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 Bird travels

Canada choosing national bird

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: February 8, 2015 - 2:29 PM

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.

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)

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

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

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


List No. 7 -- states best for birding

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: December 10, 2014 - 5:47 PM

7 States Best for Birding
North Dakota

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.


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