Like many March months that I have experienced, this March was a combination of slow birding times interspersed with birding moments of great excitement.
When I am able to get good pictures of birds, even the “normal” birds, I forget to be antsy about waiting for the unusual birds. Thus, this little Black-capped Chickadee made me very happy as I wandered about looking for rarities.
Similarly, I had great fun watching a crow harass a wintering Rough-legged Hawk.
My first “chase” of March was to try to see one of the Long-eared Owls that I was told were wintering this winter near Milwaukee. I understood the location to be known to some birders, and possibly to vary from year to year, but information on the birds’ location was deliberately not widely disseminated. Suffice it to say once I learned about it, I drove down there on March 4th, found the wooded area, and slowly walked in on the very icy trail. Not a bird was to be seen, until suddenly I saw one, then another and then a third Long-eared Owl, all quite close together! They were all apparently sleeping and never moved. I was very quiet, just aiming my camera, and leaving the area. I love owls!!
I was also glad to re-see the Carolina Wren that I had first seen in Wausau in late February, when I went back again on March 10th, where I found in singing high in a street-side tree.
On March 11th, I drove east to the Lake Michigan shoreline area to bird alone for a while and then to join a WSO (Wisconsin Society for Ornithology) field trip on the 12th. The weather was very cold (about 10 degrees with a strong wind off the mostly frozen lake). Highlights included my first Eastern Meadowlark of the year on the 11th and two Harlequin Ducks seen both days, as well as the amazingly hardy Wisconsin birders on the field trip.
As the month progressed, Sandhill Cranes, which I first saw on March 5th, began to be more and more evident, usually seen flying over or standing hopefully on ice-covered lakes.
Ross’s Geese, clearly less common here than Canada Geese, were sporadically reported on the rarity lists, usually only one seen at any one place, and usually seemingly disappearing shortly thereafter. At least that was my experience as I drove a couple of long trips to the south and east without finding a Ross’s Goose where they had been reported. Then I was happy to see another report of one west of Wausau, where I had not yet birded, and so I went off to Dunn County on March 19th. Dwarfed by a large flock of Canada Geese, I finally found the lone Ross’s Goose foraging in an old corn field.
A few days later, someone reported a Little Gull on Lake Wisconsin, south a few hours’ drive. There was another scheduled WSO field trip coming up soon that included that area. I decided to drive down early, worried that the gull would disappear before the field trip. I was joined on my first hunt for the gull by two other birders (Mary K and Anne M). We were able to find the Little Gull, which was still present the next day for the field trip. It was absent when the three of us first got there, but when seen it was typically flying near the causeway with the similar sized Bonaparte’s Gulls. Its rounded black underwings were clearly visible, leaving no doubt as to its identity.
Eurasian Collared-Doves are increasing in numbers across the US. In the 90s when I drove from Madison to Wausau to visit my parents, one of my birding side-trips was to find one of these doves that had been reported at a farm. I had not seen another one in Wisconsin since we moved back last May, but had been regularly looking for one since then. Although I was able to see one in a neighboring county in February, I kept hearing that they came to feeders in a town just a short distance from Wausau. I tried many times to find one, but did not succeed until March 28th. I believe there were two of them going into this spruce tree and then flying away and returning, maybe building a nest.
I conclude with the photo above, taken mid-month, of a Short-eared Owl hunting one morning over a friend’s prairie back yard in southern Wisconsin. As I said earlier, and say often, I love owls!
The last half of February began delightfully with the viewing on the 16th of a cuddly-seeming Eastern Screech-Owl peering from the kestrel box of a local birder. I learned that a screech-owl, maybe the same one, has been using this box as a winter roost spot for a number of years.
The next day I wandered around areas of Marathon County south and east of Wausau, seeing Horned Larks and Snow Buntings, a perched Merlin, and the previously reported Belted Kingfisher fishing in a small area of open water on the Plover River.
On the 18th I made an unsuccessful attempt to see a reported Slaty-backed Gull in Mayville, some 150 miles south of Wausau. Since I was in the area, I went over to Sheboygan to see if perhaps the gull had wandered over there. There were no remarkable gulls there, but I was happy to see an American Black Duck in with the Mallards, and a little flock of White-winged Crossbills.
Back at home, the Varied Thrush was there again on the 19th (and also later in the month on the 25th), valiantly working to get a few of the remaining fruits on our neighbor’s tree. I find it remarkable that this bird has been coming so infrequently but regularly to this same tree for over a month.
On the 20th, I went to Milwaukee to try to see the reported Ross’s Goose, but arrived a couple of hours after anyone reported it. I spent the afternoon of that day and the next day not seeing the goose, but was able to see my first Long-tailed Ducks for the year (and for the state, I believe).
The final exciting bird of the month was today’s Carolina Wren in Wausau. I learned about it two days ago, and spend almost an hour then, another half hour yesterday, and about two hours today in the neighborhood where it had been reported before finally seeing it late this morning on my second visit there today. I had heard it on my first visit there early this morning, but gave up without seeing it and wandered off to bird elsewhere. While I had not seen one in the county before today, I learned when talking to other local birders who have lived here longer than I have that there are numerous instances when these wrens have been seen here in previous years.
Leaving birds for moment and going to mammals, a couple of days this month an opossum came to an area in our back yard where I throw birdseed on the ground under two of our feeders. It came in the late afternoon, allowing photographs, but the raccoon that also was new for us in our yard came much later, when it was too dark. We regularly have deer, up to 10 of them a few evenings, also coming to munch birdseed under the feeders. It’s not looking too good for my gardening plans for the summer.
The Varied Thrush, first seen next to our yard in our neighbor’s fruiting tree (cherry? crabapple?) on January 6th, and then not seen again until January 25th, was seen periodically during the first half of February (on 8 of the 15 days so far). The fruit tree by now is almost naked of fruit. I have tried to attract the thrush to a feeder in our yard with cut-up blueberries and raspberries, dried mealworms and cracked corn in the feeder and on the ground below it, but although the thrush sits in our maple tree above that feeder, I have not seen it eat anything in our yard.
Probably related to the over 100 Common Redpolls in the yard and often 20 or more Mourning Doves, our neighborhood Cooper’s Hawk has been a regular visitor, landing in the maple tree, or sometimes nailing a hapless redpoll or dove. When the Varied Thrush has been recently seen, I become protective of it, and often go out on the porch to chase away the hawk, which usually works.
I took a day-trip on February 10th to look for Golden Eagles at Devil’s Lake State Park south of Wausau a bit over 100 miles. I was a bit unclear as to where to look for the eagles, but settled on parking at an overlook near where I understood that they had been seen. I waited. Nothing. And where was the “east bluff” and the “west bluff” that had been mentioned in posts on eBird? There seemed to be numerous bluffs around. After an hour or so, a car arrived, and 5 or 6 people, some with binoculars, piled out of the car and walked rapidly up the road. Maybe they knew. So I followed. They did know, and although no eagles were seen before they left, I was able to see 3-4 Bald Eagles, and then two Golden Eagles about half an hour later. The latter came from the direction of what I now knew was the east bluff, flew overhead, and disappeared over the west bluff, as previously reported. But, the very good news was, they did not actually disappear. They landed at the top of that bluff, and could be photographed there!
Another exciting sighting in February was of three Red-headed Woodpeckers on a Wisconsin Society for Ornithology field trip to a few counties about 50 miles south of Wausau on February 12th. The woodpeckers were flying around and landing in large dead-appearing deciduous trees just off the road. These woodpeckers are definitely not rare here, especially in the summer, but somehow I had missed them and these were the first I had seen since we moved here in May last year.
My most recent unexpected sighting was on February 14th. My goal birds (boreal forest birds) were nowhere to be found, but I had a very pleasant drive up to the northeast of Wausau about 80-100 miles. Birds were few and far between, consisting mainly of Blue Jays, American Crows, Common Ravens, and Black-capped Chickadees, until I got to Alvin, where before I turned around I found a feeder where Evening Grosbeaks were added to my day-list. Just before that, however, along a very snowy road with absolutely no other cars seen for over an hour, I found a Barred Owl perched on a limb that extended out over the side of the road. It was awake, and turned its head a bit as I backed the car up after lurching crunchily to a sudden halt in the snow. It never flew but just regarded me solemnly the whole time. I often say that it is impossible not to be happy on a day when you see an owl (or a crane or a hummingbird). I was very happy. The boreal birds can wait until another day.
It’s the same thing every year, whether or not I’m doing a big year. At first, in early January, every bird seen is a new bird for the year list. But then, things slow down. Most new year-birds take more and more effort to add to the list. This year has been no different. By mid-January I had found 71 bird species in Wisconsin, some of course requiring an extra amount of travel and expense to find.
But I only added 10 bird species to my year-list during the second half of January, and I spent a fair number of days driving and looking and not finding anything new. In fact, because it was January and usually cold and often windy, it was often difficult to find many birds at all, old or new, even with many miles driven. My last trip of the month, a 2-day trip to Superior (1/31-2/1), was so unproductive and so long and boring, that I, the nutty, love-to-drive birder, was very sick of the whole thing, even sick of birding!
A re-cap of those latest January days follows.
On January 17th, I went back to Buena Vista, once again looking for Snowy Owl and any other prairie-type birds that might be there. I watched a Merlin dive through a flock of redpolls, saw many prairie-chickens and tree sparrows and more redpolls, and another view of a Short-eared Owl in the dim light after sunset, but no Snowy Owl.
The next day I drove out to western Marathon County, and FINALLY found a Snowy Owl, perched on the same post where one had been perched late in 2021. It appeared to be a younger bird with more black on its feathers. I watched it land in a field, and then fly back away from the road to perch on an old trailer out there. I just kept sighing big sighs of relief.
The next few days I spent mostly at home or nearby. I got to watch a Sharp-shinned hawk on January 20 de-feather a redpoll right under our dining room window, watched many, many Common Redpolls and Pine Siskins, and did another 2-day feederwatch.
On January 24th I went out to the Mead wildlife area to see what might be around in winter, and to check the Wood Duck boxes for owl faces peering out the openings. As expected it was slow, and no owls were seen.
On January 25th a Varied Thrush reappeared, this time in our neighbor’s driveway and in their fruit tree. It stayed around long enough for three other local birders to see, and then disappeared.
My next trip, on January 26th, was back to the landfill in Hilbert, south of Green Bay, where numerous gulls had been reported. I was delighted to see masses of them flying over the trash-moving machinery, and sitting on huge mounds of dirt. I was kindly led by the site supervisor to an excellent viewing area, where I spent the next two hours watching and photographing gulls (and a few Bald Eagles). Without any effort, I, not particularly fond of or expert in identifying gulls, easily found an adult Great Black-backed Gull. Later I found one, and possibly two non-adults of the same species.
It also did not take much effort to find the large mostly white and light gray Glaucous Gull either, and eventually a couple of others.
Eventually I also found (but did not get to photograph) the smaller Iceland Gull, smaller also than the many, many surrounding Herring Gulls, with white primaries and a smaller bill.
So three new birds for the day! But the day wasn’t over. I went back to Ken Euers Nature Area, where a few sparrows had been reported that I had not seen for the year. While the Spotted Towhee that I had seen on the previous trip took a while to show itself, the at least four White-throated Sparrows were easily found. I never did see the reported Swamp Sparrow in spite of extensive looking, but eventually a very streaky Song Sparrow emerged from behind some branches on the ground.
I haven’t mentioned but periodicially so far this year I have wandered around to an area that I have been told hosted Eurasian Collared-Doves in the past (not easily found around here, I have noticed), and so far I have had not luck. I did find my first Purple Finch in that area on January 27th. I know I will find more at my feeders eventually (at least if I stay home more).
My next big trip (on January 28th) was north to Clam Lake, where I had never been, where Evening Grosbeaks are apparently often found and had been reported recently. It was unclear to me exactly where they might be found, but even before I rolled down my windows, I could hear them noisily coming to a mostly hidden feeder area along the frozen lake area. With some maneuvering of my car, I managed to get a partial view of one feeder and to finally see a couple of Evening Grosbeaks.
My next sighting was not a “sighting” but an audio bird finding. On January 29th, in the early pre-dawn hours I was taking our dog out into the yard, freezing, as usual, when I was delighted to hear a Great Horned Owl hooting. I had heard them from our yard late in 2021, but this was the first hearing of the year. While some people do not count birds if they cannot see them, the American Birding Association rules say that it is okay, so long as there is no question of the bird’s identity.
My final new bird of January was a Northern Flicker, which is very non-rare in Wisconsin, but rare for January in northern Wisconsin. I was in the Superior area, looking for, but not finding boreal specialties, when a flicker tapped on a tree somewhere and then flew directly overhead, its yellow underwing area bright and bold.
So, here I am in early February. There are a few places I expect to go soon to add new birds, but they are not close to Wausau. Down in the southern part of the state are numerous species that I have not yet seen this year, most of which are common around here in the summertime. It’s always a decision to be made – chase birds now to get them out of the way for the year, or be confident that they will eventually show up a bit closer to home. If no more serious rarities are reported, I guess it makes the most sense to go find a few more non-rarities. Or I could nap for a while. Decisions, decisions.
It has been a long time since I attempted a blog post, but here I am, starting again. Having relocated our home from Anchorage, Alaska to Wausau, Wisconsin in May 2021, I decided as 2022 began that this year is my year to explore Wisconsin birding. I haven’t really decided whether I am just exploring and adding birds to my state list or year list as I explore, or whether this is some sort of big year. Time will tell.
Meanwhile, as the end of January nears, I have seen (and/or heard) 80 species of birds in Wisconsin so far. The most recent was a Great Horned Owl, hooting early the morning of 1/29 as I took our dog out into our side yard. Below is a recap of the other bird-sightings up to the middle of January. I’m mainly writing it all down here in narrative form so I (and you, if you wish) can see the picture better than a review of my notes or eBird makes possible. I hope to make it halfway through January in this first post, and then soon do another post to bring it current.
The first bird of my year was, as I hoped, Greater Prairie-Chicken, south of Stevens Point at Buena Vista Grasslands/Marsh, where they are found all year. On January 1st I also saw (in order seen) Common Redpolls, American Crows, a Northern Shrike, Dark-eyed Juncos, American Tree Sparrows, a Rough-legged Hawk, a Red-bellied Woodpecker, a Downy Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadees, a Bald Eagle, Mourning Doves, and a Red-tailed Hawk as I birded Buena Vista’s roads. As I meandered my way north to Wausau, I added Rock Pigeons that were sitting on someone’s silo top. Then, on Smokey Hill Road in Wood County, I saw Blue Jays and Snow Buntings. After that road entered Marathon County (where Wausau is located) I saw about 20 Wild Turkeys scattered across a farm field. Before the day ended, I raced to east of Wausau where a flock of White-winged Crossbills was being seen, and saw a few of them.
It wasn’t quite dark when I got home, so I was able to see a few of our feeder birds: American Goldfinch, Pine Siskin, and Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatches. A very good beginning to the year.
On January 2nd, after I went to a small area of open water on Adolph St. and found the probably lost wintering Redhead and Canada Geese, and a Merlin in downtown Wausau, I went home to see a Northern Cardinal visiting our yard, where I was doing day 1 of my first Feederwatch of the year. The next day a Tufted Titmouse came to our feeders and a Brown Creeper crept down to the base of a tree where a feeder was and ate a few seeds.
In the middle of the day on January 3rd I sneaked away from my Feederwatch and drove north to Merrill, adding a Common Raven and a European Starling (but not the sought-for Bohemian Waxwing). I looked for and finally found a site that I had heard should have a few ducks (Bos Creek in the middle of Wausau) and added Mallards (about 75), and Black Ducks (3) to my year list.
On January 4th, I made my first trip toward the far reaches of Wisconsin. My goal was gulls and waterbirds, a couple of which seemed to be rarities that I needed to add to to my list. I first went southeast to Sheboygan, where before I reached the water I added House Sparrow. Birding the waterfront, I added Herring and Ring-billed Gulls, and Common Goldeneyes, Buffleheads, and Common and Red-breasted Mergansers. I was not able to find a reported Harlequin Duck there, but, with the help of a new birding friend, Spence Stehno, I found the beautiful adult male Harlequin Duck that was at Port Washington.
My next goal on January 4th was to go farther south for the rare-for-Wisconsin Purple Sandpiper, as well as the Ruddy Turnstone both of which were being seen together in Milwaukee. While I found the Turnstone, I could not see its pal. At Petroleum Pier in MIlwaukee, after much scoping of the water, I did find the rare Tufted Duck, as well as a Surf Scoter and both Greater and Lesser Scaup.
Since there also were interesting birds being reported in Madison about 70 miles to the west, I decided to go there for an overnight. The next morning (1/5) was completely foggy and the only thing I could discern on the partly open Lake Monona was many Tundra Swans. After a couple of hours of peering into fog, I decided to head back to Milwaukee and try again for the Purple Sandpiper, but I could not find it (nor could others who were also looking). I did see three White-winged Scoters and a small flock of American Coots.
It was good that I stayed home the morning of January 6th because a very welcome Varied Thrush came very briefly to our back yard. I managed to get a photo of it that morning through some pine needles but it did not stay long enough to be seen by some other birders. Also in the yard that day were a Sharp-shinned Hawk, my first House Finch, and a female Pileated Woodpecker. In the afternoon I went looking for a reported Snowy Owl in western Marathon County, but could not find one.
After spending a bit of time at the Subaru dealership to get our car serviced on January 7th, I drove to the Wausau area that had been assigned to me for the December Christmas bird count. My goal was the Red-winged Blackbird and Common Grackle that I had found on the CBC in a feeder-rich yard, and they were both found again.
Not being able to resist the lure of the Milwaukee Purple Sandpiper, which had again been reported, I returned to Milwaukee on January 8th. Although the Ruddy Turnstone was still easily found, it took a couple of hours for the Purple Sandpiper to fly in. Both birds allowed many birders to approach and were easily photographed.
On the drive north to the next site on my planned itinerary for the day (Ken Euers Wetland Preserve in Green Bay), I spotted my first Northern Harrier of the year. On the road into the preserve, as previously reported, the noteworthy rarity, a Spotted Towhee, was easily found in the midst of a flock of juncos, American Tree Sparrows, Mourning Doves, two Red-winged Blackbirds, and six new-for-the-year White-crowned Sparrows.
I next drove some 20 miles to where one or more Townsend’s Solitaires had been reported. I did not find any of them, but did see and photograph my first Cedar Waxwings (about 22), Yellow-rumped Warblers (2) and American Robins (3).
On January 9th and 10th, I stayed in Wausau, and in my yard added a lovely Hoary Redpoll and Hairy Woodpecker. Another owl search on January 11th did not yield a Snowy Owl, again, but when I got home, I watched my first Cooper’s Hawk of the year kill a small bird (redpoll or goldfinch) right below our dining room window.
My goal on my trip to Buena Vista on January 13th was owls. Although I found no Snowy Owl after a full day of driving the roads there, as dusk fell over the snow-covered fields at about 4:45 pm, a well-seen Short-eared Owl worked its way back and forth over an area on Lake Drive.
On January 14th I went north of Wausau to Tomahawk, looking for wintering finches and waxwings. Using my Google Maps, I got to where Bohemian Waxwings seemed to have been reported, which was downtown in the middle of an area of many buildings. Just when I had decided that the post must not have been accurate as to location, a flock of Bohemian Waxwings swarmed over a small tree on the city street and then careened off. I followed in my car, and periodically saw them again. Finally, they worked their way back to downtown (as did I) and settled in a large tree, allowing me to photograph them. Then I noticed with delight that there were three Pine Grosbeaks in the same tree.
On my drive back to Wausau, I explored the fields for Snowy Owls, which I did not find, again. I did add my first American Kestrel and my first Ring-necked Pheasants.
On January 15th, I went back to the Green Bay area to look again for the still-being-reported Townsend’s Solitaire(s). While I scanned bushes and trees, I added a Fox Sparrow to my list. As I drove out, having almost given up, there was a Townsend’s Solitaire perched up at the junction of the road where it was usually seen and the road where it was sometimes reported.
Although I intended to end the day doing some gull-searching at a local landfill, when I got to the landfill, I found it closed. I had not known that they close early on Saturdays. I knew I’d be back, and I was.
To be continued, on birds finally found, and others missed (as is usual for the birding pastime).
Early this morning I drove south of Anchorage to the Girdwood area. On the way, I was delighted to find numerous Dall sheep on the mountain sides (not, I understand, mountain goats, which have black horns). Just another of the reasons that Alaska birding is made special by non-bird occurrences.
Two of them played follow-the-leader, and my camera followed them.
The friendly Red-throated Loon is around again this year, still responding vocally when a plane takes off, flies over or lands on the lake near the loon. I could not resist taking yet another video of it this morning. The increasing and decreasing background noise in the video is one of the taking off floatplanes.
Yippee! My books have arrived, and were awaiting me on my doorstep yesterday. So, if you want a signed copy sent to you, please email me to let me know (email@example.com). Cost: $32, which includes shipping to a US address. The book is about my birding big years in Texas and Alaska, and includes many of my photos and paintings. It is published by Texas A&M University Press, as were my other two books (Extreme Birder: One Woman’s Big Year; Birds in Trouble). And thanks so much if you do order a copy.
Assuming the world holds together and books are still being shipped by then, my new book, entitled Big Years, Biggest States (about birding of course!) is expected to arrive at the publisher (Texas A&M University Press) by mid-April or so. I received the cover (first photo below) a couple of weeks ago and just received my author’s advance copy of the full book this week. I am pleased with how it has turned out. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 682-365-6531 if you have questions.
If you wish to order a copy from me, I would be happy to mail you a signed copy of the book (unless you will be in Alaska and wish to pick one up from me). The cost per book, including postage is $32 (it is the same price for my other two books if you wish to get them also). Checks can be sent to 645 G St., Ste. 100-688, Anchorage, AK 99501. If you want something written in the book in addition to my signature, let me know, and of course, I need to know the address to which the book should be sent.
FYI, the titles of my three books are:
Big Years, Biggest States — Birds in Trouble — Extreme Birder: One Woman’s Big Year