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.
As migrating warblers moved through Duluth last week, Will Stenberg took this photo of a Palm Warbler drinking sap from a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker’s well. Sapsuckers drill wells, often in large numbers of rows, to draw sap. The birds eat the plant tissue, and drink the sap. They also eat the insects attracted to the leaking liquid. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are one of four North American members of that family. The warbler might have been thirsty, might have liked the flavor. Very nIce photo. Thanks for sharing, Will.
WINTER FINCH FORECAST
Each fall Ron Pittaway of Ontario gathers information on the tree-seed crops that will or won’t keep some of our hoped-for winter bird visitors north of us. From a variety of sources he collects data on three species of trees key to winter bird food — spruces, birches, and mountain ash trees.
Here is his forecast, with my disclaimer that things might not go exactly this way. Our thanks to him for this annual peak into the future at this winter’s feeders.
One good piece of news is that cone crops are called poor west of Ontario, which might help birds in that region to move south.
Do not expect to see Pine Grosbeaks. Mountain ash crops are good in key Canadian areas. That is likely to keep these birds north.
We should see Purple Finches. They feed on seeds of coniferous and deciduous trees. Those seed crops are low. (Purple Finches favor black oil sunflower seeds at feeders.)
Red Crossbills are unlikely. Red and white pine cone crops in Ontario are good.
White-winged Crossbills are possible in areas where cone crops are strong.
Common Redpolls should return after an almost complete absence last winter. Birch seed crops are poor to average in Canada’s boreal forest. (Redpolls prefer niger thistle seed at feeders.)
Hoary Redpolls: watch for them in northern redpoll flocks.
Pittaway’s report says Blue Jays have been migrating south out of Canada.
Red-breasted Nuthatchs will be moving south because spruce cone crops, important to that bird, are low to average in number.
Bohemian Waxwings are predicted to stay north this winter because the mountain-ash berry crop throughout the boreal forest is very good to excellent.
Commmon Grackles, uncommon most of the year in our yard, thank goodness, are far too common on some early fall days. I remove feeder trays to reduce the amount of seed they eat, but the birds work hard to grip anything that gives them seed access, often sparring for position. Last week, as this acrobat and its companions raided us, I simply let the feeders go empty. We'll fill them today, with crossed fingers. Grackles are beautiful birds, very photogenic, all angles and iridescence, one of my favorites. Some days, actually, the seed is worth the photos. The bird in the second photo, being confronted (not fed!), is a juvenile, as shown by its red eyes.
The 6th annual Henderson Hummingbird Hurrah takes place in Henderson, Minnesota, Saturday, Aug. 16 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The location is Bender Park, 200 North Third Street. This free birding festival offers gardens attractive to Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, August migrants.
Hummingbirds will be banded on site that morning, allowing you to see them up close. The Hummingbird Hurrah includes a garden tour, speakers, book-signing sessions, children’s activities, and a hummingbird mall with food, art, craft, specialty, and information vendors.
Donald Mitchell, the hummingbird bander, will give an afternoon presentation on what specific plants you may use to attract hummers to your garden. Authors and radio personalities Laura Erickson and Jim Gilbert will speak.
Erickson will share how Ruby-throated Hummingbirds stack up to America’s various owls, and why, in a battle, you’d be better off having the hummingbird on your side. Gilbert will do a video presentation on the natural wonders one can observe during a Minnesota August.
In addition, Dane Elmquist will use live specimens as he speaks on the monarch life cycle and migration. Alex Stork will give tip on photographing hummingbirds, and Sally Reinitz invites you on a tour of the garden to learn about the plants and animals that call the Hummingbird Garden home.
Hummingbird Hurrah is produced by Henderson Feathers and sponsored by the Minnesota River Valley Audubon Chapter. The festival promotes understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment of hummingbirds.
For more information go to www.hendersonhummingbirdhurrah.com or call 612-229-5210.
We’ve had two encounters with meal moths. One was seriously bad, the other educational.
Meals moths can arrive with the bird seed you buy. Suppliers are careful to exclude the pests, but once in a while they are part of the package. This is why seed should be kept in a covered metal container, preferably in your garage. Unprotected seed should never be kept in your house. You have been warned.
Time one: we discover the infestation when we open the pantry to find small green worms on everything containing flour, outside boxes and in. The moths like grain. They — or it — laid eggs there. The eggs hatched. We wondered how many unhatched eggs we had eaten, then laid bare the pantry.
That was long ago. More recently, we saw moths flying about the house. In the darkened living room they were flitting shadows against the television screen. I bought sticky traps baited with tiny wafers soaked in meal moth sex hormone. I tore open the package containing the wafer, and before I could arm the trap the air in the kitchen came alive with fliers. Moths were everywhere. They covered the sticky part of the trap before the day was over. I had to buy more traps.
Today, the sex trap is for Japanese beetles. (Why don’t birds eat them? They seem not to, for we have many of the large, shiny, very visible bugs on our mountain ash tree and wild grape vines.) I have used a Spectracide spray in the past, plastic container screwed to the garden hose. This produces more poison than I like, keeping one eye on the tree, the other on the drifting spray. I wanted to mix a bit of the chemical with water for use in a hand sprayer, but the container carried a no-no from the EPA.
Aside: I had close encounter recently with a man who probably would have mixed to his own formula, government be damned. He told me, in response to a question I had not thoroughly thought through, that climate change, if any, was the will of God. Later he told me that seat belts, which he did not use, were a government infringement on his freedom. His pest decisions are probably more direct than mine.
I thought of him as I drove to Home Depot to buy traps. The Spectracide web site offered customer endorsements for the traps. One satisfied customer reported trapping an estimated 4,000 beetles in just a few days. Wow. She warned about touching the hormone wafer, for you then would be besieged by crazed beetles. That didn’t happen here. Six hours into the effort we have about half a dozen pissed-off bugs buzzing in the bottom of the collection bag. We’re hopeful that tomorrow will be a better day. Four-thousand is overdoing it, but six isn’t enough.
Hopefully, removal of the beetles will ensure grapes ripening, which will please the birds here. We’ve made wine before with wild grapes, but never mastered Pinot Noir.
Buckthorn berries, by the way, also should be visible now, preparing to ripen. It is the female trees that bear fruit. Get rid of them. If you lack inclination to remove all of the buckthorn, at least cut down or poison the trees with fruit. Buy a brush-killer liquid. With a knife, scrape some bark from the buckthorn trunk, then paint the wound with the herbicide. It works well.
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