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Great crested flycatchers are great fun

Maurice Spangler sent this great photo of Monarch butterfly caterpillars dining on butterfly weeds, wrote wife Carolyn. "Just before finding them I freed a Monarch butterfly from a nearby spider web," she writes. "Asclepias are milkweeds whose sap contains cardiac toxins. The caterpillars are immune to these poisons and prefer to eat milkweed leaves and flowers. They thereby become full of cardiotoxins which make them taste bad and birds who try to eat them can die. Interestingly enough, the day bef...

Joan Hanson reports: "The herons must be extra hungry this year. We've had a cabin on 6th Crow Wing for almost 35 years, and we had a 'first' a couple weeks ago. My grandson and his wife noticed a great blue heron further up in the yard than usual and watched as he snatched a chipmunk, walked to the dock, dunked the chipmunk in the water and 'down the hatch.'

"Some years ago, we would leave a small perch on the dock (one too far gone to release), for the heron. One time we caught a mouse in a trap. I laid it on the dock where I usually left a perch. Sure enough, Mr Heron picked it up a couple times. Finally, he dunked in the lake and swallowed it down! Maybe they're like people. They'll try anything!"

Because we had two separate sightings, we contacted the big dog himself, Carrol Henderson, head of the DNR's nongame wildlife section and the pre-eminent expert in Minnesota.

"Herons will eat small mammals whenever they get the opportunity," he said. "I've seen great egrets eat, grab and swallow wild species of mice down in Costa Rica along roadsides down there.

"I guess to them, a frog, a mouse, to them it's all food. It may seem strange to us since we don't normally see them eating small mammals. I don't think they necessarily kill it first unless it's stabbed in the course of being caught; otherwise they swallow their food whole.

"I'm sure it was kind of a surprise, but catching chipmunks wasn't an accident either," Henderson said.

He didn't speak to the act of dunking the food, but I'm guessing unlike other prey, chipmunks are dry and furry. A good dunking may help them go down the hatch, so to speak.

Otherwise the fur might stick in their craw. I've never seen them give a fish or a turtle a ritual washing before swallowing. Thay're already slimy.

I spent Wednesday morning at Don Wilkins' purple martin colony, one of my favorite summer spots. It's like being Tippi Hedren, but the birds are much more sociable and much less threatening.

First we spent an hour watching and photographing a pair of great crested flycatchers feeding their young.

Wilkins has them in an old bluebird house that's been "adapted" for a larger bird. It was adapted through the flycatchers and woodpeckers pecking the entrance larger and larger.

They were feeding their young dragonflies, millers and what looked to me like snails.

Wilkins said parents run the shovel brigade in their brief time inside the nest, scooping up fecal matter to deposit outside the house.

Wilkins says on the east coast, where there are more snakes, the flycatchers will use the shed snakeskin for nesting material. Here in the Midwest, they'll use cellophane or pieces of plastic wrap they scrounge.

The birds have a sharp "weeep" call that they used to notify each other there were photographers encroaching. But they eventually came down to give us a good look at them.


Dianne Wylie thanked us for the hummer nectar recipe.

"I suggest people try attaching a perch atop their feeders," she suggests. The hummers perch there and you can get some nice pictures." She duct taped a small twig to her shepherd's hook but said she will try attaching branches at the bottom of the feeder, wondering if hummers would perch on the branches to drink.

I don't see why they wouldn't. They perch on the plastic flower petals to slurp up the juice. Next week more on the martins.

Send your comments, questions and photos to sarahs@parkrapidsenterprise.


Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

(218) 732-3364