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.
The term “flyway” as it applies to migratory birds has been used often lately in conjunction with concern about glass windows in the stadium under construction in downtown Minneapolis. We have heard comment about the Mississippi flyway and the birds that follow that migratory path.
The impression one could take from some of these recent references is that migratory birds follow the river bed or river valley in absolute fashion, right down the middle. That certainly would put a lot of birds over downtown Minneapolis or very close to it.
Actually, the Mississippi flyway stretches from western Minnesota to eastern Michigan. The flyway concept was developed by waterfowl biologists to designate the route used by migratory waterfowl coming from many points north. The U.S. has four such flyways — Atlantic, Mississippi, Central, and Pacific. Used these days for migratory birds of all kinds, it is a broad term.
Certainly some migrants actually do, by chance, follow the river closely. They must then negotiate a route through the city and its buildings. Birds in general, however, do not move along the flyway as through a funnel.
Sunday last five Bald Eagles circled above me as I visited a nearby orchard. The eagles cut over-lapping circles, often coming close to each other, but seeming to pay no attention to each other. The birds were just moving through, perhaps headed for Lake Minnetonka shoreline where eagles are often seen in the fall, waiting for opportunity to snag a coot or duck. One place to check for eagles on the lakeshore is along County Road 15 as it heads west from Wayzata. The road will sweep to the left soon after leaving town. Two marinas are there, and that stretch of shoreline often holds eagles in the tall trees that line the shore.
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.
Warblers are in “a horrible mess” in Duluth, according to Duluth birder Laura Erickson. She reported this morning (MOU email) that “huge” numbers of warblers are hitting windows there, at homes, at a businesses, and at the airport. There is a massive migration movement underway.
A resident of Duluth township reported this morning (MOU email) that “huge” numbers of warblers were moving down shore yesterday as well, mostly Yellow-rumps. This species is among early arrivals in the spring and late departures in the fall. Many of the birds, the report said, are being hit by cars along Highway 61.
I witnessed something similar several years ago, in the same area. In early evening insects were moving onto the road surface because of the heat being radiated there, heat collected that sunny day. The birds were so intent on eating that they were easily hit by cars. We saw one dead warbler perhaps every few yards for at least a mile.
Erickson said she is trying to collect data about bird strikes in Duluth. She asked for information from people finding injured or dead birds. Go to http://birdcollisions.blogspot.com/
Erickson also said that birders in Duluth need to get a Lights Out program started. That is a voluntary reduction in interior buiding lighting beginning at dusk. This reduces the chance of collision by birds.
Look for dead and injured birds at first light, she said, “when there's a chance some of them can be helped.”
Below, a Yellow-rumped Warbler.
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.
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