More migrants coming through

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.

The din from the chorus of a hundred or so Red-winged Blackbird males was incredibly loud.

The din from the chorus of a hundred or so Red-winged Blackbird males was incredibly loud.

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.

Tundra Swans and Ring-necked Ducks congregated at the far end of this flooded low spot in a huge field of corn stubble.

Tundra Swans and Ring-necked Ducks congregated at the far end of this flooded low spot in a huge field of corn stubble.  I wonder how much pesticide and herbicide they pick up on these stop-overs.

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, Bufflehead, and Ring-necked Ducks rested and preened themselves in late morning sun on this farm pond.

Canvasback, Bufflehead, and Ring-necked Ducks rested and preened themselves in late morning sun on this farm pond.  I took this photo using all 400 mm of my telephoto lens, which barely enables me to see the red of the male Canvasback’s head.

Male Canvasback (Wikipedia photo by Frank Schulenburg).

What one might see if the ducks were closer to the photographer, or with a much, much bigger telephoto lens.  Male Canvasback (Wikipedia photo by Frank Schulenburg).

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.

7 thoughts on “More migrants coming through

  1. A scope would be nice to have. When I go on bird walks with my club someone usually brings (and carries) a scope and then I get to look through it. 🙂

    Lots of migrants passing through Chicago too. I saw a Hermit Thrush and Fox Sparrow on my walk this morning, and I only went to a small park.

    • Unfortunately, MN is the largest user of the corn herbicide Atrazine, so I’m sure there is some of that chemical running into the small lakes and ponds in these agricultural areas. A Berkeley researcher has shown that Atrazine feminizes male frogs, and others have demonstrated the same effect in fish and alligators.

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