January Slow-down

(Written February 2, 2022)

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.

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