Monday, December 9, 2013

Snow Glorious Snow

Inspired by this post, I decided to try my hand at capturing some macro images of our first substantial snowfall for winter 2013-2014 here in southern Wisconsin. This is definitely a work in progress. While my photos don't have the clean sharp clinical look of the ones that inspired me toward this venture, nonetheless I found the results post-worthy. So here they are:

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Snowy Owl Snow Prints

Thanksgiving weekend is often marked by my first Snowy Owl sightings of the season seen during my travels north to Marinette, WI for the holiday. My route has traditionally included birding stops along the shore of Lake Michigan's Green Bay at the Oconto Harbor and the Menominee River Mouth in Marinette. In most years, these stops are highlighted by one to several Snowy Owl sightings. With this year shaping up to be notable irruption year for this species, it's no surprise I was able to find a couple of Snowy Owls in their usual haunts with little effort.

Menominee River Mouth, Marinette, WI
On a perfectly calm and balmy early eve on November 30, 2013, this Snowy Owl was spotted roosting on a pier near the Menominee River Mouth in Marinette.  Keeping a respectable distance, I observed this bird for some time and digiscoped some images .

However in time, the owl fled its roost for the tip of nearby Seagull Bar State Natural Area, possibly flushed by my presence or by the other pedestrian walking his beagle, or perhaps it was simply off to hunt the nearby open waters that offered an extensive selection of ducks for the taking. Either way, the owl leaving its roost, opened the opportunity to walk to the end of the pier for closer scope views of the waterbirds on Green Bay.

However, the coolest discovery was not the ducks on the bay but the series of prints left by the owl in the thin layer of snow. Evidence of several roosting locations were discovered on my return walk to shore.  Each print was unique with its associated wing, body, foot and talon impressions that presented a puzzle of sorts, a whimsical suggestion of the owl's behavior.

Stumbling upon this scaup carnage was evidence that the owl had enjoyed a recent hearty meal.  While the jury is out as to whether this was a Lesser or Greater Scaup, we can be assured this duck is definitely lesser than it once was.

Scaup Carnage

As on most relatively clear nights, the setting sun presented a gorgeous palate of blues, oranges, yellows and pinks compounded by reflections on the placid waters that this calm night afforded. Having grown up in Marinette, I have witnessed many sunrises and sunsets from this particular pier, but never possessed the profound of appreciation for this area until later in life when I moved away. The scene on this particular evening was a testament to the beauty that can overcome this rather industrialized shoreline.

Government Pier, Marinette, WI
The Menominee River Mouth, Marinette, WI

While the quantity of birds and bird species is never great during the winter months, the quality, OWLS gorgeously white owls against the quiet stillness of season, puts birding during this time of year among my favorites.

Government Pier, Marinette, WI

Monday, November 4, 2013

Paradise Springs

Paradise Springs Trout Pool

Paradise Springs in the Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest, Waukesha County: there is a poetic melancholy to this place that draws me in and keeps me returning.  

Spring House, interior
Spring House
With a mood to match its scenery, I found myself strolling the paths this afternoon to witness the changing fall season against this magical background where architecture meets the landscape and flowing springs and holding pools become art in motion in any season.

Trout Pool
While early spring attracts warblers and other migrating passerines, on this late fall afternoon, birds were few. This Winter Wren's scolding chatter rose above the sounds of falling water and blustery wind as if to put me on notice that I was entering his house.  He checked me out for quite some time while I checked him out as he flitted around and through the fallen tree debris.

Winter Wren

Spring House, interior

Looking out from the Spring House

Friday, October 25, 2013

Autumn Walk

cool crisp air of the morning
warming yellow-orange autumn hues of the afternoon sun
the aroma of leaves baking in the sun
as they crackle, crunch, brake and bend 
beneath my wandering feet
releasing scents
foreshadowing winter, black cats, bats across the moon
the melancholy of life, senescence, the passing
the familiar goodbye
uncertain “hellos”
gripping in the shade of the forest canopy
pushing onward to the edge
emerging upon a white field
washed with blinding light

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Fall Birding at Koshkonong State Wildlife Area

Just a little over a week ago, I decided to check out a birding location new to me, the southern section of Koshkonong State Wildlife Area.  I had often driven by this spot along Koshkonong Mounds Road and suspected these grasslands could be good for sparrows. The DNR website describes this particular habitat as oak savannah. In addition to the savannah, the perimeter consists of a mix of fruit bearing shrubs, pine stands to the south, old growth deciduous forest to the north and ag fields to east.  While songbird diversity is generally low this time of year, I've been impressed with the number of birds seen at this location.  The edge habitat along the grassland has proven to attract good numbers of migrant songbirds over the course of my three visits in the past week.

On my most recent visit (October 22) both kinglets were numerous. I spent a bit of time being entertained by this particular Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Several Hermit Thrushes and American Robins were feasting on a variety of fruiting shrubs.

Hermit Thrush
This particular fruit, possibly a crab apple was a favorite of the robins.

A week ago the Yellow-rumped Warblers were coming through in peak numbers and feeding on the copious amounts of poison ivy fruit.

Yellow-rumped Warbler eating Poison Ivy fruit 10/15/2013
Those vines were stripped clean by October 22nd.

Poison Ivy Vine 10/22/2013

I was surprised to find a Sedge Wren quietly traveling with a Common Yellowthroat. Both are considered late sightings for October 22nd.

Sedge Wren

While generally speaking, sparrow diversity and numbers are decreasing, Dark-eyed Juncos and Fox Sparrows are on the increase.

Dark-eyed Junco, male

White-crowned sparrows are still present. Most birds observed have been hatch years.

Hatch year White-crowned Sparrow

I managed to find a lone Lincoln's Sparrow toward the end of my 3 hour walk. I suspect this may be the last one I see at this location.

Lincoln's Sparrow

Brown Creeper's were quite active, but with poor lighting and their frequent movement, I couldn't manage a reasonable photo.

Despite the freezing temperatures, a few dragonflies and other flies still managed to persist.

While I spent the majority of my time birding the edge of savannah, I did venture into the forest for a short while where I found a single persisting Tall Bellflower in bloom.

Tall Bellflower

Dunna-dun-dun-dun another one bites the dust...Something enjoyed a Blue Jay for its meal.

Blue Jay feathers

Total species for my 3.5 hour outing on October 22nd was 33 which seems somewhat low. However the number of birds present provided me plenty of entertainment.

Virginia Creeper

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Jaegerfest 2013

Some birders in Wisconsin might consider Wisconsin Point the end of the rainbow in terms of the quality of birding.  For the most part, I would have to agree. Wisconsin Point definitely seems to harbor its share of highly sought after birds.  For me, pretty much any time I find myself by the shores of Lake Superior it seems I'm near that ethereal pot of gold.  Although the industrial waters near Superior, WI  don't quite measure up to pristine shores in eastern Upper Peninsula, there's still much to draw me to the southeast corner of Lake Superior at least a few times each year. Without a doubt, sunrises are still spectacular in this corner of the lake and the weather put up by Lake Superior makes for some visual delights regardless of where I might find myself along its shores.

The Wisconsin Society for Ornithology's Jaegerfest is one reason I've been visiting Wisconsin Point the last several years.  While I don't want to rehash the details of this fun weekend as others have provided an excellent summary of the trip, here are few moments I treasured from this year's event.

The jaegers were plentiful both in quantity and quality! In some years past, we have been lucky to see a single distant Parasitic Jaeger during the three day trip.  This year jaegers abounded daily with endless aerial displays.  The number of individual birds was surmised to be at least 6 on the first official day of Jaegerfest!

Parasistic Jaeger, sub adult

Parasitic Jaeger chasing a Ring-billed Gull

"Notch" the Parasitic Jaeger of notoriety present since late August

With recent sightings of Long-tailed Jaegers in late August and early September, I came to Jaegerfest with the hope that I would encounter this species to add to my Wisconsin life list.  Quite handily, my first day at Wisconsin Point, I was fortunate to see and photograph a juvenile Long-tailed Jaeger called out by trip leader, Tom Schultz.  Before we came to ID this jaeger as a Long-tailed, Erik Brunke and I were on it taking photographs as it was uniquely quite darker than any jaeger we had seen for the day.  This was Wisconsin year bird 301 for me.

Long-tailed Jaeger, juvenile
Long-tailed Jaeger, juvenile

Then greed set in, as if seeing one Long-tailed Jaeger on the Great Lakes wasn't enough I began to crave a look at the nicely plumaged subadult that others had reported.... Luck would have it when later in the weekend, the subadult Long-tailed Jaeger gave great looks as it lazily flew right over the crowd of birders at the Lot 1 beach. Cheers went out from the elated group.  We were all in awe of the stunning views. The joy of the moment was infectious providing reinforcement to the reasons why I gravitate toward the social aspects of birding, good times, good birds, good people.

Long-tailed Jaeger, sub-adult
Long-tailed Jaeger, sub-adult

Although some of us in early attendance were fortunate to see a Sabine's gull on Thursday, the majority of the Jaegerfesters got their Sabine's Gull Sunday when one flew in late to the party on the last day of Jaegerfest.  To our delight it landed on the water near shore providing stunning views when it took flight (Recommend setting video to HD at bottom right).

Sabine's Gull
As I alluded to earlier, these group birding trips are just as much about the people as the birds. Jaegerfest is a reunion of sorts and a fun opportunity to bird, eat and drink with new and old friends.

There are veteran faces that seem integral and symbolic to what Jaegerfest has come to represent for me.  Here are some of the cast of Jaegerfest characters...

Our humble and exceptionally knowledgeable trip leader, Tom Schultz...

Tom Schultz
Daryl Tessen, an original jaegerfester and veteran birder who makes Jaegerfest into a week long trip.
Daryl Tessen

Robbye Johnson, resident Superior, WI veteran birder and all around cool person.  She's been celebrating with the jaegers from the beginning!

Robbye Johnson (right)

Ty and Ida Baumann....Ida handily spotted the Sabine's Gull that flew in and landed on the water the last day of Jaegerfest...Thanks Ida for your keen spotting!

Ty and Ida Baumann

Jerry Smith (this guy knows how to have good time)....Big thanks to Jerry this year for putting out seed at his RV site and drawing in the only Harris's Sparrow I've seen in Wisconsin this year.

Jerry Smith
It's always a treat to catch up with my fellow WI eBird teammates Nick Anich and Ryan Brady (not pictured) when I make it up to the northwest corner of Wisconsin.  And of course, I have many treasured Jaegerfest memories I've shared with two of my favorite traveling birder buddies, Tom Prestby and Tim Hahn.

Hear no evil, see no evil...Tom Prestby, Nick Anich and Tim Hahn

Friday's line-up with buddy, Erik Brunke another fixture to the Jaegerfest scene. Salutations to all the jaegers!

Brunks, pictured second from the right. "Salut to all things jaeger!"

Gallery of some more Parasitic Jaeger shots...

Parasitic Jaeger (below) with Bonaparte's Gull

Parasitic Jaeger
Parasitic Jaeger with Ring-billed Gul

Parasitic Jaeger, subadult

Parasitic Jaeger with Herring Gull

Parasitic Jaeger
Parasitic Jaeger, Juvenile

Parasitic Jaeger, Juvenile