I haven’t caught so much as a glimpse of a cardinal for many months.

It seems like I’ll usually have a pair of cardinals nibbling from my safflower platform feeders at this time of the year.

If you’re seeing cardinals, or have seen cardinals recently, I’d love to hear about it.

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Why I am not a poet


I watched a pair of goldfinches on either side of the thistle feeder

Which left when a starling came

Which left when a pair of bluejays came

Then a cluster of juncos fed on the millet

Then came a squirrel, accompanied by a detachment of chickadees

The starling came back, feeding on the suet log

While a downy woodpecker pecked at the suet cake

Pigeons performed a flyover

Then a pair of nuthatches (the white-breasted sort) sampled seed and suet

Followed by more chickadees

And none of them rhymed.

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A message from Iraq

If you read this blog from time to time, you may have noticed that one of my most frequent sources is the e-mail listserv of the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union.

The following excerpt comes from another e-mail listserv, Its author is Col. Jimmie L. Browning, a U.S. Army doctor who is stationed in Iraq.

Here’s most of his message:

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.


I am thankful for being able to bird watch on Sunday mornings even though I am here in Iraq.


I am thankful for these young Soldiers that go out every day to do the work that they do in spite of the dangers.


I am honored to be able to take care of them medically.


I am thankful that I am able to go bird watching every Sunday morning .. 35 species so far ( of course I can only go around on base but we have several lakes and canals)


Best species yet are Dead Sea Sparrow, Blue cheeked Bea-eater, and Iraqi Babbler.




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Starlings in a tree/ Gulls in Canal Park

OK … I know what you’re saying. Starlings in a tree? Gulls in Canal Park? Is the Wannabe Birder that hard up?

But I think you have to agree that this picture, taken by Bob King, of a pair of European starlings high up in a spruce tree is worth a look. Bob says they were "hissing and gurgling away" this morning in one of his trees. I think those hisses and gurgles were the starlings’ way of giving thanks that they aren’t turkeys. We can give thanks that the starlings were in Bob’s tree and not our feeders.

Besides, the original Thanksgiving was celebrated by people who had come over from England. That makes starlings a sort of fitting symbol for Thanksgiving, don’t you think?

On to the gulls … these are not your garden-variety ring-billed gulls. Erik Bruhnke reports via the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union’s e-mail listserv that on Tuesday morning  he and Karl Bardon saw an Iceland gull, a great black-backed gull and several Thayer’s gulls in Canal Park. All of these are uncommon if not rare in this region.

I’m looking at illustrations of the great black-backed gull in the bird book, and it, especially, would be exciting to see. Its back is, indeed, black, as are the back of its wings, and it looks like it makes quite a dramatic statement of black-and-white in flight. And it’s nearly twice as big as a ring-billed gull (that’s the kind we see so much of around here).

If you’ve spent time along the Atlantic Coast, great black-backed gulls may not be a big deal to you; they’re common out there. But they aren’t typically Midwestern birds.

So if you need to go for a walk to work off that Thanksgiving turkey tomorrow, Canal Park might be a good place to do it.

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Birding on the Web

You can’t always get out where the birds are, and the birds don’t always choose to come to your feeders.

But if you have accesss to the Internet — and, given the fact that you’re reading this, chances are you do — there’s really no end to your vicarious birding options.

Here are a couple of sites that have come to my attention recently:

  • Duluthian Mike Hendrickson is keeping track of owl sightings in Minnesota as winter approaches, and he offers a map to show where they are. You can check it out on his Colder by the Lake blog, here: You’ll have to scroll down a ways to see the owl map, but I’ll bet you’ll be tempted to read some of Mike’s other posts — and enjoy his beautiful pictures — along the way.
  • Blogging compatriot Far Side of Fifty tipped me off to the Phenology Page. This is the work of John Latimer, a rural mail carrier in Grand Rapids and the host of the Phenology Report on KAXE radio in Brainerd and Bemidji. The page is filled with photos, links and special features. (Phenology, and I confess I had to look this up, means the study of natural phenomena that recur periodically, as migration or blossoming, and of their relation to climate and changes in season.) Here’s the link to the Phenology Page:

You also can get to the Colder by the Lake and Far Side of Fifty blogs by clicking on them under "Blogs I Read" on the right side of this blog.

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Leaves gone, redpolls return

"Who needs leaves when you can have redpolls?" asks Bob King, aka AstroBob, aka News Tribune photo chief, aka one of the few people I know who loves a nice cuppa tea almost as much as I do.

Bob took this picture of a tree full of common redpolls on Sunday morning in Lakewood Township. He reports that they were breakfasting on birch catkins.

As I may have mentioned a dozen times, I dearly hope a few redpolls will spend the winter in my backyard this year.

Got redpolls in your trees? Cardinals at your feeders? See something unusual in the birds along your path? I’d love to hear about it, and to see your images: Please send images as jpegs if you can.



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Birders, judicial and evangelical

One encounters bird-watchers in the oddest places. It’s a wide-ranging, diverse group of people.

In a book I’m reading, "The Nine; Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court," I discovered a birder before I made it out of the prologue. That would be Justice Stephen Breyer, "his bald head nicely tanned from long bike rides and bird-watching expeditions," author Jeffrey Toobin writes.

Another is John R.W. Stott, an evangelical theologian who is the author of more than 40 books. An article in the online version of Christianity Today tells of Stott’s latest book: "The Birds Our Teachers: Biblical Lessons from a Lifelong Bird Watcher."

It turns out that Stott, who is 87, is a serious birder as well as a serious theologian. HIs "life list" contains 2,500 bird species. (Mine has, oh, at least 50 species.)

I was going to offer excerpts from the Christianity Today article, but couldn’t decide what not to include. So instead, you can read it for yourself here:

And you can read an excerpt from the book here:

The excerpt begins with a quote from the poet Percy Shelley. I suppose he must have been a birder as well.




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No, this has nothing to do with Al Franken and Norm Coleman.

This is a recount that happens every year: The Great Backyard Bird Count.

The folks from the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology want you to start thinking about their 12th annual bird count.

It needn’t come ahead of your holiday planning. It isn’t until Feb. 13-16. And since you will be counting birds in your own backyard, it won’t take all that much preparation.

Still, coordinators of the count hope records will be set in 2009 as they were this year, when more than 85,000 checklists were submitted and 635 species were identified.You can learn how to get involved here:  Perhaps by the time of the Great Backyard Bird Count, we’ll know who won the Minnesota race for U.S. Senate. Perhaps.

Meanwhile, Project Feeder Watch for the 2008-09 season began Saturday, but you can sign up anytime. Sponsored by the same organizations, this is an opportunity for folks to keep track of the birds at their feeders throughout the winter and report their tallies each week. Project FeederWatch also has its own Web site, here:



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A mystery warbler

Bob King took this gorgeous picture of a warbler perched on bee balm outside his home in Lakewood Township.

It’s a beautiful bird; that yellow patch and the silky white of its breast are beguiling. But what is it? We looked through the bird book but couldn’t come to a definite conclusion. Warblers dress differently in the fall than in the spring, and this can make identification even more tricky.

Any thoughts, anyone?

You can send your bird pictures and observations to me:

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Quirks? Me? (A response to Headfirst into the Kiddie Pool)

My colleague Tamara, in the "Headfirst into the Kiddie Pool" blog (check it out here: "tagged" me with a version of a chain letter in the blogosphere.

The challenge has six rules, which is four too many for me, but the essence is that you reveal to the world (or at least to the people who read your blog) six quirks about yourself. Then you "tag" six other bloggers with the same challenge. In about six weeks, everyone who has Interenet access knows everyone else’s quirks.

Thanks for the invitation, Kiddie Pool, but I cannot participate. I have no quirks.

OK, maybe one: I am a bird-watcher who lacks several of the basic qualifications for successful bird-watching. To wit:

  1. Serious bird-watchers (who probably will call themselves birders) must be patient. The promise of seeing a particularly unusual bird will prompt a real birder to stay in one place for hours. For me, three minutes is quite a while. This is a tendency established in my youth. Mom and Dad would take us to museums during our travels. I liked museums. I could see everything in two minutes. For some reason, they wanted to stay longer. My patience grew as I matured … but not much.
  2. Real birders get up and out in the wee hours of the morning, knowing this often is prime time for good views. I am a morning person, if morning is defined is roughly between 9 a.m. and noon. Also, if being a morning person means spending the time sitting at the dining room table and sipping tea. If I see birds through the window, so much the better. Someday, in some future spring, I’ll participate in one of those 6 a.m. warbler walks on the Western Waterfront Trail. Someday.
  3. A birder must be willing to head out in any sort of weather if there’s the prospect of seeing something good. I am a birder of the fair-weather variety. I love the outdoors — so much so that I like to experience it at its best: 60-70 degrees, sunny with a light southerly breeze. As with morning bird-watching, I’m all for watching birds in foul weather. I just prefer to watch them from inside a warm, dry building.

There are other factors, such as my inability to tell one bird call from another. But those are the big three that make me an unlikely bird-watcher. It’s why I’m not likely to ever rise beyond a wannabe.

All of this qualifies as a quirk. But I can’t think of any others. Sorry, Kiddie Pool.


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