Monday, January 31, 2011

Common Redpolls Visit Hasty Brook

I love these little winter finches.
(please ignore the streaky window)

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Trip to the Bog

Last Monday, Martin Luther King Day, Art and I took a break from mudding sheetrock seams and drove up the the Sax Zim bog area for some birding.
Maybe I should clarify: Art did all of the mudding. Art also did all of the driving. Driving and slowing down and stopping so I could look for birds. I called him "my faithful driver Kato."
Art is the BEST. He isn't a birder but will patiently drive through a heavy snowfall on unplowed back roads for hours so I can look for birds.
Back to the story.
Hasty Brook is only about 30 miles from the bog. The weather really was pretty crummy- very overcast and snowing. Art had the truck in four wheel drive on most of the back roads and was able to pull a fellow and his little sedan out of a ditch.

Moving along slowly I spotted a movement off in the distance. Can you see it in the photo above?

A magnificent Great Gray Owl. His head moved back and forth, scanning for a meal. Art stopped the truck (and took out a book) while I grinned, watching the owl in the distance. He lifted off and glided to a tree closer to us. It was a perfect view.

The photo above is far from perfect but I was so thrilled to catch the owl take flight. It flew across the road in front of us and landed in a field on the other side.

We never approached the owl, but when it flew closer to the truck , I felt we were disturbing its hunt so we slowly drove away.

Moving along down the snowy roads I spotted a familiar silhouette T'd up high in a black spruce. It was this Northern Hawk Owl. Again, this bird was quite a way off and my photos are not very sharp, but they they're good enough for me!

As we watched the Northern Hawk Owl left his perch, flew to the ground and snatched up a meal. It flew back up to a snowy branch and ate its meal.
Boreal Chickadee
There are a few feeding stations in the bog that are maintained by local residents. As we pulled up to one of them and stopped the truck, I immediately heard the raspy, hoarse version of "chickadee-dee-dee" sung by a Boreal Chickadee. I had really hoped to find one. I've only seen two of them in the bog before. There was no one else to be seen on that road so Art turned the truck off right in the middle of the road and I rolled the window down. There were many Black-capped Chickadees and Pine Grosbeaks. I could hear a Boreal Chickadee out both truck windows- there were two of them! I tried my best to get them both in view at once but couldn't.

I love this picture of a Black-capped Chickadee tapping at a seed held in its toes, surrounded by lichen and snow-covered branches.
It was such a wonderful day. With the poor weather, I never expected to see so many wonderful winter visitors to the bog. It is such a special place. I've visited several times and the bog never fails to show and teach me something wonderful.
This year, for the first time, I am unable to attend the Sax Zim Bog Festival of Birds. Registration closes on January 31, so there is still time to sign up. I've always had a great time at the festival so if you're looking for a community based festival with experienced guides, fabulous local food, and of course the special birds of the far north, you really should go.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

A Hoary Redpoll Story

Last Sunday when Art and I made our trip up to Hasty, and the flock of Repolls descended on the feeders, I was so happy to see these little finches. I noticed one fluffy bird tucked down in the bare brush. It was on the slope down to the creek, out of the wind and facing into the sun. It caught my attention because it was so fluffed up and didn't come up to feed with the rest of the Redpolls. For nearly two hours I kept an eye on the bird. When I got my binoculars on the bird I noticed that it was a bit whiter than the others. I had a flash of excitement at the thought that it might be a Hoary Redpoll.
The little bird in question finally flew up to the feeders on the second story balcony and I sot to check out the field marks. The photo above was taken through a window screen but shows the white, unstreaked undertail coverts.
This photo shows the shorter, "stubby" beak, giving the face a pushed in appearance. It also shows the finer, fainter steaking on the flanks.

Another field mark is the clear, white rump.

I love this one. It's as if she knows she's being photographed and knows just how lovely she is.
I felt pretty sure I had a Hoary Redpoll identified, but I'd only seen one twice before and those times had had them pointed out to me so I sent my photos off to my birding mentor
Hap in New Hope. He confirmed it! Richard sent me photos and information from the Stokes Guide too.
Many birders go for years hoping to see a Hoary Redpoll and now I got to add it to my
Hasty Brook yard list.
That's just another reason that I know how lucky we are to have such a special place.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

A Golden Day

Life Bird: Golden Eagle!!
Yesterday was one of those unforgettable days. I set out in the sub-zero morning, my car loaded with birding gear, extra boots, hats, mittens and gloves. My destination was the National Eagle Center about 100 miles south in Wabasha, Minnesota. I was meeting my birding friend Ruthie. We were attending a class on Golden Eagle identification followed by a field trip into the bluffs area nearby to scout for Golden Eagles.

On January 15, Scott Mehus, the Education Director for the National Eagle Center will be coordinating the Seventh Annual Wintering Golden Eagle Survey. Last year 140+ observers counted nearly 100 Golden Eagles in the survey area!

Ruthie and I took notes during the seminar, quickly memorizing the field marks differentiating Golden Eagles form Bald Eagles. We were fortunate to snag a ride with Scott for the field trip so we could get extra information and a narrative during our ride through the bluffs.

A few miles across the river into Wisconsin Scott pulled over to point out an area where he knew a pair of Goldens had an established territory. He had explained that unlike Bald Eagles, which like to choose perches near the tops of trees or out on the edges of clear areas, Goldens more often were found within the tree canopy. We scanned the bluffs for dark shapes and spotted a pair, far off in the distance.

A lone Golden Eagle

Back in the van we headed off to another pair's territory. Again, they were quite a way off and appeared as lumps to me.

Our last stop was another pair's territory. We were positioned between two bluffs and Scott told us that the pair routinely would fly from the bluff on the left to the east, across the road and up to a bluff on the west to roost for the night. He said it would be our best chance to see Goldens in flight. Within minutes of his explanation he shouted "Here comes the male!" I left my camera in the van and simply watched with binoculars, in awe of the magnificent bird overhead. Just as the male crossed over to the other bluff, the female came out from behind the tree line to to east. She was gorgeous! Again, I purposely left my camera in the case so I could just watch. As both eagles disappeared behind the trees in the west, Scott mentioned that they might come back and roost in a visible spot. Sure enough, the female did. Finally, I took out my camera and grabbed a shot of her silhouette in the far distance. After a few moments, we started back to the van to head back when someone shouted that one of the eagles was back up in the air.

It was the male flying back over our heads. The male went on to fly back and forth across the sun exposed face of the bluff to our left. He was actively hunting! We learned that the majority of the Golden Eagle's prey in this area is squirrels and Wild Turkeys. I grabbed my camera (without mittens) and took photo after photo. It was so cold my fingers went numb and my camera couldn't process the photos as fast as I was taking them. Auto focus started to get sluggish and I had to quit.

But I had enough.

Life bird!

I smiled the whole way home.

Note to self: Buy hand warmers to keep in the car.

Anyone within driving distance to the National Eagle Center should consider attending one of Scott's seminars. There is another coming up this Saturday, January 8 at 1pm. They are always looking for volunteers for the Wintering Golden Eagle Survey, always on the third Saturday of January. If you can't visit this year, think about next year. I would like to go to the seminar again next year. It's terrific information and I would like to try to see an immature Golden Eagle.

Monday, January 03, 2011

A New Year at Hasty Brook

Minnesota weather kept us from our first weekend of the New Year up at Hasty Brook. Severe weather warnings of freezing rain turning to snow as the temperatures dropped to near zero, added to strong winds, kept us home doing house chores on Saturday. Sunday was supposed to be clear and cold so we set the alarm for early and hit the road by 8 am. The temperature was just below zero but we needed a Hasty fix! I bought Art and I snowshoes for Christmas and while I ran upstairs to fill the feeders and check on the birds, Art strapped his on and went for a walk. He said he could hear water gurgling downstream by the old beaver dam and when he punched the ice with his ski pole it broke through! He crossed back over the creek upstream of the dam and decided to walk the creek back to our cabin.
Upstairs at the feeders on the balcony, it looked like all the regulars were there. Chickadees, White and Red-breasted Nuthatches and a sprinkling of Goldfinches. I shoveled off the deck and set to work filling feeders. Even with a hat on I could hear birds coming through the woods. I looked up in time to see a good sized flock flying in from across the creek: REDPOLLS!
I love these tiny winter finches. I had heard that this isn't being a good winter for northern finches but sure was wishing hard to see a few at Hasty. I kept my movements slow and deliberate and eventually one Redpoll flew up from the hazelnut brush. Seconds later I was surrounded! If I stood very still they would land on my head and shoulders. What a thrill!

I cleared most of the snow and ice from the railing, spread some thistle and soon they were lined up eating.

The sun stays low in the sky during January in northern Minnesota so by early afternoon the sun was already shining weakly in the southwest. Even the weak sun made their red caps shine.

On such a cold day, the Redpolls were really gobbling up the thistle.

A big shadow overhead sent the birds scrambling for cover. It was this handsome Hairy Woodpecker coming to check out the suet feeder.

This little Downy Woodpecker either needs a comb or is having a devilish thought...

I have a few feeders down below on shepard's hooks. This one has been bear chewed and repaired many times. I had to use copper electrical wire to make a new handle and the lid won't lay flat. Red squirrel likes it fine that way.

On the drive up I mentioned to Art that neighbors had Pine Grosbeaks at their feeders and that I'd really like to add them to my Hasty yard list. While I was counting Redpolls in the birch I noticed two larger birds. Even with binoculars it was hard to tell, they were so back-lit. One flew down to the ground under the balcony. It was a beautiful male Pine Grosbeak! After a few minutes the female flew down to the maple to check out the feeder action. Isn't she beautiful?

The male wouldn't come any closer but the female finally landed on the railing.

A new yard bird at Hasty!
Good Neighbor Mark dropped by and mentioned that there are Evening Grosbeaks at a neighboring farm.
Maybe next trip!

Saturday, January 01, 2011


I'm not much for New Year's resolutions.
in the New Year of 2011
I hope to
laugh more,
listen more,
love better.
I want to
care for my family,
my home,
and Hasty Brook.
I will
spend time with family
and friends,
and show them that I love them
every chance I get.
I am
for all of you
and plan to show you
just how much
you mean to me.
blog again!
I have lots of catching up to do especially the progress in the building up at Hasty.
Stay tuned-