Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.
Cardinals came to our feeders in force as soon as the snow stopped. We had 10 here Sunday at dusk. Monday, the count was eight. Cardinals feed in the dim light of dawn and the fading twilight at the end of the afternoon. Most other bird species retire earlier and rise later. Sunset Monday was at 4:32 p.m. The first cardinal flew into the yard at 4:32 p.m. I'm curious to know if that was a coincidence or if the birds' sense of light level is that keen. I'll try to time them for the next few afternoons.
The smaller lakes near our home were nearly 100 percent ice-coveredMonday. A few small open spots of water remained. I was checking for ducks and coots -- and eagles. If waterfowl can be found on small patches of open water, you might find eagles, too. The hunting is good when the ducks are in restricted space. Coots become particularly vulnerable because they must run across the water to get to lift-off speed. I saw a pair of immature Bald Eagles at Mooney Lake in western Plymouth. There was no prey there, though. With cold, windless nights certain bays on Lake Minnetonka might be good places to look for eagles. The requisite coots are on Smith's Bay, west of Wayzata, but most of that lake is open, at least from the bay out as far as I could see, excluding some narrow bands of ice along the shore. No eagles there today, but a grandson and I watched an eagle make lazy passes at those coots on Saturday. The road there, County 15, is bad at the best of times, narrow, twisty, and busy. Walking on the shoulder -- well, right now there is no shoulder. Parking away from 15 is possible, leaving one with no more than a quarter-mile walk. Four Whooping Swans were on the bay today. They don't worry about eagles.
In the crab apple orchard I check for waxwings and grosbeaks -- nope -- I found more robins on Monday. Forty or 50 of them were picking apples. One photo below shows the effort the birds sometimes make to pull the apples from the tree. The other photos show a robin in the picking process. At the height of the pull the nictitating membranes found in bird eyes have pulled over the pupil. This is a third eyelid, moving across the eye at right angles to the regular eyelids, between them and the eye surface. This membrane moistens and cleans the eye, and provides protection.
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