Powderhorn Birdwatch “Buffalo Alert”

Buffalo in South Dakota crossing the street.BY JOHN KARRIGAN

I don’t have any good excuses for not writing a column for September.  My main excuse was that I was depressed by too many people killing people—locally, nationally and worldwide.  Maybe that is an OK excuse.
I could go back and cover some things from August.  OK, I will.  Of course the water level in Powderhorn Lake was abnormally high all month as it has been for months, and continued to be all of September.  Some people think this is bad, and some people think this is good. I don’t have a good opinion one way or the other.
The Powderhorn Art Fair went well early last month, as it has been doing for years.
National Night Out happened just after the Art Fair.  And, once again, the 3500 blocks of 14th and 15th Avenues (combined) had the finest National Night Out in the country.  A Bald Eagle passed over the block party area to check things out, just before the party started. People came from at least one faraway country to attend the event.  The party ended as usual with a fine fire dancing performance by student members of the Minneapolis Fire Collective, which was enjoyed by all the neighborhood people and out-of-town guests and a moderate sized group of Powderhorn bats (the flying Chiroptera mammal kind of bats).  The next morning, at sunrise, I saw a flock of Chimney Swifts over the park that had also heard about the outstanding National Night Out party.  Enough about that. I don’t want to anger all the other blocks that have normal National Night Out events.
Several people told me of seeing flocks of Cedar Waxwings in the park in early August. I did not see them this year but have in other years.  Ring-billed Gulls returned to the lake as they often do.  Very small young toads and frogs were also visible in some lake shore areas, especially on damp days or nights if you were looking very closely.  Rocky Raccoon also came through the yard in mid-August. I have not seen him since.
Chimney Swifts were still hanging around in late August, but I think they are gone now. It was probably on my last August rambling, a late-month visit, that two Green Herons walked within about five feet of me on one of their lakeshore walks. Heron and Egret spotting in September in the park has been way down for me with some Black-crowned Night Heron sightings and very few Great Blue Heron Visits.  In some far more rural areas there are still lots of Great Blues and Great Egrets.
I don’t have too many local September items as I was gone for about half the month. Many of the colorful adult male Wood Ducks have returned to Powderhorn lately. Every summer they go up north and leave their mates to hatch their eggs and do the difficult job of duckling raising. They will get together as family units once it gets somewhat colder, and then go south. Many Canada Geese are now spending a lot more time at Powderhorn as they also get ready to go south. So far, I have not been able to identify many migrating birds at Powderhorn. There are now a few Nashville Warblers close to the lake at month’s end. There may be many birds I am missing or many more that will be passing by. I understand that Minne the Lake Creature is leaving, but she was still in the lake on Sept. 29.
The backyard birding is going OK. The Goldfinch numbers have gone down from the frenzied feeding that was going on in late summer, but that has been replaced by two male Cardinals feeding the young two or three feet in front of you if you stand quietly by the window. Also, the Downy Woodpeckers still allow you to watch them at the feeder from a few feet away.
Oops, I almost forgot another bird event. I again saw Wild Turkeys by the West River Road, this time near the Dinkytown end of the road, on Sept. 26.
On the last Saturday in September, the Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis held a gathering at the under-construction new Vikings stadium to protest the large amount of glass that will be used in the stadium. The Audubon chapter and most sensible people want bird-safe glass to be used.  The large amounts of glass would be bad for birds in any location and much worse at the stadium’s location in the Mississippi River flyway, one of the four main flyways that birds use for migrating through the United States. I don’t know if good sensible people are going to win this battle but I was pleased to see a good turnout at the event, including people from my block, from other parts of the Powderhorn neighborhood, and with other Powderhorn connections.  Time will tell. There seems to be at least some hope that things will go in favor of the birds.
Another event, which the downtown bozos can do nothing about is coming soon: a total eclipse of the moon on the night of Oct. 7-8.
I suppose I could explain why I missed half of September in Powderhorn. I was wandering through other parts of Minnesota and five other states. I found birds and animals in all of them and relatives in three of the states. None of the relatives were in custody of the authorities at the time so that part went fairly well.
I spent the most time in the Rockies, and the Black Hills and Badlands. Weather was great at almost all times. Birding wasn’t quite as good as usual in my usual Colorado area, and I did not see any American Dippers, the only songbird that swims and dives. I usually see a fair number of them.  I only got a very short black bear view, but I got the closest and best moose view I have ever had, including a very close look at a complete moose family (big bull, female/cow, and a yearling); quite a few elk plus one very large and very close bull; a few yellow-bellied marmots, which I hadn’t seen for years; and a few pikas.
The Black Hills were also beautiful and interesting as usual. The highpoint (or it could have turned out to be a very low point) was a late afternoon drive around the Custer State Park Wildlife Loop Road, a supposed 45-minute drive.  It started out with a number of Mountain Blue Birds, some sitting right on the signs at the beginning of the loop. Soon we passed peaceful prairie dog towns and two buffalo (or bison), and lots of great scenery.  Every now and then there would be a vehicle stopped to look at mule deer, prairie dogs, what have you.  About a third of the way along the loop, we saw     20 or 30 buffalo on one side of the road, a ways ahead of us.  Then we saw 40 or 50 buffalo on the other side of the road.  Soon buffalo were crossing the road at various spots, from either side, and vehicles were stopped to let them pass.  Soon we were in the small group of stopped vehicles, two moderate-sized RVs, one motorcycle and a handful of cars and SUVs.  And we and the other people realized this was not two small groups of buffalo. We were pointed more or less east and the buffalo were headed more or less east and coming from the north and south. And coming and coming.
We soon saw they were coming from all sorts of draws and hills. And they kept coming. We think there were from 800 to 1,000.  This is not an exact count.  We later learned the park personnel think they have about 1,300 buffalo.  At one point, on some secret signal they all started running.  I thought this would be a big dangerous stampede, but it only lasted a few seconds before they went back to slow walking. At some point, one would be walking on the left of the car, one on the right, and one looking into the rear window. I don’t think they ever touched a vehicle and I don’t think a vehicle ever touched them. Anyway, it was a long and interesting process, getting dark, of course, on a dark, narrow, unmarked road. I believe everyone made it out safely, finally.
Along with this, on various kinds of terrain, mountains, valleys, plains, prairies, sand hills, rock formations, etc., there were various kinds of animals and birds, including antelope, mule deer, big horn sheep and who knows what else.
One of the great bird sightings was back in Minnesota. After crossing back into Minnesota from the west, where the Minnesota River comes out of Big Stone Lake, we took the Big Stone Wildlife Refuge Loop, and found three Golden Eagles right away.  By the time we finished the small loop, we figured there must have been 10 or 15 Golden Eagles in that relatively small area.

Thanks to anybody who reads this entire column.
Comments and observations are always welcome. Send them to me, in care of Southside Pride. Thank you.

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