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.
Sunday last Jude and I drove south to the Faribault area to look for migrating geese. We saw many, as has almost anyone who has made an effort to look. Greater White-fronted Geese are being seen in particularly large numbers in eastern and central parts of the state, counts ununual for those Minnesota location. Highlight of the day, however, was a posse of eagles we found near a small body of water known as Buck Lake (I think). We were coming north on HIghway 169, north of St. Peter, when we turned onto Highway 93. In a mile we were alongside the water. Eagles were in the air, six, eight, ten together, floating back and forth along the lakeside. More birds were perched on trees on all sides of the water. At one point we counted 19 eagles in trees and 11 in the air. The birds are moving north, many of them following rivers (the MInnesota River was close by to the east). They're waiting for lake ice to leave before they complete their migtration into nesting territories. Twice, juvenile birds swung into each other's glide path, and then began mock battle, tumbing a few yards through the air as they jabbed at each other with their talons. Here are photos from those encounters. There are two photos of the same pair. In both photos the bird below is upsidedown. The third photo is a near-adult bird on the lake ice. Near-adult: probably five years old. Complete white head and tail feathers achieved in year six in most cases.
Snowy Owls and Peregrine Falcons both rule in their habitat. They live separate lives, the falcon on Arctic cliffs when it nests that far north, the owl on flat tundra. They would be expected to rarely encounter each other. On the Chicago waterfront, however, a meeting happened in late January. It gave two extremely fortunate birder/photographers an opportunity they cannot expect to see again. A Snowy Owl, one of the hundreds in the U.S. this winter, visitors from Canada, was minding its own business on the beach, with downtown Chicago in the background. A Peregrine, a nesting resident of the neighborhood, did not want another predator in its territory. A five-minute battle ensued when the falcon attacked the owl. Tke a look at photos of the encounter at http://www.nabirding.com/2012/02/12/when-a-snowy-met-the-locals/
These truly are once-in-a-lifetime photos.
Making one of my routine scans of backyard bird action yesterday, I found a Red-tailed Hawk at the back of our yard, at the edge of the woods, vigorously pulling feathers from something on the ground, and appearing to eat portions of it. Indeed, the hawk was lunching on a dead Barred Owl that it had found there. I watched it for about 45 minutes, taking photos from a second-floor window, my only vantage point. The hawk ripped the breast feathers from the owl, ate most of the breast, ate a good portion of the head, and ripped one wing from the carcass. When it had its fill, the Red-tail hopped onto a log, wiped its bill against the wood, left side, then right, and then full of owl and cleaned up, it flew off. The ragged remains of the owl is still there, enough for a small meal for someone. I'm waiting. In the photos, the gray feathers came from the breast of the owl. In the top photo a portion of the wing can be seen in beside the hawk.
A good way to locate owls is to listen for the racket crows make when they find an owl. Crows harassing an owl, trying to drive it away, is called mobbing. Why do crows do this? Because owls eat crows, that’s why. Robert Burmaster who lives near Lake Nokomis took some wonderful photos on Tuesday that illustrate why crows make life uncomfortable for owls when they can. The first photo sho the Great Horned Owl with his captured (and apparently dead) crow. In the second photo, a live crow stands watch over the owl and his breakfast. The third photo shows the owl carrying his prey away after being dislodged by the dead crow’s compatriots. Mr. Burmaster watched this action for about 40 minutes, the crows driving the owl from one tree to another. He said that the crow flock numbered about 50.
The four muskrats in the swampy pond behind our house continue to prep for winter. They seem to be fattening on duck weed, which sort of amazes me, given what duck weed looks like. Think teeny tiny corn flakes. They've built a lodge on the floating platform we created for Canada Goose nesting. They have at least two underground burrows. What they don't have is much water, the pond drying up as we continue to go without rain. I'm certain that the water will freeze completely to the bottom of the pond. I don't know what they're going to do then, but I'm just beginning to learn about and appreciate these animals. I hope to be able to photograph them into spring. We'll see. They are getting fat, though, if that will make a difference. There is a birding relationship here. I watch the muskrats while sitting quietly in a chair placed in brush at pond edge. Sit unobtrusively in one place for a long time and lots of things can be seen. I've had chickadees, nuthatches, cardinals, robins, Cedar Waxwings, and migrating sparrows all almost to close for use of a telephoto lens.
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