Powderhorn Birdwatch “Winter winds beneath my wings”

eagles-close-second-series-9941BY JOHN KARRIGAN

Of course the Eagles did not really leave near the end of October as I thought they might have, and there were two Bald Eagles (at least), as a couple of good observers told me. Another “of course”? Of course there were some screw-ups and my column was not printed in the November Southside Pride, but it is available if anyone really wants to read it, on the Southside Pride website: https://southsidepride.com/special/11/powderhorn-birdwatch-november-2013.html.
On Nov. 1, at the great Empty Bowls event, a good birding neighbor from the west edge of the park told me she had just seen two Eagles in one tree on her walk to the park building, and I, and many others, saw one or two Eagles a day almost every day between Nov.1 and Nov. 23, when the lake froze. (Please don’t do anything stupid and try walking on the ice yet. Thank you.)
An Eagle was keeping a close “Eagle eye” on the park building on election day (Nov. 5) from a large cottonwood tree near the southeast lakeshore, and that has been a favorite eagle tree for most of their visits. When I would see the Eagles leave, it would always be around (but it could be before or after) sunset. The Eagles would never leave together and would head in a southwesterly direction. At least one Eagle would often not leave, but would stay in another moderately sized tree about 125 feet uphill and southeast of the favorite lakeshore tree. And yes, I went over to that tree various nights between 10 p.m. and midnight. I sometimes found the Eagle still there, and sometimes not.
Anyway, the Eagles seem to have provided much enjoyment, pleasure, entertainment and learning to all sorts of people in October and November.
Some of the many Eagle observers would discuss whether the Eagles would ever nest in the park and most did not think so, but I would join the optimists that think it could possibly happen. In the meantime, depending on weather variables, you can find from a few to a lot of Bald Eagles at many places along the Mississippi River, from Hastings to the Iowa Border and beyond, even in winter, where there is open water.
There were some other birds beside Eagles although sometimes not many. Early in November, there were lots of Canada Geese, sometimes numbering over 80, in a grass-munching group, and groups arriving at sunset from pairs to flocks of 25 to 60 birds coming in for the night. The Ring-billed Gull flocks got up to over 60 on some early November evenings. The Wood Ducks all left before the freeze and a small group of Mallards stayed right to the end of the open water. A big surprise, at least to me, was a pair of Bufflehead Ducks, on the lake from at least Nov. 20 to freeze-up.
Another surprise flying, but not birds, were bats after dark on Nov. 15. This was a warm-for-November day and I had seen various insects while doing yard work: grasshoppers, flies, hornets and such. Then I saw a mosquito when I got to the park. I saw two bats at once and bats over various parts of the lake, so I assume I was seeing a modest group of hungry bats that were succeeding in their insect catching.
Next, my even bigger Nov. 15 surprise: a large meteor, straight west of the park, coming straight down. If someone reported it had landed in a suburb 20 miles west or a farm field 100 miles west, I would have believed it. Various people did see it and report it, but the meteor was probably thousands and thousands of miles away. At least nobody has reported it found in their field yet. That is the end of my Nov. 15 surprises, but there was another one on Nov. 16, coming up for the exciting finish.
Other birds in the park include one or more Brown Creeper early in the month, and Juncos that arrived in October and are now in the back yard at times even though they don’t have much snow to jump around in yet. White-breasted Nuthatches also visit the yard, along with non- gold Goldfinches, Cardinals, English Sparrows and Crows.
Crows. Did I say Crows? Sometimes I see a few; sometimes I see a lot; sometimes I see none. I suppose it depends on wind, weather, time of day and who knows what else. But Nov. 20 was a big Crows-in-the-park (and area) day. There were thousands and thousands of them in the park and neighborhood shortly before sunset. They filled various trees, moved to other trees, and the trees they left would then be filled again by others, etc. The Eagle was in his or her usual tree and the Eagle and Crows seemed to pay absolutely no attention to each other. The Eagle left at sunset. Shortly after that, on some secret signal, every Crow was gone.
Back to my Nov. 16 surprise. The Eagle had moved from one of the tall light poles to his night time tree. I thought I would walk around the lake and check on the Eagle when I got back around. It was dark. On the north side of the lake, something flew from near the shore, right past me to a small tree. At first I thought, bat? But it seemed too big to be a bat. My binoculars worked, even in the dark. It was a small owl. I studied it from every angle. It got tired of me staring in the dark and moved to another tree nearby, got tired of me again and moved to another bigger, farther away tree. The owl was vocalizing, a strange, pretty, moderate whinny-ing sound. I had no idea what it was. I knew it was not the sound of the small Northern Saw-whet Owls that had been in a near part of the park several years ago. This owl got tired of me again and moved farther away, hid and shut up. I headed back past the Eagle (it was still in its night tree), went home and grabbed my best bird book. Within minutes I knew it was an Eastern Screech Owl, ½ inch taller (8-1/2” vs. 8”) and nearly twice as heavy as the Northern Saw-whet Owls that used to be in the park. So now every time I go looking for the Eagles, I also go looking for the Eastern Screech Owl. I will probably never see either of them in or around the park until spring time, if then.
The park board/neighborhood path project meeting (on Nov. 21) went quite well. Before the path discussion part of the meeting, the Powderhorn Park director, Adam Lares, gave a very good and well-received report on what has been happening and is going to be happening in the city’s greatest park. Lots of great activities for all varieties and ages of Powderhornians. Park board staff is going to try to solve any drainage, snow, ice, water flow or other problems that come with the new path. Specific measures will be determined after the winter season.

Comments and observations are always welcome. Send them to me, in care of Southside Pride. Thank you.


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