Sunday, January 21, 2018

Funny Ducks

It was another cold day at the park this Sunday morning. I really didn't see much until I came to the southwestern corner of the park where I could hear all the Mallards quacking even before I got there. I figured I would spend some time looking among them in hopes of maybe finding an American Black Duck which is an entirely different species. It didn't take long before I noticed an unusually dark looking duck. After seeing it's wing patch or "speculum" I could see it was missing the wide, white border that is present on Mallards. It's funny how predictable they have come to be here each winter. I am learning more all the time about Black Ducks and one thing in particular I am learning is that a high percentage of them have Mallard genes, meaning the two species commonly interbreed. In fact someone pointed out in one of these photos that there IS still the tiniest sliver of a white border on the wing patch, something that should be completely missing on a pure American Black Duck. Knowing this now, it's more apparent that the vast majority of Black Ducks I have spotted thus far have not been 100% pure American Black Duck. Maybe a few have but they would actually be the exception to the rule it seems. Whenever I do see one that I suspect has at least some Black Duck genes, I find it helpful to get a photo of them next to a regular Mallard for comparison. My second photo here shows just that. There was one other odd looking duck in the group today who seemed to possess the qualities of maybe more than two different species! One term I've learned over the years that is often used to describe such ducks is a "Manky" Mallard. Manky is a British term that generally refers to a wild duck that has bred with a domestic duck. Which is exactly what I thought I had here. BUT after sharing the photo with other bird watchers, their consensus was simply another Mallard x American Black Duck hybrid. So probably two wild ducks and not necessarily any part domestic, thus not really a "Manky" Mallard. I've found a LOT of variable ducks over the years and I find them to be a confusing yet very interesting topic. Every time I think I know what I'm looking at, I find out I'm not as versed as I think I am. Oh well, they are certainly fun to guess at! Here is an interesting online source I stumbled upon some time ago: http://www.10000birds.com/manky-mallards-domestic-feral-or-just-plain-odd-mallards.htm Later on I spent some time trying to relocate the Northern Shrike from last week but could not find it.

Monday, January 15, 2018

First of Year Northern Shrike

It was hard to find much of interest today at the park but as I came around to the north end I noticed a bird perched high up in a tree a long ways ahead of me. It kind of stuck out and caught my attention and I quickly realized it was a Northern Shrike. I feel like I used to see a lot more of them in the area and it's been some time since I've found one here. A friend of mine mentioned to me that she had been seeing one on the north side over the past couple of weeks. I took some shots and then moved closer but unfortunately the bird immediately flew off a long ways and it was the last I saw of it. Other birds seen today were common variety; Hairy Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadee etc. I also noticed some strange looking "rainbows" on either side of the sun, something known as a Sun Dog. This is caused by the refraction of sunlight by ice crystals in the atmosphere. They seem fairly common in Minnesota winters, especially in January and February.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Labor Day Painted Lady

Today was Labor Day and I had the day off of work, though I didn't feel all that great. The previous evening I contracted a sore throat of the worst kind, but no other symptoms so I still tried to be out and about and doing things. My wife and I had hiked extensively for the past few days, visiting nearly 4 different parks in the metro area and today was kind of day to ourselves. I forgot to mention that she was also sick as of the previous day but was further along than I and wanted nothing more than to stay inside and recover. Anyway, I found myself hiking along the paved path on the north side starting at 73rd Avenue. I quickly noticed not one but two butterflies on a plant I know well; White Snakeroot. But here's the interesting part, I can't say I've EVER seen any species of butterfly on this plant. It is a native, but with it's small white flowers it generally doesn't attract much attention from pollinators, especially butterflies in my experience. But it's worth mentioning that this particular year was a "boom" year for Painted Lady Butterflies, and they are being seen by the hundreds and sometimes thousands in various parts of Minnesota this summer. Anyway, when I spotted two Painted Lady's and one Red Admiral on the same plant I just had to take some photos. Only a few hundred feet later I spotted yet more Painted Lady's again on White Snakeroot. And boy were they in perfect sunlight for photos! I think these might be the best shots I've ever gotten of this butterfly species. After sharing these on facebook, I had people with waaay more experience than I tell me that they had also seen them on White Snakeroot AND that it was the first time they'd seen that too! Since the Palmer Lake Park area doesn't support a wide variety of flowering native plants, my guess is that the Snakeroot was the best option these butterflies had for nectar. A bit later I bumped into a friend of mine and we hike together for a little bit. We spotted a Viceroy Butterfly as well but it was too far off the trail for a good photo.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

First Migrant Bird of the Season!

August can be kind of a "dry" time for finding new birds, well at least at Palmer Lake Park anyways. Seems like all the best birds have gone somewhere else by now. The first thing that caught my eye was a Cabbage White Butterfly on the south end. It was nectaring from the tiny yellow flowers of some wild (and likely invasive) mustard. The Cabbage White is a very common and easy to find butterfly but somewhat difficult to photograph as they just never hold still. The next thing I found got me excited for birds again though; a Northern Waterthrush! This little bird is a member of the Warbler family, though you're more likely to find it on the ground near muddy banks versus up in the trees. This bird is actually already returning back south! One can see them for 2 to 3 weeks maybe in the springtime, then they are on their way further north to breeding grounds. A couple of years ago I came across another one around this same time, maybe even earlier. It's surprising how soon some birds migrate back south. Shorebirds are typically first, followed by waterfowl, but that is just a generalization and each species is different. I spent quite a bit of time following this bird around trying for a better photo, but for all my efforts this was the best I could do. Later I spotted another bird that stood out, but for my inability to identify it. Juvenile sparrows are notoriously difficult to ID, but I see some good indicators here for a young Swamp Sparrow. I'm still not 100% sure but that would be my best guess. Other birds seen today include; American Redstart (male and female) and a Gray Catbird.