Wednesday, October 31, 2018

American Pipit

American Pipits are common, if inconspicuous, breeding across Alaska and Arctic Canada south above tree-line through the Rocky Mountains south almost to the Mexican border. They migrate south in the winter to the southern United State, across Mexico, and into Central America. A race of the American Pipit breeds in Siberia and winters from Israel to Southeast Asia.

I have only seven American Pipit records from Minnesota. As I just wrote, these birds are inconspicuous. At least one pipit flushed as I looked for birds at the Dennison Water Treatment Ponds here in Rice County on 29 October 2018. The pipit gave a few high-pitched whistles and flew to a nearby barbed-wired fence. This behavior surprised me, since almost every other pipit I have seen foraged on the ground or perched on rocks. I did not complain and grabbed my camera.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Northern Shoveler

One more duck from our 22 October 2018 visit to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge—a drake Northern Shoveler. When not preening, these ducks swam in tight circles, using their outsized, spatula-shaped bills to sieve the water for small crustaceans. The bills come complete with large comblike structures along their outer edges. While ideal for straining water, the bills do appear to be rather long for preening purposes.

Sunday, October 28, 2018


A pair of Gadwalls shared the Bass Pond where we found the Northern Pintails of my last post. Like the pintails, Gadwalls are found across the Northern Hemisphere. The origin of the word “gadwall” is not known. There are references to “gaddels” in 1667. You can see that Gadwalls are dabbling ducks, feeding with their tails up in the air. Erika calls them Black-assed Ducks.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Northern Pintail

I read that various duck species were seen at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge’s Bass Ponds. This area is about 40 minutes north of us along the Minnesota River near the Mall of America. Erika and I drove up there and found lots of waterfowl in the river, and an assortment of birds in one of the Bass Ponds.

We quickly listed a few Northern Pintails, an abundant duck found across the World's northern latitudes. In North America, they breed across Canada into Alaska and south into the northern Great Plains. They are “puddle ducks” —a group of species that feed with their tails in the air. You can see this behavior in the second photo. As I recall, the duck dabbling in the background is a female. The other pintails in these images are drakes.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Great-tailed Grackle

I have carried this image of Great-tailed Grackles on my desktop for several months. I have been thinking of compiling a collection of bird photos taken through hotel windows. Quality always suffers when you take photos through windows. I took this photo in Fort Worth, Texas, last August. Topaz Labs recently came out with a new feature called AI Clear, which automatically cleans noise and sharpens photos. I ran this photo through Topaz Studio, which contains AI Clear. I think the result is remarkable. For more Great-tailed Grackle information, see my April 2012 blog post.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Eastern Bluebird

Not the best image of an Eastern Bluebird, this photograph does capture the intensity of the bird’s wings, rump, and tail. We found several bluebirds along a Northfield pond on 15 October 2018. The blue of bluebirds depends on light refraction, not on pigmentation. Air pockets and melanin in the feathers scatter blue light and absorb other wavelengths (

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Great Blue Heron

I wonder if this Great Blue Heron we encountered on 15 October 2018 is the same individual we’ve seen on a Northfield pond all fall. Great Blue Herons are common North American birds. They survived both the millinery trade of the early 1900s and widespread habitat destruction. Vennesland and Butler (2011), however, warn that continued habitat loss, climate change, and increases in heron predator populations all present potential problems for the species’ survival.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

American Coot

Erika and I walked around a Northfield pond on 15 October 2018. We discovered a preening American Coot. You can clearly see the red bill knob typical of most North American coots—see my previous post. After the bird finished its feather maintenance, it flapped and stretched its wings.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Yellow-rumped Warbler

15 October 2018 found me birding in Crosby Farm Park in Ramsey County in St. Paul, Minnesota. This morning was chilly and windy. Several  Yellow-rumped Warblers fed on the ground along a lakeshore. Others searched for food—presumably lethargic or dead insects— on lily pads in the lake. The birds almost looked like they walked on water.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Cedar Waxwing

This Cedar Waxwing fed on Crab Apples at the University of Minnesota Landscpe Arboretum on 13 October 2018.  The somewhat streaked, ragged flank feathers indicate that this bird is immature, hatched this year. The extensively black chin is a sign that this bird is a male. Females are much less extensively black below the bill. This individual was in the company of a large flock of Cedar Waxwings plus a few American Robins.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Fox Sparrow

A Fox Sparrow was the most interesting bird we saw on our 13 October 2018 visit to the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. This sparrow is a common migrant, and occasional winter visitor. They breed across Canada and Alaska, south into the Rocky Mountains and winter in the Southeast, and the Pacific Coast.

This species tends to inhabit dense undergrowth, which makes it hard to see. I am not sure why this individual obligingly perched on top of a bare tree. Because this bird’s tail feathers appear to be narrowly pointed, I suspect it is an immature bird, hatched this year.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Sugar Maple

Yesterday, 13 October 2018, Erika and I dove to the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. We searched for fall colors. Lucky we did-this morning we have an inch of snow on the ground and it is still coming down hard. Lots of websites explain why leaves change color in the fall, including the site you get by clicking here.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

October Warblers

On a cold, blustery, and even snowy 11 October 2018, we banded almost 50 individual birds in our Northfield backyard. Among them were several warblers than, earlier in the fall, are considered to be common. Now that October is upon is, these same species are flagged by eBird, which now demands documentation. The first is a Bay-breasted Warbler, identified by the faint cinnamon wash on its breast. Note the few bay-colored feathers in the bird’s crown, possibly signifying this bird is an adult male returning to its basic (winter) plumage. According to Janessen’s Birds in Minnesota, a fairly dated resource published in 1987, late dates for Bay-breasted Warblers in southern Minnesota range from 19 through 25 October.
The second photo is of a Blackpoll Warbler. Janssen's late dates for southern Minnesota range from 5 to 25 October. I usually Photoshop away my hand when I photograph banded birds. But, with a Blackpoll, you need to see the bird’s yellowish toes. So my fingers remain. I did edit my hands away in the last photo of a Magnolia Warbler. This individual was the second I caught on 11 October. Note the large, white patches on the tail feathers. Janssen’s southern Minnesota dates for this warbler range from 10 October through 10 November.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Eastern Meadowlark

In this Blog, I have written about the difficulty of separating Eastern and Western meadowlarks, even under ideal conditions. Erika and I photographed three meadowlarks at the Great Western Industrial Park on 6 October 2018. Although the park’s days appear to be numbered as an interesting birding spot, a good expanse of prairie still remains. The meadowlarks hid in the brushy undergrowth. I think this bird’s yellow throat not overlapping onto its white malar stripe (the area between the throat ad the side of the face) and the relatively dark back both point to this bird’s being an Eastern Meadowlark. Both species, by the way, have been recorded at the park.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Eastern White-crowned Sparrow

First-year White-crowned Sparrows are known by their drab, brown plumage. Next spring they will acquire their striking, black and white, adult plumage.  Due to its dark lores, the area between the eye and the bill,  this White-crowned Sparrow is of the Eastern race. If the lores were pale, then it would be the more western Gambel’s White-crown. Both races can be seen in this part of Minnesota. Erika and I took this photograph in the Carleton College arboretum on 6 October 2018.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Western Hermit Thrush

When I took the first photo, I knew I had an odd-plumaged Hermit Thrush. Erika and I spent the morning listing birds for eBird’s Worldwide 6 October Bird Count. We found this bird at the boat ramp on the southwest shore of Lake Byllesby in Goodhue County, Minnesota. This bird’s russet tail confirms that it is, indeed, a Hermit Thrush. Unlike the Eastern Hermit Thrushes (Catharus guttatus faxoni)  so abundant in Minnesota. the bird we found lacked the buffy wash usually seen in Minnesota birds—see the bottom photo bird banded this morning (7 October) in Northfield. Furthermore, yesterday’s bird is clearly paler gray than the darker bird I just banded. My best guess on the identity of the pale Hermit Thrush is Audubon's Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus auduboni), which breeds in the Rocky Mountain of the United States and winters from Mexico to Central America. (Other pale, western races breed further south and would, thus, seem less likely to stray to Minnesota. On the other hand, I am unaware of Minnesota records of Audubon’s Hermit Thrushes.)

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Eastern Phoebe

During our stroll in Northfield on 28 September 2018, a few Eastern Phoebes flew into some nearby trees. Phoebes are easily identified by their habit of wagging their tails. Researchers conclude this behavior distracts predators (Weeks 2011). First-year Eastern Phoebes enjoy a yellow wash on their underparts and cinnamon edges to their wing feathers. As the birds get older, they become paler below and grayer above.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Blackpoll Warbler

Only yesterday I posted that I hardly ever catch Blackpoll Warblers in the Fall. Wouldn’t you know that today I caught my fourth Fall Blackpoll  ever here in Northfield. Note the yellowish toes and legs. I believe this bird is an adult male—note the strong stripes along the throat and on the underparts. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Bay-breasted Warbler

This fall is a banner season for Bay-breasted Warblers. I saw and/or banded 24 of them from 21 August to 30 September 2018 (when I took the bottom photo). In the 2017 fall I only counted seven and in the 2016, only one. A lot of spruce budworms must have hatched in their northern breeding grounds.

Fall Bay-breasted Warblers are hard to tell from Blackpolls. If you have them in the hand, Blackpolls have yellowish toes; Bay-breasts have black toes. Sometimes in the field (and especially in the hand) look for the Bay-breasted Warbler’s faint bay tinge to their flanks. You can just about see this color in the lower photograph. Although Blackpolls are common in the spring, since 2008 I have only seen three in the Fall here in Northfield. Curiously, in the spring, my Blackpoll records outnumber my Bay-breasted Warbler sightings. Studies suggest that Blackpolls migrate southeast to Nova Scotia before making an overwater flight to northern South America. Their return trip in the spring brings them though Central America and the central United States (Deluca et al. 2013). This hypothesis would explain why I find so few fall Blackpolls.

Monday, October 1, 2018

White-throated Sparrow

An immature Wbite-throated Sparrow greeted us on 28 September 2018 here in Northfield. The yellow lores and white throat are key to the species’ identification. Age is indicated by the streaked underparts and the buffy edges of the wing feathers. These sparrows undergo a partial molt from late to early September, after which time most immatures resemble adults. At least during migration and in the winter, White-throated Sparrows are habitat generalists, preferring weedy and brushy areas, and often bird feeders. Click here for more information about this species.