Springing Forward!

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With 70 degree days predicted for early next week, we will be seeing more and more of our returning songbirds and waterfowl. Sandhill Cranes, robins, red-winged black-birds, starlings, bluebirds and such are already singing, in addition to Cardinals, titmice and other year-round residents. Sandhills are still very quiet, so they don’t seem to be claiming their nesting territories yet. Send us your comments!!  Click here to see our birding archive on the Ramblin’ On blog. 

With so little snow this winter, spring flooding is unlikely this season. To see an interactive flood map, as well as past flooding accounts, click here.

Snowy Owl with Jane at 2012 Festival of OwlsThe spring 2012 International Festival of Owls was held in Houston, Minnesota, last weekend. It is another harbinger of spring! (Snowy Owl pix, from Alan Stankevitz is left.)

[adsenseyu2]We had a beautiful barred owl in our backyard early one morning last week. Hawks are paired up and bald eagles are nesting. I’ll be watching for the return of white pelicans next… they follow the opening of the Mississippi River… perhaps looking for fish kill as the ice breaks up.

We have featured WHITE PELICANS, EAGLES and other large waterfowl for many years on www.greatriver.com
Please visit our dedicated Birding Index here at Greatriver.com  It includes a long history of arrival dates for the sandhill cranes in the Upper Mississippi River valley.

Snowy Owl Update

This year has turned out to be one of the biggest Snowy Owl eruptions in many years. This has allowed many of us to see these magnificent birds that normally inhabit the tundra and it has been a great experience.

This event has resulted in a significant number of birds that have been found that are sick and injured. When they are found, these birds are taken to wildlife rehabilitators including the Coulee Wildlife Rehab Center in rural Chaseburg. These organizations always have trouble finding enough funding to help cover their costs and this event is adding even more financial burdens to organizations that often operate on a shoe string budget and are heavily dependent on donations in order to operate.

Already this year, Coulee Wildlife Rehab Center has had two Snowy Owls brought in to their center. The first was in the last stages of starvation and couldn’t be saved but the second is the victim of what is probably a power line accident and is in fairly good condition. It has an electrical burn on a wing that has required surgeries and it is under weight. However, there is a good chance that it can be saved.

Sue and Merv Broten, the operators of the facility, are working to improve its body mass and fight against aspergillosis. Snowy Owls are very susceptible to this fungal infection when they migrate this far south and one of the keys to prevention is to keep an owl from the stress of under nourishment. Starving Snowies can eat a LOT of mice a day, and at a cost of $1.00 to $1.50 per mouse, building their weight up is an expensive proposition.

In honor of this year’s eruption, the Coulee Region Audubon Society has decided to sponsor a special “Snowy Christmas” campaign to raise funds to help pay for the cost of rehabilitating these owls and to underwrite some of the operations of the Coulee Wildlife Rehab Center. We will match all donations made by our members and friends through the end of January up to a total of $200. We hope that you will consider making a tax deductible contribution to this campaign and therefore support the great work done by the Coulee Wildlife Rehab Center.

If you can help, please send a check to Coulee Region Audubon with a note indicating that it is to be used for this campaign or send a check directly to the Coulee Wildlife Rehab Center at the following address:

Coulee Wildlife Rehab Center, Inc.
E4485 Dodson Hollow Rd
Chaseburg, WI 54621

I hope that you will join me in supporting this cause!!

Dan Jackson, President
Coulee Region Audubon Society
La Crosse, Wisconsin

Tundra Swans Arriving in Numbers

As we drove Minnesota’s Great River Road from Red Wing  to La Crescent this weekend… “indicator species” at various waysides highlighted the arrival of Tundra Swans!

Such clusters of humans with binoculars and cameras announce the “swan song” of 2011. Best viewing of Tundra Swans seemed to be right along HWY 61 just north of Minnieska, Minnesota (Weaver Bottoms) and again just south of Goose Island in Wisconsin. No doubt the Swans are also clustered just outside of Brownsville, Minnesota, and perhaps just north of Alma, Wisconsin at Reich’s Lake.

A word of warning though… I saw two men standing on the railroad tracks engrossed in watching an American Bald Eagle soaring up above.

Not smart.

There is a very real possibility that when engrossed in viewing wildlife, one would never hear the train coming until it is simply too late. Stand well off the railroad tracks!!

River Transitions

The seed islands north of Stoddard have been crowded this week with pelicans gathering for the trip south. With November just around the corner, and our first frosts already in the air, it’s time to start watching for Tundra Swans! I heard from Al Stankevitz that he has seen a very few towards the center of the pool at Brownsville, Mn. So be on the lookout for the long white necks of the Tundra Swans. In a few more weeks we should have many thousands!!

Just a reminder, too, that we have an extensive BIRDING section in the Mississippi River Home Page!

Please use the REPLY link to update our fellow birders on your observerations! This will be a spam-free way to keep one another posted on birding along the Mississippi River!!

Sandhills announce SPRING, Eagles nest

The Canada geese and Sandhill Cranes arrived about 10 days earlier than I expected this year. Ground still frozen, several inches of crusty snow. Three nights ago it was just 15 degrees. They watch the weather currents pretty closely… will delay arrival if they see a storm… so they must know that spring is just around the corner! We’ve located the Valley Bald Eagle’s nest. Believe it is it’s second year. Saw a large handsome eagle standing guard in the neighboring tree last week. Bluebirds and robins abound, but they both spent the entire winter here in the valley. More common than I ever recall during a winter siege!

Spring, Spring Spring!!

Photo by Rich MiddletonWe’re close to hitting 50 degrees in the Upper Mississippi River Valley. Sandhill cranes, Canada Geese, starlings have all returned. The Mourning Dove is cooing again and the morning is beginning to be vibrant with bird chatter. We’ve heard from the St. Louis area that pelicans are back on their way north. I don’t know that ANYONE appreciates spring like someone who lives up here!

Sandhill Cranes and SPRING in the valley.

crex-meadow-sandhill-11-copy1I had an Australian friend who never understood why spring was such a joy to those of us in the Upper Midwest—until she visited here in Winter.

Yesterday the sun was out, the wetlands were wet instead of icy and the Sandhill crane pair were “walking the land” as they do every spring. Normally they arrive with the yearling from last year, but this year there are only two. When they walked into the bottomland forest, our new resident eagle flew out! It was a great moment of birding on the farm.

I’m curious now to see whether nesting will be delayed this year by the slightly later spring (normally they are on the nest by April 5). And I wonder how they will feel about raising young with a pair of adult bald eagles hunting in the same bottoms.

Last word on Snow Country

Photo by Rich Middleton, White Phase Sparrow, flying with a flock of field sparrows near La Crosse, WIWell, now that our Sandhill Cranes, bluebirds, red-winged blackbirds, Kestrel, and Canada geese are back in the valley, my observations on snow country must suddenly give way to spring. But not before I share some pictures of one of my favorite “collector” items…Every so rarely a genetic WHITE PHASE appears in animals that are normally not white except as albinos. But the two pictures shown here are not albinos, but a “white phase” black bear and a “white phase” sparrow.

I’ve also heard of river islands with concentrations of “white phase” muskrats, and “white phase deer”, and of course, white phase buffalo.  I’d love it if you could share photos of your “white phase” creatures for use in a future feature article.

Any way, the short story is that these “white phase” or “Spirit” creatures are expressing recessive genes that helped to protect the species during the ice ages. In Wisconsin, a northern game warden told me that in his life time, he’s only heard of two white phase bear cubs… both in the vicinity of Superior, Wisconsin. Hmmm… makes sense. The same game warden has seen only one white phase sparrow… nearly 40 years ago. I wonder if the white phases of various birds of prey are also expressing recessive genes related to living along the edge of glaciers?

Anonomous Photo, White Phase Black Bear Cub, near Superior, Wisconsin

Above is a very rare “white” black bear cub. Also known as Kermode or “spirit” bears. Normally found only in areas where the recessive white gene was encouraged by small populations cut off from the larger populations, probably by glacier formations. The white gene would have been advantageous to bears living on the edge of the snowfields.