Birdwatching is NOT “Fluff”

I guess it’s time I outed myself. Some of you may have probably figured out, based on my previous posts about robins and rock doves, that I’m a closet birdwatcher. No doubt a few decades from now I’ll be a familiar site around town, a crazy old broad in a funny hat shlepping around the Arb and local stormwater ponds with binoculars around my neck.

I’m still smarting from Griff’s followup post in which he implied that my posts on bird sightings are “fluff”. I suspect that there are more than a few of us around town – maybe even an organized group or two. (In fact, today is the day of the annual bird count in the Arb. Anyone…?)

Here’s my most recent sighting of the unusual, which made me happy for a whole day. Last Thursday evening about 7:30 I saw a Cape May warbler in one of our blossoming plum trees. I assume it’s passing through on the way to its summer range, and it’s a beautiful little bird.

I’d love to hear about birds observed in the Northfield area, especially now when we have some interesting species passing through. If you can find a photo of the bird on the internet, you can embed the picture in your comment by including the following HTML “image source” commands in your comment:

Be sure to include the angle brackets and quotation marks around the photo link as shown. If you do that, your comment will display like this:

Today I saw an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker in the Arb!


  1. Curt Benson said:

    Tracy, I agree birdwatching is not fluff. Trials motorcycling is fluff.

    But, is your bird watching report of an Ivory Billed Woodpecker faux?

    I bet you saw a pileated woodpecker in the arb. I saw one on the south end of Circle Lake Thursday.

    May 17, 2008
  2. Rob Hardy said:

    I like to make an occasional field trip out to Shields Lake (or, to be more correct, General Shields Lake), the source of the Cannon River, to see the American white pelicans. If you go, take some good binoculars, since the birds are often far out in the middle of the large lake. Take a map, too; I always get lost down there.

    May 17, 2008
  3. Jerry Bilek said:

    Brendon’s been feeding a loon behind his house. Ask nicely and he’ll imitate the bird’s aggression toward the geese.

    I saw a green Heron near Spring Creek and a Turkey Vulture while biking near Valley Grove church.

    May 17, 2008
  4. Tracy Davis said:

    Curt, I was TOTALLY kidding about the ivory-billed woodpecker. (Its habitat isn’t anywhere around here.) Cornell has an interesting site about the search for this extinct-or-isn’t-it woodpecker.

    May 17, 2008
  5. Jerry Bilek said:

    My new gravatar is an ivory billed woodpecker. squeeze it and it plays the bird’s actual call.

    May 17, 2008
  6. Curt Benson said:

    Tracy, re: the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, I had my “faux” news detector on, but since there was no mention of a person whose name sounds like a sexual organ, I wasn’t sure. (please, no need to point out the word “woodpecker”)

    And I did see a pileated woodpecker the other day. Really.

    Also, I spotted a pair of Baltimore Orioles this am.

    May 17, 2008
  7. Rob Hardy said:

    There’s a Baltimore oriole nesting on Carleton’s Mai Fête Island. I’ve post a picture of the nest here.

    May 17, 2008
  8. kiffi summa said:

    tracy : Although i do not have a closet in my back yard for you to watch from, I do have a pair of Cooper Hawks in my back yard. They are in the process of deciding if they wish to be a pair; she has done some pretty “dirty dances” in front of him and he acts offended, spreading his wings and screaming “Kek”! Then she flies to a farther off tree and sits there going WAAAH, waaah, waaah …

    Am I anthropromorphizing (?) too much?

    Anyway, they are very stunning; slate grey backs with pale russet fronts …

    May 17, 2008
  9. Jane McWilliams said:

    Tracy – Fluff? Then I’m guilty.

    I missed the Carleton bird count, but Jan Mitchell and I walked in the east part of the Cannon Valley Wilderness Area this morning where the forest floor was scattered with wood anenome and the trees and bushes were alive with American redstarts, wood thrush, and warblers I’ll never be able to id. We ran into Tom Bovers who takes the whole the month of May to go birding. He said he’d seen several cerulean warblers.

    For me, the prize was a scarlet tanager basking in the sun at the top of a tall barely leafed out maple.

    That is a beautiful park, by the way!

    May 17, 2008
  10. Jane McWilliams said:

    Oops, the photo didn’t come through! What did I forget to do?

    May 17, 2008
  11. Betsey Buckheit said:

    I run in the Arb and I’m always looking to hit the Primary Color Trifecta – seeing at least one red bird (cardinals – always, scarlet tanagers – rarely), one yellow bird (goldfinches, meadowlarks) and one blue bird (bluebirds, indigo buntings) on my run. In the Big Bird category, there are several blue herons in the Arb these days along with bald eagles and more common hawks.

    I’m still wondering how red-winged blackbirds land and perch on the top of stalks of grass.

    May 18, 2008
  12. William Siemers said:

    We’ve got a redstart flipping around our backyard this morning. Luckily I had read this thread so I had some clue what it might be. Have had this spring… purple finches, gold finches, and a downy woodpecker. Lots of redwing blackbirds by the pond.

    May 18, 2008
  13. Mary Schier said:

    This morning, I’m pretty sure I saw a black and white warbler in our yard. According to my Minnesota birds book, its range is in the northeast corner of the state, so it may just be passing through. It’s a striking bird, and not very afraid of people. I was within about 10 feet of it and it did not fly off. We’ve also seen a few yellow warblers.

    May 18, 2008
  14. Mary Schier said:

    Oops, my photo didn’t load either.

    May 18, 2008
  15. Robbie Wigley said:

    Tracy, since we moved I have become infatuated with the birds around Valley Pond. Early in the year I saw a male Hooded Merganser. I had to do a lot of searching on the internet to figure out exactly what it was. Fortunately Gilly was here help out.

    Then not long after I saw 3 male and 3 female Ring- Necked Ducks, they stayed for only a short time and moved on.

    Right now I have about 6-8 Baltimore Orioles hanging out in my tree, today I filled the feeder and within 5 minutes they were all there. I had one strange darker burnt orange colored bird at the necture feeder and think it was an Orchard Oriole. The House Finches are eating the grape jelly and the oranges as well as feeding at the Oriole station. I had a Cardinal come up on the deck where the grape jelly is and ate the jelly too.

    I am so new at this I have no idea what to expect and what exactly to feed them…. I am just flying by the seat of my pants and it is fun! Griff says the back yard looks like a circus with the feeders.

    May 18, 2008
  16. If anyone has the secret as to how to keep the squirrels out of the bird feeders, tell us all.

    May 18, 2008
  17. John S. Thomas said:

    I just spent $120 on two feeders that are working remarkably well. Now the squirrels are foragging on the seed that falls out.

    The Arundale Sky Cafe is advertised as the “Fort Knox” of bird feeders, and actually has a money back guarantee against squirrels.

    I even went as far as to put the squirrel baffle on the bottom.

    Once the squirrels leave, the grackles take over…

    May 18, 2008
  18. Jane McWilliams said:

    Robbie: could the burnt orange bird be a female oriole?

    May 18, 2008
  19. Robbie Wigley said:

    Jane…. that is what we thought at first but the color was very intense and the female landed on the feeder while the darker bird was there. The Baltimore male was in the tree… so we could see all 3 birds. It was marked like the male Baltimore but a burnt orange color. When we looked at the Oriole cheat sheet that came with our feeder. It looked just like the Orchard Oriole on the bird identifier. It was drinking the necture from the feeder?? I am just assuming it was some kind of Oriole.

    May 18, 2008
  20. Robbie Wigley said:

    Does anyone have humming birds yet??

    May 18, 2008
  21. A pair of cow birds at our feeder last week.

    May 18, 2008
  22. john george said:

    I made an oriole feeder out of a length of 6ga. copper wire. I hang it over a branch on the maple in my back yard and skewer a half of an orange onto it. So far, I have two pairs of orioles (Baltimore) that regularly visit it. We have also had the gammut of house finches, purple finches, yellow finches and chipping sparrows on the thistle seed feeder. We also have a pair of cardinals, some junkos, and the occasional bluejay on the sunflower seed feeder. Haven’t seen any hummingbirds yet, but I think the flowers need to get a little larger.

    My wife and daughter saw a couple blue-gray gnatcatchers on their walk along the path north of our house. They also saw some American redstarts out at Nerstrand woods on Saturday, along with a pileated woodpecker.

    As far as ducks, I saw a couple of old coots out walking the other day, but I won’t go into that any farther. I also saw an odd duck in a field pond a couple weeks ago. (Actually, it was a scaup)

    Bright- As far as keeping the squirrels off the feeders, the best idea I ever heard of was from a neighbor of my brother. He suspended his feeder on a lenght of #9 galvanized wire (we used to call it telephone wire, from when the phone lines were above ground) between two trees in his back yard. Before he stretched the wire, he threaded about 8 or 10 wooden sewing thread spools on either side of where the feeder hung. The squirrels put on quite an acrobatic show trying to get past those spools. They finally gave up and left the feeder alone.

    May 18, 2008
  23. Jane McWilliams said:


    You’re probably right about the orchard oriole. I don’t remember seeing them before.

    My hummingbird feeder has been up for a week and finally, yesterday, a female hummer began visiting it.

    Isn’t this fun?

    May 18, 2008
  24. Fluff, I don’t think so. The Chicago Reader, which is a free newspaper,
    and the most popular one I have ever seen around the Midwest. In it,
    every other week for many years was a two page article on birds seen
    in the city. I knew the author myself and there is nothing more needed
    in a city like Chicago than someone who can take you away into nature
    while you are riding on an elevated train.

    Around here, it’s educational and fun!

    May 19, 2008
  25. I have been posting quite a bit about bird sightings on my blog, Penelopedia.
    This link will (I hope) take anyone who is interested to a collection of my birdwatching posts. I’m certainly no expert, but am an enthusiastic amateur. The loons on Brendon’s pond and other interesting waterfowl passing through have been especially interesting to me. Yesterday out of my kitchen window I saw a yellow-rumped warbler on the ground on my patio, which was an unusual-seeming place to see one.

    May 19, 2008
  26. Paul Zorn said:

    I can vouch for Kiffi (post #8) on the amorous avian antics in her backyard, which almost abuts mine. Careless of property rights, these Cooper’s hawks perch in just anybody’s trees, in pursuit of each other and who knows what else.

    For a really good birding time, I recommend the area just north of the St Olaf wind turbine. With prairie, woods, and ponds nearby, the area has a lot of variety in a small space, and some great spring migration visitors. Last week I saw several Palm warblers —

    which I believe are slightly unusual. Near the water there are also plenty of Yellow-Rumped warblers, Yellow warblers, swallows, etc. On or in the water watch for Hooded Mergansers, Buffleheads, Blue-winged Teal, and the occasional muskrat. In the prairie areas are lots of pheasants and various sparrows, including the Clay-colored variety, which buzzes like an insect. Judging from the fox and/or coyote scat, there are also plenty of delicious rodents in the vicinity.

    May 19, 2008
  27. Dan Bergeson said:

    For 2-3 weeks each spring we get to entertain a variety of sparrows that vanish toward the end of May: Harris, white crowned, white throated. We call the white crowned guys helmet heads. I had hummingbirds last week and the orioles arrived the week before that. I’ve had orchard orioles in years past, but not this year. One of my favorite song birds is the rose-breasted grosbeak. We have two or three pairs every year.

    No sign of my brown thrashers yet, but I expect them soon. They sit in the tree tops and sing for hours. For the first time I had a couple of blue birds in the yard for several days, but I couldn’t get them to nest in my boxes. I’m renting to swifts again.

    Anyone seen the wrens yet?

    May 20, 2008
  28. I have been spending many hours scouring the forested areas in the twin cities and Houston county this month. My goal was/is to id all the warblers that come through during the migration. This is what I have:

    Yellow-rumped, Black and White, Golden-winged, N. Waterthrush, Ovenbird, Magnolia, Cape May, Yellow, Nashville, Tennessee, Wilson, Palm, Orange-crowned, Chestnut-sided, Northern Parula, Black-thoated Green, American Redstart, Blackpoll, Common yellowthroat, and this morning a Blackburnian. Bonus birds over the weekend – eastern Towhee, Blue Gray Gnat-catcher, indigo bunting, rose-breated grosbeak, orchard oriole, and heard some Connecticut chatting.


    May 20, 2008
  29. Mary Schier said:

    No wrens yet, but I saw my first brown thrasher while walking the dog today. I’ve been looking for them because we had a nest in one of our bushes last year. This one was flying into my neighbor’s highbush cranberry, presumably building a nest there.

    May 20, 2008
  30. Jane McWilliams said:

    Way to go, Andy.

    Dan, Jan Mitchell and I saw and heard lots of wrens in the Cannon Valley Wilderness Area Saturday and I’ve had several very vocal ones in my yard scoping out the little wren house on my garage for a week or so. As in past years, they seem to show up about the same time as the male orioles.

    May 20, 2008
  31. Laura Clements said:

    I don’t think I was hallucinating. Around 6 PM today I am pretty sure I saw a squadron of pelicans on the northwest side of the Hwy 19/35 exchange. The birds were swimming in the little wetland area there. They were definitely not egrets or snow geese. The birds had large orange beaks and long curved necks. Not much on the web about pelican sightings in MN. What do you say bird watchers? Is this what I saw?

    May 23, 2008
  32. Curt Benson said:

    Laura, you were not hallucinating. There are also pelicans on Circle Lake which is about five miles southwest of your siting. Some years they stop over for a few days on their migrations. Lately some have hung out there all summer. I think it has something to do with the stocking of walleye fingerlings on the lake. Also, there are large numbers of pelicans that summer in northern Minnesota, possibly attracted by names like “Pelican Lake” by the city of Pelican Rapids. (The last being a faux remark, of course.)

    May 23, 2008
  33. I have seen several pelicans over the last couple of years. I didn’t think much of it, cuz down near our place in Oklahoma, where the Cimarron and Arkansas River meet, the pelicans have a layover when they make the journey from the Dakotas to west Texas. In another thread, someone said that their path took a segue due to storms or something and now layover around here.

    May 23, 2008
  34. I have seen large flocks (several dozen birds) of pelicans on Lake Byllsby (near Cannon Falls) in the past, but haven’t been over there yet this season. That area you mentioned, Laura, is another place I’ve seen them. It does seem incongruous, doesn’t it? The place I was most surprised to see pelicans was at Yellowstone — so far from any major bodies of water, though of course Yellowstone Lake is pretty big as lakes go. It goes to show that our (my) preconceptions are not always right, because apparently that was prime territory for the white pelican. The Cornell Ornithology Lab says:

    Breeding on lakes throughout the northern Great Plains and mountain West, the American White Pelican is one of the largest birds in North America. It winters along the coasts, but breeds only inland.

    May 23, 2008
  35. john george said:

    These pelicans are just passing through. I haven’t seen them stay around very long, but they have been going through here for years. There is a small island on Leech Lake, just west of Big Island, where the birds nest and raise their young. I have fished around it many years ago. If you take a drive up to Fargo or Brainard or Bemidji, you will see flocks of them on all the lakes you pass. They seem to settle farther north than the Twin Cities.

    May 23, 2008
  36. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    The month of May is full of tragedy for baby birds, especially on a farm which is home to 12 barn cats. I keep them caged much of the day, but there are still casualties.

    A nest of five baby birds fell out of a rig on the grain bin a couple days ago. The mother does not seem to be around. There were two surviving last night, but just barely. So I took them in to warm up.

    They are lively and VERY hungry this morning. I googled “baby birds abandoned” and got lots of info on care and diet–bits of canned dog food and boiled egg white, etc. Prognosis is not good, of course. Have to feed them at least every hour sunrise to sunset!

    May 29, 2008
  37. Ray Cox said:

    Laura, you may very well have seen pelicans. Pelicans started to move into the state as they head north about a month ago. At an open house on Circle Lake at that time I watched about 30-40 brown pelicans go back and forth between the lake and the wetlands. They have such a distinctive ‘crook’ in their neck as they fly and in formation with other pelicans they look a bit prehistoric.
    It is my understanding that they pass through here while heading further north. We don’t seem to see them hanging around all summer in this area.

    May 29, 2008
  38. Tracy Davis said:

    Forget the “ice formations”, I’m ready for spring. Has anyone seen a robin yet?

    March 30, 2011
  39. Mary Schier said:

    I’ve seen several of them — though they mostly have their feathers fluffed up and look cold! I’ve also seen red-winged blackbirds and a muskrat in the ponds on the southside of town.

    March 30, 2011
  40. Paul Zorn said:

    In olden (pre-global-warming?) days robins disappeared during winter. Now some hardy individuals hang around here the whole winter. I saw a few near Old Main on the St Olaf campus earlier today.

    Crows are also here all winter, but mark approaching spring by getting more combative (or amorous? how can non-crows tell?) and hanging around in big, noisy flocks in the evening. And our neighborhood male pileated woodpecker has started drumming out come-hithers on a nearby power pole. No luck so far, poor guy.

    March 30, 2011
  41. Sandra Bartels said:

    be sure to stop by the slough on the south side of Co Rd. #1 near Millersburg to see the migrating swans…..scores of them!

    March 30, 2011
  42. Tracy Davis said:

    I think all the interesting birds on the east side must be hiding out in the Arb, because I haven’t seen many. Usually I spot robins first in Central Park, but I’ve been actively looking and haven’t seen any. May when it warms up this weekend…

    March 31, 2011
  43. Jane McWilliams said:

    There are interesting birds are on the west side, Tracy. I have robins in my birdbath and all over the little crabapples in the tree in my front yard. Just now when I walked my dog, you could hear them singing their hears out in the trees in the neighborhood.

    Come on over and take a look!

    March 31, 2011
  44. We have been seeing robins in the southeast quadrant of town for about two weeks now. They are quite plentiful in the neighborhoods near the soccer fields. We saw a western meadowlark down there this evening, perched on one of the soccer goals for quite a while. Lots of scaup and coots on the Superior Drive pond this evening, but not the variety of ducks and geese we were seeing a week or so ago, at least not today.

    March 31, 2011
  45. The great early jazz horn playing masters often started out learning their craft by watching birds in the farm yard chirp and cluck about. Song birds have been the inspiration for many a melody.
    Young children watch eagles and buzzards and hawks soar,fall and dash through the air,teaching the kids about air currents and gravity and powe, fostering of love of human flight.
    So many of our inventions,how to design materials to help us keep warm in freezing temperatures, keep dry in the rain, and how to see further are directly related to bird watching. Don’t forget the owl whooo has taught us well about stealth silence.
    Fluff? Oh yeah, the kind that keeps one alive and thriving!

    April 1, 2011
  46. Curt Benson said:

    Hey Bright, speaking of birds and music, thanks for the opportunity for me to go on a tangent and link to a video of guitarist Jeff Beck jamming with a blackbird. Beck is appearing at the State Theatre April 17th. Anyone else going?

    And to be even more digressive, “bird” is British slang for an attractive female of the human persuasion, right? Here’s a link to Jeff Beck with Joss Stone:

    April 1, 2011
  47. Griff Wigley said:

    Penny, I’ve not seen or heard a western meadowlark in years. ‘Tis my favorite song bird. They used to be pretty common in the rural areas around Northfield back in the last 70s. Any idea as to why they’re now so rare around here?

    Listen to two MP3’s of their song on this page.

    April 3, 2011
  48. I’m not sure what the particular history around here is, Griff, but in general, modern agricultural practices and the loss of open meadow/grassland are likely involved. Border-to-border cultivated farm fields tend to make for an avian desert. We tend to hear more about the loss of wetlands, but the loss of grassland is at least as serious an issue. While we don’t see a lot of meadowlarks, we tend to see them fairly regularly when we go to the right sort of habitat. I should offer the caveat that I can’t say for sure whether we are seeing Easterns or Westerns. Dave, who is much more experienced than I, identified this recent one as a Western, but I think that is his default for this area. It’s possible what we saw was an Eastern, but the range maps indicate that we should be much more likely to see Westerns here. However, I see in the Cowling Arboretum checklist that Easterns are listed as common and Westerns as rare, so that seems unexpected.

    April 3, 2011
  49. Griff Wigley said:

    Did you hear its song, Penny? The Eastern meadowlark wikipedia entry says:

    The song of this bird is of pure, melancholy whistles, and thus simpler than the jumbled and flutey song of the Western Meadowlark; their ranges overlap across central North America. In the field, the song is often the easiest way to tell the two species apart, though plumage differences do exist, like tail pattern and malar coloration.

    April 3, 2011
  50. john george said:

    There is a pair of kildeers that nest in the rocks around the store I where I work in Lakeville. I saw them Saturday Morning when I arrived.

    April 4, 2011
  51. Dave heard it, got all excited and started looking for it based on what he heard. We found it perched on the soccer goal. He’s reasonably experienced, but not an ornithologist by any means.

    April 5, 2011
  52. There has been a loon on the pond to the south of Superior Drive the last two days. Photos on my blog.

    April 5, 2011
  53. Griff — um, Dave sheepishly acknowledged that after reviewing the songs of the eastern and western meadowlark, he realizes he had them reversed in his memory. (He’s embarrassed.) So it was an eastern that we recently heard and saw on the soccer field.

    April 17, 2011
  54. Paul Zorn said:

    After endless cold and damp weather this spring, and bad birding last spring, 2011 seems to be a good year in these parts.

    Looking for a good time? Check out the warblers and their friends at the Cannon Valley Wilderness Park, east of Hwy 3 a few miles south of town. Notably in evidence last Sunday, for instance, were yellowthroats, redstarts, scarlet tanagers, indigo buntings, and all sorts of warblers: yellow, black and white, yellow-rumped, Blackburnian, chestnut-sided, blackpoll, Cape May, Northern parula, and others less readily identified.

    May 17, 2011
  55. I know that some birding friends from Rochester came to the Northfield area to see the snowy owl that was reported just east of town. I think I nearly ran it down when it was chased across the road at dusk last winter (my bird identification skills are not at the levels of you real experts). And it is really nice to see the turkey and eagle populations bouncing back from the low levels we used to have, but even those simple little black-capped chickadees make the mornings brighter.

    May 18, 2011

Leave a Reply