going on a bird hunt, bird hunt, bird hunt.

Yesterday, I attended my aunt and uncle’s 50th Wedding Anniversary Party in Osakis, Minnesota.  I have many memories of Osakis.  The small town with a population of about 1,750 is 2 hours Northwest of Minneapolis.  There is a lot of farming in the area and a number of resorts surrounding the large lake with the same name, Lake Osakis.  It’s a place where I spent many Sundays with my family on the farm.  Me and my cousins would wander in the woods, play with the animals, get dirty, and often get into some kind of trouble.  

My uncle is a carpenter and has a great passion for classic Fords, Blatz beer and hunting. My aunt keeps a large garden, cans food and butchers chickens every summer. They are both funny, enthusiastic with wonderful, teasing laughs. There are many bird mounts that decorate the living room. I remember making occasional eye contact with the yellow marbles of the owl hanging on the wall while watching In Search Of on TV.  It wasn’t my favorite show but, there was only one tv channel at their house. Me and my cousins would half way watch while playing cards as we waited for Sunday dinner.

The memories I have about the anniversary couple’s house, the stuffed birds, hunting has perfect timing. In my research for my grant, I’ve found that many hunters know the bird byways and also track migration. I decided after the party, that I would go on my own bird hunt.

 Luckily the day turned out to be cool, sunny and bright. Originally, the weather forecast had predicted snow (on April 27th!).  Looking up Lake Osakis on birding websites, I found that it is considered an Important Bird Area (IBA) and a very popular spot for both the observer and a long list of sought after species.  The Red-Necked Grebe for example is often seen on the lake and does a wonderful mating dance with the chest puffed out and wings expanded. https://www.lakeosakismn.com/birding/

 Could I be so lucky to find this?

 The drive around the lake was beautiful, but I think I was too early to find the Grebes.  What I did find instead was something quite amazing – the Northern White Pelican.  We drove around the lake and my husband Tom kept watch along the shoreline and then we saw them, floating in the water.  The pelicans looked quite majestic, gliding along like a carnival ride with wings tucked under and a large pointed beaks.  We stopped with our binoculars to take a closer look and saw them flying overhead with gigantic wings expanded.  I was quite giddy! This is what birding is about!

 On the drive home, we read aloud from The Birds of Minnesota about the Northern White Pelican.   Here is what I learned:  

They are a migratory species and 1/5 of their population resides in the lakes of Minnesota during the summer and fall months.  They winter in Texas and Mexico.  Lake Osakis is a great home for them as the shallow waters are rich with fish that they collectively forage in groups by dipping their giant beaks in unison in the water to drive up their prey.  They do not dive for fish like the Brown Pelican. They migrate in early spring and pair up quickly to lay two eggs in their non-insulated nests of mud and sticks.  They are graceful flyers despite their size with a wingspan of up to nine feet.

 The population of Northern White Pelicans has improved.  From the 1960’s through the 80’s they were considered endangered due to changing water levels, human disturbances and environmental contamination.   One form of human disturbance is from the game fisherman.  Pelicans were believed to threaten the fish that anglers wanted to catch, but now it is acknowledged that they mainly eat “rough” fish. This has helped the Pelicans but, environmental contamination is still an big issue. Scientists have found remnants of the Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill in their eggs.  https://www.birdwatchingdaily.com/news/conservation/pelican-tracking-oil-spill-minnesota/

Once again, the pelicans are threatened.

I wanted to ask my uncle specifically if he studies byways or migration when he hunts, and what he knew about Northern White Pelicans. Was he a fan? Or what about the Grebes?  When should I come back to see them?  But the party was too busy- Fred is a popular guy!

Emily Donovan