Spring Returns to the Skies

A huge snowstorm blew into MN this week – it certainly still feels like winter, with so much snow on the ground.  But since I spent all that time outside shoveling, I counted 3 flocks of   canada geese flying overhead in just half an hour. I’d nearly forgotten about the geese, but when I heard their familiar honking I realized how few birds there have been around here; especially waterfowl.  Well, they’re back, along with budding maples and daylight lasting until past 6 o’ clock.geese

Baldies

This summer has been amazing for eagle watching. With the Mississippi becoming cleaner, eagle numbers have skyrocketed in my neighborhood, and the nest a couple blocks away had us spoting these birds almost every day. But during the fall and winter almost all of the wildlife I see during the summer become harder to spot, so I was pretty excited to see a full grown bald eagle swoop down into the road right in front of my house yesterday. It was probably picking up a squirrel – during the fall the squirrels get so crazy about their nuts they get hit by cars right and left, making meals pretty easy for the other animals. Anyway, I followed it into a tree, and got some pictures, although it was really hard to find. I hadn’t noticed before how perfectly their feathers blend in to the brown of the tree trunks and the gray of the winter sky.

We also had our first decent snow fall. Not just a flurry – the snow’s still hanging around, but I don’t know how long that will last.

Feathers

I found this red-tailed hawk’s feather yesterday when I was sweeping the sidewalk. Pretty cool, eh? I guess there’s a new visitor in our neighborhood. I haven’t seen any red-tails around, though. Earlier this spring there was a Coopers hawk hanging out, and though I haven’t seen him in a while, I s’pose it could have been his. It’s hard to tell with just a single feather. I also found a blue jay feather right near it. I don’t know that they were related, but if they were, it was probably a red-tail — I don’t think a coopers is big enough to go after a jay. 

Hey!

This rather ugly critter was so weird-looking I wondered if it wasn’t some sort of duck-goose hybrid – an ugly guckling?

Looking up from a Metro station in Washington, D.C. 

The jellyfish at the National Zoo are amazing. You can actually see electricity coursing through them.

This orangutan made me sad. She looked right at me, and her eyes were so human – she doesn’t belong in a cage.

Coming out of Mammoth Caves. Located in Kentucky, it’s already the largest cave in the world, and only a tiny fraction of it has been discovered.

Magnolias

I’m Back, and better than ever!

This last month I was on vacation all over America. Here are a few pictures:

Summer Birds

During winter, wildlife generally stays about the same, but now that summer’s here, I’ve seen all kinds of new animals. Mostly birds. In the last couple of weeks there’s been this red-headed woodpecker hanging around. He was attracted by some suet we put up, and started to visit our yard regularly, but at the same time the grackles found the suet and pretty much devoured it. Once it was gone, he stopped coming. We got some more, but I bet the same thing will happen.

I saw one of the eagles from the nest a couple of days ago. It was flying to its nest with a giant fish locked in its talons. Pretty cool.

I also spied an oriole hanging about by the river. They’re hard to miss, what with their bright feathers, but I haven’t seen them here before. I’ll have to get my oriole feeder up.

In other news, I’m going to be gone for a few weeks, so no more posts for a while. But I’ll have things to tell when I get back! 

Surprise!

Just when all the nests and baby birds and new young things were starting to lose my interest, I learned something amazing: a pair of bald eagles are raising chicks right down the street! There’s a tall pine tree in someone’s backyard, and the eagles have built a huge nest (5 or 6 feet across) up in the highest crook. I got some pictures, but it’s so many feet in the air they’re pretty fuzzy. A little point-and-shoot zoom lens can only be asked to do so much. 😉

Anyway, I’ve spent a couple of days watching the birds, and they are just amazing. (I am wildly jealous of whoever’s got them in their yard!) There are two huge eagles and (presumably) a nest full of chicks. Generally, one eagle sits on a branch and stands guard, while its mate is out hunting. Sooner or later, the other eagle will fly into the nest, and then the guard takes off seconds later to go hunt/fish/stretch its wings/etc. It’s incredible to watch. Last night I got to see the parent tearing up whatever it caught (probably fish) and feeding it to the chicks.

The yard has become a sort of neighborhood camp ground. People are always there trying to catch some action. It’s amazing how after so many years of worrying about these great birds and trying to save them from extinction, they’re raising their offspring in our backyards.

More to come….

 

Fall Waxwings

It’s getting cooler every day, but considering it’s already November, it feels like summer. No snow, no bulky-winter-coat-worthy weather. It’s nice though, because it gives me a few more weeks of animal-watching, before most them hole up or fly away. Recently I saw a tree full of cedar waxwings, eating at the last remaining berries. I’d never seen them here before – although they aren’t particularly bright, they’re interesting little birds looking a lot like an undersized female cardinal.

Splash of Gold

goldenrod

It’s been pretty gray & gloomy here this week, but the dark weather was made nicer by some bright colors. Some goldfinches flew in  from somewhere (where?) to feed on/perch in the blooming bundles of goldenrod. I don’t have a finch feeder, so I don’t see these bright little birds often, but it’s a nice treat when they come around. The male goldfinches are a vibrant yellow with black bars on their wings, but the females are a greenish-gray, and can be hard to pick out when they’re in a crowd with sparrows, juncos, & chickadees. They like to eat thistle/nyjer seed, like most finches. Goldfinches are more common further south, but they show up now & then to add some color to the brown/gray residents that live here all year.

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

For the past couple of weeks, quite a few birds have started flying back to Minnesota for the summer. However, this spring a new visitor has arrived. I’m pretty sure they are yellow-rumped warblers. They are mostly gray, with black & white on the wings & chest, & bright yellow patches on the rump (hence the name), crown, & sides. They come in two different types: the west & the east. They are nearly identical, but the eastern variety has a white throat. They are rather shy, but becoming quite numerous. I’ve never seen them before, & they aren’t supposed to live here, but while they are here, I’m enjoying the excitment of a new bird.

Robin Red-breast

 The melting snow has softened the ground into mud, luring out of the earth a host of worms. This is the robins’ favorite season. These ground-dwelling thrushes mainly survive on earthworms, as they aren’t designed to digest seeds. They come back North at the same time as the earthworm migration. (It sounds crazy, but worms do migrate. However, they migrate vertically: in the winter they dig deep under the ground & huddle up until spring.) The robins sense the worms reappearing, & it brings them in flocks. Some robins do stay the winter, feeding on whatever fruit or berries they can find. In the spring then, it’s obvious which robins stayed & which flew south, for the migrating robins are always significantly plumper than their wintering cousins.

Spring Mallards

Warm weather has brought the mallard ducks back north. They’re here in big flocks, finding food (probably a plant of some type) in the little pools of melting ice everywhere. They’ve all found their mates & have paired up again. Soon they will be building nests & raising ducklings. The females have excellent camouflage; you often don’t notice them until they fly up only a few feet away. They swim in the ice-cold creeks & rivers, but with their warm, oiled & insulated feathers, it doesn’t bother them at all. But it won’t be long until the water is warm – when the mallards show up, spring is always nearby.

Instant Snowstorm

This morning, the weather was sunny & moderately warm. (For February anyway.) In a few hours, it changed to a blizzard it’s hard to see in. The weather here is pretty much instant. For some reason today, the wild turkeys were out, just hanging around on the streets in the middle of everything. Many of the animals don’t mind the cold, & actually seem to be more active in bad weather, gathering food. Probably this is to keep themselves warm. But with their thick winter coats, the cold doesn’t bother them very much.

Spring Cleaning

The sparrows have begun to clean out their bird house for the spring. The same pair of sparrows probably nest in it each year, & every year before they nest the pull out all of last years nesting materials for a fresh start. String, plants, & feathers all hang out of it, blowing in the wind. When they finish building their new nest, it will be tidy & clean, but by the end of the summer, & after several broods of chicks (sparrow chicks leave the nest after about 2 weeks) most of it will have fallen out & it will look nearly as messy as it does now.

Spring is Finally Here!

The weather has finally warmed up! temperatures are above freezing, & everything is melting. (However, as soon as I start to believe that, we’ll probably get 6 feet of snow.) The birds & the animals are loving the weather. I saw a few goldfinches recently, feasting on some thistle seeds. Starlings have started to show up too. There are puddles on the sidewalks several inches deep. Water is everywhere, & even the snow on the river is washing away!

Winter/Spring Wildlife

As winter turns into spring (or begins to, anyway – we still have a good month to go) the wildlife begins to change. The cardinals are becoming more common. Their bright colors & distinct song (wheet, wheet, wheet – click on the link to hear it: http://www.birdjam.com/birdsong.php?id=3) make them easy to spot. I’ve also seen quite a few white-tailed deer. But as the weather gets warmer, some of the variety of birds & other animals begins to get smaller. Many animals go back to forests or parks where they can find easier food without having to risk coming near people.  

‘Exotic’ Birds

I was out of town for a few days (still in MN though), & I got the chance to view some neat birds I had never seen before. I saw a red-bellied woodpecker, which don’t usually come to my yard (usually I only see downy woodpeckers, & once in a blue moon pileateds). They are quite a bit bigger than some other woodpeckers, & interesting to watch. There were also Juncos, chickadees, blue jays, & cardinals. There was one species that I wasn’t quite sure about, they were kind of greenish-yellow, with white & black on their wings. At first I thought they might be a greenfinches, but it turns out that they live nowhere near here. I think now that they were female goldfinches, but I’m still not sure about that. If anyone has a better idea please let me know!

The mystery finch.

Juncos?

Yesterday I spotted a small, dark gray bird eating at a feeder, & today a few showed up in my yard. I think they are dark-eyed juncos, small sparrow-sized birds with a dark gray back & a cream belly. I’ve only seen them once or twice before, but today, although it’s very cold, a bunch of different birds were out, such as nuthatches, chickadees, & sparrows.

Eagles

Yesterday I was lucky enough to spot a bald eagle perched in a tree near the river. These birds will stay by the water as long as there are holes in the ice (which is nearly always – the Mississippi never completely freezes here). Bald eagles are one of the largest birds of prey in MN, & eat primarily fish, although they will eat other rodents too, & will steal other birds’ meals (not a problem for them, since the other meat-eating birds here are only about half their size). The eagles also have a long lifespan, living 20-30 years in the wild. Click on the link for more information on these large birds: http://www.nwf.org/Wildlife/Wildlife-Library/Birds/Bald-Eagle.aspx.