Saturday, April 17, 2010

First Shorebirds and Many Ducks

A very pleasant sunny afternoon in the mid-60s called us over to Lake Byllesby near Cannon Falls, where we spotted our first shorebirds of the season other than killdeer, plus several dozen American white pelicans, many different kinds of ducks, a loon, coots, and Forster's terns. We viewed the lake from three different spots -- a deepwater public access area facing north, the shallows of the Cannon River as it enters the west end of the lake by the Hwy 56 bridge, and from our favorite shorebird viewing spot on the shallow north shore near the west end of the lake. We saw the loon in the deep water. I always get a thrill to see one of those in our region.

Looking northwest from the Hwy 56 bridge; the mudflat on the right is where we saw the solitary sandpiper.

Our first shorebird spot was a lone specimen on the edge of a mud flat on the west side of the Hwy 56 bridge, which we eventually identified as a solitary sandpiper. (Before we pulled out the field guide, I was asking, "Where are its friends?" It comes by its name honestly, apparently.)

Solitary sandpiper -- note clear eye ring, long bill, dull greenish (not yellow) legs, and mottled chest coloration that stops fairly high up on the breast.

Ducks we saw included decent numbers of northern shoveler, blue-winged teal, and ring-necked duck, plus smaller numbers of green-winged teal, gadwall, and pintail.

Blue-winged teals (white splash near tail and on head are diagnostic, as are the flashes of blue seen when the birds are in flight), with one green-winged teal at right rear (note cinnamon head).

Here's a view of the shallow side of the lake where we saw most of the ducks, coots, yellowlegs, and (further out) pelicans.

American white pelicans are enormous and are I think particularly stunning when seen in flight, when a lot of black shows on their wings that is almost completely hidden when the birds are at rest. The flashing black and white as the birds turn in the air almost creates an optical illusion and is really something to see.

American white pelicans (taken through the scope but without the help of my zoom lens, which is nonfunctional these days -- hence the lack of good resolution to several of these photos).

We saw modest numbers of greater and lesser yellowlegs. Here's one:

A yellowlegs chowing down. Since identification as greater or lesser yellowlegs depends largely on comparative bill length, this specimen will have to remain nonspecific.

In addition to all the birds already mentioned, on this outing we saw two bald eagles (a mature one and a juvenile that didn't yet have its white head and tail) , several tree swallows, an American kestrel on an overhead wire, and a wild turkey crossing a side road in front of us. We also saw the first chipping sparrow -- our smallest sparrow -- of the season. And we had one exciting non-avian sighting: a red fox near the side of the road on our way to Byllesby! An excellent day indeed.


Christopher Tassava said...

Penny, I'm returning to this great post with a question about a bird I saw on campus last week. It was pretty small and quite round (robin-sized or less, but chickadee shaped), and it was wading in the shallow water just above the dam between the two Lyman Lakes. It had a short, sharp bill, which it was using in the water. Any idea about an ID?

Penelope said...

Ooh, ooh, sounds like a "peep" - one of the small shorebirds, such as a Semi-palmated Sandpiper or the slightly larger Baird's Sandpiper. There is a decent overview of Minnesota shorebirds (most of which just pass through on their way to and from their more northerly breeding grounds) here: This weekend we also saw some American Pipits, which are not classified as shorebirds but sometimes behave like them -- looking more like a largish sparrow walking along a mudflat.