Sunday, September 30, 2007

Crex Meadows

Friday after work I decided to run up to Crex Meadows. Crex is kind of far away for birding after work, it's about an hour and a half drive each way, but it has been a while since I have been to Crex, plus the weather was beautiful and the forecast for the weekend looked bad, so I decided to make the run up.
The fall migration in Minnesota is in full swing so I saw quite a few raptors on this trip. There were quite a few harriers sweeping the fields, mostly the brown females, a kestrel perched on a dead branch, a few bald eagles scanning the lakes and a red-tailed hawk. Unfortunately none were in a spot where I could get a good picture. I did find a photogenic american coot in the shallows off main dike road.

The pied-billed grebes have continued to migrate through the area. I found a few in Phantom Lake and a few more in the North Fork Flowage.All of the trumpeter swan cygnets have grown up and the swan population is booming all over the park.I found this swan in the Zulliger Flowage.There were quite a few swans in the Refuge Extension Flowage and on Reisinger Lake.Not only have the cygnets grown up but so have the fawns. This one stopped near the road to take a look at me. Curiosity may end up killing him though, as there is hunting in a lot of Crex.The sandhill cranes, that have gathered, now prolly range in the hundreds.The cranes stop in Crex to feed and refuel for the long flight south. The park does have several farm fields that produce grain for the cranes to eat.Soon the cranes will take off and continue their trip to the south, but since the sun was getting low I decided it was time for me to head south.

Friday, September 28, 2007

A buggy start to the fall

While I was out birding at Wood Lake Nature Center last Sunday I also managed to take a few insect picture. The weather has been getting colder at nights, down into the 40s and 50s which has helped with the mosquito population, but it's been warming up to the mid 70s in the afternoon, so I have still been able to find butterflies and dragonflies on my trips out. At Wood Lake I got a couple pics of butterflies which I have photographed in the past like:

the monarch

and the clouded,sometimes called common, sulfur

This time I also got some different butterflies like the orange sulfur above and below.The orange sulfur is similar to the clouded sulfur except for the orange on the top of the wing. It is difficult to see in from the angle above but you can kind of see the orange patch on the upper wing.I also shot this little yellow light phase female. This is a very small butterfly about 1/8th the size of a monarch.I also found a new dragon. This is a female autumn meadowhawk. Females can be red in color, like the males, or orange, like above. Autumn meadowhawks differ from other meadowhawks in that they have yellow legs instead of black like most of the others. This makes them easier to identify.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Immature yellow-crowned night heron

Wednesday I returned to Lake Hiawatha to see if I could get some better pictures of the immature yellow-crowned night heron that has been hanging around there. The pictures that I got on Sunday were good but I was hoping that I would find the bird a little closer and in a bit better light. I went out straight from work and got to the lake around 2:30pm. I looked around a bit but did not see it. I did run into another birder, Bob, who was trying to add the bird to his Minnesota list for 2007. Since I had already been searching for the bird earlier in the week I filled Bob in on my experience. We looked around a bit and found several of the immature black-crowned night heron. We kept moving around on the south side of Minnehaha creek changing our angle in hopes that we would spot the yellow-crown. Then Bob spotted a bird through the trees that he thought might be the one which we were looking for. He pointed it out and I was able to get it into view in my binos and verify that it was the YCNH. I could not see the legs but I did get a good view of the beak, which was stockier, did not seem to have a curve and was black with grey at the base. With the distance and the angle a picture was out of the question and it was a moot point anyway as the bird went back into the canopy a minute later and we could no longer see him. Bob had to leave but he was happy because he got to add him to his 2007 Minnesota list.

After Bob left I decided to circle around the creek to see if I could spot the bird from a different angle. I went up to the road but I could not see anything from the bridge so I moved to the north side of the creek. As I neared the end of the tree line I spotted an immature bird perched in the tree. I thought that it might be the YCNH but I was not sure because the sun was pretty much right behind so I could not see it very well. So I continued to the west around a bush that sits in front of the trees and into the tall grass and there I got a great view of the bird. It was indeed the immature yellow-crowned night heron. I took a few picture then went back to my truck to get my teleconverter so that I could get some good close up shots. Here are a few of the pictures that I took.

Here is a picture of an immature black-crowned night heron for comparison.Notice how the shape of the beak is different. The BCNH has a thinner beak that is black on top and yellow on the bottom. The top portion of the black-crown's bill also is longer and overhangs the lower portion. The yellow-crown's bill is the same size on top and bottom and is black at the ends and grey at the base. It is a bit more difficult to see but the spots on the back of the YCNH are small triangles, while the spots on the BCNH are more like elongated triangles.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

First day of fall at Wood Lake

After spending a couple hours looking for the immature yellow-crowned night heron at Lake Hiawatha I decided that I did not want to waste this beautiful first day of fall so I headed over to Wood Lake Nature Center to do a bit of birding. I decided to do a figure eight around the park that way I get to do a double trip through the boardwalk in the center. I started by checking out down by the water at the visitor's center. The dock that goes out over the water was partially flooded but in the brush on the side of the path I spotted something.a brown thrasher was thrashing around in the brush. I moved around to try and get a less obstructed view and then he flew.

Luckily, for me, he flew to a bird house a short ways away and posed in the open so that I could get a good shot.

The next thing that I spotted where a couple of female cardinals playing tag in the trees.

They looked a bit scraggly with patches of feathers missing on their face due to their molting.I saw song sparrows all over the park.Out in the middle of the park I came across this chipmunk who had stopped to eat.Seeing the chipmunk chowing down reminded me that it had been quite a few hours since I had last eaten and I was hungry so I headed home to eat some lunch.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Yellow-crowned night heron

One of the more popular bird sightings listed on the MOU list server, for the Twin Cities area, has been an immature yellow-crowned night heron spotted by Lake Hiawatha in south Mpls. Although I have photographed both yellow and black crowned night herons in the past, on my frequent trips to Florida, the yellow-crowned are not very common this far north. So last Thursday, September 20th, I went out to see what I could find. All that I found was a green heron but unfortunately the trip was cut short by thunderstorms that rolled into the area.

So I decided to try again on Sunday. The weather report was supposed to be good so I got up early and headed out before the sun came up. I arrived at around 6:30 and made my way to the area by the golf course where the bird had last been reported. Another birder was behind me heading to the same area. I looked around on the golf course a bit and then the other birders cell phone rang. He told me that the person who had called had spotted the yellow-crown over by the creek, so we headed back that way. By the time we arrived the person who had spotted the bird had lost it in the tree cover. We looked around but we could not find the bird.
As the sun came up and began to light the area we did begin to spot the black-crowned night herons.

With their light color the adults where not too hard to spot.The immature where a different story though. Their color and the striped patterns on their wings and breast blended in real well with the bark of the trees. I continued to search the area for a couple of hours. During that time I saw 4 immature black- crowned, 3 adult black-crowned, quite a few sparrows and warblers and about 20 different birders. We were all looking for the yellow-crowned night heron and we did not have any luck. Finally I decided to leave. Beautiful sunny days are precious in the fall, winter, cold and snow come all too quickly, so I decided that I would go do some birding at Wood Lake Nature Center instead.

Later that evening I returned to Lake Hiawatha for another try at the yellow-crowned night heron and this time, with the help of several birders who were already there, I was able to get a couple of shots of the bird.He was in a high cotton wood tree near the road. the light was not really good, the sun was already beginning to set, and I had to shoot from quite a ways away. This meant using the teleconverter which means even darker pictures, so I decided to try and see if I could spot the bird from the other side.I did manage to find a hole through the foliage and was able to get a shot. The sun was behind the bird so the lighting was still pretty poor, but you can definitely see the difference between this bird and the immature earlier in the post. At about 7pm he flew off with an immature black-crowned towards the lake so I decided to call it a night.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Hawk Ridge

After we got back from our Lake Superior boat trip we took a quick tour around Park Point. We did not see much except for a mourning cloak butterfly.

He looked kind of ragged and had a hard time standing so he may have taken a rough flight over part of Lake Superior. I did see butterflies and other insects out of over the lake while we were on the boat.

Since we did not see much we decided to go get some lunch and then head up to Hawk Ridge. It was about 3pm when we arrived and it was still very crowded since it was the Hawk Weekend celebration. We were a bit past the prime raptor viewing time but we did see a nice selection of raptors.

This included a few sharp-shinned hawks, there was a total of 961 spotted that day.Bald eagle and broad winged hawks, 46 total eagles and 4095 broad-winged hawks were counted that day.A lot of american kestrel, 205 were counted for the day.

And a merlin, 5 were seen throughout the day.

To see what other raptors were seen that day, and all the days through the fall migration, check out the Hawk Ridge Hawk Count page.

There were also other activities going on because of Hawk Weekend. These included educational programs, Michelle went to one of these and raptor banding. Those people who sponsored a raptor where able to tour the banding station and were even able to release there adopted bird. This kestrel was not too thrilled about being caught and banded. It even took a bite from the finger of the count interpreter who was passing it to the young boy who had adopted it.

Both survived and the boy was able to release the bird with out incident.

Here is a close up of the kestrel who gives me a look that says, "what the "bleep" am I doing here."

The unique part of the adopt a raptor program at Hawk Ridge is that you bird that you adopt is unique to you. They tell you the band ID number and notify you and give you information when your bird is recovered. I would have adopted one but it was already too late to get to release the bird that day so I will need to adopt one on my next trip up.

While we were waiting for raptors to fly by there was plenty of wildlife to photograph. There were quite a few black-capped chickadees around.

They were joined by a group of white-throated sparrow, there may have been some white-capped mixed in.They were competing with the rodents for seeds that the volunteers had spread on the ground.This chubby ground squirrel had no problem coming out to get more then his share of seeds.The chipmunks were not as daring. They would make quit raids, grab what they could and then retreat back to the brush.

We stayed for about an hour and a half but then decided to get going. We still had a couple hour drive ahead of us and we wanted to get home at a descent time so that we could eat dinner.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Lake Superior boat trip

On Saturday Michelle and I took a birding trip on Lake Superior organized by Mike Hendrickson. We drove up to Duluth on Friday evening, after work, and stayed in a motel in Superior, WI. We were up early Saturday morning and over to Duluth in time to take a short trip around Park Point before getting on the boat. The main purpose of the trip was to try and find jaegers. There had been reports of all 3 types of jaegers having been spotted earlier in the week so we were all hopeful. As we left Duluth harbor on the L.L. Smith Jr. research vessel we were already spotting gulls and double-crested cormorants in the harbor waters.
From his experience on his past trips and info from other local birders Mike decided to take us along the southern coast and follow Park Point to the east. After a bit of chumming the water we soon had a few gulls around the boat. Most of the gulls that we saw were herring gulls
or ring-billed gullsSoon we found that we had a couple of bonaparte's gulls mixed in also. They were easy to spot because of their much smaller size.Soon we came to the Minnesota / Wisconsin border. The border marker walls where filled with gulls but also had a few shore birds like this ruddy turnstone.

Suddenly the gulls that where following the boats seemed to get nervous and even more noisy then they already were. That is when we spotted an eagle traveling fairly low over the lake.
After the eagle flew past the flock of gulls got back to feeding and that was when Mike spotted an incoming lesser black-backed gull flying in to join the party.So the trip was going well. We had spotted 4 different gull types, cormorant, white pelican, several different types of shore birds and even had a nice eagle fly by but we still had not found any jagers. Then Mike got a call from some Wisconsin birders who had spotted a couple parasitic jaegers further to the east of our position. So we headed off to the east into Wisconsin waters and it was not long before we spotted an adult parasitic jaeger. Unfortunately he was to far away to get any sort of picture. I was disappointed but then Mike received another call, from the bird watchers who were on the beach in front of us, that there was a juvenile parasitic in the water between us and them. After a few minutes of searching the waters we located the bird and started to slowly sail towards it. It took off before we got too close but I did get a picture as it began to fly away.It flew to the west and began harassing a herring gull trying to steal some food.The boat trip was a good time. We did not get to see all 3 types of jaegers but the weather was gorgeous and I had some good opportunities to get some great shots. Mike has one more boat trip going on October 6th. As of the time I posted this there were still a few spots open so if you are interested you can get more info at Mike's site