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.
An unusual number of ibis have been reported in Minnesota this spring. More than four dozen White-faced Ibis were listed as seen along with several Glossy Ibis. These sightings were shared with birders on the email list maintained by the Minnesota Ornithologists' Union (MOU). The White-faced reports are high in number but reasonably explained. The Glossy reports are unusual in both respects.
MOU records for previous sightings of White-faced Ibis list 38 spring sightings, 11 summer, and 26 fall. Those reported since April 19 equal more than 60 percent of all previous records. That's a lot of ibis. South Dakota and North Dakota birders also have been reporting this species, not unusual since the birds nest in the northeast corner of South Dakota. White-faced also have been reported in Wisconsin, including seven seen near LaCrosse. The farther east the sightings are made the more unusual they are. White-faced are western birds breeding mostly in southern California and Mexico with small populations scattered in several other western states, including South Dakota. The birds winter in Mexico.
Minnesota's White-faced reports stretched from the southeast corner of the state to the northwest, including reports from Carver and Dakota counties.
Most unusual are the sightings of Glossy Ibis. Total historic reports for the state are four, the same number said to be seen here in the past two weeks. This species breeds along the east coast of the U.S., wintering in the Caribbean. A biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources speculated that the White-faced birds were blown east from usual migration routes by our spring storms. That makes sense. It's hard to use the same rationale for Glossy Ibis, however.
One of the supposed Glossy Ibis was being seen at the boat landing on the north side of Swan Lake in Nicollet County. I photographed this bird a few weeks under cloudy skies. I used a 400mm lens, and shot from about 250-300 feet away. I thought my photos were inconclusive as to species, but I'm no ibis expert. So, I sent my photos to Kenn Kaufman, the author of "A Field Guide to North American Birds." Kaufman said the bird might be a Glossy but looked more like a Glossy/White-faced hybrid. Better photos would have helped; I needed to get closer to the bird, a risky maneuver, not wanting the bird to flush. A Glossy seen and photographed in Kittson County on April 24 looks like the real thing. You can see that photo by scrolling down the Agassiz Audubon Society's Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/agassizaudubon.
Ted Floyd, editor of the American Birding Association magazine "Birding" with no hesitation called the bird Glossy. Clincher for me was the same answer from Dr. Francie Cuthbert, University of Minnesota ornithologist focusing on colonial water birds (nest together in colonies). Ibis are colonial.
The birds reported are not all of the ibis that came to Minnesota. They were just the birds that birders found. There certainly were more. We cursed the winds for cold weather and snow. Some of us blessed them for ibis. Perhaps you remember: my birding list is for species photographed. Glossy Ibis went on the list.
Looking at the photos of both species one might wonder how any question could exist, and the local discussion of these sightings raised many questions. Considered were age of the bird (which determines plumage), the lighting in which the sighting took place, and hybrids. Several subtle difference occur in plumage of these birds, the most obvious being the white feathers than encircle the face of the aptly named White-faced Ibis.
Glossy Ibis. White-faced Ibis below.
Young Great Horned Owls I’ve been watching apparently are old enough to leave the nest, although they haven’t looked that way to me. The birds pictured are an adult and one of her owlets in their nest at Westwood Hills Nature Center. There were/are two chicks. One left the nest Tuesday. The photo was taken Wednesday morning. In one shot here the young bird is stretching a wing, making primary flight feathers visible (adult peering over wing). The feathers appear half developed or less. The pair of young owls I was watching in a nest near Long Lake left their nest seven days ago. They looked very similar to the one pictured. They know best, obviously.
The Great Horned Owl chicks in the nest near our Orono home are growing up. They've lost the chick fuzz. I don't know the date of hatching, but from the looks of them they could begin climbing around their tree in a couple of weeks. They move in and out of the nest before they fly.
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.
Whooping Cranes are back on their Wisconsin nesting grounds. As of April 3, 84 cranes were confirmed arrivals in central Wisconsin. The cranes are part of the reintroduction project centered at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) about two hours east of our Wisconsin border.
Noteworthy is the return of two chicks wild-hatched in Wisconsin last year. They migrated with their parents to wintering grounds in southern Indiana last fall, and now have returned. This marks the first complete migration cycle for wild Wisconsin chicks.
Wild-hatched means they were raised by their crane parents with no human assistance. The flock has been built with birds hand-raised and tended by humans through their initial fall migration.
The crane project is managed by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP), an international coalition of public and private groups that is reintroducing the birds to eastern North America. Decades ago this species was extirpated from this part of the continent.
Cranes from this flock sometimes are seen in Minnesota, but I know of no such reports this spring. WCEP asks anyone who encounters a Whooping Crane in the wild to give them the respect and distance they need. Observers should not approach birds on foot within 200 yards. Observers should remain in their vehicle, and no closer in the vehicle than 100 yards. Observers should remain concealed and not speak loudly enough that the birds can hear you. Observers should not trespass on private property in an attempt to view or photograph the cranes.
Whooping Cranes sometimes can be seen at Necedah NWR. Beginning in 2011, cranes also were released at Wisconsin’s White River Marsh State Wildlife Area. These photos of adult Whoopoing Cranes was taken at Necedah in October 2010. Attached to the birds’ legs are radio transmitters that allow the birds to be tracked. In the lower photo a Sandhill Crane is in the foreground.
Complete information on this project can be found at http://www.bringbackthecranes.org/technicaldatabase/index.html
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