April 24th, 2019: Some recon for a guest lecture at a nearby college
This week I headed out to Gustavus Adolphus College with a good friend and colleague to do some reconnaissance for the first of two guest lectures I’d be giving. The class itself focus on “Interpreting the Spring Landscape” and, since my colleague is a environmental scientist whose expertise is in climate and geology, he brought me in to connect those elements to the world of fauna. Naturally, I’d be focusing on birds and their connections to habitat, climate, and each other.
The class often takes field trips to diverse nearby environments, so we thought we’d check out a few to see what might be best for birds and other animals. Our first stop was the nearby Kasota Prairie SNA. There were a good number of recently arrived migrants at the prairie. We saw 27 species pretty quickly, including many Field Sparrows, several Eastern Meadowlark, and a small kettle of 8 Broad-winged Hawks. But it was really just one habitat (prairie) because the otherwise promise woodland/river interface and riparian areas were all badly flooded.
Next we took a quick walk around Seven Mile Creek County Park, which was also badly flooded, but had some more elevated ravines, woodland, and forest trails. This spot was a no-brainer for the second lecture in the second week of May. Even though there wasn’t much there yet, it would clearly be packed with birds once migration had really set in.
Our last location was the Linnaeus Arboretum: the arboretum on the college grounds. It had a mixture of prairie, woodland, forest, and some gardens that made it a good mix for the first lecture. I was happy to see many Chipping and Field Sparrow carrying nesting material. There were still some Pine Siskin kicking around and a few of the leading edge of Yellow-rumped Warbler were around. Without a good woodland/creek interface here, I couldn’t hope for too much in the way of warbler diversity.
The first of two highlights on the couple of short walks I took through the arboretum was a Cooper’s Hawk barked at me from small copse of conifers. Needless to say, he saw me well before I saw him, but once I located him I saw that he had a Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel in his talons (of course I didn’t bring my camera today). Since Cooper’s Hawks usually target medium sized birds–you might have seen one waiting at your backyard feeder picking off feeder birds–this was on the heavier side. Cooper’s Hawks tend to prefer mammals out west, but these eastern birds often nab European Starlings, American Robins, Mourning Doves, Rock Pigeons, Northern Flicker, etc. I’ve always found it fascinating to see raptors with prey.
The second highlight was on the way out. It wasn’t singing, but the changing rhythms, timbral variety, and a general musical innovation of the skulking bird in the underbrush an easy ID: there was a Brown Thrasher down there. Sure, they’re a reasonably common bird, but this was still early in migration in Minnesota. And also, who cares how common/rare they are? These birds are just plain great! Their rusty brown complexion, bright eye, long tail, skulking habit, and incredible singing ability makes them one of my favourites (especially considering I don’t get to see them out in Vancouver). And though they often perch to sing, I’ve never managed to snag a decent photo…
Any day you see or (more importantly) hear a Brown Thrasher is a great one!