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.

Posts about Bird identification

New book on Minnesota amphibians and reptiles

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: October 9, 2014 - 11:51 AM

Amphibians and Reptiles in Minnesota, John J. Moriarity and Carol D. Hall, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, softcover, 372 pages, heavily illustrated with photos, range maps, index.

 

I am not exclusively a birdwatcher. When in the field I look at everything that moves, usually briefly, but often long enough to wonder about identification and names. I know some frogs by sound and sight, but for toads, skinks, racerunners, whiptails, snakes, and most turtles, I need help.

 

“Amphibians and Reptiles in Minnesota” has the answers to my questions.

 

This is not a field guide. It’s a book to be studied before venturing outdoors, or to be reviewed upon return. The text covers description, distribution, habitat, and life history. Text is clear and to the point. The photos are excellent. 

 

There are creatures out there, perhaps in your yard, that you haven’t seen and don’t know. They’re all described and illustrated in this well-done book.

Rufous Hummingbird visiting

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: October 3, 2014 - 4:13 PM

A Rufous Hummingbird, breeder in the Northwest, has been coming to feeders in a yard near Le Sueur since Sept. 13. Mary and Steve Nesgoda have been hosts to the bird as well as about 240 birders who have come to their farmyard to see this unusual visitor. The bird is an adult male, only the fourth of that plumage documented in the state. Eleven immature or female birds also are on record. A friend and I saw the bird Friday afternoon. Rufous is the western species most likely to wander east in the fall. Given its habit of wandering in this direction it probably has a good chance of successfully reaching its wintering grounds along the Gulf coast. How long it will stay is a guess. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds also were seen at the Nesgoda's feeders. Identification books describe the bird's gorget -- its throat feathers -- as brilliant orange. I think sunlight would be needed to see that color, and Friday definitely did not offer sunlight.

List No. 3 -- birds difficult to see here

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: October 2, 2014 - 12:02 PM

Here are the 10 bird species most difficult to see in Minnesota, migrant or resident, as chosen by Bob Janssen, the state's birding godfather. (Thanks, Bob.)

Harlequin Duck
Clark's Grebe
Little Blue Heron
Prairie Falcon
Piping Plover
Bell's Vireo
Mountain Bluebird
Smith's Longspur
Connecticut Warbler
Yellow-breasted Chat

Karl Bardon art/photo exhibit in Duluth

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: July 23, 2014 - 9:02 AM

If you get to Duluth yet this summer, the Great Lakes Aquarium on the south side of the harbor complex is well worth a visit — for an exhibit of paintings and photographs of birds.

Duluth resident Karl Bardon’s multiple talents are on display in a selection of stunning photos and beautiful paintings. The photos are relatively recent work, and include the best single photograph of an owl I’ve ever seen. The paintings reflect a near life-long interest in art.

Karl has worked at Duluth’s Hawk Ridge as a raptor counter during the annual fall raptor census since 2007. In summer he works for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on the state biological survey program. He began and continues a non-official count of non-raptor bird species in the fall as well. He has worked in the Arctic radio tracking eider, in the Gulf of Mexico studying trans-Gulf migration from the platform of an oil-drilling rig, and searching for Tapaculos (bird species) in Chile. He also has spent many seasons as the waterbird counter at both Whitefish Point in Michigan and Cape May, New Jersey. His bird-related field work is extensive. 

His paintings ( art degree came from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis) reflect his broad interest in birds. The photos are chosen mostly from a set he did one foggy spring day on Park Point when grounded warblers let him get within touching distance for detailed portraits. The owl photo that hangs outside the exhibit gallery, shows a Great Gray flying with a vole in its mouth. This is a large image, detailed, the colors of the bird and its northern-Minnesota setting looking like the work of an artist carefully choosing his colors. It’s an extraordinary photo. Other owl photos from northern Minnesota accompany it. All are for sale.

Karl told me that his specialty has been waterbirds, having spent many seasons at Whitefish Point and Cape May. “But after witnessing the awesome migration through Veracruz, Mexico as an official hawk counter in 2006,” he said, “I decided raptors are pretty cool, too.” This fall will be  Karl’s  fourth season at Hawk Ridge.

He grew up in North Oaks in the Twin Cities where his father got him into bird-watching at an early age,  A quick synopsis of his birding work can be found at the Hawk Ridge website (http://www.hawkridge.org/about/staff.html#Karl).

Karl is as active in Minnesota birding as his time allows, certainly one of the state’s best birders, one of its most productive. This exhibit gives him a well-earned spotlight. See it if you get to Duluth. It closes Sept. 8.

The aquarium is worth a visit at any time. Exhibits cover Minnesota waters, Lake Superior at the fore, of course, plus some salt-water displays. There are a few birds on display, lots of fish in aquariums that stand tall, floor to floor, and wonderful exhibit of otters, with chances for you to watch those animals being fed. 

Below, Karl’s photo of a Blackburnian Warbler.

Wood Stork being seen near Blue Earth

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: June 21, 2014 - 11:36 PM

A very unusual bird has been seen for the past three days on a farm west of Blue Earth. A Wood Stork, a bird of Florida and the southeastern coast, has been entertaining birders since being reported to the birding community (email) on June 19. This is a juvenile bird, as indicated by its very pronounced head feathers. The Minnesota visitor is shown in the first photo. The second photo shows an adult Wood Stork, with its typical featherless head. Note also the difference in bill color. The Birds of North America monograph on this species explains that fledglings disperse widely after leaving the nesting colony. There are records for this species as far west as California and up the east coast into Canada. One other Wood Stork has been reported here, in Grand Marais several years ago. Both Dakotas, Iowa, and Wisconsin have records. In its usual habitat Wood Storks eat mostly fish. The diet can include insects, snails, crayfish, frogs, snakes, birds, small mammals, as well as some plant material. The Blue Earth stork has been seen feeding in standing water in a field adjacent to the farm. No one has offered comment on what it might be eating. Nor can anyone say how long it will remain. Wood Stork is the only stork species breeding in the U.S., and is our tallest wading bird, measuring just over three feet tall. Folk names for this species include Flinthead and Ironhead. The adult bird shown here was photographed along the west coast of Florida three years ago.

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