Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Monday Phenology: Weird Mini Edition

Posted by Kirk
I'm taking the phenology a bit easy this holiday week but there were some sightings to share. Just between you and me let's call this a Mini-Midweek-Phenology-looking-at-last-week-thing. 

These are all from the week previous, not this week.

Monday I was really noticing the dark. We're so close to the solstice the days are pretty short now. The lack of snow makes it seem not as bad though, at least in my opinion.

Tuesday I saw a bald eagle fly over the nature center as I walked to the front door in the morning. After lunch, my co-worker Paul and I decided to take advantage of the nice weather to cut down some large Buckthorn seed trees. On our walk down the driveway we heard our first Black-capped Chickadee singing the spring Hey Sweetie song. An excellent early sign of spring and the solstice was still two days away.

Wednesday was a wonderful winter solstice. The sun was still below the horizon and there was a light coating of frost on the ground as I stepped outside. I was able to watch the sun rise during my long commute to work. It was a gorgeous orange globe as it rose through the trees. When I got close to work, a trio of trumpeter swans rose out of a corn field and flew across the road in front of me, heading toward the rising sun. Absolutely perfect start to the day. It turns out about a dozen swans are hanging out in a corn field near work.

Thursday I had the day off so I dropped off my son at school, swung by work to photograph th Trumpeter Swans in the corn field and then headed down to Point Douglas Park just outside of Hastings MN/Prescott WI, on the St. Croix River. There had been a report of a long-tailed duck there and I wanted to check it out. The wind coming down the river seemed bitterly cold but I've felt worse in other winters. Point Douglas Park is a popular destination for birders on new-year's day. There's usually a small group there trying to kick off their year list with a rarity. For the past few winters this has been the site of an overwintering harlequin duck. On cold winters the water just north of the park and also under the bridge to Wisconsin is some of the only open water around and all kinds of good things can be found. It is a great place to see birds but dress warmly. This year with the warmer weather it was quite challenging to find anything as the open water extends for a good distance up river from the park. Some birds were even out of range of a spotting scope. I saw hundreds and hundreds of Common Mergansers, a small flock of Canada geese and a random smattering of common goldeneyes. The goldeneyes were of particular interest as reports had it that the long-tailed duck was very loosely hanging out with them. I scanned back and forth in the cold with no sign of the duck. Before I gave up I thought I would check down by the bridge. What I saw there was disheartening. The river was open for a good distance downstream as well. There was a good chance the duck was on the other side of the road with no good safe spot to set up a scope. Before packing things in I decided to scan the water again from this other angle. Sure enough, a ghostly camouflaged bird appeared in my scope. It was the long-tailed duck and it was a lifer. I took a good look and then decided to try again from my original spot. It should have given me a much better view but alas, I could not relocate the elusive bird. Too much water, too much cold.

Friday I drove my son to school and saw something cool along highway 36. There must be open water somewhere because there is a flock of mallards that fly over the highway throughout the winter. (Incidentally, I know of at least one location with open water all year, there is a little creek behind the Mueller-Bies funeral home on Dale St. near Hwy 36. I've seen mallards there in the middle of the winter.) The mallards I saw on Friday weren't flying in a big group but rather in pairs, if the Chickadees singing at the beginning of the week was the first sign of spring, this is the second. Pair flights are an early sign of spring mating. The birds pair up with their mate and fly together as a way to strengthen the pair bond.

I'd normally tell you at this point what to watch for in the week ahead but it is already Wednesday and the week ahead is already half over. The normal podcast will resume Monday, January 2nd. Enjoy the winter!


marcie oconnor said...

Happy New Year!

I saw what I think was Bald Eagle mating acrobatics on Friday - Dec. 30. Two eagles were flying down our valley, one above the other. The higher one would swoop down almost touching the lower one, and the lower one would flip over - doing a kind of barrel roll - sometimes rolling over more than once. After doing that a few times, they locked talons for a few moments, dropped down close to the ground, and then released and flew on. Quite a show!

Is that what was going on - mating behavior? Is it early in the season for that kind of behavior? (I'm in Buffalo County, Wisconsin.)

ps - I really enjoy reading your blog. I have a blog too: but it's not as focused on phenology - it's more about the restoration of habitat that we're doing here.

Kirk said...

Thanks for commenting Marcie, that's mating behavior. Good observation.