Best Green Heron Video Ever

I almost peed my pants watching this video this morning.  It is HIGHlarious!  Stick with it, things get interesting at the 20 second mark and end up amazing at the end.  Herons are awesome and kudos to my buddy Clay Taylor for an excellent capture of this behavior. [youtube][/youtube]

And that's a young heron finessing its technique!  You can still see downy feathers!

Birds are awesome, that is all.

Spoon-billed Sandpiper Video

Okay, here is someone using YouTube for the powers of good.  They digivideoed a Dr. Seuss looking bird called a spoon-billed sandpiper doing its mating display.  Incidentally, this was done via digiscoping, the bird was filmed using a Swarovski AT80 HD scope and a Canon EOS 500D--and it was handheld.  Awesome video of an awesome bird: [youtube][/youtube]

Crosby Park Ranger Work

One of the things we get to do at my park as a ranger is "roving." Essentially, we pick a part of the park and rove around to answer questions or interpret wildlife.  It reminds me a bit of doing improv work-- you rely on the audience to guide where the sketch will go.  In this case, you walk into to a park and use whatever is on hand as your method of interacting with the public.

On Sunday it was my turn to rove and I chose Crosby Park which is great during warbler migration as it's right on the Mississippi River and anything is possible.  There were some great birds there and while I was taking a photo of this song sparrow, I heard a sora.  Tons of birds were recent arrivals like great-crested flycatchers and yellow warblers.  I also noted a pair of broad-winged hawks setting up territory, which is fun because when we do Big River Journey, I always see broad-wings soaring over the park from the boat on the river.

The best part of my morning was when I hung out at this shelter--a great interpretive prop presented itself.  It's at a busy intersection of the trails in Crosby--it's actually not a bad spot to sit and listen for warblers.  But as soon as I approached, movement caught my attention...and it wasn't a bird.  Can you make out an animal in the above photo?  If you can't, don't worry, it's hard to see.  But check out that big hole in the trunk of the tree, just above the shelter roof.  It's a raccoon.  When I arrived, all you could see was the body rising up moving around, I think the raccoon was grooming itself.  When people would stop and ask what I was looking at, I'd set my scope on the hole and pish very loudly like I was targeting a huge bird.

The large raccoon leaned its head back as if to say, "Yeah, lady, what do you want, I've got things going on in here." It was the perfect place to camp out and interpret.  And a perfect place for a raccoon.  Nice secluded tree with a big comfy hole.  Enough natural food and litter to keep a raccoon fat and sassy.

As with birds, the raccoon soon grew tired of my pishing sounds and eventually ignored them, but it was fun while it lasted.  I showed Non Birding Bill the photos and he agreed they were cute but liked this raccoon hole photo series better.  In particular, this photo.

As I continued on, I heard a pair of robins raising a HUGE fuss.  Something was in their territory and they weren't happy.  It was a serious alarm sound but not the aerial predator sound.  There was a clump of leaves and I did my best to scan, as best as I could make out, a red squirrel (see the eye and the whiskers in the center of the photo) had found their nest and was eating their eggs.  They did not make it easy for the squirrel, and smacked into it several times with their body.  Fortunately, it's very early in the nesting season, they will find a better nest location and rebuild.  What was interesting was that I heard a new sound made by robins in alarm--bill snapping!  I always though only owls did that, but robins do it too. As the robins were calling in agitation, it spurred the local house wren pair to sing on their territory below their nest.  Here's a sample:


I was missing a piece of one of my digiscoping adaptors so I had to hand hold my video camera up to my scope, but you can hear the wren and the robins in the background.

I love watching wrens sing, they do it with such gusto!

For such an urban St. Paul park, Crosby is great, we did the Bioblitz there last year and not only does it have nesting indigo buntings, but also prothonotary warblers.  I'm a bit concerned about the warbler season.  The leaves are out in full force now and warblers love to hide in the tops of trees, they are going to be hard to find this spring!  Ah well, it will be a good chance to practice birding by ear.

Red-breasted Nuthatch Nest Construction

I headed out yesterday with Lorraine to do some serious wildflower walking (what the heck has happened to me, I'm interested in wildflowers now) near our beeyard.  Before Lorraine arrived, I headed down in the woods to see if I could figure out what birds were setting up territory where--I like to get know the neighborhood on the trail to our beehives.  There's a pair of Cooper's hawks that have been "kekking" around the hives, but I cannot find the nest at all.  There's a creek on the property line, so it's possible that it's across the creek, but from the calling interactions, it sounds like the nest is on Mr. Neil's property.  Where ever the nest is, I'm glad they feel welcome (and may they eat lots of deer mice).

But, while enjoying birds and vainly pursuing Cooper's hawks, I heard some serious pecking going on--it was loud.  I wondered if it was a downy woodpecker excavating a cavity and was shocked to discover that it was a female red-breasted nuthatch.  That tiny little thing was making some seriously loud pecking sounds! She was actually across the creek and I was still able to hear her.  You'll note a little haziness in these images, with the leaves coming out this nest is going to be well hidden very soon.  I marked where I stood, but who knows if in a week if it will be visible.  I was excited to find my first ever red-breasted nuthatch nest though.

Pitooey!  Look at that spray of debris!  She was really going to town.  It was interesting to note that she was not wearing a band, Mark and Roger have not banded her yet and they have banded a few red-breasteds when they come out to Mr. Neil's.  I found it interesting that the female was excavating the cavity, that seems like something a male would do.  I checked the handy dandy Birds of North America Online and it reads that female red-breasted nuthatches select the nesting site.  It did mention that males who had not paired up early on may excavate four different sites to show a prospective female.  The above female worked and then disappeared.  I heard some chattering and soon, a male flew in and took over excavation duties:


He was much more vocal as he excavated where the female had been silent.  It reminded me of one of those arguments you can have in a marriage where the male may be doing one thing (like excavating four different holes for you to lay eggs in) and quietly, the female begins work on the place she really wants.  The male then comes over to excavate and mutters, "Dammit, I excavated 4 different holes and then she picks one way at the far edge of the territory and now I have to start over on a new one!  What does she think my bill is made of? A woodpecker bill?  Ratcha Fracka Friker Frack!"

They are excavating near where I hear all of the Cooper's hawk kekking.  I hope I'm able to keep watching this nest through the leaves and that the two unlikely neighbors get along.

Some Spring Sounds

This is the type of morning a birder lives for.  The shift in bird species from migration is palpable.  Everywhere I walk I hear an old friend from summers past who are newly arrived.  Overhead I have a small and steady stream of northward broad-winged hawks (which really has me excited for my digiscoping workshop at HMANA on Friday).  I tried to get a video of the eastern bluebird male who has claimed our bluebird houses as his territory.  But his song was muted compared to the chipping sparrows, chorus frogs and red-bellied woodpeckers.  Still, a fun sample of the spring birds: [youtube][/youtube]

Mississippi Flooding In St Paul, MN

It's an oddly exciting day at the National Park I work for (Mississippi National River and Recreation Area)--the river is flooding and it's odd to be excited by the flood and watch what the water will do.  Since our visitor center is based in the Science Museum lobbby, we're right on the Mississippi River in St. Paul, MN.  We have an awesome view. That's a giant tree working it's way down towards Raspberry Island (which is mostly submerged at this point).

St. Paul has closed Sheperd Rd. from behind the museum all the way to Hwy 61 in preparation for the flood.  One of the officers I spoke with said parts were already under water.  I spent a majority of Sunday afternoon roving and interpreting the flooding--what ranger wouldn't rather be outdoors on a sunny day?  The river is in flood stage at 14 feet and when I was at the river it was at 16.4 feet.  It's expected to crest on Wednesday at 19.5 feet!

Across the way, Harriet Island was flooding.  The police were trying to clear people off of it, but would have a better shot at herding cats.  As soon as they would get one group to move on, 12 more people would walk in from the other side.  Once church let out, the Harried flooded with people and the police seemed to give up.  I have a feeling that tonight some serious barricades will go up and Harriet Island will be off limits for real tomorrow.

The Padleford boats are still docked at Harriet but barges have been placed in front of them to prevent debris from damaging them.  If you watched the water up against the barges you could really get an idea of how strong the current was flowing.  Here's a video I digiscoped:


Did you hear the house finch singing on territory in the background?  Here he is:

He was duking it out with another male for space in this tree outside the museum--prime real estate in downtown St. Paul and relatively safe from flooding...I wonder if the river will affect some of our early nesters like wood ducks, mallards and Canada geese?

If you want to watch some of the flooding, there's a great view from the Science Museum and be sure to visit us at the Mississippi River Visitor Center in the lobby.  To watch the predictions for the crest, check out NOAA's website.

Recent Red-winged Blackbirds

This week has been fun for watching returning migrants.  One morning there's the usual winter birds and then the next morning you hear a robin on territory (had our first one singing outside of the apartment today).  I went to Carver Park this morning before work and a flock of red-winged blackbird males were lurking in a cedar tree working on their song. [youtube][/youtube]

Great Potoo Madness

There are some birds who are celebrities to me--one would be the potoo.  I was into birds as a kid, I had a ton of books and I remember sitting in my room looking at bird books and there were certain birds that were iconic that I hoped to see one day when I got older and had the means to travel.  The potoo falls in that category.

Potoos are nocturnal birds in the order of Caprimulgiformes and that includes nightjars (like nighthawks and whip-poor-wills) but are in their own family. Nighthawks are also active at night and will roost horizontally on the ground or a branch to hide from potential predators. Potoos do it upright and kind of look like a broken off branch.  If you go to Google Image Search, you'll find a ton of photos of potoos in action.

When we were birding our first day at Canopy Tower, I asked my guide Carlos Bethancourt if there were any around.  I wanted to see a potoo and when I asked people for bird requests, someone requested that I try and get a photo of a potoo.  Carlos said that they have them but they are not always at the same roosting spot.  During lunch he came up to me and said that a potential potoo has been spotted near the entrance gate to Semaphore Hill (the road that leads to the tower). He was going to check it out to see if it was there and show people on the afternoon field trips and wanted to know if I would like to come along. So I did!

The best part was that Carlos took me to the general area and then had me look for it.  My first attempt turned out to be an ant nest but I found it the second time and we set up our scopes on the cool bird.  I was so excited to see this bird, I wanted to ask for its autograph.  I love when I birds doing what I have read about for years--there was the great potoo perched and erect, looking like a piece of branch like all the guides and online photos show.  And this was a great potoo--it was huge!  The great potoo was nothing like a dainty nighthawk, it was the size and shape of roughly a red-tailed hawk.  As Carlos watched me take photos with my Nikon D40 on my Swarovski ATM 80 scope, he asked to try the camera on his Leica scope.

He got a pretty cool photo of it stretching its wings and I was stunned at how long they were.  The wings were not pointed like a nightjar and I wondered what it must be like to see something like that fly.  They don't zoom around like a nighthawk.  They grab insects like a flycatcher does.  The potoo will perch out on a prominent branch and fly out at night to grab beetles, moths, grasshoppers and other large insects.

While Carlos used my camera, I handheld an HD video camera to my scope and managed to get a few stills.  Look at that floofy face! And notice all the wispy feathers around the head.  I bet it would be so soft to touch.  Alas, like so many birds, not a good pet but such a cool bird to see up close.  I'm glad Carlos took me out during the break time, I was able to get some gratuitous photos of this great potoo without the rest of a birding group getting irritated that I wanted to lolly-gag. I could have stayed and watched this bird all day.   And that is the sign of what a great place this is.  If you have a birding/wildlife request at Canopy Lodge or Canopy Tower and you tell them what you would like to do, they work very hard to accommodate that request, while still be respectful to the wildlife and environment.  I've been to a lot of places that wanted me to cover how great they are for birding, this is one organization that has truly lived up to the hype.

Canopy Tower offers night excursions (which I'll blog about soon) and while we were out we got to hear a common potoo.  Here's a link on Xeno-Canto of what a common potoo sounds like (do follow it, that is one of the coolest bird songs ever).  I remembered hearing that on the Biodiversity of Animal Sounds CD from Cornell and always thought, "What must that be like to hear in the wild?" Answer: Pretty damn cool!  We were on Semaphor Road in the dark, no lights, hearing crickets and no traffic.  Then that lonely call (almost like a child on a pipe) comes from overhead and another echoes far in the distance. It was beautiful and I haven't felt chills like that down my spine since the first time I heard a brown-backed solitaire.

Anyway, I was hopeful that since we heard the common potoo's haunting song at night that the great potoo would have an equally touching call.  Not exactly.  Here's a great potoo calling on Xeno-Canto.  It's rather reminicent of Barney Gumble on the Simpsons.  Ah well, I guess that is the sound would expect an odd bark looking bird to make.

Here's a video of the great potoo and you can see how well it is hiding in the branches.  It's only about a minute and a half long:


Did you hear the cars in the background?  The potoo was not bothered.  One of the things I love about my videos from Panama is that you can hear Carlos in the background of some of them and he seems just as genuinely happy to see the bird as you are.  He's a very enthusiastic guide.

It's a once in a lifetime bird to see...and I just realized the type of bird that makes my husband shake his head.  I saw all these colorful birds and the one that I'm super excited about is brown and gray.

Interviewed Via Skype In Panama

So, I just filmed an interview with WCCO while in Panama via Skype.  It's for the "Good Question" series and will air tonight at 10pm.  I love it.  Thanks to the wonders of technology, I sat in the bathroom at Canopy Lodge and answered crow questions over the intertubes.  Thanks WCCO for making me feel so international! Speaking of Canopy Lodge--I am having too much fun with my Wingscapes Camera.  It's surprisingly packable and I'm able to get some cool photos:

Like another tight shot of this chestnut-headed oropendula!  Is that a banana on his beak or is he just happy to see me?  I can also get video too:


Here we have another crimson-backed tanager, blue-gray tanagers and looks like a euphonia back there too.  It's almost like you're in Panama with me.