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.
Before the ice was off the small pond in our backyard a pair of Canada Geese showed interest in nesting here. Geese have nested on the pond in previous years. As soon as I had open water I did some repair work to the floating nest platform. The pair appeared to be settling in. Yesterday (Wednesday) a second pair of geese arrived. The fight between goose couples began at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. The main event lasted an hour, not that they stopped then. I heard and watched them at 11 p.m., and at 1:15 and 3 in the morning. It’s now 10:45 in the morning, and the squabbling continues into its 20th hour. We’re down to verbal exchanges, a big difference from the loud, serious, physical encounters earlier. We had chasing, biting, attempts at dunking, and much flapping of those large wings. The pairs worked together. They fought mostly on the water, but occasionally in our yard. They stopped fighting now and again for intense preening. All feathers in place once again, it was back to the battle. The resident pair has spent some time on the nest platform; I assume they are and will be the winners, although the challengers remain at the edge of the pond. It was a great photo op. (Addendum: at 6 p.m. Thursday both pair remain at the pond, awake after naps on the sun, back on the honk.)
The Boreal Owl cuddling the mouse in the photo landed in the Duluth front yard of Will and Sharon Stenberg on April 21. Will took the photo. This was the second Boreal to visit their yard this winter. The owl does look protective of the mouse, doesn’t he? Will said it reminded him of a ventriloquist and its mouse dummy. I saw the two as pals, pals going out to dinner. The second photo, of a Great Horned Owl and its two chicks (cold morning, fluffy chicks), was taken today, Tuesday, April 23, at Westwood Hills Nature Center in St. Louis Park.
Winter Wrens, on their way north and certainly appropriate for viewing today (Monday) were easy to find at Westwood Hills Nature Center this morning. Walking 200 yards east and west along the trail that circles the lake, beginning below the nature center building, I had nine sightings and two hearings in about 30 minutes. Some of the birds certainly were seen more than once. I'd guess six individuals were playing mouse in the scramble of fallen trees, limbs, leaves, and brush along the trail. The birds flushed from the thickest parts. That's were they landed, too, for the most part. Two of them stayed in the open long enough for good looks and photos. They really do remind me of mice: dark brown darters among the forest debris. Fiight is brief, airborne dashes from one hiding place to another. A diversion was turkey courtship. Two toms were displaying for half a dozen hens responding, if at all, in ways only a turkey would recognize. The turkeys were not hard to find: they were displaying on the pathway I walked for wrens. Moving quietly I easily got within 50 feet of the birds. Westwood Hills is a compact woods/prairie/marsh/lake complex just south of I-394. Exit at Louisiana, take the service road (Wayzata Blvd.) west to Texas, and follow the signs. The center is well-maintained, has feeders, nest boxes, benches, a lovely pond/waterfall/stream display, and plenty of wildlife. When the snow is gone and the birds are here, Westwood will make a particularly fine walk. Here are two of the turkeys, with a closeup of breeding adornments (snood, wattles, beard), and one of the wrens.
Photos taken at our feeders Wednesday through Friday.
It's been two weeks since I last posted about my 1996 trip to the island of Attu, at the end of the Aleutian Islands. My friend Mike and I were spending a month birding various parts of Alaska. We had planned to spend week three on Attu with other customers of the tour company Attour. The usual Attu trip was three weeks for $5,000. We bought into a one-week special for $2,000. We got a discount rate because we agreed to spend half of each day working with the cleanup crew trying to make the accommodations habitable. Housing was in a rotting concrete building once used by the Coast Guard. Accommodations were not a consideration, however. The reason people went to Attu was wonderful birds, birds blown off course by the strong storms from the west. Migrants heading for Japan or Russia got blown onto Attu. If you were building a North American birding life list, Attu was pretty important. The trip began in Anchorage. Mike and I arrived there two days ahead of time, and were killing time until departure
The most recent previous post was on April 4. All six earlier chapters can be found by paging back on the blog. In chapter six, Mike and I were driving in and around Anchorage, trying to find a wild place.
Espresso and lawn mowers aside, Alaska is of course a vast wilderness, an easy place to die. At our first breakfast in Anchorage we read the morning newspaper. The day before, celebrating his high school graduation, a young man tried to swim across a city lake. Some lakes still held ice. Hypothermia got him. A plane and its pilot had gone missing. A friend took his plane out over the mountains to join the search. Neither had been seen again, and the search had been stopped. On Mt. McKinley, climbing season was open. Three climbers from Japan had died the day of our arrival. Roped together, one man slipped. All three slid down something called the Oriental Chute. It was named for a previous mishap. A father and son took a fatal slide of 2,000 feet. The newspaper story said dental records were needed to tell one body from the other.
We never came close to a deadly situation. Up around Nome, earlier in the trip, people told us to watch for bears when we birded willow thickets. Carry a bell, they said, or talk to yourself; let the bears know where you are. Bears don't like surprises, they told us. Oh, I did fall asleep at the wheel of an old Chevy Suburban driving back to Nome after some vigorous tundra birding. I drove off the Kougarok Road into a boulder field, the only place in 70 miles where there were no deep ditches. Bounced awake, with passengers shouting, I drove back onto the road without even slowing down. Dumb luck.
(From Nome, you drive 84 miles up the Kougarok Road to a landmark bulge of tundra called Coffee Dome to look for Bristled-thighed Curlews. That’s another story I’ll share sometime.)
There’s a wonderful book titled “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska,” by Colleen Mondor. The Hennepin County library has three copies. It and John McPhee’s book “Coming into the Country” are my Alaska favorites.
To be continued.
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