It feels like the very first time
Last month I noted another strange winter, and today (May 1) the strange winter is continuing, with possible snow for the next several days. At least the ice has actually gone out. I was gone for a couple of days, but the ice was mostly still present when I left on April 25 and all gone by the evening on April 27.
By the end of March, the usual water birds started making lake visits, though the lake was still frozen completely or almost completely. Some Canada Geese showed up on March 28, and by March 31 one Ring-billed Gull and a few Mallards and one pair of Wood Ducks arrived. These usuals continued to visit about every day with little or no open water. A pair of Hooded Mergansers spent almost all of April on the open water by the island, but they seem to have gone north now.
A Great Blue Heron, I believe the usual one, arrived on April 10 and has made various visits since. Black-crowned Night Herons have made various trips, or stayed hidden on the island since mid-April, and I have a report of Green Herons but have not seen them yet. A Muskrat, probably one of the usual ones, has been on the ice and in the minimal open water since April 11. I saw a Great Egret flying over the park (quite high) on April 29 but have not seen any on land in the park. I have, however, seen Egrets in various parts of the state and the Twin Cities in the last few days.
Now that the ice is actually out, some new water birds have arrived. An American Coot, a common spring and fall visitor, has been on the lake for a few days. The Double-crested Cormorants have arrived in moderate numbers and two species of Grebes (a diving bird similar to a duck) are now on the lake. About six or eight Pied-billed Grebes, a fairly common visitor, and one pair of Horned Grebes, a very rare visitor, are present, usually not near shore and often underwater.
Some of the usual small birds are present but not very many at this time. I saw my first park Robin on April 5. I was out of town and missed the hundreds of Robins in the park on about April 17, but they are now all over the neighborhood in moderate numbers. Fox Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, Song Sparrows and at least one Eastern Phoebe arrived about the first week in April, but so far I haven’t seen them very regularly. I have seen no Warblers in the park, or anywhere else so far this year.
CORRECTION: I just saw two Yellow-rumped Warblers, but I didn’t see them in Powderhorn. I saw them at my estate in the southern Twin Cities area. Oh, it isn’t my estate; it’s my former Powderhorn neighbor’s home in a wooded area with several nearby ponds, where I am now house- and animal-sitting for a few days. I also just saw a wren and a thrush, neither of which I saw long enough to determine the exact species.
Back to Powderhorn: Cooper’s Hawks are back in the park and a pair has built a nest high in one of the bigger Cottonwoods on the north side of the lake. I don’t know if they are incubating eggs yet and I have not yet checked last year’s successful Cooper’s Hawk nest near 35th Street in the western part of the park.
Back to water birds: On several occasions, during our April snows, I saw Canada Geese, Mallards and Wood Ducks sitting on the ice or shore, with light to moderate snow on their backs. They seemed to be fine, but to me, it was a surprise. Of all the ducks and geese I’ve seen in my life, and that’s a lot, I don’t think I have ever seen them snow-covered! They looked quite different and pretty that way; the park and neighborhood looked quite different and pretty also during some of those April storms. The present May snow has just stopped and I don’t know how this one will turn out.
Other park sightings: On one of our few spring days I saw a medium-sized bat over the lake, probably a Brown Bat, plus an odd duck, mostly white with moderately gray wings. The white duck seemed healthy and fine and was hanging out with the Mallards, probably some sort of escaped domestic duck. Two medium-sized turtles were out on one nice day. The aeration system is back up and running and there is a new sign up near the parking lot indicating the sidewalk repairs and replacement that were going to happen last year will happen between August and November this year.
Another park sighting: On April 21, a pair of, I believe, humans were on the athletic fields dressed as about 5-foot long Crickets (or some similar insect). I don’t know if this has something to do with May Day or if it is some new Powderhorn life style that I am not aware of.
The yard birding has been quite active. On March 30 (after I had written my April column), a pair of Common Redpolls visited the backyard finch feeder. Though they are called “Common Redpolls,” they are not common to me. I have never before or since seen them in the yard or park. They are very cute, little finch-sized characters. Juncos have been common in the yard throughout April; a Hairy Woodpecker made at least one visit; Fox Sparrows made a few stops; a Blue Jay stopped at least once, and the regulars, House Finches, Goldfinches, Chickadees, English Sparrows and Cardinals, are still regulars with Robins now in the mix.
An upcoming event on May 18 endeavors to recreate something from the past. Minnesota Community Sings is hosting a huge community sing at Powderhorn Park, two weeks after May Day, as often happened on a summer night in the park about 100 years ago. The event, from 5:30 to 8 p.m., includes singing during the first hour followed by socializing and enjoying the surroundings. Enjoy!
Comments and observations are always welcome. Send them to me, in care of Southside Pride. Thank you.