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.
On a recent Saturday morning in the upper right-hand corner of the front page of the StarTribune was the story of the day: Forests in state give way to farmland.
Forests? TREES? Way up there in Cass County??? First it was grasslands, then wetlands, and now we’ve finally gotten around to our forests. The issue of the moment is 1,500 sandy acres in Cass County, perfect for growing potatoes once you get rid of the trees. Potatoes for whom? McDonald’s! Happy Deal!
Genetically modified potatoes, maybe, so that nothing interferes with harvest and profit. We’ve done to that corn and soybeans, which explains in part our continuing loss of grass and water. Easy grow. Easy sell. Easy profit.
Let's use genetics in our favor, either re-modifying the plants or modifying us so that when we even see corn or soybeans we gasp for breath. There must be a gene somewhere in our bodies that could be switched on or off to make these nemesis crops (and from an environmental standpoint that’s what they are) -- to make them inedible.
Of course, pretty soon it will be too warm here for corn to grow, and so to for the particular species of trees facing the plow in Cass County.
Below, a Canada Warbler. In a tree.
Birds of Paradise -- incredibly beautiful and strangely behaving birds found in New Guinea and surrounding islands. Video of these birds is always worth a look. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Geographic are working on a project that has produced some amazing video footage. You can watch it at https://www.youtube.com/embed/REP4S0uqEOc.
When you are finished with this video go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcGPF2gTRrA for a brief discussion of avian DNA prepared by the Bell Museum of Natural History at the University of Minnesota. It features Dr. Robert Zink, professor of biology and a world expert in bird diversity and how we study it.
This looks like a slim winter for finches in Minnesota.
Mike Hendrickson, birding guide from Duluth, commented the other day by email that few finches of any species have been seen in Duluth or along the North Shore recently. During a good finch year for us, migrants from Canada would be coming south by now.
This agrees with an annual prediction made several weeks ago by Canadian birder Ron Pittaway. He makes a yearly fall survey of seed crops across northern Canada, gathering information from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and numerous birders. His report is published on the birding email list BirdChat.
His general forecast: “This is not an irruption (flight movement south) year for winter finches.” He expects movement only into what he calls “normal winter ranges.” Those usually do not extend into Minnesota.
Tree-seed crops in Canada are good, offering sufficient winter food for Pine Grosbeaks, Purple Finches, Red and White-winged crossbills, both redpoll species, Pine Siskins, and Evening Grosbeaks.
Our usual best bets for winter finches as far south as the Twin Cities are Pine Siskins and Common Redpolls. Expect few this winter. Most will stay in northern Canada, Pittaway says. He writes of “continent-wide” seed crops in Canada. Trees on which these birds feed include Mountain Ash, buckthorn, birch, alder, spruce, pine, and hemlock. The only tree species for which a poor seed crop is reported is White Pine.
Pittaway also predicted a small to moderate movement south of Blue Jays, no southern movement of Red-breasted Nuthatches, and few Bohemian Waxwings.
For more information go to:
Below, a pair of Common Redpolls photographed at Two Harbors in 2010.
A second edition of “The Sibley Guide to Birds” will be published in March. The first edition, hugely popular, came out more than a dozen years ago. Author and artist David Allen Sibley has completely revised his first book. There are larger illustrations, more illustrations, repainted illustrations, and expanded text. The reworked paintings will show more detail. Paintings of 85 rare species will be included. The expanded text will offer conservation status, habitat information, and tips on finding birds in the field. Maps have been updated. Release date for the hardcover volume is expected to be March 11. Amazon has the book listed at its discount price of $27.79.
“Bird Homes and Habitats,” a new book about making your backyard bird-friendly, features a Duluth resident who has done so. Dudley Edmondson, an active Minnesota birder, and his wife Nancy describe their improvement project along with 14 other homeowners in this book, “Bird Home and Habitats.”
It’s one of the books in the Backyard Bird Guide series from the magazine “BirdWatcher’s Digest” and its editor, Bill Thompson III. It carries the Peterson Field Guide imprimatur.
Photos and text guide you from project beginning to end. There are lessons to learn about food, water, cover, and nesting opportunities, the latter focusing on bird boxes. Yards large and small are included.
One of the smallest, half of a California lot 60 by 120 feet (the house sits on the other half), is described by owner Alvaro Jaramillo as a “pretty lame backyard” when he and his wife purchased the home new.
Jaramillo and his wife changed the lot from lame to birdy with native and drought-resistant plants and shrubs placed to form a thicket for winter cover.
The Edmondsons needed to replace people-friendly landscaping with bird-friendly. They began with the soil, followed with native and bird-friendly trees and shrubs. The latter focused on fruit-bearing varieties. They used highbush cranberry, juneberry, chokecherry, and elderberry. The mountain ash trees that came with the house provide another bird-favorite fruit.
They have feeding stations and nest boxes. Edmondson wants to create additional shrubby and brushy areas for nesters.
The success stories fill the back of the book. The first half offers instructions on all the things you might want to do to make your yard a welcome habitat for birds.
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|Minnesota birding sites (46)||Nesting (60)|
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