Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Mountain Bluebird - Rare in Minnesota

We had seen reports of a way-out-of-its-range male Mountain Bluebird at Schaar's Bluff near Hastings, Minnesota, and were fortunate to be able to get extended good views of it Monday evening after work. What a beauty!

The overcast sky, fading light and rather diffuse color of the bird when seen from the front created some photographic challenges. At one point it flew to a perch within 15 feet of where I was standing, but with a network of high-contrast tree branches in the background, I could not get my camera to focus on the bird. The photos show here were all taken from many yards away with high zoom, and then cropped.

The normal range of the mountain bluebird is primarily the western mountain and plains states and up the western part of Canada into Alaska in the summer breeding season. Winters are spent in the southern part of that range and well south into Mexico. Normally it would not be closer to us than the western edge of the Dakotas.

For comparison, here (below) is the male eastern bluebird, which is the bluebird we normally see in this part of the country.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Spring Birding Begins! - Ducks and Geese

With temperatures heading high into the 50s today, we headed down to the Wells Lake causeway west of Faribault and saw hundreds of greater white-fronted geese as well as many common mergansers and some redheads and coots (in addition to gulls and oodles of mallards and Canada geese). The large lake has already opened up enough that all of these were hundreds of yards away and a strain to see, even through binoculars and spotting scope, so there may have been other species that we couldn't identify.

In contrast, at the Superior Drive pond in Northfield, which now has a lot of open water as well, we got some lovely views of several lesser scaup, a diving duck that is usually one of the first migrating ducks I've recorded over the past few springs (here are other posts I've written about scaup -- in the exceptionally warm spring of 2012, on March 7 the ice was almost completely out on that pond and I counted 42 scaup). Lesser scaup moving through our area are on their way to summer breeding grounds in the northern plains of Canada after wintering in the southern states, along the Gulf Coast, or maybe in Mexico.

Look at that beautiful blue beak, golden eye, and dark head shining purple in the sun.