Saturday, January 16, 2016

A Cold Walk with Good Sights

The temperature today when I arrived at the park was 0º but at least there was no wind and the sun was shining. I hadn't walked real far and was on the south wood chip trails when a large raptor suddenly burst out above me. It was a Great Horned Owl and I was surprised to see one in this area of the park. I watched to see vaguely where it re-perched and went back the way I came in hopes of a photo. Eventually I did find it again but it was now facing away from me and much higher up. I wondered if a pair were scoping out nesting areas here but I found no evidence of that. Later when I was hiking near the duck pond I noticed quite a few Robins hanging out near the little patch of open water that rarely freezes –even in zero degree weather. As I was watching them I noticed one that looked the wrong color. Then it bobbed it's tail repeatedly, making me look closer. To my shock it was a Hermit Thrush! This is a bird I typically see in late Fall (November) or early Spring (April), but I've never seen one in January! I kept an eye on him but it was hard as he blended right into the patchy shoreline of brown leaves and spots of snow. Gradually he moved into a nice sunny spot and just stayed there while I took photos. When I got home I reported this bird over ebird.org and sure enough it was listed as "rare" for this time of year! Only my second real "rare bird" report since I started using ebird. I decided to back to the open water and get down nice and low for some closeup views of the Robins. I'm very glad I did as I walked away with a couple of photos I'm proud of –even if it is of a very common species. Actually I always like sharing photos of Robins in the winter, as many Minnesotan's tend to think of them returning in the Spring. What actually happens is that while the majority of Robins DO migrate south, a certain percentage will stay all winter in areas where they have access to food and water. This behavior is referred to as "overwintering" and a great deal of Robins happen to choose Palmer Lake Park as their place. I also think it's fun to try and catch them (or any bird for that matter) bending over to drink. Nearly all birds except for Doves and Pigeons have to lap up water and then tilt their head back in order to actually drink. I read once before that it has something to do with their nasal cavities and they don't have the ability to "suck up" the water. Interesting huh? I also spent some time watching the Mallards in the duck pond doing exactly the same thing. It's always nice to see their beautiful green heads shining in the sun on a cold winter day. One other bird I got close to today was this male Downy Woodpecker (as evident by the patch of red on the back of his head). He was so busy hammering away on this branch that he let me sneak up within mere feet and snap some photos. I also saw Hairy Woodpeckers, and a domestic cat roaming out in one of the fields.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Day After Christmas

One of the best things about Christmas is the extra time off of work, and extra hikes around the park. It had snowed late on Christmas day and we had been dusted with about 2-3 inches of fluffy snow. It clung to the trees everywhere at the park today and set a nice background for a few bright red Northern Cardinals. I watched them for a while on the wood chip trail as I made my way to the duck pond. When I got to the duck pond I quickly spotted one unusual Mallard –pure white, but apparently not an albino. I've seen similar white Mallards here in the past, hanging out with the larger group and I wonder if somehow it might be the same one. It did not have pink eyes but dark so it's possible that it's an escaped domestic of some kind. Regardless it was a fairly pretty sight to watch it swim around the dark water. The other Mallards weren't giving it a hard time or anything and it seemed pretty content, sometimes closing it's eyes as it stood on the ice. After I left the duck pond I spotted three large birds flying overhead and realized they were Trumpeter Swans! I've not seen a Swan here at the park for maybe a couple of years or more and though these were just a flyover, I was happy to spot some! I only caught two of the three in this photo.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Few Interesting Sightings

This December continues to be one of the least snow-iest Decembers in some years. So far we've only seen barely an inch of snow and most of that is now melted already. It's looking very much like we're going to have a brown (or green) Christmas depending on how you look at it. Here at the park I took note of just how green the Garlic Mustard still is just off the southern wood chip trails. By the photo alone you'd almost think it was April not December. I hadn't walked too far today before I ran into some friends of mine. I wasn't seeing much until my friend pointed out a Cooper's Hawk up in a big tree. It was terribly dark and dreary out today and when I took a few photos the bird looked mostly like a silhouette. My two friends had to leave after a bit so I decided to hike off the trail and try to get the Hawk in some better light. In the process I saw a Northern Shrike come in and land across the field. It eventually flew in closer and then actually got in a scuffle with a Blue Jay! I've never seen that before but I've heard a few similar accounts. I snapped a few photos off and barely caught this image at the top of my frame. Not a good pic by any means but you can see the Shrike has his tail fanned out and mouth open in a display of aggression. After finally realizing I just wasn't going to get any decent images today pointing my camera up, I decided to spend a while at the duck pond, looking down. I watched some of the Mallards slipping and sliding on the thin ice which was pretty comical and kept my interest. But while scanning the various ducks I noticed one that didn't quite look right. It appeared to be a drake, but he didn't quite have a dark "bib" like the others. Instead his front was kind of patchy and mottled, with only hints of the correct color. Also his back and side feathers didn't look quite right either. Most drakes will have a clearly defined horizontal line across their sides with lighter feathers on the bottom. This one not so much. I wondered if he was crossed with something but to me there are no obvious traits of another species. So my best guess is that he's just immature and has yet to grow his mating plumage.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Finally Some Sun!

We're only 6 days away from Christmas now and the Twin Cities metro still has no snow on the ground. There are barely a few little white clumps on the edges of roads and trails which are remnants of the one inch or so we had fall about a week ago. However a winter storm moved through most areas of the state, north of St. Cloud, and following was the coldest air of the season so far. I believe it was around 8 or 10º this morning when I arrived at the park. I wasn't expecting to see much but in the end I did see a decent number of species for this time of year. The first bird was a nice surprise –a White-throated Sparrow! I typically do not see these around the park in December but they are known to over-winter in certain parts of the state. Last year a few stayed at Loring Park near downtown Minneapolis all winter long. There were a couple White-throated mixed in with a group of House Sparrows who were flitting about a brush pile on the southwest side of the park. The next bird I stopped to photograph was another sparrow, this time the American Tree Sparrow. They're one of my favorite winter birds as they're a bit more colorful than our other sparrows. This one posed nicely in the sun for a bit before jumping down to the ground to pick along the edges of the paved trail. There were a few in a group and they were making quick "chip" calls that I've come to recognize this time of year. On the north side of the park I stopped to photograph a little Red Squirrel who seemed to have his face buried in the side of a tree trunk. He stayed like this for quite a while and I began to wonder if something was wrong with him. What I didn't notice at the time was all the sap flowing from this tree, and looking at my photo later, I think maybe he was gnawing on the sap! I can't say for certain but it sure looks like that's what he was up to. I've never see any squirrel do that before. Other birds spotted today included; Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Cardinal, American Goldfinch, Black-capped Chickadee, Blue Jay, House Finch, American Crow, Downy and Hairy Woodpecker.