When I visited Lake Temescal park in January, I saw several Black-crowned Night Herons perched along the shore. The juveniles fledged long ago and probably left this small lake, so only a couple of adults remain.
Barn and Cliff Swallows were swarming on the beach at lake Temescal in Oakland, CA today. Apparently there was a particularly good site on the beach for collecting the type of mud used for nest construction.
Cliff Swallows once nested on the steep cliff faces of rocky canyons and river valleys, but more recently have taken up residence on the walls of buildings where a colony may construct a huge dormitory of adjoining mud nests. These are the famous “swallows of Capistrano” that fly 6000 miles north each year from Argentina to the mission at San Juan Capistrano about the third week of March (usually on St. Joseph’s day, March 19) and leave again to fly south for the winter on roughly the same date in October.
Barn Swallows once nested in caves (or in barns), but now build their mud nests on a variety of human structures, like the housings for lights in a tunnel underpass. This species is one of the most widely distributed in the world, migrating from the southern hemisphere where is overwinters to breed in the northern hemisphere each year.
Violet-green Swallows are a western species, and closely related to Tree Swallows which they resemble in body form and habits. Like Tree Swallows they utilize nest holes in trees, which they line with grass and feathers and prefer more open areas near woods for foraging.
Spring is in full swing here in northern California. In fact, the roses are spectacular, far more so than mine which get attacked by those infamous petal gobblers, the Japanese beetles.
The fruit trees and perennial shrubs are flowering in my mother-in-law’s backyard in California, and the garden is full of hummingbirds chasing each other from tree to tree. The birds were amazingly cooperative posing near the blossoms.
A pair of Bald Eagles have established a nest at Eagle Park in Maple Grove, MN, (I wonder if that’s how it got its name?) and it looks like they are incubating eggs. As I sat along the shore watching very shy and uncooperative Wood Ducks, one of the eagles flew into the nest and relieved the incubator of duties (temporarily). Here’s the sequence of events, along with a narrated commentary.
This nest is near the top of a large maple tree, about 60 feet up. As seen in these photos, eagle nests are constructed of stout sticks, but lined with softer material, like the marsh grass one eagle brought to the nest. According to the experts, Bald Eagles tend to nest far from human disturbance in a stand of mature trees near large bodies of water, but this pair’s nest is about 100 feet from an industrial complex across a small marsh from a golf course, and 100 yards from a busy road. They must be quite tolerant, or very experienced breeders.
I’ll be gone out of town for a while, but I’ll be back to check on the chicks in late April. They might have hatched by then.
There are woodpeckers that specialize on obtaining nutrition from tree sap, like the four species of North American sapsuckers. Typically, they bore a hole into the cambium layer beneath the bark to get to the sapwood where sugary fluid is moving up from the roots to the developing leaf buds in the spring. But sapsuckers aren’t the only birds that enjoy the spring sap flow.
Seeing this bird make use of a fairly rare event in the forest (sap flow in the spring) raises the question of how it learned to utilize this resource in the first place: trial and error, watching other birds, or was it attracted to the flies that were on the sugary sap?
I spent a couple of hours tromping around Rice Creek after those pesky Belted Kingfishers yesterday, but they always saw me coming from quite a distance away. So, I had to resort to some serious photoediting to get something moderately useful for the blog.
This seems to be a favorite spot of this male Belted Kingfisher (no rusty brown belly-band beneath his slate blue collar indicates his sex), as I have found him perched here several times now This is one of the few species in which the female is actually the more colorful.
Belted Kingfishers might stay all year in MN, but only where there is open water. A pair will maintain a territory along a stream, nesting in the cut of the riverbank where they excavate a long tunnel for their nest. I’m not sure there is sufficient height in the bank of this creek to allow them to nest here though.
Downstream about 1/2 mile from the site where I found this male was another kingfisher, a female that also had a preferred perch site on a beautiful snag overlooking the creek. Having missed the perfect shot of her on this perch, I had to settle for her silhouette in the tree where she teased me by rattling the familiar kingfisher call over and over.
With their big head and oversized bill, these birds look sort of top-heavy. However, they capture a wide variety of stream critters with their big bill-pincer, including fish (mostly minnows), amphibians, crayfish, molluscs, insects, even some small mammals. Unlike the diving ducks, kingfishers close their eyes as they enter the water, diving blind toward prey they have visualized from above. But they have surprising success.
Now that I know where they hang out, I’ll keep trying to sneak up on them for some better portraits. In the meantime, have a look at Sparky Stensaas’ clever method for capturing kingfishers close-up. At the end of the video, he has some good suggestions for setting up the camera for wildlife photography.
Rice Creek is one of the tributaries of the Mississippi that enters the river right in the metropolitan area of Minneapolis. Flowing through a small chain of lakes, it then drains into a marshy wetland with a fairly fast-flowing creek meandering through it. The entire wetland has been designated a regional park encompassing more than 6000 acres. Although it was actually named for one of Minnesota’s first U.S. senators, it turns out that this area was where the Dakota Sioux harvested wild rice. In fact, the Sioux name for this area translates to “wild rice river”. So it is aptly named.
Blue-winged Teal are some of the longest distance migratory ducks, some of them coming all the way from northern South America. They are dabbling ducks, like Mallards, and this pair was working the submerged vegetation right along the side of the creek.
A small group of Hooded Mergansers were diving for fish in the deeper and quieter pools of the creek.
“Hoodies” were one of the first migrants to arrive back in this area this spring. Perhaps these birds will stay in this area to breed. There are quite a few dead snags with previously excavated nest holes along the creek for them to use.
Last week I saw just a couple of blackbirds in a marsh; yesterday I saw several hundred descend into a farmyard along a country road east of St. Paul. The male Red-winged Blackbirds are back in MN in great numbers now.
Since the lakes are still frozen, migrating waterfowl settle down on flooded farmers fields to rest and feed during a migratory stop-over. They typically choose a natural depression where snow melt runs off to form a large wading pool. Unfortunately, these are usually quite far from the road, making species ID difficult with just binoculars. I might have to invest in a spotting scope in the future.
I think these were Tundra Swans because I could just make out a yellow spot below their eye (which Trumpeter Swans don’t have). These birds migrate from the Atlantic coast of North America diagonally up the Mississippi flyway across the upper Midwest to northern Arctic areas and breed in the shallow pools and lakes of remote areas there. They are smaller than the Trumpeters and much, much shyer, staying as far from disruptive photographers as possible. Like other swan species, they are monogamous and mate for life.Canvasback ducks also migrate up the Mississippi flyway from their southern U.S. wintering grounds to their Canadian and Alaskan breeding grounds. They are the largest diving ducks, but unlike the mergansers, they dive for submerged vegetation instead of fish. Their chestnut heads and wedge-shaped bills make them easy to spot among a group of ducks.
Spring in Minnesota means shoveling a foot of snow from the sidewalk in the morning and going for a hike without a jacket in the afternoon. At least the snow melts faster than it does during the winter!
I visited Pine Bend Bluff Scientific and Natural Area along the Mississippi River the other day during a peak migration event and saw many eagles, hawks, and waterfowl moving up the river.
The day was just heating up allowing the raptors to circle upward on the thermals rising over the river, and every now and then there were a few interactions of the eagles flying overhead.
Chatter between the eagles and an occasional dive toward another eagle or flying in tandem pairs meant there was more going on than just soaring around looking for a stray fish. But no X-rated activity was observed on this morning.