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.
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.
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.
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.
Birding Community E-bulletin for July 2014. Always interesting, the bulletin contains short takes on news of birds and bird conservation, including a summary of rare birds seen in North America during the previous month. The archive contains issues from 2004 to the present.
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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