Sunday, August 7, 2011

Recent Observations (Early August Phenology)

I haven't been keeping systematic records, so what follows is a fairly random set of observations about what's been going on lately. My last report of general observations was made in mid-June.
Red-breasted Nuthatch last winter
I commented then that we had last seen a red-breasted nuthatch on May 29. I don't think we saw any in June, but we have spotted one several times since mid-July. Based on maps of historical sightings available on, it looks as if June sightings of red-breasted nuthatches this far south in Minnesota are quite rare, while July and August sightings are somewhat more common. The red-breasteds mainly breed to our north, and not at all in the southwestern part of Minnesota.

Our 1987 edition of Robert Janssen's Birds in Minnesota shows the breeding range as extending no further south than the Twin Cities, with the fall migration period starting probably mid-August, and the Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America shows the year-round range in Minnesota extending not much beyond the arrowhead region of northeastern Minnesota. The bird checklists from the Cowling Arboretum in Northfield and River Bend Nature Center in Faribault show the red-breasted nuthatch to be rarely reported in fall, winter, and spring, and not observed in summer. All these sources indicate that it is not historically common to find a red-breasted nuthatch in Rice County in the summer months, so we are excited to have done so.
Hairy Woodpecker

We haven't seen an oriole for several weeks. Common visitors to the bird feeders lately have included downy and (less often) hairy woodpeckers, blue jays, house finches, goldfinches, and chickadees. Mourning doves and chipping sparrows come for millet put out on our front walk. We have not been troubled by grackles or brown-headed cowbirds recently (in mid-June I reported grackles as our most common visitors). We don't often notice hummingbirds, though I did see one about a week ago. One day Dave saw six blue jays at the various feeders or in the nearby maple tree at the same time; usually we see only one or two.

On July 18 three baby raccoons appeared on our deck. One was seen again soon after on our front step. I haven't seen them since.

Baby raccoon
We have not been going out birding -- it's been so warm and humid that the idea has not been inviting. Summer isn't a peak time for our birding activities anyway, with the trees heavily leafed out, obscuring the view, but it can be fun to see turtles and families of young wood ducks in secluded ponds. After many humid days in the upper 80s and lower 90s, we are looking forward with relief to the coming week's forecast of a string of days with highs in the 70s and lows reaching down into the 50s.

Monarch and eastern tiger swallowtail butterflies have been common on our purple coneflowers the last several weeks. Joe-pye weed is also in bloom, and may be attracting them. Although I reported an early coneflower in mid-June (one that was closer to the house than most), most were not in full flower until July. 
Tiger Swallowtail

The last few days I have noticed that our garden phlox is flowering. I haven't kept records of that before.

Our half-hearted, late-started, much-neglected vegetable garden is in horrible condition. The six or so tomato plants look lush, but the swings between a cool June and extreme heat in the third week of July (up to 99 F. here, I believe, with outrageous dew points, putting the heat index well above 110) have limited the fruit production and certainly also limited my garden-upkeep efforts. I have picked a total of three cherry tomatoes (I think they are Super Sweet 100s); that plant has some more that are ripening, but nothing else is close to being ripe. I never got around to putting down a straw mulch, and the bed has been overtaken by tall grass. My attempt at bush beans succumbed to rabbits or other nibblers, and then got smothered by the grass. I have some cucumber plants that are growing well now, but not yet setting fruit. I have been cutting chives and basil for use in the kitchen, and we have a lot of lemon thyme and sage, but nothing else is producing.

I noticed my first flying geese of the season within the last week or two. There were some still-fuzzy half-grown goslings on the river not too long ago, suggesting a second hatching of the season.

    1 comment:

    Heidi Johnson said...

    I do believe what I saw today on our bird feeder was the hairy wood pecker and the red breasted hatch. I will be posting the pix on my facebook if you'd like to see. Heidi Wickham Johnson. If you have a hard time finding me email me at I love your blog. I love the birds in the area. Im new to Minnesota, but I am sure loving it! I have sooo many questions about birds and bird feeders and so on. Ciao for now, happy birding!