Saturday, May 27, 2017


On 19 May 2016, I drove out to Cody Lake in search of Bobolinks. Here is a different prospective of the single Bobolink I found, taken out Erika’s car sunroof. The Bobolink’s strange plumage, black below and pale or white above, results in the bird’s being sometimes called Skunk Blackbird (Renfrew et al. 2015). Many birds exhibit countershading, light below and darker above. This pattern tends to flatten the bird and makes it harder for predators to see them. Presumably the Bobolinks’ reverse countershading makes the males more visible to potential mates. In nonbreeding plumages, the males molt into a brown, streaky pattern similar to the females.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Northern Waterthrush

On 22 May 2017, we banded a Northern Waterthrush. The two waterthrush species, Northern and Louisiana, can be tricky to identify. Northerns, however, almost always have speckled throats.

The Northern Waterthrush is fairly secure in its breeding range, which stretches from Alaska to eastern Canada south to the northernmost United States. In its Latin American winter range, however, destruction of mangrove forests threaten this waterthrush (Whitaker and Eaton 2014). 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

House Wren

Male House Wrens, when seeking mates, often sing from high, exposed perches. Once nesting, the males sing much closer to the ground. We found this bird in the Carleton College arboretum here in Rice County on 22 May 2017. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Pectoral Sandpiper

On 11 May 2017, I also found several Pectoral Sandpipers at the Bridgewater Township flood control pond just south of Northfield. This pond is named Central Pond, because it drains several smaller upstream pools.

Pectoral Sandpipers are another long-distance migrant. They breed in the high Arctic and winter in the Argentine pampas. Individuals may make 30,000 km round-trip journeys, placing them among the longest migrating species in the world (Farmer et al. 2013).

Monday, May 22, 2017

Least Sandpiper

Another shorebird on11 May 2017 at the Bridgewater Township flood control pond just south of Northfield. Note the dark breast and rich, brown back. The small size and yellow legs cinch identification as a Least Sandpiper.

These common shorebirds breed across arctic regions of North America. They winter from the United States to northern South America. Eastern populations make non-stop, 4000 km flights from New England to Venezuela (Nebel and Cooper 2008).

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Semipalmated Plover

Bridgewater Township just completed a flood control pond just south of Northfield. The muddy shores attracted migrating shorebirds, like this Semipalmated Plover on 11 May. Unlike other shorebirds, numbers of this plover appear to be stable. Reasons for this status include the bird’s not being picky about its habitat or its diet. It also enjoys an extremely wide winter range, being found on the coasts of North and South America, which allows it to survive areas of local habitat destruction.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Once again home, on 12 May 2017, I banded this male Chestnut-sided Warbler. As I have written several times in this blog, this warbler went almost unreported by early ornithologists. Now it is one of the most common warblers, breeding in disturbed secondary growth left over by human development. The species breeds across eastern Canada and the northeastern United States. This warbler also nests south to Georgia in the Appalachians. Isolated populations are found in southern Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, and eastern Iowa. In Minnesota, most breed in northern counties.

Friday, May 19, 2017

White-crowned Sparrow

The only other bird of passing interest that we photographed during our quick trip east was on 8 May at a rest area along I-74 in Woodford County, Illinois. Four races of White-crowned Sparrows are known. Two are found along the West Coast. The other two are seen across North America. The race leucophrys, is generally found further east than gambelii. Several field marks separate these subspecies. The major one is the color of the male's lores, the area between their eye and the crown stripe. This area is black in leucophrys, but gray in gambelii. In areas of overlap between the two races around the Hudson Bay, intermediate-plumaged individuals are sometimes encountered. The bird in this photo is clearly leucophrys.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Fragile Forktail

The evening of May 3, 2017 found us parking in front of a motel near Fremont, Indiana. To our delight, a small damselfly landed on the car trunk—a ready-made white background. The Fragile Forktail’s scientific name is Ischnura posita. Ischnura refers to this ode’s small size. The species name, posita, alludes to the exclamation mark on the top of the male’s thorax (Paulson and Eunkle 2016).

Despite this species being new to us, it is common and widespread across eastern North America, south through Mexico to northern Central America. A few Minnesota records exist. Fragile Forktails were introduced to Hawaii in 1936 and is now found on all but one of the major islands.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Eastern Forktail

Eastern Forktails are among the most common damselflies in eastern North America. They are one of the first to imerge in the spring, and one of the last to disappear in the fall. We found this individual on 3 May 2017 at the Independence Grove Forest Preserve near Libertyville, Illinois. I am left a bit confused by this damsel’s brownish thorax, but the blue abdomen tip, with its two downward-pointing bars, is typical of this species. Perhaps this individual is a young forktail.