Nighthawks (not the painting)

Reader participation alert …

My colleague Dan Moller tells me he used to always hear (squawking) and see (illuminated by streetlights) nighthawks when he would leave the News Tribune at night. These days, he hears and sees them aplenty — when he’s in the Twin Cities. But never in Duluth.

However, someone he encountered on the Lake Superior shore on the Wisconsin side told him she recently saw a flock of about 40 nighthawks (such as the bird pictured above).

How about you? Have you seen/heard nighthawks recently? Ever? In Duluth? Superior? Anywhere in the Northland? Anywhere else? In large numbers? Are you like Dan — you used to see them around here, but not lately?

As you may have noticed, this is a high-maintenance blog. Not only am I asking you about nighthawks, but the floor still is open for nominations for your favorite and least-favorite birds. Click on the comments link for your answers to these questions and anything else you’d like to say that’s more or less bird-related. And if you have bird-related pictures, I’d love to see them (preferably in .jpg format) at jlundy@duluthnewscom

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Gold rush

My colleague Dan Moller, who lives near Poplar, offered this evidence that some people get more than one goldfinch at a time. I don’t know if I’ve ever had three male goldfinches at the same time this year — maybe once. For Dan, gangs of goldfinch are common.
I haven’t had a chance to ask, but I think the birds on the bottom photo are pine siskins.
Your pictures and observations are always welcome; e-mail me at
And again, thanks for your nominations for your favorite and least-favorite (aka most annoying) birds. Keep them coming! You can send them via e-mail, or simply click on "comments" at the bottom of the blog.

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Dispatch from the waterfront

I hiked the Western Waterfront Trail today, including the section crossing Knowlton Creek, which I regret to say I’ve not been on before. On the way back, I cut through a lovely swath of the Riverside neighborhood, took a stretch of the Munger Trail, took a little trail through the woods and finally came back to the road that runs parallel to all of that — I think it’s called Paducah Street.
This is what I saw/heard:

  • Two vireos — I’m not sure which kind of vireo — in two different places
  • A catbird
  • Chickadees
  • Goldfinches
  • A small flock of cedar waxwings
  • Lots of dragonflies
  • Even more grasshoppers
  • Three bunnies
  • A handful of tiny frogs and/or toads
  • A pretty orange-and-brown butterfly or moth. I tried to take its picture, but it was shy. I thought I’d be able to identify it when I got home with my newly acquired pocket guide to Great Lakes Butterflies & Moths, but it really didn’t look like anything in the guide.
  • Two deer
  • A turtle sunning itself on a rock about 30 feet out into St. Louis Bay
  • One jogger
  • Three pairs of walkers, the third pair accompanied by two friendly dogs
  • A "Dahlberg now" sign
  • Some campers at Indian Point
  • A family and its dog enjoying the nice afternoon in their backyard
  • A couple of guys with hard hats working at Tate & Lyle
  • An older man searching for rocks along the railroad tracks while whistling something that sounded like "The Battle Hymn of the Republic"
  • Other birds

The birds tended to be secretive, or uncooperative as the birders like to say. I tried phishing — in which you use your tongue and lips to make a rapid "phish" sound. It made me thirsty, and it didn’t have much effect — although at one point a chickadee made a pass at my head.

  • Thanks for your wonderful nominations so far for favorite/most annoying birds (see my previous post, "Your turn"). I’m going to compile the responses in a few days. More responses are coveted in the meantime.
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Your turn

OK, time for some reader participation.
This is a bit much to ask, considering that I’ve barely been participating in the blog myself recently.
But let’s give it a try.
What’s your favorite bird, and why?
And what’s your least-favorite bird — the bird that you find the most annoying — and why?
If you can’t settle on just one for either category, feel free to list several.
Let me know your thoughts by clicking on the comment button.
And by the way, feel free to e-mail me anytime with bird observations and/or pictures:

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Godwits overhead

Check out the Web site listed on the right as "Marbled godwits on the move."

It was recommended by Bob Russell of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in an e-mail posted today on the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union’s e-mail listserv. The site provides a Google map for 18 of these comical-looking shorebirds (see photo below) that have been banded and tracked by satellite. There’s a list of birds; you click on each one to find out where it has been. Most of them have interesting names, such as Leggers, Marby and Pinnochio, some of which were provided by schoolchildren. Their maps come with accounts about each godwit’s travels.

But the ones of particular interest to us have particularly uninteresting "names," such as 70437 and 70439. Each of these crossed over Northeastern Minnesota and/or Northwestern Wisconsin, and some flew right over the Twin Ports. All of them were banded this summer on southern James Bay in Ontario.

Russell points out that marbled godwits are rare fall migrants in Minnesota. He writes that the birds that crossed Minnesota from northeast to southwest probably will be spending their winters in Mexico.

Actually, that doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.

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A modest proposal

This is off-topic, but in times of crisis we all must do our part.
So here’s how to solve the city of Duluth’s deficit:
Convert the Aerial Lift Bridge into a toll bridge.
50 cents per crossing ought to do the trick.
Don’t try to thank me.

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Another newcomer

This morning, a female pine siskin showed up on one of my tube feeders, gorging itself on safflower. I watched it through my binoculars, and it stared right back at me. It seemed suspicious about what I was up to, but it wasn’t going to be chased away from its breakfast.

It’s the first pine siskin I’ve seen this year. It’s another indication of subtle activity among birds after weeks of not much happening. A couple of mourning doves have been hanging out on the deck lately, and a female goldfinch tried out the niger-sunflower chip mixture yesterday.

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Raven Rock

I camped at Tettegouche State Park on Wednesday and Thursday nights. I got the last campsite they had, a cart-in site, which was what I wanted anyway. But it was the last site  for a reason, or actually for three reasons:

  • It was six-tenths of a mile from the parking lot.
  • It was so close to the next campsite that if the people at that site had nightmares, you would wake up screaming.
  • It was so close to Highway 61 that your nightmares might well involve logging trucks.1

I was glad to have it.
It was also so close to Lake Superior that when children weren’t crying and trucks weren’t barreling down 61, you could hear the waves lapping the shore — a wonderful sound to fall asleep to or to lie awake listening to.
When I left at 9 this morning, there was a line of people in the campground office hoping to get in. It was a good campsite, indeed.
And, except for some shaky conditions Wednesday evening, the weather couldn’t have been more ideal. I suppose this is why so many people want to camp in August.
On Thursday, I hiked to Raven Rock. I’ve been really wanting to see a raven, and I figured this might be the place to do it, although I knew it wasn’t a sure thing. I’ve never seen a bear at Bear Lake.
I used the Superior Hiking Trail to get there and hiked back on a ski trail. The Superior Hiking Trail was more difficult and much more interesting. It includes something that has been dubbed "The Drainpipe." For a non-climber like me, it’s an interesting climb. You use your hands and your feet, and if you had a tail you would use that, too.
I’d barely gotten to Raven Rock when I noticed something black flying. Soon, there were three or four black things flying, then seven or eight.
Through the binoculars, it was clear that they were turkey vultures, not ravens. Eventually, I think I saw a couple of birds that weren’t vultures, but they weren’t ravens, either.
No complaints, though. Raven Rock has a commanding view of Lake Superior and surrounding hills, it’s a good spot for a picnic, and turkey vultures always put on a good air show. And it’s free.

  • Earlier, a sweet, young Chinese couple with two adorable, very young children (how anyone could think ANY Chinese child wouldn’t be cute enough to sing at the Olympic Games is beyond me) asked me how to get to the trail leading to Cascade Falls. I thought I knew, and I told them, even walking part way with them. Hours later, I discovered that I not only had it wrong, but I had walked them past the trail head. But it turns out the trail is closed because of erosion, so perhaps it was for the best.

1 I didn’t dream about logging trucks. I dreamed about birds that transformed into little people, then back into birds again. It was weird.

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First movement

If fall migration were a symphony, perhaps the first movement has begun.
This morning, a congregation of blackbirds filled my backyard: grackles, starlings, red-winged blackbirds — the first red-wingeds I’ve had on my property this year. A few crows cawed their dissent from the balcony. One of the birds, a little smaller than the others, was brownish, mottled with subtle stripes and had a bright orange dot on each shoulder. I think it was a red-winged female or juvenile, or perhaps a starling that was already in its winter outfit. The orange dots were intriguing. I tried to take a picture, but it wouldn’t pose for me.
The congregation was noisy, restless and very busy. A couple of blue jays added color.
A little later, a hummingbird buzzed both of my nectar feeders and flew off. I had been meaning to clean out the feeders for days1 but hadn’t gotten it done, and I got caught again. I cleaned the feeders and made new nectars almost right away, once again closing the proverbial barn door after the hummingbird.
It sure seems like something is starting to happen.

1 OK, weeks, maybe.

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I’m not much of a shopper, except when it comes to books … and music … and camping equipment … and tea … and birdfeeders.

I put out birdfeeders the way an art museum puts out paintings and sculptures. There always are more in storage than are on public view. I simply don’t have the space to put out all of the birdfeeders I’ve accumulated over the years. I mix and match the ones I have out, depending on what time of year it is, what sorts of birds I’m trying to attract, what mood I’m in.

It would stand to reason that with this excessive supply of feeders, I wouldn’t purchase any more. But reason doesn’t stand to the compelling logic of the shopping mentality, as you may know. The store was having a sale on feeders, so of course I bought one on Friday.

About most other commodities, sales don’t move me. After I went to the bird store, I visited a clothing store for an emergency purchase. I encountered a friend in the parking lot.

"Are you here for the big sale?" she asked.


I wasn’t there for the sale. I didn’t know about a sale. When I must shop for clothing, I carry it out as if it were a military operation: Get in, do the job, get out. Do it quickly. Keep casualties to a minimum.

When I shop for a birdfeeder, I browse, I ask questions, I get distracted by other intriguing bird-related items.

On this trip, my goal was a niger (aka thistle) feeder to supplement the thistle feeder I already have. That feeder hasn’t been getting much business. I cleaned it, I took a knife to the little holes to try to widen them a bit, I added sunflower chips to the niger. It gets occasional visits from chickadees and goldfinches, but they seem frustrated.

So I settled on the feeder shown above, which I’ve dubbed the cage. If it doesn’t attract birds, I could always empty it and use it to house a mouse or something. In its first couple of days, it has had a couple of tentative visits from chickadees. But a new feeder always takes time to prove itself to the birds.

A few other birds joined the chickadees today, albeit not on the cage. A couple of blue jays inspected the safflower platform feeder this morning. Later, a strange, finch-like bird with a clay-colored head perched on the safflower tube feeder. The bird book says there’s such a thing as a yellow variant of a house finch, and I decided that’s what it was. I don’t think it’s the same bird I saw and couldn’t identify the other day (see "Who Am I?"). Finally, a nuthatch dropped by, the first nuthatch I’ve seen in many weeks.

Are the birds getting ready for autumn?

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