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.
Perhaps you will see on youtube the video of a supposed attack on a small child in a Montreal park by what is identified as a Golden Eagle. It looks like the kind of thing that one birder might pass to another. Don't believe tit. Turns out it was a college assignment (?). A frequent poster to the email list BirdChat, Devorah Bennu, PhD, GrrlScientist, as she signs herself, first brought the video to attention, did some research, and most recently confirmed suspicions that it's faked. The bird has been identified as, most likely, an immature Steppe Eagle. This species is very common, and available to falconers or other bird fanciers. And to college students.
A friend began a grosbeak/waxwing trek a few days ago, beginning in Chisago County and working his way west to Wadena and Todd counties. He keeps lists by county, and this being an exceptional year for sightings of Pine Grosbeaks and Bohemian Waxwings, off he went from his Rochester home. Lots of miles, yes, but he had a good time.
I’ve been waiting for the waxwings to appear close to the metro area. Friend Bob found them in Kanabec County, which is pretty close. I figured it was worth a chance and some driving. I headed north on Highway 169, skipping Elk River and Princeton as search sites, beginning a block-by-block canvas for ornamental crab apple trees in Milaca. Both the grosbeaks and the waxwings are most easily found in those trees, feeding on apples.
I found Pine Grosbeaks in Milaca, Garrison, and Aitkin. I found a pair of Bohemian Waxwings in Garrison. The waxwings were birds of the day for me. They were sharing an apple tree with grosbeaks, the tree in the front yard of a house. That’s where you find ornamental crabs. Pointing cameras at people’s houses, uninvited, poses the obvious risk. But if you get out of the car to ask permission, the birds could be put to flight. Ask permission or apologize? The old question. I took half a dozen quick shots from the street, then pulled into the driveway to explain myself. The lady of the house said, sure, take photos. No problem. When I left her front steps the waxwings flew away.
The apple orchard near our home where I look two or three times a week for those birds was full of robins this morning, dozens of them. It’s the first time I’ve found any birds there for a couple of weeks. I’ll keep checking. Carlson Parkway, as it passes the west side of the Carlson Towers near the intersection of I-394 and I-494 in Minnetonka, is lined with ornamental crab apple trees, a quarter mile of bird potential. I’ll keep an eye on those, too. My waxwing pictures were not as good as I want. I need to find more of those birds.
Here is the pair of Garrison waxwings. Bohemians differ from Cedar Waxwings in subtle ways, the white patches on the wings the most obvious mark. If you look closely at the bird on the right you can see one of those white wing marks.
We went north this past weekend to visit friends and family. The route was cleverly created to offer birding opportunities that never materialized. Going to a specific site tomorrow to see yesterday's specific bird is a long-odds venture.
Entering Moose Lake, our first destination, we found two ornamental crap apple trees five feet from the roadway, holding about a dozen Pine Grosbeaks. That was our first true observation and photo opportunity; that was better. Sunday morning, with a five-hour gap before we left for destination number two, I drove to Duluth. A friend had written about Bohemian Waxwings in his yard. That was my target bird. Read again the sentence above about finding yesterday's bird tomorrow. I did see more grosbeaks there, however, and found yet more on a short visit to Two Harbors.
There is a trail along the Two Harbors lakeshore that begins at the lighthouse. It's a good birding spot. I tried briefly it for whatever offered. In the past I've seen both Black-backed and Three-toed woodpeckers there. This time, I found a cooperative flock of Common Redpolls, with a possible Hoary Redpoll or two. (I'm having photos of those birds examined by someone better at this fussy ID decision than I am.) The possible Hoary Redpoll is shown in the second photo below. Hoary means frosty or white. Compare it with the redpolls in the first photo. Some of these birds are simply light Common Redpolls, however. Thus, the question to my Duluth friend.
As you can see in the photo below the cap on the redpolls, from which they get their name, is red at one angle and black at another. The light refracts differently depending on angle, as it does with hummingbirds. I hadn't noticed that before.
There are waxwings around. There was a report from Shoreview last week, a report from Detroit Lakes this morning. Don't even think about looking for those birds today.
The third photo is of a Pine Grosbeak. I like the way these birds twist themselves into position to pick berries. They have smooth, sleek lines, and colors that flow one into the other.
Pine Siskins are being seen in the metro area. Redpolls are in northern Minnesota, and should come south. Evening Grosbeaks have been reported from several state locations, including one report from Shoreview. This species can be found, with some effort, north of Duluth (Meadowland area is good), and in Aitkin County. A Twin Cities report, however, is unusual. Those birds, by the way, were seen by observers in Shoreview looking for a Clark's Nutcracker that was seen there for several days last week. That is a western species, way out of range this far east. Red-breasted Nuthatches were reported last week from several locations in North Dakota. One observer said he had six at his feeder. If they're in ND they should be here, if not now, soon. This could be a good year for backyard birdwatching. Here is a photo of an Evening Grosbeak, taken near Meadowland a couple of years ago: parrot of the woods. The seeds in the feeder are safflower.
This Rusty Blackbird was foraging in a waterless pond in the Bass Pond area in Bloomington. I watched it several days ago, the day I got my best looks at one of the Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrows that were being seen along the river backwater shoreline there.
The first picture in this sequence shows the bird with a snail it just pulled from the mud. The bird found the snail beneath a leaf, methodically working its way across the pond, flipping leaves in a search for food. In the second picture the bird holds the shell with its foot as it pulls the snail loose. And in the third picture, it’s snail for lunch.
Four or five Rusty Blackbirds were in the area that day. They were moving through on migration.
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