MN Ornithologists’ Union Young Birders’ Committee

I’m pleased to have been asked to serve on the MOU Young Birders’ Committee! We’re generously defining “young” as 18-40, but not without precedent (Erikson 1963). Our overarching goal is to improve participation of those of us in this age group in conservation-related organizations, which in our specific case is MOU. Conveniently, my friend who chairs this committee did his thesis on the topic! He studied how young birder participation in clubs differs from that of previous generations, and I resonate with his core findings. With this growing demographic in birding, it will be important to address the needs of young birders within organizations in order to fully engage the community of interest.

Planning Birding Victoria This Fall!

waterfront…

  • black oystercatcher
  • black turnstone
  • surfbird
  • wandering tattler
  • rock sandpiper

Clover Point: Heermann’s gull

If we want to find a skylark…

  • island view nursery
  • spots along Hwy 17: central Saanich bulb fields
  • Victoria international airport

Rocky Point Bird Observatory

  • black-throated gray warbler
  • black-headed grosbeak
  • Cassin’s vireo
  • Hammond’s flycatcher
  • Steller’s jay
  • Hutton’s vireo
  • Pacific-slope flycatcher

Race Rocks

  • surfbird
  • black turnstone
  • glaucous-winged gull
  • black oystercatcher
  • pigeon guillemot
  • tattler
  • western gull
  • mew gull
  • Heermann’s gull
  • black-legged kittiwake
  • common murre
  • ancient murrelet
  • marbled murrelet
  • rhinoceros auklet
  • rock sandpiper
  • northwestern crow
  • Pacific wren
  • Brandt’s cormorant
  • pelagic cormorant
  • Pacific loon
  • Laysan albatross
  • sooty shearwater

Other birds of Victoria…

  • California quail
  • sooty grouse
  • pink-footed shearwater
  • short-tailed shearwater
  • fork-tailed storm-petrel
  • Pacific golden-plover
  • long-billed curlew
  • bar-tailed godwit
  • little stint
  • pomarine jaeger
  • Cassin’s auklet
  • crested auklet
  • tufted puffin
  • elegant tern
  • northern pygmy-owl
  • black swift
  • Vaux’s swift
  • red-breasted sapsucker
  • chestnut-backed chickadee
  • bushtit
  • western bluebird
  • eastern yellow wagtail
  • red-throated pipit
  • black-throated sparrow
  • hooded oriole

Planning a Birding Route in Seattle

  • Luther Burbank Park
    • black-throated gray warbler
    • Bullock’s oriole
    • chestnut-backed chickadee
    • bushtit
    • mew gull
  • Mercer Slough Nature Park: bushtit
  • Lake Hills Greenbelt
    • bushtit
    • Hutton’s vireo
    • red-breasted sapsucker
  • Lake Sammamish State Park
    • mew gull
    • glaucous-winged gull
  • Marymoor Park (this is the only 1 that has a monthly sightings table, so all listed species are those found in Sept.)
    • California quail
    • black swift
    • Vaux’s swift
    • mew gull
    • glaucous-winged gull
    • red-breasted sapsucker
    • Hammond’s flycatcher
    • Pacific-slope flycatcher
    • Hutton’s vireo
    • Steller’s jay
    • California scrub-jay
    • chestnut-backed chickadee
    • bushtit
    • Pacific wren
    • black-headed grosbeak
  • Totem Lake
    • California quail
    • glaucous-winged gull
    • Vaux’s swift
    • black swift
    • red-breasted sapsucker
    • Steller’s jay
    • bushtit
    • black-headed grosbeak
  • Juanita Bay Park
    • mew gull
    • glaucous-winged gull
    • black swift
    • Vaux’s swift
    • Pacific-slope flycatcher
  • St. Edwards State Park
    • Steller’s jay
    • chestnut-backed chickadee
  • Bob Heirman Wildlife Area
    • red-breasted sapsucker
    • Steller’s jay
    • black-headed grosbeak
    • Bullock’s oriole
    • surfbird
  • Nisqually NWR
    • red-breasted sapsucker
    • bushtit
  • Grays Harbor NWR: wandering tattler

Planning for Birding in Seattle this Fall!

My boyfriend and I will be joining my parents on vacation to Seattle in Sept! (Species in bold are things we may have a good chance of seeing given the timing of our visit.) These look to be the coolest birding spots in the city:

As it turns out, my parents are interested in these too! I’m not sure how far they’ll want to go, or what our plans will be on any given day, but we’re thinking about renting a separate rental car. Outside the city, in order of distance from our hotel…

  • Luther Burbank Park
    • black-throated gray warbler
    • Bullock’s oriole
    • chestnut-backed chickadee
    • bushtit
    • mew gull
  • Mercer Slough Nature Park: bushtit
  • Lake Hills Greenbelt
    • bushtit
    • Hutton’s vireo
    • red-breasted sapsucker
  • Totem Lake
    • California quail
    • glaucous-winged gull
    • Vaux’s swift
    • black swift
    • red-breasted sapsucker
    • Steller’s jay
    • bushtit
    • black-headed grosbeak
  • Marymoor Park (this is the only 1 that has a monthly sightings table, so all listed species are those found in Sept.)
    • California quail
    • black swift
    • Vaux’s swift
    • mew gull
    • glaucous-winged gull
    • red-breasted sapsucker
    • Hammond’s flycatcher
    • Pacific-slope flycatcher
    • Hutton’s vireo
    • Steller’s jay
    • California scrub-jay
    • chestnut-backed chickadee
    • bushtit
    • Pacific wren
    • black-headed grosbeak
  • Lake Sammamish State Park
    • mew gull
    • glaucous-winged gull
  • Juanita Bay Park
    • mew gull
    • glaucous-winged gull
    • black swift
    • Vaux’s swift
    • Pacific-slope flycatcher
  • St. Edwards State Park
    • Steller’s jay
    • chestnut-backed chickadee
  • Bob Heirman Wildlife Area
    • red-breasted sapsucker
    • Steller’s jay
    • black-headed grosbeak
    • Bullock’s oriole
    • surfbird
  • Nisqually NWR
    • red-breasted sapsucker
    • bushtit
  • Grays Harbor NWR: wandering tattler

Yellow Rails Found in Migration in MN?

Here’s an interesting report for you: yellow rails seen only!

There are details in that checklist for behavior and micro-site habitat. Later, another birder went to the site and found them around 7:30 PM: “They were chasing each other on the east side of the wetland on the north side of the road. They were splashing in some water in between two flooded rows of crops from last season. They the disappeared into the wet grass.” – Brad Abendroth (emphasis mine)

Another birder was able to see a bird the following day that he assumed was the same as the previously observed bird: “The water is about six inches deep. It is a flooded field. I flushed a bird in the same spot yesterday that was a small rail based on flight that was not a sora. I am convinced it was a yellow rail.” – Steve Gardner

On a quick read-through of the 1st 2 observations, I was optimistic about this incredible and rare sight! As I thought more about it, though, the OH yellow rail debacle came to mind. Basically, 50+ (and some of them excellent!) birders over the course of 4 days went to a sorghum farm to observe yellow rails, until they were discovered to be button quail. Button quail is a non-native species kept sometimes on farms or otherwise in captivity. This event, though, showed the possibility of the non-native species being found in association with agriculture (The 3rd comment was in response to the thread, where I basically quoted Paul Hurtado’s article and opened up an ID debate.) So right now, I’m sorting out the evidence between 2 hypotheses: the birds observed were either yellow rail or button quail. (Obviously, there could be complications/intervening explanations or other hypotheses, but this post will focus on those 2 alternatives.)

In my mind, here’s where we stand with these sightings:

PROS

  • occurs in a geographic location at the right time of year for it to plausibly be yellow rails in migration
  • habitat: “The wet grass is basically identical habitat to the place where I tried for this species at McGregor Marsh. If one was to walk out to where they went after I saw them in the wattery corn stubble, the water level would probably go up an inch or two below the bottom of the calf.” – Brad Abendroth (edited for punctuation)
    • wet grass
    • shallow water
    • retreat into wet grass cover from being out in the open

CONS

  • corn stubble/hanging out between row crops: yellow rail are known to use rice fields in winter, but corn stubble isn’t their typical cover, and would seem to favor button quail.
  • conspicuous behavior: the reports were all seen only in the same location, 2 days apart, and given the incredible rarity of seeing yellow rails out in the open, it raises suspicion.
    • flight: yellow rails don’t flush easily, yet the 3rd observer flushed a bird (though I don’t have information on how close he was)
    • clumsiness: the reports indicate splashing and chasing, which is much unlike the stealthy behavior of yellow rails
    • time of day: all sightings occurred broad daylight/evening

INCOMPLETE INFO: ID MARKS

  • only Steve Gardner saw the bird in flight, and the lighting was low, so beyond the comment: “The wings appeared light on the back edge…” there is no definitive information about the extent of the white on the secondaries. This is the best visual ID mark for distinguishing between button quail and yellow rail.
  • only the original observer, Brad Nelson II is sure of the bill shape, though Brad Abendroth (2nd observer) does seem to recall the bill shape being “rail like” and unlike the quail.

It would be really neat if these are indeed yellow rails out in the open during migration. I hope other observers are able to follow up and gather more info/ID marks!

Tracking Down This Great Horned Owl

I’ve gone back to the spot I first found the great horned owl now several times, at the same time of the evening, and birded around there in the evening many more times to no avail. I did talk to someone down at the Loon’s Foot Landing ore dock who claims an owl comes around “once a year” and hunts from the ore dock. He said it hunts pigeons, and will sit on the dock to eat its kill. This is right across the street from where I saw the owl, so let’s assume it’s the same one. I’ve since looked around the area extensively for nests, and now have my ears out for fledglings, but no luck so far.

Let’s assume the great horned owl I found was an unsuccessful male. I don’t have much to go on for that assumption, and it very well could be wrong: I’ve never heard any calling in my block, and you’d think an unpaired male would be more vocal later in the season. I made a possible home range map based on the measured spring home range for unsuccessful males in Wisconsin: 279 ha (Petersen & Nehls 1979). I did the “full spring” range because I’m not sure when the ore dock sightings occurred. I also put the known locations at the western periphery, because several repeat visits didn’t yield a sighting of the owl (though this could be wrong because often the full home range isn’t utilized, especially in spring), so perhaps it’s found in those places infrequently because those locations are more toward the edge of where it hangs out.

Screenshot 2017-05-13 12.33.09
With hopes it hangs out somewhere in the bounds of my block, and based on previous years’ sightings, this could roughly be its home range.

I put the sightings at the western periphery so that the home range was more in the block.

Literature Cited

Petersen, LeRoy R.; Nehls, Susan, Editor. Ecology of great horned owls and red-tailed hawks in southeastern Wisconsin. (Technical bulletin. (Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources), No. 111) Madison, Wisconsin: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, 1979. 63 pgs.