(posted January 30, 2022)
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).