Powderhorn Birdwatch “Spring is for the brrrrds”

KestrelBY JOHN KARRIGAN

I wasn’t finding too much to write about except for more snow and excessive cold in January and February, so I did not write anything. I was starting to think the same might be true for March, but the last few days, some spring things are starting to happen. (I am writing this on April 1.)
First, a non-Powderhorn winter event: The irruption (sudden increase) of Snowy Owls brought lots of owls to various parts of Minnesota. We had a great time, along with various other birders on March 6, watching one perched at the very top of a pine tree, in the town of Ramsey, a small town just northwest of Anoka. That was my only owl sighting for the winter, but I am hoping for some owl sightings in the park this spring and summer. Of course I went to the Art Sled event in Powderhorn in late January and saw lots of people, art sleds and neighbors, but only one bird, a Hairy Woodpecker, in the entire park. One or two Hairy Woodpeckers or a few Crows would often be my only sightings during the months of January and February.
Canada Geese and Mallard Ducks started making exploratory flights after the first third of March, and some are there almost all the time, waiting for more open water than the tiny amounts now available. About a dozen Wood Ducks returned on March 30 or 31. March 30 was the first 60-degree day, but I was fighting some weird illness and did not go to the park that day. However, I did go the day before and saw my first of the year, in the park and in the neighborhood, American Robin. That day, March 29, was also the first day I heard my neighborhood chickens, which made it through the winter very well, the chicken wrangler reported.
Now back to the Robin, or to a story that has nothing much to do with birds but has a lot to do with the park and neighborhood. I was walking east, by the lake—on the new path, of course. I saw a small group of people on the grass and snow, north of the path, but I was looking for birds or animals, until a woman in the group asked if I was John. I carefully admitted that I, indeed, was John, and soon found out I was the John she thought I was. She told the others what a great writer I am, which of course made me feel good, and asked for my help in taking pictures of them, a musical group. I am not much of a photographer but I did my best and I learned about the group. They were Tjärnblom, a “string band Scandinavian style.” The four members play a one-octave mandolin, a harmonium and two nyckelharpas. (A nyckelharpa is a Swedish key fiddle. Recent versions have 16 strings, four of which are played with a short bow in the right hand. The remaining 12 understrings are played on 37 keys in three rows with the left hand.) And we all got to see the Robin.
Yes, I go on neighborhood walks to see stars, birds, mammals, insects, amphibians, turtles, trees, flowers, etc., and to get exercise. But I also get to see all kinds of musicians, artists, poets, writers, dancers, puppeteers, and who knows what else.
Back to birds. Whoops! Not back to birds just yet. There is a total eclipse of the moon coming on the night of April 14-15 (and another one coming in October). Maybe someone could organize an eclipse watching event in the park, and hope for nice weather and a cloudless sky.
Now, back to birds again: On March 31, besides good numbers of Mallards, Wood Ducks and Canada Geese, there was at least one pair of Hairy Woodpeckers, one Brown Creeper, and a flock of about 30 Ring-billed Gulls. The Gulls were not landing as there was almost no open water.
Back to today, April 1, and this is all good information. It has nothing to do with April Fool’s Day. My very good birding neighbor (and his very nice wife and one of his very nice children) were just leaving the park when I arrived this evening. They had seen a Great Blue Heron, two Song Sparrows, two Cooper’s Hawks, one Muskrat, and they heard a Robin. I was hoping to find all of these, but all I found was the Great Blue Heron, probably the first day it was here.
But a few minutes later—sound the trumpets—I saw a Bald Eagle, coming from the north, flying closely over the island and landing high in a tree on the south lake shore, near where the ice skating warming house used to be, and the port-a-potty still is. The Eagle seemed to know the territory and I assume it is one of the Eagles from last fall. I walked to the south lake shore, pointed the Eagle out to a few people, and watched the Eagle for a while as darkness was coming. It looked like it was thinking of staying there all night but I don’t know if it did. I like to think I was there to see the first trip back to Powderhorn by one of last fall’s Bald Eagles.
Now to the back yard. I did not see any Eagles in the yard, but on March 21, a distant relative of the Eagle, a Kestrel (a member of the falcon group), came past a second floor window, at high speed, about five feet from the house in the early evening, going east. I ran down and out the back of the house. The Kestrel had stopped in the neighbor’s pine tree. It promptly left, continuing east, just over the rooftops for the block that I could see. We have had Peregrine Falcons and some hawks in the yard, but I believe this is a first for a Kestrel.
Most of the other yard birds are more normal. A Nuthatch shows up once in a while; some years and seasons they show up a lot. English Sparrows, Juncos, House Finches and Goldfinches have been quite regular all winter. One of the Goldfinches has almost all of his spring gold feathers. The Cardinals are pretty regular now. There were about a dozen Juncos in the yard today; that is way more than usual. They are probably getting ready for their northern trip, way farther north than Minneapolis. Two Fox Sparrows made a nice backyard visit today. They will probably be going lots farther north also.
Maybe spring is really almost here this time. I hope so.
This just in: “The State of The Bees” with Dr. Marla Spivak, an entomologist and honey bee expert at the University of Minnesota, will take place at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, April 16, at the Walker Art Center Cinema. Concerned citizens and backyard beekeepers alike can learn about honey bees, their role in the global food supply, and the serious threats they are facing. Dr. Spivak will also provide information about what can be done to help the bees. This is a free event. To register, go to: http://nhale.co/1iKaETb.

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

 

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