Charismatic (Minnesota) Fauna

Several fellow Cuba travelers and I visited a former Army ammunition plant (now wildlife area) on a cold, dreary morning today, but we saw about 40 species of birds there.  Among them were a couple of the species photographers love to capture up-close because they are so charismatic. Unfortunately one of them was quite far away.

One of a pair of osprey perched about 1/4 mile from its nest where its mate was resting.

One of a pair of osprey perched about 1/4 mile from its nest where its mate was resting.

I think this is the other adult, whose head is just barely visible, perhaps sitting on eggs or chicks to keep them warm on this frigid day.

I think this is the other adult, whose head is just barely visible, perhaps sitting on eggs or chicks to keep them warm on this frigid day.

We tried to get closer for a better shot but made the bird nervous and it took off.

We tried to get closer for a better shot but made the bird nervous and it took off.

Bad light, moving target, but the head was in focus.

Bad light, moving target, but the head was in focus.

The bird landed in a tree that was closer to us, and in marginally better light.

The bird landed in a tree that was closer to us, and in marginally better light.

There are three osprey nests in this wildlife area, which is managed by the U.S. Army.  Unfortunately, it is closed to the public most of the time, or I would be walking around there every day.

Osprey are common world-wide, but are unusual in that they are the only species in their family.  Not an eagle, not a hawk, nor a falcon, but sharing some of their characteristics, it is a unique and successful specialist on catching fish. They can turn their outer toes backward, like owls, forming a pincer to snag fish.  Sharp spicules on the toe pads and backward pointed scales on the underside of the talons bite into the fish to stabilize it while the bird is flying.

Just as we were leaving the area, my husband spotted a pair of Common Loons (also called Great Northern Loon) swimming close to shore.

Common Loon

Their plumage is so water repellent, you can see droplets beading up on the bird's head.

Their plumage is so water repellent, you can see droplets beading up on the bird’s head.

Loons are powerful flyers, clocking in at more than 70 mph, and can launch themselves like a torpedo in the water, performing kick-turns to change direction abruptly when their prey does.  But their legs are placed so far back on their bodies to enable their underwater maneuvers that they have trouble taking off without a long runway of up to 1/4 mile of open water.  These two loons were swimming in a small lake, so I wonder how they will manage to lift off to finish their migration north.

Common Loons are found throughout North American, Europe and Asia, breeding in northern, inland lakes in the summer and wintering along the coasts of the continents.  According to the Cornell Bird Lab website, a family of loons (adults and two chicks) will eat almost a half-ton of fish over the nesting period (about 12-15 weeks).  So when you see Loons on a lake, you know the fishing is good there.

6 thoughts on “Charismatic (Minnesota) Fauna

  1. Ospreys were successfully reintroduced into Scotland in the 1950’s. We used to love visiting a RSPB nesting site near Loch Garten. one of the original sites. The attendants knew the birds as the pairs return for many years. One year a helper was asked if they had special names for these majestic birds and he shame-facedly admitted – Kevin and Tracy!

    • And especially up close! I was so lucky that they didn’t swim quickly away, but stayed fairly near the shore. Minnesota’s state bird!

  2. Ospreys and loons–that’s the recipe for a successful day in my book. Nice shots, Sue. I’m hoping to track down some ospreys in this area and see if I can get some decent shots myself.

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