After several days of butt chilling temperatures, we finally had some warm weather. It started on Christmas Day. Non Birding Bill and I noticed the temps were in the twenties and then stepped outside. It was so warm, we took a walk to Lake Calhoun. By Friday morning the temps were down right balmy in the thirties. The snow started to melt and fog took over the landscape as did a little freezing drizzle, but it made for somewhat pleasant weather banding birds at Carpenter Nature Center. We had several juncos in the traps (like the bird above).
I processed one that had a very odd eye! It was oval instead of round. It looked as though there was some type of swelling above the eye and feathers out of place. The bird had been banded earlier this winter, but there was no notation that it was injured when it was originally banded. I had to look at the eye color under a light to try and determine age and the pupil seemed fine. We let it go. I'll be curious is to see if we get it again.
Among all the juncos, we got in a few of the dreaded cardinals. Dreaded because of that bill and their ability to squirm just right and nail one of you digits. Owie. One of the nice things about cardinals is that you can sex them fairly quick--this is a male based on plumage color. But aging is a different story. I wondered if he was hatched this summer since he had a bit of black on the tip of his beak (juvenile cardinals have black beaks). Our banding leader, Jim Fitzpatrick had me look at the iris of the cardinal and it was dark brown. That coupled with feather condition of some wing and tail feathers made this bird an AHY (After Hatch Year, which basically means we don't know exactly how old it is, but we know he didn't hatch this year).
While I was processing the male cardinal, Jim was processing a female cardinal. They came into the traps at the same time. We had some members of the public watching us process the birds and they asked if the cardinals were a mated pair. It's not the breeding season and cardinals are typically in large winter flocks this time of year. However, there can be pairs in a flock and according to Birds of North America Online, some cardinal pairs will stay on their same territory all year. I wasn't sure if these two cardinals were in the same trap, but my guess was that were. We also couldn't say for sure if they were pair, but it was a possibility.
After we processed them, I tried to get one more photo before we let them go. Note the male is still giving my thumb the what for. We opened our hands and off they flew. Sometimes when we release two of the same species like that, they split in different directions. These two not only took off in the exact same direction, but landed on the same branch of a tree! I dashed back into the center to grab my digiscoping equipment.
They adjusted themselves in the tree and by the time I got my scope on them, the female had perched a bit higher. They seemed relaxed with each other and I think it's a good guess that this is a mated pair. They stayed that way for several minutes. The clouds, fog, and drizzle did not make for the best photo, but it's bloggable.
I took a few more shots of the male I had just banded while he perched in the tree. I noticed that he had some brown feathers on his flanks. I showed the photo to Jim and the other banders. I asked if we should rethink whether or not he was a hatch year bird since there was some brown. Jim wisely pointed out that the base feathers for cardinals are brown (I assumed black, since their skin is black). He also reminded me that the male's eye color was dark brown. Had he been a hatch year bird, we would have seen gray brown. Only Peter Pyle can take a seemingly easy bird to id (like a cardinal) and make it a challenge!
After I let the cardinal go, I got a shot of my thumb--check out the indentations he left! It's now turned to a minor blood blister. Thanks, dude. After banding, we went down to where the Mississippi River and St Croix River meet along the Minnesota/Wisoconsin border to look for ducks and gulls.
There had been a a harlequin duck reported and we had little trouble finding it among all the goldeyes. The fog made for terrible digiscoping conditions and I'm going to have to go back to see if I can get it on a sunnier day. That's a cooling looking duck that deserves a better photo.