Golden Eagle 42's Southward Movement

goea42 Oct 27 Golden Eagle 42 is still bookin' it south in Minnesota and taking an interesting way down towards Wabasha.  Mark Martell reported this morning:

"Our eagle spent last night in Itasca County, MN about 3 mi. NE of Battle Island. He has been steadily making his way south at about 30 – 40 miles per day since Oct 23. The exception being Oct. 24 when he was on the Chippewa National Forest about 16 miles east of Lake Winnibigoshish and he made almost no movement."

There have been 111 Golden Eagles counted over Hawk Ridge so far this year, obviously our bird was not one of them. Is he an outlier and not following the main migratory path, or does this mean there is an even larger and broader migration of golden’s going through northern MN? And if so, where do they winter? Winter counts turn up around 80 eagles in SE Minn, and SW WI, are there more Golden Eagles in the area or are some going further south?"

Now, I'm curious if he will follow the St. Croix to the Mississippi River and then on down to Wabasha?  Will he fly over the Twin Cities, mixed in with a flock of bald eagles?  Can't wait to see where he goes.  Learn more about Golden Eagle 42 at Audubon Minnesota.

Breeding Birds & Eagle Banding

If you're looking for links of what I talked about on KARE 11's Showcase Minnesota today, here they are: Sign up for the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (a monumental project run by Bonnie Sample whom I've known from banding birds at Carpenter Nature Center) that needs volunteers and reports of birds breeding all over the state of Minnesota.  This is a huge project that no one birding organization has been able to organize before.  It's spearheaded by Minnesota Audubon, but will involve several state and national organizations.

The other item I talked about was Woodworking for Wildlife, my buddy Carrol Henderson's book  on building nesting houses and platforms for just about any bird that will use them.


Last week, I was privleged to join my buddy Mark Martell out on the St Croix River to band young bald eagles.  Above is a 5 week old bald eagle wondering what the heck is going on.  Hard to take them seriously as a top predator on the food chain when their beaks look like giant schnozzes.


We had a map with notes marking where eagle nests had been spotted in the spring.  We took the boat out to have a look--some were easy to find like the above nest.  It's huge because the eagles have been adding to it a little every year. The birds will do this year after year until the tree can no longer support the weight of the nest or wind knocks it down.


Speaking of wind, we were banding on Wednesday--the day it was super windy in Minnesota.  Normally, the tree climber who goes up to get the chicks, uses a bow and arrow, shoots and arrow with a rope over a strong branch above the nest to rappel up, but the wind was just too strong and took the arrow anyplace but where the climber needed it.


He eventually decided to climb the tree the old fashioned way.  It took longer, but was the only option.  Above is a photo of Dan the climber next to the eagle nest...did I mention that Dan is six feet tall?  Keep that in mind as he stands next to the nest--it has to be eight feet long at least.

Speaking of Dan Kraus our climber, he has an AWESOME website called Cat In A Tree Rescue.  It's a directory of tree climbers all over the country who help cats stuck in trees.  If your cat is stuck in a tree, you can find a climber near you to get it down.  There's a gallery on the site of cats he's rescued, if you'd like to so see some indignant kitties, check it out.  My personal favorite is poor Kit Kat.


When the birds are out of the nest, we determine the age--above is a 5 week old eaglet which is ideal.  Their feet are as big as they are going to get, but their flight feathers are not developed, so the bird won't fly from the nest too soon when the climber goes up the tree.  Mark Martell banded the bird, took a blood sample and a couple of down feathers for DNA samples.  With the type of testing they are able to do now, the climber can even bring down adult eagle feathers from the nest and if they have been banded by Mark, they can tell which bird it is based on the DNA.


Mark told me that earlier in the week when they had been banding eaglets, they had an interesting banding return.  As the group approached the nest, an adult eagle flew in carrying prey and dropped it off.  As the climber when up the tree, the adult took off.  When he got up, he saw the prey item--it was a blue-winged teal and it was banded!  He took down the band numbers and gave it to the banders when he brought down the chicks.  It's rare enough to get a banding return, but to get a banding return while you are banding a different species is as rare as it gets.  I'll be curious to hear about the teal's history.


Dan the climber was gracious enough to take my camera up with him when we returned the chicks and get a photo from their nest.  What a view of the St. Croix River!  Note how the chick's foot is sticking way out--that's normal, eaglets at 5 weeks haven't quite figured out what formidable weapons and tools those toes can be.  Check out this video of Mark putting an eaglet in a bag to be taken up to the nest (keeping them in a dark cloth bag keeps them from flailing and keeps them from injuring their growing feathers).  But watch how the eaglet starts to flex those talons, it's a little awkward, but foreshadowing what they can do when they grow up:


While we were banding eagles, we had other species checking us out.


A common yellowthroat flitted around us--it got within 10 feet, giving chip notes.  After about three minutes, it seemed to realize that we had no interest in it and only the giant birds, it started singing territory song in the open.  I took a few photos before we boarded the boat to check the next test.


There was also a pair of tree swallows nesting in an old tree riddled with woodpecker holes. This one kept peering out like a nosy neighbor.  "Abner, what are they up to out there?  You  should come see this! You won't believe it!"

There were also a TON of prothonotary warblers around us.  The eagles' nests are in perfect prothonoray habitat--sloughs with over-turned trees.  However, they are a bit more shy and we're moving too much.  Being constantly on the move and working with eagles does not make for the best conditions to get a photo of a prothonotary warbler.


We went to check a couple of other nests and were not as successful.  This nest was used last summer, but had shrank considerably.


You could see half the nest had ended up on the ground.  Either a branch supporting the nest had broke or a late summer storm blew it down.


There was evidence that the remaining nest had been used--check out all of this poop.  I suppected owl poop and had my suspicions confirmed when...


...we found pellets with bones and feather shafts.  Owl pellets will have bone fragments because they tend to swallow prey whole or in large chunks.  Also, there digestive acids are not as strong as a hawk or eagle.  This one looked to have been eating a good-sized bird.  I even found some rusty colored breast feathers.  I wondered if the owl had eaten a duck and wondered what species.


Searching through more pellets revealed more bones...and the tip of a duck beak.  The tip appeared to have a bump, so based on that, the breast feathers in the pellet, the size of bones, I suspect that the owl ate a wood duck.  Great horned owls would have already left the nest by now.  My guess is that part of this eagle nest fell last fall, a great horned nested in the remains in January, and the young were already hunting somewhere in the woods around us.


The third nest we checked was almost gone, so we did not get to band any birds there.  However, we did get to do some work at the first nest and a slow day on the river is better than a good day at a desk.  It was a treat to be out with the eagle banding crew to see the work that that they do.

Tracking Golden Eagle 42

My buddy, Mark Martell who works for Audubon Minnesota is working on a project with the National Eagle Center, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Nongame Program, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources – Endangered Resources Program studying golden eagles wintering along the Mississippi River. goldeneagle-768176

Golden eagles do not breed in Minnesota and Wisconsin and have not been considered regular users of the Mississippi River during the winter, but in the last few years, there have been several reports, especially near the Wabasha area. The National Eagle Center organized a volunteer survey program and have counted as many as  60 golden eagles using the coulees and bluffs along the Mississippi River from Red Wing, MN to LaCrosse, WI. This wintering population does not mix with the much larger and better known population of wintering and breeding bald eagles found in the same area. I actually got to see one of the golden eagles last winter whenn I went out with Joan from the Eagle Center.

Many who have counted the golden eagles wonder, where are these birds coming from?  They could be breeding in Canada and the size of the breeding population in northern Ontario is thought to be small and thus vulnerable. If the birds are moving from western breeding areas they could be severely impacted by wind generator projects proposed for the Great Plains and western Minnesota.We need to find out where they go and what their migratory route is.

One of the ways they are going to do that is by putting satellite transmitters on golden eagles.  This winter, a golden eagle that was found injured in a coyote trap (a nice name for a leg-hold trap--can't we ban those types of traps please) on the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi River where the golden eagles are wintering. It was treated at The Raptor Center and was released on March 25, 2009.  When the bird was let go, Mark was able to attach a transmitter and given the name, Golden Eagle 42.  You can read about it and watch video on MPR or the Star Tribune.

While in Indianapolis, I got this email update:

"After its release the bird spent the evening of the 25th near its release point then began moving north. By the evening of the 28th it was in northern Chippewa County (Wisconsin)."

goldeneaglemap_03-30-09_copy11If this map is hard to read, just click on it and you can see a larger version.

"On the attached map the release point and evening stopover sites are noted by a circle and text. Circles not marked with text are other points were the bird was tracked in between those times. The black line indicates the shortest route between known points where the bird was, but we cannot be sure the bird actually took that route."

Maps and other information will be posted on the Audubon Minnesota website, their goal is to update every 3 days as the birds makes its way north.  I'll add links and updates here and on Twitter as I get them.

Some Screech Owls And Geeking Out

Tuesday was much busier than I anticipated at The Raptor Center. The rest of my crew was off, there were no programs scheduled and it was pouring rain so the possibilities of walk-in tours was pretty darned remote. But that didn't mean the staff couldn't find things for me to do. In less than four hours I worked with a merlin, a kestrel, a peregrine and two screech owls.

The screeches needed some re-training to the glove. The above gray phase screech owl has been going through a rough molt and was practically bald all summer and didn't do as many programs. When I put my hand in a crate to get him out, he jumped onto my finger and just tried to squeeze the life out of it, apparently my finger had to die. But he will go through retraining and relearn that the gloved hand is a good place where screech owls get food, and have a relaxing time.

The gray phase lives in the same mew as a red phase screech owl. What's interesting about these too, is that when they are perched in their mew, the red phase is usually sitting in front of red bricks and the gray is perched in front of some weathered wood, working their camo feather colors.

I don't know if you noticed, but this bird was facing my camera but was not quite seeing it. It has some eye problems and can't see well. My camera makes a slight sound when it's focusing and the screech owl could hear it, but not quite focus on it.

The gray phase could totally focus on it.

Well, I haven't had a good old fashioned geek out in awhile, but had it last night. Scott Weidensaul is in town for Minnesota Audubon and I was invited to attend. I have to say, Scott is one of my all time favorite bird authors (Living on the Wind is one of the best books ever) and he is a really nice guy who will sign a book in just about any way you'd like him to. A few years ago, I found his phone number on the Internet and called and asked if he would autograph a book in a very unique way for my buddy Amber (at the time we called ourselves "the baddest b!tches of birding" and he did). So, I got to introduce him to Amber last night.

I was nervous because the last and only time I met him face to face was VERY early on the blog, I met him at an ABA Convention in Southeast, AZ in 2005. He was supposed to be there and then his name was crossed off the list so I didn't think I'd get to meet him. It was my last night there and I was having some drinks with some optics reps and new friends and was very much "in my happy place". Then, he walked into the hotel lobby and I suddenly realized I had to pull it together, not sound like a stalker and if I could muster it, sound kinda intelligent. At the time, I thought it was the Algonquin Round Table, but the next morning had a fear that I sounded more like John Goodman in The Big Lebowski ("You wanna toe, I can get you a toe, I can get you a toe by two o'clock!"). Anyway, he remembered, gave me a hug, said I didn't act like a slobbering junk, and even took a look at the Disapproving Rabbits book (and liked it).

The program was a special event for donors and highly active Audubon Members. I've donated some photos to some Audubon publications, so that's how I got my invite. I was honored just to be part of the crowd, it was a who's who of the Minnesota birding community. Above is the oh so tall humorist Al Batt, Val Cunningham, Jim Williams, and Laura Erickson just to name a few.

I get to see bird speakers all the time and have a good handle on who is worth seeing once and who is worth seeing two or three times, who is worth seeing after a few shots of scotch, and who you should feign illness for, but Scott Weidensaul is worth seeing multiple times. I feel like I do quite a bit for birds, but he is one of the few who gets so passionate about birds when he talks about them, that I feel like, "Crap! I'm not doing enough, I need to leave right now and help Red Knots." Very effective speaker, and if you're reading my blog, live in Minnesota and thinking, "Bummer, wish I could have been there." Do not fear. Scott is the keynote speaker at the Detroit Lakes in 2008. Plan on going now, it will be well worth it. If you're in another state and are looking for a good speaker, book him, he's worth every penny.