Troutbirder II

Troutbirder II
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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Final Report

Final report of the 6th Annual Wintering Golden Eagle Survey of the Bluffs and Coulee Region of the Upper Mississippi River Watershed from Scott Mehus, Education Director, National Eagle Center, Wabasha, Minnesota.

"On January 16th, 2010 over 130 observers were out to specifically look for Golden Eagles! 93 Golden Eagles were seen in the survey area which covered southeastern Minnesota, western Wisconsin and northeast Iowa. More than 40 routes were covered in 12 counties and observers drove more than 2,000 miles of coulee region back roads and spent more than 400 observer hours looking for Golden Eagles.

As in previous years Buffalo County, Wisconsin continues to be the heart of the wintering Golden Eagle population. On the count day 25 observers covered 15 routes in Buffalo County and found 60 Golden Eagles. Overall, Wisconsin totaled 69 Golden Eagles, and observers spotted 24 Goldens in Minnesota.
Being thorough observers and avid birdwatchers many other raptor sightings were also documented. During the survey raptor species seen included Bald and Golden Eagles, Red-tailed, Rough-legged, Red-shouldered, Sharp-shinned, and Cooper’s Hawks, Northern Harrier, American Kestrel and Northern Shrike. More than 700 Bald Eagles were seen, most in places away from the Mississippi River. Some observers also noted whether the bald eagles were adults or juveniles; 552 adults and 95 juveniles Bald Eagles were recorded. In addition 316 Red-tailed Hawks were observed."

A magnificent Golden Eagle (by permission) from Montanagirl (Mona). Some of her photography can be seen in the most recent issue of Birds and Bloom.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Oh Canada!

Golden eagles were thought to be relatively rare in the hill and valley region bordering the mighty Mississippi river valley between Minnesota and Wisconsin. Most experts believed they were lost wanderers from the Rocky Mountain west. More interested birders, better equipment and knowledge of differentiating the big brown eagle from their immature Bald Eagles cousins, has begun to change that opinion. Goldens nest all the way up to the Arctic coast in Alaska and Western Canada. Their range maps show nothing along the western edge of Hudson Bay.
From late April to May, Whitey flew from western Wisconsin north to Duluth Minnesota at the westernmost tip of Lake Superior. Then he crossed into Ontario, Canada. And then he kept on going and going and going. Past Churchill on the southern shore of Hudson Bay. Then north along Hudson's western edge, a region. It traveled 2,382 miles, averaging 72 miles per day. Its longest one-day flight was 193 miles. From late May to early October, Whitey spent the summer wandering over an immense area of Nunavut — from the northern shore of Hudson Bay to a lake above the Arctic Circle. It had been a migration of astonishing proportions and came as a total surprise to everyone. Or as one of the experts said, "Wow!" And then on October 7, he turned and headed back toward his winterhome By early November, Whitey was back in southwestern Wisconsin after a 26-day, 1,750-mile migration.
Mark Martell, director of bird conservation for Audubon Minnesota said the finding has conservation implications. "These birds are cool, just cool," Martell said. "Here’s this huge, predatory bird that we weren’t even aware was here on a regular basis."
Their presence raises a serious issue — how best to protect them —. But more information is needed first. I will report the results of the survey Mrs. T and I helped take as soon as they arrive.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Whitey The Wandering Golden Eagle

This is Whitey, the Golden Eagle. He was accidentally caught in a legal trap in southwestern Wisconsin. Discovered by a bow hunter, he was brought to the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota. From there he was immediately transferred to The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota.
With expert care the bird’s leg was eventually repaired. Whitey was then scheduled to be released back into the wild. The National Eagle Center and several public and private agencies all joined together in a partnership to further study wintering golden eagles in the area. To aid the study, satellite transmitters were provided by the Minnesota DNR Non-Game Wildlife Division. For years there has been speculation as to where the Goldens, who winter in the Mississippi river valley, come from. Do they migrate from their heartland in the mountain west, across the great plains to Minnesota. Or do they come from the far north in Canada. Whitey might be able to provide the answer. On March 24, 2009, at The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota a satellite transmitter was attached to the back of this golden eagle. Whitey was than brought to the release site near where he had been first trapped in Wisconsin. Then Scott Mehus, education director and Golden Eagle surveyor at the National Eagle Center, threw the bird back into the wild. Whitey took off, landed briefly in some nearby trees and then soared away, "free as a bird." Tomorrow we will follow him as he leaves his wintering grounds, in the summer of 2009, and head off for parts unknown.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Looking For Gold

On January 16th, 2010 intrepid Golden Eagle surveyors Eileen and The Troutbirders set out on their assigned route in Winona county to locate their prey. Golden Eagles associate with the hill and valley country of the unglaciated portions of southeastern Minnesota, southwestern Wisconsin and north eastern Iowa. Our route was in Minnesota. Oops.... I see I got the map upside down. You'll have to turn your computer over to read the fine print. We had a wonderful five hour outing. Eileen was a great mentor and guide. She is a volunteer at the Eagle Center who works with Scott Mehus the Education Director. Scott is in charge of the Centers Golden Eagle project.

Here Eileen is searching along ridge lines above and adjacent to goat prairies. Goat prairies are south facing slopes which are dry and generally treeless (except for red cedar) The pioneers named them goat prairies due to the steepness. Golden eagles like to soar above them which gives them an open shot at their prey which consists of small mammals and the occasional wild turkey. Apparently they like their meat fresh as they are not known to scavenge in this wooded country.

We clearly identified three Golden Eagles. One was mature and two first year goldens were sighted. All three were soaring. We also saw several eagles perched on the inner portions of trees but distance made a positive identification impossible. The mature was identified by its dark coloration and the somewhat dihedral arch of its wings while soaring. The youngsters were playing chase and tag above us and the underneath white tail and wing markings were very clear.
The above picture is provided by the Eagle Center. You might note that the head of the Golden is much smaller than the tail. In Bald Eagles the head and tail are approxiametly equal in size. This, by the way, is my friend Angel the Bald Eagle. I just put this picture in here because I think she is so cool. :)

In addition, we counted 11 bald eagles (they are much more common than this along the Mississippi river), nine redtails, and two big flocks of wild turkeys and a herd of deer.

Another simple key to locating goldens is that if you see a flock of calm and reposed wild turkeys, it is unlikely a Golden Eagle is soaring nearby.

On the other hand if they are fleeing in terror for cover, a Golden could be soaring above looking for a meal or Troutbirder might be driving down the road in their direction.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Golden Eagles

The picture of this golden eagle is just about the best closeup of this bird I have ever seen. It was taken by Montanagirl, who does absolutely wonderful photography of wildlife in the West.

On Saturday Mrs. T and I will be particpating in a volunteer survey of this magnificent bird. This will be our first time to involve ourselves in this scientific research project. The goldens were once thought to be quite rare here in Minnesota. They are not common but there are definitely more than rare. To the none practiced eye they can be confused with immature bald eagles. Balks have increased, in recent decades, from less than one hundred to hundreds nesting here in the summer and possibly thousands, who winter in the Mississippi valley.
The National Eagle Center in Wabasha Minnesota has been doing a study of Golden Eagles in the Upper Mississippi watershed for several years now.
Last year the survey included:
100 Observers
40 Routes
10 Counties in WI
5 Counties in MN
1 County in Iowa
70 Golden Eagles on Count Day, January 17, 2009
18 additional Golden Eagles were surveyed during Count Week (Most of these routes were away from the core area, or in areas where none were seen on count day)
88 Golden Eagles for the 2009 Wintering Golden Eagle Survey of the Bluffs and Coulee Region of the Upper Mississippi River Watershed!
Scott Mehus is the education director and researcher at the center. Mrs T. & I attended his class for tips on identifying Goldens. The trick is to separate them from immature Balds. The number of Bald Eagles identified last year was 456. This is considered by Scott quite amazing since the routes assigned to the volunteers to survey are away from the river. Golden Eagles do not associate with water as the Balds do. Mrs T and I will be traveling one of the assigned routes on Saturday looking for Golden Eagles.
There are several identification clues:

One way to distinguish a golden eagle from an immature bald eagle is leg plumage. A golden eagle's legs are entirely feather covered; an immature bald eagle's lower legs are bare. As seen while in flight, juvenile golden eagles have white patches at the base of the primaries; the tail is white with a distinct dark terminal band. It takes four years to acquire adult plumage. The leg thing is because goldens do not fish nor scavenge like balds. They are hunters preying upon small mammals. Golden eagles can be found throughout much of the northern hemisphere. The live in mountainous areas, prairie coulees, and other places where rugged terrain creates abundant updrafts.

Take a look at the comparison picture in the previous post. Do you stick with your original opinion or change your mind?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Eagle Quiz

Mrs T and I will be participating in something very interesting on Jan. 16th, through the National Eagle Center in Wabasha Minnesota. More on that later. For now, see if you can correctly answer the following question

Come on now. Don't be shy!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Neighbors Woods

It's not always easy to find places where a large and rambunctious dog can safely run free. Yes, I know people walking their dogs should have then well trained enough to stay at heel. Well, truth to tell, I have had neither the will nor the ambition to do that. All my Lab and Chesapeake hunting dogs were rigorously trained to hunt under control. They were also well behaved with friends, family and even visiting strangers. Baron is spoiled rotten. He has the basics of being housebroken, doesn’t jump on people, chase deer and tolerates the cat. Otherwise, I like and encourage his independent nature. Thus we head off to public places like State Parks or Wildlife Management Areas, only if the season and timing is right i.e. it’s deserted. Wildlife Management Areas (W.M.A's also qualify year round. Bike trails do not qualify for this list though.
The best places to go in the busy spring and summer seasons are some woodlots adjacent to our neighbors farms. Dick and Sharon, Rick and Gina have graciously granted permission for the Troutbirders to walk their overgrown puppy through the woods. Here is a short list of some of the wild (mostly birds) and not so wild creatures we have seen.

Click On Picture To Enlarge


Blue Jay

White Throated Sparrow

Fox Sparrow

Female Cardinal

Red Headed Woodpecker

Wild Turkey


Myrtle Warbler a.k.a. "butterbutt"

Other birds seen: Swainsons Thrush, Black& White Warbler, Northern Harrier (Marsh Hawk), Troutfarm Eagle, American Redstart, House Wren, Tree Swallow, Great Horned Owl, Eastern Meadowlark, and Baltimore Oriole.

Whitetail Deer Fawn

Dangerous Woods Creatures