Fun Birds 10 Minutes From Uptown

First, Birds and Beers will continue, I just haven't scheduled January yet. I will get it squared away after the first of the year. I just needed to get the holidays out of the way.

Second, a BIG THANK YOU to Metro Magazine for including my blog in their list of "The Best Homegrown Blogs We Read Just About Every Day." It's nice to know a non bird related magazine is interested in birds...and bees...and disapproving bunnies.

Third, someone reminded me to mention The Great Backyard Bird Count is coming up in February. I don't know if I'm going to be able to do it. I'm tentatively booked at a bird festival that weekend. But if you're not doing anything that weekend, count the birds in your backyard.

I did have some time to do some birding today and headed over to the Minnesota Valley NWR Visitor's Center about ten minutes from my apartment.

I was hoping I could do some digiscoping from inside, but the visitor's center was closed. I wasn't wearing as many layers I should have for the outdoors, but I had some emergency hand warmers stashed in my coat and tucked those in my gloves and gave it a shot.

Light snow was falling and many birds were tucked in the bushes awaiting their turn at the bird feeders, like this female cardinal. When I arrived, I met a fellow digiscoper out in the parking lot, he was leaving as I was arriving. He showed me photos of a sharp-shinned hawk he had just photographed perched near the feeding station. I was bummed that I had missed that, but a cardinal is still a very cool sight in the snow.

The birds were still very wary about coming to the feeder. That hawk must have been fresh in their minds. The cardinals would come to the feeder, but the slightest chip note would send them flying back to the shrubs.

I found one downy woodpecker with a band on his foot (its male, they way the head is turned, you cannot see the red spot on the back of his head).

I've been trying to get better photos of tree sparrows. This little one cracked me up with its snow mustache over his bill. As I was following this bird around with my scope, I noticed a rusty brown bird about twice his size. I looked it up and it flew to the brush.

Holy crap! Is that what I think it is? Is this a fox sparrow? The upside about finding this bird at this point (besides that I wasn't expecting it) was that I got so focused on the bird, I no longer paid attention to how cold I was. Whoot. Even better, I am super-duper sore right now, I signed up for yoga again and am in severe pain after the first class. The last time I took yoga, I remember having such intense pain for three days after the first class. I thought it was just exaggerated in my memory. No, it wasn't an exaggeration...I'm in pain in places I didn't know could feel pain. At least this time I won't make the mistake of having Non Birding Bill rub Icy Hot all over my entire body to ease the sore muscles. That wasn't pretty. Icy and hot all over, I couldn't get comfortable for hours--take my advice: only use Icy Hot on one body part at a time.

Anyhoo, back to the fox sparrow. At first the fox sparrow started feeding kind of like a chickadee: it would fly out under the feeders, grab at a seed and then fly back into the brush. I usually only see this species during migration when there are all kinds of dry leaves and they do that characteristic kicking with their feet, but this bird wasn't doing that in the snow.

I love looking at sparrows head on (it doesn't have to be fox sparrows, it can be any sparrow). They have such great masks. It was interesting to see how the rusty browns on this bird just popped out of the brush, especially since it was surrounded by the more muted colors of juncos and tree sparrows. At times, this bird was about as bright as a cardinal. Right after I got this photo, my batteries died in my camera and I put in my spares. As I put the camera back up to my spotting scope, the sparrow was gone and I suddenly heard a loud flutter of wings, all the downy and hairy woodpeckers gave sharp "cheeps" and their wings flapped with such intensity, you could hear each distinctive flap. I looked over to the feeders, they were bare. I thought that the sharp-shinned hawk must have returned and I glanced around:

There it is in the top of the tree. Note where my scope is in relation to the hawk. I didn't move the scope from here for the photos--just keep that in mind for the next two photos. Let's look at it through the scope:

It was a haggard bird and I wondered if it was the same sharp-shinned hawk that hunted the feeders here last winter?

When I took the first photo and my camera focused, the hawk turned and looked right at it. There is not beeping sound on my camera, this was just the sound of the lens adjusting. I know harriers have a great sense of hearing...I wonder what the stats are on the sharp-shinned hawk sense of hearing? It was at about this point that the batteries on my camera totally died and I had to go back to the car, which was good because my fingers were numb. I don't know if the sharpie ended up getting any of the birds, it was still perched in the tree when I left.

UPDATE: Check out fellow MN Blogger EcoBirder, he has photos on Dec 13 and Dec 29 at the same spot of an adult sharpie--perhaps the same bird?