Sunday, April 24, 2016

The birds of March (and April)

Although Julius Caesar had a little trouble around the Ides of March, we had a great trip to the cabin in early March. Here are photos of a few of the bird friends who stopped by to visit, both during our March trip and another in the 3rd week of April. 

The gray jay above is coming in for a landing on our deck; at left, you can see the same bird, a few seconds later, about to land (note the shadow under the bird's feet... not quite touched down yet). These friendly birds are also known as Canada jays, whiskey jacks, and camp robbers, the last name due to their habit of stealing food that any human has been foolish enough to leave unattended. 

Of course, we feed them deliberately, and delight in their antics. They are a northern species that lives year-round in the boreal forests of Canada and far northern Minnesota/Wisconsin, but is seldom seen south of there. Males and females look alike, at least to humans (presumably, the birds can tell). They cache food in trees, and survive on it through winter. So we like to put out high-quality items such as raisins, chopped walnuts and unsalted peanuts. They breed in late winter, incubating their eggs even in below-zero temperatures. Last year, our resident pair of gray jays brought their three hatchlings to our deck to feed in spring, and we're hoping to be lucky enough to see that again this year.

Another winter bird is the redpoll, whose breeding range is in the Arctic tundra. They drop down to Canada and the northern states in the winter, and will eagerly feed on nyjer thistle seeds. Above is a group of them on our deck, stuffing their bills. 

They are somewhat nervous, and will take flight at the slightest noise or movement... the sound of my camera shutter sent them flying, as seen on the right. They would often fly to the nearby spruce tree, where they would wait until the deck appeared safe once again, then return to resume their feeding. 

(As always, you can click on any of the photos here to see an enlarged version, and a film strip will also appear along the bottom with all the photos from this post so you can click through the enlarged versions.)

We also saw boreal chickadees in March, and again in April. This is another species that is found only in Canada and the far north. They are distinguished from the much more common black-capped chickadee, which is found throughout the northern two-thirds of the U.S., by their rufous sides and brown cap. The four photos below show a boreal chickadee, with a black-capped chickadee at the bottom right for comparison.

By the time we returned in April, the redpolls were gone from the area, but there were a lot of dark-eyed juncos in the area. Although they may stay in the far northeastern corner of Minnesota all year, their major breeding/summering area is farther north, in Canada, and we see them primarily in spring and late fall. Like the redpolls, they enjoy feeding on nyjer thistle seeds, but will also visit the feeder to peck at black-oil sunflower seeds. I didn't get a good shot of the juncos in April, but here's a shot from last October, when they were passing through on their south-bound migration, showing a female junco that had flown into our deck-door glass and was stunned. I held it gently in my hands to warm it up, and it regained its strength after a few minutes and flew off. Sweet little birds. 
In April, we also saw the first white-throated sparrows, which will be in the area until next fall. The white-throated sparrow has a very distinctive call that many (including us) consider to be the "sound of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area." They are very special birds, and quite fetching, with their yellow and white head stripes and distinct white throat patch. 

Finally, the purple finches arrived in great numbers, and took over the feeder. These lovely birds have a stunning song, and are a real treat to look at. The famous birder, Roger Tory Peterson, described them as a "sparrow dipped in raspberry juice" and that's exactly what they look like. On the left, they are feeding during a strong rain, so they are pretty soaked. At the top right, you see a male (the red one) and a female eating nyjer seeds on the deck, and below that is a male in the sun. Gorgeous.

Thanks for looking at my bird photos! I find them a very challenging subject because they move so fast, and also my longest lens isn't long enough to really get close to them. But I hope to get better this season. I'll do another post soon with some cabin shots.

1 comment:

  1. Looking forward to the cabin shots. Beautiful so far. When I saw your post, I realized my design is a lot like yours. I could relate to fitting stairs in. 16x26.