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The DRIFTLESS Region map (above) captures portions of Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois anchored by the Mississippi River.
Its corollary is the ICE AGE TRAIL that follows the moraines of the last Ice Age from Door Count, Wisconsin, to the St. Croix River and Minnesota border.
Perfect for Dad, a brother or other MAP buff in your family! Or keep one for yourself! Each map includes extensive historical and geologic notes.
Had the pleasure of greeting several big mobs of Pelicans the day before another winter storm moves across the Mississippi River. In one swoop of the binocs, between Goose Island and the Stoddard Dike, I saw Pelicans in rich white circular clusters, our 8 Trumpeter Swans feeding in last year’s rice beds, and a large loose flock of migrating Tundra Swans in a sheltered open pond.. Also Lesser Scaup, a puddle duck easily recognized by its grey-white back coloring. My guess is that the Tundra swans recognized the front of incoming snow and stopped to rest. Didn’t see them today as the river was engulfed in a whiteout of snow and fog. A good day to stay off the road!
For more on the recent history of pelicans on the river, CLICK HERE for our archive, or use the SEARCH box above.
In March 2017, I watched a lone pair of beautiful Trumpeter Swans working the open water just above the Stoddard Dike. Today there were 4 pair!
The Trumpeter Swan is a huge bird, with a wingspread up to 10 feet! But notice the very black bill which makes an almost perfect triangle and stretches right to the eye.
Image above is from the Trumpeter Swan society site. The society offers a detailed identification guide free if you CLICK HERE.
Image below is of a Tundra Swan, which is just slightly smaller and has a more curved bill and a light spot near the eye. Tundra Swans pass through in the Spring migration to the North, but will be seen in large groups. The Trumpeter, which was first established in Iowa in the last decade (I believe) now nests on the Upper River. Still very unusual to see.
Tundra Swan Image for comparison.
Because the Mississippi River is so reluctant to give up the ice this year, we probably have just this weekend where much of the river will still have ice. It opens up quite a bit during the day, and freezes over again at night. That means resident waterfowl and migratory birds are overlapping with gusto!
Easy to see 7 or 8 eagles at a glance around any open water. As of March 1, we were getting reports of Sandhill cranes widespread along the river. I always consider March 1 and early date, but might have to start thinking of it as normal! Amazingly, at least one group of March 1 arrivals had 23 sandhills flying overhead! Thank you, Marilyn and Laura for the early reports!
Oh, and Tundra Swans are also heading north again. Haven’t heard of pelicans yet, but expect them soon.
I just heard from the La Crosse Audubon group that there are four trumpeter swans in Perrot S.P, and 16 in the Whitewater Wildlife management area. ( Open water on the north side of 74, before you hit the pavement coming from Weaver.) Waterfowl are certainly creatures of habit, but, they aren’t pinned down! So keep your eyes open!
Thank you for the heads up, Pat Schmidt!
Images below and in header are found at the Trumpeter Swan society site.
The Trumpeter is a huge bird, with a wingspread up to 10 feet! But notice the very black bill which makes an almost perfect triangle and stretches right to the eye.
The society offers a detailed identification guide free if you CLICK HERE.
Since the early 1990s, the Iowa DNR, has recorded the population of wintering American Bald Eagles during the Bald Eagle Midwinter Survey that takes place in the first two weeks of every year. The number of Eagles found during the survey has climbed steadily so that in 2007 that the Bald Eagle was doing well enough to be removed from the Endangered Species List.
Eagle numbers in the count are expected vary from year to year. A total of 1,939 Bald Eagles were counted during the 2016 Bald Eagle Midwinter Count in Iowa, which was below the previous 10-year survey average of 3,064.3.
An eagle’s nesting territory is considered to be a 1 mile radius which is defended by a pair of Bald Eagles for breeding purposes. A pair of eagles, we’ve learned, may use or maintain more than l nest within its territory.
Since 1977, approximately 863 bald eagle territories have been reported to the Iowa DNR. In 2015, the state hit the milestone of having at least one Eagle’s nest reported in all of Iowa’s 99 counties. Along the Mississippi River, Allamakee County, with 144, has the highest number of nests reported, followed by Clayton County with 71.
Within the active nesting territories, 77 of them are located on the Iowa portion of the Upper Mississippi Wildlife Refuge and 335 of them are spread throughout the rest of the state, particularly along the Des Moines River.
It’s that time of year when our huge winter population of American Bald Eagles begins to Cluster around the open water below the dams on the Upper Mississippi River. The Iowa DNR is releasing a series of posts on their Bald Eagle Midwinter Survey which may interest many of you!
Jan 5, 2018: The Iowa Bald Eagle Midwinter Survey
Iowa is one of the most important wintering grounds for Bald Eagles with thousands of the huge raptors moving into the state from the north to join our resident breeding birds. Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan all have some of the highest densities of nesting Bald Eagles in the lower 48 states and many of those eagles, especially from MN and WI move into Iowa during the winter months and frequently gather in large numbers around areas of open water to feed and roost.
Since the early 1990s, the Iowa DNR, plus a small army of volunteers has recorded this phenomenon during the Bald Eagle Midwinter Survey that takes place in the first two weeks of every year. Surveyors scope the trees, air and ice for Iowa’s largest raptor while driving snowy roads which wind along next to many of Iowa’s biggest rivers. There are 52 set routes in Iowa that cover over 1500 miles in 45 counties and along at least 13 rivers. The Des Moines and Mississippi river host the largest number of Eagles, which can usually be found concentrated below a dam or other area of open water. While Bald Eagles are very territorial during the nesting season, they are much less so in the winter though you may witness a squabble or two over a coveted fish at these congregation spots.
Bald Eagle Trends: In Iowa, the survey has revealed a steady increase in Eagle numbers since the survey began. There are big fluctuations from year to year based on weather, ice coverage, and food resource availability among other things but overall the trend has been upward. That rise in numbers has started to plateau in recent years as Eagle populations stabilize throughout the Midwest region. Bald Eagle Trends:
Another important statistic we track is the percent of Immatures versus Adults in the count. A good and steady number of immatures is a sure sign of a healthy population. About one-third of the birds counted on the survey are immatures and this trend has stayed steady for many years. (More Survey Results to be posted soon)
We are blessed to have a number of really wonderful wildlife photographers on the Upper Mississippi River. I’ve often mention Alan Stankevitz as a favorite. He has posted one of his beautiful Tundra Swan videos with his note and a link below. Alan often employs some of the more advanced photo technology, which makes his work really unique. Enjoy!
From Alan: This fall, I had the opportunity to spend some time down on Pool 8 of the Mississippi River to photograph and video the fall migration of waterfowl and of course, Tundra Swans. You can find my journal entry with a few photos here.
It really is difficult to portray the beauty of the area however in just pictures and with that I have created a video showing not only the Tundra Swans but some beautiful sunrises and sunsets. This video is on Youtube and if by chance you have a 4k monitor or TV, you can view it in its 4k full resolution. Click here to watch the video.
Enjoy and here’s to a Happy, Peaceful and Healthy New Year!
Dan Jackson has updated the Onalaska/La Crosse, Wis. area Snowy Owl sightings. Here is a beautiful image pulled from A-Z animals under a share license from Creative Commons.
Dan’s Update: On Monday morning, the refuge manager for the La Crosse District of the Upper Mississippi National Fish and Wildlife Refuge spotted an immature female Snowy Owl at the refuge Visitor Center on Brice Prairie (west of Onalaska off of County ZN. By late afternoon, 2 more had been seen.
Yesterday, three birds were perched in the parking lot of the maintenance building at dawn. When refuge employees picked up equipment for the day’s projects, the birds spooked and flew into the corn field just to the north.
At dusk, while a few of us were watching those 3 birds, we were surprised to see 2 other birds fly by making a total of 5. At least 2 were immature females and 2 were lightly barred and were either immature males or adult females.
The birds got active between 4:30 and dark and moved up from their perches on the ground to perch on signs, posts, tractors, telephone poles, and other vantage points – making them easier to see.
Someone asked if they might migrate as family groups and could these birds be related? Has anyone done genetic testing of groups of birds found at a single location before (Duluth Airport, etc.)?
A “heads up” from Dan Jackson… THANKS, Dan!
Tim Miller, the District Manager for La Crosse District of the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife Refuge, found an immature female Snowy Owl at the District Visitor Center on Brice Prairie just west of Onalaska this morning. When he first saw it, it was near the staff parking lot. It then moved into the maintenance lot and was perched on a truck.
Hopefully, this bird will stick around as the prairie around the Visitor Center would be a wonderful hunting area.