Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Birding Close to Home

Yesterday afternoon we took advantage of the summer-like weather to visit Root River Park, a new county park about 5 miles from where we live.
In case you're wondering, this park has also become the new home of a certain very large raccoon.....

The park had a nice parking area, a handicapped accessible porta-potty, and nice, wide mowed paths. I don't know how many acres the park is or how many miles of trails there are, so I'll have to do some research into that. I do know that it's a great birding area with trails bordering forest edges, through the woods, along the riverbank and through grasslands, so there were ample opportunities for us to see many different things. As we were walking down the trail into the woods, I saw a larger bird ahead, skulking through the branches of a small cedar tree. At first I thought maybe a brown thrasher, but a look through the binocs showed a much darker brown color. I walked a little bit closer and the bird flushed into some overhead branches. Awesome! A cuckoo! Now, will it sit still long enough for me to get a good look so I can determine whether it's a yellow-billed or black-billed?

What do you think? I went with Black-Billed Cuckoo on this one. I used my birdJam to play a few calls and got this cuckoo to fly to another branch with less cover. Definitely a good way to start the afternoon!
The bird never vocalized, but we did have the chance to see it again in the same area on our way out, so I'm wondering if it doesn't have a partner and they're nesting in the park.

The trail wound down the hill to the river bottom and we could hear several Common Yellowthroats singing. Again the birdJam was put into use and this male came over to investigate the intruder in his territory. I was fortunate enough to snap this one pretty good picture as he sat still for a nanosecond!

A few yards farther down the trail and I heard a distinctive "bee-buzz" from one of the trees to my left. Aw man, Blue-Winged Warbler! I've heard them, but never gotten a good look at one before. A quick scroll through the menu to Blue-Winged Warbler on the birdJam and after only a few calls, this handsome male flew in to chase away the intruder in his territory also.

From this dead branch, I got a really good photo op, so I just pressed the button and the continous shooting feature did the rest......
a great flight shot, showing his bright yellow underneath and the white sides of his tail.
Look out! It's a Blue-Winged Warbler dive bomb!

I spotted this male Eastern Bluebird sitting on the top of an old dead tree stump in the middle of a pasture. He was keeping an eye on the nestbox which was located about 50 yards away.

At the edge of the Root River, we had fun watching this female Baltimore Oriole enjoy a bath.
There was a small rock just barely submerged under the water and just deep enough for her to be able to get under the water and make some big splashes.

She spent quite a bit of time there until she was pretty much soaked, and then she flew off to a sunny branch just above this river bank.

There were plenty of wildflowers blooming along the trail edges too. Here are a few:

Wild Blue Phlox

Golden Alexander

Wild Mint


Huge patch of blue phlox along the riverbank (this picture is my desktop wallpaper)

Wild Geranium

We wondered how this White Pine grew as large as it was with its roots right at the edge of the rocky bluff......

Also saw this beautiful Mourning Cloak butterfly. I've never noticed the "eyes" on its wings before........

This was a great park and I'm looking forward to visiting it again to explore some of the other trails. Root River Park will definitely be at the top of my "must visit" birding list during next spring's warbler migration.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

I'm so glad it's finally spring

There are some really good reasons for living in Minnesota......winter isn't one of them!
However, once winter finally departs (this year after staying too long!) spring finally arrives and with it come the beautiful birds that we dream about all winter......like this Baltimore Oriole

And how about a pair of Indigo Buntings!

There's nothing like the intense colors of the spring and summer migrants arriving in the backyard to make us forget winter nightmares like this.......

.....and enjoy the beauty of male Rose-Breasted Grosbeak with the promise of crabapple blossoms in the background.

Here's a little visitor I usually expect during the winter, but he didn't show up in my backyard until just last week -- the Red-Breasted Nuthatch.

I heard an unusual bird call in the backyard last weekend and finally spotted this Eastern Towhee hanging out with some other ground feeding birds in the backyard. This was a marvelous sighting for me -- haven't seen an Eastern Towhee for at least 10 years and this is a FIRST for my backyard!
It even flew close to the house and perched in the crabapple tree for a few minutes so I was able to snap a photo of him from my patio too!

Last weekend's weather provided some sort of migration fall-out, because in addition to the towhee and red-breasted nuthatch, some Cap May Warblers also showed up and feasted at the suet log.

Did she say Cape May Warblers?? Yes I did! Another first for my backyard PLUS a life bird for me!

What gorgeous little birds! They hung around for several days, flitting in and out of the cage protecting the suet from starlings and then they were gone, no doubt heading to somewhere in northeastern Minnesota.

The brilliant yellow feathers of the goldfinch are always a welcome sign of spring around here too. I started seeing a few yellow feathers on these finches in March, and then it seems like all of a sudden they've all turned completely yellow.

The best surprise of last weekend also hung around for several days. See him in the background there? (hint: that ain't no cardinal!)

OHMIGOSH, IT'S A MALE SCARLET TANAGER! I'm surprised my yelling didn't scare him away!

He loved the grape jelly which the orioles grudgingly allowed him to share.

What a contrast to what I saw on this deck from December until March!

Once the orioles arrived, they were back to stay. Here are the male and female Baltimore Orioles.

The males are not very tolerant of each other's presence at the jelly dishes. Grape jelly has become one of the scarcest items on Rochester's grocery store shelves in the last couple weeks.
Here's a good example of tolerance with an Orchard Oriole enjoying some jelly while the Baltimore Oriole visits the nectar feeder.

I was surprised to see the Orchard Oriole visiting the suet log too. He didn't seem to have any problems getting through the starling-proof cage.
Such a beautiful bird. (I put dried mealworms on top of their grape jelly and that's what you see hanging out the tip of his beak.)

I even got to see the female Orchard Oriole perched in the backyard swamp white oak tree.
The Orchard Orioles usually don't hang around for very long, so last weekend was probably the only time I'll see them this spring also. But at least the Baltimore Orioles are still sticking around, feasting on grape jelly and singing their beautiful songs for me every morning. Hopefully they'll nest somewhere nearby and bring their little ones to visit before their departure again in August. But I'm not even going to think about that and simply enjoy the colors and sounds of spring in Minnesota.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Birds of Forestville

My three trips to Forestville State Park last week were primarily for birding. My previous post about wildflowers showed you what was on the ground, but this post is all about the birds I saw. We were hoping to catch warbler migration, but the first two days were a little chilly for much warbler activity. Fortunately, Forestville State Park has lots of other birds to see and enjoy. I knew it was going to be a good day when we spotted these Turkey Vultures perched in the tree at the entrance to the park!
I have Mr. Johnson so well-trained now that he immediately knew to pull the car off to the side of the road so I could get out to take photos. Luckily for me, one of the TVs decided to leave its perch and give me some perfect fly-over shots.

So beautiful in flight! (Hi Lynne!)

Turkey Vulture doing its part for highway clean-up! (sorry about this poor quality photo--thru the windshield)

For the rest of this post, you may want to click on the photos to enlarge them.

Down by the river (where we sometimes see warblers) we found lots of Ruby-Crowned Kinglets, busily scouting among the rocks and tree roots for insects.
I was thrilled to get a couple of shots where you could actually see this tiny bird's ruby "crown!"

A Hermit Thrush was puttering around on the ground near the parking lot. I hoped it would sing for us, but this bird remained silent.

Hello Handsome Thrush!
They're easy to miss when they're lurking on the ground.

Here's a waterthrush I managed to photograph through a break in dense ground cover. Initial hopes were that this was a Louisiana Waterthrush, but upon further review, I think it's a Northern.

Lincoln's Sparrow

Brown Creeper

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

Black & White Warbler
Another look at the B&W Warbler, this one reminded us of a tiny woodpecker, scooting in all directions around the tree trunk foraging for insects.

On our second trip to the park, I spotted this raptor perched in a small tree near the park entrance. Can you see it there?

I had no idea what it was, but when I got out of the car to take a better look, it decided to fly away. (I was thrilled with this shot and the fact that I managed to get the camera focused in time to actually capture the bird flying away!)

Luckily for me, the raptor decided to soar directly overhead for several minutes and I was able to get several nice photos that helped to identify it as a Broad-Winged Hawk!

This warbler was busy gleaning insects from a gooseberry bush. Can you give me a better look at yourself, please?
What do you think? I went with Orange-Crowned Warbler on this one based on what my Kaufman field guide says: "Often stays fairly low in leafy thickets.....Very plain.... No wingbars. Dark line through eye, faint broken eye-ring. Blurry streaks on chest."

Got to see my FOY Rose-Breasted Grosbeak on this day. Such a handsome bird!

Last week's third birding trip to Forestville was with my Sissy. Another chilly and overcast morning, but we were optimistic about the weather forecast and hoping for the chance to see some warblers. I did get this nice shot of a male Red-Winged Blackbird showing off for a female perched nearby. Who could resist a handsome guy like him?
Down along the river's edge, I saw this Spotted Sandpiper poking around a few rocks.

A lucky sighting, I think because it blended in really well with its surroundings.

Here's a not-so-good shot of a Blackburnian Warbler we spotted high in the tree top. The flame orange throat is such a dead giveaway to this warbler's ID (even on a cloudy day!)

Northern Waterthrush

Northern Parula (he just wouldn't sit still!)

One more try.......

American Redstart-bottom view

American Redstart-top view!

I think this was a Palm Warbler. If I remember correctly, it had a rusty-colored cap that didn't show up in this photo.

Thanks Sissy for driving on this trip and being a good sport while I had to keep stopping to take photos! Hope we can do this again next spring (or sometime sooner)!