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!