A friend and I made plans to go the northeastern Minnesota last weekend (2/1-2/4), in search of owls. We had a great a weekend! We found three extremely cooperative Great Gray Owls, one Northern Hawk Owl, who wasn’t very cooperative, and two Boreal Owls, which were the icing on the cake! There were many more great gray’s reported, but it seemed like they would hunt along the side of the road for a few minutes and then fly deeper into the woods. You just needed to get lucky when driving around. Friday morning started out at -26 degrees, and a little slow. Saturday was better (single digit temps), but it was snowing for most of the day, creating a challenge for photographing birds. We missed out on a few target birds, but all in all it was a great trip and worth the extreme cold temps. These are a few of the images of owls from the weekend. You can click on the links to see the full galleries of each owl.
The great start to 2018 has continued, with the finding of a Red-shouldered Hawk in Franklin, just minutes from my house. I have seen them in the past along the this stretch of road, but not for a few years. Common Redpolls are abundant in the state this winter and I just got them at my house five days ago. Now they are at Grant Park as well. You can park in the parking lot and have great close views of them. This is also the second consecutive winter for an Oregon Junco at this same location.
The first two days of the new year have started out fantastic for birds! I woke up on new year’s day, to 7 Common Redpolls, mixed in with my regular yard birds. I consistently have both nuthatches, creepers, downy/hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers, cardinals, house/gold finches, doves and unfortunately House Sparrows. I tried taking pictures, through and open front window. I had to fight the heat waves though, which degrade image quality greatly. I’m going to need to find a way to setup a blind to sit in.
Today, January 2nd, I looked outside and saw at least 1 Common Redpoll. There were 40 or so birds, feeding on the ground and it’s tough to pick through them quickly, especially looking into the sun. Hopefully the redpolls stick around for the winter. I decided to get out of the house today and try to find some things. It was an awesome day for the “big” birds. I found 2 Long-eared Owls, 1 Barred Owl, 10 Red-tailed Hawks, including a western dark morph, 2 Northern Harriers, and 1 Rough-legged Hawk. Interestingly, I saw a Red-tailed Hawk grab a Herring Gull and get stuck in a tree with it. The hawk held onto it, upside down, until it was dead. It then let go and dropped down to the next branch. The gulls wings were spread and stuck between branches in the tree. I drove away and stopped back five minutes later and the hawk was still sitting there, so I’m not really sure what happened. I was able to get a few photos of the situation, but they were directly into the sunlight, over 500′ away. Hopefully everyone’s new year is off to a great start! Here are some of the photos from the last two days.
In general the fall warbler migration has been pretty slow around the Milwaukee area. I’ve stopped at all the main parks along Lake Michigan, only to find very few warblers. I had pretty much given up on this falls warbler migration. The weather had been terrible, with northeast winds almost daily since the beginning of September, but all that changed last weekend. On Monday, 9/18, I left work early and went down to Lake Park, to try my luck. I had 13 warbler species in the afternoon, finally some action! On Wednesday, 9/20, I again left work early and went to Lake Park. I had 14 warbler species in the late morning and afternoon. I came back here again, on Friday 9/22, and spent the late afternoon there. I only had 10 warbler species that day, but it was really fun, because the birds were feeding on the ground until sunset. With the weather pattern continuing to be the same, I decided to come back at sunrise on Saturday and see if everything would continue to stick around. It sure did! I had 12 warbler species in just the few hours I was there. I also missed on two others, so really 14 were seen. I also came back this morning to see if I could find any others that may have escaped me for the week. This morning started out a little slow, but that’s because there was a Red-tailed Hawk, sitting in a tree on the golf course, eating a red squirrel. The hawk was extremely tame, especially since it was an adult. It hung out on the golf course for quite sometime, keeping the songbirds a little more quiet than usual. I didn’t stay very long this morning, but still had 10 warbler species. It was getting very hot and it’s football Sunday.
The weather will continue for the next couple days, and I think the birds will too. If you are interested in stopping at Lake Park in the next few days, it may be worth your while. Most of the warbler action is on the golf course, with at least 14 species being present all week long. Just follow the birds around the groups of trees, and watch out for golfers. There is also a pair of Black-throated Blue warblers, by the wooden bridge. For the week, I ended up with 18 warbler species, by far the best of this fall. Here is a list of warblers seen, this past week.
Hooded Warblers have been nesting at Whitnall Park for several years. They had been my nemesis warbler, but not this year. I’ve seen them before, but nothing more than document photos or quick glimpses. When I got a text on May 11th, that a male Hooded Warbler had returned and was singing away, I went to check it out. Little did I know how much fun the next two months would be. I was already at Whitnall Park that morning, photographing a Prothonotary Warbler, among many others. I arrived at the location and could immediately hear him singing. I walked towards the song until it was quite close and set up. I waited and eventually saw him flying around, eating insects, and singing. I watched him for about an hour that day.
On the 25th of May, I came back to the area and again found him singing loudly. This time however, I also found a female, possibly his mate. I photographed the two of them for a little bit and got out of there.
I stopped back a few more times, in the coming weeks, and was surprised to find two more singing males. I could only see the one, most likely the original, as the other two were in some really thick brush. I didn’t see the female during this span. I was hoping she was still there and on a nest.
I came out on 24th of June, and the male was again singing, but out by the parking lot. After walking about the forest a bit, I could hear Acadian Flycatchers singing. While photographing them, I literally stumbled across the Hooded Warbler nest. I was taking pictures of the flycatchers and I kept hearing “chink”, which I didn’t realize was the Hooded Warblers’ warning sound. I turned around and saw the female. She had a moth in her mouth and was scolding me. I quickly got out of there and circled back around to watch where she would go. I saw her go down into a little patch of brush and there it was. I was so excited, I couldn’t believe I finally found it! I was quite surprised at the location, as it was barely hidden. At the same time, I walked by it daily, as did many other people who commonly use the park, and never saw it until then. I guess it was hidden just perfectly. I took a few photos and left, knowing I would have more days to watch them.
I stopped by three days later and was shocked at how big the birds were already. Just a few days ago, they barely had their eyes open. Now for the bad news. As I was taking pictures of the babies resting, I noticed how the two of them took up the entire nest. I thought to myself, “something doesn’t seem right.” Then both parents came to the nest, with food. The babies were the same size of them already. Right away I pulled out my phone and searched “cowbird babies”. Sure enough, they were both Cowbirds. I was so bummed.
I again came back three days later, which was June 30th, and they had already fledged the nest. Again I was shocked. So I started walking back to the truck and could hear the male Hooded Warbler singing, closer to the parking lot. As I got closer, I started hearing the “chink” sound, so I knew I must be close to the fledglings. I started looking around and sitting in the tree less than ten feet from me was a little Cowbird. It was right on the path. I slowly started backing away, until I was at a safe distance, and waited. The female would catch spiders, moths, and bugs, then bring them to the little one. I only saw the one and she never went anywhere else, so I’m guessing that only one made it. Hopefully next year, I will get to see a successful Hooded Warbler nest.
Here is a link to the Hooded Warbler page. Most of the pictures were used on this page, but there are many more.