on the edge

Tromping around Weaver Dunes, south of Wabasha MN, for 8 hours trying to identify every bird we could find was exhausting but rewarding, and what an absolutely beautiful day to participate in The Nature Conservancy’s bird blitz on May 12.

Cape May Warbler-

First bird of the day — Cape May Warbler, high in a leafy tree (bane of photographers — the tree, not the bird)

The spring migration was running a little behind schedule, but we managed to find (and identify) 58 species (which admittedly doesn’t sound like a lot for 8 hours of work).  We explored a variety of habitats, but the best places to look were edges between shrub and forest, or prairie and forest.

Yellowrump Warbler-

Yellow-rumped Warblers outnumbered other warbler species, and thankfully posed at much lower elevations in the trees.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak-

We only saw one Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and he was quite shy about coming out in the open to show off his raspberry bib.

Lark Sparrow

Lark Sparrows were more common than the warblers, flashing their white outer tail feathers as they flew. True to their name, their song is much more of a warble than a buzz — i.e., lark-like.

Lark Sparrow

Lark Sparrows typically nest in shrubs and forage in grassy areas removed from the nest. They have the unusual habit of walking, instead of hopping.

Northern Waterthrush-

Down at the edge of a small pond, a Northern Waterthrush hunted for insects.

Northern Waterthrush-

A distinctive eyestripe and wagging tail made this large warbler easy to identify.

Brown Thrasher-

A Brown Thasher was very uncooperative about posing, and remained hidden in the dense foliage of trees in the grassy savannah.

Baltimore Oriole-

Orioles foraged high in leafy treetops, but were easy to find by listening for their characteristic song.

Gray-cheeked Thrush-

Another edge-lover found skulking among the low vegetation in the woods surrounding a pond was the Gray-cheeked Thrush, with its characteristic white eyering.

Our efforts were added to those of the birders walking other TNC properties throughout the tri-state region of MN, North Dakota, and South Dakota.  Together all observers on May 12 found over 200 different bird species, or approximately 50% of those known to reside or pass through MN on migration in May.  Not bad…it’s a nationwide competition, so we’ll see how MN bird numbers stack up with those elsewhere in the U.S.

Considering that our American birds have to navigate and survive stormy weather and drastic climate changes, glass windows and glass-covered buildings, marked habitat alterations, and depleted food supplies from all the pesticide and herbicide applications, it’s a wonder that we see the diversity that we do.

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.

The sweet song of spring

A Rose-breasted Grosbeak landed on the Buckeye tree just outside my porch window.

A Rose-breasted Grosbeak landed on the Buckeye tree just outside my porch window.

He sounds a bit like a Robin, but is really more closely related to Cardinals (in  fact, they are members of the Cardinal family).

The male’s black and white plumage with a splash of raspberry ice cream down his front looks nothing like the female Grosbeak.

This was taken at a park in Richfield, MN, on a very overcast day.  But the female Rose-breasted Grosbeak really is just a plain brown with a streaky brown breast.  She is often mistaken for a large finch of some sort.

This was taken at a park in Richfield, MN, on a very overcast day. But the female Rose-breasted Grosbeak really is just a plain brown with a streaky brown breast. She is often mistaken for a large finch of some sort.

According to this blog, Rose-breasted Grosbeak first showed up in the backyard on this same date last year.

According to this blog, Rose-breasted Grosbeak first showed up in the backyard on this same date last year.

It’s amazing how they time their spring arrival so precisely.  Nice to have him back to brighten up the yard.

Like a robin, but so much prettier

That’s how the song of the Rose-breasted Grosbeak is described.

rose-breasted grosbeak

With his striking black and white plumage and rosy feather boa around his chest (which continues under his wing), this guy is a backyard favorite. A bill this big and sturdy should be used to crunch big seeds, but for the past two days, he has been ignoring the sunflower seeds and pigging out on suet instead.

sss

He’s a contortionist, hanging upside down to pick off chunks from the bottom of the suet feeder.

You're kind of a messy eater, bud.

You’re kind of a messy eater, bud.

This is an interesting bird.  It’s more closely related to cardinals (same family) than finches, even though it looks like a big finch.  The female is streaked with finchy brown and white color and looks like a big sparrow.  It hybridizes with the Black-headed Grosbeak where their ranges overlap in the Great Plains, so these two are apparently not separate species, despite their gaudy color differences.  And to emphasize the latter point, the rose-colored breast is not the definitive signal of male-ness, the white patches on rump and wing are!

But the song is sweet and plaintive, and one of the prettier sounds of spring, as this YouTube video shows. (Lang Elliott, musicofnature.org)