You probably associate summer solstice with warm, sunny days conducive to lying about on beaches soaking up the sunshine. Not so here at the northern tip of Sweden, on the road to Narvik, Norway. Spring hasn’t even made an appearance here yet, and it’s mid-summer!
Russia!! More specifically, St. Petersburg, what a gorgeous and hospitable city. A two-day, whirlwind tour of palaces, gardens, city sights, museums, etc., but no biology, unfortunately. What contrasts from new, modern skyscrapers and malls to old Soviet style offices and huge apartment complexes to 18th century or earlier palace constructions. It’s definitely spring here, and we hit two of the 9 sunny days they average here each summer.
Back when we had sunny days a couple of weeks ago, I found a lone Pelican resting at the edge of the Grass Lake marsh. What was it doing here, all by itself? Why was it so sedentary, just sitting for hours on the dead cattails? I guess I’ll never know, but the bird has since disappeared. Other visitors speculated that it was sitting on a nest — nope, I verified that when it stood up. Some thought it might be injured and couldn’t fly away. That’s possible, since it was so sedentary, and it did look like one wing was sort of droopy.
White Pelicans, once rare here, now choose the shallow prairie pothole lakes in western and southwestern Minnesota to breed. They have rebounded dramatically from a complete absence of nesting birds over the period from 1878 to 1968 to over 20,000 nesting pairs in Minnesota currently, largely due to the conservation and management efforts of the non-game wildlife staff in the MN Department of Natural Resources.
White Pelicans typically migrate from their winter headquarters in the gulf to Minnesota lakes in early spring (March). It’s a welcome sight to see them in formation overhead, white bodies and wings outlined with black wing tips soaring overhead.
Pelicans are highly social and nest in large aggregations. They live and hunt communally, using teamwork to scare up and harvest fish from the surface of the water. A single Pelican foraging for itself, like the one I found at Grass Lake, might be far less effective in gathering food. I hope it recovered and flew off to join its friends somewhere on a distant lake.
Cave Creek ranch in the Chiricahua mountains near the New Mexico border is an idyllic haven for birders and hikers. The scenery is pretty incredible too.
Sycamores can grow to be giants, but occasionally a limb snaps off, and we find animals taking advantage of the nook created by the amputated limb.
Desert animals are often pale in comparison to others of their kind in other climates, as this Great Horned Owl is. But there is more to the story than just differences in color.
Animals in this part of the U.S. seem to be entirely different geographic races of their parent species, and the extent of differences in their DNA, their color, their song, and their behavior have led scientists to begin splitting the southwestern desert species off from their representatives in other parts of the U.S. and Mexico. That’s great for birders that like adding species to their life lists!
We met some new friends along the Cave Creek trail, but apparently our “old friends” may be new as well.
In the cool canyons above the desert floor, riparian woodlands thrive along the banks of streams flowing down from the mountains.
We stopped at Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon southeast of Tucson for a few days and enjoyed finding some unique birds flitting in the sycamores that line the creek.
Sycamores trees along the banks of the creek are a valuable resource for forest birds; their soft wood makes drilling holes easy for Woodpeckers and sapsuckers, and branches that drop in windy weather leave gaping holes for nests of rare birds like the Elegant Trogon that we set out to find on this trail along the creek.
As we hiked up the canyon, keeping our ears and eyes alert to signs of Trogon, we were rewarded with a couple of other birds unique to this part of Arizona.
Painted Redstarts aren’t that closely related to our American Redstart, though they have the same annoying habit of calling continually from hidden locations. They are only found in parts of southeastern Arizona and south western New Mexico, and are members of the group of Whitestart warblers (named for their habit of flashing white tail feathers as they fly) that inhabit Mexico and Central Mexico.
Another visitor from Mexico was found probing the litter beneath the trees, the Yellow-eyed Junco. It looks just like our Northern Juncos, but what a standout with the bright yellow eye!
And the bird we came to see, the one that frequents these trails in montane riparian woodlands, the one sighted just days before 50 yards from a bench overlooking the creek, the one we brought two cameras with big telephoto lenses to capture in all its splendor — was nowhere to be seen (or heard).
Walking around the Sonoran desert in early morning with the local wildlife inhabitants, we came across quite a few new friends. A small sampling of what we saw…
More to come in the next few days, if the internet connection holds up. Continue reading
at the Grand Canyon for an overnight (who does just one night?), but we’re on the road to elsewhere…stay tuned.
We think of Spring as a wonderful time of rejuvenation and regrowth, but until leaves and flowers actually start appearing on plants and grass begins to green up and grow, plant eaters are still faced with barely anything to eat. Having eaten through their stored food and consumed anything that was half way edible over a long winter, animals could be faced with a starvation diet just as lakes are thawing, temperatures are warming, and days are getting longer.
But here’s the solution a little Red Squirrel found today — eating the buds of the buckeye tree outside my porch window. I saw him nipping off buds and tearing into them, peeling back the outer layer and dining on the juicy interior of the little embryonic leaves within. And he saw me watching him…
And then I watched as he nipped off another bud and devoured it as well.
Young buds probably have higher nitrogen and mineral content per unit weight than more mature leaves would, nutrition meant of course for the development of new leaves. So this is a pretty smart choice for a Red Squirrel that might be down to its last acorn in the larder.
We’re in a holding pattern here in the upper midwestern U.S., waiting for spring to burst upon us. Buds are swollen on the tips of branches, needing that extra bit of rain and warm weather to make them swell and open. The sap is running, judging from the gallons of flow I see in the buckets hanging on maple trees up the street. Cardinals and chickadees sing lustily every morning, and a few of the Woodpeckers are drumming on anything that resonates. I’ve even seen Mr. Tom Turkey strutting his finest feather display in the backyard. Robins and Juncos frequent the birdbath, which I can now safely fill with fresh water since nights are generally above freezing.
But the color of the landscape remains stubbornly brown, gray, and tan. Everything is just waiting…
What is a duck to do when the lake ice refreezes? If they can’t find open water, at least they might find some weak spots in the ice where a few pokes of the bill can open up a channel to water below.