Monday, December 31, 2007

2007 Year in Review

With the year 2007 coming to an end today I thought that I would go back and take a look at my blog and try and pick out what I think where the top 10 posts of the year. It was tough to choose but I felt that the ones that I picked were posts that either had some great pics, a great story behind them, a rare subject that I have not seen before or were personally special to me. You can go to the original post by clicking on the photo.

(10) Number 10 on my list was this post about a lance-tipped darner which I shot near the bass ponds in the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. This was my first pictures of a lance-tipped darner. However the reason that I choose this post was because even though I have shot a lot of dragonflies this was the first time that I ever got a picture of one that had just made a kill. I think that it is really interesting, because it kind of gives us a glimpse into their secret world. We see them all the time but they are so small that we do not usually realize that they are hunting and catching prey just like animals and birds do.

(9) Number 9 on the list are the great horned owls that kicked off my blog this spring. In April I heard off of the MOU list server about a great horned owls nest at Wood Lake Nature Center. Usually most people on the MOU list frown on giving the locations of nests, because they are afraid that the birds will get disturbed, however this nest was in plain sight in a very public area next to the visitors center. I spent every evening, except Tuesday night when I work, photographing the owls. I would usually arrive around 5pm, although sometimes I came right after work, and would photograph the chick in the nest. Usually shortly before sunset the mother would arrive to feed the chick, which would give me some nice shots. The end of this story was not so happy though. One Tuesday night the chick fell from the tree and it died a couple of days later. Hopefully the owls will return in 2008.

(8) Post 8 has a personal meaning to me. In October I took a trip up to Duluth to do some birding. It was a nice fall day so, after checking out Park Point for a while, I headed up to Hawk Ridge. Hawk Ridge in Duluth, Mn is a major fly way for raptors in the fall. Besides for raptor watching and counting, the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory also sponsors some other events during the fall. This includes raptor banding, which helps scientific and environmental groups collect data on raptors. To help pay for the activities they allow people to adopt and release the banded raptors. I adopted and released the pictured sharp-tailed hawk.

(7) At the beginning of August there was news on the MOU list server that there was a small family group of burrowing owls living in the south western part of the state. Michelle and I had photographed burrowing owls out in California a few years ago, so it was not a new species for us but we are both fascinated with owls so I was contemplating making the trip. Unfortunately the weather was not being very cooperative at the time, if weather in MN is ever cooperative, and I was not reading much more about it on the list server. I had pretty much given up on going out when the weather cleared and several reports came in that the owls were still present. So I jumped in the car and spent 9 hours driving but I was rewarded with some nice pics.
(6) At the end of October Jim Lind a birder up in Two Harbors, MN spotted a strange dove visiting feeders in his neighborhood. He identified the bird as an Inca Dove and reported it to the MOU. This was the first Inca Dove ever recorded as being seen in Minnesota. Many birders from all over the state, and several other states, traveled up to Two Harbors to see this bird who had lost its way. The bird ended up staying in Two Harbors for over a month. During that time I drove up on a Friday after work and stayed over night in Two Harbors. The next morning I was able to get some wonderful shots.

(5) Although snowy owls are not all that uncommon in Minnesota during the winter, there are usually at least a few reports each year, they are always a big deal for birders. In November there were reports of a snowy roosting at Tamerack Nature Center in White Bear Lake, MN, which is a suburb of the Twin Cities. It was an overcast Tuesday and since I had to work my second job that evening and the weather was not great I did not bring my camera because I did not plan on doing any shooting. Those plans changed. I ran home got my camera ran to Tamrack and got some nice pics and still made it to work on time.

(4) Michelle and I have always been big supporters of the Raptor Center. It has been the charity that we donate the most to for many years. I have always wanted to be more involved but there has always been problems with my schedule. Earlier this year I was able to make arrangements so that I could start to volunteer my time. It was cool getting close to the raptors but one Wednesday while volunteering I got to get up close and personal with a wild peregrine. Some one had spotted the peregrine flying around the university campus that the raptor center is located and so i went to see if I could get some pics. I found the bird enjoying a fresh kill.
(3) Since there have been a lot of rare birds found in neighboring states I have added my name to several different birding e-mail lists so that I can keep up with sightings in the area. One of the lists that I belong to is the IA-Bird list. This is for birding in Iowa and this is how I learned about a black-tailed gull visiting an area just north of Des Monies. Since the black-tailed gull has not been spotted very often in the continental US, about a half dozen times, I decided to make a trip down. I drove for about 4 hours and with great directions from Iowa birders found the bird right away and got some great pics. It was well worth the trip.
(2) In 2007 I received the best birthday gift that I have ever received in my life. Since it was my birthday Michelle indulged me and we made a trip up to Crex Meadows to go birding. I had dragged Michelle with me up to Crex several times over the summer and even though Michelle enjoys birds and nature she is not nearly as fanatical about it as I have become. This trip became very special though when we found an injured bald eagle. When we were unable to find any one that was available to help the eagle we took matters into our own hands and with materials that we purchased at a local store we rescued the eagle and took him to the raptor center to receive medical attention.
(1) The number one post of the year, surprisingly, does not have a picture associated with it. However if you think about it this one should not be a surprise. On April 22, 2007, Earth Day, I opened this blog with a welcome to anyone who shares my love of the environment, wildlife, and birding. I hope that everyone who has come to the blog has enjoyed it and maybe even learned a little bit. I know that I have learned a lot while putting it together to share with you. I will continue to try and bring you posts that are interesting, informative and some times humorous with the best pictures that an amateur nature photographer, like myself, can take. I hope that everyone has a Happy New Year and comes back to visit in 2008.

Jeff Fischer

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Another sharp-shinned at MN Valley NWR

After work on Thursday I wanted to go out and do some birding but the skies were overcast and it was lightly snowing. Since I really wanted to keep my camera dry I decided to head over to the headquarters of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge where I could watch the birds at the feeders through the windows. When I arrived around 3pm there was a small group of people there from the US Fish and Wildlife Service shooting some kind of video. They were setting up to do a shot, using the feeders outside the window as a backdrop, when the camera man pointed out that all of the birds that had been around the feeders earlier had left. I went over to take a look and he was right, the feeders were pretty much empty of birds. I began to scan the neighboring tree tops and it did not take long to find the reason for the empty feeders.
A sharp-shinned hawk was perched in one of the trees behind the feeders. I pointed the hawk out to the people who were filming who were very excited. The woman who was in charge, Valerie, was surprised that all the birds had left the feeder when the hawk arrived. She had heard that the small birds will freeze when a hawk is in the area. I explained that most of the birds probably headed for the brush when the hawk arrived and were now keeping low and still in the cover. Then I pointed out one downy woodpecker that had not gotten away quick enough and had been standing frozen for several minutes on the side of one of the feeder poles.
A few minutes later the sharpie took off and flew up over the building. I expected that all of the passerines would return fairly quickly but the feeders continued to stay empty. I looked at the downy, who had moved to the back side of the pole where it had again stopped moving, and determined that the sharpie was still in the area, possibly on the roof. Another minute or two went by and still no passerines came to the feeder. The downy decided to make a quick break into the woods and about 30 seconds later the sharpie flew back down from the roof to land on a branch right in front of the window.We were all pretty excited since this time the bird was up close and pretty much in the open. It was a good thing too, because with the cloud cover and shooting through the windows, to avoid flushing the bird, I had to open up my aperture to be able to get any descent shots. If the bird had been further away it would have meant even less light.

The sharpy stayed for around 5 to 10 minutes doing some preening and watching for a good meal. Since none of the passerines were around any more he finally took of over the building. I am guessing that this might be the same sharpy that I saw around Thanksgiving in the same area. Maybe I will stop by on New Years Day since this bird seems to likes to visit on holidays. I knew that the sharpy had really left this time because with in a minute or two the area around the feeders was bustling with bird life. There where a couple white breasted nuthatch.There were also quite a few northern cardinals.Both male and female.I spotted red-bellied, hairy and downy woodpeckers, like the one above. There were also black-capped chickadee, dark-eyed junco, American tree sparrow, and starlings.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas Eve at Carpenter Nature Center

Since I was in the neighborhood I decided to stop in at Carpenter Nature Center after I left Douglas Point on Monday. Even though they were in the process of snow blowing all of the side walks up by the buildings there was still a lot of activity. I saw most of the typical Minnesota winter birds like:
black-capped chickadee

dark-eyed junco

blue jay

and red-bellied woodpecker

There were quite a few finches around. I was hoping that one of them might be a purple finch but I had no such luck. The house finchs did look nice though with all the snow and red branches.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas Eve Birding

The snow that was predicted for Saturday the 22nd came a day late. This was nice since our Red Wing CBC was spared the snow, except for the small amount of wet sloppy snow that fell in the morning. I had hoped to go out and do some birding on Sunday morning before going to my in laws to celebrate the holidays, but unfortunately the weather changed my plans. Not that it was really that bad. A little wind and around 3" of snow might close down a place like Washington DC but for Minnesota that is pretty mild. Unfortunately clouding skies usually don't yield great pictures and snow can really mess up expensive camera equipment, so I decided to stay home and wrap some gifts.

The holiday at the in laws was pretty normal. My wife got me some snow shoes, which I hope to get out and use this weekend. The next morning the clouds had cleared out and the sun was shining so I headed out early in the morning to Douglas Point in Hastings, MN. My wife and I had discussed going to a movie that afternoon so I knew I did not have a lot of time but I wanted to see if I could find the harlequin duck, that I had seen the week before, and a Barrow's goldeneye that had been reported in the area.

When I arrived at Douglas Point there was already a couple birders there looking over the large grouping of birds that were on the edge of the ice.
The group mostly consisted of Canadian geese, common golden eye, and common merganser.
Most of the Canadian geese were all still resting with their heads tucked in close to their bodies to conserve heat. Mixed in with the geese were 8 to 10 trumpeter swans still hanging around. I began to search through the flocks of goldeneye looking for different patterns that would indicate a Barrow's goldeneye or a harlequin.I spotted some mallards and some lesser scaup mixed in with the othersThere were also some American Coots, ring-billed ducks, canvasbacks and redhead ducks mixed in but I still did not find the birds that I was looking for.

I decided to try and look a bit down river so I crossed the bridge into Wisconsin. From the Wisconsin side of the river, near one of the boat launches in Prescott, WI I saw more common goldeneye as well as more mallards but no Barrow's or Harle. I continued down the river to the Great River Road Visitors Center that sits on the bluffs overlooking the river in Prescott.

The visitors center was closed but there were still quite a few birds around to look at. On the visitors center grounds I saw a white-bellied nuthatch as well as a red-bellied woodpecker. At the houses behind the visitors center there was a blue jay. With my red white and blue birds all in line it was probably no coincidence to see a bald eagle in a large tree on the rivers edge. Unfortunately he was facing the other way so I decided not to take a picture of the back of his head.

I still had not seen either of the birds that I was hoping for so I decided to go back up to Douglas Point and try one more time before I left. While I was there scanning the flocks one more time with my binos, Milt Bloomberg, one of the two birders that I had talked with earlier, stopped by and told me he had located the harlequin over by the boat launch in Prescott. I followed Milt back over to the spot where he had spotted the bird but by the time that we arrived the bird had already moved on. Milt had to take off, he was doing some quick birding while visiting from St Cloud for the holidays, but I was happy he got to see the bird. I stayed a bit longer but was unable to relocate the harlequin.

Later that afternoon while I was watching a movie, around 2:30, Jim Ryan located the duck, back around the same location where Milt had spotted it. I was a bit disappointed that I missed it, but I was not too upset. I had already seen the duck the week before and added it to my life list. It was cool that Milt, who had never seen one in Minnesota, and Jim, who added it to his life list, got to see it that day. I also recieved word today that John from Kansas, who was at Douglas Point with Milt when I arrived in the morning, got an opportunity to see the duck on the 27th.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Red Wing Christmas Bird Count

Last Saturday I participated in the Red Wing area Christmas Bird Count. This was my third CBC, the first two were the prior weekend in Duluth and Two Harbors. This was kind of different situation because this count circle had not been done since 1973, so we did not have any recent data and were not sure what to expect. Unfortunately the weather was not great for birding and even worse for taking pictures.

I had spoken with our group leader, Jim Ryan the night before and we decided that the three of us, Jim Gay was the other member of our group, would meet near my house and then car pool down in my truck. So we met at around 6:00 am and headed south to Red Wing to meet with the rest of the count group. The roads on the trip down were a bit slick but not to bad. The fog was another story. There was several occasions when we would be driving with fairly good visibility and then hit a wall of fog and I would need to slow down to about 10 mph because I could barely see the road in front of the truck hood. Despite the fun driving conditions we made it down to the rendezvous location on time and with out incident. At the rendezvous location we found out from Laura Coble, the Red Wing CBC coordinator, that several people had to cancel because many of the roads to the west of Red Wing were iced up and they could not get through safely. Since several areas in the count circle were left with out anyone to count in them we decided that we could cover a second area. So around 7:30 am or so we took of and headed to our first area.

Our first zone was south west of Red Wing and west of Frontenac. It consisted mainly of farm fields with a few roads running through, so we spent most of our time in the truck driving around. With a lot of farms and fields we spotted a lot of juncos, chickadees, tree sparrows, starlings, pheasants, and pigeons. We also spotted a few more interesting birds.

Red-tailed hawk

Rough-legged hawk

Northern shrike

We even got a bald eagle to pose for us in the lite snow

It snowed for quite a bit in the morning, the very wet snow flakes made it difficult to shoot, so my camera stayed packed most of the time until the snow stopped but I could not pass on these shots.

We completed our first zone around noon and then met back with the group at the afternoon rendezvous. By this time all the snow had stopped and the fog had lifted. It was still very overcast but the temps were fairly warm as we headed out to our second area.

The second zone covered the Frontenac area. It consisted of the small residential areas of Frontenac and as well as the state park. We started off touring through the residential areas, stopping to take a closer look at any of the active feeders. Near the feeders we saw juncos, cardinals, chickadees, gold finch and house finch.

We also saw American tree sparrows

blue jays

and pine siskin at some of the feeders.

Near one of the cemeteries we were excited to find a couple of brown creepers. They were the only 2 creepers that were found on the count.

In the Frontenac State Park we spotted another rough-legged hawk, a flock of nearly 100 robins over by the Villa Maria, and a couple bald eagles near the river. We even hiked out to sand point but we did not find much other then a hairy woodpecker.

When we finished the second area we headed back to Red Wing to meet for the compilation. I still had some holiday stuff to take care of plus we were all pretty beat so we did not stay long. According to an e-mail from Laura Coble the final numbers were 46 species found by 17 birders. The record for this count from 1905 to 1973 was 49 so considering the conditions I think that we did well. The more interesting sightings included:

2 Tufted Titmice (at two separate feeders; one of the feeders normally has 2)
2 Brown Creepers
8 Gray Partridges
14 Rough-legged Hawks
49 Pine Siskins
10 Snow Buntings
1 Belted Kingfisher
4 Ruffed Grouse
96 American Robins
60 Red-winged Blackbirds

Most of my birding has been alone or with my wife, so going out with other birders has been kind of a new experience for me. It has been fun and I am learning a lot. Hopefully I will get a chance to go out birding with Jim and/or Jim again in the future.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Sunday, December 23, 2007

In search of Ross's gull, snowy owl, and harlequin duck

While I was up in Duluth and Two Harbors doing the Christmas Bird Count last weekend all of the cool birds where spotted hanging out down in the Twin Cities. First there was a Ross's gull spotted in South Saint Paul, which is about 5 minutes from my house, on Saturday. Then a snowy owl was spotted at the Minneapolis Airport, 20 minutes from home, on Saturday and finally a harlequin duck or two was spotted in Hasting, MN, about 15 minutes from home.
I didn't get home from Two Harbors until after dark on Sunday and so Monday after work was my time to go out and chase the cool birds around the Twin Cities. Since the Ross's gull was extremely rare, only a few sightings ever reported in Minnesota, many people were out looking for it on Sunday with out any luck. So I decided to concentrate on the other two.

Since the airport is close to work I headed over there first. I drove around the airport a couple of times but did not see the owl. Daylight was quickly fading and I was getting worried about a visit from airport police or someone worse, driving around the airport looking for a bird tends to arise suspicion since 911, so I decided to make a quick trip over to Hastings.

When I got to the St Croix river, where the bird(s) had been seen, the sun was already low in the sky. I figured that I did not have a lot of time so I threw on my boots, grabbed my gear and headed down to the shoreline. There was quite a bit of activity in the open water so I began to scan for my target. The first thing to draw my attention were the larger birds like the Canadian geese and trumpeter swans.Next I looked further out but I just spotted some more swans coming towards me.
As the royal procession of swans swam by they were observed by a group of commoners, common goldeneye and common mergansers that is.I also spotted a few ring-necked ducks, redhead duck and canvasback but still no harlequin.The light was fading fast, it looked like I would be struck out 3 out of 3 on this day. I figured that I would try and salvage my time by checking out the goldeneyes to see if their might be any Barrow's mixed in with the commons.And that is when I spotted it. Mixed in with the goldeneye was a harlequin. I tried to keep the camera on him but the light was getting bad and he was quite a ways away.He moved off from the goldeneyes to go check out some chick. Ultimately I got him alone. These were definitely not great shots but this was my first harlequin, a lifer if I kept a true life list. Eventually I hope to build a website to go along with the blog and that time I will feature my life list, in pictures, on the site. Hopefully before that time comes I will have the opportunity to get some better pictures of harlequin ducks but if not I will be happy to at least have pictures that you can definitely identify as a harlequin.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Welcome to the first day of winter.

Although much of North America has already had a taste of winter like weather the official start to winter was today at 1:08 am EST. Here in Minnesota we already have 6" or more of snow on the ground, we have seen sub zero temps and wind chills in the -10 range and below. Today is also the shortest day of the year.The sun typically begins to set here between 4:00 to 4:30pm. This makes it really hard to get out and take pics when you have a full time job. The official end to winter will be March 20, 2008 at 0:48AM EST. It looks like this winter will be a long 3 months.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Another foray to Black Dog Lake

On Thursday December 13th I decided to go back down to Black Dog Lake to see if the horned grebe was still around so that I could get some more pictures. I did not find the grebe but the trumpeter swans that have been hanging out on the lake were in a better possition for me to get some pics.

Out on the river the warmer weather has melted some of the ice so there is now more open water then there was at the beggining of the month when we had extremely cold temps. The hooded mergansers were still hanging around.
But a group of common mergansers has now also moved into the area.

The eagles where still around but they spent most of their time perched in the tall trees across the river. One immature did take off and moved up river.I had to practice my parking in the middle of the road technique and shoot through the small trees lining the road just to get a pic.