Nature Notebook

Walking up a path to an art gallery we saw a woman staring into a peonie bloom. As we got closer, she looked up and said, “frog”. Here is what she was looking at. (We think, Tree Frog.)

Tree Frog – back

Tree Frog – front

 

 

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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…..

 

 

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

Finding Birds: Target – Warblers

The weather turned on us. Overcast, cool, breezy.

Mississippi River marshes

Mississippi River marshes

Our next two stops were Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge on Sunday and Wyalusing State Park on Monday. Both of these parks are along the Mississippi River on the western side of the state. Trempelaeu is near La Crosse, Wisconsin; Wyalusing is further south. Sunday started out not too bad but as the day wore on it got cooler and windier. A front was moving in and with it cooler air and eventually rain overnight. But the birders continued to pursue the elusive warblers.

Not posed, this is how the guys really look while they are looking

Not posed, this is how the guys really look while they are looking

Unfortunately the warblers must have been huddling under their covers hoping spring would arrive. We only got four new ones for the day: american redstart, yellow warbler, northern waterthrush, and Wilson’s warbler. All great birds but we were hoping for larger numbers. Yes, a waterthrush is a warbler and I managed to get a picture of him as he hunted through a mudflat.

Northern waterthrush

Northern waterthrush

Of course while we are searching for warblers we also look at everything else that flies, crawls or walks past us. Least flycatcher, Blue/gray gnatcatcher, and an Orchard oriole completed the rest of the day.

Orchard oriole, a deeper cinnamon red than the Baltimore

Orchard oriole, a deeper cinnamon red than the Baltimore

Monday we went to Wyalusing State Park. We had high hopes because there are some sparrows and warblers that are only seen in this area. But the day didn’t even start out well. It was already cool, 57, and it just got cooler. By the time we were done with lunch it was 52. Birds still have to eat so we saw a few beauties but once again the numbers were low. Prothonotary warbler topped today’s list, followed by a Blackpoll. I’ve linked you to a view of a Prothonotary because getting a picture of a warbler takes the patience of a National Geographic photographer.

A highlight of this park is a view of the confluence of the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers.

Confluence: the joining of two rivers

Confluence: the joining of two rivers

Another notable thing here is a monument to the last Wisconsin Passenger Pigeon. We paid our respects. Look up Passenger Pigeon, it is a sad story about the elimination of a species.pigeonNo photos of sightings today but for those of you keeping track we saw: red-headed woodpecker, indigo bunting, yellow-throated warbler, scarlet tanager and veery.

Oh wait, it looks like they’ve found another good one. Time to grab my binoculars and join the guys.

birders4

Finding Birds: Crex Meadows

While searching for promising birding sites Curt discovered Crex Meadows Wildlife Area which is about 2 hours north of Eau Claire* where my son lives. So this morning we picked up our son Nathan at 8:00 AM and headed out.crexAt 30,000 acres, Crex is one of the largest state owned wildlife areas in Wisconsin. The area is a combination of wetlands, prairie and woods so we were hoping for a wide variety of birds. As we got closer I started going through my directions and maps but once we got to Grantsburg, the town adjacent to Crex we saw this sign.followNice. But what goose? Well it was really geese and they were painted on the road every block or so, or at an intersection if you had to make a turn. Very clever. I put my map away.goose2This was also Global Bird Day so we were counting every bird we saw in order to submit it to Cornell Lab of Ornithology to be added to the cumulative world list. I’m sure we didn’t see anything unique but it was a lot of fun. For the day we found 48 species (pretty low over all), 34 of those were just at Crex, 11 were new to our yearly list. Some highlights were a common loon, eastern towhee, vesper sparrow, field sparrow, solitary sandpiper and a spotted sandpiper. Many of the birds we saw just wouldn’t pose for the camera. Here are few that did.

Horned grebe, female and male

Horned grebe, female and male

Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter Swan

Green Heron

Green Heron

That’s all for today. Tomorrow onward to Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge.

*unless otherwise indicated all towns, refuges and wildlife areas mentioned are in Wisconsin.

What a Difference a Day (or two) Makes

Winter. Snow. Bitter cold.

We were tired of it. Just when you got a normal temp day (for us that was the upper 20’s) Bam! the next day it was high of 10 with a wind chill of -20. End of February, early March might produce snow but the bitter cold was just tiring. We even had a frozen water pipe this year. Then, just when we were at the end of our patience, the trend broke. We were promised normal March temps, 30’s, which turned into 40’s, which almost got to 50 today. When these “warm” days were announced I decided to take some pictures to record the change. It didn’t take long. Below is the change from Friday to Sunday. I took my pictures at 5:15 pm each day, with Daylight Saving Time intervening.The first sequence is the large field across the road from our house. The second sequence is the front of our house.

Friday,March 6, 5:15 pm, CDT

Friday, March 6, 5:15 pm, CDT

Saturday, March 7, 5:15 pm, CDT

Saturday, March 7, 5:15 pm, CDT

Sunday, March 8, 5:15pm, Central DST

Sunday, March 8, 5:15pm, Central DST

 

Mar. 6,7,8 - 5:15 pm

Mar. 6,7,8 – 5:15 pm

Granted we haven’t had snow like Boston, which is pretty weird since this is Wisconsin, so the snow melt has gently seeped into the ground. No floods. One year though we did have huge amounts of snow and that field across the way became a pond. It was a little later into Spring and that water attracted migrating birds. We had our own viewing station from the comfort of our home. This year it looks like a hike in the woods will be required.

So cheer up points east of us, the warmer weather is on its way.

Pole Sitting

Typical sighting. Can you find the Snowy owl? Answer at end of post.

Typical sighting. Can you find the Snowy owl? Answer at end of post.

This year the birding reports from organizations like Audubon, Wisconsin Society of Ornithology and Cornell Lab of Ornithology have all said this is going to be a good year for sighting Snowy owls. We have been out scouting for owls in our area and found one about a week ago. He/she was really far out sitting in a field but once we got him/her in our binoculars, we confirmed it as a Snowy. But too far for our camera lens. We dutifully reported the bird on ibird and Wiscbird where other birders post their sightings. Great sources for locating interesting birds.

When we opened Wiscbird this morning, we read that a local birder had seen three Snowys over by the airport. Well we were about to head out to our winter farmer’s market so why not try for some owls when we were done shopping?

Well we didn’t get one owl….we got two!!!

First one was a white bump on a fence post.

firstsnowyAs we edged closer he dropped down into the field but fortunately flew back up so I could get a better shot (below) which I have cropped and sharpened here. Good binoculars can give you a good look like this. And I say “him” because this owl is very white whereas the females are more streaky on their breast.firstsnowy2Once we had this guy we continued on since three had been spotted in this general area. We scanned the fields and then turned down a dead end road. As we turned I asked my husband to check the white lump on top of a telephone pole about a 1/4 mile away from us. His first call was it looked like an insulator. What I was seeing looked awfully big, even from this distance, to be an insulator. So he checked again. This time he realized he was looking at the wrong pole. Yep! another Snowy. We turned around and scooted closer.snowy2Here he was, perched on the pole and looking straight at us. This picture is cropped so you can see him better. However, we decided to slowly get closer. He never moved so this next picture is not cropped just straightened a bit since I was shooting straight up and out of the passenger side window of the car. Sweet!

snowy

Snowy Owl, Pine Tree Rd., Hobart, WI

Looks like it is going to be a good year for owls. If you are interested in a map of current sightings of owls in the upper Midwest click here.

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Last Monday Morning View Out My Window before the New Window Arrives

No, it won’t be the last, last view out my window but the last one from this particular wood and glass structure that creates a portal to the outside world from my inside world. Long story short, next week we are having all of the windows in our house replaced. This is an event I am hating and loving. I wish I could just leave before any workmen show up. Hide out where there is no communication and then come back in a week to miraculously new views. All dust, dirt gone. All curtains, blinds, shades back in their original positions. But no, I will have to be here…probably getting up at 7am, and getting dressed, because there will probably be men pounding on my house or looking in my windows. So for now enjoy the last full view, this window is going to b e transformed. Here’s hoping I live through the transformation.window10

Monday Morning View out my Window while I write more of Paris Food

I’m writing more food stories, promise. But while I’m working on those here is the latest view from my Monday morning window. Fields are getting green, trees are all leafed out. And way in the distance is Green Bay…as in the water.This may be the last window for awhile. Once a month may be more dramatic. Watch for food in a day or two.

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