Thursday, September 19, 2013

Cooper's Hawk Profile

One of my favorite images of the juvenile Cooper's Hawk who has been hanging out in our yard. I love the soft diffusion of light that the white pine boughs create in the background.

I'm away on my northwoods camping trip. Unplugged, off grid, just enjoying nature  :-)  Thank you for visiting my blog - I'll reply to comments when I return in a few weeks!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Dragonfly and Dahlia

A favorite "summer" image of a female White-faced Meadowhawk in my garden.

I'm up north, unplugged and enjoying nature. Thanks for visiting while I'm gone! I look forward to catching up with you and your blog in early October.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Not Your Usual Yard Birds

I always love migration. You just never know what's going to pop up in the yard. First, I should say that "yard" for us means roughly a half acre of grass, the rest is one acre of in-process prairie restoration and 3.5 acres of mixed hardwoods and pines. It makes for fabulous bird watching.

We had two visitors this week within 15 minutes of each other that had me running for my camera.

When I caught a glimpse of the first bird my initial thought was "Curve-billed Thrasher??? WHAT?" Trust me, there's a good explanation for why I'd pop a bird from the American Southwest into Minnesota. We've raised one in our Avian Nursery at WRC. Yep. It caught a ride on a trailer hitch for nearly 600 miles before the people found it. It's hopping a ride back to Arizona tomorrow so it's been on my mind lately. But that's a whole different story... the point of this is that the curved bill is what caught my attention through the apple tree:

Turns out it's a juvenile Yellow-billed Cuckoo. (not a Curve-billed Thrasher... go figure!)

The second cool bird was this Blue-headed Vireo:

From a front view you can get a better look at its signature "spectacles:"

While Blue-headed Vireos nest up north in the Arrowhead region of Minnesota, the Yellow-billed Cuckoos nest in my area. But I've never seen one in our yard before.

You can tell it's a juvenile by its bright yellow orbital ring. The ring will begin greying next spring. Here's a closer look at its eye:

Note the cuckoo is actually panting. We've had an extremely hot run of weather and are in the middle of drought. Both birds came down to bird baths that we have in our yard. Water is an equally important draw as bird feeders. Without water I probably never would've had these birds come so close to the house.

While the cuckoo has a long migration ahead of it (all the way down to South America) the vireo will actually stay in North and Central America for the winter.

Both birds glean insects from tree branches. A great reason to keep a pesticide-free habitat!

Check out other neat migration birds and photos from all over the world via Wild Bird Wednesday.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Flamenco: Cooper's Style

Every year we have Cooper's Hawks nest in our east pine trees. And every year they mercilessly pick off our birds at the bird feeders.

A juvenile has been hanging out in the yard  for nearly a month and the other day I took the opportunity to spend time photographing it.

What did I learn from this? Apparently Cooper Hawks know how to do the Flamenco. Or at least this one does.

A little stretching first:

Limber up that neck:

Warm up those legs:

Flamenco Right!

and Flamenco Left!

Crouch down

and full leg extension!

 And a final, humble bow:

Thank you. Thank you very much.

Head over to Stewart's page for Wild Bird Wednesday to enjoy other fun and beautiful bird posts. (and feel free to kick up your heels on the way over...)

Monday, August 26, 2013

A Little of This, A Little of That

I've been up at the family cabin outside of Nisswa, Minn., for the last few days trying to escape the sweltering temps and humidity.

While here I've been doing quite a bit of this:

which inevitably leads to this...

orange bluet (male)
and then more of this:

white-faced meadowhawk (male)

and even some of this:

preening black and white warbler (female)

Hope you're enjoying the last few weeks of summer as well!

Be sure to check out all the other fun posts for Our World Tuesday.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

I Know That Sound!

There are few birds (other than typical backyard birds) that I'm able to ID by sound. I'm not sure why, but I'm just horrid at remembering and recognizing bird calls. My bird friends are as stymied as I am as to why I simply cannot remember what redstarts sound like from year to year. Or Nashville Warblers, which sing like crazy here in the spring.

But this LBB is one that I can actually locate based on hearing its call as I drive by: The Clay-colored Sparrow.

It's sharp, buzzy call is, to me, highly distinctive and seems to carry quite far. Have a listen.

Clay-colored Sparrows are somewhat unique in that they're a mid-continent bird. Found on their breeding territory in open grasslands throughout the northern regions of central North America , they follow almost a due south migration path that funnels to Texas and Mexico. Here's a great distribution map.

Right now they're dotting the fence posts and clinging to barbed wire along a stretch of roadway I drive daily.

I have to admit that when I'm driving past the wild grassland fields by my house and hear their "bzzzzt" calls I gleefully think to myself "aha! I know that bird call." (simple pleasures, people... simple pleasures...)   ;-)

Be sure to check out all the other fun birding sights and stories courtesy of Wild Bird Wednesday!

Monday, August 19, 2013

It's Been A Busy Summer!

I'm back from a summer hiatus  :-)

For those of you who don't know, I'm the communications director at one of our nation's leading wildlife hospitals. And, summer is our busiest time of year. Crazy busy. Like 80-120 new patients every day kind of busy.

So, linking up with Our World Tuesday, I thought I'd share what's been going on in my world lately.

I spend the summer working incredibly long hours but learning so much about more than 180 different species of wildlife. Furred, feathered and even scaled, we get everything at WRC (Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota).

Since I spend my days taking photos (all these are taken by me), blogging, updating our Facebook page and sending out emails to our distribution list, I'm kind of burnt out on the social media thing by the time I get home from work. Plus, I wanted time to unwind and enjoy the outdoors when I wasn't working - therefore I put my personal blog on hold. Thanks for coming back to see what's new - I appreciate it!

I thought you might enjoy seeing some of my favorite critters from this summer:

These are baby garter snakes. Aren't they beautiful? Did you know they give live birth? And the record for number of babies is 90? Wow! (thanks Chris Smith for that cool stat!) You can read more about them, and see add'l photos here.

One of our more beautiful patients at the Center are Grey Fox. They are the only fox to climb trees! It's pretty amazing to see. This poor little kit stuck his head into a discarded container and became stuck. He's fortunate someone saw him and brought him to us. There's a blog post about it here, including before/after photos.

I don't know if there's much cuter than a group of fluffy swallows. We have five swallows in Minnesota (Tree, Bank, Northern Rough-winged, Barn and Cliff). These are juvenile Barn Swallows, just about ready to fly.

This adorable guy is one of only two hares that we have in Minnesota. It's a young (maybe only 3 days old) White-tailed Jackrabbit. Both it, and our Snowshoe Hare, are considered precocial because they're born furred, eyes open and are up hopping around within hours of their birth!

Saw my first Fisher up close and personal this summer! This young one had been hit by a car and a kind-hearted person stopped to see if it was still alive. Fishers are pretty cool: They're basically pregnant all the time due to embryonic diapause. More here.

As a medical center, we see some pretty fascinating things come through our doors. Think that's one of the reasons I love my job so much: All the new things I learn each day. This was a pretty interesting case study that I wrote up a few weeks ago. A young Herring Gull traveled from Duluth for surgery to pin a fractured leg. But when we took x-rays we had quite the surprise! This links to the case study. Just click through the slides to learn all about it.

You can join me on my adventures at WRC via WRC's Facebook page or through The Pulse (WRC blog). And, if you're as fascinated by wildlife medicine as I am, take a look at the Case Studies I write up.

Thanks again for coming back to visit and a big thank you to Lady Fi for hosting Our World Tuesday. Be sure to check out all the other great bloggers who participate. Hope you all had a great summer!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Warblering Milestones

I've been crazy busy lately at work and with my Mom visiting, and haven't had a whole lot of time to write. So, I thought I'd share some of the more exciting warbler occurrences in my yard along with a reminder that enjoying the outdoors is all about BEING in the outdoors, not just the photos.

Two weeks ago I was sitting on my East stoop (a favorite morning coffee spot), watching all the warblers flitting through our trees when all of a sudden a group way up in the tippy-top of our ash trees caught my eye. It was a group of four Golden-winged Warblers picking bugs out of the ash buds.

After watching them for a bit it dawned on me that maybe I should grab my camera.These are the best photos I could get, but it's not about the photos, it's about that moment of realization that these besieged birds were actually right there, in my yard.

Golden-winged Warblers are in serious decline, one of the fastest declining species of birds in North America with an overall decline of 76% (Cornell Lab of Ornithology). And of the surviving Golden-wingeds? More than 95% of them breed in the Upper Great Lakes area of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Manitoba, with Minnesota having the largest population of breeding Golden-wingeds in the world.

This is what they look like up close and personal:

Yep. Of all the odd timing, just the day before I saw the group in my yard, we ended our weekly Northfield banding session on a high note with this "fancy bird," as Professor Dan called it. It is absolutely stunning to see up close. One of the coolest markings? The eyestripe runs so that the top of the bird's feathers around the eye are white - here's a closer look:

Again, not the greatest photo but the memory of seeing this bird in hand will stay with me forever.

Getting back to the excitement in Afton, later that same day, I opened our front door to go out to the garage and saw a bright glint of blue flash through the air. At first I thought it was one of the dozens of yellow-rumpeds we've had around.

Nope. A Cerulean Warbler. IN MY DRIVEWAY.

Always, always have wanted to see one of these beautiful little birds and never have. Watched it flitting into the air to catch bugs, using our Thule carrier rack as its launching base.

After several minutes of stunned silence absorbing this sight, I ran and grabbed the camera. It's really, really hard to take good photos when you're jumping up and down in excitement (as evidenced here):

Again, while none of these photos are really great, they all remind me of an incredible day in my yard, and the opportunity to see a warbler that may not be around much longer up close and personal.

Capture the moment in your heart and mind first, then grab a camera. What's the point of enjoying the outdoors if all you're doing is using a viewfinder, right?

Oh, and remember to jump and soar with joy to celebrate those special moments.

Linking up with other bird lovers through Wild Bird Wednesday. Check them out!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Curious, and Hungry, Chestnut-sided Warbler

Our spring in Minnesota has been brutal for insectivores. Dozens of Eastern Bluebirds and Tree Swallows have been found dead in nestboxes, having starved (or frozen?) to death during our cold, wet spring. Phoebes, which showed up more than a month ago, have been completely absent since our late snows and freezing temps. It's hard to survive when your primary food source isn't available.

In the last two weeks there have been days on end of "warbler fallouts" where they're basically littering the ground, searching for any morsel to eat. And any hint of sunshine brings the warblers out in full force, hunting for any bugs they can find. While it makes for great birding, it's sad to know that it's because they're struggling to survive.

On Sunday, we had this very curious Chestnut-sided Warbler follow us through the gardens. Can you ask for a more beautiful bird to stalk you? I think not.

He started flitting down to us as we were poking around in the wood chips searching for signs of emerging ferns and lupines. I imagine we were uncovering tasty morsels for him.

From there, he followed us to our "East Garden." As Dean looked over the plants that have emerged in that bed, the warbler flitted down right next to his feet and hopped from the garden up to a rock and back down again. It was amazing to have this gorgeous bird so close for so long.

It's been here for several days now, enjoying suet with the dozens of Yellow-rumpeds. As a special treat I picked up 1,000 mealworms on Monday for everyone. They were gone in a matter of hours much to the delight of the birds (and me who enjoyed watching them eagerly slurp them down like spaghetti noodles).

I included this photo because it shows the beautiful markings on the Chestnut-sided's back. I never realized how much yellow they have on their backs until this weekend:

After all our cold weather (there was frost on Sunday night) we hit a whopping 96 degrees today. Many of the warblers in our yard took advantage of the warm weather and moved on. I didn't see the Chestnut-sided at all today and there are only a couple dozen Yellow-rumpeds still hanging around.

Can't wait to see what the warm weather and high winds blows in overnight! Stay tuned...

Posted in conjunction with other bird aficionados through Wild Bird Wednesday. Be sure to check them all out!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Surprise Visitor: Western Tanager

As I peered out my front window Wednesday morning, all bleary-eyed and not yet awake, I was surprised to see an overly large goldfinch. Since my brain wasn't fully awake yet, this is the conversation that I had with myself:

"That's not a goldfinch, too big... female oriole? Huh, what's wrong with it's head? No, not an oriole... Good grief, did someone's parakeet escape? What the heck? Oh my gosh: It's a Western Tanager."

Long silent pause as I soaked in the joy of seeing one of these birds. IN MY YARD.

Springing things like this on me first thing in the morning before my synapses are all firing isn't the best idea, but let me tell you. It sure woke me up!

I'd left my camera in the car overnight and all I had was the truly crappy camera on my Droid (why, oh why, can't we get good cameras on Droids?). So I snapped a few pictures just for documentation while I quietly swore to myself to never, ever leave the camera in the car again.

Thankfully, the bird hung around and I was able to scamper to the car, get my camera and snap photos of it before I left for work:

And no. We don't have Western Tanagers in Minnesota. Although we do get enough of them through periodically - especially in the spring - that they're an infrequent visitor. The only other sighting of a W. Tanager in my county was in 1984 in Stillwater, Minn. Pretty exciting!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Could it be... it is!

Awoke to a heavy wet spring snow covering everything and figured it'd be a good opportunity to capture images of birds that I don't normally see in snow. Our towhees have returned, along with all sorts of other sparrows, and of course the Yellow-rumped Warblers who seem to have camped out in our yard.

I was photographing the beautiful White-throated Sparrows in the snowy forsythia when I saw this:

Black and white... orange legs, looks like a black head... and is that a hint of yellow on its wings? Could it be...

YES! A male Blackpoll Warbler!

I've never seen one of these before. Couldn't believe my luck. Talk about being in the right place at the right time! While these birds are widely spread throughout Canada, the only time to catch them here in the States is during their fall migration to South America.

It moved from bloom to bloom and I wasn't sure if it was finding tiny bugs that had crawled into the flowers to escape the snow, or if it was drinking nectar.

The bird was kind enough to show me what it was after: It's pulling out the interior of the flowers and eating them:


Stewart Monckton from Australia, who writes a couple fabulous blogs, wrote something a few weeks ago that I really identified with as a bird lover: It's finding the unexpected in a frequented spot that really makes observing nature interesting. Finding this beautiful bird right outside our bedroom window is such an unexpected treat. For me this is what enjoying the outdoors is all about.

Wonder what else this odd spring weather will bring to our yard. Suppose that's the one good thing about having such cold, wet weather: Interesting birds!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Spring Air Brings First Warblers!

Yesterday, amidst the 6" of freshly fallen spring snow, a dozen or so Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warblers flitted around our yard from suet feeder to suet feeder. The males are in their gorgeous breeding plumage: Deep blues and greys with bright yellow splashes on their heads, chest and on their butts (hence the casual term "butterbutt").

The females (below) are more drab, but still a beautifully-marked bird. And, perhaps more importantly: A very welcome reminder that warbler migration is actually underway and we'll be seeing more species over the next few weeks. It's been a long, long winter!

At first glance, the females might appear brown or grey, but they have bluish streaks throughout the feathers (visible in the above photo). They're really a beautiful mix of colors.

In addition to our suet feeders, they're feasting on peanuts. Both Yellow-rumped Warblers and Pine Warblers have a wider diet than many other warblers, allowing them to be some of the earliest returning migrants.

And, for my international viewers joining in on Wild Bird Wednesday, the Amer. Ornithologists' Union (AOU) has not followed the IOC (International Ornithological Congress) in re-splitting the four "yellow-rumped" warblers into individual species. Here in The States, we still have the "Myrtle" in the eastern half and the "Audubon" west of the Rockies.