Saturday, March 5, 2016

First of Year Wigeon!

It was a very nice day on Saturday to visit the park. There is still a bit of snow on the ground in the shade and it being very early March, I didn't expect to see much today. For whatever reason, I decided to hike upstream along Shingle Creek from the foot bridge on the north side. I had barely gone 50 feet when there right in front of me came swimming an American Wigeon! This is a unique and beautiful duck if you can get close to one. And that is usually the problem. They are typically seen far out in the water and can be quite skittish. But that certainly was NOT the case with this one! This little duck (about 3/4 the size of a Mallard), was not shy in the least and didn't really mind my presence at all. It was a rare photographic opportunity that I wasn't about to miss out on. I followed the Wigeon slowly along the creek, moving up and back where he finally decided to jump up on the grass bank and preen himself among the Mallards. As I watched him he was noticeably assertive, even aggressive and would nip at any Mallard that came too close to him! I bet I watched him and took photos for over an hour, even calling a friend who came and met me at the park. It still feels early to be seeing new waterfowl so this was quite a special find. For some of these photos I laid flat down on my stomach on the wet grass trying to get as low an angle as I could. I'm guessing the Wigeon was a male based on the fairly colorful plumage, especially the green eye stripe. But I'm also thinking he wasn't quite in full breeding plumage yet as the green would have probably been even more bright and obvious. After sharing my photos on the Minnesota Birding facebook page, someone referred to him as a "Baldpate" which is a nickname for the duck based on it's white colored forehead. After this find I was quite pleased and really didn't try very hard for other birds. After all it was still early and very few migrants have returned yet anyways. My friend Ron enjoyed seeing the Wigeon as well and afterwards we hiked a little bit on the north side to see the Great Horned Owl reported nesting in a big Cottonwood tree. This was pointed out to me by another nature enthusiast some weeks ago and I highly doubt I would have spotted this on my own. Typically, Great Horned Owls nest in abandoned Squirrel nests. But this one chose the crook of a large tree which I think had a little depression. I have never seen an Owl nest in such a way, and the tree was so far from the trail, that one would have a hard time even seeing the Owl. We saw no sign of the male at all, though there are a lot of other large trees in the area where he could be roosting. I will have to check back periodically on this nest to see if it is successful. If it is, it will be interesting to see how the chicks manage this small space together with mom. Later the same day I actually stopped back to watch the Wigeon some more. I found him further upstream on the bank again but the low light was terrible and I only managed a few more photos worth saving. Oh yeah, I have to add this. A pair of Mallards were mating just below the bridge. Quite a sight!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Birds and Caterpillars and Mink, Oh My!

Well there are slowly but surely signs that the season is changing. There are only a few days left of February (including a leap year day) and then technically winter is over. When I say technically I mean "meteorologically" that Spring spans the months of March, April and May. I had a FOY (first of year) bird right off the bat today when I spotted a Brown Creeper making his way up a tree. I actually heard him first, which is only one of a handful of times that I've ever heard them make any noise. It was a high-pitched sound and I first thought it was a Cedar Waxwing which made me look up and find him. I didn't get a great photo but it was a good find regardless. On the duck pond was one lone Canada Goose who appeared to be soaking up the sun along the shoreline. I've seen a few small flocks moving around as of late which is another good sign. Since it was such nice light and relatively mild in temperature I decided to just stand for a while near where the water flows under the wood chip trail. In nearly no time at all, I heard a loud creature making it's way towards me. I though it was a Deer at first but I could see nothing. Then I saw a flash of white near the ground which made me thing it was a Rabbit or something. It continued toward me in a hurry and all of a sudden there appeared a Mink carrying his prey! I could hardly believe it. He stopped right in front of me on the edge of the water, likely sensing my presence but not actually seeing me. He was carrying quite a large chuck of dead animal and I'm still trying to figure out what exactly it was. It had almost white fur and reminded me of an Opossum but that seems kind of unlikely for the area. Whatever it was, it clearly lost a battle to the Mink which isn't surprising as Mink are apparently quite viscous little critters. It was one of the more interesting Mink sightings I've had at the park! Later I made my way around the remainder of the park stopping here and there for Chickadees, a male Red-bellied Woodpecker, a pair of Red-tailed Hawks and even a FOY Wooly Bear Caterpillar crossing the trail. Actually there were two caterpillars as well, just a few yards apart. Spring will be here soon!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Another Slow Day

This February has been some of the slowest birding I can remember. But I keep telling myself how normal that is for this time of year. Unless you get really lucky, one can only hope to see the "usual suspects" of Woodpeckers, Chickadees and Mallards. I guess the most interesting thing I saw today was a Muskrat who appeared for a bit in the creek on the south side of the park. I feel like I used to see Muskrat more often and now they have become scarce for some reason. When he went down under the water I saw his long, hairless tail slip beneath the surface. A visit to the duck pond turned up the usual Mallards only but they can be fun to watch non the less. I caught this one doing his morning yoga stretches. Later on the south side I spent a lot of time watching some Black-capped Chickadees. I had brought along a jar of peanut butter today and was leaving gobs of it on some nice red Dogwood shrubs in hopes of enticing them to pose nicely for me. But after many minutes of waiting around, they still hadn't found it and were more interested in whatever was on the ground below the shrubs. Eventually some did come up near eye level but when I left they still hadn't found the peanut butter. Other birds seen today included; Red-tailed Hawk and Northern Cardinal.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Goodbye January!

Well another January is officially in the books and I'm pretty happy that today is the first day of February. We're just one month closer to spring in my view! The park is anything but spring-like though and likely wont be for quite some time. I didn't arrive until late afternoon, and with an already cloudy day, I had very limited time for photos. Not too long into my walk around the park, I came upon a group of Dark-eyed Juncos. I watched them for a while, not know if I would see anything else of interest on such a gloomy day. Junco's really fit in nicely on a gloomy day with their lack of color. As of late I've been trying quite hard for better photos of both Junco's and Chickadees. But as they are both small, move quickly and blend into the winter landscape, well it's quite the challenge. At least this one who paused for a brief second had a bit of a warm toned background behind. I think the group of birds were attracted to this particular tree because of it's seeds or something. But then maybe that wasn't the reason. On the ground beneath the tree lay a chuck of bread that looked freshly discarded. And to my surprise, the Juncos would land in a small group around the bread and nibble at it! I would have never guessed they'd try to eat bread, but in a Minnesota winter, I think all animals do whatever it takes. After this I spent most of my time at the duck pond, photographing the Mallards with the fading light. "Whitey" the pure white Mallard was present, but I liked this photo of Mr. Green better.