Megan's Nature Nook
Nature Notes, Phenology, Photography, Fun Facts, Trips, Maybe Even a Bad Joke or Two... and More!
Last fall we had the unique opportunity to observe a Yellow Garden Spider that took up residence in the hostas next to our front door. She used the flower stalks of the hosta to anchor her large web. It was fun to see her dew-covered web each morning and see what she had in her web each afternoon. She occupied her web for quite some time and even laid two egg sacks before she disappeared when the weather got too cold. It was a cool experience, and I can only hope that one of her young will take up residence in the landscaping this year.
Yellow Garden Spiders (Argiope aurantia) are members of the orb weaver family. They are known by many names like black and yellow garden spider, golden garden spider, zigzag spider, and zipper spider. Orb weavers have an additional claw (most spiders have two) that helps them to spin complex webs. Garden Spiders are fairly large with the female’s body reaching ¾ inch to a little over an inch in size. The female’s body is black with a yellow pattern on the abdomen. The legs are brown at the base with black towards the tips. Males at about 1/3 the size of the female with brown legs and less yellow.
Garden Spiders can be found in the Continental U.S., Mexico, Canada, and Central America. They’re often found in prairies, gardens, yards – any sunny spot with plants that they can anchor a web to.
Garden Spiders are a welcome friend as they eat a variety of things including flies, bees, and flying insects that get caught in their web. They immobilize their prey by biting and injecting them with a venom which is harmless to humans.
Because they’re part of the orb weaver family, Garden Spiders weave complex webs that they anchor on plants. They have an intricate zigzag pattern in the middle of the web, but researchers aren’t exactly sure why. It could possibly be to alert birds to the web, attract insects, or stabilize the web. Garden Spiders use their webs to catch prey. They’ll sit on the web waiting, and when something gets stuck in it, they feel the web vibrate, then run to the prey, bite, and inject it’s venom to immobilize the prey.
Webs aren’t only for catching prey. Males will court a female by plucking the web. Once they mate, the female will deposit an egg sack made of brown silk about an inch in diameter. Egg sacks can hold hundreds to thousands of eggs. That may seem like a lot of baby siders, but egg sacks are often parasitized by wasps and flies. Babies will hatch in the spring or fall. In colder climates the young will stay in egg sacks overwinter and emerge in the spring. Garden Spiders will usually live for one year, females will die the first hard frost after mating. If there is no hard frost, in warmer climates, the females may live several years.
Fun Fact: Garden Spiders may eat and respin their web each night.
Earlier this summer, Tony came to visit me at the zoo and spotted a caterpillar hanging on the rock wall in a “J” formation. When you see a caterpillar in the “J” it means that it will be transforming into its chrysalis within the next 24 hours. This spiky caterpillar wasn’t one that we were familiar with, so we did some searching and found out that it was a Mourning Cloak caterpillar. As I was researching Mourning Cloaks, I found some interesting information about these butterflies!
Mourning Cloak Butterflies (Nymphalis antiopa) can be found throughout the United States and most of Canada down to central Mexico. They’re not a very common species but can be seen throughout the warmer months.
Mourning Cloak butterflies have a wingspan of 3-4 inches. Wings are dark, chocolate brown in the middle, with a yellow/cream color on the boarder. The wings are adorned with blue spots just inside the yellow edging of the wings. Both the fore and hind wings have rough edges with protruding parts of the wing. Caterpillars are black with spikes all over the body. They have light speckles throughout the body and rusty red spots along the back.
Their lifecycle is similar to other butterflies. Adults mate in the spring and female butterflies lay eggs on host plants which include willow, cottonwood, aspen, birch, elm, hackberry, and other species of trees. They lay multiple eggs at a time, circling twigs of the plant. When the eggs hatch out after a few days to a few weeks, the caterpillars live in a communal web and feed on the plants. After three to four weeks of feeding and growing, it is time for the caterpillars to transform into a chrysalis where their metamorphosis into a butterfly will happen. They usually pupate and transform into butterflies in June or July.
Adult butterflies feed on tree sap, fruit (especially rotting), and occasionally flower nectar. They’ll feed briefly after emerging from their chrysalis and then estivate until fall when they reemerge and feed to store energy for their winter hibernation. Estivation is when an animal spends a hot or dry period in extended dormancy. Some adults may migrate south to warmer weather in the fall instead of hibernating.
Mourning Cloak butterflies are a special species because they overwinter as adults. Most insects overwinter as eggs or larvae. Because of this, they’re one of the last butterflies we see in the fall, and one of the first we see in the spring. As temperatures cool in the fall, they find a protected area under bark, in a log, or a crevice of a building where they will spend the winter until temperatures reach about 60 degrees in the spring and they become active again. Then the cycle will start again, egg, caterpillar, butterfly.
Mourning Cloak butterflies can live as long as 10 - 11 months, most butterfly species are a few weeks to a few months so they may be the longest-lived butterfly!
Minnesota Fishing Opener was this past weekend. After a long winter, people are excited to get out on the water fishing and enjoy the warm weather. They’ve been dreaming of getting out fishing, but one thing they don’t think about when planning their fishing trip is how their fishing tackle can affect the wildlife around them.
In 2020 the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) launched a program called “Get the Lead Out” to promote the use of lead-free fishing tackle. The program is funded from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. During the oil spill many loons were negatively affected, causing concern for their population. Minnesota is a hotspot for nesting loons, so their efforts were focused on helping their populations in breeding areas. With the program, the MPCA has been getting the word out and educating people about why lead tackle is dangerous to wildlife and what you can do to help.
Lead poisoning from tackle is common in loons, waterbirds like ducks and swans, raptors, and occasionally small mammals like racoons that eat fish. Loons swallow pea-sized pebbles on the bottom of lakes to aid in digestion, like grit for chickens. Ducks and other waterbirds may ingest lead jigs or sinkers while foraging for invertebrates. Jigs are meant to entice fish and may look like a minnow to waterfowl and be ingested because of that. Another way loons or raptors, like eagles or osprey, may ingest fishing tackle is by eating a fish that has swallowed a jig or sinker. Once the lead is ingested, it is exposed to acid and rocks in the stomach which break it down. The lead is then released and enters bird’s blood stream, slowly poisoning the bird. It takes only ONE lead sinker to poison a loon and can take 2-3 weeks after ingesting for the loon to die -which can be a long and painful death.
Once the lead has entered the blood stream, it affects the brain and nervous system, digestive organs, kidneys, heart, and reproductive system of the animal. Basically, if a loon or other animals ingests lead tack, they’re going to die. It is just a matter of time. Some signs of lead poisoning can be flying poorly, crash landings, head tilt, gasping, trembling, droopy wings, and emaciation from not eating.
Lead tackle is an obvious problem, as loons, waterbirds, and raptors can easily ingest it while foraging or eating fish that have swallowed lead tackle. They get very sick and succumb to death. This can be worrisome as it may threaten bird populations. Not only is lead poisoning bad news for the birds, but it can also get into the environment from being in a water system. Sand or rocks rub on the lead, releasing it into the water. It can then be in the water or soil, be taken up by plants growing and animals can ingest lead by eating the plants. It could also potentially be a health hazard to humans who recreate in the water and possibly contaminate drinking water over time. I’ve been reading Silent Spring by Rachel Carson which has me really thinking about contamination in the environment and how things can compound overtime becoming detrimental, and hard to reverse – if even possible.
There are many negative effects of using lead fishing tackle, but luckily there are things we can do to help “Get the Lead Out” and keep our wildlife and environment healthy. Over there years many non-lead alternatives have become available. Stainless steel, bismuth, tin, tungsten, ceramic, recycled glass, and natural granite are just some of the alternatives. Besides being non-toxic, some of these alternatives are harder than lead, making them less likely to get stuck on rocks. Some are denser which gives a smaller profile, and some have lower melting points which can allow for finer detail. Ask your local bait and tackle store to stock non-lead sinkers and tackle. The MPCA has a list of lead-free fishing tackle on their website.
Once you purchase your new non-lead tackle, be sure to dispose of your old lead sinkers and jigs properly. Bring them to household hazardous waste collection sites. Never throw old tack into the water or on shore!
If you don’t fish yourself, you can gift non-lead fishing tackle to the favorite fishermen and fisherwomen in your lives. And the easiest thing to do: share this information with friends and family to “Get the Lead Out!”
Making one small change can help to better the lives of wildlife around you and keep our environment healthy. A small step of changing to non-lead fishing tackle can make a big impact! Now is a great time to sort through your fishing tackle, properly dispose of your lead tackle, and get some new non-lead tackle to start off the fishing season! And this winter don’t forget to check your ice fishing gear to see what you can switch over to non-lead.
You can tune a guitar, but you can't tuna fish, unless of course you play bass!
Each year when I see the John Beargrease Dogsled Marathon on the news, it reminds me of this unique winter sport that we’re lucky enough to have in Minnesota. Last winter I wanted to learn more about dogsledding, so I read Yukon Alone: The World’s Toughest Adventure Race by John Balzar – a book about the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race. While reading I was so amazed at what these mushers and dogs go through and their dedication to the sport. So naturally, after reading about dogsledding, it made me want to go dogsledding even more!
So, I started looking into different dogsledding outfitters in Ely, Minnesota – the self-proclaimed capitol of dogsledding. There are all sorts of different styles, lengths, and price points of trips to choose from. Ones that are a few hours to others that are multiple day trips including camping. Since this was our first time dogsledding, we decided to go with Chilly Dogs Sled Dog Trips. (One of the reasons I picked them was because I liked the name!)
Chilly Dogs is operated by the Hway Family. Jeff and Donna, along with their son, Jake and his wife Jess run the day-to-day operations. They also have other staff members that come in to help, and Jake and Jess’ kids help with the dogs, too! Their place is home to over 90 retired Alaskan Husky sled dogs, many of them having participated in well-known races like the John Beargrease and Iditarod Dogsled Marathons. Most of the dogs are around 12-15 years old, a few were 17 and even a 19-year-old dog was there! The dogs had so much energy and definitely didn’t act or look their age, you can tell they love running! Because of their breed, diet, and lifestyle it’s not uncommon for these dogs to be able to live and perform for so long. Although many of the dogs are older, they run an average of 25 miles a day doing dogsledding trips and about half the dogs are used on the weekends by the Boy Scouts of America to do trips into the Boundary Waters.
This is the Hway Family’s 18th season running dogsledding trips. They usually run trips from December – March, depending on snow conditions. If you’re wanting to book a trip, don’t delay! They can fill up fast, especially on the weekends. We secured a weekday afternoon trip in early February. The booking process was really easy, and they sent along some great information on what to expect and how to dress for the trip.
On the day of our trip, we headed just south of Ely to Chilly Dogs. Jake was waiting for us and welcomed everyone as we arrived. To start off the trip, we met in the lodge that was decorated with dogsledding memorabilia and had a wood stove. Jake and Donna talked about Alaskan Huskies, dogsledding, how to dress properly and gave a rundown of the trip. We chose the Snowy Owl Run which is a three-hour trip, about one hour on the trail. Before heading outside, they checked over everyone’s gear. If you don’t have the proper winter gear, they have anything you would need for a reasonable rental fee including coats, boots, gloves, ski goggles, and even hand and foot warmers!
Once we were bundled up, it was time to head outside into a winter wonderland! It was snowing when we arrived and now had huge, fluffy flakes coming down. We headed to the dog yard to meet our new four-legged friends! Just before heading into the yard, we were met by two guides, John and Haley, who had two sled dogs out and told us a little bit about the dogs, their diet, personalities, and how to properly approach them. Then we were able to go in and meet the dogs! Most were very eager to meet us and loved being pet and getting butt scratches. A few weren’t as interested and stayed in their houses relaxing. As we were meeting the dogs, the guides were around to tell us their names and a little bit of their backstories.
After we met the dogs and they met us, it was time for some dogsledding orientation. Luckily the dogs do most of the hard work, but there are still some things you need to know before heading out on the trail. They had another building where we went for our orientation. Jake had a sled and gangline laid out so we could learn how to break and steer the sled and what to do if we tipped the sled. The biggest thing we learned was: never let go! And secondly the dogs are the gas pedal so it’s important to know how to slow down and stop!
Now is when the fun really began! We headed back out to the dog yard and got our sled assignments. The guides put together the assignments each day based on the people riding/mushing, number of sleds, and dogs that will be going on the trip. For our trip we had a total of five sleds, and Tony and I were the last sled to go. We had a guide at the front leading the group, two guest sleds, a second guide, and then us. I hopped in the sled bag and Tony stood on the brake of the sled while the guides and various Hway family members (including the kids) hooked up our dogs to the sled. The second we came out of the orientation building the dogs knew what was up! They were barking, howling, jumping, and dancing around in anticipation and excitement. Once all the dogs were hooked up it was go time! The anchor was lifted, Tony stepped off the brake bar, yelled “hike,” and away we went! It was crazy how fast it went from noisy pandemonium to silence as the dogs fell into rhythm and ran with their team.
The snow was really coming down and with the wind we were dogsledding in a blizzard. The scenery was beautiful as we wove our way through wooded and brushy areas. It was fun to see the dogs in their element and see them grab mouthfuls of snow from the edge of the trail – some seeming to dunk their whole head in the snow as their ran. Some of the dogs had their tongues lolling out and you could just tell that they were really enjoying themselves!
We were on the trail for about an hour and covered around eight miles. About halfway through we did a quick stop and switched positions. Now it was my turn to mush! Riding in the sled was fun, but wow, mushing was a whole new experience! It was so cool to feel the power from the dogs and how effortlessly they pulled the sled. During the ride, one of the guides, John, on the sled in front of us told us the names of our dogs and what positions they were in (lead, swing/point, and wheel). For the most part the dogs do all the hard work, but when you come to hills you have to help them out. I’d say the hardest part as a musher was when you went up a hill, you have to hop off the sled and run alongside it until you reach the top, then you can hop on again. You have to run pretty quick to keep up with the sled, and if you hopped on too early (before you got to the top) the dogs would look back at you like, “Really? Come on, help us out!”
As we approached the dog yard near the end of our trail ride, the other dogs were barking and howling to welcome us back. We had time to stop and take some pictures with the dogs and our sled to document our awesome experience. From the snow and cold Tony’s beard was a pretty impressive sight. Once pictures were taken, the guides and Hway family brought the dogs back to their spots in the dog yard and we headed back to the lodge.
Inside we shed our snowy outer layers and warmed up with a nice cup of hot cocoa and some treats of individually wrapped cookies, fruit snacks, and candy bars. While we were enjoying our treats, Jake and Donna told us more about dogsledding and answered more questions. Before heading out we perused the gift shop and got some fun souvenirs to remember this awesome experience!
If you’re think about doing a dogsledding trip – do it! It was totally worth it and will always be a fun experience to look back on! I know Tony and I both greatly enjoyed it and I wouldn’t be surprised if another dogsledding trip is in our future.
The Hway Family did a great job welcoming us into their world of dogsledding. You can tell they care a great deal about the dogs, and ultimately do it for the dogs – so they can keep on running even after they’re retired from long races. They did a good job explaining how the lives of sled dogs are different than your typical pet’s, but not any worse than a pet’s life. Alaskan Huskies love to be outside, are built for the cold and are acclimated to it. They are fed high calorie diets that fuel them during their running activities. They’re working dogs that enjoy running, they don’t do it because they have to, but because they want to. And because of this active working dog lifestyle, they are healthy and can live long lives. But just because they’re working dogs doesn’t mean they aren’t loved, these dogs get plenty of attention with lots of pets, hugs, kisses, and butt scratches from the Chilly Dogs family and staff, and visitors alike.
If you’re looking to try dogsledding for yourself, check out Chilly Dogs Dog Sled Trips and have the ride of a lifetime! It was a really neat and unique experience and I’m so happy Tony and I could experience it together.
I’m writing this as I drink hot cocoa from my new Chilly Dogs mug and snow falls outside my window, leaving me wishing that I was out on the trail with the dogs today.
Check out the video below that Tony made of our dogsledding trip!
Wow, what a year! As I began my Big Year on January 1, 2021 I didn’t really know what to expect, or should I say, what I was getting myself into. I’ve always enjoyed being outside and watching birds, but doing a Big Year brought things to a whole new level. I didn’t have the time or resources to do a typical Big Year where participants travel all over the country on a moment’s notice to get a bird and end their year with upwards of 700 species, but I did end my Big Year being impressed with all I had learned over the year and how many species I saw. My main focus of my Big Year wasn’t the final number of species, but instead to learn more about birds. Their life history, behaviors, fun facts, and to get better at sight and sound identification. Throughout my year I met and exceeded that goal. 2021 was a year of birds and I’m so happy I decided to take the plunge into a whole new level of birding for me!
Before the start of my Big Year, I set some goals for myself. Not only did I want to see how many bird species I could spot in my daily life, but I wanted to learn more about birds, get better at ID, and help birds so I wrote down a list of goals to keep me on track for the year. Here were my goals and how I reached them:
Spot as many bird species as I can in my daily life in 1 calendar year
I spent many days on the lookout for new birds and ended my year with 187 species, which I think is a pretty good number for only birding in 3 states (Minnesota, Nebraska, Georgia)!
Learn more about birds – life history, behavior, fun facts
I spent a fair amount of time reading various magazines and articles about all sorts of birds. If I was scrolling online or flipping through a magazine and something about birds caught my eye, I took the time to stop and read and I learned a lot by doing so. I also learned a lot by birding with others. I was lucky enough to have a nature related job where I was outside a majority of the time and had co-workers that were just as interested in birds and birding as I was. We learned a lot from sharing all the fun bird facts with each other and helping each other ID various birds.
ID – get better at sight and sound
Practice, practice, practice! Birding with friends really helped with this goal. The more eyes and ears on a bird the better. Having others to bounce ideas off of was really helpful. We consulted field guides, apps, pictures, and sound recordings to help us ID those tricky birds. The best thing to do when learning new birds is to get outside and put your skills to work.
Enjoy! Use it as a great excuse to be outside!
I wanted my Big Year to be something enjoyable and not turn into a chore. I wanted birding to stay fun and not be something I was forcing myself to go out and do but on the flip side, it was also a great motivation to get outside and take a hike. I found a good balance of birding helping to me stay active, but also not feeling like I always had to have my binos with or be birding if I was outside.
Read 3 bird related books
The three books I read for my Big Year were:
Listen to bird related podcasts
BirdNote Daily is a podcast that has an episode every day that is two minutes or less. I listened to every episode of theirs in 2021. Some things they talked about I already knew, but I learned a ton of new interesting things from that podcast. A few other podcasts I listen to had some bird related episode throughout the year so I made it a point to listen to those. Ologies with Alie Ward, Species by Macken Muphy, Animals to the Max Podcast by Corbin Maxey, and This is Love by Criminal. You have to cherry pick a little to get just bird episodes, but I enjoy listening to all their content, not just the bird ones. Nature Centered from Wild Birds Unlimited and Bring Birds Back by BirdNote are two more good bird podcasts to add to your list.
Submit birding lists to eBird
eBird was kind of intimidating for me to use until I just dove in and tried it. It wasn’t until a few months into my Big Year that I started using it, but now I submit lists fairly regularly while watching the bird feeders or out on a hike. It’s a fun way to keep track of the birds I’ve seen, when, and where, but also to help researchers and scientists understand birds better by helping them to collect data through Citizen Science programs like eBird.
Support a bird related project or organization
Surprisingly this goal was somewhat hard, but mostly because I couldn’t decide which project or organization I wanted to support! There are so many great ones out there. Ultimately, I decided to support HawkWatch International through their Adopt-a-Hawk program and the Teton Raptor Center by selecting them as my Amazon Smile donation recipient. (If you don’t use AmazonSmile yet, I encourage you to do so! They donate a portion of your Amazon sale to a selected charity with no extra charge to you).
Some other bird organizations and projects that would be good to support:
Participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count and Global Big Day
The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is held in February each year and the Global Big Day is in May each year. On these special birding days I submitted my birding lists on eBird and helped scientists to get a better “big picture” view of bird populations and ranges. This year the Global Big Day was on my birthday, which was a perfect was to celebrate during my Big Year! For more info on GBBC check out my blog post.
Become more involved as a Birds & Blooms field editor
The summer of 2020 I applied to be a Birds & Blooms field editor where I answer questions and submit content for the magazine. Since it was a year focused on birds, I wanted to become more involved in the field editor group, so this year I submitted more things and was even interviewed for an article about the Great Backyard Bird Count and my participation in it! So, if you’re looking for some reading material check out the January 2022 issue of Birds & Blooms Extra!
Write in my Nature Journal more
I have a Nature Journal where I keep track of all sorts of phenology things, but for my Big Year I decided to dedicate a notebook just to the Big Year. So, I started my Big Year Birding Journal where I journaled each day I went birding – where I went, what I saw, if I saw any new birds, and what my count was.
Let the Birding Begin!
Once I had set my goals, it was time for birding! On January 1, 2021 we were up at the cabin in Emily, MN to go ice fishing and spearing with friends to ring in the new year. Although it was the first day of my big year, fishing was on the forefront so I didn’t seek out birds, but was able to spot 8 species on my first day! Including a Pileated Woodpecker which was the American Birding Association’s “Bird of the Year” for 2021.
Throughout January and February I was in Nebraska and regularly added new species to my list since everything, even “the usuals,” were new species for the year. Most walks and nature outings resulted in adding birds to my list. Then in March the fun really began! We headed to St. Simon’s Island on the coast of Georgia for a week. The birding was awesome! There were SO many shorebirds, many of them were not only new species for the year, but new to me! My Big Year list and Life List were growing quickly. When my Big Year started, I thought 100 species would make a good goal. Well, in Georgia I got 50 new species, bringing me real close to 100, and I ended up reaching that 100 species goal before the end of March, so I had to up my goal to 150.
In April I moved back to Minnesota where I would be spending the remainder of my Big Year. April was another great month adding 30 species to my list, most of those being waterfowl as they migrated to their summer homes. Then in May it was time for Warbler Season! These tricky little birds kept us on our toes trying to ID them all, but it was a fun challenge! May ended with 36 new species!
After migration season, things slowed down quite a bit. I added a handful of birds in June, July, and September. August, October, and November yielded no new species, things were getting pretty slow. I was still getting out for hikes and watching the feeders, but it was “the usuals” with no new birds. I was stuck at 180 birds for quite a while. I was a little worried as the days kept ticking by in December and the 31st wasn’t far off.
For the new year we were up to the cabin again with friends to go ice fishing and spearing. On the 31st before our friends got there, we made a quick trip over to the Sax-Zim Bog. Even before my Big Year I had been wanting to visit the Bog, so I was really happy we were able to squeeze it in! With only about 4 hours of birding (much less than we would have wanted) I added 7 more species to my Big Year List and some more to my Life List! A quick, but well worth it trip and an awesome way to end my Big Year! I ended with 187 species on December 31, 2021.
It was fun to see things come full circle. I started and ended my Big Year in the same place, with the same people. I birded in three states over 12 months. Racked up 187 species during 103 days spent birding, with 72 of those species being Lifers. I witnessed countless once-in-a-lifetime moments while out in nature and found more than just birds on my outings. I learned an immense amount of bird information and impressed myself with the knowledge I gained over the year. My Big Year made me not only better at bird ID, but also better at observing and appreciating all that nature has to offer – you just have to slow down and take some time to admire it.
My Big Year was more than just birds, and I’m so happy I took the plunge and did it! It was a year well spent and I’m looking forward to doing another Big Year sometime in the future!
Even if a Big Year isn’t your thing, get out and watch the birds! You don’t have to be an expert to enjoy them.
The Final Count! - Big Year 2021 Species List
(First number is the species number for the year, number in (#) is the species number for the month)
1. Blue Jay – Emily, MN
2. Pileated Woodpecker – Emily, MN
3. Common Raven – Emily, MN
4. Black-capped Chickadee – Emily, MN
5. White-breasted Nuthatch – Emily, MN
6. Wild Turkey – Emily, MN
7. Canada Goose – Garrison, MN
8. Trumpeter Swan – Near Lake Milacs
9. American Crow – Champlin, MN
10. Red-tailed Hawk – Owatonna, MN
January 3 – Kearney, NE
11. Northern Cardinal
12. Dark-eyed Junco
13. Eurasian Collared Dove
14. House Sparrow
15. Mallard Duck – Cottonmill Park, Kearney, NE
16. American Robin – Cottonmill Park
17. Northern Flicker (red-shafted) – Cottonmill Park
18. American Goldfinch – Cottonmill Park
19. Rock Pigeon – Kearney, NE
20. European Starling – Kearney, NE
January 6 – Kearney, NE
21. Hairy Woodpecker
January 8 – Kearney, NE
22. Downy Woodpecker
23. American Tree Sparrow – Yanney Park, Kearney NE
24. Cooper’s Hawk – Kearney, NE
January 17 – Hike & Bike trail behind Yanney Park, Kearney, NE
25. Belted Kingfisher
26. Great Horned Owl
January 18 – Archway Hike & Bike trail, Kearney, NE
27. Rough-legged Hawk* (dark morph)
28. Red-bellied Woodpecker
January 24 – Kearney Cemetery
29. Red-breasted Nuthatch
January 30 – North of Kearney, NE
30. Western Meadowlark
February 1 – Archway hike & bike trail, Kearney, NE
31. (1) Northern Shoveler
32. (2) Cedar Waxwing
33. (3) Bald Eagle
34. (4) Song Sparrow
February 6 – Hike & bike trail from Yanney to 2nd Ave, Kearney, NE
35. (5) Green-winged Teal
February 16 – Kearney, NE
36. (6) Horned Lark
February 21 – Archway hike & bike trail, Kearney, NE
37. (7) Common Goldeneye
February 21 – Kearney, NE
38. (8) Sandhill Crane
February 28 – Kearney, NE
39. (9) Pine Sisken
March 5 – Downtown Kearney, NE
40. (1) House Finch
March 7 – Gibbon, NE
41. (2) Red-winged Black Bird
42. (3) Snow Goose
43. (4) Killdeer
March 10 – St. Simons Island, GA
44. (5) Wood Stork*
45. (6) Northern Harrier*
46. (7) Mourning Dove
47. (8) Palm Warbler
48. (9) Yellow-rumped Warbler
49. (10) Double-crested Cormorant
50. (11) Brown Pelican*
51. (12) Eastern Bluebird
52. (13) Carolina Wren* – St. Simon’s Island
53. (14) Carolina Chickadee* – St. Simon’s Island
54. (15) Vesper Sparrow*
55. (16) Boat-tailed Grackle*
56. (17) Great Egret
57. (18) Forster’s Tern*
58. (19) Willet*
59. (20) Ring-billed Gull
60. (21) Laughing Gull*
61. (22) Semipalmated Plover*
62. (23) Black Skimmer*
63. (24) Sanderling
64. (25) Marbled Godwit*
Kayaking tour near Brunswick
65. (26) Snowy Egret*
66. (27) Tri-colored Heron*
67. (28) Greater Yellow Legs*
68. (29) White Ibis*
69. (30) While Pelican
70. (31) Osprey
71. (32) Marsh Wren*
72. (33) Tree Swallow
73. (34) Cattle Egret
74. (35) Rusty Blackbird*
75. (36) Mockingbird
76. (37) Wilson’s Plover*
77. (38) Piping Plover*
March 12 – Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge
78. (39) Black Vulture*
79. (40) Turkey Vulture
80. (41) American Bittern*
81. (42) Anhinga*
82. (43) Red-shouldered Hawk*
83. (44) Little Blue Heron*
84. (45) Blue-grey gnatcatcher*
85. (46) Gray Catbird
86. (47) Great Blue Heron
March 13 – Jekyll Island, GA
87. (48) Fish Crow*
88. (49) Herring Gull
89. (50) Cackling Goose*
March 14 – Ocean Drive, St. Simons Island, GA
90. (51) Savannah Sparrow
91. (52) Sora*
92. (53) Swamp Sparrow*
March 15 – St. Simon’s Island, GA
93. (54) Tufted Titmouse
94. (55) Ring-necked Duck – Path between Archway and I-80, Kearney, NE
95. (56) Bufflehead – Path between Archway and I-80, Kearney, NE
96. (57) Blue-winged Teal – Kea Lake WMA, Kearney, NE
97. (58) Common Grackle – Kea Lake WMA, Kearney, NE
98. (59) American Coot – Kea Lake WMA, Kearney, NE
99. (60) Pied-billed Grebe – Cunningham’s Journal Lake, Kearney, NE
100. (61) Ruddy Duck* – Rowe Sanctuary Viewing Pond, Gibbon, NE
April 1 – Pine Island, NE
101. (1) American Kestrel
April 2 – Sand Point Trail, Frontenac State Park, Frontenac, MN
102. (2) Eastern Phoebe
103. (3) Wood Duck
104. (4) Canvasback*
105. (5) Redhead*
106. (6) Lesser Scaup
107. (7) Golden-crowned Kinglet
April 3 – Lake Koronis, Paynesville, MN
108. (8) Hooded Merganser
109. (9) Red-breasted Merganser*
110. (10) Common Loon
April 4 – Lake Koronis, Paynesville, MN
111. (11) Greater White Fronted Goose*
112. (12) Gadwall
113. (13) Common Redpoll
April 18 – Hultine WMA, Eldorado, NE
114. (14) Northern Pintail*
115. (15) American Wigeon*
116. (16) Cinnamon Teal*
April 24 – Lake Superior, Lutsen, MN
117. (17) Eared Grebe*
118. (18) Red-throated Grebe*
April 25 – Red Wing, MN
119. (19) Purple Finch
120. (20) Ruby-crowned Kinglet
April 26 – Red Wing, MN
121. (21) Brown Creeper
122. (22) White-throated Sparrow
April 27 – Oxbow Park, Byron, MN
123. (23) Broad-winged Hawk
April 28 Oxbow Park, Byron, MN
124. (24) Rose-breasted Grosbeak
125. (25) White-crowned Sparrow
April 29 – Kalmar Reservoir, Byron, MN
126. (26) American Golden Plover*
127. (27) Eastern Meadowlark*
128. (28) Semipalmated Sandpiper*
129. (29) Least Sandpiper*
130. (30) Long-billed Dowitcher*
May 1 – Oxbow Park, Byron, MN – feeders
131. (1) Baltimore Oriole
132. (2) Harris’s Sparrow*
133. (3) Indigo Bunting
May 2 – Red Wing, MN
134. (4) Ruby-throated Hummingbird
May 3 – Kutsky Park, Rochester, MN
135. (5) Northern Waterthrush
136. (6) Yellow Warbler
137. (7) Northern Parula*
138. (8) House Wren
May 4 – Kasson, MN
139. (9) Ring-necked Pheasant
May 5 – Oxbow Park, Byron, MN – feeders
140. (10) Brown-headed Cowbird
May 6 – Zumbro Trail, Oxbow Park, Byron, MN
141. (11) Black-and-white Warbler
142. (12) Great-crested Flycatcher
143. (13) Swainson’s Thrush*
May 7 – Red Wing, MN
144. (14) Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Frontenac State Park, Frontenac, MN
145. (15) Yellow-throated Warbler
146. (16) Magnolia Warbler
147. (17) Yellow-throated Vireo*
148. (18) Northern Rough-winged Swallow*
Sand Point, Frontenac State Park, Frontanac, MN
149. (19) Blue-winged Warbler*
150. (20) Barn Swallow
151. (21) Green Heron*
May 10 – Hayfield, MN
152. (22) Woodthrush*
May 13 – Hok-si-la Park, Lake City, MN
153. (23) Cape May Warbler*
154. (24) Veery
155. (25) American Redstart
May 14 – Lower AP Anderson Park, Red Wing, MN
156. (26) Least Flycatcher
157. (27) Tennessee Warbler*
158. (28) Ovenbird – Pioneer/Haycreek Bike Trail, Red Wing, MN
May 15 – Oxbow Park, Byron, MN
159. (29) Eastern Kingbird
160. (30) Chimney Swift – Oxbow Park, Byron, MN
161. (31) Common Night Hawk – Red Wing, MN
May 22 – Pioneer/Haycreek Bike Trail, Red Wing, MN
162. (32) Common Yellowthroat
163. (33) Ruffed Grouse
164. (34) Yellow-headed Blackbird – Garrison, MN
165. (35) Red-eyed Vireo – Emily, MN
May 31 – Oxbow Park – Main Picnic Area, Byron, MN
166. (36) Warbling Vireo*
June 6 – Lower A.P. Anderson Park, Red Wing, MN
167. (1) Eastern Wood Pewee*
June 11 – Yanney Park, Kearney, NE
168. (2) Mute Swan*
169. (3) Purple Martin
170. (4) Dickcissel*
June 16 – Oxbow Park, Byron, MN – Maple Trail
171. (5) Barred Owl
June 17 – Sand Point Trail, Frontenac State Park, Frontenac, MN
172. (6) Cliff Swallow
173. (7) Eastern Towhee
July 2 – Drive to Paynesville, MN
174. (1) Bobolink*
July 5 – Oxbow Park – Byron, MN
175. (2) Field Sparrow*
July 9 – Rock Dell WMA, Rock Dell, MN
176. (3) Clay-colored Sparrow*
July 18 – Red Wing, MN
177. (4) Peregrine Falcon*
September 10 – Izaak Walton Wetlands, Rochester, MN
178. (1) Chestnut-sided Warbler
September 20 – Rock Dell WMA, Rock Dell, MN
179. (2) Red-headed Woodpecker
September 30 – Rock Dell WMA, Rock Dell, MN
180. (3) Lincoln’s Sparrow*
December 31 – Sax-Zim Bog, Meadowlands, MN
181. (1) Pine Grosbeak*
182. (2) Boreal Chickadee*
183. (3) Gray Jay*
184. (4) Black-billed Magpie
185. (5) Evening Grosbeak*
186. (6) Northern Shrike*
187. (7) Snow Bunting*
Final Big Year Count: 187
Big Year Lifers: 72
Days Birded During Big Year: 103
Thank you for joining me on this year long birding adventure! Happy Birding!
December included a fair amount of bird feeder watching with Project FeederWatch in full swing and birds spending more time at the feeders because of the cold weather and snow. Although the feeders didn’t produce any new birds for the year, it’s always fun to see the winter “usuals.” I stayed at a Big Year count of 180 species all the way from September until December 31st when we squeezed in a quick trip to the Sax-Zim Bog right at the end of the year. And boy, did that trip pay off! Not only had I been wanting to visit the Bog since before my Big Year, but I added birds to my Big Year list and Life List! It was well worth the drive even for the short amount of time we were there, and I can’t wait to go back and see what else we can find!
I ended up finishing my Big Year at the same place it started and with the same people at the cabin in north central Minnesota. As the clock stuck midnight on December 31, 2021 my Big Year was complete and I had logged 187 species for the year!
Although my Big Year may be over, birding is not.
Here are some excerpts from my Birding Nature Journal this month:
Monday, December 6, 2021
FeederWatch day at Oxbow, no new birds today.
Thursday, December 9, 2021
I watched the Red Wing feeders while I ate breakfast and drank my tea, 10 species today.
Friday, December 31, 2021
Today is the last day of my Big Year and we went to the Sax-Zim Bog to end on a high note! The Bog has been on my bucket list of places to visit, so nothing like waiting until the last day of the Big Year to go! We started off by checking out the feeders at the Visitor Center where we saw Pine Grosbeaks and a Boreal Chickadee. Then we drove around and stopped at a few feeders. By the end of the day we saw Gray Jays, a Black-billed Magpie, tons of Evening Grosbeaks at “The Zabin,” a Northern Shrike, and Snow Buntings as we were heading back to the cabin. Car birding isn’t something I’m very used to but with only about 4 hours of birding, I added 7 species to my list and 6 of those were lifers! Definitely want to head back to the Bog when we have more time to explore!!
(The first number represents the number of species for the year, the number in parenthesis represents the number of species for the month)
December 31 – Sax-Zim Bog, Meadowlands, MN
181. (1) Pine Grosbeak*
182. (2) Boreal Chickadee*
183. (3) Gray Jay*
184. (4) Black-billed Magpie
185. (5) Evening Grosbeak*
186. (6) Northern Shrike*
187. (7) Snow Bunting*
Birds Species this Year: 187!
Species for December: 7
Days Birded this Year: 103
Days Birded in December: 9
Lifers in December: 6
(Birds with an (*) are Lifer Birds)
An added bonus for my Big Year - earlier this year I was interviewed for an article about the Great Backyard Bird Count for the Birds & Blooms magazine! It was printed in the January Extra edition of the magazine, but arrived in December, just in time for my Big Year!
Stay tuned for a Big Year wrap up blog post!
When you think of Christmas the familiar story of St. Nicholas probably comes to mind. That isn’t the only story though of how Santa came to be. I was listening to a podcast about mushrooms (Mycology (MUSHROOMS) with Tom Volk on Ologies with Alie Ward) and heard about how the story of Santa may have come about because of something a little different – magic mushrooms. I had never heard of this story before so had to do a little research and found all sorts of parallels between the Santa story we all know with St. Nick and the psychedelic mushroom story.
The main character, besides Santa, is the Amanita muscaria mushroom also known as the “most sacred” and “holy mushroom.” This mushroom is a psychedelic mushroom, or magic mushroom, and can be poisonous. It is the iconic looking mushroom with a red cap that has white spots.
This story of Santa is from many years ago. Shaman (medicine men, magicians, or sorcerers) in Siberian and Artic regions who wore red robes with white ropes around the waist would give out gifts of dried mushrooms, usually psychedelic mushrooms. They would deliver these gifts around the time of the Winter Solstice. This time of year, there would often be snow blocking the door, so the Shaman would go through openings in the roof to deliver their gifts.
Are parts of this story starting to sound familiar? A man from the Artic dressed in red and white clothing, bringing gifts near Christmas time, and dropping in through the roof...
These aren’t the only parallels of the Santa story. The Amanita mushroom is found growing under pine trees, which is symbolized as the presents we put under the Christmas tree. The Shaman would dry the mushrooms by hanging them on tree branches, like how we hang ornaments on a tree.
Now let’s talk about the reindeer, they’re a big part of the Santa story. Reindeer in the wild have a liking to the Amanita mushroom and seek it out. When people eat the Amanita they get a sensation of flying. So, the question is, do the reindeer also get this sensation, or is it that people see the reindeer when they’re tripping and think the reindeer are flying? And Rudolph, the most well-known reindeer has a red nose, which some say looks like the Amanita mushroom on his nose.
Now this last point is a bit far-fetched, but some say that elves are the spirits that a Shaman encountered during a trip.
Some think this connection between magic mushrooms and Santa is a bunch of hoopla, while others see a lot of merit to the story. While I was doing my research, I found a lot of information from professors and historians about Shaman and their traditions. There is even a professor at Harvard who gathers his students each year for the Winter Solstice and discusses the magic mushroom Santa story. So now that you’ve heard the story, you’ll have to decide for yourself – is it St. Nick or Santa of the psychedelics? Either way, this is an entertaining story to tell at the Christmas dinner table.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!
The holiday season is upon us meaning it is time for decorations, gifts, food, and more! Although these things bring us great cheer, they can also bring much unnecessary waste. Fear not, there are things we can do to “green up” our holiday and be a little more sustainable and environmentally friendly while not missing out on the festivities. Here are some tips and tricks to get your started on a greener holiday. Not only will these tips help you be more green, but often times that results in saving a little green (money), too.
We love to decorate with lights this time of year, maybe it’s because they brighten up the long dark evenings and add a little cheer. When purchasing and decorating with lights there are a few things you can do to save some energy and also a little money with your energy bill.
There’s a debate of whether real or fake trees are better. Whichever way you decide to go, there are some easy things to do to ensure your tree is as “green” as it can be.
The holiday season is a time of gift giving. Unfortunately, many gifts are short lived and end up being thrown away creating lots of unnecessary waste. Not to worry, there are plenty of great gift options out there that are better for the environment.
If you aren’t making your own gifts or regifting, there are a few things you can do while shopping to lower your environmental impact.
5. Wrapping Gifts
Once you’ve made or bought your gifts it’s time to wrap them. This is a category that has a lot of variations on ways to be green, so you can get creative!
6. Christmas Cards
Christmas cards and letters are a fun way to keep up with friends and family and what they’ve been up to for the year. They’re fun to send and receive but can end up being a lot of waste at the end of the season.
7. Cookies & Treats
It is a fun time of year to get together and make cookies and memories. You can take it a step further and gift these cookies and treats you make. Cookies and festive treats are a popular gift to give, but if store bought, they often involve lots of unnecessary plastic packaging and wrapping.
The holidays mean food! But unfortunately, that can also mean a lot of waste.
Hopefully these eight tips and tricks will help you to “green up” your holiday and may even get you thinking of other ways you can be more environmentally friendly. Not only can these tips help for the holiday season, but they can be modified and used year-round. What may seem like a small thing can really add up, especially when multiple people are doing it.
I hope you have a happy, healthy, and green holiday season!
With November complete, the final count down is on! There’s just one more month left in my Big Year. I haven’t had a new bird in a while, so I’m hoping I’ll get lucky and be able to add a few more before the year’s end. Although I haven’t added any new birds this month, I’ve been doing plenty of birding – mostly watching the feeders. With deer hunting season in full swing I haven’t been visiting my usual hiking trails, but the cooler weather and shorter days have made the feeders popular with the birds and great for viewing.
Here are some excerpts from my Birding Nature Journal this month:
Thursday, November 12, 2021
It’s been nice starting my day off by watching the birds and doing an ebird list as I drink my tea. No new birds, but still enjoyable!
Thursday, November 25, 2021
I did two ebird lists this morning watching the feeders in Red Wing. At one point, within just a few minutes, we had a Northern Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Purple House Finch, and American Robin! Plus, many of the usuals, coming to 14 species total.
Later in the afternoon as we were eating our Thanksgiving dessert a Cooper’s Hawk came flying through by the feeders to try and get itself a meal!
Birds Species this Year: 180!
Species for November: 0
Days Birded this Year: 94
Days Birded in November: 8
I don’t have much of an update for October. Migration is basically over, and I wasn’t able to add any new species this month. I have a feeling this is going to be the trend for the rest of the year since all the warm weather birds are moved out and I have already gotten “the usuals” for winter birds. I’ve still been holding out hope for a rare vagrant to show up or maybe some late migrators to make a stop at the feeders.
I only got out birding a few days this month and did most of my birding from the boat while out fishing. We saw a good variety of songbirds on the shore, and some waterfowl on the lake. We even spotted two Common Loons mid-month in central Minnesota which was an interesting surprise. Although I haven’t been able to add any new birds lately, I’m still enjoying my Big Year and all the birding I’ve done this year!
Birds Species this Year: 180!
Species for October: 0
Days Birded this Year: 86
Days Birded in October: 4
Lifers in October: 0
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Hi, my name is Megan. I love spending time out in nature and learning everything I can about it!
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