In search of scarlet

A few weeks ago, after I mentioned my ambition to see a scarlet tanager, a reader suggested St. Croix State Park might be a good place to look.

I got some specific suggestions from a couple of people in the Minnesota birding community, including a valuable bit of advice: You’re likely to hear scarlet tanagers before you see them. I listened to the song on a CD and decided I’d never be able to pick it out. They probably aren’t singing at this time of the year anyway. The call was more promising. It goes CHIK-brrrr, with the CHIK much higher-pitched than the brrrr. Sometimes, on the recording, there were several CHIKS, but the brrrr always came.

Armed with this information and the suggestions about where to look, I journeyed to St. Croix State Park — it’s 15 miles east of Hinckley — for a brief camping trip this week.

I struck out. I walked and drove in the woods. I heard lots of "CHIKs" but no "brrrrs." I saw no flashes of scarlet, nor did I see flashes of yellow from any females.

It wasn’t a total loss on the bird front. Patrolling my campsite, snatching insects from midair, was — I think, probably, most likely — an eastern wood pewee. It behaved in the way the bird book said it should behave, perched relatively high on a tree, darting out quickly and returning just as quickly to the same perch, or almost the same perch. In any event, it was definitely an insect-eater, and I was happy to share my campsite with it. I could have used five or six more.

I had to take a picture of something while I was on my trip, so I took a picture of this flower, taken along a ski trail somewhere in the park. Can anyone tell me what it is?

I’ve gotten a couple of additional suggestions about where to find scarlet tanagers since I returned, and one is much closer to home.

So I’m going to make at least one more effort this summer. But I’m going to have to hurry. Scarlet tanagers spend their winters in Central and South America, and they are among the earliest birds to head south.

This proves that these birds are not only beautiful, they’re also intelligent.

Botanists! Biologists! Naturalists! Fellow wannabes! Your pictures and stories welcome here:


Bird droppings

Bits and pieces from here and there:

  • Some of us don’t want to think about fall, and some of us think September and October is the best time of year in the Northland. The folks at Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory have to think ahead to those months, because that’s when the raptors will be coming through on their fall migration. To share that phenomenon with the public requires a flock of volunteers. Here’s what they do, according to the Hawk Ridge Web site: "Overlook volunteers perform a multitude of tasks!!  You might greet visitors, sell merchandise, point out birds to visitors (we’ll teach you how to tell them apart… it’s easy to learn), update written visitor information, count and/or survey visitors, carry birds from our research station to the education site, etc." If this sounds like something you’d like to be involved with, check out the volunteer section of the Hawk Ridge Web site here:
  • Bird-watchers, as I’ve said before, are everywhere, and come from all walks of life. Alberto Contador, the Spaniard who won the Tour de France bicycling race for the second time on Sunday is "a native of Pinto in southeast Madrid with a fascination for birds" according to Chuck Culpepper of the Los Angeles Times.
  • Grim, sickening news on the wires via the Associated Press: Police arrested 19 people from Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey Sunday in a house raid on an alleged bird-fighting operation. Police said people bet on fights staged among saffron finches and canaries, and 150 birds were seized in the raid. The raid was conducted in Shelton, Conn., just west of New Haven, just after spectators had placed bets. Police also took $8,000 that had been wagered. Authorities often deal with cock fighting, but police and animal experts said they had not heard of fighting involving finches and canaries before, the Associated Press reported.
  • Tokyo’s war with crows isn’t going well for the city, the Washington Post reports. Tokyo began an effort in 2001 to limit its crow population, and it succeeded for a while. But since 2006, the city’s crow count has risen by 30 percent. "These are jungle crows (Corvus macrorhynchos), and they are bigger, badder and uglier than their kin in North America," writes the Post’s Blaine Harden. "They weigh in at about 1 1/2 pounds and have a yard-wide wingspan. They can clench their claws into fists and punch people in the head, local bird experts say. They sometimes dive-bomb Tokyoites from the rear, with an unnerving whoosh that has been known to cause people to crash their bicycles or fall down stairwells." AND the crows have been sabotaging the city’s high-speed Internet network. Apparently, fiber-optic cables make ideal nesting material.
  • We’re all agreed: The mystery bird in yesterday’s edition of Name that Bird was a tufted titmouse. If you’ve never seen one, I hope someday you do. They’re as charming as their cousins the chickadees.
  • Thanks for some wonderful bear stories. More on that subject later.

Your bird and bear stories, pictures and general observations are always welcome. Send them to me at:


Name that Bird

Jim Meier sent this photo of a pair of birds at his peanut feeder in southeast Michigan, where these birds are often seen together. No mystery about the bird on the bottom, but Jim suggests the other one might not be familiar to bird-watchers in the Northland.

It’s familiar to me from olden days when I lived in Indiana and Ohio. And I think it might be seen in southern Minnesota as well. It’s one of my favorite birds, and I miss it.

Can you name that bird?

Your pictures and comments are earnestly desired. Send them to me at

Plovers piping

Be sure to check Sunday’s Duluth News Tribune (in the wonderful, hold-it-in-your-hands print version or online) for John Myers’ story — with photos by Bob King — on the piping plovers of Long Island in the Wisconsin waters of Lake Superior.

Only 19 piping plovers are believed to exist in Wisconsin, making it the state’s rarest bird. All 19 are on Long Island.

No bear there

Thanks for your comments, advice and anecdotes — scary, amusing and otherwise — relative to the recent bear-sighting in my neighborhood and what that should mean concerning my birdfeeders.

So far, I haven’t seen evidence of

Posted in Uncategorized

Chimney Swift Sit

Audubon Minnesota wants you to sit and count chimney swifts.

I’m not sure that you have to sit. What they do want you to do is spend about an hour at dusk counting swifts as they enter a nighttime roosting place. It can be done on one night or on several nights during two weekends: Aug. 7-9 and Sept. 11-13.

Audubon Minnesota is hoping for a better idea of the distribution of the birds with the goal of helping to preserve necessary roosting structures.

If you know of a place where chimney swifts roost, you can contact Ron Windingstad at He will use the information to suggest where chimney swift volunteers can sit.

There’s much more information, as well as download participation forms, here:

Eagles in the news

It’s not just in Duluth where nesting bald eagles have become an issue affecting a construction project.

The Washington Post reports that the city of Washington and the National Park Service are concerned about the Department of Homeland Security’s plan to build an access road from its new headquarters to an Interstate 295 interchange. The road would go through land belonging to the National Park Service — and near the nest of a pair of bald eagles.

"The eagles live in a thickly wooded sliver of natonal parkland in the Anacostia district, where towering trees overlook their hunting grounds on the Potomac River," the Post’s David A. Fahrenthold writes. "When they settled there in 2000, the pair were the first bald eagles to nest in the District of Columbia in a half-century."

The article points out that the Department of Homeland Security has a bald eagle on its seal.

A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, which doesn’t plan to build the road until 2014, said the road was designed in consultation with eagle experts at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who said it would not disturb the birds.

But officials with the city and the National Park service told the Post they aren’t convinced.

A bear? Where?

It was across the street from my house this morning, or so my neighbors tell me. I’m sorry I missed seeing it.

I realize that in many Duluth neighborhoods and in much of the Northland, seeing bears is about as common as seeing chickadees. But in the eight years I’ve lived in West Duluth, this is the first I’ve heard of one in my neighborhood. In fact, during the nine years I’ve lived in Duluth — including a moderate number of hikes in the woods — I’ve only seen one bear, and that was dead on the side of U.S. Highway 53 in Douglas County.

With evidence of at least one bear foraging in the neighborhood, the question is what to do about the bird feeders. It’s routine for many of you to take your feeders in at night. If you don’t, it’s a safe bet the bears will help themselves to a snack and make a mess of things in the process.

The biggest critters I’ve had to deal with so far have been groundhogs, raccoons and deer. Only raccoons have actually gotten to the feeders, and that hasn’t happened often. (But it has happened this summer.)

I don’t think one bear sighting is going to make me change my bird-feeding habits. There’s certainly no evidence anything larger than a raccoon knows about my feeders.

Secretly — I guess it’s no longer a secret — I’d like to see a bear on my deck.


Another mystery

It’s time once again to play: Name that Bird.

Kurt Kuehn took this picture in Cottage Grove, Minn.:

OK, birders … any thoughts?

You can send your bird pictures, stories and comments to me at: Thanks!

Name that Bird redux

OK. Let’s look back at some of the recent birds we’ve tried to identify and see what we’ve come up with. I believe each of these was submitted by Kurt Kuehn.

This little fellow got quite a few responses, with a plurality saying female rose-breasted grosbeak, which means I should’ve called it this little gal. But several people thought it was a female house sparrow, and at least one respondent thought it could be a Harris’ sparrow. Kurt thought it could be a crossbill. We get red crossbills and white-winged crossbills in these parts.

Me? My first thought was female indigo bunting, and I’m not completely ready to abandon that idea.

As I was writing this, female house sparrow — or English sparrow, as Kathy Carr Lodholz prefers — gained support.

Kurt took this picture in Arizona.Only Kathy weighed in on this one, and I suspect she nailed it: bridled titmouse. According to my bird book, this attractive bird is found in the Southwest mountains, generally between 5,000 and 7,000 feet.

This one caused quite the kerfuffle. I think the consensus was ruby-throated hummingbird, but not everyone was convinced.

This one had me flummoxed, but Bob King, Jim and Jana agreed: Common nighthawk.

Thank you for playing our game. And your bird pictures — mysteries and otherwise — comments and observations are rapturously welcomed. You can comment by clicking on "comments," or send me an e-mail at And I really do thank you — it’s the reader participation that makes this so much fun for me.