The Long Road Home

April 4, 2013 Comments Off on The Long Road Home

About a month ago, I wrote a blog about March Madness coming early. Well optimism never hurt anyone right?  This year’s March turned out to be more like the average Minnesota March- more like an extension of winter than anything resembling spring. But as I noted in the blog about the Vernal Equinox- there is no choice now, it must get warmer because we have a more direct line to the sun. Hooray! Anyway, a month or so later, the past week has seen things finally making good progress in the spring realm.

I know that as of last weekend, the sap was finally moving in the maple trees up here in the Northland, and thus far we’ve had much more ideal weather with warmer days and below freezing nights for running a sugarbush operation. Last year was a rough year for the sugarbush realm. Too warm, too fast, and few cold nights.

Many of the larger birds are returning. We have been seeing lots of Bald Eagles in the past couple of weeks. Regional migration is often the mode to survive winter for the big guys who head only as far south as they must to continue to find food. For example, a Golden Eagle banded at Hawk Ridge on November 12, 2012, and christened Jack, was fitted with a transmitter and has been tracked since. Jack moved to southern Missouri and northern Arkansas to spend much of the winter. But Jack is moving now headed back north. Tracking data shows that he headed north about March 14, and moved over 500 miles in about six days, and was reported in southern Wisconsin on March the 20th. That’s pretty good progress for a flying bird without a jet engine! Updates on Jack and several other transmitted Golden Eagles are periodically furnished on the Minnesota Audubon webpage. I am eagerly awaiting word of where Jack is headed. Here in Minnesota we see Golden Eagles heading south from both the east and the west. It will be interesting to see where Jack heads for the summer season.

The last couple of days, I’ve done a lot of driving- that always seems to be when I see the most birds, travelling at 70 miles per hour. It’s frustrating that these sightings are flashes, but I am always happy that they happen! I had a trip to the Metro vicinity, and found that as usual things are ahead of us by a bit. Perhaps a little depressing for us northern types, but there is also excited anticipation there, and proof that it really is coming. In the past 2 days, I have seen my first Great Blue Herons of the season, in fact, today as I was returning north, the big heron rookery close to the Snake River crossing on highway 35 actually had herons perched on the nests! I also saw Sandhill Cranes, lots of Canada Geese, and the my first Turkey Vultures of the spring. Not bad for 70 miles an hour!

As I was driving, I was musing to myself, that I should be able to see the first Northern Harriers soaring over the open fields that stretch between here and the Metro. Sure enough, not 10 minutes later, I was treated to my first sighting, which turned out to be an adult male, which are informally termed Gray Ghosts, because of their lighter blue gray backs and heads, and black underwing tips. The females are brown on their backs, so darker in general on the tops of the wings and back. But both sport the signature white patch on their backs just before the tail- some birders call them tail lights, a fairly apt description, and a guaranteed signal that you are looking at a Harrier- that and the fact that they are usually soaring within 20 feet of the ground over open field and marshlands. These birds too are regional migrators, but nice to see them returning to Minnesota.

The songbirds are always quite a ways behind those first birds of prey, but I did awake this morning at a friends house in the Twin Cities, to the loud and cheery Northern Cardinal song. And of course we have been hearing the Chickadees going for weeks up here. The migrators are moving north. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have been spotted in Missouri in the last week. (Update courtesy of Journey North citizen science project- search online). These birds have a longer return route, as they typically winter in southern Mexico and Central America. These small and mighty feeder warriors are on their way! Robins were reported singing in Duluth on April the 1st. I have to admit that I haven’t seen any yet, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. And not too far behind them will be the “kong-ker-eeee” of the Red wing Blackbirds. They can’t be too far away! Keep your ears peeled.

There have also been lots of sightings of Peregrine Falcons returning to their nesting places on tall cliffs along the North Shore, or tall buildings or bridges in the Duluth area. They usually return in March, and did so again this year. These are fascinating birds, which I will likely talk about in an upcoming blog, but for now, I will hopefully whet your whistle with a reminder that the April program at Sugarloaf will be on the Peregrine Falcon recovery in the Midwest on April 6th at 7:00 pm. Jackie Fallon, the Minnesota State Coordinator for the Midwest Peregrine Society, will be telling us about these amazing birds and introduce you to her newly acquired education bird, and young male that was hatched last year but injured itself before being able to fledge. It will be a great evening- join us for the fun on Saturday, and keep your eyes open for all those spring happenings that will be coming in ever increasing numbers over the next month!

These updates are made possible by a generous donation from David and Rosemary Good.