Powderhorn Birdwatch: The birds are back in town

Double-crested CormorantsBY JOHN KARRIGAN

I have considered just making up everything for this month’s column, as I often do (I don’t really), or not writing anymore at all, because Editor Ed would not let me write about my real Chinese relatives for the last two months, but then the ice went out on Powderhorn Lake on March 25, and various spring-like things have finally happened in March.
Mallard Ducks and Canada Geese have been coming to the lake since there were only small puddles on the ice. Wood Ducks and Ring-billed Gulls soon joined them, but other arrivals have still been few and far between.
The pair of Song Sparrows are still alive and well near the west and north lakeshore. Other Song Sparrows and other types of sparrows will probably soon be joining them. A pair of Brown Creepers is now in the trees on the west lakeshore. I like to think it is the same pair that has been there for a few years.
A few American Robins and a few Dark-eyed Juncos are now in the park and neighborhood. Of course the Robin numbers will be increasing (I hope) and the Juncos will soon go a lot farther north for the climate they like. A few American Crows, usually three, continue to keep an eye on the park, and often Hairy Woodpeckers are present.
On March 30, I saw my first Double-crested Cormorants of the year. They were on the island. I saw two, but another good observer saw about a half dozen.
Several people reported Hawk and Bald Eagle sightings in the park in March. I didn’t see those (yet), but I did get several views of a Peregrine Falcon that seems to come and go from the northeast area of the park. I have never (yet) seen the Falcon chase, or catch, anything.
Of course, I am expecting all kinds of birds of many colors, sizes, types, etc., to show up in the neighborhood and park in April, and all kinds of insects, frogs, toads, etc. I saw my first turtle in the lake, about an 8-inch Painted Turtle, on March 29. I hope to see some Snapping Turtles, Spiny Soft-shells, and who knows what else.
I have not seen any Raccoons so far this year, but there are some good reports of Raccoons in the areas one block south of the park. And I was going to write about the lack of Muskrats. I saw a dead one in the lake last fall and had not seen a live one for some time, when today (March 31) I ran into an observant gentlemen with an observant dog that found two baby Muskrats in February in their usual secret area. Hopefully the babies and adult Muskrats will be seen in the lake every now and then. And now for something completely different, or useless:  As I was working on my notes for this column tonight, just as I was writing “muskrats,” Louis Armstrong came on my jazz radio station playing “Muskrat Ramble.” I don’t know what this means. Does it mean I should go on to become a great writer or should I just stay in a dark, quiet room for some time?
And now, again, for something completely different:  A couple of days ago, the Park Department took down the chain and barrier on the T-shaped (and only) dock just west of the park building. The easy-to-climb over barrier has been on that dock for about one year. The dock has not been repaired. This means the ramp to enter the dock will completely break off before too long. This has happened at least twice in the past. I saw it happen one of those times and of course various bad things could happen to various people of various types, sizes and ages when the dock breaks again. The lead story on the front page of today’s (March 31, 2015) StarTribune is the lack of funds for a tremendous ($110 million) backlog of maintenance and upkeep for the Minneapolis parks. No matter how much money they have or don’t have, safety issues like this must be taken care of.
The park board apparently still has money for tree removal as Ash Trees have disappeared from different parts of the park on different winter days. I think the trees are going to be missed by a lot of birds, animals and people as park use increases in good weather.
Now maybe I will get back to birds and nature and away from the park for a while. There have not been too many new things happening in the yard in March, but there have been some. On the 11th of March at 11:55 p.m., I was out in the back yard (probably putting out bird food) when a nice flock of geese heading north came by. I don’t know what kind they were. They did not sound like Canada Geese. Maybe if I were a goose hunter, it would have been obvious to me what kind they were.
A Blue Jay has been around a little bit so far, and Goldfinches are getting a little “gold-er,” but I think they are changing to gold (or yellow) at a slower rate this year.
The latest odd event is the crashing female Northern Cardinal. I think I wrote about this two years ago. At various times we would see a female Cardinal flying at and crashing into a small south-facing window of the neighbor’s house. It only flew a few inches from a bush outside the window and did not seem to get hurt as it tried to drive its reflection away. The neighbors used a few methods to keep this from happening. I assume it is the same Cardinal, crashing into the same window. Now it has a new twist. A few days ago, I saw a female Cardinal, once again, I assume this is the same Cardinal, on the driver’s rear view mirror of the south-facing side window of my new inferno red Maserati Quattro Porto car. Once again, the Cardinal was flying against the car window trying to drive its reflection away from “its territory,” again with no harm to the Cardinal. Or to the car, which it turns out is my usual 15-year-old car and not a new Maserati.
I was recently asked by a neighborhood troublemaker about when to clean out birdhouses. Generally, the time frame would be after the last brood has fledged and before the nesting begins in spring. In other words, the winter months are the best time, and right now before nature takes its course with birds.
Hopefully many new birds, mammals, insects and other things will show up in April and the park and world will be in good shape for May Day.

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

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