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.
Yellow and Yellow-rumped warblers offered feeding action Saturday at a pond near our house. Those species plus Barn and Tree swallows and a lone Eastern Kingbird plucked insects from the water's surface throughout the day. I sat in dry grass beside the pond, watching and taking photos of the acrobatic performances. Palm Warblers were present in an adjoining orchard, but they chose to hunt food in the orchard grass.
From one observation point on a short nine-hole golf course this morning (Friday) I counted 120 warblers. Moving twice to get views around and over nearby small hills, trying to avoid counting any bird twice, I add 74 more birds. They were foraging in the fairway grass. I am certain I didn’t count them all. The birds were spread over approximately four acres. Most were Yellow-rumped. There were about 40 Palm Warblers, and two Yellow Warblers. I could find no other species. Unfortunately, the golf course is private, access limited. I was there because I tend the nest boxes on the course. A fallout, should you not know, is a concentration of birds observed while taking a break from migration. They could be feeding and resting or be grounded by bad weather. The photos are lousy, but offer an idea of the concentration of some of these birds. There are 20 birds in the first photo.
Winter Wrens, on their way north and certainly appropriate for viewing today (Monday) were easy to find at Westwood Hills Nature Center this morning. Walking 200 yards east and west along the trail that circles the lake, beginning below the nature center building, I had nine sightings and two hearings in about 30 minutes. Some of the birds certainly were seen more than once. I'd guess six individuals were playing mouse in the scramble of fallen trees, limbs, leaves, and brush along the trail. The birds flushed from the thickest parts. That's were they landed, too, for the most part. Two of them stayed in the open long enough for good looks and photos. They really do remind me of mice: dark brown darters among the forest debris. Fiight is brief, airborne dashes from one hiding place to another. A diversion was turkey courtship. Two toms were displaying for half a dozen hens responding, if at all, in ways only a turkey would recognize. The turkeys were not hard to find: they were displaying on the pathway I walked for wrens. Moving quietly I easily got within 50 feet of the birds. Westwood Hills is a compact woods/prairie/marsh/lake complex just south of I-394. Exit at Louisiana, take the service road (Wayzata Blvd.) west to Texas, and follow the signs. The center is well-maintained, has feeders, nest boxes, benches, a lovely pond/waterfall/stream display, and plenty of wildlife. When the snow is gone and the birds are here, Westwood will make a particularly fine walk. Here are two of the turkeys, with a closeup of breeding adornments (snood, wattles, beard), and one of the wrens.
Whooping Cranes are back on their Wisconsin nesting grounds. As of April 3, 84 cranes were confirmed arrivals in central Wisconsin. The cranes are part of the reintroduction project centered at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) about two hours east of our Wisconsin border.
Noteworthy is the return of two chicks wild-hatched in Wisconsin last year. They migrated with their parents to wintering grounds in southern Indiana last fall, and now have returned. This marks the first complete migration cycle for wild Wisconsin chicks.
Wild-hatched means they were raised by their crane parents with no human assistance. The flock has been built with birds hand-raised and tended by humans through their initial fall migration.
The crane project is managed by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP), an international coalition of public and private groups that is reintroducing the birds to eastern North America. Decades ago this species was extirpated from this part of the continent.
Cranes from this flock sometimes are seen in Minnesota, but I know of no such reports this spring. WCEP asks anyone who encounters a Whooping Crane in the wild to give them the respect and distance they need. Observers should not approach birds on foot within 200 yards. Observers should remain in their vehicle, and no closer in the vehicle than 100 yards. Observers should remain concealed and not speak loudly enough that the birds can hear you. Observers should not trespass on private property in an attempt to view or photograph the cranes.
Whooping Cranes sometimes can be seen at Necedah NWR. Beginning in 2011, cranes also were released at Wisconsin’s White River Marsh State Wildlife Area. These photos of adult Whoopoing Cranes was taken at Necedah in October 2010. Attached to the birds’ legs are radio transmitters that allow the birds to be tracked. In the lower photo a Sandhill Crane is in the foreground.
Complete information on this project can be found at http://www.bringbackthecranes.org/technicaldatabase/index.html
On a four-mile drive this morning, through Wayzata and barely into eastern Minnetonka I saw and heard thousands of American Robins. They must have arrived overnight, stalled here because of the weather. They're driven on migration by an internal clock that has nothing to do with our discouraging rain and snow.
I heard robins when I went for the paper. I saw robins if I looked up and down the street. Robins flew overhead. Flocks of 50 to 60 birds spotted my drive east through Wayzata.. When I to the Carlson Towers along Carlson Parkway, just west of Ridgedale shopping center, there were thousands of robins. Carlson Parkway and the entrance drive to the towers are lined with ornamental crab apple trees. This is the attraction. Robins will be living on leftover fruit until the snow goes and the ground softens. There were birds in the trees, on the snow, in the road, in the air.
The weather Saturday and Sunday concentrated Dark-eyed Juncos and various sparrows. Our yard held easily more than 100 birds throughout those days. They were eating sunflower seeds and chips. Most of the seasonal arrivals were juncos. Sparrow species were Fox, Tree, and Song; they came for the sunflower chips.
Our pond attracted a pair of Hooded Mergansers and, at high count, 13 Wood Ducks.
The birding right now is pretty good. Other migrants can be found if you're looking. Avid observers are reporting day lists of over 70 species. A couple dozen of those are waterfowl.
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