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

Many Snowy Owls back again this winter

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: January 2, 2015 - 12:26 PM

Many Snowy Owls are being reported in Minnesota, the Dakotas, and Wisconsin again this winter, although it’s nothing like last year. Not yet, anyway.

 

Project SnowStorm, the owl tracking effort that began last winter, is back in business, its blog on-line and available (http://www.projectsnowstorm.org). The blog is keeping track of current sightings.

 

One recent post was written by Jean-Francois Therrien, senior research biologist at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Pennsylvania. He’s been studying Snowy Owls in the Arctic for years with Laval University in Quebec. His report documents a 2014 owl breeding season that surpasses the 2013 season believed to result in the mass movement south last year. 

 

The study Therrien is doing is on Bylot Island in Nunavut, Canada, above Baffin Island. The core study area covers 39 square miles. Previous record number of nests found there was 13, in 2004. This past summer the team found 20, a high density.  

 

Expanding the count area brought the total nests found to 116, far more than the previous high count of 33, from 2010 in the same area. Lemming density was lower this past summer than in 2013, however, so it is expected that fewer young Snowy Owls fledged. “Nonetheless,” Therrien wrote in the blog, “we are expecting to see some Snowies this winter, but we’ll have to wait to see if the numbers get close to what we had last winter.”

 

It also was reported that some of the owls equipped with geolocaters last winter are beginning to move south into cell-phone range. This is important because the data collected on the devices, strapped to the owls’ backs as they spent their summer in their Arctic breeding territory, record and store the information, downloading it when the birds get within range of a cell-phone tower. Analysis of the information so far available is underway. 

 

Owls coming down this season also will be tagged when possible. The study continues. Stay tuned.

 
(A good place to check on numbers and locations of birds reported recently in Minnesota is on eBird, a Cornell Lab site that lists reports it receives from birders. Find it at http://ebird.org/ebird/subnational1/US-MN/activity?yr=all&m=
 

List No. 8 -- 20 good places to bird, more or less nearby

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: January 27, 2015 - 9:18 PM

20 Birding Hot Spots within 274 miles of Minneapolis 
(as chosen by National Geographic)

Minnesota:
Gunflint Trail
Sax-Zim Bog
Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge
McGregor Marsh State Natural Area
Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge
Felton Prairie
Rothsay Wildlife Management Area
Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge
Beaver Creek Valley State Park
Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge

Wisconsin
Crex Meadows Wildlife Area
Wyalusing State Park

South Dakota
Sica Hollow State Park
Waubay National Wildlife Refuge
Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge
Newton Hills State Park

North Dakota
Sheyenne National Grassland
Oak Grove Park, Fargo

Iowa
Lost Island Nature Center, Ruthven
Effigy Mounds National Monument (along Mississippi River)

"Birds of Minnesota State Parks"

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: December 26, 2014 - 3:56 PM

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

 

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)

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