Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Raptors and Spring

Yesterday morning I saw an adult Bald Eagle at the park. It was sitting calmly in one of the large Cottonwoods on the south side of the lake. Somebody on the Powderhorn email list reported that it was still around that evening, so it must have stayed around all day long. A bald eagle at the park isn't all that unusual, but they don't often stay very long, so I thought maybe it would still be there this morning when I went out. Soon after I arrived at the park this morning I noticed a rather large commotion from the northwest end of the lake. A group of crows was especially raucous and animated. I initially thought that perhaps they were mobbing the Bald Eagle. I was still a ways off when I saw the whole group move to another nearby tree: a large-ish bird followed by a group of angry crows. Even from that distance, it was obvious that it wasn't a Bald Eagle: it was a bit smaller, fairly evenly-colored and a lighter brown than a bald eagle. My initial thought was Red-tailed Hawk, which is even more common in the park than a Bald Eagle. As I made my way around the lake toward the tree, the bird took off again, and it became obvious that this wasn't a Red-tailed Hawk. It had very broad wings, a large head, slow and powerful wingbeats. A Great Horned Owl. The first one I've seen at the park. Unforunately the crows made sure that it didn't stay in the park very long, and it was escorted out of the park to the west before I could get a really good view of it.

More signs of spring this morning: the resident Cooper's Hawks are definitely building this year's nest in the south part of the park. I saw 9 Flickers in a tree at one time this morning. A pair of Bluebirds have returned, and the year's first flycatcher, an Eastern Phoebe, showed up a few days ago.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Day Merlin

In a nice departure from the routine, I was able to spend about 5 minutes watching a Merlin eat its (unlucky) lunch in a tall Cottonwood north of the lake over the lunch hour. After finishing the meal, it perched at the very tip of the massive tree for several minutes, looking a bit bedraggled in the light drizzle. Afterwards, it sped north out of the park.

Apparently, somebody from the park has installed a new Wood Duck nest box along the west bank of the lake.

This is the first box that I've seen that is not mounted 10+ feet up on a tree trunk. Aside from potential disturbance from people and dogs, it looks like a nice location for a Wood Duck box.

I'd still love to see some Purple Martin houses put up at the park. There are some new Purple Martin houses that were recently installed at nearby Lake Hiawatha, so it'll be interesting to see whether they're successful at attracting Purple Martins in the next year or two. This is most definitely a song I'd be happy to hear regularly around the park during the summertime.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Optimistic Geese

Two pairs of geese came down for a landing on the ice rink this morning. No doubt they're just wanderers from a flock that has overwintered in the metro area somewhere. But the sight of paired-off geese honking and waddling across the lake ice certainly put me in a spring frame of mind. In a normal year, it would probably be almost another month before geese are regulars in the park again, but this year, who knows?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Birdsong Returns

Although we can hardly say that we've had a winter so far this year, it's still exciting to see signs of spring. This morning on my walk around the park I heard at least 2 (possibly 3) counter-singing cardinals. It wasn't the first cardinal song I've heard this spring (I heard a very soft song from a male cardinal a few weeks back, and I've heard chickadee songs on-and-off since soon after the equinox), but it was the first full-throated, multiple-bird singing performance I've heard this spring. It feels good. It never ceases to amaze me how well-attuned animals are to the lengthening of days.

The ice on the lake has deteriorated drastically compared to just a few days ago. The skating area is closed (for the year?) and there are pools of water everywhere on top of the ice. This seems to be just the thing needed to draw larger numbers of crows back to the park. I noted at least 50 crows at the park this morning, when I'd been seeing less than 5 on most previous days.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Red Fox

This morning, I startled a Red Fox from along the shore of the lake. It was hidden in the vegetation along the north shore of the lake when I walked by. I got a bit too close without realizing it was there, and it quickly padded away across the frozen edge of the lake for a more secluded area.

This is another good example of why I get frustrated by all of the people who let their dogs off-leash in the park every morning. We do have native wildlife around here other than squirrels. They're generally more wary, however, and they don't often show up in areas where large domestic dogs are running free and crashing through the shoreline vegetation.

Brown Creepers continue to hang around the park; I saw 4 of them this morning. I wonder if they're more numerous this winter than years past or if I've just gotten better at noticing them...

Monday, December 12, 2011

Brown Creepers

Although the park is pretty deserted by now, a few hardy souls remain. Crows and Starlings are the most numerous. Interestingly, November, December, and January are about the only time of the year that I see Starlings in the park even though they're around the area year round. Juncos are still around, though not in the numbers they were a few weeks ago. And of course the regular Chickadees, Downy Woodpeckers, and Nuthatches remain.

Every now and then, a Brown Creeper or two shows itself. This morning, a pair of them were foraging on the cottonwoods on the north shore of the lake. They're difficult to see because they're so well camouflaged, but if you keep your ears pricked for this high-pitched noise, you may be able to catch a glimpse of one as it probes the trunk of a tree:

Direct link to mp3

Thursday, November 17, 2011


A welcome visitor from up north showed up this morning at the north end of the lake: the first Common Redpoll I've seen in the Twin Cities area in at least 3 years.

Common Redpoll
Common Redpoll
Common Redpoll
Common Redpoll
Common Redpoll

These little northern finches are relatively common in the wintertime in northern Minnesota, but they don't show up this far south every year. They tend to come south in big numbers only in years when there's less food for them to eat up north. I hope this means that we'll see more of these guys throughout the winter.

This solitary female Redpoll was feeding in the shoreline vegetation on the north side of the lake with a mixed flock of House Finches, American Goldfinches, and a couple of late Song Sparrows. She was not bothered by me in the least (as you can probably tell by how close she let me get for the pictures above).