I thought today’s big news would be Mom and DM2’s repeated appearances in and around N2B, N1, and the hatchery. But a Snowy Owl showed up on the Mississippi Flyway today – the first one we’ve ever seen there! – sending all of us into a flurry of texts, messages, chat, and Did you see?! We’ll post more about snowy owls tomorrow, but in the meantime, we have wonderful videos from the Flyway, Decorah, and Decorah North. Thanks to our camera operators and video makers for capturing such special moments. I hope you enjoy these videos as much as we did!
January 5, 2022: A Snowy Owl on the Flyway
January 5, 2022: Snowy Owl – https://youtu.be/WKE5LHqF6t0. Snowy owls nest on the Arctic tundra throughout their circumpolar breeding range. They are one the largest owls in the world and have the most northerly breeding and wintering distribution of any owl species. What’s it doing down here on the Mississippi Flyway, maybe 39° south of the place it was born? We don’t really know. Baby owl booms correlate with juvenile owl irruptions. We used to think that an abundance of owls led to food shortages and irruptions, but research has found that irrupting juveniles are often fatter and heavier than local juveniles in years without irruptions. Curious? Driven out by territorial competition? Chased away by irate parents? A game of follow-the-leader gone awry? We don’t know, but it is a very cool bird to see in Mississippi Pool No. 5!
This video also features the snowy owl, but I think the first bird we see is a northern goshawk: https://youtu.be/64eNY2v33_I.
January 4, 2022: Short-eared owl – https://youtu.be/zlcbmlHFkdg. It’s grassland/tundra bird week on the Flyway! We’ve saw a lot of northern nesters come through between early December and January 5, including short-eared owls, snowy owls, rough-legged hawks, and northern harriers.
One of the world’s most widely distributed owls, short-eared Owls nest on the ground amid grasses and low plants that conceal the incubating female. In North America, it nests from about mid-Missouri (~39°) up through Alaska’s north coast (~70°). It also nests in South America from roughly Bolivia (-18°) through Tierra Del Fuego (-54°). The northern and southern populations do not inter-breed.Learn more about short-eared owls here: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Short-eared_Owl.
January 2, 2022: Eagles fishing – https://youtu.be/5m4aTj5BP-k. The state name ‘Minnesota’ is derived from two Dakota words. The first word, ‘Mni‘, translates to ‘Water’. Nobody really agrees on the second word, but it could be ‘Sota‘, for clear, or ßota, for cloudy. ßota can describe the morning mist that rises over lakes and valleys: a mist that rises over the Mississippi as hungry eagles wheel and chase after food.
University of Minnesota, Department of American Indian Studies, Dakota Dictionary: https://fmp.cla.umn.edu/dakota/browserecord.php?-action=browse&-recid=1630
January 4, 2022: It’s a picnic al freezie! DM2 ate a squirrel and Mom enjoyed a fish.
January 4, 2022: DM2 came in with a squirrel and Mom brought a fish – https://youtu.be/MM60Lj6dIsw. Nothing like a bracing winter picnic to sharpen your appetite! January 4 was relatively warm and Mom and DM treated us to a visit. Their nestorations are focused on N3, but they don’t seem ready to let go of the trout hatchery nest. We think that the sudden jump in activity corresponds with the increase in daylight length: days are lengthening, solar intensity is strengthening, and hormones are starting to flow. But we’d sure love to see them use N2B or N1 for nesting instead of quick pit stops!
January 3, 2022: Mom, DM2 on the Y-Branch, then soaring together – https://youtu.be/H8izeGtr4fo. The fun starts with DM2 joining Mom on the Y at 1:30. She flies into N1 and pokes around (“Any nestovers here?”) before joining him on the Y again. The next ten minutes are sheer eagle beauty as they perch in the bright sunlight, resplendent against the gleaming white snow, white barn, and beautiful dark pines. After they fly off, the camera operator finds them soaring against a beautiful blue sky upstream of N1.
January 3, 2022: Eagle with food on the Y-Branch – https://youtu.be/ilRN5ONhvJ0. We hear an eagle vocalizing before we see it. The camera cuts away to the Y-Branch and we see one eagle perched on the Y-Branch, a fish gripped firmly in its talons, while the shadow of another circles overhead.
We don’t think that the perched eagle was Mom or DM2 based on its squeaky vocals and facial features. But Mom might have been soaring over it – she think she perched below the bluffs for a while after the visitor made an abrupt departure: https://youtu.be/MM60Lj6dIsw
Decorah North Eagles
January 5, 2022: Twilight at the North nest
January 5, 2022 – DNF flies into the nest around 2:30am – https://youtu.be/cdDTtM7utTE. Watchers were very excited to see DNF having a sleepover near the north nest. She briefly flew in at about 2:30 and looked around. We couldn’t see or hear anything, but the wind was kicking, the snow was blowing, and the night was very dark.
January 4, 2022: DNF brought food – https://youtu.be/ST0Fooj2IdA. DNF must be celebrating Totally Meat Tuesday! What is she eating? I’d call this a UFO – an unknown flying or food object! Winter can be a difficult time of the year for small mammals. Leaves have dropped, grasses have withered, cover has diminished, and brown fur stands out against white snow like ink blotches on paper. Most mammals at this latitude don’t hibernate, although they often slumber deeply through frigid sub-zero cold. But today’s warm weather has everyone out foraging, including Mr. North and DNF.
Odds and Ends
If you are from the Midwest, you might have grown up with the Hamm’s Beer jingle jangling in your head (“From the Land of Sky Blue Waters…“). The Hamm’s bear was designed by Patrick DesJarlait, an Ojibway artist who used Native American themes in his personal and commercial work. https://www.patrickdesjarlait.com/about-patrick-desjarlait. The invocation of sky blue waters and pounding drumline aren’t a coincidence, although the work is based on an earlier composition by Charles Wakefield Cadman that was itself based on native music. Here’s a version performed by the Andrew’s sisters: https://archive.org/details/78_from-the-land-of-the-sky-blue-waters_andrew-sisters-charles-wakefield-cadman_gbia0113353b/From+the+Land+of+the+Sky+Blue+Waters+-+Andrew+Sisters.flac
Northern bald eagles, Steller’s sea eagles, and white-tailed sea eagles resemble one another in their rough outlines: eagles that migrate are faithful to their routes and grounds, juvenile and immature eagles often summer in the region they were born, adult eagles usually nest in the region they were born, and young eagles often wander more widely than adult eagles. Here’s a look at white-tailed sea eagles banded in Finland: https://satelliitti.laji.fi/?lang=en&id=JX.804&speed=30&zoom=5&loc=[61.4597705702975,24.19189453125]&layer=0&start_time=2010-10-09T11:00:00%2B00:00. We’re seeing so many exciting migrants and we’ll be posting about migration tomorrow or Friday.