We met at in the parking lot outside the
community college and 8 of us piled into a van with the heater going on high. It was a brisk 28 degrees. The sun was just beginning to show on the
eastern horizon. This is the first of a
6 session field-based class on the Ely Area birds. I was luck to get a spot in the roster.
Bill Tefft (VCC instructor) started us out at the area right around the
Eagle on nest – eggs likely to hatch in a few weeks.
Bill pointed out the old dike along the south (lake side) telling us the area is usually good birding. An old road also on that side leads to the CC Camp which is also good birding.
Returning toward Ely we turned in at the old Ely airport
(sign says Forest Concrete and there is a State sign for the snowmobile trail
Here we again saw/heard a song sparrow. Bill says it is the only bird singing so early but out where I live on the lake we have the Red-winged Black Birds and the Evening Grosbeaks all exchanging ‘notes’ about their winter adventures.
Kildeer in the grass of the old ball field.
Northern Flicker on the fence
European Starlings in the grass
Then we headed through town toward the High School. Bill said that a Common Raven was trying to
nest in the tall lighting platforms that surround the High School football
field. Alas, we were unable to see a
nest. However we did spot a raven
carrying a stick right there so they may be undeterred. More on that potential conflict in future
notes I think. We circled around the
school compound to the
Back at the college campus by psyched up for our next trip.
Birding with Bill, Session 2,
We met again before the rest of the world was stirring – interesting to note that the sun was already up – what a difference a week makes. Also not as cold.
Bill took us to Winton to begin the morning. He reminded us that it is always good birding in Winton. Between the twistings of the
We then headed West on Co Rd. 990 know locally as the ‘Old Winton Road’, came out on Hgwy. 88 Grant, McMann Blvd, which goes around Shagawa Lake. A right turn, a short distance and we stopped at Old Koschak Farm Natural Wild Life Area. It used to host the breeding ponds of a DNR fish farm. It is now a breeding area for lots of different birds and ticks - and mosquitoes Bill says. The dykes around the old ponds make for interesting and varied vistas over the several viewing areas. It was here that I finally got the hang of the very good binoculars Bill loaned me: don’t put them right up to the eyes.
Birding with Bill – Session 3,
The sun was well up when we assembled at 6 AM, but it still was cold and we were all gloved and hatted. This week we had one focus: Great Blue Herons. Bill took us to the rookery on Eagles nest. I didn’t even know that Ely had a rookery and it turns out there are at least two.
Finding the rookery is not easy. I’d suggest that anyone not really familiar
with the area find a guide. From the
We could easily see about 5 occupied nests, the birds must be incubating eggs. Unlike an eagle’s nest these must be quite shallow as we could easily see the sitting birds. They were visiting with one another as well – imagine a long legged Heron perched on a swaying branch of a pine tree! Other birds were to-ing and fro-ing, often with sticks suggesting that some remodeling was in progress. (I hope some of Dan’s photos of the lumber re-supply flights turn out.) According to Bill, Heron nests are extremely flimsy-looking collections of sticks, you can even see thru them. Never-the-less they must be sturdy enough to hold the weight of at least three birds. Bill told us that they use the same nests year after year. Gradually the accumulation of guano on the trees and nearby grounds will kill trees and reduce the variety of plants.
When the birds were agitated we heard their hoarse and guttural squawks, hoots and squeaks; atonal sounds that can only be described as primitive conjuring up scenes of Pre Cambrian jungles. I’ve heard that sound before but not known what it was.
The only other birds of much interest were was a Yellow-bellied Sap Sucker busily tattooing a dead tree and the lovely Evening Grossbeak.
We checked four blue bird boxes and found ‘reservations’ in three of them. It seems that Eastern Bluebirds are very careful about the placement of even the earliest pieces of grass for their nests. Even if there were only a few pieces of grass they were tucked neatly around the edges and curved to create the ‘cup’ that would eventually be its nest. The male bluebird sang brightly from a power line while the female played peek-a-boo in a nearby tree. Their melodic song was wonderful to hear. Bill took us through the old part of the cemetery pointing out newly arrived Chipping Sparrows and Tree Swallows .
I was distracted looking at the old grave stones. The oldest date of death I spotted was 1891,
Ely had just been founded. Then over to
the newest portion of the cemetery where a large area of native, e.g.
undesirable, shrubs had been cleared away last fall and replaced by a lovely
landscaped planting of – shrubs. The old
plants had been safe haven for migrating sparrows, pipits and longspurs so much
so that Bill had nicknamed them the ‘sparrow shrubs’. I was distracted by Forsythia in bloom! In
Ely! In April!
Then we drove out to check on a Bald Eagle’s nest on Highway 88 (
Birding with Bill, Session 5,
The wonderful rain had frozen overnight and all the buds
were encased in ice. That’s spring in
As we piled into the van (all hatted and gloved again!) Bill told us we were headed out to scratch trees. Scratch trees? Well, if you scratch at the base of a tree having cavities in which birds are nesting the birds will pop their heads out. Our target was Pileated Woodpeckers. We drove out to the area around the Kawishiwi Campground, (Highway #1, just after the second bridge) parked in the driveway of the Forest Service Research station. There were lots of tall, aging aspen with multiple cavities along the road (holey trees?). Bill scratched away. We all watched intently, placing bets on which hole would house a bird. Four trees (with about 4 holes apiece) before we finally found a woodpecker at home. The female poked her head out and looked us over turning her head from one side to the other; they must not have binocular vision. After we had walked on down the road she flew out; breakfast time I’d guess.
We were scanning for Eastern Phoebes along the river when a Merlin dived at the birds. The falcon then flew to a phone line and watched us while we watched him – stalemate. We gave up first. Live birds rather than eggs or rodents are the preferred food of these falcons.
Over in the campground we thought we saw a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, it was moving around so much that firm identification was difficult – but I’ll trust Bill. Birdsong filled the air: Chipping Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds, American Robins, Eastern Phoebes, and an Ovenbird, probably more. The brisk air was loud with birdsong.
We scratched more trees and roused only a tousled-headed camper and his beautiful white dog. More mutual watching. Since coffee wasn’t being offered we moved on.
On the drive home Bill swung by the old ball field that we had visited on our first session. No much moving there: a couple of Ring-billed Gulls foraging along the road and some Killdeer inside the playing field.
Next week is out last outing.