Friday, April 30, 2010

Carpenter Nature Center (CNC)

The rain held off and we were able to do some bird banding today.

This is a cardinal that had been first banded in 2008. At that time, it was thought to be about a year old. That means that it is now about 4 years old.
Someone asked Jim about the oldest bird. He said that they once had a Cardinal that was 9 years old !

The toads were trilling in the pond. Jen went looking for them and found at least 5 toads and some strands of eggs. I always learn new things when I am there. 

Larry went to Afton last week and found the American Woodcocks. He could hear them and saw one silhouetted against the setting sun.

Then off to Afton to run hills. I wanted to do them yesterday but I had too many aches and pains. It was a good decision, today didn't hurt. It was hard but hills always are.

The birds were pretty quiet. The Brown Thrasher wasn't singing in the usual spot. Heard two Eastern Towhees and several White-throated Sparrows, Field Sparrows and Chipping Sparrows. Other birds were singing but I could not identify them.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hunting in the back yard

This afternoon I heard the noise of the Red-shouldered Hawk squawking in the backyard. I grabbed the camera and hoped to get a photograph of it. As carefully and as stealthily as I could, I went out onto the deck wishing I would have grabbed the binoculars too. What a joke, thought I could sneak up on a hawk? Oh well, I just had to try. I saw the hawk perfectly framed in the leaves, just off the deck. The screens from the porch blocked the photograph. I continued moving towards it hoping for a photo. Before I got any photos it took off with another hawk following. There were two Red-shouldered Hawks !!!

Then I saw it, an owl in the tree! The hawks must have been after it. I had a camera, the owl was fairly close, could I get a photo?

I quickly took a few shots because she was a cooperative subject. I had a good camera and filtered light. I thought to myself, this is really sad, I didn't even know what kind of owl it was. I knew it wasn't a Great Horned Owl.

Who cares, just take some more photos and worry about what type of owl it is later.

I still can't belive it but she moved closer to the deck, almost directly under where I was standing !!

The camera's low battery light came on. I just kept taking pictures hoping for that photo of a lifetime.

The batteries died and I just watched her. She was obviously hunting for something in the leaf litter. There was no way she was going to catch a mouse, in broad daylight. Mice are too fast. There are too many leaves. No way.

She flew down onto the ground, paused a couple of moments and flew back to the tree. She had a clump of leaves in her talons. Carefully she pulled them away like she was unwrapping a Christmas present. I could see the long tail of a mouse! She tucked it under her foot for while and didn't seem to be in a hurry to do anything with it.

Another 15 minutes went by of watching her perch in the tree. I went inside the house and got new batteries, a new memory card and returned back to the deck. She was still there but I couldn't see the mouse.  She dropped something on the ground. I watched as she turned this way and that, trying to decided who knows what. She finally flew to the ground where she remained for probably 10 minutes before finally eating the mouse. She flew back to her tree and did a couple of the "who cooks for you".

I won't bore you with all of the details. Lets just say I spent about 2 1/2 hours today watching a bird. She was a very accurate hunter. She pounced twice with a 100% accuracy. She caught both mice even though they were buried in the leaf litter. I can see why the birds were alarmed that she was around. And like I said, I'm not a bird expert so I really don't know if she's a male or female.

Oh, and I got my hour run in at Hyland Park this morning. It was perfect running weather.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Red-shouldered Hawk

The hawk was hanging around the back yard this morning, flying from tree to tree. I guess that it was hunting. The squirrels were continuing to feed on the deck, essentially ignoring the hawk that is a few trees away.

Fun photo this morning:

Just in case you can't tell, my crabapple tree is in full bloom and I'm using that to frame the female Wood Duck peering out the nest box.

Did a challenging cross-training workout at the club this morning.

Back home, a Pileated Woodpecker flew in and called. By the time I got the camera, it flew away.

We have White-throated Sparrows as neighbors. There are at least 4 hanging around the yard and at least one keeps flying in and out of the brush pile. They will fly if I get too close, like within feet of them, and then they just fly a short distance. Maybe they are nesting in the brush pile?  Cornell's web site says they typically nest on the ground.

Just when I thought the other birds were fun, I counted 5 baby ducks on the pond! I could not see the parents but heard Mallards softly calling all the while.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Afton Weekend Workout

Long run on Saturday - almost 3 hours. We spent enough time at breakfast to get a late start, about 9:00.  The 7:00 group, John, Alicia, Karen, and Jim were hailed on and blasted by thunder and lightening. We were wet, tired and a little muddy by the time we finished.

Then we ran a shorter run on Sunday - just the snowshoe loop. Only one slippery spot. We didn't get as wet as Saturday.

For birds, heard a Brown Thrasher in a couple different places. I didn't bring the binoculars to identify an  interesting bird. It looked like a big chickadee, black head, white chest, singing up a storm. After we located it, it continued to perch high in the tree and sing its melodious song.

The Rue Anemone and Wild Violets are in full bloom. The ferns are starting to grow.

Then we were off to the Science Museum to see the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Omni film Arabia. We enjoyed both of them.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Bird Banding at Carpenter Nature Center

Went out to Carpenter Nature Center for bird banding today. The event was open to the public. The weather was sunny and in the 50's at the start. It warmed up to the 60's. It was a perfect day for birding.

Larry and Dennis set up nets / traps. Mary, Dick, Jim, Lou, Jay, Bob, set up tables, paperwork, bird processing equipment. A professional photographer set up his equipment. Visitors and birds started to arrive.

One woman commented that the bird songs were plentiful this morning, unlike the area in Woodbury where she lives. Another woman and two daughters traveled all the way from Baldwin to visit CNC for the first time. One daughter had a camera. She found several things to photograph. Both girls could identify several types of birds. By the end of the morning they were asking, "Do you have a bag? There is a bird in the net over here." It was great.

A bus load of people came in during a time when there was a long absence of birds. Jim did a good job of explaining banding even though he didn't have a bird to demonstrate actual banding.

Because it was so quiet, Bob, Shadow and I took a walk outside. Shadow pranced around like the little princess she is. The photographer showed us some of his art - really cool stuff. On our walk we found a Blue Jay, a White-throated Sparrow and a Downy Woodpecker in the nets/traps. Bob carried the birds back to the processing area. Then Jen walked in with a Brown-headed Cowbird and a Blue Jay - not in bags just one in each hand! It was after noon and I had to leave for a 12:30 appointment. I hated to leave. Larry said it was OK, he would take down the nets.

Not sure of the final count but Jay's list of birds for the day filled up most of one page.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Noisy Squirrel Morning

I usually feed the birds in the morning and it's not long before the squirrels move in to eat all of the seeds. This morning they were unusually quarrelsome resulting in quite a bit of noise. I ignored them for the most part.
Many left the deck and then I noticed they were making warning calls, at least 3 squirrels calling. I looked to see what was going on and a rather large bird (larger than a robin) flew into a tree just off the deck. I was fascinated, first by this beautiful bird and because two small squirrels were scampering around on the tree branches without a care in the world, within feet of this raptor ! I made the decision to watch rather than go for the camera. Why? Morbid curiosity?

It was a beautiful bird, rufous barred chest, big black and white stripes on the tail with smaller patterns on the wing. The bird saw me and moved to hide behind the trunk of the tree. Then it was off, flying low over the house. I ran to the front of the house to see if it would land on another nearby tree. I didn't find it again.

The National Geographic "Complete Birds of North American" book identifies it as a Red-shouldered Hawk. The book also says they eat frogs, snakes, lizards and small mammals. I guess it was the squirrels lucky day. How did they know?

The other birds found: Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and Yellow-rumped Warbler. Of the 20 or so photos taken today, this is one is one of the better ones, at least the bird can be recognized.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Bluebird eggs

Ran hill repeats at Afton, same as last week only much colder. I wore a jacket and didn't take it off the entire time. What is this, April ???

The Brown Thrasher was singing in the same area as  last week. I stopped to look for him, hoping to get a close up view. Found him and an Eastern Towhee !

Checked out the bluebird boxes. The box that had eggs last week didn't show any activity, nobody perched nearby, nobody flying in or out of the box. I gently knocked on the box to hear if there was any activity inside - nothing. I carefully opened the box and took this photo.  The box is above my head and I can't see into the nest. Last year I used a mirror and it worked OK. This year I'm using my phone. Here is what I found.

She has 6 eggs, one more than on the 16th. Both parents flew by me and landed in a nearby sumac. I quickly closed the box and moved on, careful not to leave a direct trail back to the box for predators to use.
Eggs are generally laid at the rate of 1 egg per day, on consecutive days. From this info, my best guess is that the first egg was April 12 and the last egg laid was the 17th.
Eggs hatch 11 - 13 days after the final egg. Based on this info, I predict the eggs will hatch around April 29, plus or minus a day.

Another set of nest boxes had a pair Tree Swallows guarding both of the boxes and both boxes have a partial nest. The birds acted very disturbed and were diving at me so I quickly left. My philosophy, don't cause harm. I didn't want them to abandon the partial nest. My question, do Tree Swallows build multiple nests like wrens? I checked Sibley, National Geographic and the generic Cornell website - nothing about multiple nests.

There was a large flock of Brown-headed Cowbirds feeding in the field. Will they lay eggs in the Tree Swallow nest? I think the cowbirds are too big to fit into the swallow nest box, but we will have to wait and see.

On the drive out of the park, I had the good fortune to see a pair of eagles soaring over the park. I got out the binoculars and was surprised to see the brownish body and shoulders of a Golden Eagle. Awesome.

Then off to yoga class. Stephanie worked us hard. I used core muscles that are seldom used. I feel a little pain but have much to gain.

The Wildlife Rehab Center was a busy place. They must have added additional shifts. We were finishing our late afternoon shift when the evening crew arrived. A couple of cool creatures I got to see were the Blandings Turtles and the Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers (one male and one female).

Another great day !

Monday, April 19, 2010

Woodcock Display

Twice we've tried to see woodcocks doing their aerial acrobatics, twice we've been skunked. Sunday evening at Lebanon Hills in Eagan, Sharon Stiteler led a group of 30 or so up the road, up the hill through the tall grasses to watch the performance. Steve Weston had actually seen them doing their diplay at that location. Expectations were high.

A Great Horned Owl hooted from the trees. Its silhouette could be seen in the tree on the left, before it moved off.  As we stood in the darkness at the top of the hill, a Barred Owl started to call.  Then, there is was, the "beeep" followed by his flight and the twitter as he flew up high into the night sky. A woodcock !!

Everyone rushed to his takeoff spot in expectation that he would land there. He landed in a different spot. We played the game for about 20 minutes before heading back to the parking lot with stories about how close he came to the spot where we stood.

Awesome. It was a thrill to actually see the acrobat doing his thing !

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Digi-Scoping: How to get that great photo through your spotting scope.

Took a class today by Sharon Stiteler, "The Bird Chick", a t Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park. It was a beautiful day, cool but sunny. Sharon presented several of her photos to the group and talked us through equipment we could use. She is very knowledgeable about the subject, passionate about birds and likes to have fun. After the presentation, we got to go out and look for birds and try it out.

The Osprey were hanging out around their nest near the parking lot so we had something to see and then I compared equipment. I have an old, inexpensive scope and it made things look like I was looking through a scope (the center was in focus but the edges were distorted). The more expensive equipment had greater clarity, let through more light allowing for brighter colors, and lighter weight (important when lugging around place to place) and very little distortion (if any).

Here is Sharon's web page for more information about her stuff.

Enjoy !

Friday, April 16, 2010

Birds and more birds

Finished my weight training and got to do some regular bird stuff. First bird stop - Carpenter Nature Center. One of the birds banded at Carpenter Nature Center today is a beautiful White-throated Sparrow.  I used to think that a sparrow was a sparrow was a sparrow - just little brown birds eating all the food at my feeders and keeping the more colorful birds away. Beginning last year I started to discover the uniqueness of each species and the variability between individuals. It's amazing.

Take this little guy, he shows white stripes on his crown and "eyebrow". The "eyebrow" also has yellow markings. His size (we measured his wing chord) identified him as a male. He has probably spent his winter south of us, possibly southern Iowa or Missouri.

For comparison, I had one bird, same species, a White-throated Sparrow, spend the winter in my front yard. This was a little unusual but 3 other people on the  MOU listserve also reported that they found other individuals in various locations around the Twin Cities this winter. Another difference, "my" sparrow had tan stripes on his head instead of white. See Dan Tallman's blog for more about this.

After Carpenter, I went to Afton State Park and checked bluebird boxes. I have several assigned to me but only one had a nest last week. This week, it has eggs !

The parents were near and not happy so I quickly left. I hope we have good luck !

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Getting back into training

I've been doing too much travel and not enough training. To get back into it,  I hit the weights and hill repeats this week. My muscles reminded me that I'm out of shape. The good news, I lost some of the weight from vacation in January. The bad news, not enough.

Afton is looking better.  The burned areas are starting to green up.

One place that I do hill repeats is on the first hill out of the parking lot. It's a fairly level trail, a gravel road really. A former coach told me that a 14% grade is about right for repeats. This hill is a little steeper in places so I really have to pace myself. I know the pain of repeats will it will pay off later when I run in the mountains.

Along the trail I noticed some of the wild flowers are blooming. A couple of flowers that I found are the Rue Anemone and the Blood Root.
The photo of leaves and tiny flowers shows the Rue Anemone flowers as white. Wildflower books  describe the flower as white. The ones in Afton look pink to me. Look for them and tell me what you think.

The Blood Root flower is a larger white flower. It is a member of the poppy family. One characteristic is that the flower opens during the day then closes at night.

Even though it was raining, the birds kept me company. The White-throated Sparrows are returning and they were at the top of the first hill. I could hear the Eastern Meadow Larks singing. And my favorite bird of the day was the one singing as I finished my 4th hill repeat. It had a varied song so I thought it was some kind of mockingbird. But I had to get to the top before I looked for it. After I turned around at the top, and on the way down I stopped to look. It was still singing. A bird, in a flash that reminded me of the reddish brown color of a female Cardinal, flew across the trail and up into a tree. I watched, and it obviously was not a Cardinal. It sang that wonderful song. I got out my phone with the bird recordings and played the Brown Thrasher song - it matched !! I enjoyed it for a little while but it was raining, my phone was going to get wet, I had a Twins game to get to...  I just started running again when I saw movement in the bushes along the trail - another Brown Thrasher ! And this time so close I could admire the coloring, the long tail, the streaking on the chest, the decurved bill - just WOW.

So even though it rained the entire time, I stopped to enjoy the wildflowers and the birds. I finished my hill repeats and got to the Twin's new stadium just as the sun was coming out. Our seats were high so it gave us a great view of the ball park. Good game, they won, 8 - 0, good company (with my sweetheart), good day !

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Catching Up is hard to do

We've been gone - first to Kansas, then Itasca State Park. We're home at last.  This photo is from some unusual rock formations near Salina, KS.

Congrats to all who did such a great job down at the Zumbro 100 !

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Wood ducks are back

The backyard is busy today. Slate-colored Juncos calling, Wood Ducks searching for a nesting place, squirrels fighting over space, Eastern Phoebes calling as they fly through, a White-throated Sparrow scratching for food, American Robins calling and finding breakfast, Red-wing Blackbirds chasing an American Crow, Blue Jays looking for an easy breakfast, a Downy Woodpecker drumming on a dead tree.

Question: Why do we try to photograph birds?  And I use the word "try" because the subjects always seem to move away from the camera / photographer?  This morning, I heard a phoebe, a first of the year yard bird for me. When I finally found the songster it actually was a flock of 4 phoebes. By the time I got the camera and binoculars, they were gone. Now all I have is memories. Sometimes memories are the best photographs.