Field reports

Thanks to Michael McIlvain and Mike Wiitala, who shared their observations within the past couple of days.

Michael McIlvain reported on Saturday that he had been seeing four to six ravens at a time feasting on a deer carcass on U.S. Highway 2 less than a mile west of Midway Road. The deer met its untimely end on Friday night and was on the north side of the road — the raven equivalent of a roadside diner.

Michael also saw a great gray owl on Wednesday evening crossing Lindahl Road north of U.S. Highway 53 and south of Martin Road, in the vicinity of Pike Lake.

AND he has seen an occasional flying squirrel at the bird feeders at night.

Mike Wittala’s observation actually goes back to last winter, and it comes with a question. Here’s the picture that goes with it:

They might be a little difficult to make out, but Mike confirms that those are robins in winter. He says he had no idea that robins stayed around and wonders if they can survive the winter.

I can at least partially answer that. I know that some robins do indeed stay the winter in the Northland. I’ve seen them in the past along the Western Waterfront Trail and at the Holiday station at Central and Grand in West Duluth, and I’ve been told at least one robin is hanging out near the Federal Building in downtown Duluth this winter. Farther south in Minnesota, people sometimes see whole flocks of robins in winter — although the vast majority of robins fly much farther south.

As for survival, I know that birds migrate for food availability. The difficulty for a robin staying for the long Northland winter would be finding enough food to survive. I assume that some do survive, but I don’t have any statistics or authoritative information on that. Can anyone offer insight on this question?

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The best of Britain

BBC News online is sharing images from something called the BirdGuides Photos of the Year 2009 competition, including this remarkable shot of a puffin putting on the brakes as it comes in for a landing on the Farne Islandes, Northumberland, United Kingdom.

There are seven other images, none at all like the others, but each is marvelous. They include a tree pipit in the midst of an aerial territorial display; two cock pheasants in a brawl that would get them five-minute penalties if they were playing hockey; and a kestral chasing a barn owl.

You can see them all here:

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On the other end of I-35

This is what folks were seeing this week along the banks of the Zacate Creek just north of the Rio Grande, in Laredo, Texas:

You probably haven’t met this attractive bird, unless you’ve gone much farther south than Laredo. It’s believed to be an Amazon kingfisher, a species never previously seen in the United States.

And here’s what you get as soon as reports of a rare bird start to surface:

These are homo sapien-binocularisis, aka birdwatchers. The pictures of the bird and of the birdwatchers were taken by Cuate Santos of the Laredo Morning Times and distributed by the Associated Press. By the way, it’s not officially an Amazon kingfisher until the American Birding Association says it is. Unless the Amazon kingfisher has a similar-looking cousin, I imagine that’s just a formality.

If you want to try to see the Amazon kingfisher for yourself, it’s a simple matter of getting on Interstate 35 in Duluth — and driving its entire length.Mapquest tells me that’s a drive of just under 1,560 miles, and estimates it will take you 23 hours and 49 minutes. You should bring some snacks along.

Your pictures and stories eagerly solicited:



I’m reading a book by a British chap named Simon Barnes called "How to Be a (Bad) Birdwatcher." It was recommended by a reader of this blog, by the way.

This might seem like a wasted exercise, since I already am a (bad) birdwatcher, but I’ve already picked up one useful bit of information: the acronym LBJ. I thought this referred to a former president of the United States. It turns out there’s another meaning: Little Brown Jobs. This refers to those birds we see along the way that we can’t identify because we aren’t (good) birdwatchers. Such as: I went on a hike and I saw a pileated woodpecker, a couple of nuthatches, a Baltimore oriole and five or six LBJs.

Henceforth, I will be making use of this term. You probably will be seeing a lot of references to LBJs on this blog.

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Juncos in winter

Juncos seem to come mostly in the morning, checking to see if I’ve left millet for them on the deck floor, which I almost always have.

Sometimes it’s just one junco; usually not more than three.

It has been a treat this winter, because my experience since I’ve lived in Duluth is that juncos don’t stay for the winter months. This has been a change from growing up in northwestern Iowa, where I associated juncos with winter and always loved the sight of their whte breasts and slate-gray backs against the snow. Winters aren’t really any less harsh there than they are here, but a few hundred miles seems to make a difference.

Let me know if I’m wrong about this. Are juncos common winter birds in the Northland?

Later, as I was shoveling slush, six or seven chickadees were hanging about the feeders. The chickadees like it, I think, when I’m outside because they aren’t afraid of me but the bigger birds are. I tried mimicking the chickadee "SPRING-time" call, hoping one of them would call back. But there were no takers. They know it’s not springtime yet.

Smart birds.

Pictures, comments, stories about birds welcome at:

Bird droppings

Bits and pieces from here and there:

  • This is the last week to register for the third annual Sax-Zim Bog Bird Festival, which takes place Feb. 12-14. It’s based iN Meadowlands with excursions to Aitkin County and Duluth as well as the bog. Organizer Michael Hendrickson reports boreal chickadees, pine grosbeaks, common redpolls and other winter residents at the Sax-Zim feeding stations, and reports of great gray owls as well. You can learn more here:
  • A bit farther from Duluth, registration for the Festival of Owls in Houston, Minn., is under way. The festival takes place March 5-7 and includes all things owls, even — I’m not sure I’m ready for this — owl pellet dissection. Here’s the link:
  • I’m told a robin has been overwintering (as the birders like to say) in the vicinity of the Federal Building in downtown Duluth. It has been taking advantage of a soft area in the ground in front of the building where the heating system vents.
  • Minnesota Audubon still is keeping tabs on eagle-42, that golden eagle that (sigh) bypassed Hawk Ridge on its way from Canada to its wintering ground in Wisconsin. Over the past couple of weeks, eagle-42 seems to be commuting between Winona, Minn., and Fond du Lac, Wis. You can check out the maps at the Audubon Web site:

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Eagles in fight

My colleague Dave Ruble spotted this picture on the news wires last week, and I’ve been meaning to share it on the blog ever since. It was taken on Jan. 13 at the Union Reservoir in Longmont, Colo., by Richard M. Hackett of the Longmont Times-Call and distributed by Associated Press:

The caption says: An immature bald eagle fights with two adults eagles while the birds eat a goose carcass. … Another bald eagle later joined the group before the birds dispersed.

Your bird pictures and stories rapturously welcomed at:

Mystery feather

As if it’s not hard enough (for me, I mean) identifying a mystery bird, now we’ve got a mystery feather. Dianne Buelow found this late during the fall in her backyard, which is about six miles south of Ashland:

The feather measures 11 inches long and 2 3/4 inches wide. Can anyone suggest what bird this might belong to?

All parts of birds welcome (don’t take this too literally), along with your pictures, comments and observations at



For the first time in lo these many months, I’ve had cardinals at my feeders this morning. First, the male was at one of my platform feeders. If you heard a sudden gasp from West Duluth this morning, that was me. Then the female came.

They’ve made frequent, brief visits since then. The male prefers the platform feeder:

The female seems to prefer scrounging for leftovers on the floor of the deck, and she doesn’t like to have her picture taken. You might be able to see her here, discreetly hanging about in the apple tree:

But she did finally try out the platform feeder, and I got this picture (that’s a female house finch above her):

Ah. Cardinals on a gray January morning. What a treat!


An owl at Hartley

My colleague Dave Nevanen was taking a walk last week at Hartley Park, looking to get photographs of three bucks he has seen there. Something flew over his head. He looked up and saw this perched above him:

We agreed that it’s a barred owl, although we’re willing to be corrected. Do any owl experts wish to weigh in?

Your comments, photos and bird stories welcome at: