Goatsucker family members and bird-like moths bring summer to a close
As I have written at the start of most of my writings lately, we had a very odd weather situation last month. Between the very hot weather and the very big mess the park path is in, the birding has not been too good. But I will try to write something.
One bird I have seen a lot of lately is the Chimney Swift. There might be a lot more of them or it could be that I am walking more at evening hours when they are most active. Also, one evening I saw one or more Nighthawks with the Chimney Swifts. Of course, Nighthawks are not really hawks. They are members of the Goatsucker family, which is closely related to Swifts and Whip-poor-wills. I also learned on the MOU Rare Bird Alert hotline (phone 763-780-8890) that 30,000-plus Nighthawks had passed by Hawk Ridge in Duluth in one day in late August, and 3,000-plus had passed through Tofte (on the north shore of Lake Superior) in one hour. Nighthawks used to be quite regular, “hawking” insects near Powderhorn neighborhood and park street lights on summer evenings, but numbers have been way, way down lately.
Heron and Egret numbers have also been down lately. I have seen very few Great Blue Herons at the Park, and most of the Egrets, Green Herons and Black-crowned Night Herons that I have seen have been after dark.
Of course, anyone paying any attention has noticed the lake path was destroyed in the two days after the Art Fair and none of it has been replaced yet (as of Aug. 28). And the park, between the June storm, the construction (or destruction) project and the weather, is probably a less friendly place right now for birds, animals, insects and humans.
But there still are some things to see in the park. An observant 15th Avenue neighbor noticed a Cicada hatching and helped out by finding a safe place for it. (Cicadas are the insects known for their buzzing and clicking sounds usually heard at night.) Other good neighbors helped out an egg-laying painted turtle by keeping overly curious humans a safe distance from the egg-layer. I always like to hear stories of all the things good-hearted people are doing for critters of all types.
Back to a few park birds. I saw a Sandpiper by the lake in mid-month. I am pretty sure it was the same (unspotted) Spotted Sandpiper that I saw several times in July. I also saw the large Red-tailed Hawk that I, and various other people, had seen earlier. A Grey Squirrel was passing by on the ground fairly close to me when the Red-tail swooped out of a tree near the southeast shore of the lake. I thought the squirrel was a goner, but it somehow out-maneuvered the hawk. The hawk lifted up and passed by my head about five feet high and about five feet from my head. I stuck an arm out, I don’t know why, just a reaction I guess, but I didn’t grab the hawk and the hawk didn’t grab me. It landed, not far away, low in a tree near the park parking lot. I assume it was the hawk that was landing and/or perching fairly close to people early in August. I have not seen it since. I also didn’t see the Cooper’s Hawks or any activity near their nest in August.
The ducks, geese and cormorants (though perhaps fewer cormorants) seem to be surviving the destruction project and weather, but song birds and other small birds seem to be at lower numbers than usual. The muskrats are staying out of sight more during daylight, but they are still there.
Something new in the neighborhood, at least for me and after an absence of several years, is Sphinx or Hawk Moths. I am quite sure I saw two at dusk near the west side of the lake on Aug. 20, and I am positive I saw one in the back yard at dusk on Aug. 25. The unofficial name by many is Hummingbird Moth, as some are as large as hummingbirds, and they often hover in front of flowers and uncoil their long proboscis and drink from the flowers as hummingbirds do. A few years ago, I positively identified a White-lined Sphinx Moth in the back yard. Last year I saw several large ones at the very north end of Door County Peninsula, which sticks out into Lake Michigan. The one in the back yard this year could have been a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth or a Nessus Sphinx Moth. Of course I may never see it well enough to figure out which it is, but they are really great things to look at.
Speaking of hummingbirds, I have not seen any in the park or yard this year, but I saw a lot while visiting in Prairie du Sac, Wis., earlier this month. I also saw two Sandhill Cranes not too far off the road while driving in that area.
Back to the back yard: The usual birds are still usual with the Hairy Woodpecker being much more usual than usual in August and immature Cardinals and Robins sometimes appearing. The butterflies are still more scarce than usual, but sometimes there are up to three Monarchs in the yard. Last year there would have been more than a dozen going crazy around the Meadow Blazing Stars (liatris ligulistylis).
There were several rain outbursts on National Night Out (Aug. 6) so we had no politicians, fire trucks or police horses, but we still had very good, very dedicated fire dancers (Minneapolis Fire Collective) and I still claim we have the best National Night Out in the country.
By the way, I am now a “roadie” for the fire collective and helped load their large new rental truck for their trip to the Burning Man event in Nevada. I considered hiding in the back of the truck for a free ride to the event but I thought being locked in the truck for a few days might have bad consequences.
Comments and observations are always welcome. Send them to me, in care of Southside Pride. Thank you.