Powderhorn Birdwatch “The park crawls back to life”


Yes, I complain about the weather at the start of many of my writings lately, and that includes today (April 29). Yesterday I managed to make a dry walk (on another cold, windy, wet day) and saw various interesting birds. The first new ones for the year were a pair of Bufflehead Ducks, a striking member (to me, anyway) of the duck family that generally makes a few spring and fall trips to Powderhorn.
Away from wildlife and on to people for a minute. In April in the park I saw many people I had not seen for months and that was very nice. Hopefully the weather will return to some normalcy and I will continue to see many living creatures of all kinds in the park.
Also, by the time people read this, if they do, hopefully the 40th Annual MayDay Parade will have happened on a nice warm day and brought many more people and fantastic creatures to Powderhorn. I am somewhat troubled by the condition and look of the park after a hard construction period late last fall, a hard winter and a hard spring (so far). I know the park will eventually return to its usual fantastic beauty, but I don’t think it will be there by MayDay Parade time.
Maybe I should get back to wildlife. Most of the wildlife are doing fine and they may not care about human views of park beauty. Or maybe I should just give up on writing. Right now it is windy, 34 degrees and snowing. I guess I will try to continue. Many of the usual birds and wildlife have appeared in Powderhorn, and many have not yet appeared. I will start with some, to me anyway, very unusual arrivals, both of which I found on April 14. The first find turned out to be an American Pipit. I got a very good long look at it on the west lakeshore area and knew I would have to find it in a book (or four books actually). It was sparrow size, but did not have the sparrow-shaped bill, as the 49 species of sparrows in the “Sibley Guide to Birds” have. This book has a “Sparrowlike Birds” section in the sparrow section, and the Pipit was the first pictured and listed bird. I already knew the other five birds listed as sparrow-like. Maybe the Pipit (or lots of Pipits) passes through Powderhorn every year, but it was new to me. There are many, many Pipits, but they winter in the deep South and summer in the far north of North America.
The other bird that day, actually a pair of birds, turned out to be Neotropic Cormorants. Obviously as their name implies, they are not found in this part of the country very often. On my first, long-distance views (in the water—all of my views were in-the-water views), I thought they could be Black Ducks or Coots, but that did not seem right. I finally got really good, very close views, and saw they were some kind of Cormorant. The regular Double-crested Cormorants had not arrived yet. (However, they are now there almost every day.) The Neotropic Cormorants are about one-third smaller than our regular Double-crested Cormorants, have a different head shape, and different face and bill features. I only saw them that one time and who knows if we will ever see them again.
That day, or night, was also the day (and night) of the total eclipse of the moon. Maybe that had something to do with the unusual bird sightings. The eclipse was very beautiful and very cold. The upcoming October eclipse might turn out to be the same. A regular and loyal park observer and neighbor suggested watching the eclipse from the park hilltop where the long stairway comes up from the new lake sidewalk. It was a good place, but very cold, and I was the only person there. I did most of my watching in short trips out the back door.
Back to birds again. My next unusual sighting was in the back yard, not the park, a few days after the park arrivals. On April 17, the day after the last big storm that struck much of the state, an American Woodcock was in the back yard. The Woodcock is a member of the shorebird family but is not really a shorebird. It is more of a damp, brushy, woodsy bird, with great camouflage and a very long straight bill. It was first sighted under trees on the far edge of the rain garden, blending in well against packed-down, wet dead leaves. Finding a Woodcock in the middle of a large city is really rare. The Woodcock was in good health and flying shape. It was in the yard at least four hours in the afternoon. We figure the large storm had somehow misled the bird on Wednesday night, and that it spent all day in the urban back yard and now is in the middle of woods far, far away.
Back to more normal park and neighborhood birds and critters. A few Yellow-rumped Warblers have been in the park and in the yard. Usually quite a lot will visit the area and stay for a while. This will probably happen, and quite a few other warblers and other small birds will be passing through.
Song Sparrows and Chipping Sparrows are now regulars at the park. White-throated Sparrows have been in the yard and probably the park. I believe all the Juncos (another sparrow) have finally left the area to go way farther north. In the last few days, I have seen Hermit Thrushes in the park and the yard.
A Great Blue Heron, a Great Egret and at least two Black-crowned Night Herons are now regulars at the lake, along with the usual Canada Geese, Mallards, Wood Ducks, Ring-billed Gulls and the aforementioned Double-crested Cormorants. A Kingfisher has been regular the last few days—storm or not. Other water birds that have been quite regular in April are Coots, Pied-billed Grebes and Mergansers (I think Hooded Mergansers). None of these birds are summer regulars, but they probably will return in the fall. On April 21, I saw a very large school of Goldfish in the northwestern area of the lake—lots of fresh food for some of the above-mentioned birds.
I was seeing a Bald Eagle quite regularly but have not seen one these last few nasty days. The Cooper’s Hawks now have an active nest near the playground area just northeast of the park building.
Some people have talked to me about two Crows hassling an Eagle or some smaller black birds hassling an Eagle. I have seen two Crows and a Ring-billed Gull hassling a flying Eagle. Another good park walker has seen the Crows hassling a perched Eagle. In all cases, the Eagle has ignored all the hassling. I have also seen two Crows (Is it always the same two Crows?) hassling a Cooper’s Hawk on my block and in the park, without much success. The park walker mentioned above wondered if all the hassling was to help protect the hassling birds’ nests and kind, which, to me, is as good a reason as any.
Now for some non-bird items. The bats are back out on nice evenings and the Painted Turtles are out on nice days, but there have not been many nice days or evenings. I finally saw a muskrat on April 22. I am fairly sure there is more than one muskrat.

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


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