A Northwoods Almanac for May 1 -14, 2015
Mother’s Day = Hummingbird, Oriole, and Rose-Breasted Grosbeak Day
Mother’s Day usually coincides with the arrival of ruby-throated hummingbirds, Baltimore orioles, and rose-breasted grosbeaks. This year, Mother’s Day occurs on 5/10, a bit later than usual, so we may see these birds arrive a few days earlier than the holiday itself. Our average arrival date in Manitowish for all three species is either May 7 or 8. Indigo buntings usually appear a few days later, on average by May 12.
So, get out those oranges for the orioles, the sugar water for the hummers, and the seeds for the grosbeaks and buntings. Spring is happening!
4/12: Ted Hobein observed 18 common mergansers on Lower Kaubashine Lake in Hazelhurst even though the ice didn’t completely go off the lake until the next day.
4/13: Tom Folsom in Manitowish Waters observed around 100 tundra swans on Little Trout Lake.
4/16: Keith on Country Club Rd. in Minocqua was repairing his roof when he saw two white pelicans circling above him in some thermals. Thus, it pays to fix your roof in more ways than one!
4/16: A birder observed 28 common loons from the boat launch on Lake Monona in Madison. The loons’ presence in Madison on this date is an indicator of how many loons were still preparing to come north even though most of our lakes had opened by then.
4/16: We saw our FOY (first-of-year) greater yellowlegs where Papoose Creek enters Rest Lake. We also had our FOY pine warbler near Star Lake.
4/17: Along the lines of late-arriving loons, Mary Nell Currie on Malby Lake in Minocqua wrote: “We have been looking for days to see the loon arrive and finally, last night, one flew in just at dusk. So grateful they are back!!”
4/17: Kay Rhyner saw her FOY pair of kingfishers on Yawkey Lake in Hazelhurst.
4/18: Hannah Dana Arbor Vitae wrote: “ I had the privilege to watch two red-tailed hawks in an aerial courtship display which lasted approximately 15 minutes. The hawks built up speed by flying and then soared ‘free flight’ in symmetrical loops, forming an infinity sign in the sky. As each returned from making a loop, the female flew just below the male, and it appeared that the male was attempting to mate mid-air. Then they would separate and make their tandem loops again, and then the male seemed to attempt to push against the female at the intersection of the loops. I ended up with a neck ache from looking up for so long, but I wanted to see if the male would, indeed, consummate the mating. What I saw only lasted a couple of seconds and then they separated and flew over the trees. I ‘googled’ hawk mating habits and found that the aerial displays are impressive and that the red-tails mate in the nest. However, it really appeared to me that a brief mating occurred mid-air.”
Hannah’s correct that the scientific literature says that red-tails mate on the nest, but perhaps this pair hadn’t read the passage! From Cornell’s Birds of North America: “Pre-nesting displays typically consist of both birds soaring in wide circles at high altitudes and the male performing maneuvers. After several series of dives and ascents, the male slowly approaches the female from above, extends his legs and touches or grasps her momentarily. The birds may grasp one another’s beak or interlock talons and spiral toward the ground. Two birds thus engaged struck the ground before releasing one another; both flew away apparently unharmed. These aerial acrobatics may last 5–10 min and include courtship feeding. Typically, copulation occurs when the female terminates courtship flight and postures from a perch.”
4/21: Bruce Bacon, retired wildlife manager, reported already seeing fledged pine siskin young near his home north of Mercer!
4/21: We had our FOY white-throated sparrow in Manitowish under our feeders in the snow.
4/23: Rod Sharka in Land O’Lakes sent me this note: “Ever hear of warblers eating peanuts? We've had a pine warbler visiting a satellite feeder we keep filled with peanuts (for the chickadees and nuthatches) the last week or so. Quite a sight.” I had never heard of warblers eating peanuts, but early migrants have to be flexible diners in what is loosely referred to as “spring” in the North Country, and this pine warbler clearly had that figured out.
4/24: Cherie Smith sent me a photo of a fisher in her back yard. She noted, “He was cleaning up suet pieces that fell from the hanging feeders. I have seen them before, but not in the middle of the day.”
Duck from the Duck!
Tom Erdman, curator of the Richter Natural History Museum in Green Bay, posted the following on 4/22 on the Wisconsin BirdNet: “I've read about it happening to other people, eagles and ospreys dropping fish on boats and autos. Well, last evening I had one of our local adult bald eagles drop a mostly eaten black duck in the dead center of my windshield on my moving auto while driving through the Pensaukee Wildlife Area. That was an amazing shot!”
When I contacted Tom to get his permission to reprint his posting, he added: “It was mostly skeleton (whole) with most of the meat eaten off. If it had been a fresh kill it would have broken my windshield. The eagle was flying low down the road and I could see it was carrying prey. As we merged, the bird simply dropped it, much to my surprise.”
Another birder on the BirdNet responded to Tom’s story, saying, “I am reminded of the old joke, ‘How can you spot a birder? Yell ‘duck’ and most people crouch down but the birder looks up.’ But the joke doesn't assume the duck is coming at you.”
Tom later added, “Speaking of birds dropping things . . . herring gulls out east drop clams on rocks to open them. They learned that parking lots work even better, much to the detriment of parked cars and people. To combat that, some places painted flying gulls on the blacktop, the theory being that a gulls won't drop a clam if there was a gull closer to the surface than they are, which could grab the food.”
Our daughter Callie, lover of all things Greek, tells me that the poet Aeschylus in 5th century BC was supposedly killed by a turtle dropped by an eagle that had mistaken his bald head for a rock suitable for shattering its shell.
So, if you believe Greek legends, Tom Erdman’s story is just one in a long, long history of eagles acting as bombers.
Bald eagle chicks typically hatch by May 1, so activity around eagle nests should be picking up with the need to haul food in to the chick(s). The chicks will reach full size (8 to 13 pounds – females are much larger than males) in just over two months, and fledge typically within 3 months.
Canada goose goslings also typically hatch in the first week of May. The birds arrive on their breeding grounds already mated. Incubation lasts less than a month. Upon hatching, the precocial goslings are fully covered with down, but they leave the nest within 24 hours, by which time they are able to walk, swim, feed, and dive. They typically fledge within two months.
Early Bloomers – Hazelnut, Aspens, Willows, and Alders
These four woody species waste little time blooming in the spring. Our aspens (quaking and big-tooth) bear their flowers in unisexual dangling catkins, each tree bearing either male or female catkins (termed “dioecious” flowers). The male catkins shed their pollen really quickly, and around our home, they bloomed and dropped from the trees, littering our decks, within three or four days.
Willows, too, bear unisexual flowers, each shrub being either a male or a female. By flowering and going to seed so quickly, the willows are ready to colonize exposed river banks when the water recedes after spring floods.
Tag alders and hazelnuts produce “monoecious” flowers, meaning they produce both female and male flowers separately on the same plants. The male flowers are dangly catkins on both species, while the female flower of the tag alder show only their red stigmas in a short catkin. The female flower of the two hazelnuts (beaked and American) are quite different. They look like leaf buds with tiny, bright red stigmas. You have to look close to see them, but they’re really very pretty despite, or because of, their simplicity.
It’s not often Mary and I paddle our kayaks at dawn when it’s 37°, but when Sandhill Crane Count day comes, you do what you have to do. Mind you, I’m not complaining. We’ve snowshoed at 10° on this day, been in white-outs, you name it – when it’s April in northern Wisconsin, zany weather goes with the territory. This was mild comparatively.
Bob Kovar joined us at 5:30 the morning of 4/18 on the Manitowish River, and though our hands and feet got cold, we had a beautiful time on the water though the river was exceptionally low.
Still, we found a good number of birds. Song sparrows had established territories all along the river, we heard our first hermit thrush, two trumpeter swans flew right by us, heading upriver, we saw our first rusty blackbirds, heard our first Wilson’s snipe, and saw quite a variety of ducks.
The morning dawned beautifully on the river, the flat light warming everything both physically and visually.
And, oh yeah, we counted five cranes!
The North Lakeland Discovery Center’s 11th annual Northwoods Birdfest takes place on Friday evening, 5/8, and throughout the day on 5/9. It’s a very laid back, but very fun, chance to learn more about birds and to share your skills with others, from beginners to experts. Hope to see you there!
Full moon – the “Planting” or “Flower” moon – occurs on 5/3. Look for Saturn near the waning gibbous moon throughout the nights of 5/4 and 5/5. The peak Eta Aquarid meteor shower occurs before the dawn on 5/6, averaging about 30 to 40 per hour. But the light of the moon should wash out much of the show.