60 Hummers at my one feeder?!

Early August 2020, Carlton County, Minnesota

Estimating numbers of birds coming to your feeder is, of course, an inexact science. But we all know that there are FAR MORE BIRDS using your feeders than you see at anyone time.

The max I saw at my one Carlton County feeder at one time in early August was 9….and they were going through a quart every 48 hours. So by using the two methods below, I was likely hosting between 54 and 64 Rubythroats each day!

TWO METHODS for calculating hummingbirds at a feeder have been derived by hummer experts:

1. Multiply max number you see at one time by 6: This formula was arrived at by banders Nancy Newfield and Bob & Martha Sargent who arrived at this numerical factor after years of banding and color-marking hummers at feeders. Using this formula, I was feeding 54 hummers on any give day in early August.

2. Divide hummingbird nectar ounces consumed per day by 0.25: This “Consumption formula” was devised by North America’s preeminent hummingbird authority, Sheri Williamson, based on years of experience. Sheri arrived at 1/4 oz. per small hummer per day. I was going through 32 ounces in two days, so 16 ounces per day. That calculates to 64 hummers were using my single feeder each day. Crazy!

I have put Sheri’s actual blog post below: “Studies of field metabolic rates (the average rate at which an organism consumes energy as it goes about its daily life) indicate that small hummingbirds such as Black-chinned and Ruby-throated are going to need 45% to 50% of their body weight in sucrose (a.k.a. white sugar, the dominant sugar in the nectar of hummingbird flowers) to get through an ordinary day, so they would actually need 180% to 200% of their weight in a 25% sucrose solution.

A 25% solution is much stronger than most people use in their feeders. The generally recommended proportion is 1 part table sugar to 4 parts water by volume, which comes out to about 18% sugar by weight. Converting to this recipe, it would take approximately 250% to 280% of the bird’s weight in ordinary 1:4 feeder solution to meet each bird’s daily energy requirements.

So, how do you use these data to estimate numbers of feeder visitors? The simplest way is to convert grams to fluid ounces so that you can measure the volume consumed (you can even mark your feeder and estimate usage on the fly).

According to my postal scale, one fluid ounce of 1:4 sugar water weighs about 35.5 grams (approximately 20% more than its plain water counterpart). We’ll average the weight of the birds to 3.5 grams, or about 10% of the weight of a fluid ounce. Multiply that times by 265% for average consumption and we get 0.265 fluid ounce of 1:4 feeder solution per bird per day, which we’ll round down to 1/4 fluid ounce per bird per day. This multiplies out to around 32 smallish hummingbirds per 8 ounces of 1:4 sugar water, 128 per quart, and 512 per gallon. This is higher than the TFFBBB estimate, which is not surprising considering the differences between our figures for weight and consumption rates of the birds and weight/volume ratio of the sugar solution.

Of course, there are a lot of factors that can skew this already crude estimate. The amount of sugar water each bird consumes may be greatly reduced when natural nectar sources are available and greatly increased when the birds are under stress from cold, drought, courtship, fighting, nesting, and/or migration. A given volume will supply the needs of more birds if you make your feeder solution a little stronger than 1:4, as many people (myself included) do in winter and migration, and fewer if you make it a little weaker. Size figures in as well, so a given volume of sugar water will feed fewer Anna’s than Black-chinneds.”

—Sheri Williamson on her blog, Life, Birds, and Everything: Jan. 12, 2008

https://fieldguidetohummingbirds.wordpress.com/2008/01/12/running-the-hummer-numbers/

Blue Cliffs & a Salty Lake:Virtual Birding Trip to Blue Mounds and Salt Lake Minnesota

July 27-28, 2020

I visit a great Salt Lake on the Minnesota-South Dakota border (“great” with a small g!) where I kayak out to see Red-necked and Wilson’s Phalaropes, 532 Franklin’s Gulls, Eared Grebes and many other interesting birds. Next stop is Yellow Medicine County and a cooperative pair of Western Kingbirds. Then on to camp and explore Blue Mounds State Park on the Coteau de Prairie where we find Blue Grosbeaks, Upland Sandpipers, booming Nighthawks and groups of close Turkey Vultures. Also a side trip to Touch the Sky Prairie NWR and many fascinating prairie wildflowers.

Virtually Live 10: LeConte’s Sparrows in flowers— Birding Sax-Zim Bog MN

This August 2020 episode explores Northern Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog in late summer. In this episode we go birding in the “slow” time of year. But a couple cooperative LeConte’s Sparrows in a flower-filled field steal the show. We also stop by Nichols Lake/Lake Nichols and bird the bog stretch of Admiral Road where we find Boreal Chickadees, Palm Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Canada jays and more.

Sparky also shows us the new platform and bench on Gray Jay Way trail north of the Welcome Center. And we go on a kayak journey on the Whiteface River where a pair of shy River Otters briefly make an appearance. Stunning emerald green and black Ebony Jewelwing damselflies perch along the riverbank.

Lizards in Minnesota? The well-named Six-lined Racerunner

July 20, 2020

Lizards in Minnesota? We have three species that are found in the state: Prairie Skink (Plestiodon septentrionalis) across all of MN except northeast and north central, Common Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) found in extreme southeast MN and along the MN River Valley, and my target for the day—Six-lined Racerunner (Aspidoscelis sexlineata), which is almost exclusively found in the southeast counties bordering the Mississippi River.

Six-lined Racerunner? Yes, this lizard is incredibly speedy (it can run up to 18MPH!) and it has six greenish-yellow stripes…three running down each side of its body (with a darker middle stripe…so it could technically be called the “Seven-lined Racerunner” but nobody asked me).

And this lizard needs that kind of speed to ambush grasshoppers, crickets, spiders, flies and other insects who can be quite quick to take wing at the first hint of danger.

Range of Six-lined Racerunner in the U.S (from NatureServe.org)

Thanks to a tip from a herpetologist friend I searched this spot along the Mississippi River in Houston County, Minnesota (the southeastern most county in MN). He said to only go on a sunny and very warm day since these guys are only active in the heat of midday. In fact, their ideal air temperature for activity is 93 degrees F! (Fitch, 1958). They won’t even come out of burrows on cool days (below 72?). Mid May is when they emerge and they go back underground for the winter in late August.

Check out the unique scales on the Six-lined Racerunner’s tail. They can “drop” their tail if in danger, or if a predator grabs them by the tail, but it is much more unusual than with the skinks.

My first “sighting” was just a line of grass moving as an unseen lizard raced away from me. The site was sandy with a surprising amount of forb cover. I would have thought I’d find them in more open sandy country. A line of jumbled rocks is where they would scurry to for cover.

After about two hours, and about six lizards speeding away from me to the shelter of the rocks, I finally found a Racerunner that wasn’t racing. I was able to sloooowly creep towards him (see below on how I knew his gender) and get a few shots through the grasses.

The blue throat/chin and lime green face tells me that this is a male who is still in breeding “plumage.”

Much of this information about the natural history of Minnesota’s herps was gleaned from Moriarty and Hall’s excellent Amphibians & Reptiles of Minnesota (University of Minnesota Press, 2014). You can buy it here. Or purchase from Amazon here.

In this Blog Post from summer 2019, I searched for the Five-lined Skink along the rocky landscape of the Minnesota River Valley, but instead found a juvenile Prairie Skink.

Colossal Wildflowers of the Mississippi River backwaters: Part 1—Houston County, MN

July 20, 2020

When the description of a wildflower uses feet instead of inches, you know you have a colossal plant! And at this one spot on the backwaters of the Mississippi River in Houston County, Minnesota I found 3 stands of blossoming behemoths! Where am I? The Amazon?

Backwaters of the Mississippi River above the Reno, Minnesota dike (Reno Landing)

I was meandering back from Iowa where I had dropped off the boys for a week of “Nana Camp” at Bridget’s mom’s. The night before I camped at Minnesota’s Beaver Creek Valley State Park. It is in Houston County which is the southeasternmost county in the state. This is in the “driftless” region, an area that was missed by all of the last glaciers of the Ice Age and retains its high hills, meandering creeks, coulees and valleys. It is an area pockmarked with limestone caves in the karst topography. The hardwood forests have more in common with the southern midwest than the rest of Minnesota. As a result there is a plethora of unique species to Minnesota in this region.

I stopped at the Reno Landing on the Mississippi River to explore the dike and look for Minnesota’s rarest lizard (future blogpost!) when I noticed my first “mega-flower.”

The massive size of the flower is hard to comprehend without something to compare it to. But unfortunately I didn’t have my kayak with so I couldn’t get near the flowers.

It was the huge blossom of the American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea). The flower itself can be as big as your head (4 to 8 inches across) and the leaves dwarf the flowers at one to two feet across!

At first I wasn’t even sure this was a native plant, but a quick check of my Minnesota Wildflowers app on my iPhone confirmed that it is indeed Minnesota’s largest native wildflower. This was Lifer Number 1 (a species I had never seen in my life before).

The American Lotus is only found along backwaters of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers and a few inland lakes (Lake Minnetonka) in Minnesota. And their populations seem to be ephemeral, and not blooming every year.

I wish I would have brought my kayak to actually get up close and personal with these aquatic mammoths. Next summer!

I then spotted a flower I had never seen before. Lifer Number 2. I didn’t even know where to start looking in my Peterson Field Guide nor my iPhone app to identify this monster. It emerged in a cluster from the backwaters to a height of three feet. Atop a stalk was a showy umbell of stunning magenta blossoms with 6 petals (or was it 3 sepals and 3 petals?) maybe half a foot across.

Blossoms of Flowering-Rush (Butomus umbellatus) are held in an umbel of stalks.

Once I got home, my copy of Field Guide to Wisconsin Streams came to the rescue; the plant was Flowering-Rush (Butomus umbellatus), a non-native species that is in the Flowering-Rush family (Butomaceae)

Flowering-Rush (Butomus umbellatus)
Flowering-Rush (Butomus umbellatus)

Then on the way out I spotted a huge and robust stand of Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata). Hundreds of purple-blossomed spikes stood a couple feet above the dense tangle of large arrowhead-shaped leaves.

Dense stand of the large and robust Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata)
The spike of blossoms of Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata)

In the next post I will show a few photos of the lizard I found at this site.

Virtually Live 9: Bog BioBlitz VIII in Sax-Zim Bog

Accompany Executive Director Sparky Stensaas on this mid July outing in the Sax-Zim Bog

Rednecks at Osakis (& Part 2: Birding Blind)

May 27, 2020

Grebe photography from a kayak: Shooting with Sparky

The trip ends with an unfortunate Sparky misadventure. But the day kayaking on Lake Osakis in west central Minnesota starts out beautifully with video of Western Grebes and Red-necked Grebes. Sparky also films diving Forster’s Terns, a Bald Eagle snatching a fish, American White Pelicans in flight, Marsh Wrens and Yellow-headed Blackbirds. [wildlife photography, bird video, wildlife video, Panasonic GH5, Shooting with Sparky episode]

500-mile daytrip Birding Minnesota June 12: Egret Rookery, Avocets, Western Grebes: Bird Photography

A LONG 500-mile day trip birding in west central Minnesota. Join me on this “Armchair birding tour” as I photograph American Avocets at the North Ottawa Impoundment (find a rare Snowy Egret), get super slow-motion video of Chimney Swifts in flight in downtown Osakis, shoot Western Grebes on Lake Osakis, and visit a Great Egret/Black-crowned Night-Heron/Double-crested Cormorant colony at Adam’s Park/Grotto Lake in Fergus Falls.

I also discover that a NASA astronaut was born and raised in tiny Vining, Minnesota (pop. 63), which is also the home of the world’s largest clothespin.

Slow-motion video with the Panasonic GH5 and Sigma 50-500mm lens.

Success Birding at Crex: Shooting with Sparky video

June 25, 2020

I had a great day birding at Wisconsin’s Crex Meadows State Wildlife Area. It is near Grantsburg, Wisconsin and only an hour and 15 minute drive from our home in Carlton County, Minnesota.

Highlights include an Eastern Kingbird landing on the back of a Bald Eagle (!), singing Field Sparrow, Clay-colored Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, Eastern Towhee, Black Tern, Trumpeter Swans with cygnets, foraging Sandhill Crane, and a sighting of the rare Blanding’s Turtle. (and loads of deer flies!)

Wildflowers including 4 species of milkweed! (including the rare Dwarf Milkweed (Asclepias ovalifolia), which was a lifer) and Butterfly Milkweed), also Spiderwort, Wood Lily, Prairie Larkspur and more.

Come along on this adventure!

Virtually Live 8 “The Triathlon” episode: June 2, 2020

This is the “triathlon” edition of Virtually Live. Sparky kayaks, fat bikes and even walks a little in the Sax-Zim Bog during this June 2nd episode. We begin the field trip by kayaking from Stone Lake to East Stone Lake and find one of our latest migrants, the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (amongst many other cool finds), then fat bike to the Whiteface River and discover some unique birds and flowers in the floodplain forest on a parcel that we are in the process of purchasing. A cooperative Mourning Warbler rounds out our adventure.