Evening Cormorants

I got to Stricker’s Pond tonight just as the sun was setting. I didn’t note much bird activity: mostly a few American Goldfinch flight calls and a handful of Gray Catbirds meowing from the bushes. It was a pleasant walk though, going there at a time I’m not used to doing so. I was settling down for the night and so were the birds. A few Great Blue Herons flew across the water, and a flock of Mallards made a journey to their beds. Some birds, like the lone Common Nighthawk, were just getting started on their evening.

The coolest roosting birds were pointed out to me by a couple in the woods.

Cormorants? Where? I had scanned the pond perfectly when I was out in the open.

They were up in dead trees near the water, on the other side of the thick woods from me. I could just barely see them through the leaves. I knew I’d have a better view from the observation deck so I made my way over there.

I counted 15, but there could have been more. Some were perfectly silhouetted against the sky, but others were tucked back closer to the living trees at the shore. Plus, it was getting dark and everything was melding together in the low light. The fifteenth cormorant I found was barely distinguishable from the tree it was on.

They were probably at their nighttime roosts, but still awake. For the most part they sat there and slowly preened their feathers, but two of them got into a brief spat that I captured on film. I couldn’t see the orange on their faces that well, or much other detail for that matter, but I liked watching this little moment of their lives. They’ll all be down south before we know it, so we have to enjoy all the weird, funky water birds while we can.

The Peregrines of Madison

On my last post, I made passing reference to the Peregrine Falcons at the MG&E power station. There’s a nesting box there and they’re easy to spot flying through the surrounding area.

(And yes, this is the power station that caught fire last month.)

Before meeting a friend last week, I thought I’d check out the falcons in their, uh, natural habitat? Actually, they’re pretty adaptable in cities, where taller structures mimic the cliffs they traditionally nest on.

I didn’t even have a chance to get my camera ready before I saw the morning’s falcon. It flew out from an altitudinous smoke stack and made a few circles above me while calling loudly. I grabbed my binoculars and got a good look at it before it flew into the nooks and crannies of the plant.

I took a walk around the block and saw, in addition to the falcon,
18 Rock Pigeons
1 Mourning Dove
6 Ring-billed Gulls
1 Barn Swallow
2 American Goldfinches
and 8 House Sparrows.

I made my way back to my original viewpoint trying to find the falcon again. I hadn’t had any luck from the other sides. After a few minutes of scanning, I discovered it as a little dot on one of the towers. It stood relatively motionless for several minutes while I snapped pic after pic. Unfortunately, due to the distance of the birds, they were all pretty grainy, but I thought I’d include one here. It’s of a bird that lives a fascinating life in the heart of the city, but most human residents overlook.

Just Practicin’ Videos

So it’s been well over a month since I’ve written anything. Oops.

Birding has slowed down the for summer, and I feel like I’ve profiled all the nearby parks and natural areas in past posts.

I’ve also been lazy.

Summer does that.

I have some videos that I haven’t posted yet, all of them from May and June. As I’ve been making more videos I’ve also been critiquing them.

Take the following video for example:

I like that it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The bird starts off out-of-focus and obscured. We get a few seconds of it in focus to examine its field marks. Finally, it flies off, as Warbling Vireos are allergic to staying still. What I don’t like about the video is that it’s short.

The next few videos are longer but they don’t have, for lack of the better word, a plot like that first one has. That bugs me even though these are videos of real life, not a scripted movie or a nature documentary with spliced footage. They’re still cool looks at the birds and their behavior, but I don’t like them nearly as much as the vireo vid.

She’s pretty.
At least it pooped! It’s also cute when it calls.

Even though summer is slow birding, I have seen some first-of-year birds since my last post.

May 22nd
177: Eastern Wood-pewee

May 25th
178: Red-eyed Vireo
179: Black-billed cuckoo-
a really good look at one at the Spring Green Preserve

June 1st- birding with extended family
180: Willow Flycatcher

July 6th
181: Black Tern- I saw half of a reported breeding pair at a nearby pond. This was also my first sighting of one in Dane County.
182: Peregrine Falcon- flying over a friend and me on the isthmus. Kinda wish I had more to say but it was the worst look I ever got of one.

I also had a chance to work on my Iowa list again on a day trip into Dubuque.

June 22nd- a day at the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium and downtown Dubuque with three friends
30: Barn Swallow
31: European Starling
32: House Finch
33: American White Pelican-
the star of the show. It landed nearby in the harbor and caught a fish.
34: House Sparrow
35: Rock Pigeon
36: Chimney Swift
37: Northern Cardinal

So far I haven’t seen any birds in Iowa that I haven’t seen in Wisconsin and that’s the only other state I’ve been to this year.

I’ll start posting more again. I still gotta find some of the breeding grassland birds before the summer ends.

May Birds, part 3 (a salute to shorebirds)



Shorebirds and I go great together.


They like mud.

I do not profess a particular fondness for the substance, but I will admit I find my boots and jeans covered in it from time to time.


They spend time by water.*

I enjoy chilling where they chill.

*Okay, so not every member of this group lives up to their collective name. Upland Sandpipers are a notable exception, and species like Killdeer spend a lot of their time on dry ground. “Shorebird” refers to a group of related species. In North America the resident shorebirds are plovers, sandpipers and their relatives, stilts and avocets, and oystercatchers.


They’re easier to see than warblers.

Not that I don’t enjoy finding woodland birds hidden in bushes and treetops, but there’s something fun about going to a pond, mudflat, or beach and the birds are out there in the open.


They’re not always easy to ID.

That forces you to slow down and really SEE the birds.


They got long legs, pointy bills, and cute feet.

I like that.

And man, are they fun to watch.

Different species forage differently. American Avocets move as a group, meticulously crossing the shallows. Wilson’s Phalaropes spin in circles to stir up prey. Other species have approaches that look more chaotic to us, running through the mud looking to find what they can. All of these methods work for the birds and provide enjoyment for us birders.

A Least Sandpiper last week did a cute bird move. I was watching a flock of 17 as they combed through the corn stalks in a overflowing pond. They are a small, compact species. Being brown and not much larger than most songbirds, it took a while to pick all them out of the scene. The particular sandpiper in question…

stood perfectly still,

picked up its cute little foot,

placed it on its head…

and began to scratch away.

Totally adorbs.

I didn’t get a video or photo of that (my camera was running low on battery, and the only video I have from that day is short as can be), but the image is seared into my brain. I remember the feathers on its head getting all messy and how FUNNY it looked with its foot all the way up there and its head cocked slightly. Imagine if we could do that!

Least Sandpipers not scratching their heads, but one is engaged in preening behavior

I’ve seen a few other shorebird species recently, with 13 total for the year. That’s not a bad number for a Midwestern birder now that I think about it, but there’s some cuties I wish I’d have seen. Where my plovers at?

My shorebird lifer in 2019 was a Hudsonian Godwit on a rural pond north of DeForest. Godwits are large by shorebird standards, close in size to our smaller ducks. Being that it was a lifer, I spent some time examining its features. It was either just starting to enter breeding plumage or it was younger, as the plumage was not very crisp. However, I was able to make out a few distinct areas on its body: the wings were medium gray, the back was mottled, and the belly had hints of a rusty brown. Its coolest feature was the long, slightly upturned bill that was reddish near the base and became black at the tip.

First-of-year updates (all shorebirds):

May 16th- the day of the Least headscratch
172: Wilson’s Phalarope- a male and a female. Interestingly, like other phalaropes the female is more colorful than the male. This is a rare trait among birds.
173: Dunlin- a squat shorebird with a black belly

May 18th
174: Hudsonian Godwit
175: Red-necked Phalarope- uncommon in these parts, as are Hudsonian Godwits. This was the first time I’ve seen one without a flock.
176: Short-billed Dowitcher- only short-billed relative to the Long-billed Dowitcher (and their bills aren’t that different anyway- so many species are named after field marks that are only apparent in lab settings)

May Birds, part 2 (plus some non-birding content)

The first-of-years are slowing down, but that doesn’t mean migration is. For the most part, I’m having high warbler counts each day I go out. I had 18 species this morning when I spent a few hours at the Pheasant Branch Creek Corridor. It’s been pretty happenin’. Taking a week off to go birding was well worth it.

May 7th- a low-key day
148: Purple Finch
149: Least Flycatcher

May 8th- another low-key day, spent inside to avoid the rain
150: Pine Warbler- pretty sure it was the first one I’ve seen at a feeder

May 9th- a warbler-filled day at the Pheasant Branch Conservancy
151: Tufted titmouse- I’d heard a few earlier in the year, but I don’t count them on my year list until I see them. All titmouse species are cute.
152: Gray-cheeked Thrush
153: Bay-breasted Warbler
154: Golden-winged Warbler- one of many species I found in the Silver Maple forest

Bay-breasted Warbler, photo taken today at Pheasant Branch

May 10th- the first day of a camping trip at Wyalusing State Park
155: Wood Thrush- on the Old Wagon Road Trail
156: Scarlet Tanager- near our site
157: Common Nighthawk- at Point Lookout

Wyalusing is a State Park located at the mouth of the Wisconsin River at the Mississippi. It’s a land of spectacular views, deep ravines, and flowers growing right out of the cliff faces. It’s a good birding spot, but it’s also just a good place to experience the gestalt of Driftless Region nature.

Yellow Violet at Wyalusing

May 11th- a full day at Wyalusing, with a side trip into Iowa to see the Effigy Mounds National Monument
158: Cape May Warbler- at the boat launch
159: Blackburnian Warbler- also at the boat launch
160: Cerulean Warbler- on the Sentinel Ridge Trail, then later at our site where two of them were singing right next to us
161: Orchard Oriole

My camping buddies and I found Pheasant Back mushrooms like these ones all weekend.

May 12- the last day at Wyalusing
162: Yellow-throated Vireo
163: Red-headed Woodpecker- screaming its head off. What a darling.
164: Eurasian Collared-dove- while driving through rural Iowa County
165: Black-throated Blue Warbler- continuing the tradition of finding good warblers with my mom on Mother’s Day
166: Chestnut-sided Warbler

May 13th- I was back to work, but I got a few minutes of birding in at Stricker’s Pond
167: Prothonotary Warbler- a pre-work treat

May 15th- an incredibly birdy day at Pheasant Branch
168: Canada Warbler
169: Wilson’s Warbler
170: Eastern Kingbird- seen while I was out for a run
171: Indigo Bunting- two birds singing from atop a tree just before sunset over the marsh

So those are my Wisconsin FOY birds, but I also have an Iowa list now! It only has 29 species, but that checklist is a record of me having the time of my life. Effigy Mounds National Monument is absolutely gorgeous, both for its ancient sites as well as being located on bluffs and at the confluence of the Mississippi and Yellow Rivers. It’s a place I’d like to spend a whole weekend sometime, not just a few hours.

A few of the conical mounds overlooking the Mississippi
American Redstart in Iowa

2019 Iowa List (also my only recorded entry of birds in Iowa so far):
1: Canada Goose
2: Wood Duck
3: Mourning Dove
4: Great Blue Heron
5: Turkey Vulture
6: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
7: Red-headed Woodpecker
8: Blue Jay
9: American Crow
10: Tree Swallow
11: White-breasted Nuthatch
12: House Wren
13: American Robin
14: American Goldfinch
15: Song Sparrow
16: Baltimore Oriole
17: Red-winged Blackbird
18: Brown-headed Cowbird
19: Common Grackle
20: Northern Waterthrush
21: Prothonotary Warbler
22: Common Yellowthroat
23: American Redstart
24: Yellow Warbler
25: Palm Warbler
26: Yellow-rumped Warbler
27: Wilson’s Warbler
28: Scarlet Tanager
29: Rose-breasted Grosbeak

The best spot for birding at the monument was the boardwalk that winds half a mile into the Yellow River floodplain. That’s where I found most of the warblers and the sapsucker.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

My First Herping Video

So… I’m really getting into making videos, and not just of birds. I have one video so far of an amphibian. I haven’t been actively herping much this year. So far I’ve found a few frogs, a few turtles, and a few snakes. Most of these sightings were while birding or fishing, and I don’t have much to write about in regards to spring herping.

So I decided to put this video on here by itself. This is one of the Leopard Frogs I encountered in April singing in ponds. It allowed for a close view and I’m not selfish enough to keep it to myself. It’s a good capture of the physical appearance and mating call of this common frog.

May Birds, part 1

Alright, here’s the next edition of my 2019 Wisconsin bird list. Let’s take a look.

May 1st- a day at Lake Farm County Park with my dad
107: Yellow Warbler
108: Swamp Sparrow
109: Nashville Warbler
110: Merlin- life bird #310
111: Northern Waterthrush
112: Cliff Swallow
113: Orange-crowed Warbler- cute fella hanging out by the railroad tracks
114: Chimney Swift
115: Field Sparrow
116: Forster’s Tern- at the North Fork Trail in Middleton

The Merlin was fun to see. The light conditions were pretty awful that day and I really didn’t think it would be a lifer or even a bird of prey until I got binoculars on it. It wasn’t showing its head all that much, and it took a me while to see the trademark mustache stripe.

May 3rd- one FOY before work
117: Blue-headed Vireo- I’m seeing them more than usual this year and it is amazing.

May 4th- a day spent birding in Walworth and Jefferson Counties with a birder I’d recently met. We went to a segment of the Ice Age Trail in Kettle Moraine State Forest, a small park in Whitewater I used to bird when I went to school there, and Prince’s Point State Wildlife Area. Prince’s Point had the coolest birding, including an absolute boatload and Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers and enough Yellow-headed Blackbirds to make up for the fact that we don’t have many of them in western Dane County.
118: Gray Catbird
119: Baltimore Oriole
120: Yellow-headed Blackbird
121: Lesser Yellowlegs

Yellow-rumped Warbler in the riverbottom forest at Prince’s Point
Eastern Towhee (with camera shutter sounds at the end)

May 5th- some birding at Stricker’s Pond and around the yard
122: Common Yellowthroat
123: Warbling Vireo
124: Black-throated Green Warbler- on the red maple just outside the kitchen window. I’d missed this species last year, so it was nice to see one.
125: Great Crested Flycatcher- my favorite backyard bird
126: Ruby-throated Hummingbird

May 6th- the big one so far, with time spent at home (FOY’s 127-129), Sticker’s Pond (Solitary Sandpiper), Ho-Nee-Um Pond (131-140), Nine Springs (141-145), and Esser Pond (American Avocet and Least Sandpiper)
127: Black-and-white Warbler
128: Northern Parula
129: Rose-breasted Grosbeak
130: Solitary Sandpiper
131: Ovenbird- two of them, and a good but brief view
132: Magnolia Warbler
133: Blackpoll Warbler
134: Tennessee Warbler
135: Swainson’s Thrush
136: Mourning Warbler- life bird #311, totally amazing
137: American Redstart
138: Blue-winged Warbler
139: Lincoln’s Sparrow
140: Veery
141: Savannah Sparrow
142: Bank Swallow
143: White-crowned Sparrow
144: Virginia Rail- life bird #312, just a brief glimpse of this elusive marsh-dweller
145: Black-crowned Night Heron- my first for the state
146: American Avocet- an uncommon visitor to these parts
147: Least Sandpiper

American Avocets- only my second sighting in Wisconsin
I wouldn’t have kept this picture of the Mourning Warbler if it wasn’t a lifer. At the very least it’s identifiable.
bonus vid of a Green Heron

April Birds, part 2

Where I left off, I had last seen 10 first-of-year birds on April 13th. It took me until the 20th to see my next FOY’s. And boy, that was an interesting day.

April 20th- The Day of the Laughing Gull
90: Brown Thrasher
91: Blue-winged Teal- seen in the new neighborhood retention pond
92: Osprey- in their favorite nesting spot in Monona
93: Laughing Gull- So obviously this was a fun one…

Laughing gulls are fairly rare in Wisconsin. They prefer the Gulf and East Coasts. This one was spotted by a few birders earlier in the day, who alerted me about it but were not sure of its identity after reviewing their field guides. They charged me with refinding it. I did almost as soon as I got to Nine Springs, but I only got a passing glimpse at it through the scope before I was distracted by two other birders and it flew away during our conversation.

It had been perfectly still before! How dare it! Fortunately another birder found it later and pointed it out to me. It had flown back to its original spot. The field marks looked right for a Laughing Gull, but I studied it for quite a while to be sure. Franklin’s Gulls aren’t common here, but they’re much more likely and the two birds look similar. That’s why the original spotters had assumed it was a Franklin’s at first. However, this bird had black wingtips, and a heavy, slightly-drooped bill. It was for sure a Laughing Gull! It was my state first and I hung around for quite a while to watch it. Other birders came too. Word gets out quickly. The best moment? When it flew right over us and I didn’t even need my binoculars to make it out in good detail.

Old school digiscoping

April 21st- Easter
94: Greater Yellowlegs- see video below!
95: Broad-winged Hawk- two of them over Stricker’s Pond
96: Northern Rough-winged Swallow- 
I feel like I’m seeing more of them than usual this year, though I could just be hanging out at ponds and lakes more.
97: Sharp-shinned Hawk- a low-flying one at Stricker’s Pond
98: Chipping Sparrow- at my aunt’s house during our Easter celebration

I’d suggest watching this in HD. The quality is not very good without it.

April 22- spending the morning at Stricker’s Pond before work
99: Barn Swallow
100: Palm Warbler-
my second warbler species of the year

April 24- birding with my dad
101: Spotted Sandpiper
102: Clay-colored Sparrow
103: Pectoral Sandpiper- a flock of 6 along the North Fork Trail in Middleton
104: Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

April 25
105: House Wren

April 30
106: Green Heron

It was a fun month. Out of this second half, the birding trip on the 24th with my dad really stands out. Pectoral Sandpipers and Clay-colored Sparrows are so beautiful. The two hawk species I saw on Easter were amazing. I especially liked the Sharp-shinned Hawk because you almost never see them as clearly as I did. A flash of brown disappearing into the trees? Not this time. It flew over me in the open, and at a low height too. The field marks separating it from a Cooper’s Hawk stood out- it had a small head tucked close to its body and a very squared tip to the tail. Beautiful.

I also took some time to try making videos of birds. They can capture bird behavior in a way photos cannot. My second video is of a pair of Sandhill Cranes tending to their egg. Watching this video, I feel sad. Just a few days after I took it, we got heavy rain and the nest is now underwater. I almost don’t want to post this because it breaks my heart. They put in so much effort for nothing. I hope they build another nest on higher ground.

I get that this is the way of nature and nests sometimes fail, but it’s harder to witness it than to simply know it as fact. The cranes were just doing what they instinctively do, too- they wanted a nest site surrounded by water to help protect their egg from predators. Oh well. Better luck next time, dudes.

Wow… that’s not the highest note to end on. Hmmm… I guess I’m finding it comforting to know that even though this nest failed, Wisconsin has a healthy crane population and one lost egg won’t crash it. I bet I’ll see some colts (baby cranes) soon. I always do. And when that happens, I’ll make sure to get some video or photgraphic evidence of them.

Not Your Typical Backyard Birds

It started with a large brown bird landing in an oak outside the back door. It took me no time at all to process what it was, but I’d never seen one land in the yard before. They always fly high overhead. I watched it move from that tree to one ever closer. Did it even know I was there?

I went to fetch my camera. When I returned, the bird was still there on its unexpected perch. I snapped a few pics then watched as it flew down to land on the bluebird house. I knew the pictures would look awful through the window, but I didn’t care. This was a fun moment and I wanted to record it.

Soon, a second member of the species flew in. It was more passive than the first one, and remained motionless in an obscured tree. A thought began to form in my head: was this a breeding pair? Was the active one searching for a nesting site while the other watched?

I watched too.

The first bird flew down to the forest floor and began to move around. It was definitely looking for something.

After a while, it found the object of its desire: carrion. To each their own.

I watched as the Turkey Vulture began ripping apart the remains of a small mammal. The other vulture, realizing this meal was too small to share, left. I’d never seen vultures come down for carrion before. I’d only ever seen them flying around in lazy circles. Despite how gross it was by human standards, I didn’t want to turn my attention somewhere else.

I always had a mental image of a Turkey Vulture (or a whole flock) landing precisely next to the carrion and immediately chowing down. Nope. Their sense of smell is strong and these ones zoomed in on the location in the backyard from a distance I couldn’t smell a hamburger. From there, they had to look. I assume this wouldn’t be the case with a large animal (a deer, for example) in an open area, but for a small animal hidden beneath the canopy, the vulture had to perform a search.

Observing behavior is a fun part of birding, and to witness vultures coming in for a meal was by far the birding highlight of my day.

April Birds, part 1

Wow, so I know April’s migration is much more intense than that of March, but holy cow! We’re not even halfway through and I already have almost as many FOY birds as I did last month. This is definitely a post that I cannot put off any longer. Without any further ado, here are my first-of-years from the first thirteen days of April:

April 3rdmy first April day at Stricker’s Pond- sunny, warm, and beautiful.
67: Eastern Phoebe
68: Bonaparte’s Gulla good amount of them this whole week. The water at the pond is very high this spring and I’ve twice seen them perched on the Purple Martin houses because the shoreline rocks are underwater.
69: Common Loon
70: Brown Creeperfinally saw one! I was worried they would all migrate north before I had a chance.
71: Great Egretthree of these elegant white herons foraged the shallow edges of the pond.

Eastern Phoebe silhouetted against the water

April 6tha day spent by the Wisconsin River with a friend.
72: Northern Harrier
73: American White Pelicanpointed out by said friend (thanks again!)
74: Tree Swallowso far my only one of the year.

April 10thgot some birding in at the pond before the snow came.
75: Pied-billed Grebe
76: Pine Siskinsame situation as the Brown Creeper I saw on the 3rd.
77: Yellow-rumped WarblerIt jumped into my binoculars view while I was watching the siskin.
78: Horned Grebe
79: Purple Martinthe first individual to arrive at the martin houses.

Pied-billed Grebe

April 13thTWO trips to Stricker’s Pond
80: Winter Wrengot a good look at it! I wasn’t timing, but I think I watched it for two or three minutes. That’s not bad for a bird whose preferred habitat is dense brush and woodpiles. They are so lovely. It was a rich brown with light speckling. They move so fast over any sort of obstacle. If they’re just hopping from one log to another, they move with such speed it looks like they’re teleporting. These are easily one of my favorite April birds. Unfortunately this long sighting was during my second, and camera-less, trip to the pond.
81: Golden-crowned Kinglet
83: Ruby-crowned Kinglet
84: Eastern Towhee
85: Hermit Thrush
86: Cooper’s Hawk
it’s about time!
87: Double-crested Cormorant
88: Brown-headed Cowbird
89: White-throated Sparrow

Wood Duck

Today was the absolute high point of these past few weeks. Not only did I see the cute little Winter Wren, but it was a great day for Red-breasted Mergansers and Bonaparte’s Gulls, with high counts of 27 and 18, respectively. I would like to go on record and say Bonaparte’s Gulls are even cuter than Winter Wrens. As one of the smaller species, they aren’t particularly gullish, at least by our stereotypes. I’ve never seen them in a parking lot or any heavily-developed area and they are not aggressive and in-your-face. They’re more dainty, like a tern rather than a gull. Oh, and they beep. Or quack? It’s kind of a combination of the two. Think of a softer, sweeter Mallard call.

And yes, I finally saw two winter birds that I was starting to get worried about- the Brown Creeper and Pine Siskin. I just have to hope my 2019 Common Redpolls will show up in the fall because it’s too late for them now.

The Purple Martins are slowly coming back to Stricker’s Pond. I saw five on my highest count today, but I am expecting a colony of 12 or more in May.

This has been a very exciting month so far, and I predict this is going to be a good year for birds.