Spring Migration at Lake Calhoun

We may live in the city, but nature, though often drowned out, is still there and capable of putting on a show. I live near Lake Calhoun and this is spring migration season. This year the birds are coming through, and in greater numbers than usual.

We had an early thaw this year, but normally the red breasted mergansers arrive the first day the ice recedes from the shore. How they know it is a mystery. Do they have scouts? Like most of the migrants, they hang around for a couple of weeks and they’re gone until fall.

Red breasted merganser

Red breasted merganser

Most numerous are the coots, little round black birds with white beaks.

coot2

They gather in the southwest corner of the lake and dive for food.

IMG_2255 copy

My wife and I have watched a drama worthy of a PBS nature show when one of the local bald eagles comes cruising by. The coots gather together in a tight pack. When the eagle swoops down to take one, they all flutter their wings and splash water. This seemed to confuse the eagle, who came up empty after several runs.

Mixed in with the large flocks of coots, probably also to discourage predators, are a number of other species. Today I saw pied-billed grebes, eared grebes and horned grebes. At first glance they look like coots, being shaped about the same, but their heads and colors are much different. The eared and horned grebes are striking and well worth bringing your binoculars to the lake.

Pied billed grebe.

Pied billed grebe

 

Eared grebes

Eared grebes

 

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

Today’s coot flock also hid four types of ducks–red heads, buffleheads, lesser scaups and blue winged teals.

Red head duck

Redhead duck

 

Bufflehead duck

Bufflehead duck

 

Lesser scaup

Lesser scaup

 

Blue winged teal

Blue winged teal

In the past week I’ve also seen canvasbacks.

Canvasback duck, not to be mistaken for a redhead.

Canvasback duck, not to be mistaken for a redhead.

The ducks vary from year to year, but I’ve also seen northern shovelers and goldeneyes in the past. Trumpeter swans appeared a couple of years ago.

The loons are back. Two or three of them will stay all summer in different corners of the lake, usually a few hundred feet from shore.

loon

Soon the warblers should come through. It’s an exciting time of year.

 

Aaron Isaacs

About Aaron Isaacs

Aaron retired in 2006 after 33 years as a planner and manager for Metro Transit, where he worked in route and schedule planning, operations, maintenance, transit facilities, light rail and traffic advantages for buses. He created the bus-only shoulder and developed 270 miles of them, a national model. He worked on the Met Council's first TOD handbook. He's an historian of transit, as a 40+ year volunteer with the Minnesota Streetcar Museum. He's co-author of Twin Cities by Trolley, The Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and author of Twin Ports by Trolley on Duluth-Superior.

5 thoughts on “Spring Migration at Lake Calhoun

  1. Russ Booth

    This article, and a 3 mph west wind, was the reason I took off work early yesterday to paddle the Minneapolis chain of lakes.

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