Powderhorn Birdwatch: Park elicits mixed emotions

Pileated WoodpeckerBY JOHN KARRIGAN

As often happens with my January column, I think I don’t seem to have a lot of park or backyard stuff to write about, but I will try to come up with worthwhile information.
During the first 25 days of December, the sun was only out on two days (according to the weather bureau). I remember one of those days when it came out just before sunset and disappeared quickly in a short red surprise. I was probably curled up in bed hiding on the other day with some sun, whatever day that was.
I do remember that there were various days that were so dark many vehicles had their headlights on in mid-afternoon. But many of those odd days were relatively warm and quite a few were rainy or had other odd forms of precipitation. On one of those days, early in the month, about two dozen Mallards and about two dozen Canada Geese were out wandering on the wet Powderhorn ice. At least a couple of times, I saw small groups of Mallards (5 to 10 ducks) circle above the park and then leave. I don’t know if they left because of no open water or because they were tired of Crows.
Of course, on many days (usually late afternoons) there were from a few to over a thousand American Crows going over or landing in the park. I didn’t do very well at counting them but at times I think there were close to a thousand of them just on the ice. The numbers kept changing whether the Crows were on ice, grass, in trees or in the air. And the directions they came from kept changing. In one three-day period (when I wasn’t staying in bed, hiding), the Crows came from the north and northeast the first day; from the south and southeast the second day, and the west and southwest the third day. Where they stopped and where they stayed also seemed to change daily and the often changing Crow numbers must be in the thousands.
Then there is the Crow noise or conversation. It is described as a descending “caaw and rattles.” Most of the Crow sounds (in each category) sound the same (to me, anyway), but every now and then there is a “caaw” or “rattle” that is completely different than the rest. But of course I don’t know what any of them are saying anyway.
Aside from the few Mallards and Canada Geese, and the many American Crows, I have seen very few other birds in the park in December, two other kinds to be exact:  one Hairy Woodpecker (do I always see the same one?) and one sparrow (probably a Song Sparrow).
While I have not seen many birds in the park in December, the back yard has been busy with mostly the usual suspects:  lots of American Goldfinches, Dark-eyed Juncos, English Sparrows, House Finches, Northern Cardinals, Black-capped Chickadees and a few Downy Woodpeckers.
I have a good report of an Eastern Screech Owl sighting in the park. However, I have not been lucky enough, or good enough, to see one in the park for several years.
I don’t know what I should say about this, but I consider the large amount of tree loss (mostly Ash trees) in the park in December to be troubling, at least to me. I know there is a terrible Emerald Ash beetle problem, but I don’t know how this tree loss is going to affect birds, bugs, bats, animals and me. Of course, I am still mad at them (the park board) because they took down the wrong tree in the park (at least once), have left the dock behind the park building broken for about the last eight months, and are not handling their supposed “new park” or other issues near the new Vikings football stadium at all well. The stadium issues are serious bird issues. I, and a lot of birders, environmentalists and other sensible people, attended the Dec. 17 Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board meeting and were not pleased with the non-results. I will probably be banned from the park forever now, but I will continue to sneak in, in the middle of the night in warm weather.
Ooops!  They just banned me from writing about the park. And I was just going to promote the upcoming Art Sled Event on Jan. 31 at 2 p.m. Of course we might be back to zero snow again by Jan. 31.
Well, I can still write about my excellent woodpecker- watching at my estate in Eagan. Ooops! It is the estate of my former across-the-street neighbor and I was again housesitting there in early December. I got the best and closest views I have ever had of a Pileated Woodpecker. The Pileated Woodpecker is the size of a Crow, with a 29-inch wingspan and the largest woodpecker in the United States. (Unless they ever find the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, which people are still looking for but has probably been extinct since 1938.)
Or I could write about the nice new “Birds of Australia” calendar that my former Powderhorn neighbor and Eagan estate owner brought back to me from his recent business trip.
Or I could write about the nice new autographed (by the author Dave Benson of Duluth) “Woodpeckers of North America” book that some nice person gave me for Christmas.
Or I could write about the Annual Wintering Golden Eagle Survey taking place on Saturday, Jan.  17 (golden@nationaleaglecenter.org), because in September I saw more Golden Eagles in Minnesota than I ever expected. Those Golden Eagles were seen in the Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge.
Or I could just quit rambling on and just sit here and wait for the park board (or some other group) to come and take me away.
Comments and observations are always welcome. Send them to me, in care of Southside Pride. Thank you.

A card with a drawing of an owl by Alexander Wilson (1766 – 1813) addressed to “Bird Newsman, John Karrigan” was dropped into the mailbox at Southside Pride. The card reads:
“Bird Report:
On the evening of Dec. 25, I was walking near the horseshoe area [at Powderhorn Lake] when I heard this: ‘oodleoodleoodleoodle.’ Up in a tree, I saw an owlish silhouette about 8 inches tall. After a few more calls, it flew off toward the dock and called again a minute later.
How about that!
Cordially, Elizabeth
Eastern Screech Owl. Trill is the sound I found online. (learner.org)”

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