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.
This isn't like last winter when Snowy Owls were here in large numbers, but a few have been reported in Minnesota to date. Weather aside, it is early in the season. This information comes from the hotline report issued weekly by the Minnesota Ornithologists' Union.
This week, one has been seen near Long Prairie, four and a half miles north of town along Todd County Road 6. A Snowy Owl has been seen near Rush City in Chisago County. The bird was reported as along County Road 3 about a quarter mile east of County Road 30. Two have been seen in Sherburne County, north of Big Lake and south of U.S. Highway 10 along County Road 17.
And in downtown Minneapolis, an owl was reported as being on the corner of Washington Avenue and Third Avenue.
Interested in a little holiday birdwatching? This is a very good time of year to find eagles south of the Twin Cities along the Mississippi River. The opportunity will continue through the winter where there is open water.
The areas from Red Wing south will be good all the way down to Brownsville. Wabasha has eagles in addition to the National Eagle Center, well worth a visit.
From Red Wing south you can find hundreds of Bald Eagles, sometimes dozens in one location. Look on the ice, and in shoreline trees. You will be on Highway 61, a busy road. Get off the road to view the birds. Don’t try to do your watching from a moving car.
The Tundra Swans that rest late each fall in the wide backwaters of the river at what is called Weaver Bottoms have mostly moved on, continuing migration to Chesapeake Bay. As of last Friday, the 21st, a few hundred remained far from shore at that location. A spotting scope would be necessary for good looks. A good site is called Pool Eight, meaning there is a dam and locks at that river location. Check a map for precise locations.
Best viewing for swans is past. On a good day earlier in November at the right location tens of thousands of Tundra Swans can be seen. Put it on your 2015 list of things to do.
In deep open water, the river channel, you presently can find thousands of diving ducks and mergansers. A scope will make viewing much more enjoyable.
Given this abrupt start to serious winter weather, a trip sooner than later will be best. Much of the river is frozen over, and more certainly will freeze.
Both sides of the river offer viewing opportunities, by the way (although the Minnesota side brings you closer to the water). Cross at Winona, and return north on the Wisconsin side.
Below, Bald Eagles on river ice near Wabasha, and Tundra Swans at the Weaver Bottoms.
That Rufous Hummingbird that found itself trapped by weather at a St. Paul feeder earlier this month is flying free in Texas.
It was released near Austin yesterday (Sunday) after a free ride on a corporate jet. The donor asked to be anonymous.
The bird was captured Nov. 11, and taken to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota. It was discovered by Terri Walls as it fed at a nectar feeder she keeps in her front yard. Capture was all that was going to save the bird’s life.
It was stuck here because once it left that St. Paul feeder the chance of it finding other food sources was nil.
The bird wandered from its breeding range in the Northwest. At the time of its capture it should have been in Mexico.
Many birders came the Walls’ yard see it, Rufous Hummingbirds highly uncommon here. This was the 16th time that species has been reported in Minnesota.
While at the rehab center the hummingbird was fed a special diet, and gained significant weight, from three grams to four. It was undernourished because the sugar water it was eating in St. Paul, a common formula for feeder nectar, lacks protein and other diet essentials.
Feeder nectar is good when the birds can feed naturally, using feeders as supplemental. It won’t put pre-migration fat on the bird.
Staff at the rehab center, guided by executive director Phil Jenni, worked hard to ensure that the bird received proper care here, and would have a safe trip to wherever. Discussions were held with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Texas wildlife officials, and other rehabbers.
Eventually, the offer of a free trip was received. The jet was going to Austin anyway, and had room for the bird.
A wildlife rehabber in Austin received delivery of the bird, then released it.
If you had been inclined to pay for the bird’s trip to Austin, via a small hired jet — not that anyone was likely to do that — your bill would have been between $18,000 and $22,000.
The free ride was a good deal.
Gyrfalcon (we should be so lucky)
Common Eider, female: two plus a juvenile seen in Duluth and Two Harbors recently.
Sandhill Cranes by the thousands are putting on a spectacular show right now at Crex Meadows Wildlife Area just north of Grantsburg, Wis. The birds roost in wet meadows on the refuge, flying out in the morning to feed in area crop fields, then returning in the 90 minutes before sunset. Yesterday, a couple of dozen viewers lined Main Dike Road to watch the birds sail over their heads as they dropped into the roost site. It's as close to a bird spectacle as you're going to get around here.
The Crex visitors' center is located at the corner of County Roads F and D. County F is the road you take out of downtown Grantsburg. At D, turn right; the center is on your immediate left. Maps of the refuge are available there. The birds can be seen from other vantage points, but Main Dike Road is best because the birds come to roost immediately north of it. (If there are no maps available, follow County D east from the visitors' center to East Refuge Road. Go left (north), until you reach Main Dike Road, which will T from the left. Follow Main Dike west.)
Yesterday offered a beautiful sunset against which to photograph the birds, fortunate happenstance.
Grantsburg is a 90-minute drive from downtown Minneapolis. Take I-35W north to Minnesota Highway 70, four miles north of the Rush City exit. Follow 70 east across the St. Croix River, and then into Grantsburg. Turn left at the light. Follow the crane silhouettes painted in yellow on the road. The birds are expected to remain in the area into early November.
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