Cool tool for a bird nerd

Tuesday’s News Tribune told about eBird, an online tool that allows bird-watchers to record their observations online.
The Web site, sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society since 2002, is at
I’ve been playing with this since Wednesday. It seemed awkward at first, but I’m getting the hang of it. If, for example,  you saw a flock of red crossbills at the McQuade Safe Harbor on Thursday, you would record the date, then you’d find the harbor on a satellite map. Many "birding hot spots" already are listed. The Sax-Zim bog is thick with them. If it’s not a "hot spot," you create your own spot, and the site remembers it for you. Then you record as much or as little information about the birds as you have.
And you’re done. Your observation becomes a part of a worldwide data base that includes millions of bird sightings. And the site keeps track of your information for you.
I’ve been using it to transfer sightings from my bird journal to cyberspace. It’s fun, in a tedious sort of way. At least it beats doing taxes.
I haven’t yet figured out how to use it to view all the birds on my  list at once. I hope there’s a way to do that.
If you’re a bird nerd — and I’m not saying that you are — eBird is worth checking out.

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To see a mockingbird

Today, I looked for a mockingbird that had been seen near 60th Avenue East and Tioga Street in Duluth, red crossbills that had been seen just southwest of the McQuade Safe Harbor, and white-winged crossbills that had been seen in downtown Two Harbors.
I struck out on all three.
What I saw were several crows; a small, angry dog (it was angry at me); an overweight cat; a small flock of gulls just southwest of Knife River; a larger flock of gulls resting on thin ice just off Agate Bay in Two Harbors; a couple of individualistic gulls just southwest of Brighton Beach; and several noisy juvenile Homo sapiens near Agate Bay. I think in the case of the latter it was their mating call.
The gulls … had they stayed the winter, or have they returned?
And a note to Carol: Do you put safflower in your feeders? Safflower tends to draw a cardinal or two for an occasional visit … but they’re flighty.

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What’s missing in my recent blogs is news about actual birds, or at least about actual birds in the Northland.
It’s still the slow season here.
Reports are trickling in from other parts of Minnesota. Robins are being seen here and there. On Monday, someone spotted a great blue heron in Rochester.
Things aren’t completely dead in Northeastern Minnesota. Within the past week, someone saw a flock of white-winged crossbills in downtown Two Harbors and someone else saw red crossbills at the University of Minnesota Forestry Center just south of Cloquet.
Would they be at cross-purposes if they had a reunion in my backyard in West Duluth?
It’s not as if Cloquet and Two Harbors are on the far side of the moon. And I do have my weekend — Wednesday and Thursday — coming up.
But I promised I would do my taxes this weekend. It doesn’t take me as long to do taxes as it takes most people. This is because I do my taxes on the assumption that if I don’t understand it, it’s probably not important. This saves a lot of time.
Nonetheless, add taxes to the normal weekend chores, and first thing you know the weekend is shot.
Serious birders have an amazing ability to spot interesting birds anywhere, even while on their way to work.
When I drive to work, I see pigeons.
In my backyard, I see chickadees, house finches, a nuthatch or two and … pigeons. Except for the pigeons, they all are welcome, but they’re the same birds I’ve been seeing all winter. I actually got excited when a couple of blue jays dropped by the other day.
I’m longing for another season. I’m really no outdoorsman, but I found myself lingering over the L.L. Bean outdoor gear and clothing catalog during lunch today, hungrily reading descriptions of tents and sleeping bags and hiking shoes.
What I’ve been doing is loosely equivalent to the baseball beat writers covering their teams in spring training. Nothing important is happening, but the baseball writer cranks out a daily feature anyway to justify spending February and March in Florida or Arizona.
Nothing much is happening here regarding birds.
But spring is on its way. The birds are coming. It’s going to be fun.

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Do bird-watchers make good houseguests?

A discussion by birders about favorite bird quotes via an e-mail listserv a while back prompted someone to suggest this excerpt from Dylan Thomas’ play for voices, “Under Milk Wood”:

Morning, Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard.

Good morning, postman.

Here’s a letter for you with stamped and addressed envelope enclosed, all the way from Builth Wells. A gentleman wants to study birds and can he have accommodation for two weeks and a bath vegetarian.


WILLY NILLY (Persuasively)
You wouldn’t know he was in the house, Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard. He’d be out in the mornings at the bang of dawn with his breadcrumbs and his little telescope …

And come home at all hours covered with feathers. I don’t want persons in my nice clean rooms breathing all over the chairs …

Cross my heart, he won’t breathe.

… and putting their feet on my carpets and sneezing on my china and sleeping in my sheets …

He only wants a single bed, Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard.
(Door slams.)

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Cat fight

Cat interests are pitted against bird interests in Cape May, N.J.,and even the government is involved.
Cape May is a prime bird-watching spot, the Associated Press reports. Among birds that frequent Cape May are piping plovers — cool name for a bird — and least terns, both of which are on the federal Endangered Species list. As AP puts it, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considers every plover death to be a big deal. Killing, harming or even bothering endangered birds violates federal law.
But piping plovers build their nests on the ground, an easy target for foxes and other animals that are indifferent to the Endangered Species list.
This includes wild cats, which also have a constituency in Cape May. So much so that a plan to relocate the city’s feral felines away from the beach where piping plovers hang out drew 600 negative responses in the deputy mayor’s e-mail box in a single day. Cat-lovers who have patrolled the beach say they haven’t seen wild cats in plover nesting territory, and argue that teenagers throwing Frisbees pose a greater threat.
The original plan was to move felines a mile away from the beach, which cat supporters say would eliminate all of Cape May’s 100 or so wild cats. A compromise proposal would move cats 1,000 feet from the beach and a half-mile from nesting colonies. But the Fish and Wildlife Service hasn’t embraced that idea.
At stake is millions of dollars in sand replacement money that the feds could withhold if they aren’t satisfied with the cat compromise.
Cape May officials are to reconsider the situation in early March. Plovers generally return to the beach around March 15.
That’s the news. Here are the wannabe birder’s opinions:
1. There’s a place for all of God’s creatures. The place for cats is Egypt.
2. Has anyone considered relocating teenagers who throw Frisbees?

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Here’s looking at you, Piranga olivacea

The Wannabe Birder’s Top 11 Wanna-See list:
1. Scarlet tanager (the scientific name is Piranga olivacea)
2. Gray jay
3. Boreal chickadee
4. Great gray owl
5. Snowy owl
6. Harris’s sparrow
7. Eastern bluebird
8. Mountain bluebird
9. Cape May warbler
10. Northern mockingbird
11. Three-toed woodpecker
What’s on your list?

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A robin in Warroad

There it was, tucked into the Northwest Minnesota Birding Report for Thursday, Feb. 21: “An American robin was seen in Warroad this week.”
I’ve seen robins in December and January. Once, taking a walk on Duluth’s Western Waterfront Trail after a fresh snowfall, I came face-to-beak with a robin. It didn’t look happy.I don’t remember exactly when this was, but it was too late for robins to leave and far too early for robins to return. This was a year-round robin. I’m told colonies of robins can be seen in the winter, especially in the southern part of this northern state.
This week, the Associated Press moved a series of photos taken of robins foraging after heavy snow in Wisconsin Rapids. Perhaps they had spent the winter, perhaps they were premature returnees.
I could fathom robins in Wisconsin Rapids in February. Wisconsin Rapids is almost the South.
But Warroad?
I’ve never been to Warroad, which allows me to create a Warroad of my imagination. I picture a Warroad where a winter storm blows in in December and never really blows itself out until April. I picture a town perpetually blasted by fierce, prairie winds; a place where it never really gets warm. But it does get hot, suddenly, in July. The prairie wind breathes fire, scorching anything and everyone in its path.
Gotta be tough to live in Warroad. Gotta be really tough to be a robin in Warroad.
The real Warroad may be nothing like that, but I like my picture of it. If they wanted to evoke thoughts of a gentle, mild, pastoral place, they wouldn’t have called it Warroad.
Had the robin spotted in Warroad been there all winter? Was it a harbinger of an early spring?
Was it having second thoughts?
And has anyone spotted a robin this winter in Northeastern Minnesota or Northwestern Wisconsin?
By the way … there’s also a Duluth Birding Report, compiled by Jim Lind. Both reports, and a great deal more, are available online from the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union at If you’re headed to northwest Minnesota, you also can get that report by phone at (800) 433-1888.

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Grousing — and bearing with it — in Poplar

If these ruffed grouse look puffed up, there’s a reason for that. This picture was taken by Dan Moller, one of the News Tribune’s technology wizards, at his home near Poplar during one of our many recent cold snaps. On days like that — days like today, in fact — birds take advantage of all the insulation their feathers can offer. And they appreciate food that’s easy to get.
But it’s not only birds that appreciate the food you put out. Dan also took the picture below, also outside his home in Poplar, but this one was taken last May. The fact that Dan didn’t intend to feed bears obviously was irrelevant from the bear’s point of view.

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A blog on the bog

It’s not just any bog that gets its own festival.
The Sax-Zim Bog in St. Louis County isn’t just any bog, at least from the point of view of serious bird-watchers. The bog runs roughly between the towns of Sax and Zim on St. Louis County Highway 7, west of and parallel to U.S. Highway 53, closer to Virginia than to Duluth.
Scenic it isn’t, but it’s a mecca for birds and the people who follow them.
Which led to the Sax-Zim Winter Bird Festival during the past weekend.
Michael Hendrickson of Duluth reports the event drew 150 birders from 19 states. On field trips led by some of the area’s most knowledgeable bird-watchers, participants spotted an impressive variety of birds, including sharp-tailed grouse, ruff grouse, a hawk owl, black-backed woodpeckers, American three-toed woodpeckers, a red-bellied woodpecker, northern shrikes, gray jays, boreal chickadees, Bohemian waxwings, snow buntings, a pair of hoary redpolls, common redpolls, pine grosbeaks and evening grosbeaks.
A side trip to Northwestern Wisconsin resulted in glaucous gulls and a Thayer’s gull.
Perhaps the most impressive thing Hendrickson reported is that every birder who came left with a lifer — a bird he or she had never seen before.
The bird no one saw: a great gray owl. Hendrickson says none has been reported in Minnesota since Jan. 14.

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