Juncos With White Wing Bars

It was another big junco day at Carpenter Nature Center on Friday morning--we banded 56! I think I'm finally getting to a certain comfort level handling small birds. Of course, I have all sorts of stuff memorized about dark-eyed juncos--wing measurements to tell sex, eye color to determine age...soon it will be a whole new ball game with several new species.

While we were banding birds, a couple of people from The Raptor Center stopped by with an adult bald eagle to release--with a news crew in tow! Above, Al Rasmussen (on the left) is about to be handed a bald eagle he found injured on his property. The eagle was suffering from lead poisoning and had made a full recovery at TRC.

Here's Al releasing the bird. You can see the Fox 9 news crew behind him--I felt bad for the camera man. He had positioned himself about where I was so the sun would be behind us for a well lit shot. However, the on air talent that was with him insisted that he move to the other side...aiming the camera towards the sun. If you go to the Fox 9 website, you can see the video...and that the on air talent apparently didn't know where he was. He wrote that the eagle was release at the Eagle Center in Hastings. The Eagle Center is in Wabasha, the eagle was released at Carpenter. Oh, Fox 9, will you ever learn?

After the release, we went back to banding. I took a junco out of the net and noticed something funky right away with the wings. Funky is a color description in the Pyle book (the bird bander's bible), but looking at the bird, you could see that this junco had white wing bars. I grabbed a National Geographic Field Guide and found that there is a subspecies called the white-winged junco which has two wing bars and is a tad larger than a dark-eyed junco. The white-winged should have a #4 retrice (tail feather) that is white or almost white. This bird had an almost all white #4. It was on the large side and I thought I nailed it and felt proud of myself for using the Pyle book without beating my head against the wall.

Alas, this bird is very dark (and true white-wings are very light) and records for white-wings in Minnesota are few and far between. This bird may actually be a dark-eyed junco with white wing bars, but not a white-winged junco. Confused yet? It gets worse. Juncos used to be divided into five separate species (one being the white-winged) and are now lumped into one species (the dark-eyed junco) so it doesn't really matter--white-winged junco or just a junco with white wing bars--this is still a dark-eyed junco. But why do we need a subspecies of dark-eyed junco that has white wing bars called white-winged junco and yet also have just dark-eyed juncos with white wing bars that are not white-winged juncos? Oh crap, did I just make the universe implode again? The bird is under review and I'm going to go have a drink now. Ah well, this is what training is all about, right?

We heard purple finches singing around Carpenter and even watched a female flitting in the trees. Another woman who is in the banding class with me is named Erin and she caused one of my best belly laughs on Friday. She walked over to one of the ground traps and shouted, "Oh, hey, it's a house finch!" She stuck her hand inside the trap and then we heard, "Oooooooooooooooooooch!" The rest of us looked at each other and said, "Purple finch!" Even though house finches and purple finches look similar, there's much more bite in the large bill of the purple finch. Look at that above photo, he's ready to bite someone there.

Look at that raspberry coloration on the head--just drink that in for a moment--I kind of need that myself after the headache inducing junco. Breathe in the purple finch, breathe out the purple finch. In. Out. In. Out.

After we closed down the traps and nets at Carpenter, I nipped over to the Prescott railroad bridge to see some peregrine falcons. And I got a great shot of a peregrine butt (or should I say vent). The male and female both made a few passes at pigeons, so that was fun. I do have a question for the pigeons--seriously, you guys think that roosting and nesting as the same bridge as a peregrine falcon is a good idea? Really?

I also stopped at Point Douglas to check out the waterfowl. Above is a male redhead displaying to a female. Ah, duck love, beautiful and humorous all at once. I met a fellow birder who I know mostly through email. He was out on his lunch break watching the scaup. In Minnesota, we tend to get lesser scaup, but greater scaup are possible. However, telling them apart can be a bear.

I tried to see if I could pick out some greater scaup and thought I had, but my better duck photos are all of lesser scaup. But ducks are a good sign, that means the water is opening up and spring is really coming. It's so fun living here: Monday we get eight inches of snow, Friday it's sunny and 60 degrees.