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 Snowy Egret was hunting lizards in Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge during a recent visit. I watched the bird from our car as it walked a wood edge, its head pointed into the brush. The bird moved slowly, with purpose. At times it began to sway its body, almost like a slow dance. This happened when something in the brush caught its interest. When the bird stopped advancing and seemed to focus more intently, it moved its head and neck in a wave pattern, undulating slowly as it extended the neck. The capture movement was too quick to follow. The bird shook the vegetation loose, and ate its prey. I have no idea what the body and head/neck motions meant unless they were to confuse or distract the lizard. The next day, in roughly the same location, I watched another Snowy, perhaps the same bird, on another hunt, everything similar to Day One except success as I watched.
Four live eagles are on display at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha. They were injured once, healed now, but unable to fend for themselves in the wild. Three Bald Eagles and one Golden Eagle offer very close views. Especially impressive are the talons of the Bald Eagles. A trip down the Mississippi River as migrants move north in May, usually a fine opening scene for the heart of spring, could include a visit to the center. Find it by driving through town toward the river.
Bald Eagle, above, Golden Eagle below, Bald Eagle talons at bottom
Canada doesn't have a national bird, and it wants one.
Until 2017, citizens of that country can vote for one of 40 nominees chosen by "Canadian Geographic," the magazine of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Other candidates can be suggested.
On the National Bird Project website (www.canadiangeographic.ca is an essay encouraging people to skip the obvious species, like Common Loon, Snowy Owl, and Canada Goose, and vote for an "underbird." The list contains some good candidates in that category.
Black-backed Woodpecker is an example. You'd think Canadians would want to vote for a bird they have a reasonable chance of seeing. Ditto Spruce Grouse. Common Murre is another, perhaps good for observant coastal Canadians, but less so for inlanders. Glaucous Gull is a candidate, interesting in that gulls hardly ever get much respect, all of them seen by most folks as "seagulls."
There are 12 songbird candidates, three gamebirds, three woodpeckers, one hummingbird, four species found on water, plus Belted Kingfisher, the gull, the Arctic Tern, plus Great Blue Heron, Whooping Crane, and Sandhill Crane. Semipalmated Sandpiper is on the list. It would require explanation of semipalmated. There are nine raptors, including Snowy, Great Gray, and Northern Saw-whet owls.
My choices would be Canada Warbler, too obvious perhaps, but a beauty, Arctic Tern, or Great Gray Owl.
The owl suits the country -- quiet, dignified, with a no-nonsense approach to life. Another candidate, the Common Raven, shares those qualities, plus strictly minds its own business.
Early returns show Common Loon far ahead with 6,242 votes. Snowy Owl has 4,678, and Canada Jay 3,732.
Underbirds are not doing well so far. Glaucous Gull has 11 votes, the sandpiper 20, Common Murre 16, the woodpecker 23, and Harris's Sparrow 16. All seem longshots.
Here is one of the birds unlikely to be chosen, the Glaucous Gull.
20 Birding Hot Spots within 274 miles of Minneapolis
(as chosen by National Geographic)
Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge
McGregor Marsh State Natural Area
Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge
Rothsay Wildlife Management Area
Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge
Beaver Creek Valley State Park
Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge
Crex Meadows Wildlife Area
Wyalusing State Park
Sica Hollow State Park
Waubay National Wildlife Refuge
Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge
Newton Hills State Park
Sheyenne National Grassland
Oak Grove Park, Fargo
Lost Island Nature Center, Ruthven
Effigy Mounds National Monument (along Mississippi River)
A book describing birding opportunities in Minnesota’s 75 state parks and recreation areas is in final proofing stage, with publication hoped for March. This will be a must-have for anyone birding beyond their backyard.
The title is “Birds of Minnesota State Park,” the author Robert B. Janssen. He spent 11 years making multiple visits to the parks, to cover both nesting species and migrants.
All of the parks are here, from Beaver Creek Valley State Park deep in the southeast corner of the state to Zippel Bay State Park on the shore of Lake of the Woods. Parks are arranged by counties within the state’s four biomes: tallgrass prairie, tallgrass aspen parkland, hardwood forest, and pine forest.
Janssen’s text covers habitat of each park, pointing out landscape features that can offer particular birding opportunities. He describes in general the bird families likely to be seen, along with particular areas recommended for close examination for particular species.
The book is fat with maps showing park locations, and details within each park — trails, campsites, water access, parking, and more. Many bird species of particular interest appear in color photos.
The book has 218 pages plus index. The American Birding Association Code of Ethics for birders is included.
Janssen is author of “Birds in Minnesota,” a guide to the distribution of 400 species of birds in Minnesota. It was issued in paper by the University of Minnesota Press in 1987, and remains in print. It can be considered an essential for serious birders here.
“Birds of Minnesota State Parks” will be published by the Minnesota Division of State Parks and Trails. It will appear under the guidance of Carrol L. Henderson, who guides non-game wildlife programs for the Department of Natural Resources.
The comprehensive bird lists found in the book are available online at mn.dnr.gov
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