Saturday, March 30, 2013

Mergansers and Herons on Ice

Dave and I had heard that the ice was starting to open up at Wells Lake just outside of Faribault, which often offers good early-season views of migratory ducks, geese and swans, so we headed down there after this morning's rain had finished. We didn't see large numbers of birds, but we had a great view of a couple of dozen common mergansers, a small number of hooded mergansers, three double-crested cormorants overhead, a couple of coots, as well as some mallards, Canada geese and a few gulls. Several times groups of mergansers took off and circled overhead, looking pure white with black heads -- an impressive sight. With an overcast sky and the sun (what there was of it) behind us, the light was beautiful. You can see in the photos below how it lit up the white bodies of the male mergansers.

Common Mergansers (3 males, 2 females) and a pair of Mallards

Common Mergansers and Mallards

Hooded Mergansers (2 male, 1 female)

While we were in Faribault we stopped by Slevin Park, near the mill, and caught sight of four, soon joined by another three, great blue herons that were lined up on the ice like statues. It was quite a startling sight.

It looks as if we're going back near or below freezing for the next several days, but soon this ice should open up for the season.

Monday, March 25, 2013

A True Sign of Spring

Yesterday I suddenly noticed that two male goldfinches at our feeder were showing bright yellow feathers, clearly having started making the transition to their brilliant lemony breeding plumage. All winter long they've been a soft olive color, like the females, except for the black and white wing bars. Spring must be on its way, after all.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Forgotten Art of Spring

Here's the pond that I call the Superior Drive pond, which has become our favorite spring duck-watching pond in Northfield. Last year on March 7, I reported that the pond was almost ice-free and occupied by more than 40 scaup, several hooded mergansers and the usual mallards and Canada geese; of course, we had unprecedented warmth as the month went on and were starting to care for our bluebird boxes by the end of the month.

In 2011 we were seeing ducks in mid-March, and that felt early.  In 2010 I didn't mention ducks until a mid-April outing to Lake Byllesby, but noted that the snow in front of our house was almost gone on March 17. In 2009, I first discovered the Superior Drive pond in early April, thanks to the urgent promptings of a friend who lives there, who said I must come to see all the ducks.

I do look forward to spring!

One thing that will keep this spring particularly interesting is that I will be taking the Minnesota Master Naturalist Program covering the Big Woods/Big River ecosystem, which is being offered at the Carleton Arboretum starting April 1. It's five hours a week for six weeks, plus two all-day Saturday field days. It's been a long time since I sat regularly in a classroom, but I am truly excited to expand my knowledge about our local geology, flora and fauna, water, land history and more, taught by local teaching biologists and other experts who really know this area.

From the Master Naturalist program website:
The mission of the Minnesota Master Naturalist Program is to promote awareness, understanding, and stewardship of Minnesota’s natural environment by developing a corps of well-informed citizens dedicated to conservation education and service within their communities.
Any adult who is curious and enjoys learning about the natural world, shares that knowledge with others, and supports conservation can be a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. [That's so me!] If you enjoy hiking, bird watching, following tracks, or identifying wildflowers, you'll love being a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteers are a motivated group of fun and interesting people: teachers, retired professionals, nature guides, hunters, eco-tour operators, farmers, and...YOU!
The Minnesota Master Naturalist Program is a joint effort of the University of Minnesota Extension and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
I hope the course will help me bring new perspectives to Penelopedia, and I expect I will share some of my learning here as the program goes on.