flight, or the larger areas of yellow on some of the others. But I've still never seen a scarlet tanager, as you did the other day. A realization that there may be something to notice is the first giant step. Keep it up; it's quite satisfying! There are lots of "LBJs" (little brown jobs) out there, but there are points of differentiation. Look for the chipping sparrow, our smallest regularly-seen sparrow, usually seen on the ground, with a rusty cap to its head. I have been seeing one lately on the ground near my feeders. Good luck, and keep me posted!

Jim H. said...

In poker terms, a five-thrush day would be a royal thrush.

Penelope said...

Jim - Dave says, "Now why didn't I think of that?!"