Sunday, January 22, 2017

An Odd Duck

Despite our recent mid-winter thaw, we've not seen the sun all weekend. I hiked around the park today with a friend but I carried my camera and binoculars just in case. We didn't really see much but we heard some Red-bellied and Downy or Hairy Woodpeckers. But we did run into a surprise at the "duck pond" on the southwest corner of the park. There were a LOT of Mallards present and I was explaining to my friend how it's sometimes worth a shot to scan the entire flock as there can be other species sometimes mixed in. In a matter of seconds my friend said "you mean like that one?" as he pointed to a darker colored and unusual looking duck. At first glance I had no idea what it was. It wouldn't be out of the question to see an American Black Duck, but this didn't look like a Black Duck at all. It was slightly larger than the other Mallards and had a kind of "lankiness" to it's appearance –like it's neck stuck out further than the other ducks. I did give me the faintest reminder of the Muscovy Duck (a domestic breed) I'd found in this same exact location in October of 2014. So now I was leaning towards some type of domestic duck. As we walked around to the other path we got to see the bird from behind and I noticed some very beautiful iridescent purple feathers and a striking emerald wing patch or "speculum" as it's called. I couldn't help but think of how similar it's plumage was to a male Wood Duck! I'd never seen anything quite like this. I figured if I got some good enough photos that I could post online later and as for help in properly identifying the bird. I believe a couple of very good birders on the Minnesota Birding facebook page nailed it. A Mallard x Muscovy Hybrid! After viewing some additional photos of said combination, I feel pretty confident that is what this bird is. You just never know what's gonna show up in the Palmer Lake Duck Pond! We also saw a few Northern Cardinals, and a pair of Great Horned Owls that were being mobbed by Crows.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Confused Plants and Canada Goose

I wasn't seeing many birds today during my hike around the park. It's that time of year when variety of species really decreases and you are happy just to see a Mallard or Chickadee. I also saw the usual suspects including Northern Cardinal and Dark-eyed Junco. But when I came to the southwest corner I spotted a bright yellow color near the ground that made me look twice. What I saw made my jaw drop open. A rather large patch of Marsh Marigold was in bloom! This native MN wildflower typically blooms in March or April and are rather short lived in my opinion. As I busily took photos I couldn't help but notice the snow on the ground surrounding the plant. This is now officially the latest in the season I've seen this plant flower and I'm just not sure what to make of it. Could our warm and wet Fall have created just the right conditions for the plant to flower again? Or is there a larger plot to the story? I am truly amazed at nature's ability to adapt and change. I plan on sharing my find with others to get their thoughts. A short time later I found myself at the "duck pond" watching a large group of Mallards that have started to congregate here this winter. Among the many ducks was one lone Canada Goose who seemed to have something wrong with his left wing. It was noticeably low hanging, even dragging on the ground as the Goose walked. At one point he waddled down the embankment and waded into the water but did not get in and swim. I think this bum wing might have even prevented it. At this point I became more concerned and wondered how we was going to forage in the water and eat when needed. I watched him for another 30 to 45 minutes during which time it stayed mostly up on the bank, never attempting to fly or get back to the water. I wondered if I could do anything and then called a friend of mine who has experience in rescuing injured wildlife. He came with a crate while myself and another park goer named Orville (?) helped me to gradually coral the Goose away from the water and up near the paved trail. After about 40 minutes my friend was actually able to catch the goose by tossing a blanket over it and gently picking it up. We hopped in his vehicle and delivered the Goose to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Roseville, one of the largest rehab clinics of it's kind in the entire United States. After a week they said I could contact them back for an update on the Goose's condition. I sure hope there is something they can do for it, but my friend made me aware that many times there is nothing they can do but euthanize the animal. Now I wasn't so sure that we did the right thing or not. But time will tell I guess.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

My "Big Month" of May Day 8

I arrived at the park just before 8:00am this Sunday and spent the next 3 hours trying to add new birds to my monthly list. Though I only managed poor shots, I saw the following species in the first 45 minutes or so; Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Wood Duck, Mourning Dove, Red-winged Blackbird, Yellow Warbler and Baltimore Oriole. Then things started getting interesting as I spotted not just one but two different migratory Sparrows that gave me the best looks I've ever had at both species. The first was a curious little Lincoln's Sparrow and if I'm not mistaken, this is the first positive ID I've made on this bird on my own! This drab looking Sparrow is easy to confuse with other Sparrows, but it was so close to me that I could see the gray patch on the head along with the fine streaks on it's tan (buffy) colored breast and a noticeable "eye ring." I tried repositioning myself for better light and ended up catching a photo with some green in the background that I really like. This bird didn't stick around as long as I'd hoped so I turned my attention toward a bright male Yellow Warbler. Mostly this bird stayed out in a clump of Pussy Willow where it really stood out against a nice green background of spring. But after a while it did come in a bit closer for better looks. In comparison to a Goldfinch, the Yellow Warbler is much more of an "orangey" yellow. Say like a School Bus color. The male of the species also sports orangey-red streaking on his breast making him look even more "deep yellow." After stopping to admire and photograph some wildflowers including various colors of Violets, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, and some beautiful Marsh Marigold, I heard an enthusiastic bird singing from the cattails. It was perched near the top of the cattails and I could tell it was a Sparrow, but which one? It did not sound familiar to me so I inched closer while lowering my profile to keep lower than the height of the plants. To my surprise it was a Swamp Sparrow, a species I've seen from distances before but have never gotten very close to. Today was my lucky day as this particular bird allowed me great looks while it sang it's heart out. Sparrows can be tricky to tell apart from one another but to me the Swamp Sparrow is one that kind of sticks out due to it's warm red/rusty wings (without wing bars or stripes) combined with a lot of gray on the head, neck and breast. I felt very lucky to have spent as much time observing this colorful little character for as long as I did today! Other species seen today included; Brown-headed Cowbird, Canada Goose, Black-capped Chickadee, Great Egret, Gray Catbird and Common Grackle. I also was nearly run over by a 12 year old kid zooming up and down the wood chip trails on a miniature dirt bike! I yelled loudly at him that motorized vehicles weren't allowed in the park and he apologized as he motored away. Sadly I've seen adults riding motorcycles on these trails as well.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Birds, Butterflies and Flowers

Wow I saw a lot of great stuff this Saturday at the park! I spent roughly 3 hours casually strolling around the outer trails but got distracted by some spring wildflowers off the trail. I usually find these Violets in the same area behind the baseball diamonds on the west side where it is typically very wet and sometimes floods. As for Butterflies, I saw a few Cabbage Whites and Red Admirals which is typical for this time of year. There are also Dandelions out already which this Cabbage White Butterfly found attractive. I saw oodles of birds including numerous bright yellow American Goldfinch, Northern Cardinal, Green-winged Teal, Blue-winged Teal, Wood Duck, Canada Goose, lots of Mallard Chicks, American Robin, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Common Grackle, Red-winged Blackbird, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker and probably some others I'm forgetting. But possibly the most interesting bird I watched today were Black-capped Chickadees who were busy excavating a nest cavity in a dead tree. I watched both the male and female take turns going into the hole and coming out with a mouthful of wood chips. They timed it perfectly so that as soon as one would come to the entrance of the hole, the other would be ready to fly in. Their teamwork is pretty amazing and fun to watch. If you ever notice a Chickadee with wood chips on it's face, it's fairly safe to assume they've been hard at work! Oh right, I forgot to mention but the Marsh Marigold is also in bloom now near the southwest corner of the park. I just love seeing this native MN wildflower each spring as they are so colorful and short lived. I also saw numerous Painted Turtles today and also two Groundhogs as well. All in all, I took over 700 photos in total today and it was a beautiful day to observe nature :)