Friday, October 26, 2007

At Peace

My brave little Mother passed away this evening.
Thank you all.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Short Update

My mother took a turn for the worse on Wednesday and I cancelled my Cape May Trip, no regrets. There will be other trips. My place right now is at her side. It was a long day of very tough decisions.
The outpouring of prayers, love and support has overwhelmed me- and all this from friends I've never even met. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

My Mom

Just a quick note to let you all know what's going on here. On Monday my Mom had a bad fall and was found unconscious. She 's in the trauma/neuro intensive care unit with several brain bleeds that are being watched. Gratefully, her status has gone from grave to critical and now this morning to serious. If the results of today's CAT scan show no progression of the bleeding she will be considered stable enough to go out on the neurology floor. Her neurologist that I have known for 10 years and in whom I have tremendous trust has told me that if she's stable through tonight I should feel safe in going to Cape May tomorrow. My brothers agree. In fact they are adamant that I go. I'm torn. Monday morning before she fell, I spoke with my Mom and she was so excited for me that I was making this trip. She said she was proud that I was so brave to fly away to meet strangers and to learn more about the birds that I love. Please offer a prayer for my Mom.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Crex Meadows Birds

Time for a quick recap of the birds we saw at Crex Meadows on Saturday.
Red-tailed Hawks
Northern Harriers
Field Sparrows
Snow Buntings- lifer and an awesome view!!
Canada Geese
Green-winged Teal- lifer
Ring-necked Ducks- lifer
We spotted 3 Northern Shrikes (2 of them were my spots!) This one was pretty far away but I think you can still make out the field marks.

There were quite a few Trumpeter Swans. Here is a pair with their three gray goslings. I learned that trumpeter swans were extirpated from Minnesota due to hunting and as few as twenty years ago they were very rare to see. They've made quite a healthy come back.

The main reason I signed up for this trip was to see the Sandhill Cranes. Several thousand of them use a field in Crex as a staging area on their migration south. Every evening in the fall the cranes come from about a fifty mile radius to this field to spend the night. To say it was a remarkable sight would be a gross understatement.

If I scanned the tree line with my binoculars I could see lines of the sandhills flying in from all directions.
Sandhill cranes stay in family groups throughout their migration. As they flew in they were constantly calling to each other. The sound was musical- a combination of yodeling, trumpeting, and trilling.
I found the experience so moving. It felt like I was witnessing something very special, and very old. As the light waned, and we got ready to leave, there were thousands of sandhill cranes in the field, still calling to each other. I wonder at their language and I wonder at their instincts, passed on through the generations that call them to this field in Wisconsin year after year.
It was a privilege to stand on the edge of that field and watch those magnificent birds, something I will never forget.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Crex Meadows Sky

I went on another birding field trip yesterday to Crex Meadows, a 30,000 acre state-owned wildlife area near Grantsburg, Wisconsin. I've wanted to visit Crex for some time and was excited to find an organized trip. It was a fun group led by Stan Tekiela through Eden Prairie Park and Recreation. Hellziggy, AKA "the other Sharon" a frequent commenter on Birdchick's blog was there with a ginormous lens. Needless to say, her pictures were AWESOME. I really am satisfied with my point and shoot, but I secretly dream of a digital SLR with a sweet lens! Saturday was the first day with significant sunshine in quite a while and the golden light made the trees glow.

I really couldn't get enough of the sky. The cloud formations were amazing. A perfect weather day, temps around 70, gentle breezes and sun.
I drank it all in, like a tonic.
I couldn't take my eyes off the ever-changing sky.
Were there birds?
Oh, yeah, there were birds all right...

Friday, October 19, 2007

Winter Finches and Hasty Sparrows

After the pelagic trip two Sundays ago, with dry clothes and a nice rum drink warming me from the inside out, I settled in to see what birds were visiting the feeders at Hasty Brook.
A beautiful male purple finch bullied the rest of the birds away when he wanted this feeder.
I have a hard time telling females from immature purple finches. Is that a fox sparrow watching from above? There were many fox sparrows in the thickets- they were reluctant to come into the clearing.
A new lifer for me!! Pine siskins! I've had glimpses of pine siskins before but this day I got to watch them up close for quite a while.
A purple finch and two pine siskins on the feeder gave me a chance to compare their sizes and bill shapes.

In among the many juncos was this lones sparrow. My first thought was that this is a chipping sparrow but it didn't seem small enough compared to the juncos.
It doesn't seem to have the dark eye-line.The beak is pinkish and it has a white eye-ring.

Field sparrow? Am I off the mark?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

101 Ways to Help Birds

It's human nature to worry about the people and things we love. Often we feel our contributions are small, our efforts ineffective. Friends, I love birds and I'd like to share my thoughts on a book I bought called 101 Ways to Help Birds by Laura Erickson.

Laura's book is direct and practical in offering concrete ideas, ways we can help birds. She starts her approach in the home- from composting and recycling, to making your windows safer for birds and knowing what to do if a bird does strike your window. From the home she moves out to the yard. She suggests we learn about the flora and fauna in our yards, neighborhoods and regions. She offers many suggestions in managing and caring for our backyard habitats and beyond. We need to make choices that effect birds in the larger world too and Laura reminds us to be compassionate and ethical in our birdwatching, wherever it takes us. Laura cares passionately about the environment and believes we can and must have a positive impact on it. She explains 101 ways to do just that. We all have an obligation to protect the birds that we love and this book has given me some new ideas. Please check it out- or better yet, buy it. You'll learn a lot and find yourself empowered with ways to help.

I am fortunate to have met Laura on birding trips here in Minnesota. She is gracious and very generous in sharing her birding knowledge and experience. She is an ornithologist and lives in Duluth.

Laura Erickson has a wonderful blog called Laura's Birding Blog. There she also has a link to her informative and entertaining podcasts about birds.

I feel strongly about this book. Are there any birding books you would recommend?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

After the Boat Ride From Hell

Since Deb and I were still soaked and chilly from the pelagic, we decided to duck in to a restaurant for a hot lunch. Neither of us had to get right back to our families so we decided to drive along Park Point to see what there was to see. Not far along we spotted a group from our trip with binoculars and spotting scopes focused on this group of water birds. (that's what you call easy birding- looking for other birders!) We got our field guides out to id what we were looking at. Thank you to all the other birders who were happy to point out and help id the birds in this group. there were:
Redhead- lifer
Greater Scaup- lifer
Surf Scoter- lifer
Black Scoter- lifer
Common Goldeneye
Common Merganser
Horned Grebe- lifer
Red-necked Grebe- lifer
Can you tell I don't know water birds? It's easy to get lifers when the majority of your birding is in your backyard. And note, not all of these birds are in this picture. We saw more water birds along the harbor side at another stop. Kim Eckert, a noteworthy Minnesota birder id'd a Barrow's Goldeneye but my inexperienced eyes couldn't see the difference between the Barrow's and Common Goldeneye so I won't count it.

After birding the harbor side Deb and I decided to check out the beach house on the lake side. It's a good spot for scanning for rare gulls and shorebirds.

Thank you to Mike Hendrickson for the help in identifying these Sanderlings and Dunlins. I am painfully inexperienced in identifying shorebirds- and even worse than shorebirds are GULLS. When we got to the lake side Deb and I ran into Mike and a couple of other birders. The group was thrilled to see this rare Sabine's Gull.
We watched as it snuggled into a footstep in the sand to rest. Later we got a good look at the gull in flight and Mike pointed out the distinctive black, white and gray upper wing pattern. Beautiful.
We stayed on the lake side, scanning and chatting birds with Mike for a while. He's a nice guy and he REALLY knows his birds. Mike has a bird guiding business for northeastern Minnesota. Check out his website. He's been working hard putting together a new winter birding festival in the Sax-Zim bog area for this coming February. Sax-Zim if well-known for winter boreal species. I've been there a few times and it's an amazing place. Thanks to Mike for all of his help on this remarkable day of birding.
The power of the waves and the constant high wind was hypnotic- and exhausting.
Deb and I called it quits and started back, driving into the thickest fog I'd ever seen. When we got back to her car, sweet Deb gave me a bottle of Malibu Rum! When I got home to Hasty Brook, Art and I each had a big glass (tumbler!) of orange juice with a liberal slosh of Malibu to fight off the chill. All in the interest of good health!

Monday, October 08, 2007

My First Pelagic

Saturday dawned cold, rainy and windy- not so perfect weather for a pelagic birding trip on Lake Superior out of Duluth. I met Deb from Sand Creek Almanac near a freeway exit between Hasty Brook and Duluth and we motored up to meet Mike Hendrickson and the group he was leading on this memorable trip.

The captain of the LL Smith told Mike he'd still take us out so Mike gave us our options: go out on the lake (20 mph winds with gusts up to 25-30 mph and 6-7 foot swells) , boat around the protected harbor where the water would be calmer, or cancel all together and Mike would lead the group around Park Point by car and foot. We opted for the harbor. I had a good gore-tex rain jacket and layers under that and felt I was prepared for the wind and drizzle.
Mike is an awesome birder and was terrific in calling out everything he saw. I'm quite sure I was the least experienced birder of the bunch and I really appreciated that Mike and the other better birders would call out birds that were probably "old news" to them.
Everyone in the group was asked to bring popcorn which Mike would toss into the water "chumming" to attract gulls.
Here they come!
Deb and I spent the better part of the trip perched by a picnic table at the back of the boat. I was really glad to have that table to grab on to later on when we neared the channel that separates Minnesota Point from Wisconsin Point- the entrance to Lake Superior. I think the plan was to scan this breakwater on Minnesota Point for gulls but I lost interest in birding and conversation the further out into the channel we went.
Ok, so it's getting choppy. Then we started rolling uppp...then down...

I can handle this. The waves are getting taller...

Wisconsin Point, and beyond that, the open lake and 6-7 foot waves. The LL Smith running directly into the waves is REALLY scary, but we had to turn around! So the captain turns the boat, and now we're parallel to those 6 foot rollers.

I look out and we're up high on top of a wave (hang on to the table!), and then, it feels like the deck falls out from under my feet (hang on to the table!) and a wave broke over the back of the boat and the water is OVER the railing! (HANG ON TO THE TABLE!) The spray was over my head.

You can see I was drenched from about mid-thigh on down. That, combined with strong winds and temps in the low 50's made for a chilly morning. But I'm not complaining. I saw :

White-winged Scoter (lifer!)

Caspian Tern (lifer! and a beautiful look)

American Black Duck (lifer!)

Belted Kingfisher -one of the best looks I've ever had

Herring Gull

Ring-billed Gull

Bonaparte's Gull

Double-crested Cormorant

Common Merganser

That was an exciting trip and I'd love to go again. If you're interested, check out Mike's webpage for his spring and fall Lake Superior boat trips and if you have time, stop over at Mike's blog Colder by the Lake Birding and read his hilarious account of this trip.

But wait! The day's not over yet. After Deb and I got a hot lunch in a warm restaurant where our pants and feet could dry, we headed out to Park Point and we saw...

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Odds and Ends From Last Weekend

We did get an extra non-birding treat last Saturday when we saw this steam engine come chugging up the hill. We could hear it and feel the vibrations in the ground before it came into view. It was a nice reminder of a different era of transportation. Does anyone remember Lunch With Casey? It was a local (Minneapolis/St. Paul) children's TV show that ran over the noon hour back when kids left school to go home for lunch. The character Casey Jones and his pal Roundhouse Rodney were very popular and they made many appearances at local businesses. When I was five or six my Dad took me to see Casey Jones at a department store opening. We waited what seemed like hours in line and when we finally got to meet Casey, I started to cry, and told Casey that I loved him and asked him if he would marry me! He got down on his knees and hugged me and said I'd have to grow up a little before I could get married but that he loved me too. I went home a very happy little girl.

After we left Hawk Ridge we headed down to Park Pointe to look about. Someone spotted a plover and Sharon got her scope out to get a better look.
We narrowed it down to either a Black-bellied or American Golden-Plover in winter plumage. Stan saw it take flight and noted the black "armpits" which made it a Black-bellied Plover! A lifer for me!
That wraps up my 50th birthday birding weekend. I'll leave you with one more look at those red-tailed hawk feet.
A rabbit nightmare!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

On to Hawk Ridge

We left Frank Taylor's banding station in a downpour but by the time we reached Hawk Ridge the rain had moved on. The winds were not favorable for seeing large numbers of migrating raptors. Sharp-shinned hawks were flying low and I got lots of good advice from Stan about differentiating accipiters. I have to say, it's really great to spend a day with two talented birders like Birdchick and Stan Tekiela. I learned so much from them both. Asking questions on the spot, in the field is the best way for me to learn.
Along with the sharpies there were kestrels, a few goshawks and a few red-tailed hawks. Three of the red-tails were flying together and Sharon and I noticed that one was quite a bit bigger than the other two. I'm guessing the large female was trapped and banded while we were there. Just before we were getting ready to leave the Hawk Ridge staff announced that they were bringing a red-tail down to be released.
She was "big and feisty" according to the gal showing her off to the crowd.
Isn't she gorgeous?!
I caught her nictitating membrane in this shot.
Click to enlarge and check out those feet.
Did you know that spellcheck doesn't recognise the words accitiper or nictitating?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Birding 50! Part 2

Saturday I left home at 0630 to drive to Eden Prairie to meet a birding group going to Duluth led by Birdchick and Stan Tekiela. The weather forecast predicted rain, but we had plenty of enthusiasm so we hit the road! Our first stop was a private hawk banding station run by Frank Taylor, a friend of Sharon's. Frank gave us a tour of his blind and a wonderful explanation of their operation banding hawks. Frank is extremely knowledgeable and articulate and his excitement about sharing his passion for raptors was contagious.
When we pulled up there was a knot of people near the cars and we quickly got out to see that they had caught an injured Peregrine Falcon in their nets. Since we were headed back to the Cities later in the day, Sharon and Stan volunteered to take the peregrine back with us to the Raptor Center fro evaluation and treatment. Check out Birdchick's post to read the awesome information about this bird.

Here's the view from inside the blind. It is set up on the edge of a large hay field. I was lucky to be inside when a sharpie flew into the nets. They had caught and banded two sharpies before we arrived. It was a terrific learning experience to be able to see these birds up close and have them described in such detail.

Here Sharon is holding the adult male for closer inspection. She let us all have a sniff of the sharpie. I thought it smelled like warm, brown grass- clean and outdoorsy.

Then Sharon did the sweetest thing- she handed the sharpie to ME! I couldn't have asked for a better gift. Thank you, thank you Sharon!

Now, people who know me know that when I'm really happy my eyes disappear behind little slits. You can barely make out my pupils in this picture that Sharon took.
( does Photoshop have a tool to remove double chins?)

I was thrilled! They have a lottery to choose visitors to release the banded birds. Don't those ladies look excited? Frank is giving them directions to count to five and then gently let them go while Sharon is lying on the cold, wet ground to photograph the release from the best angle.

The day isn't over yet...