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 Minnesota birding sites

Eagles along the Mississippi River

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: November 26, 2014 - 1:48 PM

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.

Best places to bird in the metro area

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: October 7, 2014 - 2:04 PM

Best places to bird in the Twin Cities region 
Minnesota River Valley NWR
Roberts Sanctuary 
Carver Park
Afton State Park
Battle Creek Park
Glenwood Park
Rice Lake Park
Spring Lake Park
Lake Byllesby
William O'Brien State Park

Locations available on Google

(My thanks to Bob Janssen)

Hummingbird festival coming soon

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: August 5, 2014 - 9:42 PM

The 6th annual Henderson Hummingbird Hurrah takes place in Henderson, Minnesota, Saturday, Aug. 16 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The location is  Bender Park, 200 North Third Street. This free birding festival offers gardens attractive to Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, August migrants.
Hummingbirds will be banded on site that morning, allowing you to see them up close. The Hummingbird Hurrah includes a garden tour, speakers, book-signing sessions, children’s activities, and a hummingbird mall with food, art, craft, specialty, and information vendors. 

Donald Mitchell, the hummingbird bander, will give an afternoon presentation on what specific plants you may use to attract hummers to your garden. Authors and radio personalities Laura Erickson and Jim Gilbert will speak.  
Erickson will share how Ruby-throated Hummingbirds stack up to America’s various owls, and why, in a battle, you’d be better off having the hummingbird on your side. Gilbert will do a video presentation on the natural wonders one can observe during a Minnesota August. 

In addition, Dane Elmquist will use live specimens as he speaks on the monarch life cycle and migration.  Alex Stork will give tip on photographing hummingbirds, and Sally Reinitz invites you on a tour of the garden to learn about the plants and animals that call the Hummingbird Garden home.  

Hummingbird Hurrah is produced by Henderson Feathers and sponsored by the Minnesota River Valley Audubon Chapter. The festival promotes understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment of hummingbirds.
For more information go to www.hendersonhummingbirdhurrah.com or call 612-229-5210.

Four grebe species on Swan Lake, Nicollet County

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: May 28, 2014 - 4:36 PM

Western Grebes can be found on Swan Lake in Nicollet County. I wrote the other day about the grebes at Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge in South Dakota. A correspondent from Blue Earth wrote to tell me that Swan Lake is a viewing site close to the Twin Cities. As added attraction is also holds breeding Horned Grebes, Eared Grebes, and Pied-billed Grebes. Swan Lake is a grebe grand-slam. It also is a large lake where decent viewing is likely to require binoculars at least and a spotting scope at best.

The lake is east of New Ulm and north of U.S. Highway 14. Mapping software says it is a drive of about 90 miles made in just under two hours from Minneapolis. Follow Highway 169 south, turning west on Highway 14 at St. Peter. An alternate route is Highway 212 west to Highway 25/5, south then to Gaylord where you take Highway 111 to the eastern shore of the lake.

Below, Eared Grebes, one of the grebe species found on Swan Lake.

Dinner for eagles

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: November 29, 2013 - 1:12 PM

Coots are easy prey this time of year, and Bald Eagles know it.

Driving through Crex Meadows Wildlife Area a couple of years ago, just after freeze-up, I discovered a patch of open water on Phantom Lake. Swimming in a pool about 40 by 10 feet were maybe two dozen coots. Coots need to run across the water to gain air speed for takeoff. The pool was short. There were nine Bald Eagles loafing on the ice nearby. I watched one rise and fly to the far end of the pool, then glide its length. The coots knew trouble when they saw it. The roly-poly dark birds jammed against the ice when they ran out of water. The force of the jam popped one of the coots out of the water onto the ice. It was helpless there, not that it mattered for long.The eagle knew exactly what it was doing — herding coots into the lunchroom. The big raptor, feet dangling, swept the luckless coot away, landing far enough from the other eagles to eat undisturbed.

A couple of days ago a South Dakota birder, on that state’s birding email list, described another eagle strategy. This bird found four coots, flew low over them, hovered, forcing a dive. It repeated its hovering until the coots were exhausted. It was no problem then to pluck a coot from the water.

The coot below was found at Rice Lake National Wildllife Refuge, north of here on Highway 65. It was running for that elusive air speed. I took the photo from a very loud, very fast air boat used to tour Rice Lake and count the Ring-necked ducks that gather there by the 10s of thousands in fall migration.

BTW -- Bald Eagles can be found right now on many lakes that are partially ice-clad. On two Lake Minnetonka bays yesterday I saw seven eagles. They sit at ice edge and wait for unwary waterfowl, mostly ducks now, coots having moved on south.


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