Wednesday morning I drove from Manitowoc to Sheboygan during a winter storm. My plan was to spend two nights in each city so I had to get a move on. Snow, and later a “wintry mix” of some sort, came blowing sideways across the road. The white powder drifted onto my lane. I drove on, sometimes in the center of the road, sometimes driving through drifts up to half a foot high. A stop for gas in the small town of Cleveland didn’t shelter me from the precipitation. I needed a wall, not a roof.
I did not immediate go birding once I got to Sheboygan. It was not too much of a weather-based decision; I had not skipped out on art museums and other cultural attractions on my trip. In fact, the weather didn’t discourage me from birding at all. After a brief visit to the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, I was out by the lake. Nasty weather often does not discourage the birds, and that doesn’t discourage me.
In terms of numbers, I saw more species in Texas last winter. This short trip was epic in other sense. Never before had I birded in a winter storm on a lake where large waves were tossing ice at the shore. How exciting! Thank Vortex for waterproof binoculars. I walked, scanning around to find something that stood out against the usual gulls and ducks. I found nothing. Mostly I was mesmerized by the waves. That day will stand out for me not for the birds I saw, but because of the weather. Mallards in a storm are better than Mallards on a pleasant day.
The next day might as well have been a different place all together. The water was calm, the sky blue. I spent most of the day birding. My favorite spot in Sheboygan was North Point Park. I also took a short drive over to Kohler-Andrae State Park, arguable one of the best parks in the state. In a past summer, I had sat for hours watching the waves roll in over the sand and touch my toes. This time, however, I saw nothing but snow and ice before they suddenly gave way to waves that lapped against the frozen water. I walked down the beach a short ways before finding a bench partway up a dune. I decided to sit and bird. Even if I didn’t see anything, I’d at least get to watch the lake. Fortunately I did get a good view, almost straight on, of a small flock of Greater Scaup with a single Common Goldeneye mixed in.
Once I got back in town, I saw more species. There were plenty of waterfowl, plus Ring-billed, Herring, and Great Black-backed Gulls. I got my first Great Black-backed Gull pics. That was a highlight of the day.
My biggest waterfowl surprise of the day was five American Wigeons that showed up for a few minutes in a window between two islands of ice. They were bird #41 of the year.
What a fun trip! With the possible exception of a few days in Iowa and Illinois, I plan to stay entirely within Wisconsin this year. This state has so much to offer to a nature enthusiast. I can’t wait to see more Wisconsin birds in the coming weeks and months.