Saturday, August 29, 2009

Cedar Waxwings on a Septemberish Day

A fresh and breezy, almost chilly, but blue-skied and golden morning called us out of doors today. We hadn't been over to the St. Olaf College nature area for several months, so off we went around midmorning. The wind seemed to be keeping the birds out of sight for most of our walk, and although I was wearing jeans and a long-sleeved top I almost regretted leaving my jacket in the car . A few mallards on the pond, a hawk (probably a northern harrier) flying low over the prairie areas, and a crow or two were all we had seen until we were about three quarters of the way around and reached the south side of the pond-loop trail. Passing some wild plums (above), we were suddenly aware of birds ahead and soon saw that they were fruit-loving cedar waxwings.

The photo above shows two cedar waxwings in a tree -- one in sun with its back to the camera and one above it, shaded and in profile. (Click on the photo for a larger view.) You can see a hint of the red wingtips, like drops of red wax, on the wing feathers on the more-visible bird. These, of course, are what give the bird its common name.

We set up the spotting scope and although the birds kept moving one did land on an exposed bare branch not far away for a minute or so, long enough for me to get the shots above and below. I was very pleased with these; while certainly not perfect, they are some of my best digiscoping results ever. You can clearly see the bright yellow tips to the tail feathers, the lovely yellow-to-rosy buff blush of the breast transitioning to the head, and the flat crest and black bandit mask that are among the instantly distinguishing features of this gregarious bird.

It was a nice way to finish up the walk. Earlier we had appreciated the tall prairie grasses and wildflowers waving in the wind, and I'll have a post about them in a while.
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Christopher Tassava said...

Beautiful shots - and gorgeous birds, too. I think there are a few of these birds flitting around some chokecherry trees in my neighborhood. I'll have to watch for the color on the wings. Lately, I've seen so many goldfinches, it's getting ridiculous. Are they migrating or is some favorite food coming into season? I saw a half-dozen in the wildflowers around the big oak in front of Carleton's Rec Center, and plenty more on various runs, walks, and bike rides. Pretty little birds!

dAwN said...

Lovely shots! Such beautiful birds! I love to hear them fly overhead..
Such sleek, sunglass wearing jet setters.

RuthieJ said...

I love the Cedar Waxwings too. Those are nice pictures Penny.

Penelope said...

Christopher - I have seen a lot of goldfinches recently too. Here in southern Minnesota we have goldfinches around all year, being as we are at the northern edge of their year-round habitat, but the ones we see in winter may not be the same ones we see in summer (and they lose their brilliant yellow color during the winter). They breed quite late in summer, timing reproduction to coincide with the availability of their favorite food, thistle seed. I see some sources saying that migration does start in early September, though that may be in particular the more northerly birds.

Dawn and Ruthie - they are among my favorites. So distinctive!

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm here in Northfield for the first time, leaving my son at Carleton. I spotted a flock of waxwings on the campus, and, since I am from California, I hoped they were Bohemian Waxwings. Your blog helped me realize they are Cedar Waxwings, the same birds I love to see at home in Marin County. I'll have to keep waiting for my first Bohemian Waxwings! Thanks for a helpful blog.-Wendy

Penelope said...

Anonymous - thanks so much for your comment. I am from the Bay Area myself and went to high school in San Rafael, but have lived in the Midwest for a long time now. Small world. I hope you will enjoy your future visits to Northfield. The Carleton Arboretum is a wonderful place to go walking. I too look forward to seeing my first Bohemian Waxwing!