Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sandhill Crane

On Tuesday morning, 21 March 2017, I stopped at a large marsh along side Albers Avenue north of Highway 19 here in Rice County, Minnesota. When I heard the unmistakable bugling of distant Sandhill Cranes, I jumped out of my car. Two cranes circled high over the wetland.

The cranes were probably flying over and defending breeding territory. During the decade since we retired to Northfield, cranes have become increasingly common local breeders. Rice County is near the southern limit of their Minnesota range. Although once common, by the mid-1940s the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources estimated only about 25 pairs nested in the state. Since then breeding cranes have made a steady, statewide recovery.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawks are considered to be uncommon and local raptors in Minnesota (Ekert). I have seen only a few of them over the past decade. Erika and I found this one actively hunting along the west shore of the Canby Pond along Circle Lake in Rice County. The hawk briefly perched in some small trees before working its way low along the lakeshore.

This bird’s field marks are strikingly evident in the bottom photo. Note the evenly barred, black and white tail. The left wing clearly shows a white crescent towards the tip and reddish-brown shoulders. The right wing is clearly russet underneath, as is the breast.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Golden-crowned Kinglet

On 23 March 2017 I banded two Golden-crowned Kinglets. Both birds were males. This fact may surprise some birders, who assume yellow-crowned birds are females. In fact, the orange crown of this male kinglet is hidden under the yellow feathers. If you look closely, you can almost see an orange hue under the yellow crown.

Golden-crowned Kinglets winter further north than Ruby-crowns. The species tolerates night temperatures below -40 degrees C. At such temperatures, Golden-crowns may huddle together, but they are not known to become torpid (Swanson et al. 2012).

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Ring-billed Gull

I birded a small pond near Circle Lake in Rice Co. on 21 March 2017. About two dozen Ring-billed Gulls greeted me, The flew low to the water around the lakeshore. They tended to bunch up at the north edge of the lake, where the gulls flew against the 32 degree cold wind, Here they flew very slowly, using their legs as air-breakes, The birds carefully watched the water surface, and occasionally wheeling around, diving, and catching prey, which I assume, on such a cold day, were small fish.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

American Robin

This morning, the first day of spring (20 March 2017), American Robins are everywhere. Because of the worn wing feathers and the pale-tipped wing coverts, I think this may be a second-year bird. I can’t be sure of this birds gender. If it is a local breeder, then this robin is definitely a male, Northfield females have duller backs and gray heads. Female robins from more northern latitudes, however, are often very dark and can not be told from their mates by plumage. Regardless of this bird’s destination, its good to have robin calls once again echoing in the backwoods.

Monday, March 20, 2017

American Coot

Running errands on Sunday, we stopped by Cannon Lake in Rice County. Surprisingly, we saw few waterfowl. We did encounter a flock of about two dozen American Coots foraging on a lakeside lawn. As always, I was impressed with how odd-looking these birds are. They look a bit like ducks or chickens. Their toes aren’t webbed. Instead the toes all have flaps along their edges. Coots are in the rail family, which is classified in the same order as cranes.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Great Blue Heron

In this strange world of ours, a 2011 computer is an antique. Mine blew its graphics card, which Apple no longer manufactures. So I have a new computer. I spent the last two days upgrading software for my new operating system. This task is time-comsuming and often frustrating—and occasionally expensive. 

Although the job is not quite finished, I am, at least, up and running. I photographed this Great Blue Heron, on 18 March 2017, at the Superior Drive Pond here in Northfield. This winter, a few herons lingered in Minnesota. Migrants have already been seen by others. This bird was my first for the year.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Black-and-white Warbler

The computer from which I blog is experiencing "The Blue Screen of Death." Here is a posting I never got around to last year.

Black-and-white Warblers are a common migrant in Northfield. In the fall, males and females can be tricky to tell apart. In these photos, the male’s underparts are bright white. The female is pale buffy below. Because they winter north to the Gulf and the southeast Atlantic Coasts, Black-and-whites are among our first warblers to appear in the spring. By that time, the males throats have become mostly black.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Common Goldeneye

Despite being a common early spring migrant in our region, a decent Common Goldeneye photo has proved elusive for me. This image is, at least, interesting. On 14 March 2017, this male goldeneye flushed by the roadside near Sakatah State Park in southern Rice County.

Despite being vulnerable to environmental pollution, Common Goldeneye populations remain relatively stable. This duck breeds in northern forests across the world. Although some breed in northernmost United States, most breed across Canada. They winter in the United States when ice-free water persists. Most are found along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. In the summer, Common Goldeneyes are insectivorous. In winter, fish, crustaceans and mollusks are added to their diet (Eadie et al. 1995).

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Red Squirrel

Just before the snow on 12 March, I took this photograph of an American Red Squirrel, Tamiasciurus hudsonicus. Red squirrels are found across much of northern North America, venturing further south through the Appalachian and Rocky mountains. Red Squirrels are common and their range is expanding in our region. Although their diet specializes on conifer cones, the species has moved into deciduous forest, and even into prairies of southwestern Minnesota.

As I explored the Internet for something new to write about American Red Squirrels, I discovered an article by Ed Yong in the November 2016 issue of The Atlantic. I discovered that Eurasian Red Squirrels carry leprosy. I thought that armadillos are the only animals aside from humans to carry this disease. Armadillos got leprosy from European human explorers to the New World. Much of the world’s leprosy research takes place in Louisiana, where armadillos are abundant.

Luckily for our red squirrels, the European squirrels do not overlap with ours—and the two squirrels are not closely related. Eurasian Red Squirrels, Sciurus vulgaris, are in a different genus than ours. Armadillos can pass Leprosy back to humans, Although Eurasian Red Squirrels carry the same strains of Leprosy that infected medieval Europeans, there is no evidence of their passing the disease to humans.

Although once common, Eurasian Red Squirrels are endangered in Britain. Gray Squirrels, introduced from North America, have outcompeted them. The remnants of the British red squirrels are now mostly found in Scotland. Gray Squirrels also carry squirrel pox, a viral, tumor-producing disease that often kills the red squirrels. Squirrel Pox is also found in eastern North America, but here many infected squirrels survive the disease (Michigan DNR).