Tag Archives: Old Stella Jones Pier

Northern Magic on Lake Superior

What do you call a day when earlier in the afternoon some Lapland Longspurs walk up to within 3 or 4 feet of you, and continue to feed without concerning themselves with your presence even though you are never more than ten feet away … plus a night spent out under the stars watching Lady Aurora dance? The answer is Northern Magic!!!

I consider myself so lucky to live on Lake Superior. A friend suggested we should drive over to the Old Stella Pier and look for Longspurs. Normally I would have considered the experience of watching birds which summer on the tundra up on the Arctic Ocean, but migrate through the Duluth area a great day, but when my Northern Lights alarm started going off around supper time, I knew my day was not over.

I have been wanting to capture a decent Aurora Borealis display at the Davidson Windmill for some time, but never had been successful. It took two trips over to Wisconsin last night to capture the Northern Lights in an image my desired way.

During my first trip over to the windmill at 9 pm I arrived during a nice Northern Lights display, but in the ten minutes it took to determine the proper angles and set up my camera equipment, the Aurora display fizzled out. Bummer! I waited another hour but no dice. Went home.

At 1 am I woke up and checked the numbers. It looked like Lake Aurora might dance yet again last night. I drove back over to the windmill arriving at 1:45 am, and this was the result!

Lapland Longspurs on Old Stella Jones Pier

Northern Lights at the Davidson Windmill (Amnicon River in NW Wisconsin). Camera Settings were ISO = 1600; Aperture = 2.0; Exposure = 20 seconds.

Northern Birds … in the Rain!

The weather the past two days has been ugly with over an inch of rain, but the birds flying south from Canada including the Arctic regions do not seem to care. Yesterday there was a bug hatch taking place at McQuade Harbor, and flocks of combined Palm Warblers, American Pipits and Horned Larks enjoyed dinner at the harbor. My freindly neighborhood snow goose continues to hang out in the same area.

Today’s weather was even worse than yesterday. I made a drive over to the Old Stella Jones Pier, where I found a flock of over 600 horned larks, a small flock of American Golden Plovers (14 birds), and a few Kestrels. Photography was difficult due to the mist and fog.

Tomorrow the sun is supposed to return. I am looking forward to getting out in the forest and enjoying the colors.

Snow Goose in the Rain

Horned Larks

Palm Warbler

Shorebird Identification

Will the real American Golden Plover please stand up?!

Some of us are old enough to remember the TV show, To Tell The Truth! In this show, a panel of celebrities asked three guests questions in an attempt to determine who was the real guest, and who were impostors. Sometimes identifying shorebirds feels a bit like an episode of this game show. Shorebirds have many different plumage patterns, which vary by the season of the year, and whether a bird is a male, female, breeding male, breeding female or an immature bird.

Over the past few days I have seen many American Golden Plovers, and sandpipers on the Duluth waterfront as these birds migrate down from the shores of the Arctic Ocean to “southern” South America in the plover’s case. Mudflats near Lake Superior are favorite resting / feeding spots as these birds recharge for many thousands of miles that have yet to migrate.

Given, assuming some luck on my birding expeditions, I only see these shorebirds a few weeks out of the year during the northern and southern migrations. Given such a short viewing window for birds I only see a few days per year, and given the fact birds like the American Golden Plover have many plumage options, obtaining a proper ID is difficult. Here are some of resources I use to help with my identification process.

First … some photos that I took of the plovers, and then I will work through the identifications resources. However, the first resources that is very useful pdf booklet from the Migratory Shorebird Project.

Here are the photos I used for my initial ID’s

And a few other American Golden Plovers in varying stages of plumage …

My two other resources in addition to the pdf booklet, are the Peterson Bird App, and Cornell’s Merlin Bird ID. I like the Peterson app because its initial bird image screens show you many different birds at once in varying stages of plumage. After some initial work, I then can drill further into the app and review photographs. Some apps only show you a photograph of a breeding male on the initial screen for any bird specie. In this instance, that would be almost useless. Here are two screenshots from Peterson’s:

Assuming one is still having difficulties with obtaining a proper identification, I then move on the Cornell’s Merlin Bird ID. Using one of my own photographs, I am able to submit that image into Merlin which then returns a bird identification. Merlin then returns photos in all the different plumage options of what the app thinks is my bird. Merlin Bird ID scored perfectly. Here are some screenshots from my process of working with Merlin. Remember, I had to dramatically different plumage options of the same specie, the American Golden Plover.

Example 1:

  • Adjusting my photo to the input box
  • Confirming my birding date and location
  • Merlin’s educated guess. It’s correct!


Example 2:

  • Adjusting my photo to the input box
  • Confirming my birding date and location
  • Merlin’s educated guess. It’s correct!

I hope introducing these resources will help you with the difficult process of shorebird identification. Although I actually know the plumage options for American Golden Plovers quite well, I used the same process to confirm a Baird’s Sandpiper two days ago.