American Woodcock Not Hiding So Well

While on one of the birding trips for the Detroit Lakes Festival of Birds, we visited Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge.  There had been a woodcock nesting right off a trail near the Nature Center.  As we walked towards it, the female appeared to have moved to right on the trail.  The refuge staff suspected that her eggs had hatched.  They are precocial when hatched meaning they can run around.  She was probably moving them from the nest, heard us coming and froze tucking the young beneath her.  Can you make her out in the above photo?

There she lurks, most likely thinking, "Haha, humans, you can't see me, I am invisible!"  We didn't get too close and after everyone had a chance to see her, we went back the way we came from.  I always wonder how may owls I walk past, now I have to wonder how many woodcocks and their chicks escape my notice.

Here's the first photo with an arrow pointing to the woodcock:

Random Owl Chicks

I was archiving some photos and found this photo from this year's Detroit Lakes Festival of Birds of a great horned owl nest with 2 chicks.  I figured the least I could do is post this photo after yesterday's link to a flycatcher eating what appears to be Cthulu.

2008 Detroit Lakes Festival of Birds

This year's Detroit Lakes Festival of Birds was more challenging than in the past. Due to the long winter, migration was about two weeks behind, so instead of warblers dripping from trees and the shorebirds crowding the mudflats we really had to work to get participants their target birds. This year, the organizer added a new trip to Red Lake's Big Bog State Recreation Area--which should have been primo for Connecticut warblers, black-backed woodpeckers, three-toed woodpeckers, and boreal chickadees. However, when we got off the bus and I was not swarmed by insects and the bog was silent, I knew we were in trouble.

Although birds were scarce, we did find that there are still a few moose here in the bog and that someone has too much time on their hands when they take the time to arrange moose poop in the shape of a heart! The bog was a hard trip for me--as a participant on a field trip, it's frustrating when you come to a festival for a specific species and can get it. It's just as frustrating for field trip leaders who are anxious to help you find those target species. I hadn't been to the bog area for a few years. I was invited on a familiarization tour about four years ago, right before the boardwalk was complete. Depending on gas prices, I will have to get up there again sometime this summer.

The next day I was on the trip for Glendalough State Park and that was exciting for me because Scott Weidensaul was on that trip (can I saw what a sweet guy he is--when I was packing up my Swarovski booth at the end of the festival he helped carry some of the boxes to the car even after he'd been leading trips and autographing books--what a guy). Glendalough rocked--warblers were just arriving to the northern part of Minnesota. Many were singing on territory and I was able to get photos like the above common yellowthroat (and some video as well). This was also the park with the funky oriole (the consensus seems to be that it is not a hybrid but a young male Baltimore growing into his adult plumage).

A big highlight came as we were watching a warbler, one of the trip's participants said, "Oh, there's a common nighthawk sleeping in the tree." Sure enough, there was a common nighthawk roosting! That was a good spot on his part and makes me wonder how often we pass nighthawks on a daily basis.

Something very telling about our times: a bald eagle flew in and landed fairly close and I set my scope up on the raptor right away. I stepped aside so people could line up for the perfect view of an eagle in great light...and there was not a rush for the scope. I commented that are we that jaded in Minnesota that we can't take a look at an eagle and a few people stepped in to take a look. I thought back to growing up in Indiana and how rare and eagle sighting was and now they are commonplace and that kids are growing up with the idea that eagles are easy to see. I think that's great, but hope they don't get taken for granted.

Many American redstarts were chasing each other and a few came close to beaning a few participants. What fun! Our groups broke apart into some smaller groups to make it easier to see birds and a few heard the coveted Connecticut warbler. It wasn't supposed to be at Glendalough, but it's migration and anything is possible.

Sunday we went to Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge. Again, migration was a tad off so we didn't quite get the shorebird bonanza that we did last year, but Agassiz is still a special place to visit.

I got a kick out of a unique use of deer antlers as an oriole feeder. I could hear orioles overhead, but none of them came down for the fun photo opportunity.

Sparrows were all over the visitor's center and one of my favorites was around--the Harris's sparrow--love those guys.

There were several robin nests around the center. Here is one right one a window. On the window ledge to the right was another nest, but I'm not sure if it was also being used this season.

The big stars of Agassiz that day were all the Cape May warblers hanging out in the pines. They were surprisingly accommodating for warblers and everyone got great looks.

While we were scanning the pines for the warblers we came across another robin nest. She remained hunkered despite the 50 some odd birders and half dozen Cape May warblers surrounding her.

So that is a brief Detroit Lakes update. Even though the birds weren't what they normally are, it was still a great time and it was fun to connect with new people and reconnect with old friends. Alas, if we have learned anything in the last few years it's that we really cannot control the weather and certainly not bird migration.

Two Different Witchities

We birded Glendalough State Park during the Detroit Lakes Bird Festival. There were common yellowthroats singing on territory all over. I even managed to get video of them through my spotting scope and digital camera. They are usually described as having a song that says, "witchety, witchety, witchety" but sometimes they can be a little different. Here are two different common yellowthroats singing, the first is the usual call and the second is just a little different (you can go directly to YouTube and watch them in high definition if you want):

Sapsucker Drumming

This was a yellow-bellied sapsucker doing some territorial drumming on an old rusty drum during the Red Lake trip of the Detroit Lakes Bird Festival. For those not familiar with sapsuckers, they have a distinctive drumming sound. Note how it starts and then kind of peters out. When you hear that sort of drumming, you can say with some confidence to your friends that you hear a sapsucker drumming.

Catching Up

Just back from the Detroit Lakes Festival of Birds--more to report on that when I am a bit more rested. I've been trying to upload some video I took on YouTube, but for some reason it keeps failing--is it perhaps because I'm using "sapsucker" in the title? I'm not sure, but Non Birding Bill is going to try and see what he can do later today. In the meantime, I leave you with some gratuitous yellow-headed blackbirds:

While I've been away, Fabulous Lorraine and Mr. Neil have been tending the hive and monitoring the divide of the new colony. Here is Fabulous Lorraine's report...the bees haven't quite released the new queen and built a queen cell. Not sure what that's all about and what egg they would use in said cell, but if I learned anything from last year, it's to leave the queen cells alone! When the new queen is finally released from her cage, I'll let her deal with it.

Also, banders Mark and Roger got some more great birds in the nets last weekend at Carver Park--man, take in that orchard oriole!

Funky Oriole

We saw a totally funky oriole today on the Glendalough field trip. There should only be Baltimore orioles here, but this one kind of looked like a hooded oriole (although not quite).

So, this bird is either a hybrid between the two, a second year male oriole who hasn't quite molted into his adult plumage, or sometimes female orioles attain male plumage as they grow older--is this just an old female?

Any thoughts.

Detroit Lakes Bird Festival--Felton Prairie

Last year, the Felton Prairie was a magical field trip: the sun made the prairie glow, you could hear a symphony bird songs: marbled godwits, chestnut-collared longspurs, bobolink, western meadowlarks, etc. It was chilly but not bad. This year, it was cloudy, cold, and windy. I was totally unprepared and forgot my gloves. The birding was still great. Above is a large flock of Franklin's gulls rolling across the prairie in front of the giant windmills.

We had much better views at prairie chickens here. There were quite few, at point several were flying on either side of the bus. With the wind they were laying low, but a few testosterone laden males were still trying to out dance each other.

We found two western meadowlark nests. Mostly because they were close to the road and we flushed them before almost stepping on the nest. I took the above blurry photo because we had just flushed the female and the whole group wanted to see the nest. The chicks were just hatching and it was WAY too cold for the female to be off the nest--the ethical thing to do was to leave so she would go back and incubate. With the photo all 54 participants could take a look. It was touch lumbering the large group away, great birds kept coming into the area like an orchard oriole and a lark sparrow. But we did get away and the female went back. Whew.

Here's the second western meadowlark nest. Can you see it? It's right in the middle. If you look close you can just make out the eggs.

Okay, here's a closer (and in focus) view of the nest. We flushed it as we were on way to board the bus, so I'm sure she made it back in plenty of time to keep them warm.

Here are some cliff swallows hunkered down on a power line. The swallows were definitely feeling the cold. Barn swallows circled the bus like crazy as we kicked up insects. Northern rough-winged swallows circled our group as we walked in the grass--I suppose we were kicking up bugs much in the way cattle would. Tree swallows were swarming low over any body of water.

Here's a loon with a swallow zipping into the shot.

Even the pelicans seemed to be feeling the cold. They just hunkered together with an expression that said something along the lines of, "Craaaaaap, it's sooooo cold." Look at their bills, many of them are sporting the knob on the upper bill that they get during the breeding season.

And no birding trip would be complete without a snipe. We could here these guys winnowing all over at Agassiz, but didn't see them. This Wilson's snipe was hanging out on a fence post.

Of course, a big part of the fun of birding at Felton Prairie is the herd of cattle that follows you around. Just like last year they were very curious about our group and came in for a closer look...sometimes scaring off prairie chickens and longspurs.

I did get a kick out of this brown-headed cowbird actually mixing in with the cows--actually doing what its name implies--go figure. Apparently, the cows had so much fun with us that they didn't want us to leave and tried to block the road. Our very intrepid bus driver proceeded carefully. I caught it on video:

Detroit Lakes Bird Festival--Rothsay Prairie

When I drove up for the Detroit Lakes Bird Festival, it was very hot and warm. Friday while birding at Agassiz, it was cooler, but by afternoon it was very hot. That night some incredible storms moved in. Jeff Bouton and Ben Lizdas and I headed to Hamden Slough for a scan of birds and could see some powerful lightening coming our way in the distance. That night the lightening flashed like crazy. One interesting note was that Jeff discovered a couple of tundra swans mixed in with trumpeter swans. Above is a photo of a trumpeter on the left and a tundra on the white. Note how the tundra swan has a slightly thinner neck and the dainty look of the bill. You can't see it in the photo, but through out scopes you could see yellow on the bill.

The next morning it was cold and windy at Rothsay Prairie. Not the best weather for listening for those quieter prairie sparrow species like Le Conte's sparrows but we did see some other species. Above is a swamp sparrow that was fairly accommodating.

Clay-colored sparrows were also lurking about in the grasses. I love that little buzzy call they give.

And of course, bobolinks were all over. We saw large flocks of males flying up from the roads--they are so pretty and hypnotic with the bold black and white coloration.

Of course, the fun of the prairie are the shorebirds. Here is a marbled godwit that we found working the road. The bird appears to have an injured foot but was able to fly and find food. I love how birds are still able to survive and function even what appears to be a tragic injury.

We saw some more phalaropes. Above is a male Wilson's phalarope--these guys are interesting because the females are more colorful than the males and after she lays eggs, leaves the male to incubate and raise the chicks.

We had so much fun at this particular pond. The bus pulled over and Doug Buri and Bob O'Connor stepped outside to scan it for interesting shorebirds. They thought they saw a Hudsonian godwit. I remained on the bus with the rest of the passengers. Being on the bus, we were higher up and could look down on the shorebirds. Suddenly people started asking me, "Hey, Sharon, what's that yellow shorebird?" I scanned the water and found it right away--it stuck out like a sore thumb. The color was kind of yellow, kind of orange, but the bus windows and cloudy day was probably distorting the color. I stuck my head out the window and shouted, "Hey, Doug, Bob, what's that yellowish bird--buff breasted sandpiper?" Well, they were on the ground and could only see the head being lower than we were. They both looked at the head and said, "We're not sure." I got back on the bus and announced, "It's gotta be good, the experts don't know what it is!" Everyone on the bus got a great look at it. I started running the little hamster in my brain--"What shorebird would be yellowish? Yellow...yellow...well, actually it's salmon color...I remember reading a book about researchers in the 1970s and 1980s coloring shorebirds to study migratory patters...what birds were those...shorebirds...they were red knots...WAIT! RED KNOT!!"

I stuck my head out the window and both Doug and Bob looked at me and we shouted at the same time, "Red Knot!" We had all worked it out in our heads simultaneously. The bird was going into breeding plumage to get that red color and that's why it looked salmon-ish (something we're not used to in Minnesota). As we were getting people off the bus the knot took off with some short-billed dowitchers, but at the point everyone had been watching for awhile. It was so windy, we tried to follow it, but the wind could have blown it into Canada. We made an immediate call to our inside man at the MOU to let him know what we saw and where. When our field trip returned, we gave out directions and maps but the knot was not seen for the rest of the festival. It was interesting, the shorebirds at that pond were changing all day, so with the wind I'm sure many birds were just passing through.

Rothsay is known for it's prairie chickens--we saw some, but they were hunkered and way out in the fields. Above is a shot of the giant prairie chicken in the town or Rothsay. Doug didn't want to stop and look at a big plastic bird but there was some mutiny on the bus and he lost. He didn't hesitate to tell us how ridiculous it was that we made a point to see it.

I love heart Buri.

Detroit Lakes Bird Festival--Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge

Sandhill cranes flying off the road as our jam packed 57 passenger bus was creeping along Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge. That place is definitely worth the hype.

Well, I learned an interesting tid bit at the festival--the field trip to Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge sold out before the field trip to go birding with David Sibley! I'm pretty sure that it had more to do with the awesomeness of the location rather than the cool factor of guides. I don't care, I'm so glad that I was one of the guides for the Agassiz trip--we saw 25 species of shorebirds on the trip!! Whoot! Whoot! Whoot! And really cool shorebirds at that! Above are some of marbled godwits (the big birds). Check out the dunlin in the back--that's the little guy with the black belly.

We had some unusual birds, above on the lower left is a red-necked phalarope (the other bird is a semipalmated plover). We were expecting Wilson's but we ended up getting the red-necked too. I couldn't do a lot of digiscoping because the priority was making sure the 53 paying customers got to see the birds and the light wasn't that great for it either. It was fun though, because as soon as someone would point out one really cool shorebird like the red-necked phalarope and then get the group focused on it, then someone else would shout, "Stilt Sandpiper!" It was a good problem to have. We even had crazy numbers of more unusual birds--like 90 some odd hudsonian godwits.

I loved this scene--it's a black-bellied plover surrounded by a posse of semipalmated plovers. Wish we could have been closer, but at least we got to see the bird. That was a cool new bird for quite a few people on the trip.

The place was lousy with American bitterns--at one point three of them were flying around the bus. Bitterns are secretive birds who stand straight up and use their stripey plumage to hide amongst reeds. The above blurry guy was one that I saw running in short grass. When he noticed our bus coming he shot his head up to hide himself but then suddenly realized that he was surrounded by short grass. We stopped the bus and he ran to a very sparse patch of taller grass and assumed the position. The bus windows distorted the shot, but you get the idea.

It was a diverse group and people wanted different birds--some wanted to focus in on shorebirds, others wanted better looks at area specialties. While Doug Buri and Kim Risen would focus in on peeps (small shorebirds that give me a headache), I would call in a sora or get some yellow-headed blackbirds (above) or bobolinks in the scope. By the end of the day, our bird list topped out at 135 species, which may be a festival record. It was awesome. I get the sense that they will offer the trip again next year and hopefully we will have more time than just four hours to bird there. We had such limited time. The trip was two hours out there, four hours to bird, and another two hours back. Next year they could easily add another two hours for birding--we really could have added more warbler species and I would have loved the chance to photograph red-necked grebes.