an unusual sighting

For the past several years, a pair of ospreys have raised 2-3 chicks each year at the local marsh that surrounds Grass Lake, using a high nest platform erected specifically to entice them to breed there..

osprey-pair

The pair of Ospreys on their nest platform in June, 2016.

But this year, they must have arrived a little later than usual, because an interloper arrived first to claim the 50 foot high platform for her own nest.

canada goose-on osprey nest

It looks like Mother Goose tidied up the stick nest, before adding her own downy breast feathers to the nest cup.  Although her nest is well protected from danger of flooding on the osprey platform, it is exposed to aerial predators like Bald Eagles that might fly over.  

What is peculiar about this is that Canada Geese usually nest on land surrounded by or near the water on an elevated mound — but not this elevated!

great blue heron-and-canada geese-

While the hen incubates her eggs on her mounded nest, the gander runs protective interference and wards off potential predators or nosy herons.

Mother Goose usually sits tight on the nest, incubating her clutch of 6-8 eggs for most of a month or so, but Father Goose will take over at times so that the hen can stretch her legs and get a bit of food for herself.  Knowing how much space Canada Geese need to land on water or land, I have to wonder how good they are at making a touch down in the limited space of this nest platform.

Once the ducklings hatch, they usually move immediately into the water with their parents.

canada-goose-and-ducklings-1

It’s safer to be in the water because ducklings are vulnerable to a wide variety of predators on land.

Being nothing more than downy balls of fluff, they certainly can’t fly yet, so what will happen to the ducklings raised on an osprey platform?

Transformations

Marked transformations of the landscape and its inhabitants occur daily now in the upper Midwestern U.S., as the weather is warming up.  I took an early morning walk around the settlement ponds beyond the backyard and found quite a few changes since the week before.

backyard pond

early morning reflection in one of the ponds

The trees have leafed out, the grass is greening up nicely, and wildlife has again taken up residence there.

canada geese-

A pair of geese claimed one end of the pond as theirs — encouraging another pair to move away.

great egret-

A Great Egret fished along the shore…this is the first one I’ve seen so far this year.

great egret-

They seem to love dining on miniscule fish fry they find on the edges of the pond. The bird caught three in quick succession.

male wood duck-

Only male Wood Ducks patrolled the pond’s edges; perhaps the females are all sitting on eggs somewhere.

And of course, a symphony of Chorus Frogs added their music to the landscape.

western chorus-frog-calling

Indvidual tiny Boreal Chorus Frogs emit incredibly loud calls, and together with the other 100s in the pond, their “symphony” is deafening.

Each day brings new surprises — stay tuned for next week’s report on the pond.

Raising the kids

There’s no rest for busy bird parents these days as they patrol, hunt for food, and defend their youngsters. I saw a few examples of this on my nature walk the other day.

canada geese and goslings

The Canada Goose goslings have grown since I photographed them last week and most of them show the adult facial markings. One or two seem younger (smaller) than the others, and one definitely is developmentally behind the others (second from right). Perhaps these younger ones came from a different clutch and were adopted?

osprey and chicks-

There are (at least) wo chicks in the osprey nest, old enough now to stand up in the nest and beg.  

baltiimore oriole at his nest-

Mr. Oriole was busy tending to his chicks. The woven basket nest was well hidden in a clump of leaves and suspended by just a few thin threads from the branchlets above.

baltiimore oriole female-

Meanwhile, Mrs. Oriole was busy searching for something to feed her noisy youngsters.

Family time

This is the time of year we begin to see the duck and goose families venturing out in the wetlands and ponds.  The young are precocial, meaning they can walk and run immediately after hatching, but still depend on their parents for protection and for guidance on what is good to eat.

Canada goose and goslings

Follow the leader (in this case, a protective parent).

Canada goose and goslings

Yes, this is good to eat, not just to swim around in…

Wood Duck hen and duckling

This is only half of this hen Wood Duck’s brood — the others are feeding on weeds closer to the shore.

Wood Duck hen and duckling

But then they saw me and scampered over to mom for protection. Eleven of her hatchlings have survived so far; in this pond they might become snapping turtle bait.

Male Wood Duck

Three male Wood Ducks were feeding in another pond away from the hen and her brood. Just as well, since he might attract too much attention with his gaudy color.

It’s interesting that various duck species leave the care of the ducklings entirely to the female, while both male and female Canada Geese are highly protective of their offspring (this might be true in other goose species as well).

Canada Goose family

It might take both parents to fend off the frequent dogs that run around this park. I’m dismayed to see the dogs not only off-leash, but jumping into the water to fetch sticks thrown by their owners, quite near the birds swimming around there.

the heron and the goose

This is a story of nest defense.  The other day I was out at my favorite local marsh watching a Great Blue Heron forage along the shore.  One time the heron ventured too close to an incubating Canada Goose female, and the male goose immediately flew over and drove the heron off.  I watched this entertaining interaction with amusement, but was too far away to get any decent photos of the birds.

Minutes later, the whole scenario was repeated, and this time I was a little closer. Here’s how the action went:

Great Blue Heron gets too close to a Canada Goose nest

When the Heron got just a little too close to the nest, the male Canada Goose immediately swam over to confront the heron.

Great Blue Heron gets too close to a Canada Goose nest

Wait — why is the goose honking at his mate instead of the heron?   Meanwhile, the Heron proceeded to walk even closer to the nest, blithely undisturbed by the whole situation.

Great Blue Heron gets too close to a Canada Goose nest

Silly goose — he’s taking out his aggression on his partner, instead of the heron. Heron still very unconcerned by the whole incident.

Great Blue Heron gets too close to a Canada Goose nest

Having scolded his mate into submission (note lowered head of the hen), Mr. Goose can turn his attention to that busybody heron.

Great Blue Heron gets too close to a Canada Goose nest

Finally, the unperturbed Heron takes the hint, and delicately steps away from the bad-tempered male goose.  (Click on this photo for an up-closer look at the birds’ heads and expressions.)

I’m not sure it’s a wise idea for the goose to threaten a taller bird that carries such a wickedly sharp, pointy beak.  I mean, they stab fish with that weapon.  Who says they wouldn’t use it to thwart aggression from bad-tempered Canada Geese?

Tough choices…

Last year, I posted a look back at some of the best photos of 2013, and thought I might try that again this year. I managed to pare down the initial 63 selected photos of just the MN and CA backyard birds to the top 10 by making some tough choices.  Reasons for their selection are listed below the photo, but I would be interested to know if blog readers agree.  Which one of these is your favorite?

juvenile barn swallow

A juvenile Barn Swallow waiting patiently to be fed.  This one projects a lot of personality.

black-crowned night heron

A Black-crowned Night Heron fishing on Lake Temescal in California.  I picked this one for the nice reflection of the heron in the water below.

canada geese flying

Canada Geese on the move on the Mississippi River in the spring.  Action shots are more interesting to me.

cedar waxwing on hollyhock

Cedar Waxwings are such handsome birds, with their yellow and red accented feathers and black mask. I liked the composition of this photo, even if we can’t see the bird’s handsome facial markings.

cowbird chick begging

A cowbird chick begging for food from its foster parent, the much smaller Chipping Sparrow. This photo “begs” to be captioned. I’ll leave it to readers to make suggestions.

mallards at sunset

Three (Mallard) guys communing with nature at sunset. I picked this one for the color, and the symmetry of the three ducks. This was taken literally 100 yards from my back door.

rose-breasted grosbeak

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks don’t usually pose so nicely for me. I like the just opened leaves surrounding him, as he cocks his head to inspect the bird feeder below him.

mourning dove billing

There was some foreplay going on between these two Mourning Doves. I guess you could call this “billing”, and they may have been cooing as well.

chestnut sided warbler

Of course I had to include warblers in my top 10 selection, and what better than the stand-out Chestnut-sided Warbler.

yellow warbler

Couldn’t bring myself to throw the Yellow Warbler out of the top 10 either. I like the way the bright yellow pops out of the darker background.

white pelican

White Pelicans flying over the Mississippi — such photogenic and graceful flyers. Another action shot to finish off the top 10.

Oops, I just recounted, and there are 11 birds here. I can’t decide which one to reject, so I’ll leave it up to my readers.

Fly away before you freeze

Single digit low temperatures overnight for the past couple of nights mean that the lakes are starting to freeze up, so the ducks and geese have moved to the open water on the rivers.

canada geese on the mississippi river

If the polar vortex hovers over us like it did last year, this open water on the Mississippi River will freeze over soon as well.

canada geese flying

But some geese will leave here soon to fine some warmer weather to the south.

bird migration in V formation

Sounds like a good idea to me!

Swan dredging

I don’t know if there is an official term for the way swan dig with their powerful webbed feet to dislodge plants rooted in lake sediments, but I call it dredging.  They create ripples of circles around their bodies as they move from side to side digging deep into the lake or creek bottoms.  It looks like they are marching in place.

swan dredging

swan dredging attracts ducks

Mallards also profit from the dredging action as the digging brings up plant parts and other buried food.  I usually find a few ducks tagging along with the swans, who don’t seem to mind sharing.

swans-geese-ducks foraging on lake shoreline

Canada Geese also like hang out with the swans and ducks, probably hoping to get some of that dislodged vegetation.  

A peaceful late fall scene on the shore of Sucker Lake in St. Paul.

Nesting

Nest construction seems to be in full swing now that the snow has melted and the temperature seems to stay above freezing (but barely).  On our walk through the flooded cottonwood and silver maple forest at Roberts Bird Sanctuary in Minneapolis, we saw several birds hard at work readying their abodes.

This downy woodpecker male dug out this perfectly round hole and was busy removing wood from the interior.  He was still there working when we walked by him 20 minutes later.

This downy woodpecker male dug out this perfectly round hole and was busy removing wood from the interior. He was still working on it when we walked by him 20 minutes later.  I’m pretty sure I couldn’t make a hole this round and perfectly smooth in a tree given a hammer and chisel.  I wonder how the woodpeckers do it?

He's really getting into his work, getting it ready for inspection by Mrs. Downy

He’s really getting into his work, getting it ready for inspection by Mrs. Downy.  It looks like a bit of a tight squeeze there.  You would think going in and out of this tiny hole so frequently would damage their feathers.

Rpbins build their nests in a variety of places:  bushes, eaves, under decks, but this one chose a fork in a cottonwood about 40 feet up, where it is fairly visible and won't be obscured by tree leaves.  Not a great choice to protect nestlings from predators.

Robins build their nests in a variety of places: bushes, eaves, under decks, but this one chose a fork in a cottonwood tree about 40 feet up, where it is fairly visible and probably won’t be obscured by tree leaves.   Not a great site when it  comes to protecting nestlings from predators.

This Canada Goose has added sticks, cattail heads, and a few other random objects to her nest which is  just barely above the water.

This Canada Goose has added sticks, cattail heads, and a few other random objects to her nest which is just barely above the water.

Next the goose plucks some down from beneath its breast feathers to line the nest.  It can't be very comfortable resting for hours on sharp, pointed sticks.

Next the goose plucks some down from beneath its breast feathers to line the nest. It can’t be very comfortable resting for hours on sharp, pointed sticks.

Settling in for the duration.

Settling in for the duration.  I couldn’t really see if there were actually eggs in the nest, but why else would she sit there?

Spring has sprung

Remember this one?

spring has sprung, the grass is riz, I wonder where the birdies is

All it took was one warm day (55 F), and suddenly it is beginning to look and feel like spring has finally arrived.  The family took a walk at Eagle Lake in Plymouth, MN and discovered the signs:

Everybody's favorite:  pussywillows.  Male catkins were bursting from their sheaths exposing the downy gray fur that helps heat them and speed up pollen development on warm days like today.

Everybody’s favorite: pussywillows. Male catkins were bursting from their sheaths exposing the downy gray fur that helps heat them and speed up pollen development on warm days like today.

The noisy herald of spring is back.  Red-winged blackbird males were setting up territories in the large marsh that encircles Eagle Lake.

The noisy herald of spring is back.  Red-winged Blackbird males were setting up territories in the large marsh that encircles Eagle Lake.

This isn't called a red-winged blackbird for no reason -- the males  use that flashy red, orange and yellow shoulder epaulet to let other males know they mean to stake out an area as their territory.

This bird isn’t called a red-winged blackbird for no reason — the males use that flashy red, orange and yellow shoulder epaulet to let other males know they mean to stake out this area as their territory.

Canada Geese seemed unimpressed with the noisy blackbirds.

Canada Geese seemed unimpressed with the noisy blackbirds.  It’s pretty difficult to spot the blackbirds from this far away,  but there were several in these cattails.

At peace with the world on a lovely spring day.

At peace with the world on a lovely spring day.