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.
A rafting trip on the Mississippi River is planned for birdwatchers. Family-friendly rafts will leave from the Coon Rapids dam in Brooklyn Center on Saturday, Aug. 20 at 9:30 a.m. The trip will end about 4 p.m. at the Camden Bridge in Minneapolis. Target birds will be herons, orioles, and Osprey. Participants will explore islands to look for birds that use the river corridor as a migration route. Early fall migrants will be on the move.. Shuttle transportation back to the dam will be provided, along with snacks and beverages. Participants should bring binoculars, water bottles, and lunch. Wear shoes that can get wet. No rafting/paddling experience is necessary. Details on the trilp can be found at
This female Baltimore Oriole was photographed at her nest.
This is the season when swifts are flocking prior to migration. Chimney Swifts are doing that here, and other species of swifts elsewhere. The birds roost in chimney, swarming around the opening before diving in. Two You Tube videos give you an idea of this spectacle. The first video was taken Friday night by local birder Curt Rawn at the old Oak Knoll Elementary School on Highway 55 in Plymouth (south side of highway, maybe half a mile east of I-494). You can see it at
Another You Tube video, linked to Rahn's posting, shows a western species of swift -- Vaux's Swift -- entering a chimney to roost -- hundreds, maybe thousands of swifts. It's amazing. If you listen you can here oohing and aahing from spectators.
Saturday night marked the beginning of a swift census here in Minnesota. Observers are finding an active chimney, setting up shop at about sunset (say 8:30 p.m.) and counting the birds as they enter the chimney. This is a citizen science project sponsored by Audubon Minnesota. You can participate. There's an active chimney somewhere near you. For more information, go to
Here are two swift photos. The first shows a Chimney Swift flying near the Wayzata West Middle School Friday morning. I'm certain the swifts in this small flock of about 15 birds are roosting in the school chimney. I was there Saturday night to observe and count, but arrived late, seeing only one bird fly down the chimney. I'll try again Sunday night. The second photo shows Chimney Swifts entering the chimney at the Oak Knoll school last year at about this date.
If you are looking for a short weekend birding trip well worth the drive, this is it. Take Highway 12 west to Dassel. Go south on Highway 15 for about three miles (more or less; we didn't measure).Here you will find Pigeon Lake and an island in its middle that is home to thousands of waterbirds that nest in colonies or hang around in large groups: Double-crested Cormorants, American White Pelicans, Great Blue Herons, American Egrets for certain, maybe other species if you take a scope and give it a good look. There is a parking area overlooking the lake. The view is perfect. I learned of this yesterday in an email from friend Mark Martell, who works for Audubon Minnesota. Pigeon Lake and its island have been designated as one of Minnesota's Important Bird Areas, a label indicating need for protection and conservation. It's the most spectacular birding site within several hours drive in any direction from the Twin Cities. On the way, along Highway 12, watch for wetlands where Black Terns are breeding. We saw at least a dozen of these birds as we drove through. The photo shows about one-third of the island in Pigeon Lake.
Some of the Great Blue Herons that lost their nests to the recent North Minneapolis tornado are renesting. The birds originally were on a small island in the Mississippi River offshore from the North Mississippi Regional Park near the Camden neighborhood. The island took a major hit when the storm swept through, all heron nests destroyed, and many herons killed. Chicks were the main victims.
About a dozen pairs of herons quickly moved a few hundred yards downstream, toward downtown Minneapolis, to another small island, and began building nests and laying eggs. It was a late start for them, but the birds are expected to successfully fledge youngsters in time for maturity by winter, fate permitting. The island is beside a plant generating electricity, and it difficult to see from shore. Herons like seclusion.
After reading an email this morning reporting sighting of a Virginia Rail in Loring Park, I made a visit there. I was in the neighborhood, and I not only wanted to see the bird, but was curious to see what would attract a marsh bird to the middle of the city. A marsh is what brought the rail to the park. The last time I visited the park was about 60 years ago when my mother would take us there to sit on the curb and watch the Aquatennial parade pass by. The parade passes no more, but the park is a good place for a short, mid-city bird walk. I didn't find the rail. I did see four pair of Wood Ducks (nesting boxes are available), Common Grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds, Song Sparrows, Eastern Phoebes (two, hawking insects), Mallards, robins, and one pigeon. For some reason I expected this to be pigeon heaven, people on benches with bags of bread crumbs. Not today. As I was about to leave I saw a man on the far side of the western-most pond standing beside the edge of that pond. Both ponds are lined with thick cattail growth. He was intent on the cattails. He didn't move. He just kept watching. There's a clue. Sure enough, he was waiting for the rail to appear. He had seen it each of the past four mornings, but not today. This was sometime after nine o'clock. The email reporter had seen the bird at seven. The observer, who lives nearby, is in the park often. He has seen Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, and Green Herons on his visits. Other species surely make this a stop. I suspect other birders do too.
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