The Golden Hour

While logical people might conclude that birding for ABWCH has slowed down due to school starting back up, the truth is that we’ve still been getting out regularly.  It’s just been, well….pretty dead out there.

Dead Starling

Though not as thought-provoking as the Starling’s situation, one might also wonder why we’ve continued to go out birding despite being busy with school, despite the lack of birds.  The answer is simple and not intriguing: a number.  Considering my profession, I am, ironically, not a numbers person when it comes to birds–I don’t readily have my year totals, know what my 200th or 300th species were, or even know exactly how many birds are on my life list.  However, with all my out-of-state travel this past year I was poised to do something kind of cool, something I don’t know that I’ll get to do again–see 300 species in a single year.  When I saw mid-summer that I was in the 280s I was motivated to chip away at it.  That may not seem like a great deficit to make up, but we were heading into the slow part of the year with not many chances for new birds.  The long-story short is that, by brute force and a bit of luck, I fought my way to 299, where I sat for weeks.

I wanted #300 to be a special bird that I was aching to see again anyway, the Red-headed Woodpecker.  Despite seeing dozens last year, I have had zero luck with them this year. And it hurts.  Bad.  Anyhow, the kids were dragged along with me on yet another fruitless RHWO search last weekend out in Swift County (Mom was at a Twins game).  While we were out, though, MN birding heavy-weight Doug Kieser posted to the listserv that there was a single American Golden-Plover and a single Black-bellied Plover at the Bird Island sewage ponds.  Either would fill the 300 slot (thanks for nothing, RHWO) and finally end that saga, so the kids and I charted a new course to Renville County.  It would, of course, mean watching more movies in the car, staying out past bedtime, and eating a to-go pizza in the van sans napkins, plates, etc.  That’s just how we roll when Mom’s gone.

We got down to Bird Island with precious minutes left.


Using my better judgment and recalling my run-in with the law at the Pennock sewage ponds last year, I decided to not let my kids watch their movie in the suspicious-looking, parked mini-van while I hiked around the ponds. So they took a little hike with me.  In no time we found a couple big Plovers on the grassy dikes between the rectangular ponds. From what I could tell, both were American Golden-Plovers.  Finally, 300 birds in a year could be crossed off the bucket-list (unless I get the crazy hair my brain to do 400 sometime).

American Golden-Plover

Even though it was not a new bird for the year, it was fun to see a Buff-breasted Sandpiper (in the background) associating with the two American Golden-Plovers.  The kids had more fun checking out snake holes.

American Golden-PloverWith the rapidly diminishing light, photos were getting harder to take and kids were getting colder. So we left the Plovers and snake holes and headed back to the van, occasionally looking behind us:

IMG_5929Time moves way too fast.  But it is that quality of time that causes us to take note of the significance of certain things: 300 birds in a year, a sunset at the end of a day, or a rare, non-posed moment of affection between a brother and a sister.

Evan MarinSo what will the rest of this year hold?  Who knows, but the adventures will continue–with or without napkins, with or without birds, and with or without two kids getting along.

November Birds

Last Monday’s blizzard didn’t get its fill of bullying as it stayed on into Tuesday.  School was canceled for the second day in a row.  While kids rejoice with such news, we adults face the reality of the miserable work of digging out from the storm.  One upside is that a blizzard brings on a frenzy of birding activity in the yard.  Natural food sources get covered up, and many birds head to the easy pickings of a feeder.  The activity was so hot that all of us found ourselves looking out the window at one point or another to see the feathered fray outside.  Here are the highlights:

A FOF (first-of-fall) American Tree Sparrow showed up.  It is such a good-looking sparrow and a great bird to have in the yard.

American Tree Sparrow

Blue Jays continued to delight even if they were having bad hair days.

Blue Jay

Previously a shy bird for the October Birds post, the Hairy Woodpecker decided to show up along with a couple others! We had a record-high count of three in the yard.

Hairy Woodpecker

This next bird has long been a family favorite, and on this day our normal pair of Eurasian Collared-Doves doubled!  It was another record-high count for the yard.  ECDOs are quite uncommon and seldom seen in most of Minnesota, so we are quite fortunate to have them in our yard.

Eurasian Collared-Dove

This next bird isn’t exactly a highlight nor very rare, but it is rare to see a European Starling in the yard. Normally I don’t photograph this bird, but it showed up during the photo shoot, so what the heck.  And actually, it’s kind of cool-looking.

European Starling

Another bird that missed last month’s photo shoot and that never gets old to see is the Northern Cardinal.

Northern Cardinal

The male, though, was just not very photogenic, always sitting in seed trash or posing with food in its beak.  Typically overshadowed by her mate, the female stole the show on this day proudly displaying her beauty with subtle hints of red.

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

Northern CardinalClearly this female has had enough of being sidelined by photographers and male Cardinals alike.

Northern Cardinal

What could be better than a pair of Northern Cardinals in the yard? How about TWO pair! This was another record high-count brought on by the storm.  Woohoo!

Northern Cardinal

The males did NOT share feeder space.Northern Cardinal

Not pictured in any of my posts are the hordes of House Sparrows that we feed.  I would guess over 50.  I actually don’t mind them because I consider them bait for something bigger, better.  I was in my bedroom folding laundry and not paying attention to the incessant noise of all the sparrows and other birds at the feeders when I heard a huge WOOOOSH as all these birds flushed simultaneously and a loud, collective “CHEEP!” which I’m pretty sure is bird-speak for “Oh S#$%!” I knew a predator had finally come in to nab a meal.  I raced to the window, thinking I’d see my Northern Shrike return.  To my amazement, a huge raptor swooped in and landed in front of our living room window.  It was a Cooper’s Hawk! I hollered for Evan to come see it, but he was in the basement and didn’t hear me.  I got out to the living room and saw this guy perched just 6 feet from the window.

Coopers Hawk

I left this next photo uncropped so you could see just how close it was – you can see the soffit of my house in the upper right of the photo.

Coopers Hawk

This was a cool sighting.  Too bad it didn’t grab a sparrow or two before it tried to fly into my living room and then leave.

Another highlight bird that showed up a week after this stormy day was a Fox Sparrow who was very late but still very much the life of the yard party.

Fox Sparrow

Storms are fun if you’re a birder.  It turns out that the day that brought us the Varied Thrush also delivered a duck gift to Minnesota on Lake Superior.  This news would start a week-long internal storm of sorts for this birder.