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).

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Shoreline Burn

The park board was doing a controlled burn of some of the shoreline vegation around the lake this afternoon.

Controlled Burn

I was pleasantly surprised to see a bufferfly still around, even if it is a common one. I believe this is a Clouded Sulfur, though it could be another type of sulfur.

Clouded Sulfur

The lonely American Coot that's been on the lake for the last 2 weeks or more hasn't left yet.

American Coot

Coots certainly aren't rare around here, but they don't often show up in the park. In fall, we generally get a couple of single birds that seem to have lost their way. In larger lakes nearby, you'll often see large rafts of coots numbering in the hundreds or thousands at this time of year.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Backyard Waxwings

Speaking of Cedar Waxwings, here's a shot of my backyard bird bath from over the lunch hour today:

Cedar Waxwings

Migration wind-down

The bulk of migration has passed by now. There are probably a few ducks and geese that may come through yet, but by-and-large the warblers are gone, and even the sparrows are mostly gone for the year. From here on, it'll be mostly the year-round residents (Chickadees, Crows, Downy Woodpeckers, etc), and possibly a few northern species that come down to our latitude for the winter.

Purple Finch (female)
Female Purple Finch
by Syd Phillips (CC BY-SA)

In the last category, I spotted 4 female (or juvenile) Purple Finches this morning. The similar House Finch is regular year-round, but this is the first time I've seen Purple Finches in the park. Hopefully a rose-colored male or two will show up to join the brown females; perhaps they'll even stick around through the winter.

This past week has also been a good one for migrating Cedar Waxwings. There have been roving gangs of 30 or more waxwings hanging around the juniper trees in the southeast corner of the park (and in other spots as well). Also of note: An American Coot has been hanging out near the dock behind the park building, and there are still a couple of Double-crested Cormorants hanging out on the island.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Turtle Hatch

Over lunch hour, I was walking around the park, as usual. On the upper level near the tennis courts, a man approached me and excitedly showed me a baby snapping turtle he had discovered on or near the sidewalk. It was probably about 3 inches long, half of which was tail and looked just like this:

baby snapping turtle by Elizabeth Weller - BY-NC-ND

The man was afraid that the baby snapper would get trampled (not by turtles), so he scooped him up for a free ride to the lake. Apparently the turtle had been found very close to the spot where I met him, so there may be more baby snappers emerging from a nearby nest over the next little while. If you're walking or biking on the upper level of the park near the tennis courts, keep your eyes open.

Fall is officially here. Both according to the calendar and according to the birds. White-throated Sparrows (my official herald of fall) have begun to pass through the park, as have decent numbers of Yellow-rumped Warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets. Large flocks of Chipping Sparrows this morning also signal southern sparrow movement. I'd have been lucky to see one or two of them a week ago. Herons have become scarce in the last a couple of weeks, and a Pied-billed Grebe has been on the lake occasionally.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


After a few more new birds spotted this fall, the park list is up to 125 different species. That's not bad for a park in the middle of the city that's not exactly managed to be a natural area. It shows that there can be a lot of wildlife around even when people don't realize it. On the other hand, on any given trip to the park, you're not likely to see very much variety; it's only over repeated trips that you're likely to see anything other than the most common birds.

The number of individual birds migrating through the park this fall has seemed a bit low, but the variety has not been too bad. Thus far this fall, I've seen 17 different kinds of warbler at the park. Ring-billed Gulls are increasing, and this morning I watched a Mallard steal a meal from a gull. I'm not entirely sure why the Mallard wanted the tiny bullhead; it didn't seem to eat the fish, which is unsurprising. I had expected the gull to put up more of a fight, but it just walked away.

I also watched a Cooper's Hawk make a couple of unsuccessful passes at a squirrel that didn't seem overly bothered by the encounter. In the past week, I've seen up to 5 Cooper's Hawks in the park at a time; small groups of juveniles getting ready to head south for the winter.

In addition, a female Northern Shoveler has been hanging out among the mallards for the last couple of days, and I saw my first Ruby-crowned Kinglet of the season a few days ago. I'm still waiting for the first migratory sparrows to show up. Here's to hoping that the fall doesn't pass too quickly.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Fall Warblers

As far as I'm concerned, today marks the start of fall. Sure, there have been signs that summer has been coming to a close for the past week or two (reports of a sandpiper at the lake, Eastern Phoebes showing up after being MIA for the entire breeding season, an Empidonax flycatcher or two, a probable Ruby-throated Hummingbird that buzzed me last week, etc). But this morning I saw my first migratory warblers of the season.

Canada Warbler (male) by Jeremy Meyer, on Flickr

A single Canada Warbler (which is a new bird for me at Powderhorn Park) and a single Black-and-white Warbler were foraging in the trees on the hillside next to the tennis courts this morning. Hopefully more will join them over the next couple of days.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Merlin

The heat, humidity, and mosquitoes have cut down a bit on my walks through the park lately. Not to mention the fact that I've mostly seen the same 10-15 species every time I've gone out for the past month or so. But this morning there was a new visitor hanging out in the southeast corner of the park. High up on a dead snag at the top of a spruce tree next to the playground was a small falcon with a strongly banded tail: the first Merlin I've seen at Powderhorn Park. It didn't stick around for long after I had spotted it; it soon flew out of the park to the southwest.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Random Barn Swallow

A cheery Barn Swallow down at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Bloomington this weekend:

Direct link to mp3 file.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Cooper's Hawk Down

While walking around the park today, I happened upon a couple of guys with a cardboard box.  As I passed, I noticed a very young Cooper's Hawk sitting on the ground next to the trunk of one of the large Cottonwood trees.  It just sat there looking stunned.  Most of the flight feathers had grown in, but it still had a few tufts of down in various spots.  The bird had clearly fallen out of the nest a bit before it was ready to fly.

I stopped to chat a bit.  They had called the Rapter Center at the U of M and were apparently advised to try to bring the hawk in so the vet could check it out to see if it was injured or not.  I have mixed feelings about intervening in a case like this, and separating the bird from its parent.  I personally felt that the bird probably wasn't badly injured and was probably just stunned from the shock its world suddenly turned upside down.  If it had been possible to put it back up near its nest, perhaps that would have been the best option, but considering the height of the lowest branches on the Cottonwood, and the number of off-leash dogs that roam the park, taking the little guy to the raptor center was probably the best option.  And besides, maybe it was actually injured, who knows?

Another passer-by offered to scoop up the hawk, so he donned some gloves and placed the little guy into the box, and off they drove.

I think there are still a couple of young in the nest (at least I did see the mother still standing vigil near the nest), so the mother should still have plenty to keep her occupied for the next little while.  But the young hawks are clearly about to fledge.  Keep your eyes open and you might notice some awkward little hawks around the park learning to hunt (and doing so rather poorly for a while).

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Chipping Sparrows Emerge

There have been quite a few chipping sparrow fledglings around the park lately. I'm hearing the little guys begging everywhere. I found a Chipping Sparrow nest a couple of days ago with at least 4 young birds in it. It was in one of the small evergreen trees at the top of the tall stairs (NE of lake), but as of today it's empty.

Since my last update, I've also gotten better views of the Cooper's Hawk nest, and I've seen up to 3 juveniles in the nest with the mother.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Cooper's Hawk Nest Update

This morning I caught sight of at least one young Cooper's Hawk in the nest just south of the lake. It was still wearing its downy white plumage, so it'll be a little while before it leaves the nest.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Bluebirds Emerge

I saw at least four Eastern Bluebird fledglings (accompanied by both parents) on my walk around the park this morning.

Eastern Bluebird Fledglings
Two of the newly-fledged Eastern Bluebirds

A Black-crowned Night-heron was also present.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Random Chipping Sparrow

I nearly stepped on this little guy this morning. Love that rusty crown.

Chipping Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Heat Wave

Well, it's certainly been feeling a lot like summer all of a sudden. The flashy migrants have moved on and we've been hit with 100-degree temperatures. So things have slowed down significantly, but there's still been a slow trickle of milestones from the resident breeding birds:
  • I heard my first House Wren at the park this morning bubbling away near the tennis courts (though I didn't manage to see him).
  • Barn Swallows have been regular over the lake and coursing over the soccer fields on the north end of the park. I also saw a small group of Northern Rough-winged Swallows on May 31 -- a first for me at the park.
  • Chimney Swifts are a near constant presence over the park, sometimes dipping down to scoop up a drink of water from the lake.
  • A flock of Cedar Waxwings has been resident in one of the (hackberry?) trees on the south side of the park for the past week or so.
  • I saw my first Wood Duck fledglings of the year on June 6.
  • No sign yet of the Eastern Bluebird fledglings, though I did notice the female repeatedly dive-bombing a squirrel that was a bit too close to the nest cavity for comfort.
  • I've seen American Robins carrying food in their bills, so there must be active nests in the park, though I haven't managed to locate one.
This morning I observed a male Red-winged Blackbird enthusiastically singing and displaying in the reeds at the north end of the lake. I suspect that this particular spot holds a Song Sparrow nest, as I've seen a pair of them in the same area numerous times recently (once carrying a couple of caterpillars in its bill). This morning, one of the song sparrows was persistently giving its 'chimp' call at the blackbird ("Would you mind? I'm trying to raise a family here"), and the blackbird repeatedly chased the song sparrow away from its scolding perch. I've seen Red-winged Blackbirds quite regularly this spring, but they tend to be calling from high in the treetops. This is the first time I've seen one down in the reeds giving an obvious mating display. I didn't see any audience for his display, however.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Last of the Migrants

Well, it's been a fun few weeks, but it looks like migration is finally drawing to a close up here. A couple new birds have still shown up in the last week (Blackpoll Warblers, Red-eyed Vireos, Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, Eastern Wood-Pewees), but these are mostly a sign of the end of migration. In fact, for the first time in over a month, I actually had a day yesterday where I saw no warblers at all.

The good news is that the Eastern Bluebirds are indeed nesting in the same cavity that they used last year. I've observed both the male and female bringing insects to the hole over the past couple of days, so I suspect that the eggs have already hatched. We should be seeing the young birds venture out of the nest in the next week or so.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Homeless Herons

The last couple of days, I've seen quite a few more Great Blue Herons flying over the park than normal. On Wednesday I saw 8 herons flying over the lake, and one in the lake, by far the most herons I've ever seen at Powderhorn at one time. Presumably these are mostly Herons from the Minneapolis heron rookery that was destroyed by the tornado looking for new places to live.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Bay-breasted Warblers

The warblers have been thinning out recently, but the storms this weekend dropped a fairly large number of them in the park on Sunday afternoon. Going out between rain storms, I found several trees hopping with activity. Several Magnolia and Chestnut-sided warblers were around, but the highlight was at least 3 male Bay-breasted Warblers, a first for the park.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Summer Tanager

On May 12, I happened across a rather rare (for Minnesota) bird hanging out at Powderhorn park. This first-spring Summer Tanager was hanging out with a male Scarlet Tanager near the park building:

First-spring Summer Tanager
Summer Tanager

I went back the next morning and found him in a tree by the basketball court. I'm quite sure he has moved on by now, but it was a nice surprise to stumble upon a bird whose normal range doesn't extend much north of Missouri.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

They keep coming

The last couple of days have been pretty spectacular for new migrant arrivals. The treetops are often filled with warblers these days, so look up! In the last two days alone, the following birds have arrived at Powderhorn Park for the first time this year:

  • Savannah Sparrow*
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Great Crested Flycatcher
  • Tennessee Warbler (among the Nashville and Orange-crowned warblers)
  • Ovenbird
  • Blackburnian Warbler*
  • Golden-winged Warbler*
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • Scarlet Tanager*
  • Green Herons (2 on the island)

* birds I've not previously seen at Powderhorn

Scarlet Tanager
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Rose-breasted Grosbeak

In addition, Swainson's Thrushes are still around, and I even saw a pair of Downy Woodpeckers mating this morning.

Monday, May 9, 2011

First Hatchlings

Over the weekend, I noticed that at least one set of Mallard chicks and one set of Canada Goose chicks have hatched.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Week Recap

In addition to the previously-mentioned Sandpipers, notable birds that showed up at Powderhorn Park this week include quite a few warblers: Northern Parula, Black-and-white Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Yellow Warbler, and Black-throated Green Warbler (a new park bird for me). New non-warblers include Blue-headed Vireo, Least Flycatcher, Chimney Swift, Clay-colored Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Lincoln's Sparrow, Brown Thrasher (another new park bird), Gray Catbird, Winter Wren, several Swainson's Thrushes, and the first Black-crowned Night-Heron of the year. An Ovenbird also wandered through my back yard on Tuesday morning.

Brown Thrasher, trying to avoid my camera

Yellow-rumped Warblers were still plentiful this week as well.

A cooperative Yellow-rumped Warbler

Friday, May 6, 2011

Daytime Bat

I caught a glimpse of a bat out of the corner of my eye the other day, but it disappeared as it flew past a tree. So I went to investigate...

Little Brown Bat
Little Brown Bat (?)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Sandpipers Redux

The sandpipers returned after May Day. Today there were 3 Solitary Sandpipers and a single Spotted Sandpiper. The Solitaries were considerably more obliging with the photo opportunities.

Solitary Sandpiper
Coming in for a landing

Solitary Sandpiper
Foraging along the north end of the lake

Saturday, April 30, 2011

If it's the day before May Day, it must be Sandpiper Day

For the second year in a row, I found a small flock of sandpipers along the shores of Powderhorn lake on the day before May Day. Last year it was a pair of Solitary Sandpipers; this year a small flock of 5 Spotted Sandpipers. I'm not entirely sure what the significance of this is, but it seems a good omen in any case.

The rainstorm overnight and this morning must have brought a lot of new migrants into the area, because the park was hopping with activity this afternoon when I walked around. Yellow-rumped Warblers have been around for a few weeks already, but this morning brought a few others to join their ranks. Palm and Pine warblers have made an appearance, and White-throated Sparrows showed up in force today, with at least 20 hopping around up near the tennis courts and singing their ode to Canada.

The pair of bluebirds has returned to their territory on the upper part of the park along 14th Ave. I'm keeping my eyes open for signs of nest-building, but haven't spotted anything yet. Last year they fledged 3 young, so I wouldn't be surprised if they nested in the park again this year. Speaking of nests, the Cooper's hawks appear to be incubating eggs in a nest in one of the large Cottonwood trees along the lakeshore.

My most unexpected sighting of the day came when I accidentally flushed a Sora (a small bird in the Rail family) from some tall vegatation on the hill along the north side of the lake. Admittedly, this picture is pretty awful, but come on, it's a Rail. They don't just let anyone take their picture.

Sora at Powderhorn Park
The first Sora I've ever seen in Powderhorn Park

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Return of the Goose

Spring is officially on the horizon. A small contingent of very vocal Canada Geese have taken up residency on the lake ice down at Powderhorn Park.

I was out of town on business for a couple of weeks, so I was eager to get back and see how the transition to spring was coming along. Fortunately, I didn't miss the transition to spring, but it's definitely getting close to breaking out. On my first trip around the lake since getting back, I had my first double-digit species tally of the year (12!), including Ring-billed Gulls, Canada Geese, and Mallards. I also accidentally flushed a Cooper's Hawk from its perch, and watched as it flew off with some prey in its talons.

The Ring-billed Gulls have joined the Crows in trying to extract many of the small fish from the lake ice. There should be plenty to keep them busy for a while. During the last thaw, literally thousands of dead fish floated up to the lake surface and were re-frozen into the ice. I hope there are still some fish that survived the winter...

I'm eagerly awaiting the first Eastern Phoebe of the year. When he arrives, I guess spring will be here for good.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Winter Distractions

As we enter the longest part of winter, I'm struck by how much expectations change at this time of year. Living in a northern border state means that the birds get pretty scarce during the winter months. A walk around the park at this time of year nets about 3 to 5 different species on a good day, a total that would have been counted a pretty lousy outing mere months ago. Some days I see nothing but American Crows. But any time I see more than 2 or 3 species on my lunchtime walks this time of year feels like a pretty good day. Bonus points when a chickadee sings and sings its cheerful song while flitting around my head:

Some people may deal with the depths of winter by simply staying inside and waiting for spring to come. I admit there's an appeal to that, but ever since reading "A Sand County Almanac", I've really appreciated Aldo Leopold's approach to January:

The months of the year, from January up to June, are a geometric progression in the abundance of distractions. In January one may follow a skunk track, or search for bands on the chickadees, or see what young pines the deer have browsed, or what muskrat houses the mink have dug, with only an occasional and mild digression into other doings. January observation can be almost as simple and peaceful as snow, and almost as continuous as cold. There is time not only to see who has done what, but to speculate why.

In my case, I get to sit and enjoy a sweet chickadee's song under a snow-covered pine tree without being distracted by all of the other things I could be seeing. In many ways, that's a pretty rare treat.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Bookend Birds

The last bird I saw in 2010 was an adult Bald Eagle soaring high over Powderhorn Park on the afternoon of December 31. The first bird I saw out my back window on the first of the year was an American Crow. Both sort of fitting in their own way, I think.

So, in honor of the crows, here are a few that I recorded on my walk around the park over lunch hour today (check out the nice croak around 0:18):

The was a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in the park for a while in early December, but I've not seen it since December 19. But there's another bird that's been showing up since the new year to spice things up a little bit. I've twice seen a Brown Creeper in the past few days. Hopefully it sticks around for the rest of the winter.