Birds and butterflies on the Web

Thanks to Elsie Sullivan, who provided Web links to a couple of newspaper stories that might be of interest to people who read this blog.

The first is from the Rockford (Ill.) Register Star, about a Hummingbird Festival on the family farm of a state senator. You can read about it here:

And the second, from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, is about volunteers of all ages gathering to catch and tag monarch butterflies ahead of their incredible fall migration to Mexico. You can read the Milwaukee story here:

Your suggestions, comments, observations, pictures related to birds and other things birders find interesting are always welcome. Contact me at

Footnote: Cats 2, Wannabe 0. One was waiting for me on my deck when I came home from church on Sunday. It didn’t hang around while I went inside to get my squirt gun. Another made itself at home on the deck later that day, but fled long before I was in position to give it a good soaking. Yes, they left, but they always leave when they see me. My hope is to make them think twice — or whatever cats do that approximates thinking — before coming back.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill: I will never give up, never give up, never give up.


This means war

I’ve had it up to here with cats wandering up on my deck — the place where I feed birds — as if they owned the place.

They are welcome to cross the yard if they like. Technically, they are violating a city ordinance by wandering about loose, but I’m willing to cut them a little slack.

But the deck is a no-cat zone, and the cats don’t seem to be getting the message. It is becoming a daily thing — often more than once a day. I notice there aren’t any birds feeding. I take a closer look, and, sure enough, one of the cats is making itself at home.

I chase it off, clapping my hands. It leaves, but sooner or later it always comes back. Or another cat takes its place.

So I’m going to get more aggressive. I’m going to fill my squirt bottle — as soon as I can find it — with water and have it at the ready. If I can’t find the squirt bottle, I’ll buy a squirt gun the next time I go to the store. I will not harm a cat, but I will do whatever I can to make its visit to my deck unpleasant.

I mean, really.

On other topics:

  • Jana in Proctor and others have mentioned seeing nighthawks recently. Apparently, a major migration swept through the Duluth area the other day. Karl Bardon and the other counters at Hawk Ridge reported seeing13,154 common nighthawks on Tuesday — the fourth-highest single-day count on record in Minnesota. I’m not even sure if I could count that high.
  • I went for a walk on the Split Rock River Trail in Lake County today. I didn’t see much in the way of birds, but what I did see made it worthwhile: a pair of mourning warblers. This was worthwhile because they were "lifers" for me — the first mourning warblers I’ve seen, or at least the first I’ve put on my list. I wasn’t sure they were mourning warblers while I was on the trail, but after looking at more pictures online, I am sure. The colors matched perfectly, and the white eye ring confirmed it. (Actually, a walk on a beautiful day in August is worthwhile even if I don’t see ANY birds.)
  • Thanks to Kathy and Andrew for your suggestions regarding what to do to keep bees out of the hummingbird feeders. Andrew, your suggestion may have been the most unique advice I’ve gotten on any topic so far with this blog.

Birds and bees

My hummingbird picture prompted Lyle Anderson to share a few of the pictures he has taken of hummers recently.

"I have two hummingbird feeders in the backyard and it’s very easy to take pictures of hummers as they get used to people right away," Lyle writes. "It’s fun to watch them as they are so aggressive and chase each other so much that I wonder how they can gain anything, but  guess they must."

Check out these beauties:


And now I have a related question for you, dear readers. My hummingbird feeders are being overrun by bees. The hummingbird still gets its share, but between the hummer and the bees, it’s hard to keep enough nectar in the feeders. The bees are lethargic and certainly not aggressive. But I’d still rather not have so many next to the house.

Can anyone suggest how I can keep the hummingbird(s) coming but discourage the bees?

Your answers, pictures, observations eagerly anticipated here:



I’m not often able to get close enough to birds to take anything like a closeup. This morning, though, a hairy woodpecker was feeding behind my house so nonchalantly that I thought it might give me a chance.

But as I was focusing and trying to hold the camera steady, something got in the way:

This female ruby-throated hummingbird has been feeding voraciously at the nectar I’ve provided for a few weeks and apparently has lost any fear of me she may have once had. The feeder is just above her. Hummingbirds move with so much agility, speed and grace they make Stealth bombers look clunky.

The hairy woodpecker, a male, didn’t let me come as close as I had hoped. He’s feeding from a combination of sunflower chips and safflower. I don’t have any suet out yet, but woodpeckers have been coming anyway.

Q. What would you get if you crossed a hummingbird with a woodpecker? A. A bird that hums while it pecks.

Your pictures and words welcome here:



Katy did what?

One of the sounds I associate with growing up in Iowa is hearing katydids on August nights. That constant ching-ching-ching-ching seemed to send a message that all was well as I drifted off to sleep. Perhaps I heard them in July and September as well, but I associated them with August.

We used to call them cicadas but later switched to believing they were katydids.

It’s a sound I’ve missed, for the most part, in my adult years. I certainly don’t hear them through the windows of my home in West Duluth. This may be partially because my windows are usually closed to keep out the sounds of motorcycles and of cars whose drivers disapprove of mufflers. But that’s a topic for another day.

But during the past couple of weeks on days when I’ve taken my bicycle to work I’ve heard them, or something that sounds like them, on my rides home at night and even on my rides to work during the day. I espcially hear them in the area of the Point of Rocks.

A Web site I visited keeps referring to "true katydids," as if people call things katydids that are really something else. Whatever it is, I love that sound. It still seems to send the message that all is well.

Here’s a picture of a katydid, taken from the aforementioned Web site, which you can go to here:

Bird (and insect?) stories and pictures welcome here:






Hello Mr. Chips

James A. Meier sent this picture of a chipping sparrow under his feeders at his home in Brighton, Mich., just north of Ann Arbor. I think it could be subtitled A Study in Brown:

James mentioned that the chipping sparrow’s range includes Minnesota and the Dakotas, so Wannabe Birder readers probably have seen one. As it happens, chipping sparrows are the only sparrows I’ve had at my feeders with any frequency this summer. They’ve been pushed away in recent days by a sudden influx of bigger birds — grackles, blue jays, starlings and red-winged blackbirds have been on a feeding frenzy. But a chipping sparrow still will make an occasional brave appearance.

James added this interesting note: "Years ago I had a pair nesting in a clematis climbing on a TV antenna. The nest was about chest high, intricately woven from weedy fibers. I have read that when there were more horses about they preferred horse hair for weaving their nests."

I think horse hair would make a comfy next.

Your pictures and stories about birds accepted joyously at:

A canary amid the starlings

This morning, a canary was feeding among the starlings on my deck.

Or if it wasn’t a canary, it was some sort of bird that clearly isn’t from here. It either escaped from someone’s cage or was released by an irresponsible owner. It isn’t designed for this environment, and it won’t survive.

But it seems to be doing just fine today. It wasn’t in the least intimidated by the bigger birds, and they tolerated it. On the other hand, it wanted nothing to do with me, and I had all sorts of camera troubles. I kept thinking: I wish Bob King were here.

After my first attempts were foiled by weak batteries, I raced around the house, found new batteries, hurried back to my viewing point and promptly scared away the canary and the starlings.

So I put out much more millet than I usually would, and was rewarded with even bigger numbers of starlings, grackles, red-winged blackbirds and bluejays.

And eventually, the canary — or whatever it is — returned. And I got pictures good enough to at least show you that I wasn’t hallucinating.

Can you see it here?

And here it is, with a couple of bluejays:

And feeding with the starlings:

The other birds look a trifle nonplussed, don’t they? So was I.

Your pictures and stories of birds, foreign and domestic, welcome at:

Bird droppings

Bits and pieces from here and there:

  • The fall migration season has begun at the Hawk Ridge Observatory, according to Debbie Waters, the education director. The daily count of raptors and songbirds (technically: passerines), headed up by Karl Bardon, began on Saturday and won’t be over until the end of November. Waters and her fellow educators will be on hand from Sept. 1 through the end of October. You can check the daily count totals here: To plan your visit to Hawk Ridge, start here:
  • I didn’t plan it this way — very little about this blog is planned — but hummingbirds seem to be a frequent topic recently. If you’re especially big on the little birds and you’re looking for a late-month road trip, consider this: Henderson Hummingbird Hurrah, Aug. 28-30, in Henderson, Minn., just southwest of the Twin Cities. This celebration of ruby-throated hummingbirds before they leave for the winter boasts hummingbird banding, tours of gardens and hummingbird habitats, guest speakers, book signings, activities for children and more. Does the Henderson Hummingbird Hurrah havea Web site? Of course it does:
  • I don’t know if it has anything to do with fall migration, but I saw a mourning dove hanging around my deck this morning. It’s the first mourning dove I’ve seen in probably three months. There’s no Web site that I know of for mourning doves in West Duluth.

Southwest hummers

In the Northland, it’s rare — although not unheard of — to see any kind of hummingbird other than the ruby-throated.

Not so in the Southwest. Kurt Kuehn got some wonderful hummingbird pictures when he was in Arizona this spring. Here’s a trio of them:

An Anna’s hummingbird.

A black-chinned hummingbird.

A magnificent hummingbird.

Thanks, Kurt, for the pictures — and the identifications.

Bird pictures and stories from far and near welcome here: