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.
Here are the 10 bird species most difficult to see in Minnesota, migrant or resident, as chosen by Bob Janssen, the state's birding godfather. (Thanks, Bob.)
Little Blue Heron
If you get to Duluth yet this summer, the Great Lakes Aquarium on the south side of the harbor complex is well worth a visit — for an exhibit of paintings and photographs of birds.
Duluth resident Karl Bardon’s multiple talents are on display in a selection of stunning photos and beautiful paintings. The photos are relatively recent work, and include the best single photograph of an owl I’ve ever seen. The paintings reflect a near life-long interest in art.
Karl has worked at Duluth’s Hawk Ridge as a raptor counter during the annual fall raptor census since 2007. In summer he works for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on the state biological survey program. He began and continues a non-official count of non-raptor bird species in the fall as well. He has worked in the Arctic radio tracking eider, in the Gulf of Mexico studying trans-Gulf migration from the platform of an oil-drilling rig, and searching for Tapaculos (bird species) in Chile. He also has spent many seasons as the waterbird counter at both Whitefish Point in Michigan and Cape May, New Jersey. His bird-related field work is extensive.
His paintings ( art degree came from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis) reflect his broad interest in birds. The photos are chosen mostly from a set he did one foggy spring day on Park Point when grounded warblers let him get within touching distance for detailed portraits. The owl photo that hangs outside the exhibit gallery, shows a Great Gray flying with a vole in its mouth. This is a large image, detailed, the colors of the bird and its northern-Minnesota setting looking like the work of an artist carefully choosing his colors. It’s an extraordinary photo. Other owl photos from northern Minnesota accompany it. All are for sale.
Karl told me that his specialty has been waterbirds, having spent many seasons at Whitefish Point and Cape May. “But after witnessing the awesome migration through Veracruz, Mexico as an official hawk counter in 2006,” he said, “I decided raptors are pretty cool, too.” This fall will be Karl’s fourth season at Hawk Ridge.
He grew up in North Oaks in the Twin Cities where his father got him into bird-watching at an early age, A quick synopsis of his birding work can be found at the Hawk Ridge website (http://www.hawkridge.org/about/staff.html#Karl).
Karl is as active in Minnesota birding as his time allows, certainly one of the state’s best birders, one of its most productive. This exhibit gives him a well-earned spotlight. See it if you get to Duluth. It closes Sept. 8.
The aquarium is worth a visit at any time. Exhibits cover Minnesota waters, Lake Superior at the fore, of course, plus some salt-water displays. There are a few birds on display, lots of fish in aquariums that stand tall, floor to floor, and wonderful exhibit of otters, with chances for you to watch those animals being fed.
Below, Karl’s photo of a Blackburnian Warbler.
A very unusual bird has been seen for the past three days on a farm west of Blue Earth. A Wood Stork, a bird of Florida and the southeastern coast, has been entertaining birders since being reported to the birding community (email) on June 19. This is a juvenile bird, as indicated by its very pronounced head feathers. The Minnesota visitor is shown in the first photo. The second photo shows an adult Wood Stork, with its typical featherless head. Note also the difference in bill color. The Birds of North America monograph on this species explains that fledglings disperse widely after leaving the nesting colony. There are records for this species as far west as California and up the east coast into Canada. One other Wood Stork has been reported here, in Grand Marais several years ago. Both Dakotas, Iowa, and Wisconsin have records. In its usual habitat Wood Storks eat mostly fish. The diet can include insects, snails, crayfish, frogs, snakes, birds, small mammals, as well as some plant material. The Blue Earth stork has been seen feeding in standing water in a field adjacent to the farm. No one has offered comment on what it might be eating. Nor can anyone say how long it will remain. Wood Stork is the only stork species breeding in the U.S., and is our tallest wading bird, measuring just over three feet tall. Folk names for this species include Flinthead and Ironhead. The adult bird shown here was photographed along the west coast of Florida three years ago.
A grandson and I went to Crex Meadows at Grantsburg, Wis, Saturday, hoping he could see the Garganey. When we arrived about 10 a.m., no Garganey. There was a young man with a scope who had been there since 6 a.m. He had given the quest 11 fruitless hours on Friday. I figured he was not going to give up, so I asked if he had a cell phone (yes), gave him my card, and asked him to call me if and when the duck appeared. An hour later, as Cole and I were watching warblers, the phone rang with the anticipated message. Using the phone for an alert was just like the old days.
The Garganey made brief and distant appearances throughout the day. We visited with a couple that had driven up from Oklahoma, and another from Missouri. Guest-book records in the Crex nature center show entries by people from Kansas, Montana, and Oregon, the assumption being that they came for the duck. That certainly is not definitive of visitor travels, but it does indicate the importance many people placed on seeing this Eurasian bird.
The teal in the Garganey pond (County Road F and Abel Road) put on the best show waterfowl yesterday. Warblers were thin, just one location I would call good. There were few shorebirds, this collection of a dozen yellowlegs being the best we saw. We did find six garter snakes, five painted turtles, one snapping turtle, and a bat, all important to an 12-year-old a who loves those creatures along with birds.
We also saw tens of thousands of spiders spread along 150 yards of webbing stretched from weed stems along Pump House Road at Crex. Very strange. If you got too close, as I did, they ran up legs and onto neck and hair. Not good. Larger ones were the size of pennies, the smallest maybe an eighth inch.
Broad-winged Hawks eat frogs. This one was delivering take-out captured in our pond. The hawks are nesting a couple of yards down the street. The day this photo was taken we watched the hawk visit and pond and its marshy edges three times. We have chorus frogs, Spring Peepers, Wood Frogs, and Leopard Frogs out there. The meal looks like a Wood Frog.
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