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Spring bird watching reminder of wildlife diversity

I've been thinking about some of the interesting avian observations I've had over the course of this past spring. (Yes, spring 2011 is behind us; hard to believe, I know).

So many happenings, so many interesting bird behaviors, so many colors and so many songs and calls, that sometimes it's hard to remember them all.

For the first time ever, I watched a yellow-bellied sapsucker sip sugar water from my oriole feeder. When I initially saw the bird clinging awkwardly to the feeder, I figured the bird was simply confused and wouldn't know how to extract the sweet liquid from the feeder's ports. But, I shouldn't have underestimated the woodpecker, because it masterfully conquered the task as well as any oriole could hope to do.

The bird seemed to know exactly what to do, which I wondered about. Did it observe orioles on the feeder and decide to investigate for itself? Or did it somehow detect the odor of the feeder's contents? Come to find out, a coworker of mine had the exact experience for himself. He, too, had a yellow-bellied sapsucker feed from his sugar water feeders.

Certainly one of the most exciting encounters I had with a bird this spring was the giant tom turkey that I lured to my blind while hunting the birds in April. On one incredibly still evening, I was fortunate enough to hear from afar the answer to my own turkey renditions produced from a $20 box call.

The big gobbler tiptoed his way across a pasture I was hunting beside, zeroing in on my locale while he produced the amazing "spitting and drumming" sounds that were punctuated with an occasional gobble loud enough to be heard more than a mile away. Indeed, if ever there were sounds worth hearing, then it's certainly the assortment of vocalizations emitted from a love-sick tom turkey. Impossible to describe and impossible to forget, I was as thrilled as I've ever been.

Crows, too, have contributed to my enjoyment this spring. One recent afternoon while I was in the back parking lot of my office building, a crow suddenly flushed from somewhere nearby and then landed about 30 feet high on a tree limb that I happened to be walking underneath. The crow was loudly calling, "Caw-Caw-Caw-Caw-Caw-Caw-Caw!" Each time the bird called, he or she called seven "caws" in a row. What did it mean, I wondered?

I figured a nest or young ones was in the vicinity, so I searched the adjacent trees for signs of other birds or a nest. Sure enough, in the canopy of one of the other trees were two different crows - one adult and one adult-sized youngster. Perhaps, as it turned out, seven repetitive caws given in rapid-fire order meant "Danger, Danger!" and that my presence was deemed threatening.

A mystery was also solved this spring, late May I believe. For two springs and summers prior, I had heard from the deciduous woodlands that surrounds my home an unidentified, but interesting birdsong and call. On several instances, I heard the vocalizations, but I could never find the bird that produced the song and call. This spring, however, when I heard the species once again, I got down to business.

Armed with a pair of binoculars and an unending resolve, this time, I thought, I'm going to find my bird. To my relief the songbird was a persistent and sedentary singer, albeit a songster of canopies completely laden with leaves. With patience, I at last focused my optics on the bright yellow throat and breast of a singing bird I later identified as a yellow-throated vireo. A treat, to be sure, especially since not only was it my first known visual of the species, the mystery song and call would be anonymous no more.

On another day in my backyard, this time in June, I sat relaxed in a chair overlooking Lake Assawa enjoying watchable wildlife come and go. Red-winged blackbirds, a species of wetland dependent bird that nests throughout the dense stands of cattails that ring the small lake, are omnipresent.

As I observed their hyper activity, I was struck by the ceaseless commotion of males flying from one cattail perch to another, singing, and occasionally chasing other males out of their respective territories. I was also entertained by one especially busy female that tirelessly fed a nest-full of hungry chicks. It was interesting to watch her take the identical flight path to her nest each time she returned with meals of insects.

She would depart west from the nest, then fly northerly somewhere, and then return several minutes later flying the same course each time, passing just a few dozen feet over my right shoulder on a direct line toward the lake, followed by an abrupt drop almost straight down into the cattails where her nest was hidden somewhere. She never deviated from her preferred travel lane on any of her return trips to the nest.

The pair of robins that adopted the little nest platform I built for them behind my house under the roof succeeded in raising two nestlings. For more than a month, I watched the pair build their nest, lay eggs and incubate them for two weeks, and then busily feed their chicks for two more weeks until they fledged. In fact, while I was sitting at this desk once a week over the past month as I wrote the stories you read each week, I often gazed through the window to watch their nest-side activities.

There were many other bird observations, too. The American kestrels nesting in the box that my son and I built especially for them, the trumpeter swans and their cygnets on Burns Lake, the return of the green heron to my backyard pond and the winnowing snipe still winnowing during the third week of June - yes, all of them and more - as we get out and enjoy the great outdoors.

Blane Klemek is the Bemidji area assistant wildlife manager, DNR Division of Fish & Wildlife. He can be reached at