The Many Faces Of Savannah Sparrows

 Mr. Muttonchops!

I think brown birds are beautiful as it is, but I love putting them in beautiful backgrounds when the opportunity presents itself.

I always thought of house sparrows as the most common sparrow ever and that's true in urban areas of the US but out in the farm fields, especially the cornfields, it's savannah sparrows all the way. And no 2 savannahs seem to look the same during migration.

I've never seen on with so much rufous on the wings, but Sibley assures me that this an acceptable color morph.

Fledging Flickers

I saw some flickers learning the ways of the world on my bird surveys the other day. Even though that baby looks full grown, he's still hoping to be fed by the adults. Old habits die hard.

This appears to be a little bit of some father son bonding (they are both male, they both have a mustache).

The adult male didn't feed the younger one, but flew off, presumable to teach the younger bird where to forage for food on its own.

















I have to do some work around cows this week.

I'm not going to lie, cows make me nervous.  Ungulates who stare at you and keep coming towards you are terrifying to me.  The only way they could be even scarier would be if they were bison.  That is just a lot of animal being controlled by an uncertain brain.  These are three of about three dozen cows that were surrounding me.  They just kept coming closer and closer with an expectant look.  Did they think I had food.  If I stepped wards them, they would back away, but some cows in the back of the her would run forward.  I tried mooing and that seemed to confuse them even further.

This one was really pushing its luck, "Oy, Bovine, back away from the carbon fiber tripod!"  The cows eventually went their way and left me alone, but I think being a five foot tall woman makes me feel uneasy about large cloven hoofed animals getting too close and too curious.  Has anyone made a horror movie about cows?  If not, they should.

Apart from the stress inducing cows, the big upside to my work this week is that I get to spend time in some of my favorite habitat--open grassland.  I'm surrounded by bobolinks, dickcissel, meadowlards and savannah sparrows.  Above is a female bobolink who scolded me as I walked to my work area.

Her brazen attitude on the fence made me realize that she must have had a nest nearby.  I made sure to watch where I placed my feet, the last thing I wanted to do was smush little baby bobolinks with my shoes.  Female bobolinks are crazy looking birds, they do not look like the males, they look more like sparrows.  Technically, bobolinks are considered blackbirds (for the moment, who knows will happen with future taxonomy changes).  If you get past the brownish colorization, you can kind of see a blackbird type of shape to these birds (think red-winged blackbird).

The male wasn't too far behind and flew in to chirp at me, also warning me that I was too close for comfort to his nest.  Out of habit, I pished at them and that set the male off in a frenzy of song above me.  I paused to listen to that crazy mechanical song.  I love that song, it's the general ringtone on my phone.  If this make wanted me to move a long, singing his song a few feet above my head was not the way to do it.

I love everything about these guys.  I love their song, their odd plumage (black on the bottom, blond wig on the back of the head, patches of white on the back).  This bird is too weird for color tv.  And check out those toe nails--they're so long!  I love these birds so much, they are worth putting up with a few dozen cows.



Year of the Sora

Someone asked on Twitter if this was the year of the sora because the seem to be EVERYWHERE.

This is a sora that was very cooperative at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.  I took this before I left for Horicon. I was walking by the Bass Ponds and I could hear several soras when I noticed this bird out and about in the open, not skulking among the vegetation like most soras do.

Here is where the sora was in relation to my scope.  Here's what the sora sounds like.  Here are some more calls on the Cornell All About Birds page.

Horicon Marsh was loaded with them too.  I didn't get any photos of the little water chicken, but I heard them every stop I made that had any sore of marsh.  Right now I'm in Utah for the Great Salt Lake Bird Festival.  When I arrived, I went straight from the airport for some birding at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and it was sora city there as well.  I don't remember hearing so many soras all the time--I'll take it.  Must mean they found some great breeding habitat and great places to over winter the last few years.

They eat vegetation and invertebrates.  This bird was too fast for me to capture it, but I watched it down a few small snails including shell.  I wondered if this was a female, snail shells provide calcium for egg laying.

Those these birds are timid, the curve of the beak always gives them a contented look.

Keep your eyes and ears open for these mysterious little water chickens.







Birding By Bike

Birding got the better of me yesterday--you will note there is no podcast today. I had my day all planned out, serious writing to do, if I got to certain point I would ride my bike for exercise, then tidy up the kitchen, mop the floor, make dinner, record the podcast and then bed.  The siren song of 70 degree weather and spring migration poved to be too much.  I got to a good point on my writing and changed into my bike gear.  I realized that all of the lakes near me iced out the day before so waterfowl would be a good possibility.  I figured out a safe way to strap my spotting scope to my bike...tucked my camera for digiscoping into my backpack and hit the trails.  What only should have been an hour long ride turned into three.

Cool waterfowl were all over Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet.  This is part of a mixed flock of red-breasted mergansers and horned grebes.  I about wiped out on my bike when I saw this flock close to shore.  The trails were so packed with Minnesotans walking and riding that I had a tough time getting a photo without someone jogging in front of my camera.  As I was watching this flock, I heard a guy tell his friend, "Hey the dog wants to run, I'm gonna jump him in the water here."

"Pardon me," I shouted to get his attention.  "I'm actually trying to watch those birds right in front of us, would you mind using a different stretch of the 3 mile trail around the lake?"

He hadn't noticed me or the birds, was very apologetic and gladly jumped his dog further down the trail.  I could understand, I'm oblivious to people around me when I watch birds and the lake trails were so packed, I could see how someone might think a bird watcher would be no where near this place.

Here's a photo of a pair of male red-breasted mergansers.  I have to say, that when my single female friends lament about having trouble meeting someone, I always try to suggest birding.  If you want to attract attention, go to a crowded lake with a bike and a spotting scope--guys come of out of the woodwork to talk to you...although I have to wonder, is my butt in the biking pants or my Swarovski that really gets their attention?  Most of the people who came up to me wanted to know if I was watching the loons.  I'd seen the loons, but they were further out and the mergansers were closer.  One guy kept trying to get me to move my scope to watch the loons (which is a refreshing change, normally people want me to look at that bald eagle on the other side of the lake).  I kept insisting that I was really into seeing the red-breasted mergansers which have a more Dr. Seuss look than the loons.

I did find a pair of loons very close to shore on Lake Calhoun.  I planted myself on the ground to snapped away. Nothing like watching the elegant and deadly fish killing machine in bright sun.

As I took photos, one of the birds yodeled loudly and everyone on the trails stopped moving and stopped talking momentarily.  Everyone had to pay attention to that haunting sound.  It was cool to hear it and even cooler to see everyone around me to pause and take notice.  How strange and wonderful it was to hear it with the Minneapolis skyline in the background, this bird so associated with the remote northern woods and lakes.  I overheard a nearby jogger say to her companion, "That really did sound like a loon, that must be what those birds are out there.  Wow!"

I'm so grateful when I find loons in the metro area, especially biking distance from my home.  When I first moved up here, I expected the state bird of Minnesota to be as easy to find as the state bird of Indiana was.  It was actually a year or so before I got to experience a wild loon.  There seems to be a pair that hangs out all summer bouncing between the Chain of Lakes in Minneapolis.  Maybe one summer they will successfully nest and fledge a young loon?

I don't know that I got much in the way of exercise since I stopped to watch birds so many times, but it was totally worth going out.  I don't regret my dirty kitchen one bit (I made Non Birding Bill fire up the grill for dinner instead).

Next podcast will be Friday for's supposed to get nastier weather later this week so no migratory distractions.