Tag Archives: Dickcissel

Birds Of Watonwan County, Minnesota

This weekend I traveled to Watonwan County in Minnesota for a wedding. Based on the ebird statistics, Watonwan doesn’t appear to be birded very frequently with the exception of a few individuals. Due to wedding festivities my birding efforts were mostly incidental, but I was still able to get over 20 species in the short time I had.

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We stayed on a farm surrounded on all sides by corn fields. Driving down the long gravel driveway the first birds I noticed were the many Killdeer scurrying along the sides of the roads as we passed. Also on the roads were the occasional Horned Lark. Driving past the cornfields there wasn’t much in terms of avian life with the exception of the occasional Red-Winged Blackbird popping up from the low corn stalks or Barn Swallow flying overhead. The farm house was in a grove of trees creating a small forest island otherwise completely surrounded by fields. This small oasis was where the majority of the birds could be found. Black-Capped Chickadees, American Goldfinches, Downy Woodpeckers, Common Grackles, ad White-Breasted Nuthatches were routine feeder visitors and Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks and Baltimore Orioles were present but made fewer appearances.

The noisiest birds on the property were the House Wrens. They chattered from all sides of the house and occasionally perched out in the open, never for very long though. Some other loud species in the surrounding woods were the Great-Crested Flycatchers and Eastern Wood-Pewees. I could hear at least two of each species.

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Great-Crested Flycatcher

We drove a few miles down the county roads through the corn fields in order to get to some tennis courts in the small town of St. James. On the way, we stopped by a field where long grasses were growing and a small creek intersected the gravel road. This section of the road seemed to be the epicenter of bird activity as many Red-Winged Blackbirds were flying around the field and landing on the corn stalks that lined the edge of the field. A Belted Kingfisher suddenly perched up on a wire near the creek and an Eastern Kingbird landed in the middle of the road and caught an insect. At least two Dickcissel could be heard calling in the field. One of them ended up perching in a nearby deciduous plant.

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House Wren

We continued to the St. James tennis courts after watching the field for about ten minutes. Even when playing tennis I’m always keeping an eye on the birds. There were House Sparrows, Mourning Doves, and American Robins in the trees and other structures around the courts. Overhead there were six Chimney Swifts clicking and chattering.

In my limited time birding I came up with 26 species. None of them would be considered rare, but it was still a nice experience finding birds in the open fields of southern Minnesota.

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Spring Green Preserve – Wisconsin’s Desert

Today Derek and I headed out to Sauk County to look for some birds, reptiles, and insects at one of the most unique environments in the state: Spring Green Preserve. Spring Green is located in the south central part of the state and is one of the most arid places in the state. “Wisconsin’s Desert” is complete with sand, cacti, and numerous flora and fauna that are found nowhere else in the state.

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We made the two hour drive and arrived a little after 7 am. We were immediately greeted by swarms of small insects buzzing around our faces. For the early part of the morning the small gnats and flies were nearly insufferable but we pressed on. We heard several loud calls coming from the Prairie as we broke the thresh hold between the parking area and the preserve. The preserve itself is relatively small with only one trail that leads from the lot into the large ridges that prevent moisture from getting to the sandy ground. One call that stood out was that of the Dickcissel. This has been a good year for the species and Spring Green is perhaps one of their greatest strongholds in Wisconsin. It seemed like every short tree and shrub had a Dickcissel on top.

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Dickcissel

If not a Dickcissel on a particular tree top it was a Lark Sparrow. Lark Sparrows can be found in other counties but they are more seldom reported. At Spring Green they are extremely numerous. This gave us a great opportunity to watch some of their behavior. The sparrows were constantly chasing each other from tree to tree and gathering large grasshoppers and other insects. There was even one Lark Sparrow that nonchalantly hopped on the trail just a few feet ahead of us gathering insects and acting oblivious to our presence.

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Lark Sparrow

One other very loud species on the Prairie was the Grasshopper Sparrow. These sparrows earned their name from their insect-like buzzing noise they make as well as the fact that they grasshoppers make up a large portion of their diet. Grasshopper Sparrows belong to a group of elusive sparrows known as Ammodramus Sparrows. This group of birds likes to skulk in tall grasses and other plants. They are often difficult to find, but these Grasshopper Sparrows perched up very nicely for us to view.

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Grasshopper Sparrow

After a while we were joined by Rob Pendergast and continued searching. By the time Rob arrived a nice breeze had picked up over the preserve and a lot of the insect activity had subsided. We walked back the same way on the trail we had paced back and forth on earlier and came across one of the local reptiles: a Blue Racer. Blue Racers are among the fastest snakes in North America. They can be found in prairies and Oak Savannas in the western half of the state. This one was lazily slithering near the trail and eventually climbed a small tree.

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Blue Racer

Also present near the same area was another quick reptile: The Prairie Racerunner. Much like the Blue Racer, these lizards have incredible speed (up to 18 mph.) We found them quickly running across the sand trail and sunning themselves on rusted sheet metal.

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Prairie Racerunner

As we walked the trail we picked up some other bird species that call the preserve home. An Indigo Bunting sang loudly from the largest dead tree in site and Orchard Orioles created a chorus along with Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks on both ends of the trail where more trees were growing. Many other common birds such as Mourning Doves, Robins and Blue Jays were in the area as well.

Having thoroughly searched for all avian activity in the area, we turned our attention to some unique invertebrates. Spring Green is known by a proud few for its Tiger Beetles. Nine (possibly 10) species of this small but veracious predatory insect make Spring Green their home. We were able to find three species of them. The Oblique-Lined, the Festive, and the Big Sand. They would fly and sometimes run along the path we were walking. Much like everything else we encountered, the Tiger Beetles are extremely fast movers. So fast in fact that while they run after their prey they go temporarily blind until they stop moving.

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Big Sand Tiger Beetle

In all, we were pleased with out day in the desert. We missed out on two rare birds that were reported recently (Blue Grosbeak and Northern Mockingbird), but seeing the other interesting birds, reptiles, and insects made the trip well worth it. It’s not everyday we get to explore such a unique ecosystem in our home state.

Retzer Nature Center In June

Yesterday I took a quick walk through one of my favorite local birding locations: Retzer Nature Center. Retzer is on a relatively small piece of land but has many types of habitat including deciduous woods, coniferous woods, and prairie. Many different bird species call Retzer home so birding there is always an enjoyable experience.

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East side of the hill

From the parking lot I started out walking south into the deciduous forest. After a short time I got eyes on a few Indigo Buntings calling in the trees and heard a few Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers. The wooded area has not been as good in recent years but Blue-Winged Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, and Eastern Towhees can often be found there.

I eventually walked out of the forest after tallying a few species and started up the large hill on the eastern part of the nature center. This area opens into an oak savanna with trees periodically pooping up out of the golden grasses. This is where I usually find the most bird numbers and diversity. Today was no exception. The first bird I spotted was a Field Sparrow hopping around the branches of a small Oak tree. Near the sparrow was a very chattery House Wren perched on a dead branch. Almost directly above me was an Eastern Kingbird that was kind enough to pose for a few photos.

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Eastern Kingbird

I continued up the hill further where I found more Field Sparrows and heard some Eastern Bluebirds. One surprise was an immature Orchard Oriole perched on one of the top branches of a dead tree. Before this, i had never seen that species present before at the nature center.

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Clay-Colored Sparrow

I stopped at a bench at the top of the hill and listened for other field birds. I could easily hear the call of at least three Henslow’s Sparrows and the buzzing of Clay-Colored Sparrows. none of the Henslow’s decided to make an appearance but they are still fun to listen to. Off in the distance, the distinctive metallic and bubbly call of the Bobolink could be heard. They are annual nesters at Retzer and one of my favorite birds simply because of their interesting call. I was able to spot one up at the top of a medium sized oak.

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Bobolink

I continued north on the hill to where a tractor lane intersects the trail. This is where I heard two calls out to west that I recognized as Dickcissel. Dickcissel are another species that has been known to nest at Retzer. They are very sensitive when nesting so I didn’t get too close. Fortunately one was calling from a tall tree that could get a clear view of.

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Dickcissel

After watching the Dickcissel for a few minutes I moved into the trail that cuts through the tall green grass on the east side of the hill. Here there were three more Henslow’s Sparrows calling, Tree Swallows, Savannah Sparrows, and more Bobolinks calling than I could keep track of. They were constantly flying up out of the grass while making their bubbling call and landing back in a different spot only to disappear completely.

I eventually headed out of the prairie and into another small wooded area near the parking lot. Here I heard and eventually caught a glimpse of an Eastern Towhee.

I left with a total of 24 species after just an hour of birding. Not a bad day at all bird wise and a great day to be out at one of my favorite local nature centers.