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Amateur's Guide: Cougar sightings persist along with avian trifecta

This great photo of a pileated woodpecker was taken by Janet Crouch right outside her dining room. "I think he is a bit large for my feeders," she said. "Maybe will have to get larger suet cakes if this continues." (Submitted photo)

Cougar sighting

After the Wolf Lake cougar sighting, which was site verified by the DNR, Jane Brevik called with her own story.

She lives on the Straight River south of Park Rapids.

"I was looking out window one day last spring and one walked right by," she said of a cougar. "I called DNR. They kind of brushed it off. I've seen tracks in our yard. This was last spring. It walked really slow. It had that big fat tail," she reports.

That was not her first sighting. She said two years ago there was underground work going on at home and there were sand piles from the construction.

She could clearly see cougar tracks in the sand.

And this week there was a report of a dead male cougar found in Pope County.

"They're around here," Brevik maintains. "Yeah, they're around."

Rare trifecta

Janet McMillen submitted this sighting from a recent outing:

"Recently my husband, Marshall Howe, and I were birding north of Lake George. Our goal was to find a Black-backed Woodpecker that had been sighted in the area. As if often the case while birding, serendipity struck.

"First we flushed a Bald Eagle from the ground and watched it perch on a nearby tree. Then a Black-billed Magpie flew into our binoculars' field of view. This was immediately followed by a Common Raven landing in the same tree. The magpie was directly below the eagle and within easy striking distance of its talons.

"We remarked on this precarious situation and then I suggested that kleptoparasitism (theft of another's prey) was about to occur. We continued watching and sure enough the eagle dropped whatever small prey it had in its talons, the magpie caught it and flew off. What lucky timing for us both to catch all of this.

"Once home, we did a Web search and learned that where three species co-exist in winter in the West, they often forage together at carcasses of deer or other animals.

"The work by the dominant eagle makes it easier for the subordinate raven and magpie to obtain food morsels from the carcass. Groups of feeding birds or other animals that benefit from the presence of the other species are known as foraging guides.

We are new to the area and this is the first time we have encountered this guild and the first time we had seen a Black billed Magpie in Hubbard County."

It's been interesting to see the potpourri of birds a deer carcass attracts.

On a recent trip up County 4 I was stunned to see three bald eagles and as many huge ravens on a deer carcass in the ditch. Of course by the time my tires screeched to a halt, they'd all vamoosed.

I sat there for a while but couldn't get the group reassembled for my camera. I'd never seen three eagles working together to pick a carcass clean, much less their black feathered friends rendering assistance.

Send your sightings and photos to sarahs@parkrapids

Sarah Smith

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

(218) 732-3364