Friday, April 13, 2012

Penelopedia on Patch: April Birding Notes

I've submitted a few blog posts to Northfield Patch in the past, but my plan is now to do a monthly birding update, including other nature notes as they occur to me. My April Birding Notes went up on Monday, and I've copied the contents below. After I wrote it, we saw significant numbers of small shorebirds, saw our first yellow-rumped warbler of the year and heard our first common yellowthroat -- all from the cemetery area at the northwest end of Lake Byllesby.

April Birding Notes
Our unprecedentedly warm March has led into a closer-to-normal April so far, though it's still been warmer than typical for this early in spring. Here are some recent birding observations in and near Northfield:
  • Robins and red-winged blackbirds have been back among us for the past month already. 
  • Grackles, those long-tailed irridescent blackbirds, have been very evident this week; I counted about 50 by my house yesterday, including several who were checking out our bird feeders. European starlings, with their speckled black plumage and short tails, are also commonly seen.
  • Eastern bluebirds, too, have been sighted in the area since early-to mid-March and are building nests and laying eggs. We are monitoring several bluebird houses for the first time this year and have several nests and at least one clutch of eggs so far (see photo). I'll be reporting weekly on our bluebird trail at
  • American goldfinches are undergoing their spring moult. Watch for the male to appear in his bright yellow breeding plumage soon, but you may see some patchy transitional birds in the meantime. Goldfinches stay here through the winter, often visiting bird feeders, but you may not realize you have been seeing them since they look so much duller in their winter plumage.
  • Waterfowl, including ducks, grebes, geese and swans, have been migrating through the area for the past month or more. With ice going out so early on the lakes, they have been able to push through ahead of their normal pace. Blue-winged teal, wood ducks and of course mallards will breed here, but most other ducks we see in early spring are heading further north and west to their preferred breeding grounds in the great plains of the U.S. and Canada, or even the Arctic regions. I saw a pair of pied-billed grebes and a hooded merganser at one of the ponds near the soccer fields on Saturday. We sometimes see a loon on that pond in spring, but I have not seen one yet this year, and no loons have been reported on the eBird site yet this year in Rice, Dakota or Goodhue counties. American white pelicans have been showing up on area lakes for the past week or two.
  • Shorebirds are beginning to arrive. We've been hearing and seeing killdeer on fields and by ponds in town for about three weeks now; they will be here all summer. We have seen just a small number of greater yellowlegs at Lake Byllesby's shallow west access so far. The BirdCast Migration Forecast predicts our first significant wave of shorebirds through the Upper Midwest this week. The greater and lesser yellowlegs may stay with us during the summer, but most shorebirds are just passing through on their way to migration grounds in the Arctic. Look for them at wet farm fields, mudflats, or shallow edges of ponds and lakes.
  • Warbler migration is probably still a few weeks ahead of us (these neotropical migrants winter in Central and South America, so they're not likely to start early despite our early spring; how would they know?), but a birding friend reported seeing her first yellow-rumped warbler of the season this week. The yellow-rumpeds winter in the southern U.S., so they are typically the first warblers we see in spring. With the trees leafing out so early, it's going to be hard to see the warblers when they do arrive in large numbers.

    If you wake early, listen to the "dawn chorus" as nesting season gets under way and songbirds are busy proclaiming their chosen territories. The cardinals have quite a variety of songs ("what cheer! what cheer!"; "birdie birdie birdie"; or "cheer cheer cheer" are common versions). Robins ("cheerily, cheerily, cheer up, cheerily!") start earliest, and the black-capped chickadee's descending major-second interval, "fee bee, fee bee," can be heard much of the day (their other familiar call is "chicka dee dee dee"). The call of the other "fee bee," the eastern Phoebe, heard less often in town, is raspier, sounding more like "fee zwee."
    When you can start to identify a few birds by their songs, it's no longer just a wash of pretty sound; it's more like listening to a conversation between familiar friends.


    Rob Hardy said...

    I saw a western meadowlark in the Lower Arboretum prairie on Thursday. Such a beautiful bird.

    Penelopedia said...