Couple of quick announcements:
1. The Stokes now have their own blog. I doubt that they will use it to document karaoke escapades on the road, but we will be treated to Lillian's photos. Having checked the archives, I find the photos don't disappoint and are exciting eye candy.
2. We have updated my appearances page through May, so if you are interested in looking at binoculars in person with me, meeting Cinnamon or even Non Birding Bill, that is the place to check. I just glanced at it and realized that a few events are missing for May like the Urban Bird Fest and the spring bird release for The Raptor Center, so more will be added in the next few days.
3. For those who have emailed informing me that I am in a video on WildBird On the Fly Blog, all I can say is that the video is inconclusive and not concrete proof. It's quite obvious that the excess white is an aberrant pileated woodpecker and not the birdchick.
Okay, "Dead Animals In This Post" is not my first choice for a title, but after reviewing the photos in this one, I could come up with nothing else. I have been playing catch up since I got back from Arkansas and decided that since I have been working non stop since February 16, I took today as a much needed day off for some serious birdwatching. Insert big soothing sigh of relief here.
After the Connecticut Eagle Festival I had a serious jones for bald eagles so I headed to Red Wing, MN to the Colville Park Marina to check them out. In the last week there have been anywhere from fifty to 200 bald eagles hanging around at the park. One birder has discovered that a pair of eagles is building a nest across the river from the marina--which reminds me how desperately bald eagles need to be taken off of the endangered species list. The numbers are up and the longer they are kept on the list, the easier it is for people to use it as an example of how the Endangered Species Act doesn't work, when it fact it works very well.
Hey, here's a question: Is someone trying to bait the eagles at Colville Park? I noticed one deer carcass on the ice and then a second one (with a crow feeding on it, pictured at right) that had been almost picked clean. I wonder what that is all about? Is someone at the Red Wing Chamber of Commerce trying to insure the winter tourism dollars by providing food for eagles? Or is it some well meaning local dropping off some road kill deer as a bonus for the birds (certainly is safer for the eagles to eat off of the carcass on the river instead of the side of a road)? Eagles hang out there anyway because of the nearby power plant that stuns or kills fish as they go through (note large, dead fish next to my foot for size comparison below). The plant keeps the water open for easy access to the stunned fish and also attracts waterfowl that chooses not to migrate--another food source.
Bating eagles has been done for years in Alaska, although now a ban is going into effect. I'm not sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, I don't see putting out the occasional carcass would be much of a problem. On the other hand, if eagles come to rely on that as a sole source or too many eagles that an area can naturally support are attracted (becoming something similar to a feral cat), that could be a problem. I also think it depends on perspective. I love birds, so having two hundred eagles on my property would be cool. If I didn't care for eagles, having a bunch slicing (pooping) in my yard might make me a tad cranky--especially if it's because a little old lady next door is feeding them. For this city, the eagles are a huge tourist attraction, so I can see why they want to keep it going for a few more years.
Eagles weren't the only birds seen today (although certainly the most abundant species). I was very excited to find a flock of six male hooded mergansers swimming and displaying around a lone female. They were not in a good area to get a photo and I didn't want to get out of the car and disturb their ritual. This was about as exciting as seeing a new bird, it's something I have read about but have never witnessed first hand. The males swam excitedly around the female, keeping her in the middle. They raised their crests and flipped their heads back and shifted their wings--reminded me a lot of Bob Fosse choreography. For those of you in the upper Midwest, this is a reminder to get those wood duck boxes ready. The ducks are starting to hook up, time to have the housing available.
Another sign of spring were lots and lots and lots of horned larks. Just about everywhere I drove, they took off from the sides of the road. I kept trying to pull over and digiscope them, but they were just too fast and blended in too well. Unfortunately, I watched one unfortunate horned lark bounce off of a car in front of me. I pulled over to check it, and it was dead. Since you rarely see a horned lark so closely I took a photo. These are one of our earliest migrants and it was kind of a bummer to think that this bird made it all the way through winter, getting ready to start the next breeding season only to be offed by a car.
Looking at the photo of the bird in my hand above and comparing it to a photo of the landscape photo at left, you can see how this bird's plumage works to keep it hidden. Believe it or not, there are hundreds of horned larks in the field in that photo, they are just camouflaged so well we cannot see them. When I would get out of the car to try and spot them, you could hear their peeping. It was a tad unnerving being able to hear all those birds but not immediately seeing them in the open field right in front of you. If ever a species wanted to make a sneak attack on the human race or just decide to try and freak us out by following us and making noises, I think horned larks are well suited to the task.
One thing interesting to me is that when the larks fly off from the road, I notice the white stripes on either side of the tail quite vividly. Looking at the dead lark up close, the white didn't appear as big as it does when they fly. It's always so strange and fascinating to look at a species up close and in the hand. I regret that it wasn't under more pleasant circumstances like banding.