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Mike Link
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I am an adventurer who still guides (maybe the oldest active guide) on riverboats, to National parks, on the Mississippi, Lake Superior and wherever the path might lead.
I am an adventurer who still guides (maybe the oldest active guide) on riverboats, to National parks, on the Mississippi, Lake Superior and wherever the path might lead.

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WINGIN’ IT
By Kate Crowley
We were sitting on our deck (which should really be called our Observation Deck) one morning last week when a group of Blue Jays flew into an oak tree by our garden/corral and set up an awful racket. They were screaming in unison and at first I thought they must have been a group of fledglings demanding food and attention from their parents, but I was wrong. They were a group of jays doing their job; warning all the other birds in the neighborhood of a dangerous predator. In fact, I have now decided they should be called the Paul Revere’s of the bird world.
I realized this fact when I saw I large hawk fly up from the railing of the corral onto the top of the end post. This post goes up about 11 feet, so the raptor was in full view. There had been a lot of dew overnight and all the leaves were coated with moisture, which may explain why this held its wings slightly out to the side and down, something akin to the posture of Anhinga’s when they dry their wings. The rising sun shone through its wet feathers and highlighted its body.
Even though it was backlit, we judged by its size and coloration (brown with a streaked breast and barred tail) to be an immature Northern Goshawk. Adults have a beautiful bluish gray back, white, streaked with black breast, a back cap and black stripe that widens behind its deep reddish brown eye. This is the largest of the Accipiters – a group of raptors characterized by relatively short, broad wings and long tails. These allow the birds to maneuver in flight and hunt more effectively in forest habitat. The first part of this bird’s name also accurately describes their common range, since they are mainly found throughout Canada, dipping down into the Great Lakes regions and in the mountain west. The other two North American members of the Accipiter group are the Sharp-shinned hawk and the Cooper’s Hawk. It should be noted however, that Goshawk wings are a bit longer and tapered than the other two.
While we watched, the Goshawk casually turned its head, spread its tail feathers and preened them with its hooked beak. All the while the Jays were screaming, though still hiding in the leaves of the oak tree. Not surprisingly, there were no birds to be seen at any of our feeders, because Accipiters are known predators of other birds, as well as small mammals. Their name comes from the Old English word for ‘goose hawk’ referencing their habit of preying on larger birds like Ruffed Grouse and occasionally domestic chickens, though any bird unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time soon becomes food.
The hawk seemed so relaxed that I wanted to go inside to get my binoculars, (which should be a permanent fixture on the deck), but I knew if we moved or stood up, it would immediately take off. Mike can see things at a distance better than me, so he was able to see features on the feathers that I could not. Gradually, the Jays lost some of their initial panicked response, but did not stop calling entirely.
Eventually, the Goshawk decided that either its wings were sufficiently dry or the Jays were just too annoying. It flew off towards the forest across the road, flapping with shallow and easy wing-beats, closely followed by a contingent of Jays still fulfilling their duties as sentries of the sky.
For centuries Northern Goshawks have been used by falconers to help them hunt birds. They have been revered as symbols of strength, even adorning the helmet of Attila the Hun. While not listed on the Endangered Species list, their numbers are threatened by loss of forest habitat which is necessary for nesting, as well as hunting. And one has to wonder how their numbers changed once the Passenger Pigeon became extinct. John James Audubon once described them thus, “When the Passenger Pigeons are abundant in the western country, the Goshawk follows their close masses, and subsists upon them. A single Hawk suffices to spread the greatest terror among their ranks, and the moment he sweeps towards a flock, the whole immediately dive into the deepest woods, where, notwithstanding their great speed, the marauder Succeeds in clutching the fattest.”


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WINGIN’ IT
By Kate Crowley
Sometimes I encounter a bird during the week and I can’t get it out of my mind. This column is the result of that experience. I always prefer to write about their beauty and success stories, but occasionally I am confronted with the result of deadly challenges they face day in and day out. I feel it’s important to talk about these challenges and what we can do to help the birds to overcome them and survive.
I was done with my 30 minutes of exercise at the Fitness Center and as I walked along the sidewalk back to my car, my eyes were drawn to a small, lifeless, feathered body stuck in the plastic grill of a sporty red car. I couldn’t tell at first what species it was, but its feathers were a gorgeous, bright yellow. When I bent down to remove the poor creature from its trap, I found that its head was caught tight. I pulled up slightly to separate the bars of the grill and then I could see this was a male Common Yellowthroat warbler. He wears a broad distinctive black mask over his eyes. It was sad enough that he was dead, but when he was hit, he was carrying a beak full of tiny caterpillars and they were still clamped in his bill. This means he was on his way back to a nest to feed his young.
I know I’m anthropomorphizing, but I imagine his mate wondering and growing worried when he didn’t return. In my mind I see that nest with little beaks open and begging for food and now there is just one very exhausted mother bird trying to keep up the feeding schedule. It’s unlikely all of those chicks will survive with only one parent left to feed them.
In the very best of times, 50% of all birds will die in their first year. There are so many hazards out there; both natural and human made. We can’t do much when it comes to weather or most predators, which birds have evolved to cope with over the eons, but we can have a significant impact on other threats they face.
If I were to make a list of causes of bird mortality it would include in this order; loss of habitat, glass windows (the most recent estimates say 360 to 980 million birds die each year from window collisions), free roaming cats (it’s a toss-up between windows and cats as to which is worse), cars, wind generators, cell towers, pesticides and Climate Change.
Loss of habitat includes both North and South America since so many of ‘our’ birds spend part of their lives each year in each hemisphere. Development for housing, roads, and shopping centers eat up millions of acres of habitat yearly. Then there is unsustainable, clear cut logging, as well as mining and oil exploration. As each grassland, wetland and forest disappears, birds will ultimately decline and this is something we can’t see on a day to day basis. It is over the years that we start to notice that some of our favorite singers are fewer in number or altogether absent. And then it is too late.
Since we know what birds are up against, what can we do to protect them and reverse their decline? Many things actually – both on the personal, backyard level, as well as on a greater scale. Here are my suggestions:
1. Keep your cat indoors!! I may sound like a broken record, but these domestic creatures we love to snuggle with are deadly killers when it comes to birds. It is instinctual. While it is impossible to know the exact numbers of birds killed by cats each year, the classic study done in Wisconsin estimated a minimum of 7.8 million and possibly upward of 219 million. That’s ONE state in ONE year. You do the extrapolation to 50 states.
2. Put screens on the outside of your windows, or a variety of decals or film, or netting of some sort. Or drop the shades. Anything to let birds ‘know’ that the window is there. Check out windowalert.com for ideas.
3. Put up bird houses, with varying size openings. Many birds need cavities for their nests and they no longer have access to lots of hollow, dead trees or fence posts.
4. Keep your bird feeders filled and cleaned. Place them closer than three feet or further than 30 feet from your house. That way they are either too close to build up speed or far enough away to veer in other directions if spooked.
5. Create a water source - a small pond or even a commercial bird bath. (You will be delighted by the antics of bathing birds)
6. Buy ‘Shade grown’ coffee. Yes, there is such a thing and it helps preserve rain forests in South and Central America.
7. Plant native trees and shrubs – as many as your yard can reasonably accommodate.
On a bigger national and world scale there are very important steps to take.
1. Join any organizations that are fighting to preserve habitat. They need our support now more than ever.
2. Write or call your legislators frequently to let them know you are concerned about actions that threaten wildlife (and ultimately us). Right now we have an administration that is ready to roll back decades worth of protections set up for our land, air and water.
3. Buy a Duck Stamp, whether you’re a hunter or not. A high percentage of these funds go create and protect bird habitat.
You get the general idea. We cannot just sit passively enjoying the birds coming to our yards (well sometimes we do), we must actively work on their behalf. I realize removing that little warbler from the grill of the sports car was not what most people would do, but I strongly believe that all living creatures deserve our respect. I cannot bring that life back but I will continue to speak out on its behalf. I hope you will too.

WindowAlert
WindowAlert
windowalert.com
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WINGIN’ IT
By Kate Crowley
Sometimes I encounter a bird during the week and I can’t get it out of my mind. This column is the result of that experience. I always prefer to write about their beauty and success stories, but occasionally I am confronted with the result of deadly challenges they face day in and day out. I feel it’s important to talk about these challenges and what we can do to help the birds to overcome them and survive.
I was done with my 30 minutes of exercise at the Fitness Center and as I walked along the sidewalk back to my car, my eyes were drawn to a small, lifeless, feathered body stuck in the plastic grill of a sporty red car. I couldn’t tell at first what species it was, but its feathers were a gorgeous, bright yellow. When I bent down to remove the poor creature from its trap, I found that its head was caught tight. I pulled up slightly to separate the bars of the grill and then I could see this was a male Common Yellowthroat warbler. He wears a broad distinctive black mask over his eyes. It was sad enough that he was dead, but when he was hit, he was carrying a beak full of tiny caterpillars and they were still clamped in his bill. This means he was on his way back to a nest to feed his young.
I know I’m anthropomorphizing, but I imagine his mate wondering and growing worried when he didn’t return. In my mind I see that nest with little beaks open and begging for food and now there is just one very exhausted mother bird trying to keep up the feeding schedule. It’s unlikely all of those chicks will survive with only one parent left to feed them.
In the very best of times, 50% of all birds will die in their first year. There are so many hazards out there; both natural and human made. We can’t do much when it comes to weather or most predators, which birds have evolved to cope with over the eons, but we can have a significant impact on other threats they face.
If I were to make a list of causes of bird mortality it would include in this order; loss of habitat, glass windows (the most recent estimates say 360 to 980 million birds die each year from window collisions), free roaming cats (it’s a toss-up between windows and cats as to which is worse), cars, wind generators, cell towers, pesticides and Climate Change.
Loss of habitat includes both North and South America since so many of ‘our’ birds spend part of their lives each year in each hemisphere. Development for housing, roads, and shopping centers eat up millions of acres of habitat yearly. Then there is unsustainable, clear cut logging, as well as mining and oil exploration. As each grassland, wetland and forest disappears, birds will ultimately decline and this is something we can’t see on a day to day basis. It is over the years that we start to notice that some of our favorite singers are fewer in number or altogether absent. And then it is too late.
Since we know what birds are up against, what can we do to protect them and reverse their decline? Many things actually – both on the personal, backyard level, as well as on a greater scale. Here are my suggestions:
1. Keep your cat indoors!! I may sound like a broken record, but these domestic creatures we love to snuggle with are deadly killers when it comes to birds. It is instinctual. While it is impossible to know the exact numbers of birds killed by cats each year, the classic study done in Wisconsin estimated a minimum of 7.8 million and possibly upward of 219 million. That’s ONE state in ONE year. You do the extrapolation to 50 states.
2. Put screens on the outside of your windows, or a variety of decals or film, or netting of some sort. Or drop the shades. Anything to let birds ‘know’ that the window is there. Check out windowalert.com for ideas.
3. Put up bird houses, with varying size openings. Many birds need cavities for their nests and they no longer have access to lots of hollow, dead trees or fence posts.
4. Keep your bird feeders filled and cleaned. Place them closer than three feet or further than 30 feet from your house. That way they are either too close to build up speed or far enough away to veer in other directions if spooked.
5. Create a water source - a small pond or even a commercial bird bath. (You will be delighted by the antics of bathing birds)
6. Buy ‘Shade grown’ coffee. Yes, there is such a thing and it helps preserve rain forests in South and Central America.
7. Plant native trees and shrubs – as many as your yard can reasonably accommodate.
On a bigger national and world scale there are very important steps to take.
1. Join any organizations that are fighting to preserve habitat. They need our support now more than ever.
2. Write or call your legislators frequently to let them know you are concerned about actions that threaten wildlife (and ultimately us). Right now we have an administration that is ready to roll back decades worth of protections set up for our land, air and water.
3. Buy a Duck Stamp, whether you’re a hunter or not. A high percentage of these funds go create and protect bird habitat.
You get the general idea. We cannot just sit passively enjoying the birds coming to our yards (well sometimes we do), we must actively work on their behalf. I realize removing that little warbler from the grill of the sports car was not what most people would do, but I strongly believe that all living creatures deserve our respect. I cannot bring that life back but I will continue to speak out on its behalf. I hope you will too.

WindowAlert
WindowAlert
windowalert.com
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Baltimore Orioles

WINGIN’ IT

By Kate Crowley

In all my years of writing this column, I don’t believe I have ever written about Baltimore Orioles. It’s not because I don’t like them; far from it. They are one of the most brilliantly beautiful summer visitors to our State.

We moved into our home outside of Willow River in the spring of 1986, but it wasn’t until May of 1987 that we saw our first oriole on the property. Since then we have seen them in 18 others years. Most of the sightings have been in mid-May, but some were as late as June. Each year they would show up for a day or two and then leave. No matter how frantically we rushed around cutting up oranges to put out and buying grape jelly; both of which are considered the ideal food to tempt and convince the birds to stick around.

I recently read that providing grape jelly may not be the best idea. Natural nectars contain 12% to 30% sugars, but jellies are more than half sugar. This higher than normal sugar load may be more than the oriole’s metabolism can adequately process. The other problems with jelly are that the sugar content can lead to bacterial growth or even get onto the bird’s feathers. A better alternative would be to put out sliced red grapes or other dark colored fruits.

Recently someone told me ‘their’ Orioles would feed at Hummingbird feeders. We had never seen that happen and both species do tend to arrive around the same time. It didn’t seem like the holes in the ‘ports’ would be big enough for an oriole’s beak, so I was told to just remove one of the little yellow ‘flowers’ and that would create a larger opening. They are equipped with ‘brushy-tipped’ tongues which allows them to drink juice from fruits and lap up liquid.

This year the first male oriole arrived on May 17th and went to the suet feeder. We have seen warblers do this in cool and wet weather, such as we had for much of May. It turns out that like the warblers, Baltimore Orioles insects eaters too, and suet is a good source of protein when insect are scarce. Since fruits of any sorts don’t appear on Minnesota trees or shrubs until mid-to-later summer, insects must make up a great deal of their diet, with the addition of fruits provided by us.

As I mentioned earlier we have always put out oranges as soon as we spotted the first oriole. Usually one would land on the deck railing, poke at a few pieces and then fly off, not to be seen again for another year. We have not been able to figure out why our 20 acres don’t match their vision for nesting habitat. But 2017 may be a Breakthrough year. That male at the suet feeder, also hopped onto the hummingbird feeder, though I couldn’t tell if he found the bigger hole or not. Then a female came in and visited the suet. We didn’t have any oranges at this time and I didn’t rush out to buy any, feeling it would be a waste. But the orioles kept coming to the feeders each morning. Finally I decided to try a new way of ‘serving’ the oranges (someone else’s idea). I cut one into quarters and stuffed the pieces into a wire suet cage and hung this from the maple.

It seemed like that was the curse, because no oriole showed up for a day or more. We did see some Black-capped Chickadees checking it out, but no sign of the glorious Oriole….until this morning. I heard the musical, robin-like call and then I witnessed two males fly into the maple tree and the first one went right over to the oranges. It has to be seen to be believed, but that bird’s feathers were the exact shade of orange as the peel of the fruit! It is a stunning sight, with its contrasting black head and wings.

Since the oranges had been hanging out there for a day or two, I cut up a new one and replaced the old pieces which were feeling a bit dried out. Maybe, just maybe, they will find a suitable nesting tree. They often choose American elms, but will also use cottonwoods and maples. We have the latter.

Their sock-like nest is easily identifiable, if you can find it high in the tree among the leafy branches. The female does most of the work weaving flexible materials like, grass, strips of grapevine bark, wool, and horsehair, as well as artificial fibers such as cellophane, twine, or fishing line. If there is an old nest nearby, the female may recycle some of those fibers into the the new nest. Males may occasionally bring nesting material, but don’t help with the weaving.

Waiting and watching for the Baltimore orioles each year is just one more challenge and mystery of birdwatching. I know some of you will have them nesting nearby. I hope you will enjoy their songs and beauty to the fullest, knowing that you are among the chosen few.
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Trumpeter Swans
Eclectic travelers
Eclectic travelers
eclectictravelers.blogspot.com
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Reflecting on birds - this twice monthly column can be subscribed to by newspapers.
St Patrick's day bird thoughts
St Patrick's day bird thoughts
eclectictravelers.blogspot.com
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Home is where our sense of place is - whether there is a house or not.
Sense of Place
Sense of Place
eclectictravelers.blogspot.com
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WAXWINGS
WAXWINGS
eclectictravelers.blogspot.com
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Eclectic travelers
Eclectic travelers
eclectictravelers.blogspot.com
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Pileated Woodpecker
The year of the Pileated
The year of the Pileated
eclectictravelers.blogspot.com
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