Friday, March 30, 2007

Dam City Beavers!

While visiting Mississippi River Regional Park in Minneapolis last weekend we notice lots of evidence of the work of beavers. Beavers are known to be industrious, but do these guys think they're going to dam the MISSISSIPPI RIVER?

Some of the damaged trees like the one above were huge. Art noticed that several of the trees on the heron colony island were girdled. I assume that even if the beavers don't take those trees down, they will die. Will herons nest in dead trees? Will the trees' death affect the stability of the island? I'll need to ask the park naturalist the next time I visit.

This area is only minutes from downtown Minneapolis, lots of noise and traffic. But beavers are here and the Great Blue Herons have returned to nest and raise their young. Regardless of how we've encroached on their habitat, they still choose to be here. Their instincts to survive and reproduce sometimes amaze me.

Please click on this duck to enlarge the picture. It's not a perfect photograph, but it' s one of the sharpest I've ever taken. He followed me along the river's edge, begging to be photographed. Isn't he a gorgeous mallard? He thinks so too.
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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Heron Rookery

I don't know what happened here tonight, but when I came back to look at comments, all of my text was gone!! goes again.

Sunday afternoon Art and I set out to find the heron rookery at Mississippi River Regional Park in Minneapolis. It was cloudy and cool but a good day to get out and walk. There in the middle of the river was the rookery. From a distance we could see the nests in the tree-tops.

With a closer look we saw that in most of the nests stood a Great Blue Heron. All of the herons were facing the same direction, into the wind.

The long feathers of their breeding plumage were swirling in the breeze.

Only one nest held two birds. One of the naturalists explained that the herons had only arrived a few days ago and that the males arrive first and stake out a nest with its surrounding territory. I plan to visit this park regularly and hope to be able to watch the progress of these families.
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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A Pretty Spot to Watch the World Go By

I found a new spot in the woods. A perfect beaver-felled birch tree for sitting in the sun and breathing in the pine-scented air .

A spot to watch Hasty Brook coming around the corner from the west

and flowing away to the east.

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Spring Life at Hasty Brook

I was really surprised to find this butterfly out and about last Saturday. When I got home I looked it up in Butterflies of the North Woods and learned it is a Milbert's Tortoiseshell. They overwinter as adults, hibernating in hollow logs, and under bark or old out buildings. The author Larry Weber says they emerge from hibernation during the first warm sunny days of spring. I wonder what these early butterflies eat as there are no plants yet blooming.

Update- In an email from Sparky Stensaas, editor of Butterflies of the North Woods: "The butterflies that hibernate as adults feed on sap from trees...mainly oozing maple sap."

Here's a cool bracket fungus. It looks like it's slicing right through this little tree.

We sat down at the picnic table for a snack and a drink and before long were surrounded by a flock of chickadees. This one checked out one of the feeders. I'm sure the feeders have been empty since we filled them last in October. Do you think the chickadees associate us with the feeders? I am reluctant to leave seed in the feeders when we're not there. Last summer a bear bent the black iron shepherd's hook over to the ground to get at the seed. The wire mesh bag has big tooth puncture holes in it from being mauled. I really enjoy feeding the birds up there but I don't want to attract bears into our campsite. I need some good advice on that issue.

I saw this glistening orange blob in the leaf litter. A fungus? A slime mold? No one had the nerve to touch it!
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Monday, March 26, 2007

Spring Comes to Hasty Brook

I had such a wonderful weekend- starting with a day at Hasty Brook on Saturday. Except for a quick drive-by in January on our way to Duluth, we haven't been up to Hasty since October. The weather forecast for Saturday in the Twin Cities was for heavy fog, drizzle and rain. This is the view out the window about an hour north of home.

Within an hour we drove out of the fog into dazzling blue skies and sunshine! We were a little surprised at the amount of snow still on the ground but the temps were in the 60's. Just lovely. This is view from the road, down our driveway toward the campsite. In the distance John is standing on the culvert. Art was pleased to see water running through it as it slopes quite sharply toward the creek on the left of the culvert and we'd been concerned about it washing out.

Here is a view of the creek that I particularly love. In the distance you can just see the bridge spanning the creek. There is a good drop between where I'm standing and the creek level.

The elevation drop is visible from this point of view. Here I am standing on the bridge looking back toward our campsite. With all the run-off the creek is running high. It's hard to tell in this picture but water is running both over and under the ice.
I have lots more to show but am having a hard time loading pictures onto blogger. I'm behind in posting because the power cord for my laptop shorted out (in my lap!) complete with smoke and sparks. Best Buy wanted $120 for a new one. Art tried Radio Shack to replace just the shorted section and that was still going to cost $80 so he spent Sunday evening splicing and soldering and voila! I have a repaired cord! I'll need to buy a new one eventually but at least I'm fixed for a bit. My good Art also went with me back to the Mississippi River Regional Park on Sunday afternoon so I could scout out the heron rookery. Details coming soon!
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Thursday, March 22, 2007

I and the Bird #45

Check out I and the Bird #45. Jayne at Journey Through Grace is hosting this fun-packed "bird"day party!
Pssst! It's Jayne's birthday too so be sure to wish her a happy day!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

North Mississippi Regional Park

Today, on the first full day of spring, I made another trip out to North Mississippi Regional Park in Minneapolis. It was very cloudy, misty and drippy. My first bird was a bald eagle following the river north, headed back up to it's summer territory.
It seemed like a good sign! The river was wide open with just a few ice chunks floating downstream. My second bird was a blue heron- my first for the year. Within minutes a hiker stopped to tell me that there was a rookery on an island just about a mile or so south of where we were and that he had seen 10 herons there. I got back in the car with his directions and started out to find the rookery. Forty five minutes and many wrong turns later I found myself at the boat launch on the other side of the river where I could follow the trails to see the rookery. I have to say that I thought the parking area at the boat launch was pretty secluded. There were 3 guys in 3 cars parked in 3 corners of the lot talking on cell phones. I felt they were all looking at me. I don't usually get creeped out birding by myself, but this time my radar went off. Of course I had to argue with myself just a bit so I screwed up my courage and hopped out of the car to take a look at a trail map posted only about 10 feet from the car.

That's when THESE GUYS attacked! These stinking honkers came around the car so fast I barely had time to react. It was like one of those dreams where danger is coming and it feels like you're running through pudding. Back in the car, heart pounding. Those nasty bastard geese were flapping their wings and hissing at me! I had one of those post-adrenaline giggle fits and when I caught my breath I noticed a fourth car come creeping into the lot. The driver went slowly to each of the 3 parked cars... I'm pretty sure there was an illegal transaction made.

Bye-bye boat landing.

As I drove out a police car drove in.

Back to the park on the other side of the river I went. Happy to be in a safer feeling environment I spied a group of these smallish water birds.

Not great pictures, but I put them on the laptop and got out the field guides.

Pied-billed Grebes!! They are a common water bird in Minnesota but a first for me!! I am admittedly lame at identifying waterbirds, so if I'm wrong please break it to me gently.

I still want to see that rookery. Art said he'd go with me on Sunday.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Peregrine Sighting

Birdchick did a post last week about the peregrine falcons coming back to nest at the Colonnade building in Golden Valley. Since I was out and about running errands in the area I decided to see if I could spot them. I couldn't see anything from the freeway side so I drove around to the top of their parking ramp on the north side. (If you click to enlarge the picture above you can see the peregrine on the ledge jutting out on the left of the building.)
There she/he was! I drove up about a hundred yards or so to the closer end of the ramp top.
I cranked the 10X optical and 4X digital zoom on my Coolpix S10 to its limit and got this shot. From the bit of glare in the first distant picture you can see that I was shooting into pretty bright sunlight. I tweaked the contrast on the picture in Picasa and came up with this! The wind on top of the parking ramp was very gusty and you can see the ruffled feathers on this bird. I wonder how she hung on. Wouldn't it be amazing to have a desk in a cubicle on the other side of that window? Birdchick had blogged about the banding of the peregrine chicks at this site for the last few summers. This year I'm determined to find out when it is and be there too.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

A Really Cool Birding Link: Hilton Pond

photo courtesy of Hilton Pond

I want to share a link to a site that has one of the coolest bird articles I've seen in ages. It's This Week at Hilton Pond.

It talks about a bird strike on a window and what they observed and learned about the bird. The pictures are just so amazing! Some of you may all ready subscribe to this weekly email link but if you don't, check it out. I always learn something there about birds and our natural world.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

A Bunny Day

Today was a much better day. My Mom is in better spirits, the basement is mostly dry, and I slept like a log last night! I spent the entire day catching up on the never-ending pile of laundry, made tons of phone calls, scheduled many, many dentist and Dr.'s appointments that needed scheduling, took my Mom grocery shopping and made a terrific supper. It was really very satisfying. It was cold and snowy all day, nothing new at the feeders and no time to go out looking for birds. So... I pulled out this picture of a beautiful backyard bunny. Isn't she pretty? I know she'll eat my hostas and shrubs and flowers but she's so dang pretty!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Last Summer's Backyard Birds

I'm really feeling flat tonight. I worked two extra shifts (Monday and Tuesday). The money is nice but it takes away from the time I usually spend getting other things done. I enjoy working as a Medical Technologist but the workload is heavy and combining the serious responsibilities of turning out top quality lab results while multitasking to the n'th degree can be mentally exhausting. We are constantly being asked to increase test volumes while decreasing turn-around time.
My Mom is having a tough time right now. We're coming up on 3 years since my Dad died. Time is not easing her grief. I wish there was more I could do to help her.
When I went downstairs to tackle the mountain of laundry this morning I was met with a sopping wet mountain and a flooded basement. The drains were backed up. Thankfully it was only a dirty water issue.
This is all I could come up with tonight- my favorite backyard birds form last year.
Above is the female Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

The Rose-breasted Grosbeak pair stayed only a few days but were such a treat.

This little house wren stuffed sticks in both holes but the she-wren chose a nest across the yard.

The Brown Thrasher stayed for about two weeks last fall. He ate everything that I offered- grape jelly, meal worms, suet, peanuts, and oilers. This guy was a hoot to watch, racing through the leaves across the ground, trying to stir up bugs to eat.

Cooper's Hawk was a big thrill. She stayed for quite a while. I see coops fly through the backyard nearly every day but this one seemed to be offering to pose just for me to enjoy.

Last spring I learned a few sparrows. They had always been LBJ's to me, impossible to identify. I am proud to say that one day last spring I id'd 6 different sparrows within one hour at my feeding station!
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Tree Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Harris's Sparrow

This was my first yard Red-bellied Woodpecker. I wonder if she's the same one that stayed the winter?

Another cool sparrow- Fox Sparrow came through in the fall.

Common visitors to my yard, but uncommon in their beauty; Northern Cardinal and Downie Woodpecker.

I know some of you probably consider Red-wing Blackbirds to be pests, but I love them. All summer they dropped in to my yard, several times a day, eating and singing their hearts out. Loud? Yes. Piggy? Maybe. Beautiful? Without a doubt.

They carry spring on their shoulders.

I've been hearing them out the window for two days. Today, finally, they came back to my backyard.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Who Likes Zick Dough?

I made my umpteenth batch of Julie Zickefoose's suet dough today and I thought I'd share photos of a few of the birds that have enjoyed it this winter. Chickadees love it.
It's worked really well stuffing the suet plug holes on my suet log with Zick-dough. During the warmer temperatures of the summer I buy manufactured "no melt" suet plugs. I've had both downies and hairies gobbling down the dough.
Sweet faced nuthatches are crazy about it.
Mrs. Red-belly has enjoyed it all winter. She's been squawking in the back yard trees for the last few warmer days. I'm really hoping she finds a mate and stays.
Here's a house sparrow pretending to be a clinging bird. Look at her use that tail!
Even the ground-feeding juncos have been snarfing up the Zick-dough. I kept my jelly feeders up all winter and used them to hold the suet dough. You can see in this picture that I've used a bungee cord to strap a piece of tree branch across the feeder platform. The jelly eaters really like this set-up, especially on this model jelly feeder. There is a clear curved plastic roof on this feeder that the orioles would land on and then slide right off. Until I added the branch no one would use it but they would flock to the wooden jelly feeder. Problem solved. The squirrels ate their share (and then some!) of the suet dough too. I saw them just two weeks ago munching on the frozen suet dough in the orange cups of my wooden jelly feeder. When I made the rounds today resupplying suet I found that the $#%&@ squirrels had swiped the orange plastic cups! I hope they show up when the snow melts...

Friday, March 09, 2007

Winter's Grip

Last weekend we got nailed with the second of two back to back snowstorms. Schools and businesses closed. I worked though because hospitals of course never close.
When the clouds cleared and the sun warmed our roof the snow up there started to melt. This is the view from my window. Let me tell you, it felt like I was in winter's jail. Here we are only five days later, and the temperature is 45 degrees. Great sheets of ice and snow are sliding off the roof and crashing onto the patio. I drove downtown Minneapolis this morning to pick Art up for lunch. People downtown were soaking up the glorious weather, many walking about in shirtsleeves. I myself am doing the happy dance- winter is loosing it's tight grip. It will be a while yet, but spring IS coming to Minnesota!