Do you believe in fairies?

No, me neither.

But then when I see a hummingbird, such as this ruby-throated hummingbird (do you see its tongue sticking out?) submitted by Tony M., I’m not so sure …

Here’s one more from Tony, a "lifer" for him:

This is a black-and-white warbler. The amazing thing is how beautiful it is, even with just black and white to work with. The variety of warblers we get to see is another one of the great rewards of making it to another spring in the Northland.


More from Tony

More fantastic pictures came from Tony M. today. Thank you Tony!

I’ll save the hummingbird and the black-and-white warbler for a day or so. Today, a Baltimore oriole:

And a gorgeous Cape May warbler, a "lifer" for Tony:

I took advantage of a Friday off and hiked in the Ely Peak-Bardon Peak area today. My warbler for the day was a chestnut-sided warbler, only the second I’ve ever seen. The first was on May 27, 2005, on the Western Waterfront Trail. Yes, it is scary that I have records of these sorts of things.

Earlier, just on the far side of Ely Peak, I think I saw a bluebird. This would be significant if true. I have dim memories of seeing bluebirds when I was a child, and it has been one of my chief birding targets as an adult. I can’t tell you how many times someone has told me: If you go to such-and-such a place you can’t miss seeing bluebirds.

I would dutifully go to such-and-such a place, and I wouldn’t see bluebirds.

The bird I saw wasn’t the pure blue of my memories. If it was a bluebird, it’s what the bird book uncharitably describes as a drab adult female. It certainly had the orange breast, particularly as it caught the sun while perched on top of an evergreen tree. The book describes the song as being "pleasing soft whistles," which certainly fit. (But would the female sing?) The curious thing was a black patch on the throat. That’s not in the book. But nothing else seems to come close to fitting.

Ideas, anyone?

Later, I saw an indigo bunting. No doubt about that one.

And I heard, but didn’t see, my first white-throated sparrows of the year. This is one of the very few birds I can identify by my ears alone. There’s no mistaking that song, which sounds to me like: I … KEEP … sayin’ the same thing over and over again.

I finished hiking an hour before it started raining, which was nice. I brought a tick home with me, and I’ve imagined many others. Be careful out there.

Hey Mr. Wilson!

I took a stroll on the Western Waterfront Trail today, knowing it would be thick with warblers and knowing I’d have the usual problem identifying any of them.

This is how it usually goes: I spot a warbler. It plays peek-a-boo with me, flitting from branch to branch, mostly hidden behind leaves. I keep my binoculars focused on it, gradually getting a pretty good idea of what it looks like. I reach into the bird book, narrow it down to two or three possibilities and decide what I need to look for — white on the rump, say, or a black line across the eye — to make a certain identification.

And the bird has flown.

I was getting frustrated with that pattern today, and I was running out of time. Finally, I tried pishing. This is when you make a sound — pish, pish, pish, pish — softly and repeatedly, that is said to draw warblers.

This has never worked for me, at least not very well.

To my astonishment, it did work today. Two warblers came to me as if they were on leashes, landed on the nearest tree — which wasn’t very leafed out — and gave me several good looks.

It was the narrow black cap that helped me determine the bird was a Wilson’s warbler … a bird I’ve never seen before. Finally, my first "lifer" of 2009.

They came so close that I thought I might even be able to get a picture. I "pished" again, but they were more circumspect this time. I took a picture anyway, and if you look VERY closely, you can see one of the Wilson’s in about the middle of the frame:

The female side

After seeing Bob King’s picture of a male rose-breasted grosbeak on Tuesday, Tony M. offered these pictures of a female rose-breasted grosbeak perched at Tony’s window feeder. Amazing pictures, Tony. Check out the size of that beak. The beak size is a pretty good indication, if you need one, that you’ve got a grosbeak.

And now, dear readers, a question from a reader: Our correspondent has heard from other folks — in Saginaw, Lakeside, Barnum and Island Lake — that they’ve been seeing bobolinks this spring. One or two bobolinks isn’t unusual, she said, but people have been seeing them in groups of 20 or more. Sometimes bobolinks can be mistaken for female red-winged blackbirds, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with these observers.

Is anyone else seeing groups of bobolinks, and if so, where?

To help, here are images, taken from the World Wide Web, of first a bobolink:

And next a female red-winged blackbird:

Your bobolink observations, and any observations and pictures related to birds, are always coveted. You can send them to me at:

The jazz singer

Bob King took this picture of a male rose-breasted grosbeak near Bob’s Lakewood Township home this morning. Bob said the grosbeak was singing some jazz — the song was definitely syncopated.

And while I’ve got your attention, here’s some Minnesota bird-related news:

Gov. Tim Pawlenty has signed a new Minnesota law designed to protect migrating birds from nighttime collisions with buildings, the Associated Press reports.

The law requires structures owned or leased by the state to have unnecessary lights turned off after midnight during spring and fall bird migration seasons. The Minnesota Audubon Society, which supported the legislation, says the law will benefit birds migrating along the Mississippi River in particular.

And when you think about it, there’s no reason for those unnecessary lights to be on in the first place.

Heading south. South?

A couple of Duluth birders1 separately reported seeing numerous warblers up the North Shore this week. Among them were blackburnian, palm, Cape May, American redstart, yellow, black and white, northern parula, yellow-rumped, ovenbird, Nashville, Tennesee2 and black-throated green.3 

Impressive indeed. But here’s the thing: They were headed south.

Given that this is spring, seeing warblers headed south is counterintuitive. On the other hand, given the weather in recent days, who can blame them?

1 As reported on the e-mail listserv of the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union.

2 Not to be confused with Nashville, Tennessee.

3 How many warblers have I seen so far this spring? Oh, please don’t ask.

Are you seeing warblers? Hummingbirds? Orioles? Your bird pictures and observations are eagerly sought at



First hummer … and more pictures

Here are some more pictures from the amazing Tony M., still going back to his Sunday afternoon yardwork. These birds probably don’t need any introduction, but the pictures are marvelous. From top, we have a pileated woodpecker followed by two views of ring-billed gulls in flight.

My feeders have been attracting starlings, chipping sparrows, house finches, purple finches and chickadees … and today, my first hummingbird of the year. It paid a brief visit to the hummingbird feeder, then went elsewhere.

I understand there was some snow at the airport this morning. How about that? Snow and a hummingbird on the same day.


If you have to do yardwork ….

Everyone who has to do yardwork ought to be distracted in the way Tony M. was distracted on Sunday afternoon when he was working in his yard.

Tony reports that he saw mallards, ravens, ring-billed gulls, chickadees, pine siskins, starlings, downy, hairy and pileated woodpeckers, song and white-throated sparrows, robins and a northern cardinal. That’s quite a reward for outdoor toil.

Tony sent along several of the wonderful pictures he took. Here are two: a mallard in flight and a cardinal surveying its realm. I’m tempted to post them all, but I’ll save the others for now.

I’m still wondering if I’ve ever seen a raven. I saw a bird near my garage on Sunday that I really think might have been a raven, not a crow. But I’m just not sure enough to count it. Can anyone suggest the best way to tell, beyond size?

I’m so thankful for the people who share their observations and/or pictures. Bird-related pictures, comments and stories are always wlecome at


Eastern (Duluth) Meadowlark

Bob King was in the Ordean Middle School neighborhood for a photo assignment today when he was attracted by a melodic bird call. He followed the sound and caught this picture of an Eastern meadowlark. Bob said he hasn’t seen or heard a meadowlark in the Northland before, and I have to think that meadowlarks are uncommon in these parts. No word on how the meadowlark affects the school reorganization plan.

While I’ve got your attention:

  • A bald eagle somewhere in British Columbia is a star, thanks to an eaglecam. You can see the eagle in its nest here:
  • Here’s a reminder that the third annual Chequamegon Bay Birding and Nature Festival is coming up. It takes place Friday through Sunday, May 15-17, in the Ashland area. You can learn all about it and register at this Web site:
  • The Minnesota Department of Health wants to remind us — us being folks who wander into the woods in search of birds or for any other purposes — that large numbers of Minnesota ticks carry disease organisms. The particularly dangerous culprits are blacklegged ticks (aka deer ticks), whose bite can cause lyme disease, among other things. In Minnesota, blacklegged ticks are most common in the east central, north central and and southeastern parts of the state, in hardwood forests. But they seem to be expanding their range to other parts of the state, including Northeastern Minnesota. When you’re in the woods or brushy areas, the Department of Health says, you should apply tick repellant containing DEET, you should wear long pants and light-colored clothing and you should walk in the center of trails. When you’re back from a hike, you should inspect your body carefully for ticks, and remove any that you find. Blacklegged ticks are smaller and darker in color than common wood ticks. But you want to remove wood ticks, too.
  • Would Minnesota Ticks be a good name for an athletic team?

The birdhouse question

A colleague wants to know if it will be too late if she waits a few weeks longer before putting out her birdhouses.

My experience with birdhouses is limited to a cute wren house my nephew gave me. I put it out several summers in a row until Northland weather conditions caused its demise. Once or twice, some wren-like birds did a flyby, but I don’t believe any bird ever nested in the house.

So I leave it to you, dear readers. Is it too early to put out birdhouses? Too late? Just right? When is it too late? What have your experiences been with birdhouses?


AND NOW for another in our continuing series on in-trouser bird smugglers:

The Los Angeles Times reports that a man who flew from Vietnam to Los Angeles, allegedly with 14 live birds hidden in his pants, was indicted on smuggling-related charges today (Tuesday) by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles.

The newspaper says Duc Le, 34, and Sony Dong, 46, were charged with conspiring to smuggle dozens of birds into the United States, including red-whiskered bulbuls, magpie robins and shama thrushes. They were arrested after investigators determined that Dong had 14 birds fastened to pieces of cloth around his calves, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Williams said.

A subsequent search revealed dozens more of what the newspaper called illicit birds.

Fourteen birds. Hurts just to think about it.

 Your bird pictures, stories, questions and answers are welcome: