Thursday, December 31, 2009

First Christmas Bird Count and a Lifer!

I went on my first Christmas Bird Count on Monday. Deb my Minnesota birding/blogging friend from Sand Creek Almanac invited me to join her group in Pine County where she lives. Since the day would be starting very early, I drove up the afternoon before and stayed in a hotel so I could get to the meeting spot by 0700. Steve Weston and Jim Ryan, two very experienced Minnesota birders were the other two members of our group. I can't remember the counts but I believe we came up with 20 bird species. We spotted a flock of about 50 White-winged Crossbills eating cones in a tamarack bog. A single Snow Bunting right outside the car gave me the best look I've ever had of this beautiful bird. We saw many species that I expected we'd see: Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, Red and White-breasted Nuthatches, Goldfinches, Purple Finches, Black-capped Chickadees, Starlings and about a bazillion Blue Jays. Bald Eagles, crows and many Ravens were counted. One farm house on our route had three surprises. The first was a female Red-winged Blackbird, very common in summer but unusual in winter. The second was a male Cardinal. Cardinals aren't very common that far north in Minnesota. The third bird was a total surprise. Jim spotted a Towhee fly away from a platform feeder to a dogwood thicket. Both Steve and Deb were able to get looks at the female. I missed it! By field marks it was id'd as a female Eastern Towhee- VERY unusual here in winter. I wasn't able to get my binoculars on her. I was disappointed but I asked Deb to write down the directions back to the farm and I made plans to return the next day. It was a fun day of birding but I knew I wouldn't want to drive two and a half hours back home after a long day so I went back to the hotel. Actually I really wanted to watch the Vikings play Chicago on Monday Night Football! I was exhausted and falling asleep before half-time. I was just about to turn off the light (the Vikings were losing anyway) when an enormous bus-load of high school hockey players checked into the rooms on both sides AND across the hall from mine! It sounded like stampeding elephants and slamming doors untilpast midnight! Grrr...
Tuesday morning I checked out and headed up to Hasty Brook about 25 miles away. I planned to fill the feeders and have a look around. I was thrilled to see that our Good Neighbor Mark had plowed out our driveway! I quickly filled the feeders and hustled back the the warmth of the car- it was six below zero outside! I plugged the directions from Deb into my Garmin and headed back to the Towhee farm to see if I could get a look. It was COLD waiting for that bird with the window open and the car turned off. I spent and hour and a quarter sipping coffee and trying to keep my toes and fingers from going numb when finally the Towhee popped up in the brush! I got my binoculars on her to get a good look and then started firing off pictures. I was so excited to see the Towhee. I've never seen one here in Minnesota. My lifer was last spring in West Virginia with the Flock.
I headed home looking forward to seeing how the photos turned out. When I got them on my laptop I got out my Sibley to help me reinforce the field marks. The longer I looked the more I thought the bird looked like a Spotted Towhee and not an Eastern. I sent the pictures off to my birding mentor Hap in New Hope to see what he thought. Hap agreed! It was a Spotted Towhee!! LIFER!! I forwarded the photos to Steve, Deb and Jim and all agreed it was a Spotted Towhee- a Pine County record in Minnesota!!
My patience and frozen toes paid off!! My last lifer of 2009 was the Spotted Towhee.
I wonder what 2010 will bring?
I hope you all have good health and much happiness and peace in the New Year and
I thank you all for your friendship and kindness here. yYu've all made this blogging adventure so much fun.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Grouse in the Woods

Art and I were on the road at 0730 headed north to Hasty Brook. Last month the creek was still open but today it was frozen solid and coated with fresh snow.
With the leaves gone and snow on the ground we could see the rolling contour of the land across the creek. I caught a glimpse of quick movement on the ground...

The snow dusting the spruce trees along the hill made the view look just like a Christmas card. Maybe one day one of those trees will be decorated for Christmas.
Again, movement- up in a tree--
A Ruffed Grouse!! She was up in a birch eating the catkins. I think she heard me scramble for my camera. We see Ruffed Grouse up there nearly every trip but it's so hard to see them before they see us. They're such pretty birds! After a bit I saw another female on the ground. She was walking slowly as they do but then took off running in a burst of speed. Then I spotted a male chasing!. He was displaying for her! I've never seen a male with his tail up and fanned and his black ruff all fluffed and shaking. At one point he hopped up onto a fallen log. He continued his dance trying to impress the two females.

I took about fifty pictures of the male and got this one to keep. It's not perfect but considering the distance and dense brush I'm pretty happy. I didn't see or hear any drumming.

I watched the three grouse for over an hour moving around the hill directly across the creek.

Can you see the female in the birch? They move slowly out to the tips of the branches to get at the catkins on the very ends. It was overcast and gently snowing all day and by mid-afternoon the light was all ready fading. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me as I began to see movement all over the hill. Through my binoculars I counted nine grouse on the ground, in the brush and up in the birch trees.

The lighting is poor but here are five grouse near the top of a large birch across the creek.

I had packed up my camera and was checking the lock on the patio door when I saw this grouse. It was at eye level in a birch on the near side of the creek, about twenty feet away. I ran for my camera and quietly slid the door open for just a few more pictures.
(I had to run the ISO up to 800 so it's a little grainy.)
My trip list included a mature Bald Eagle and two Rough-legged Hawks.
It took the Chickadees all of five minutes to find me filling the feeders. Within an hour White and Red-breasted Nuthatches were zipping about. A small flock of Redpolls showed up shortly before we left. I haven't seen any Pine Siskins since the beginning of summer. Two pairs of Hairy Woodpeckers were vocalizing and chasing each other. Isn't it early for them to be pairing up?
I'll have to look that up.
The Vikings lost to the Carolina Panthers.