Robin gets the worm!

The April blizzard is melting and apparently all that soil moisture is making the earthworms restless.  Robins are scouring the front yard for delectables, with great success.

Got the worm out of the soil, now to get it down the gullet.

That was quite a meal!

Ever wondered how Robins find those juicy earthworms?  Slight movements in the grassy thatch or bare soil tips them off to the worm’s presence, then they focus in on tiny holes in the soil where the top of the worm’s proboscis may be sticking up.  There is also evidence that they can hear the worms moving through the soil matrix.  End result — a juicy meal.

April blizzard

After a week of warmth in California weather, we returned to a Minnesota “spring” blizzard, complete with wet snow, fierce winds, icy rain, and frigid temperatures.  Pity the poor migratory birds that came here to replenish their energy before continuing north.

Fox Sparrow

Fox Sparrow looking forlorn about all the snow covering the vegetation.

The icy crust was too hard for them to scratch below in search of fallen seeds from the feeders.

Slate-colored Junco

Slate-colored Juncos were everywhere scavenging fallen seed.

Male House Finch

This House Finch was eating the snow!

Male Northern Cardinal standing tall, trying to look in the feeder to find seed.

Female Northern Cardinal, not finding much to eat with the snow covering all the feeder holes.

American Goldfinch males have turned their bright yellow spring breeding colors. But it doesn’t seem like spring weather now.

Hopefully this is the last of the white stuff we will see this spring.


Bird walk at Alviso marina

Where have all the birds gone?  Just a handful of Avocets, a scattered few ducks, two pairs of Canada Geese, and a dozen or so Black-necked Stilts were around on this sunny (finally) morning at the salt ponds that empty into the southern end of San Francisco Bay.

Alviso marina county park

A beautiful morning for a bird walk, with lilac plants framing the salt ponds.

Alviso marina county park

The ponds here are usually full of waders and ducks, but not today.

Black-necked Stilts

One-legged birds? Black-necked Stilts at rest

Alviso marina county park

I must be desperate to take photos of something, if I’m shooting train pictures.

Kind of disappointing.

But we accidentally started a feud between a Marsh Wren and a Common Yellowthroat Warbler, which made the morning memorable.  After seeing a male Common Yellowthroat land nearby, we played his “wichety” song, and instead of the Yellowthroat popping into view, we made the local Marsh Wren mad enough to come scold us for several minutes.

Common Yellowthroat male

This bright Common Yellowthroat male was the one we were after.

Marsh Wren

You wouldn’t think a Marsh Wren would respond so intensely to the call of another species…but this bird was quite vocal about defending his nest territory.

Marsh Wren

Whistles, chirps, rattles, and buzzes come out in a continuous stream to drive off the invaders.

Marsh Wren

You almost never get this bird in view because they hide down in the reeds, and blend into their habitat quite well. But he/she was mad!

Deer in the meadow

How picturesque, stumbling onto a mule deer herd in Calero county park east of San Jose, CA, as they munched their way through the spring wildflowers.

Mule deer herd in Calero County Park, San Jose CA

Mule deer herd in Calero County Park, San Jose CA

Mule deer herd in Calero County Park, San Jose CA

Yes, picturesque.

Tom Turkey displaying

Tom Turkey was displaying energetically, but the two hens present ignored him.

Ah, spring! So green!

It may be a while before Minnesota takes on such a green glow!

the competition

They’re back, and they’re busily staking out their territories.  The Red-winged Blackbirds that is.

Red-winged Blackbird

Timing is everything when males want to control the best space and resources to attract females when they arrive, so it’s best to be the first to arrive in coveted areas.

I had heard that blackbirds had been spotted along the southern border of the Twin Cities two days ago, so I went looking for them in our nearby local marshes, and didn’t find or hear a single bird.

But a very small pond lined with cattails bordering the parking lot of the local YMCA had three male blackbirds patrolling the space and actively announcing their presence.

One bird was hiding behind branches of a tree along the busy road.

Red-winged Blackbird

And he wouldn’t move! So this was the best shot I could get. Fortunately the brick walls of the YMCA were out of focus.

Another bird called from down in the cattails, but hopped up on them momentarily for a photo.

Red-winged Blackbird

Not much aggressive action between these two birds on this cold day.

The third bird called from his perch high up on a light pole, and I didn’t bother photographing him.

I wonder which of them will win the competition for this site.  It seems to me they could do so much better for breeding sites at some of the local ponds in parks nearby…but then I don’t know what blackbirds like.

Riding down the Mississippi on a chunk of ice

And the melting continues during a weekend heat wave of 50 F.  Ring-billed Gulls hitched a ride on an ice chunk as it floated down the river toward Coon Rapids dam.

Ring-billed Gulls on the Mississippi River, Minneapolis

Just “ridin’ down the river”…

Their ride had to end, though, as their ice berg approached the dam spillway.

Ring-billed Gulls on the Mississippi River, Minneapolis

Ring-billed Gulls on the Mississippi River, Minneapolis


Spring thaw

It’s officially spring, and with the change in seasons comes a change in the state of water — from solid to liquid form.

Spring floods

This is nothing compared to what is currently going on in Nebraska and Iowa, merely an inconvenience here in MN.

But open water in this frozen northland is a signal to the wildlife that another winter has passed, and it’s time to get on with the rituals of spring time: namely singing up a storm, strutting the feather finery for the ladies, and getting started with the production of the next generation.

Mallard pair

Mr. Mallard is looking ever so handsome as he courts a winsome female.

spring thaw

Mallards can be found on every little patch of open water in this early part of spring.  Soon (I hope) they will be joined by a flood of migratory ducks.

the flower picker

I remember sitting in the dark before dawn near some feeders in southeastern Arizona two years ago, just to catch a glimpse of a rare visitor to the area, the Streak-backed Oriole.  After 3 hours we did catch just a brief glimpse of “the bird” (there was only one).  Now two years later, I find they are common in this part of Mexico, and seem to like to enrich their fruit diet with a few flowers (perhaps containing nectar) plucked from various vegetation.

Streak-backed Oriole, Jalisco, Mexico

This bird was exploring the purple Jacaranda flowers, pulling them off the tree at random. Note the streaks along its back behind its head. Well-named bird!

Streak-backed Oriole, Jalisco, Mexico

Another oriole attacked the much larger flower of a banana plant. Perhaps it was attracted to the large red sheath at the base of the banana bunches.

Streak-backed Oriole, Jalisco, Mexico

The bird pecked at several places on the flower, but didn’t seem to find much.

Streak-backed Oriole, Jalisco, Mexico

And off he went…with some part of the plant grasped in his toes.

Like most Orioles, males of the Streak-backed variety are the most colorful, with females being considerably duller and less orange.  However, the species ranges from northern Mexico (occasionally venturing into southern Arizona) where the two sexes are completely different in color, through most of Central America, where the two sexes become more and more similar in coloration going south.

Why would there be such a difference between coloration of females from the northern vs southern extent of their range?

Apparently, Streak-backed Orioles maintain permanent territories year-round in the southern part of their range, where the bright coloration of the females helps territory defense.  In more northerly areas, the orioles maintain only a breeding territory, and may undergo short migrations away during the non-breeding season!

Red birds of Monte Coxala

The Monte Coxala resort where we are housed for our pickleball camp has some beautiful gardens, and where there are flowers, there are usually birds.  And this area has some brilliant red birds, in particular.

House Finch, San Juan Cosalà, Jalisco, Mexico

I’ve never seen House Finches this red, but the Mexican variety really makes the Minnesota variety look dull.

House Finches though quite beautiful here, are eclipsed by the numerous Vermillion Flycatchers that frequent the gardens.

Vermillion Flycatcher, San Juan Cosalà, Jalisco, Mexico

About the same size as the House Finches, but so much more colorful.

Vermillion Flycatcher, San Juan Cosalà, Jalisco, Mexico

Striking bird!

Stark! Cold! Lifeless (almost).

That was the North Shore of Lake Superior this weekend.  So much wind they closed the lifts at Lutsen mountain, and the outer doors of our motel blew right off their track.

Lake Superior, Tofte, MN

There are some interesting ice formations on the frozen part of the lake.

Wind and cold temperatures make for a stark landscape.  It’s more attractive with some people in it — cold hikers!

Lake Superior, Tofte, MN

Lake Superior, Tofte, MN

Lots of frozen waterfalls along the cliff walls of the lake.

Lake Superior, Tofte, MN

Glittering shards of ice litter the shoreline of the lake.

American crow

Crows and ravens always seem to be out hunting for food regardless of weather extremes.

crows feeding on roadkill

Most often the animals you might see are feasting on roadkilled deer.  Larger predators like wolves and coyotes arrive first, then eagles, ravens, and crows. We saw several of these feeding sites along the north shore highway.  Image from a Storyblocks Video. 

Just being out in this environment for a couple of hours at a time makes me marvel at the abilities of animals to survive in it.