Thursday, February 23, 2017

Global Warming Weekend Part 2: Bats

I meant to get part two of my global warming birding weekend posted much sooner, but life and exhaustion have a way of getting in the way.

The unseasonably warm temperatures in the 60s continued through the weekend into the first half of this week. As of today that spring prelude has ceased. Temperatures fell throughout the day landing in the 30s with snow starting to fall as I write.

My primary motivation to complete this entry is really just about this bat.

I get almost as excited about bats as I do snakes. It's crazy to think I was seeing bats in February in Wisconsin. It appears the unseasonably warm weather not only brought an onslaught of waterfowl and few early bird species into the state, it also enticed several bats out of hibernation. Several birders reported encountering bats flying near the Wisconsin River over the weekend. I was among those observers. I found bats at two stops in the Mazomanie area along the Wisconsin River. I have learned the bats I observed are likely Big Brown Bats which are known to fly during warm spells in late winter/early spring. Being one of four of Wisconsin's cave-hibernating bat species they are susceptible to white-nose syndrome and therefore have the designation of being a threatened species. Unfortunately being woke so early from hibernation puts these already threatened bats at risk for starvation.

Other than the highlight of seeing the bats, my Global Warming Birding Weekend included many Greater White-fronted Goose,

FOY Cackling Goose,

Cackling Goose far left with Canada Geese, Dane County, WI

....and an influx of Sandhill Cranes, Red-winged Blackbirds and Killdeer along with more ducks.

Sandhill Crane, Dane Co, WI 
I also engaged in what I call "renegade birding," hiking to a "forbidden" beach in the Mazomanie Unit of the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway. Let's just say I visited what I gather was a historically nude beach that was closed to ALL activity last year in a classic uptight midwestern over-reach of state government.

Mazomanie Beach, Dane County
I had never been to this beach, am entirely opposed to the extreme measure of closing it and wanted to satisfy my curiosity in regards to its birding potential. My clandestine hike to this location yielded my first of the year encounters with Purple Finch and Pileated Woodpecker. No nudists though! In fact no people whatsoever.

Purple Finch, Mazomanie, Dane County, WI
Also for the record, at no point during my walk did I breach any sign indicating "Closed Area" and really only learned of the details of just how forbidden this place is after having visited. Those "Closed Area" signs do exist at the historic access point for the beach which is not the route I used to enter the area.

Mazomanie Beach, Dane County
The serenity of my hike was exquisite. Being alone has its merits some days and is something I've grown more and more accustom to. I shall return to explore this area further. Though next time I plan to focus my exploration on the area further south of the "forbidden beach" where I suspect habitat may be more suitable for finding the rare for Wisconsin, Kentucky Warbler. Stay tuned...

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Global Warming Weekend Part 1: Charmed Again

My Wisconsin Global Warming Weekend began Friday afternoon with another trip to Goose Lake Drumlins State Natural Area in search of sunshine, warmth and another encounter with my friend, the Northern Shrike.

Goose Lake Drumlins State Natural Area, Dane Co, WI
The afternoon did not disappoint. Temperatures reached a balmy 61 °F.  The warm weather ushered in my first observations of Red-winged Blackbird and Sandhill Crane. The marsh was otherwise rather quiet. It is only mid February after all. Initially the shrike was nowhere in sight. I contemplated whether the changing weather would signal the departure of my savior to winter's scorn.

I came across this Star-nosed Mole wondering if it was Northern Shrike prey inadvertently left behind.
Star-nosed Mole 
The shrike was MIA for the first hour of  my hike, furthering my fear that indeed its time had come to pass. But as I rambled around exploring more new terrain in the marsh and bog, it appeared as if out of nowhere, conspicuously perched. Hello friend! This time the bird was hunting the interior of the property near the tamarack bog of Goose Lake. I admired my kindred spirit for about a half hour before peeling myself away. Perhaps this day would be the last of my time with this bird.

To my delight the bird had followed me toward the parking area where he perched in a favorite tree and serenaded me while the sun set on the marsh.


Thursday, February 9, 2017

Charming first

On Tuesday I finished work early and headed back to Goose Lake Drumlins State Natural Area for some exercise and to hopefully catch up with the Northern Shrike. I was unable to spot the shrike initially when I peered out over the landscape. However as I descended the trail into the marsh, the bird suddenly appeared.

Northern Shrike, Goose Lake Drumlins SNA, Dane Co, WI 2/7/2016

Per usual it did not fly when I approached closer beneath the tall tree where it perched. It was difficult to get a good angle on the bird given how high it was. Lighting was low on this balmy and considerably foggy day. I collected a few photos then proceeded on my arduous hike on the ice and slush trails leaving the bird to focus on the ever important task of survival.

After I slogged along another 300 or so feet, I stopped to listen. I picked up some unfamiliar truncated warbling-whistled notes coming from the direction where I left the Northern Shrike. Looking back, the bird was still on the same perch and it was singing! This is a first for me and quite a charming one at that! I referenced my Sibley app which only has call notes available. Nope that was not the sound coming from the bird. Checking Xeno-canto I found a recording of its song. The first notes of this recording are a perfect match for the song I heard.

I wondered if singing confirmed this bird to be a male. Checking Birds of North America Online, I learned it does not. "Both sexes are commonly heard singing in late winter (Feb-Mar), especially on sunny days." The behavior I observed certainly fits with this description other than the sunny part.

The shrike was too distant to obtain a recording of its vocalizations. I am hoping on a return trip to witness this charming behavior again and perhaps obtain a recording at much closer proximity.

On my way back to the car I spotted a round creature delicately balanced in a thin tree. Its shape was reminiscent of a porcupine. However, Dane county is too far south for porcupine, thus leaving raccoon as the likely culprit. Sure enough. I suspect the dog I passed on my way out likely flushed it up the tree. Cute in some regards. Though I could not help but wish for this critter to become the meal of a nearby owl or hawk.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Saving Shrike

In a sudden turn of events the sun won the war for the day and indeed, Mother Nature and a certain feathered friend enticed me outdoors after a serious "Debbie Downer" start to the day..

Back to Goose Lake Drumlins State Natural Area I went looking for that endearing Northern Shrike.

Northern Shrike, Goose Lake Drumlins SNA, Dane Co (WI), 5Feb2017
As soon as I rounded the hill I spotted the shrike atop one of its favorite perches. I quickly scrambled back to the car to fetch my digiscoping gear since this would afford me greater reach than my 400mm lens. Ugh, not sure if turbulence or my failing vision was a factor, but once again I failed to get sharp images. Another day...

Similar to last time, the bird hunted in a loose circular territory around the parking area drumlin. I found it rather fascinating to observe its various flight styles. Sometimes it torpedoed deliberately toward prey, other times it glided to another prominent perch and twice I observed it glide and almost free fall like a leaf, gracefully down into some dense shrubs.

The hunting must be productive near the parking area considering the marsh is quite vast and yet the bird seems to favor the area near this particular drumlin. Lucky for me since access to this show is quite convenient! The bird was successful in capturing prey today. However, I was not quick enough nor keen enough to discern where it hunkered down for its meal. Once it flew out of sight with its prey, I figured the shrike show was over for the day. I searched for about fifteen minutes when low and behold the bird reappeared atop one of its favorite perches. For its encore, the shrike flew from tree to tree finally perching for a considerable period while it surveyed its territory during the last bit of sunlight. I shot some video hoping to capture it horking up a pellet. Almost, but not quite.

(click the gear to change to HD for best viewing)

This bird owns my heart. Once again it saved me from myself and my spiraling despair about the current state of our union. For greater than ninety minutes today, the world felt pretty darn magical. I'll take it!

Rapacious Right-wing

The all powerful, ruthless and greedy SOB Republicans introduced a bill Friday "to terminate the Environmental Protection Agency." They are coming fast and furious with a rapacious appetite for our clean air, water and land. Damn them. My heart is breaking fiercely. Call your representatives today, tomorrow and everyday until our voices are heard! I've embedded three links with scripts to the plethora of issues facing us. These sites provide easy tools for locating the numbers of all your representatives. Complacency and inaction are UNACCEPTABLE.

Winter Doldrums

This week took us into the February, the killing month. For decades February has annually been the most difficult for me to endure. I feel the dwindles upon me, winter's doldrums are inevitably gripping. I reminisce about the near life-ending event of February 1995. I suppose revival and endurance are with me. Heh. Unconsciously I seem to often plan a trip to a warmer climate during February. It's like insurance to save me from the worst month of the year. Last year, I traveled to Colombia. This year will be more routine, but restorative nonetheless with another trip to the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

Snow Buntings, Dane Co, WI 1Feb2017
My birding efforts fell off this week. I suspect they will remain subdued well into March. I have little interest in chasing easy-to-get bird species for the sake of remaining atop the county Top 100 Lists. At this juncture, Short-eared Owl is likely the only species I strategically should concentrate efforts to find if I cared enough about my annual eBird lists. But I don't.

Time to diversify. Or maybe catch up on cataloguing photos. Work with my hands. Expand my mind. Yes, nature offers refuge, but currently I'm down on the cold, wind and overcast skies. As I write the sun is trying to come through clouds and hints of blue paint the sky outside my window. Is Mother Nature beckoning me? Fail. The clouds won.

Snow Buntings in a corn field, Dane county, WI 1Feb2017
I made it out birding all of one time this week for a short foray looking for field birds. Tis the season for searching the flat tundra-like ag land and manure spreads for Snow Buntings, Lapland Longspurs and Horned Larks.

Horned Larks relishing a manure spread, Dane county, WI 1Feb2017
My brief effort to find these species in eastern Dane county (WI) was successful.

More Snow Buntings, Dane co, WI 1Feb2017

Yet I managed to have a meltdown that day. The politics of late have eroded my tolerance for even the most minor of life's challenges. So home I returned and my binoculars have hung there since.