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.