Thursday, January 29, 2015

Week FOUR: Steady as She Goes

I'm just coasting along in the doldrums of winter, steady as she goes...

American Tree Sparrow
I concluded the third week of 2015 with an impromptu trip to Douglas County to see the Common Eider that was originally found in Minnesota waters on November 14, 2014. It recently moved over to Wisconsin when Canal Park in Duluth froze. From discussions I've seen on the web, this bird is apparently the Pacific subspecies. Dan Tallman gives a decent synopsis on the subspecies consideration for this bird and the assumptions on how this bird came to find itself on Lake Superior. It's rather an ugly duckling, but a world and Wisconsin state lifer for me nonetheless.  I met my friend Tom in Rice Lake and we drove to Superior to watch this bird at obliging distances while it fished for mussels.

On our way out of Superior, WI, we happen to be passing the Richard Bong Airport where several Snowy Owls have been reported. There are reportedly at least 10 Snowy Owls in Superior this winter. We eventually found one perched atop Menard's across from the airport. All the Snowy Owls in Superior get tagged and bastardized with black shoe polish which ruins any aspirations for getting quality images. However this was my first of the year Snowy Owl which gave it certain coolness factor. I'm curious what the person who paints these birds each year has learned from his research? I can't help thinking blackened Snowies have trouble getting dates.

Heading south from Superior I spotted this Porcupine next to Hwy 35 taking a snooze.

Making our way further south we visited Burnett County where I made a fourth effort at tromping around in the blown down spruce-tamarack bog in search an American Three-toed Woodpecker that has been inconsistently reported near Danbury, WI. I said I wasn't going to do that again! I've now totalled 11+ hours searching for this bird without success. However, it was an enjoyable time with one of my favorite birding companions.

Week three was also highlighted by this Merlin found at Jefferson Marsh in my home county of the same name. This species proved to be a nemesis for me last year in Jefferson County so I felt obliged to capture this crappy token image. It seems that's how it goes. The bird that alludes you in one year is often seen quite readily the next.

"Well here we go again, you've found yourself a friend that knows you well
But no matter what you do, it always feels as though you tripped and fell
So steady as she goes"
The Raconteurs

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Weeks Two and Three 2015: Gulls, Blow Downs and a Owl

It doesn't seem like I've been birding that much, but when I look back on the past two weeks, I guess I have...sorta. As with most Januarys the thing to do if you're a birder in southern Wisconsin is find a dump or nice parking lot/outlot for gulling to pass the time...well that and chase rare owls (and bait them and/or repeatedly flush them trying to get a photo if you're real dick).

There's a Thayer's in there...
I happen to have a dump within 15 minutes of my house that attracts a nice variety of gulls during the winter months. Now gulling at the dump or in my case the outlot near the dump, is not much a nature experience, but I do enjoy the study of these birds during Wisconsin winters when there are a paucity of species to see in the state. However, I will tell you I've grown rather impatient with the whole Thayer's vs. Iceland nonsense. Any birder who takes photos to confirm on ID on these tricksters is met with scrutiny when submitting photos for feedback. "Did you get an open wing shot?" or " Hmm, I'd really like to see an open wing to be certain." Meanwhile those who bird without cameras go around cavalierly assigning species to these birds. When you're a member of good ole boys of club in the birding world, your word and what you saw is good as gold. Well I will never be a member of that club, but I am quickly migrating toward membership in the Fuck-it Club with these gulls. I simply refuse to spend an hour waiting for wing spread when I'm 99% sure from head shape, bill shape, mantle color, and amount of white and shade of blackness on the folded wing, that most of the gulls I'm looking at are Thayer's. Call me lazy. I prefer impatient, but I've decided once I get my Thayer's and Iceland for the year, all these gulls will simply go down as Thayer's/Iceland...unless it's an entirely obvious plumage... This was not the rant I was planning when I started writing this, but C'est la vie.

That's pretty much all this bird did...I say Thayer's

In recent weeks, the outlot by Kohl's offered all the regular Great Lakes gulls I can get reasonably hope to find this season. On January 16th I struck a sort of Gullapalooza. It was actually a GlaucousGullapalooza where I tallied a minimum of 12 birds! 

The Great Black-backed Gulls were gathered for a meeting as well, an uncommon species to find inland.

I also found my first-of-the-year Lesser Black-backed Gull (too tired to process a photo).

And finally the gem of the day this Kumlien's Iceland Gull...

On January 11th, I visited Observatory Hill State Natural Area to see the uncommon but regular annual visitor to Wisconsin, Townsend's Solitaire. This SNA really deserves its own blog post given it was one of John Muir's favorites, but alas that will have to wait.

I'm my way out of my driveway to see the solitaire, this Cooper's Hawk was perched above keeping watch on my feeders.

This past weekend took me to Burnett County on my second, third and final expedition to find the American Three-toed Woodpecker that's been seen on and off in a blown down bog off of  Bents Rd. FAIL. However the surroundings were serene, gray, monotone with the croaks of Common Ravens and nasal flight calls of Common Redpolls piercing the silence of winter. In other words, it was perfect (minus the part about missing the target species).

Common Redpoll

As a consolation prize, a couple of roadkills along Hwy 77 north of Danbury yielded an unexpected three Golden Eagles. They're another uncommon winter visitor to Wisconsin, one I've missed the past two years.

Finally, enroute back to southern Wisconsin, I decided to stop in Polk County to try for the recently sighted Northern Hawk Owl. Success. What a fine little owl. So dangerously unwary of humans...and no I didn't harass this visitor to get this shot.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Week One 2015

Well I've made it through the first week of 2015. My blogging significantly dropped off late in 2014. I couldn't even muster the energy to talk about 2014's highlight for me, the female Rufous Hummingbird that visited my yard in southern Wisconsin for nine days in October. Perhaps one day soon I'll get around to talking about that golden experience.

In the interim I am pushing myself to make relatively effortless posts with just a few photos to highlight my week.

2015, will this finally be the year I... well nevermind, onto the highlights for week one...

January 2nd brought well needed sunshine. I felt fortunate in having sun on my side during my first birding excursion of 2015. This cooperative American Kestrel and an uncommonly-seen-in-Wisconsin Western Red-tailed Hawk were fine sightings to start off my year.

I've been spending much of my birding time at the outlot next to Kohl's in Johnson Creek hanging out with a nice variety of gulls. Because what else is there to do in the winter in Wisconsin, but bird the gulls or harass owl? I'll opt for the former. My gull species list for the year already includes this nice adult Thayer's Gull. I waited over an hour for this bird to give me a wing stretch to clinch the ID.

I've been visiting Jefferson Marsh in the late afternoon and early evenings in hopes of finding a cooperative Short-eared Owl to photograph in sufficient light. FAIL. However I can't complain about the show these owls have put on, perching, hunting, vocalizing and interacting at close range during civil twilight. Sometimes the sun setting offers a nice prelude to the Short-eared Owl show. Though lately it seems the sun is a rather rare sighting.

Jefferson Marsh
Familiarity can be quite comforting, This particular Barred Owl, a recognizable inhabitant of Pheasant Branch Conservancy, put a bright spot in what felt like a dark week.

It's onto week two. It feels like it's going to be long winter and even longer year. Forward for now.