The Last of April

Howdy! I went birding after work today at Stricker’s Pond. I wanted to see how many first-of-years I could get before May came. I got six of them, bringing my Wisconsin year list up to 87 birds. I predict it will be up to 100 by the end of the week. May is a magical time of year and I’m going to go all out on the whole warbler thing. I haven’t had a good spring warbler count for a few years and I hope that if I put in double the effort this May I will spot the ones I’ve missed in recent years.

Today was sunny and, shocking to my senses, hot. This south wind brought a dramatic change to the weather and a decent wave of migrants. Six FOYs on an afternoon walk is a good way to end a month. In taxonomic order, the FOYs are:

Spotted sandpiper (Actitis macularius)
Solitary sandpiper (Tringa solitaria)
Purple martin (Progne subis)
Northern rough-winged swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis)
House wren (Troglodytes aedon)
Palm warbler (Setophaga palmarum)

Palm warbler
Spotted sandpiper

Since we’re heading into May, I figure I should start a warbler count. So far I have three species.

  1. Yellow-rumped warbler (Setophaga coronata)
  2. Pine warbler (Setophaga pinus)
  3. Palm warbler

You know what? I’m gonna make a shorebird count too. Let’s see how many of those I can get by the end of the year too.

  1. Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)
  2. American woodcock (Scolopax minor)
  3. Wilson’s snipe (Gallinago delicata)
  4. Solitary sandpiper
  5. Spotted sandpiper

I had a fun day. I can’t wait to see more birds come in tomorrow. My eBird checklist from Stricker’s Pond can be found here.

After the Thaw

Dear spring, please stick around this time.

The past few days have been beyond pleasant. Yesterday I even went for a walk without a jacket! Most of our snow has melted too, and I’m happy to see insectivorous birds flying and hopping around. I’ve spent a lot of time outdoors in the Madison area and found eight first-of-year birds for Wisconsin.

4/20 FOY’s:

Savannah sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis)*
Great blue heron (Ardea herodias)*
Yellow-rumped warbler (Setophaga coronata)*
Hermit thrush (Catharus guttatus)

4/21 FOY’s:
Brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater)
Eastern towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus)
Pied-billed grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)*
Wood duck (Aix sponsa)

*seen earlier this year but in Texas

Eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis) post-bath
Savannah sparrow

Surprisingly, there are still a few fox sparrows (Passerella iliaca) at our feeders. These might be ones we had during the blizzard but they could also be a whole new flock. Either way, it’s nice to still be seeing them around. I wasn’t a big fan of the pictures I got through the window for my last post, but today I was able to snap a few shots of one from inside my car with the window rolled down. Now if I could just get a picture of that towhee that’s been hanging around.

Fox sparrow

The Feathery Sort of Foxes

On Saturday night the snow came. It’s not too deep, at least in Dane County, but it makes everything different for the birds.

An American robin (Turdus migratorius) was hanging out in our sheltered bird feeder yesterday. Even when my mom went to refill the food it stayed, just inches away from her hand as she added seeds to the feast. Today my dad, a land surveyor, had to dig up and expose some soil. A robin, hungry for worms, went searching by my father’s feet. Normally it’s hard to get within 6 feet of a suburban robin, but right now their priorities have shifted. My parents observed a yellow-rumped warbler (Setophaga coronata) sticking close to the warm southern exposure of the house yesterday and today I saw a very fluffed-up eastern phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) perched on the deck railing.

And, as everyone in the Midwest with a feeder has noticed, fox sparrows exist!

Fox sparrows (Passerella iliaca), are a large sparrow that can kind-of-sort-of be considered a backyard bird, but they aren’t seen at feeders often. Usually I see them during migration, hopping around in brush. These past few days, I have seen at least three hanging out close to the house and taking advantage of the birdseed.

Fox sparrow (background) with dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis)
Fox sparrow taking advantage of the food and calm air on the deck
I love these not-so-little birds

While this weather is bringing a lot of birds to our feeders, I’m glad it’s going to be warmer tomorrow (40 degrees!). I’m sure the desperate-looking birds will feel relief when the snow melts. Maybe, this time, spring will last.

Ferry Bluff, 4/7/18

We’ve already had first winter, but what about second winter? The first week of April has been cold this year. Forget about March, this appears to be the month that is changing from a lion to a lamb. With the weather like it is, my annual hike on the opening week of Ferry Bluff State Natural Area was chillier than usual, but the sun kept me and the other members of the Madison LGBT Outdoors Group warm. Ferry Bluff is closed during the winter because it is a popular winter roosting area for bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), and it opens April 1st of each year. The most noticeable differences between this hike and previous years was the lower water levels of the Wisconsin River and its tributaries. With spring being dry the floodplain forests that are often covered in water this time of year were not. Perhaps this will change after the rain predicted for this week.

I have covered Ferry Bluff in a previous post, but as nature is in a constant state of flux throughout the year, it is worth noting my observations from Saturday. I saw three bald eagles and several turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) riding the air along the bluffs. Down below were waterfowl including common mergansers (Mergus merganser). The vultures arrived back in Wisconsin in early March and the mergansers will soon be in their northern breeding grounds. There were some signs of plant growth. Eastern red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) leaves were starting to show low to the ground and I saw my first pasque flower (Pulsatilla patens or Anemone patens) of the spring.

Pasque flower
Holes from a yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) on a tree

As I have pointed out in recent posts, Blue Mound is visible from many locations in southwestern Wisconsin. On Saturday, I took a few pictures of Blue Mound from Ferry Bluff across the Wisconsin River.

The trees are in Sauk County, Dane County is just across the river, and Blue Mound is in Iowa County. Tri-county picture!
As usual, Blue Mound is marked in blue and the location I took the picture from is marked in red. The two hills are approximately 14.75 miles apart.