Spring?

It’s April. It snowed yesterday. My daffodils that are trying to bud have quickly tucked their heads in. Today the sky was gray and it rained  because luckily the temperature got up to 34, barely. Tonight it is expected to go down to 23. Can this be Spring?

Well the goldfinch guys think it is. They are quickly changing into their Spring plumage in order to woo the ladies. I will trust them and hope for the best.finches

It must be working, that Lady Cardinal looks interested.

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: 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.

Finding Birds: Migration 2015

If reading about birds bores the heck out of you, the next four posts are going to put you to sleep. I’ll see you readers in about a week. For the rest of you, today we started a five day birding trip across Wisconsin from Green Bay to Eau Claire. From there we are visiting wildlife areas from Grantsburg, WI down to Wyalusing. Hopefully we will be seeing a lot of birds and some of them will pose for pictures.

Here are today’s highlights. First stop was Bergstrom Marsh off of highway 54 near Black Creek. This is a pretty big marsh where in the past we have seen ten different waterfowl at one time, short-eared owls and black terns. Today wasn’t that dramatic but we had some nice sightings.

First, goslings have hatched. We saw at least four different clutches with Mom and Dad guarding their every move. Even though I was in the car this gander is questioning my right to look at him and his.

"You looking at me?"

“You looking at me?”

Further into the marsh we came upon white pelicans. On the left a large group was flying over and then came in for a landing. Here is one hitting the water.landingOn the right, there was a group just swimming on the water. At first I couldn’t figure what was happening because I was just looking at them without my binoculars. Pelicans are pretty big so you can see them easily with the naked eye. But until I raised the binoculars I didn’t realize they were feeding. And on top of that, it was breezy and the wind was blowing their tale feathers as they raised their rumps into the air. So cool.

Bottoms up!

Bottoms up!

Finally the new bird we saw for our yearly list was one of the best, a yellow headed blackbird. They sit a long way off on the cattails so having a good zoom lens is a must. This was the best shot but I think you get the idea. Let’s hope the next couple of days are as successful.

A jewel in the marsh

A jewel in the marsh

Black Friday Purge

bugs3My son was home for Thanksgiving and on Friday it is always a mystery on what to do to occupy our time. He’s not ready to drive home, we don’t shop, we’ve played board games already and going to the movies is out because if the crazies aren’t shopping, they are going to the show. One of our theaters is next to a mall so parking is non-existent anyway.

So I suggested going through boxes of his old toys. He is 27 and hasn’t looked at them in years. Also he doesn’t have kids but would like to keep some of his old stuff, just in case, he gets married, has kids…I don’t know. I don’t ask.

He’s got a great Lego collection that any kid would love to have but that is sorted and boxed in the basement and off-limits! The stuff I was interested in sorting, donating or tossing was a lot of miscellaneous toys. I had found two shoeboxes under his bed that held a jumble of things so since he was game, we started there.

Three piles:
1.) Geez, this might be collectible or too good to give away – keep
2.) Has some play left in it – donate
3.) Crap that no one wants – toss   w/ sub-heading – recycle

I was really happy that the toss and donate pile was actually growing. It didn’t take us long to get through those two so I suggested we look at the additional boxes in the back of his closet. On we went. It was slow going because of all his reminiscing. It was also amazing to me that he knew where every little part went or what set it originally was from, even if that set, toy, game…no longer existed in this house anymore. Tiny missiles, lone little soldiers, fins, legs, helmets, game markers…my son with the steel trap mind remembered it all. So there we were getting through 4,5,6,7 boxes of stuff when we came upon the …insect collection.collectionThese were real insects. But they had died of natural causes (we presume) and were found by my son, who saved them. I know you’ve seen neatly organized insect collections in probably a museum. All are laid out and displayed with a pin attaching them to the board they are exhibited on. Those insects were captured alive and put into a “killing jar.” Those insects were then relaxed and dehydrated and pinned. A delicate and tedious process but you have a very nice “mount” in the end. Nathan never killed insects. If he found them alive in the house, he captured them and released them. Live insects outside were left alone. But finding one already dead, well that was different. The problem was these guys usually didn’t die peacefully and were found in contorted positions. These little bodies weren’t going to be “relaxed” and pinned to a board.

Is that your head over there?

Is that your head over there?

Some were missing parts, all were in some state of rigor. And many had recently met their maker so they weren’t all nice and dehydrated. I remember one especially fat beetle who smelled pretty bad. What to do?

Old smelly

Old smelly

Enter my husband, with the solution.

Curt buys a lot of stuff at garage sales and flea markets and one such purchase was a wonderful collection of glass jars. He gave a bunch of these to Nathan. Thus, the dearly departed could be viewed and not smelled because these jars had nice tight lids. They sat on a shelf in his room and were added to, as deaths occurred. Later, once Nathan had moved out, I put them in a box in his closet and forgot about them.

Butterfly, Bees and ??

Butterfly, Bees and ??

We had fun looking at this old collection, but in the end, they weren’t worth keeping. Nathan discarded the bugs, outside in the snow. Their little husks, no longer smelly, fluttered away.  The little glass jars were washed and scrubbed and went back with my son who plans on storing spices in them. They will still look nice and smell a lot better.

 

The Punks are Absolutely Done

No kids at home anymore. No grandkids on the near horizon. But at Halloween I still like to turn pumpkins into Jack-o-Lanterns. This year I wasn’t so sure I was going to get it done since I had surgery on Oct 15 and I was told by my doctor to, “Take it Easy!! No lifting!!” A couple of days before my date with the doctor, our neighbor, who had grown pumpkins in his garden this year, asked me if I wanted a few. Great, I said. So he and his daughter drove over with pumpkins on his trailer and told me I could have as many as I liked. Not to be greedy, I chose four.

In the back of my mind was the thought that I might not be able to wrangle these guys around this year but when I mentioned my habit of putting the Jack-o-Lanterns across the road, his daughter smiled and nodded. Well of course I had to do it.

I was good, I took it easy. I had Curt put the pumpkins up on the table and once the cutting was done, he put them outside. About a week after Halloween the punks went across the road. Here are the Punks fresh from Halloween.

Fresh Punks

Fresh Punks

Then Curt cleaned up the garden and we had some extra squash so the some of the gang got hats.

Punks w/ squash

Punks w/ squash

Everybody was holding up pretty good. Mainly because we had a couple of weeks of a nasty cold snap. Normal highs: 40. Our highs: 22. It even snowed. But the freezing cold weather kept the Punks upright and smiling.

Frozen Punks

Frozen Punks

This weekend disaster hit. Well it was great for us. Mid 40’s. Heck, we were looking for our shorts and flip-flops. (Seriously I saw someone dressed like that…well, yes it was a college student). However when it gets that warm anything that is frozen will thaw especially pumpkins and this was the sight that greeted me this morning.

Oh noooo!

Oh noooo!

Hats had fallen as well as faces. The punk on the left really did a face plant.

It is raining now which is going to really help these guys along but I’m putting my money on the tall one to hang in there till Christmas.

The New Monday Morning View Out My Window

Everything got finished up on Saturday. The workmen are gone. I could sleep in without someone banging on my walls at 7AM.  Ah heaven. And now the view I have been sharing with you, lo these many weeks, has changed. Well the view technically is the same its the glass and the frame around the picture that’s different. Remember the first view I showed you? bedrm windIt was a pretty gray day, made more gray because the seal on this window was gone and pockets of moisture inside made everything a bit fuzzier. Well we ditched the casement window in favor of an awning style ( better ventilation) and now…ta da! This is the new view.

New window

New window

Yes there is that bar across the lower part but in normal light it is a warm brown and looks great. The view is clear. Really clear. I love it. And of course the lush greens of summer don’t hurt either. So thanks for taking this little journey with me, I’m going to go look out my window.

Did you miss Me? I’ve been birding.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks

We’ve been taking one big birding trip every year. A trip where we actually fly away from Wisconsin and try to find some birds that we would never see here in the Midwest. It’s fun, it is usually warmer and we get to expand our life list. One of the other people on this trip (obviously a beginner) asked what a life list is, so for the rest of you newbies, this is the list of all the birds you have seen for the first time. According to Audubon there are more than 800 species in the US, 654 are native to the United States. In 1998, Sandy Komito, set the current record of 745 species seen in one year. A man named Neil Hayward may have beat that record in 2013 with 747 birds, but his list is still being verified. My personal life list is about 420 but I’ve been working at it for 30 years.

Our previous trips have taken us to Southern Arizona, Southern Texas (Brownsville area), the Outer Banks of North Carolina and Magee Marsh and South Bass Island in Ohio so this year we picked Florida to get some birds and some warm weather. We were right about the birds but not the weather. Don’t get me wrong, it was warmer than Wisconsin but mostly upper 60’s and rainy. However the birds totally made up for the weather. So let me give you some highlights with a few of the pictures we managed to get.

This is the migration and breeding season in Florida so a lot is going on. The birds are either putting on a show to get a little action…

egret

Great White Egret displaying for the gals.

brpelican

Brown Pelicans: the left is in breeding plumage

or they are hiding out, guarding a nest or feeding young.

Can you see see the Black-crowned Night Heron?

Can you see the Black-crowned Night Heron?

A zoom lens was necessary to pick this Green Heron out of the reeds

A zoom lens was necessary to pick this Green Heron out of the reeds

The Nanday Parakeet blends in very well.

The Nanday Parakeet blends in very well. This guy was about 30 feet up.

A Limpkin w/ a snail. He was a long way off and behind tall grass.

A Limpkin w/ a snail. He was a long way off and behind tall grass.

I really had to zoom to get that last picture above. He was a long way off and behind grass. I cropped the heck out of the picture so you could see this interesting bird. Click on the picture to enlarge, it looks very painterly.

There were even some star-crossed lovers. Who am I to judge?

White Pelican & Double crested Cormorant

White Pelican & Double crested Cormorant

All in all it was a great trip. It finally got into the lower 70’s by the end of the week and the sun appeared on the day we left. Florida is a nice place to visit and out of the 120 species we saw, 10 of those were life birds for us. But I would never live there because even warm weather can’t make up for fire ants, snakes and these guys.

Taken from a bridge and I did not zoom in very much, he was big.

Taken from a bridge and I did not zoom in very much, he was big.

A Flutter of Fame

closeup

We reached our “15 minutes of fame” in the world of bird-watching but now it has stretched into a 5th week of fame. Let me explain. We’ve told you before we “bird” and we participate in “Project Feederwatch” so it should come as no surprise that we are looking out of the windows a lot to see who is visiting our feeders and suet baskets.

On December 21, 2013, I was sitting at my usual spot at our dining table next to a large window, typing away on my laptop, when I glanced out the window and saw a bird that looked “different.” That means he was the size and shape of a house sparrow but his markings were not what I would expect on a house sparrow. Curt was on the other side of the house snow-blowing and I knew if I didn’t get the ID right, he’d be skeptical.

What to do? Quick! Before he flies away. Write down field marks – need pencil, paper….Grab a bird book – page through ten pages of sparrows…no time!! Wait! There sat the camera. I slowly picked it up and shot off a burst of pictures before the bird flew off. Whew!

A new species! Split second decisions! Lightning fast reflexes! Damn, my life is exciting.

Harris's Sparrow -left: my first frantic shots, right: two weeks later

Harris’s Sparrow -left: my first frantic shots, right: two weeks later

When Curt got back inside I showed him the pictures and we identified the bird as a Harris’s Sparrow. This little guy only breeds in far northern Canada in the summer, then spends his winter in Nebraska to Texas. The only time he should be in Wisconsin is when he’s migrating through and then it’s the far western corner of the state. When a wayward bird like this shows up, the first thing birders do is post the sighting to a listserv for bird fanatics. There is usually one in each state. We did and the first emails started a day later and in two days the birders starting showing up. We knew that would probably happen or we wouldn’t have posted the sighting. And yes, we told them they were welcome.

It’s been a month now and our little Harris’s Sparrow still shows up everyday. No reason to head out into the winter wind when he’s got a ready supply of food. More cars show up everyday too, sitting on the road or in our driveway…binoculars and spotting scopes sticking out of the windows. It doesn’t bother us but we forgot to mention it to our neighbors. Our immediate neighbor called us last week. Her teenage daughter gets home from high school around 3pm and reported to her parents that there were suspicious looking cars parked at the road. We explained about the birds and reassured her all was harmless. They just look like peeping toms.

Peeping birders make neighbors wonder

Peeping birders make neighbors wonder

Tonight while I was out Curt had a visitor. A bit unusual to get a knock on the door at night as we live out on a country road. It was a neighbor who regularly walks our road with another gal. We do have neighbors but it’s not like in the city. She wanted us to know they had seen some strange cars stopped by our house. Checking to see if we were okay. Curt, once again, explained about the bird.

So, this started out as a story about birds and birders and all the quirkiness that goes with that but it has ended up as tale about good neighbors. People watching out for each other, making sure the neighborhood is safe. Checking on that retired couple (us) who lives on the hill. Sweet.

This has been one weird winter. Lots of snow, ultra-severe cold, a lost feathered visitor. And it only gets weirder. Another bird not common in Wisconsin in winter, a Northern Mockingbird, showed up in our yard. I’d better warn the neighbors.

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird