Busy Birdy Afternoons

We have two very large windows that face out into a garden that has a wide variety of bird feeders. We have seed, suet, oranges and jelly plus a Hummingbird feeder with sugar nectar. We get a pretty good variety of birds. I was working at the table by these windows yesterday afternoon when I got the idea of documenting just who was visiting our little buffet. So I spent about two hours with my camera at the ready. Some pictures turned out very well, others ..eh. Because this was the afternoon, lighting wasn’t ideal and some birds that visited were too fast for my camera. But here are the ones I managed to catch, mostly regulars and one surprise. Click on pictures to see them larger.

Female & male Rose Breasted Grosbeaks

A variety of sparrows.

Starting upper left clockwise: Chipping Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, House Sparrow, Song Sparrow

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. I’ve put in three pictures because on the left is the male but only when he dipped his head could you see the ruby throat. If he faced into the sun it would have been brighter. The female is on the right.

A shy Red-bellied Woodpecker.

male and female American Goldfinches

The male Cardinal wouldn’t stay long enough for a picture but his lady friend did.

Starting Upper left clockwise: Red Winged Blackbird, Robin, Mourning Dove, Common Grackle

White-breasted Nuthatch

Male and female Downy Woodpeckers

A Pine Siskin who would only give me his backside.

Pine Siskin

Female and male Baltimore Orioles being photo-bombed by a House Finch.

And finally the surprise visitor of the day, a Catbird. These guys do not visit feeders but I guess he was wondering what all the excitement was about.So this is the variety of birds we saw in about a two hour time frame. And these are only the ones I actually was able to photograph. Those who wouldn’t pose: Male Cardinal, Blue Jay, Black Capped Chickadee, Hairy Woodpecker and an Orchard Oriole. Not in the yard but flying by were Canadian Geese and calling from the field across the road, Sandhill Cranes. So check your yard, your life list could easily get much longer.

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Nature Notebook Moment with Chickadees

On Wednesday and Thursday this week we went on a birding trip up to Door County which is the long thin peninsula that sticks out on the Ne side of Wisconsin. We had planned this trip about a month ago thinking Spring would have sprung and the birds would have begun their migration. Not strongly but enough that we would see some new birds for the year. Then on April 14th and 15th, Wisconsin got hit with a Spring blizzard. Many birds who were already in town were struggling. Food sources were buried in snow and the wind and cold for that long of a period just didn’t help. We have had late snows in the past but even in March we say, Ah, it will all melt by tomorrow. Not this one. We had huge drifts that made it difficult even to get out the back door much less try to get to the bird feeders. In the days after, many reports of dead birds came in to the bird reporting sites, a lot of them robins. So when we headed north two days ago, we didn’t know what we would find.

We mostly birded from the car or stayed on main paths. Trails in the parks were really muddy or still had snow packed on them. Some of our best finds were in flooded fields. The farmer probably wasn’t happy but the birds were enjoying the new lakes. One high note on the trip was in Peninsula Park. Further into the park from the main entrance is a Nature Center. It is a small building where you can talk to a staff person about recent sightings or ask questions about other flora and fauna. That is, when it is staffed. Park funding being constantly cut, doesn’t allow for someone there most times. But there are feeders and a white board where people can record what they have seen in the park.

When we pulled in on Thursday there was no human on site but instead we were greeted by a gang of chickadees. There was a pair of cardinals in the tree and a red breasted nuthatch swooped through. But the chickadees seemed quite friendly and seemed to be hoping we had handouts. Curt found a large can of sunflower seeds around the back of the building and was going to try to call them in. ( We sort of had this idea planted by the Park staffer at the entrance who wanted to know if we were interested in feeding chickadees but we declined). Now it seemed like a good idea. So Curt put seed on his hat and in both his hands and sat on a bench. I went for the camera, just in case.Well it didn’t take very long and in came the chickadees.

Curt waiting for the Chickadees while a Cardinal curiously looks on.

I tried really hard to get shots but those little guys were fast. I managed to get them in each of his hands but even though they also landed on his hat my only shot was one taking off.

Left hand feeder

Right hand feeder

Chickadee taking off from his hat

Then it was my turn. Please ignore the dumb look on my face. I was trying to be as still as possible but still get to see the birds on my hand.

Perched on my thumb.

So cute!

Their little toes tickled, and every time they came in and out there was a little flutter sound. It was so great. The cardinal was also hovering nearby when I sat down but they don’t feed like the chickadees so I put some seed on the bench right next to me and waited. Sure enough, Mr. Cardinal saw this was for him. It was marvelous to see him up close. He stayed for a bit taking in 4-5 seeds unlike the chickadees who grab one and fly off. Curt watched him when he flew and said he was feeding seeds to the female. He came back again. So cool!

Me and my Cardinal friend

It was a great experience. We were so glad the park wasn’t crowded or that a family with 4 kids didn’t come storming up. We might have called in the chickadees, they seemed pretty conditioned. But I don’t think the cardinal would have come in. Hope your encounters with nature are as fun as this.

Birding the Keys

Female Magnificent Frigatebird

As you may have noticed in my previous post we were in the Florida Keys, not to view devastation, though there was plenty of that, but to look for birds. We weren’t even sure the trip was going to “fly”, so to speak, but Road Scholar assured us we would be fine so off we went. Ended up there were five of us plus our guide and our driver/coordinator. A lot of people were scared off. So we had almost individualized birding guidance.

The hurricane changed some habitats, plus the day before we arrived they had 9 inches of rain. So areas where shorebirds were usually found (shallow waters) had no birds. The water was just too deep. Some shorelines had been changed by the winds which moved sand pretty far inland. At one beach there were guys with little bulldozers literally pushing the sand back on to the shore. So even though our guide had scoped out the areas we planned to visit, things had changed, birds had moved on and we just had to work a little harder.

Pushing the beach back

But even with these challenges we added 41 birds to our yearly list, seven of those were life birds.

Just a refresher here. We keep two lists. One is a Yearly List which is all of the bird species we see in the year. So the first robin, the first bluejay, the first chickadee of the year and so on. So far I have 220 for 2017. Our second list is the Life List. This is the total species we have seen in our lifetime. So not a lot get added every year unless we travel to different habitats. Our Life Birds from this trip included the Brown Booby and the Masked Booby (both seen from our boat on the way to the Dry Tortugas), the White-crowned Pigeon and the Worm-eating Warbler (in the Everglades), the Common Ground Dove, the Short-tailed Hawk, and the Magnificent Frigatebird. The Frigatebird is the only one I was able to photograph and she is at the top of this post. You probably are more familiar with the male in his breeding plumage. He is all black and he puffs up a bright red pouch under his bill.

Here are my photos I was able to get of some of the birds we added to our 2017 list.

Cattle Egret, Brown Pelican, White Ibis

Ruddy Turnstone, Palm Warbler (in flight), Black-throated Blue Warbler and a Parula Warbler

Royal Terns (orange bill) and Black-bellied Plovers (black belly only in breeding)

An uncle asked me recently ,”Why do you travel so far to see birds?” The only answer I could think of was, “That’s where they are. And besides, there aren’t any Frigatebirds in Wisconsin.” Bottomline, we don’t ski, or play hockey or run marathons. This is our sport, this is our fun.

If only…

If only we had seen a pigeon. (we checked every silo and barn in seven counties) +1
If only the peregrine falcon flew into her nest. (They are nesting on the local power plant. One can see them almost every day but we stopped three times this weekend and they were a no-show) +1
If only we had better hearing. ( Birders with good ears and song identification skills have a distinct advantage.) +10
If only we could function on less than 6 hours of sleep. ( Getting into the field at 4:30am is just impossible for us). +10

Yes, If only we were 30 years younger and didn’t have to stop to pee a lot or get something to eat we might have seen over 100 birds. But instead, this past weekend, after 14,000 steps/6 miles walking, 360 miles driving, at 9 locations in 7 counties we saw 83 bird species for the Big Bay Birdathon. Sponsored by our local Audubon chapter, we have competed in 4 of the 6 birdathons and they have all been a challenge in one way or another. Last year the arthritis and bone spurs in my right knee hobbled our team which included my son. Too bad, since Nathan is a great asset with young eyes and ears. This year I had a new knee which worked great, so the walking and exercise was a plus. But there were just some things we couldn’t overcome or plan for. However that’s the nature of birding.

If only they would just stay put or be more predictable.

The Big Bay Birdathon is supposed to be a fun, friendly competition (it is) but also a fundraiser because we are asked to find pledges per bird or people who just pay a flat amount. We regularly come in last in bird numbers, (only missed not being last this year by one bird), however we usually come in first for pledge money. This year we repeated in the most pledge dollars netting over $300 for NE Wisconsin Audubon chapter.

After all is said and done, all the teams get together to share our numbers, get prizes ( bird feeders/bags of seed), eat pizza, drink beer and share our highlights:

•We came upon at least 10 or more Bobolinks zooming around Killsnake NWR.

•One team witnessed hundreds, maybe thousands of tree swallow and barn swallows coming into roost at the end of the day at Mack WR.

•Another team tried calling down a Barred Owl and was really surprised when it worked and he/she flew past.

• I also managed to get a shot of a Black-crowned Night Heron at Horicon Marsh. cool.

Black-crowned Night Heron

It’s a lot of fun…if only…..

 

 

While looking for Swans We found a New Restaurant

Right now we are involved in the Great Backyard Bird Count. This is a 4 day worldwide birdwatching deal that anyone can participate in. No matter if you don’t know the names of all the birds, just identify and count the ones you know. And yes, you know more than you think. I know you can identify cardinals, sparrows, goldfinches, seagulls, geese…and if you happen to know more so you can say Northern cardinal, House sparrow, Tree sparrow, Lesser goldfinch, Herring gull, Canada geese, well then, all the better. It’s fun, lasts 4 days (Feb 17 -20) and you can do all four days and watch on and off all day or just one day for 15 minutes and then quit. Today is the last day for this year.

We get a bit more into it, so yesterday since it was 50 degrees on February 19th in NE Wisconsin instead of huddling in our house viewing birds from our windows we decided to take a field trip up to Door County, specifically Baileys Harbor where friends of ours reported seeing Tundra Swans.

BUT, this post is not about birds it is about lunch. Once we got to the town in question, about 60 miles north of here, and, finding no swans anywhere, we looked for a lunch place. In the winter not many places are open up there, especially on a Sunday but we did see a restaurant called Chives which had an OPEN sign in the window. We had heard of this restaurant but thought it was on the west side of the bay of Green Bay. And yes it is, same owner. Friends had given it good reviews. So, with not many other options in sight we went in.

Chives, Baileys Harbor, WI

Chives, Baileys Harbor, WI

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was nice looking inside. First room had seating and a bar but we were taken to a second room that had a very nice view of the Lake Michigan. Later we discovered a small room with couches, casual seating and small tables and a dining area that looked like a library.

Looks like a great place for dinner.

Looks like a great place for dinner.

We had a nice corner seat by the window.

We had a nice corner seat by the window.

The waiter brought the menu that was a combination brunch/lunch. It was sweet and savory/ breakfasty and lunchy.

menuLots of good choices. The menu reminded us of a favorite restaurant we frequent in DePere, WI called The Creamery. When he found out it was a charcuterie, Curt ordered the first item called House-made Grilled Sausage. It was composed of a ramp & morel sausage, three aged cheddars: Dunbarton Blue, Hooks 7 year & Blue Mont. A schmear of brown mustard, a mustard seed caviar and two slices of crusty bread. He paired that with a side salad. He said if he ordered it again he would asked for two sausages because it was excellent.charcuterieI decided on The Bistro which was a grilled cheese sandwich ( Muenster and White cheddar on a rustic bread), soup of the day (white bean and smoked ham) and a salad. The salads were already dressed with an interesting vinaigrette. The soup was wonderful and so hearty I really didn’t need the sandwich but it was great cheese combination and I ate it all.

Sorry, didn't remember to take photos until after I had started in

Sorry, didn’t remember to take photos until after I had started in

Service was very good. We didn’t have to wait long at all for our food. Wait staff was attentive but not overly so. It just was a pleasant lunch all around. If you go, hours are limited because it just isn’t super busy in Door County in the winter. Matter of fact, this is the first winter this restaurant has decided to stay open but it is only Th – Sat: 4pm to close ( dinner service) and Sat/Sun: 9 – 2 (lunch/brunch). Well worth the trip. However if you are looking for swans I hope you have better luck than we did. We did see a lot of Herring gulls, Common crows and Red-tailed hawks. Better luck next time.

Birds or Beans: Follow-up

crows

Crows. They all took to the air as I pointed my camera their way.

Well New Year’s Day was just beautiful. Sunny, mid-thirties but a bit windy. Still we bundled up since we were headed to the Green Bay and Lake Michigan shore. Always cooler by the water. We always start our birding at home (New Franken on the map) since we have a ton of feeders and we also do the Cornell Feederwatch count. So before we even left for the road we had 11 species.

We got out of the house at 9:15am and our First Stop was the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary. There we picked up three more birds. You can always count on Mallards, Canad geese and Black ducks there. Next Stop, the Mouth of the Fox River. A Peregrine Falcon was a nice surprise. He was sitting up near a box where a pair will nest later in the year. Stop Three, Starbucks for coffee.

In the neighborhood

In the neighborhood

After we had our coffee we tried to find a Snowy Owl in an area where we had seen them earlier but no luck today so we hit the highway. The plan was to drive down to Sheboygan and then slowly make our way back north along the Lakeshore. Before getting to the lake we got a few hawks and some wild turkeys along the highway and then stopped for a fast lunch.

MickeyD is quick and they are running a great promotion: Buy one sandwich and get second for price of yesterday's temperature, 40 cents.

MickeyD is quick and they are running a great promotion: Buy one sandwich and get second for price of yesterday’s temperature, 40 degrees = 40 cents.

birds2

Whoops! Almost forgot we also got a whole group of Wild Turkeys while we headed down the highway to Sheboygan. Forgot to list them on the map.

In Sheboygan while we were looking for gulls, the Polar Bear Club was getting ready to dive into very cold Lake Michigan. We did not stick around for the shivering. Ducks and gulls were abundant. Best sighting was a Glaucous Gull. Surprising how tiring birding from the road can be. It’s a lot of driving and a lot of scanning rafts of birds in some cases. We tried to stop and just stretch our legs once in awhile but you really have to keep going if you want to cover a lot of territory.

These are the masses of gulls one has to scan at times. We were lucky to get a Black-backed gull and a Glaucous today. This bunch are mostly Herring Gulls.

These are the masses of gulls one has to scan at times. We were lucky to get a Black-backed gull and a Glaucous today. This bunch are mostly Herring Gulls.

We got home by 4:00 pm and ended up with 33 birds for the day. A great start on our year list. But the best part was we knew dinner was done and waiting for us at the end of the trip. Here is my bowl of Red Beans and Rice ready to eat.beans

Clash of traditions: Birds or Beans?

cardinalWe have two traditions that clash with each other on New Year’s Day.

We’re birders and we keep a life list (all the birds we have ever seen in our lifetime) and a year list of all the birds we have seen in a calendar year. Obviously, the life list is on-going and cumulative. And obviously, the year list re-sets each year on January 1. It’s exciting to get up on New Year’s Day and see what birds are visiting our feeders. Of course, most are the same birds that were here yesterday but today it’s as if we haven’t seen them before. Every bird has the chance to be the first bird of the year, though, not all are contenders. Cardinals get up early and often are at the feeders before first light. They’re followed by the juncos, mourning doves and sparrows. Later in the morning, well out of contention for “first” honors come the various woodpeckers, finches, nuthatches and chickadees. We welcome them all but honor the first arrivals by naming each year the “Year of the ______” in our journals.

After breakfast we bundle up and head out for some field birding; usually along the Lake Michigan shoreline from Sheboygan, north to Manitowoc, east to the mouth of the Fox River in Green Bay with field and forests along the way. Depending on the year, the weather and our aging eyes we may total 20-30 species for the day – not a championship tally but a respectable way to start off the birding year.

The Clash!

Beans and Ham Shank simmering

Our other tradition is to eat Red Beans and Rice, a traditional southern dish, to herald the New Year and which you can read more about here. The clash? Beans and Rice take a long time to cook – 3 to 4 hours. It’s hard to stay around the house cooking beans and rice when birds beckon outside.

The solution? Beans and Rice are even better the next day, so we cook up a batch of Beans and Rice on New Year’s Eve day and when we get back from birding on New Year’s Day all we have to do is reheat the beans and cook some fresh rice and enjoy.

We’ll let you know how things turned out.

Sturdy and Fuzzy go Birding

sf7Recently we were together with friends who had just returned from a trip to Florida. While there they had seen some unusual birds. Well unusual for Wisconsinites but quite normal for Floridians. One they already had identified as an American Oystercatcher. A cool bird to see. After some description and explanation we determined that the other bird had been an Avocet. Another fine bird to see. Our friends said while they were there a group of birders had also gathered to view the birds. They knew they were birders because the men all had facial hair and outdoor vests or L.L. Bean jackets and the women, dressed similarly, were sturdy.

Guys with facial hair? Sure. Sturdy women? Hmm, should I take offense? I took some pictures of the people watching the birds on some of our trips. You be the judge.

sf4SF3SF8sf5SFsf6I don’t know. Do you see any hairy guys or sturdy women? Well maybe. Below is a picture of us and our friends taken about five years ago. Can you tell which are the birders? I guess Curt is kind of fuzzy and I am much more sturdy than Barbara. Or maybe the binoculars gave us away?

heuerslukens

 

 

I just Point and Shoot

Well we just got back from another birding trip. This past week we spent about four days hiking or walking or standing in Northwest Ohio at either the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Metzger Marsh, the Pearson Metropark, Meadowbrook Marsh, the Maumee Bay Wildlife Area and of course the biggie, The Magee Marsh Wildlife Area. We had been to Magee before, about a half day at the end of our Road Scholar Birding Trip to Put-in-Bay and South Bass Island, Ohio about three years ago, so we knew what to expect. Lots of birds and LOTS of birders. The Magee Marsh is managed by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and it features 5,000 feet of boardwalk on 2,200 acres of wetland.The ODNR and the Black Swamp Bird Observatory (a private nonprofit) host the Biggest Week in American Birding Festival here every year during the first 2 weeks of May. Why here? Because this is in one of the prime Spring migratory routes for warblers and many other birds. And it is on the shore of Lake Erie so the birds sort of “bunch up” there as they feed and get stoked up for the flight across the lake to their Canada breeding grounds. Thousands of birders show up to view the birds and the boardwalk gets packed at times. There are beginning birders, expert birders, mediocre birders, birder groupies, and then there are the photographers. Not just the amateurs like me with my Powershot SX40 HS Canon but the big boys and girls with the monster cameras and the 300, 400…600, 1000 mm lens. (I think some of them are amateurs too, they just have more money). At times you can find yourself surrounded by thousands and sometimes many tens of thousands of dollars of camera equipment. But what brings everyone down to the same level are the birds.

You can have the biggest lens with the biggest flash.shootYou can have a lens as big as your head.headshotYou can point and point and…camerasand wait and wait and wait, sometimes all day.

camera2But if the bird won’t turn around, this is all you get for your time, your patience and your money. It really doesn’t matter how big your lens is.

Great Horned owlet

Great Horned owlet

Now of course I’m having some fun here. What you see is what nature photographers do, they wait, sometimes for a very long time to get the perfect shot. And they do this in all kinds of weather. That’s where those fabulous shots come from in National Geographic and other such publications. For me, just seeing the bird with my binoculars is enough. And if I am lucky enough to come back the next day and the bird has decided to stay put and turn around, I’ll cross my fingers and just point and shoot.owl2

Swift Watching

ALineOfSwifts

Picture credit: Jonestown, Texas Swiftfest

Right now a lot of birds are on the move since we are just beginning the fall migration. Chimney Swifts are no exception and they display a behavior which is fun to watch. Swifts look like little torpedos with fluttery wings, thus the nickname ‘flying cigars.’ Their wings move quite fast and the birds emit a high-pitched chattering while flying over your head. You probably have seen them and not known it because they tend to hang out with swallows. During migration, thousands of swifts roost together in chimneys, funneling into them at dusk.

To get a sense of how many are migrating, Audubon asks bird clubs and bird groups to conduct a count in their area. There is worry that the Swift population is diminishing because more chimneys are being capped or just removed because they are no longer in use. Our count was on August 8th and the chimney we watched became the overnight roost for 86 swifts. Other watchers got less than ten or none but a few got anywhere from 200-300.

This week one of our local birders reported seeing 2000 chimney swifts going into a large local chimney at the St. Norbert’s Abbey in De Pere, Wisconsin. I had a dinner engagement on the evening following this report so I decided to drive over after dinner to see if the swifts were still around. They were. There was another birder there and between the two of us we counted at least 2500 chimney swifts.

The next night I said to Curt, “Let’s go find some swifts.” And this time I took the camera.

When we got to The Abbey the sky was full of birds. (note: click on the picture to get a larger view)

Swifts in the Sky

Swifts in the Sky (How many do you think are in this frame? The answer is at the end of this post)

They swirled in a clockwise direction. Around and around. The sun set at 7:33pm but they still kept flying. Then about 7:45pm they started dropping into the chimney.

They dropped into the chimney.

They dropped into the chimney.

and dropped.

and dropped.

and dropped.

and dropped.

and dropped!

and dropped!

These pictures were taken in just the first minute. The birds continued to go into the chimney and in another minute or two the sky was empty. I think we once again had 2000 – 3000 birds. They will roost there overnight clinging to the vertical masonry. The next day will be spent foraging. They may roost again in this chimney or move on, eventually ending up in South America for the winter. It was a wonderful and amazing sight.

Swifts a bit closer up.

Swifts a bit closer up.

Answer.  We carefully counted 175 birds in just this small section of the sky