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Wednesday, a Canada goose was accompanied by buffleheads and wood ducks in the Little Sand bay near Zorbaz. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)
Wednesday, a Canada goose was accompanied by buffleheads and wood ducks in the Little Sand bay near Zorbaz. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Amateur's Guide: Loons arrive

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outdoors Park Rapids, 56470

Park Rapids Minnesota PO Box 111 56470

A loon!

Lower Bottle/Emma saw and heard its first loon at noon Tuesday. It sounded especially mournful because both lakes are iced over and there's nowhere to swim, much less nest.

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Ice has pushed up onto the shore where the loons usually nest on Bottle if they don't climb on the manmade nest in that lake's bay. Last year the pair was chickless.

But it's great to wake up to the sound of loons again.

They generally hopscotch between the two lakes to maximize their "homestead" acreage.

Brandee Brown also heard loons Thursday on the Fish Hook River.

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Betty Bruckelmyer reported seeing five bald eagles out on the ice of Portage Lake Monday.

Three were adults, two were juveniles, she said.

"They were just sitting on the ice. They were so content," she said. In the past she said she's seen three eagles out on the ice, "especially when there's fish guts," but seeing five was a real treat, she said. They sat out on the ice for quite awhile, she said.

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This part of the column was submitted by non-amateurs Marshall Howe and Janet McMillan.

What a difference a couple of warm days in early spring make in our local bird populations! In this area, the middle part of April delivers a huge influx of species that had wintered farther south in the United States and are heading north toward the latitudes where they will nest and produce young.

The diversity of waterfowl can be staggering, as it has been lately near Zorbaz' at the south end of Little Sand Lake. In the open water near the ice edge here, we have seen 14 species of ducks recently, each day producing a somewhat different variety. These birds are sporting their best plumage right now, and most are also engaging in complex courtship rituals that are very entertaining to watch.

A pair of binoculars is very helpful, but if you're patient, these flocks may cruise by at close range. Unless you're a bird expert already, bring or purchase a good guide to bird identification. Similar spectacles are no doubt happening at other local areas of open water - Deane Park on Fish Hook Lake is a good bet.

For feeder watchers, this time of year is definitely the best for diversity and numbers of seed-eating species. Not only are the wintering species like common redpolls still here in good numbers, migrants from the south, like purple finches and dark-eyed juncos, and fox sparrows are pouring in.

In April most of these species are undergoing hyperphagia, a period of voracious eating that produces the body fat that fuels their energy-demanding migrations. If you have redpolls and have been watching them carefully, you may have noticed that they are becoming noticeably fatter now, a sure sign that their winter visit to the area is about over.

We are very fortunate on our property to have seen some fairly unusual species lately among the more regular feeder-users. In the past few days, for example, we have seen a hoary redpoll, a slightly larger and much whiter version of the common redpoll that is perhaps the northernmost nesting songbird in the world.

Also, we were visited by a small flock of evening grosbeaks, a spectacular yellow, bronze, and white finch that was much commoner in past decades but has declined to the point of being a really noteworthy sighting. We hope you have been enjoying all these great signs of the changing seasons as much as we have.

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