Sunday, February 5, 2017

A Long Walk on Superbowl Sunday

A number of years ago I remember hiking all the way to the little dam on Shingle Creek (in Brookdale Park) on Superbowl Sunday, so I decided to do it again today. After all it was a nice sunny day and the birds were fairly active. With more minutes of sunlight and warming temps the snow is melting quickly and Shingle Creek has been ice free for maybe two weeks or more. There is a drainage ditch on the northeast side of the park that generally smells horrible 90% of the year, but today there were small groups of Robins and Cedar Waxwings routinely coming to the open water for a drink. So I found a snow-free area along the ditch and just sat for a while enjoying the birds. Many Robins tend to "over-winter" here at Palmer Lake, so it's not unusual to see them this early. I caught a photo of this one right after it had a drink. Later on my hike I came to an area where Great Horned Owls nested (unsuccessfully) last year. I pulled up my binoculars and sure enough the female was using the same spot. I cannot divulge exactly where this is, as word about roosting or nesting owls spreads like wildfire and can attract photographers who might visit repeatedly and potentially stress the owl. In fact I wasn't even going to post this image, but I feel it tells an interesting phenology lesson, AND I want readers to be able to appreciate the park for the good habitat it offers some bird species. Great Horned Owls are the first birds to nest –as early as late January. Besides, the people who stalk owls likely already know about this location anyways :( Later as I was heading north, I heard the unmistakeable call of a Belted Kingfisher! I could hardly believe my ears, until I saw the bird fly over Shingle Creek to a new perch. Belted Kingfishers may also "over-winter" wherever they can find open water but this is the earliest by far I have ever spotted one in the area. Typically I wont see one here along the creek until late summer. I took a long distance photo for documentation and then attempted to get closer but was horribly unsuccessful. I could hear the bird periodically and it always sounded hundreds of feet ahead of me and eventually I lost track of it as I hiked the trail connecting to Brookdale Park. Here in Brookdale Park I spent some time watching the Mallards, and even saw a pair engaging in courting behavior of "head bobbing" as they faced each other. The pair eventually copulated which also surprised me to see so early in the year. Apparently Spring is on the way!

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, November 20, 2016

Nearing Thanksgiving

My visit to the park this Sunday morning included a stop at the "duck pond" on the southwest corner of the park. Mallards have already started to congregate and it makes me think of the hundreds of ducks that may be huddled here in the winter. It's always fun to stop and look through the Mallards in hopes of finding anything other than a Mallard. Kind of like "Where's Waldo." I couldn't find anything of interest but took a few photos of the green heads that I like so much. Later on the north side when I came to the bridge, I noticed the faint amber sun reflecting on the open water of Shingle Creek. It was a very pretty sight, and later when I bumped into a friend, he lamented about it as well. Interestingly I took this photo at 10:30 in the morning. Looking at it later it looks like it could near sunset. The sun is so low this time of year in Minnesota, that it never really gets overhead. My friend and I then hiked together for a while, looking around to see what we could find. To our surprise we stumbled upon a pair of Great Horned Owls, perched somewhat near other and likely a mated pair. One of the Owls flew from it's perch in no time at all. Conditions were quite dark by this time but I took some photos anyway of the other Owl. It was fun to see Great Horned's again and I'm hoping they will find a place to nest somewhere in the park this winter.