Notes from Up North

Every now and then I hear a sound like a bird hitting the window. Half the time I can also hear the other parts of the noise a shotgun makes, but half the time it sounds just like a bird hitting the window and nothing else. Then, off in the distance I see between five and fifteen or so ducks flying fast across the bay from the general direction of wetlands.

Last week as we drove south on Rt. 371 near Nisswa, Amanda and I saw a bird that we both knew was a golden eagle the moment we saw it. I said “So, what was that?,” handing her the bird book that I keep in the driver’s side door pocket. She looked through the book a while and said “A really large broad wing hawk?” I said “Well, it was the size of a vulture.” “Yeah, but it had a hawk’s head not a vulture’s head.” “If that was an osprey it was a funny looking osprey.” “Definitely not an immature bald.” “Too large for an osprey anyway.”

That’s how we identify golden eagles around here. They are not supposed to be here, so we remain in denial as long as we can. Nonetheless, once or twice a year we see one. We never see evidence of nesting, so they are probably just passing through on their way north or south, depending on the time of year. The first golden eagle I saw in Minnesota was actually at the UMN Raptor Center, when I was visiting there with Julia.

Guide, standing in front of golden eagle in cage: “There are no golden eagles in Minnesota.”

Julia, pointing over guide’s shoulder: “There’s one, right there!”

Guide, addressing the group of six or seven visitors: “People see immature bald eagles and mistake them for golden eagles all the time, but there are no golden eagle in Minnesota.”

Julia, addressing guide: “So, where did you get that one?”

Guide, addressing Julia: “He was found injured on a road side south of the Twin Cities. We went and rescued him.”

Julia, addressing me: “So, like, Iowa?

Guide: “No, like, Mankato. I’m not sure.”

Julia: “So, there are golden eagles in Minnesota!”

Guide, addressing audience: “There are no golden eagles in Minnesota. Now, moving right along …”

I’ve discussed this before (Let The Eagle Soar, What makes for a good bird?, Golden Eagle # 49 has Entered the Building), but I thought I’d bring it up again.

The bald (not golden) eagle pair that nests off to the west of the cabin have been bringing nesting materials to their nest. They do not have an offspring with them at the moment. We think the one they hatched three years ago was around this spring, but only briefly. On the other hand, all eagles look alike, so we can’t even be sure that the “pair” we see all the time are the same exact individuals. Yes, they mate for life, but they re-mate if one of the pair dies or flies off.

Regardless, it is interesting to see them bringing nesting materials to their nest. Eagles use the same nest for generations, but one tends to think of nest-building to be linked to courting, mating, and egg laying. It is not likely that these eagles will lay an egg (or two) for six or seven months or so, at least. Long term strategies seem to be at play here.

The only loon seems to be an immature raised this year by loons other than our pair, waiting for some signal telling it to fly to the sea. I hope it is not mistaken for a duck by the hunters lurking in the marsh.

We saw a bird swimming with a flotilla of Canada geese that looked almost like a Canada goose but with distinct differences: A shorter neck and all white face, a few other details. We thought it might be something quite interesting such as a Barnacle goose (Branta leucopsis). The nearest breeding populations of those gees is probably Greenland, though strays are seen in the east.

The flotilla passed by us several times subsequent to this sighting and it became clear that the strange looking goose was a strange looking goose and nothing more.

There is suddenly a large number of beavers everywhere. A family of them appears to have moved into the old lodge in the pond in the back. We will probably lose the remaining large birch trees this winter, unless something is done about this outrage!

Oh, no, I see a duck flying TOWARDS the hunter-infested wetlands!

Comments

  1. #1 Fred Magyar
    October 23, 2010
  2. #2 Lisa Palmer Fleming
    October 23, 2010

    From years of experience living on a few acres of river shore in Pine River, I can guarantee that you will eventually have NO birch or aspen standing unless they are wrapped with hardware cloth. Never underestimate the power of a beaver, (I can see your thought bubble); wrap up 5 feet high from the highest paw hold.

  3. #3 Rob
    October 25, 2010

    Saw a golden eagle at Fond du Lac a few weekends back. Not much of a birder myself, I asked one of the natural resources staff. He told me it was a golden and how you could tell it apart from other large raptors.

  4. #4 Brad
    October 26, 2010

    Your oddball goose is probably a hybrid with some type of domestic goose. Search on flickr for hybrid goose and you’ll find lots of examples.
    BIL shot one a couple years ago, generally Canada Goose markings, but the grey areas were flecked with white, the beak and feet were orangeish, and distinctly bigger than other Canadas in the same flock.
    And I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Golden Eagles here in Manitoba. Bald eagles are getting common enough to hardly be worthy of comment.

    Brad

  5. #5 Greg Laden
    October 26, 2010

    Brad: The hybrid idea occured to me as well. It could even be the great grand offspring of a hybrid. On the other hand, the very small difference between this goose and the others allows for a simple genetic mutation as well. The geese never left their flotilla, so I could not see it’s legs. (On the other and, about one in a thousand or so Canada Geese seem to have the wrong color legs with no other trait differences, at least in the Twin Cities area where you can see a thousand at once here and there).

    Hunting Canada Geese? Once you hunt them, what do you do with them? Hunters around here seem to think they can’t be made to taste good. I find that hard to believe.