Kettle Moraine State Forest Oak Savanna

On Monday I traveled a few miles south to the Southern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest in hopes of finding some interesting reptiles. While no snakes or lizards were anywhere to be found, there were some quality birds in the area.

I started on a horse trail that led into the woods and eventually opened up into a grassy area. This savanna had numerous small oak trees along with copious amounts of sand and small shrubs. As I walked I picked out a lot fo the more common summer bird sounds such as Yellow Warblers, Eastern Wood Pewees, and Common Yellowthroats. While I was turning over some logs close to the savanna, a bird flew in my direction. Though it was moving quickly I could see a long white tipped tail. Piecing together the habitat with the field marks I saw, my first thought was Lark Sparrow. Lark Sparrows are not common in most parts of the state so i wanted to get a better look to be sure.

Lark Sparrow

I saw another bird take off and join the first bird in flight. the two landed near train tracks and i was able to get a better view. The two birds were in fact Lark Sparrows! Feeling excited I snapped a few photos and moved on.

Around the prairie I heard several Chipping Sparrows, Song Sparrows, and Field Sparrows but nothing of great note. I eventually moved into a more forested area and had my second solid sighting of the morning when two Scarlet Tanagers flew past me and landed in the nearby trees. Scarlet Tanagers are by no means rare, but I hadn’t seen or heard one yet this year which made these bright birds a welcome sighting.

Scarlet Tanager

After wondering the trail for a little longer without finding any interesting birds or reptiles i headed home. The end of May ushers in the warm summer months when most of the birds have already migrated through and the nesting species are still left. Fortunately, many of the most interesting birds in the state are Wisconsin nesters.

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Lions Den Gorge Count Day

Saturday was the Wisconsin spring bird count. That meant that almost every birder in the state was out and about seeing what species they could find. Lucky for all of us it turned out to be one of the most beautiful days of the year thus far with temperatures in the high 70s.

I met up with Bill Grossmeyer at Lion’s Den Gorge in Ozaukee County to help out with the count. As soon as I arrived, bird calls were coming from seemingly every direction and small shapes were moving around in the tree tops. We quickly picked out several warbler species including yellow, Black-Throated Green, Yellow-Rumped, and Palm. Also present at the start of the trail were Swamp Sparrows, Song Sparrows, and a single Lincolns Sparrow.

View from the top of Lion’s Den Gorge overlooking Lake Michigan

Farther along we encountered pockets of different warblers including Nashville, Black and White, and several singing Northern Parulas making their classic “zipper” call. We were also able to locate several Field Sparrows, Baltimore Orioles, an indigo Bunting, and one incredibly vocal Brown Thrasher.

We took five minutes out of looking for warblers to check out a more marshy area of the gorge. This proved to be a great decision as we found several White-Throated Sparrows, White-Crowned Sparrows, and buzzing Clay-Colored Sparrows. This area also had a singles Northern Shoveler and Ring-Necked Duck.

Our best find of the day came as we walked out of the marsh and back onto one of the more forested trails. suddenly a Cerulean Warbler popped up from some lower bushes and appeared no more than ten feet in front of us. Cerulean Warblers are not rare in all parts of Wisconsin but they can be difficult to find in many places. The bird gave us great looks as it fluttered from branch to branch calling.

Cerulean Warbler

After watching the Cerulean Warbler for some time we headed out to try some other locations around Ozaukee County. On our way out we encountered an Orange-Crowned Warbler and several Orchard Orioles. We also heard the teepa teepa teepa call of a Great Tit. As it turns out, this sighting is the farthest south recorded in Wisconsin.

When we finally left Lion’s Den, we found that there were not nearly as many birds in other areas sch as Coal Dock Park in Port Washington or the adjacent bike path. As a result, after about an hour and a half hiatus without picking up anything new but Common Terns, Forster’s Terns, and an Ovenbird we headed back to Lion’s Den Gorge.

Upon arriving the action immediately started up again with several Blackburnian Warblers near the entrance of the trails. In this same area we also got great looks at an Orchard Oriole.

Orchard Oriole

After walking around for another hour, things started to slow down and most of the birds that had been moving around in the morning were suddenly gone. We decided to call it a day and headed back home, feeling pretty excited about the first really good day for warblers this spring.

White-faced Ibis vs. Glossy Ibis

This spring has been good for Ibises in Wisconsin as several have already been reported. Ibises are rare Wisconsin visitors that usually make their appearance during migration and only rarely breed in the state. There are two species of Ibis that occasionally pass through: the White-faced Ibis, and the Glossy Ibis. While both are rare, the Glossy is the more uncommon of the two in our state.

Ibises are generally not difficult to identify. They are relatively large birds with bright reddish-brown bodies, complete with iridescent green wings, long legs, and a long, curved bill. However, while an Ibis itself is distinctive, the differences between the White-faced Ibis and the Glossy Ibis can be tricky as some of the defining details are minor.

Glossy and White-faced Ibis at Horicon Marsh

Seasonal Changes

The White-Faced and Glossy Ibis are both more distinctive during breeding season when their markings are more prominent. In fall, they become almost impossible to distinguish. For this reason, we will focus on breeding season identification tips.


As far as their size, a Glossy Ibis is on average the larger of the two species. Glossy Ibises can range anywhere from 18.9-26 inches. A White-faced Ibis is typically between 18.1-22 inches. While there certainly is a size difference, given their averages it would still not be out of the realm of possibility for a White-faced to be larger than a Glossy. For that reason, this feature alone should not be used to identify.


It is of course not uncommon for birds to stray from their normal range. However, range for these two species can be used as a general guideline. The White-faced Ibis can be found all across the southwestern part of the United States and even reaches as far north as Montana, and as far East as Florida. The Glossy Ibis on the other hand is usually found the Atlantic Coast and in Florida. Therefore, if an Ibis is found in the western states, it is usually a White-faced, however, that is not always the case.


Leg Color

Leg color is a solid species indicator during breeding months. The White-faced Ibis has brightly colored legs ranging from pink to red. The Glossy Ibis on the other hand has dull grayish legs. This feature can be tough to pick out depending how far away the bird is, but even at distance the pink tint of the White-faced Ibis’s legs can be seen.

Eye Color

Eye color is another indicator of distinguishing these two species. The White-faced Ibis has a bright pink eye, whereas the Glossy Ibis has a dark black eye. Again, this feature is much easier to observe when the bird is close but can still be seen with a scope or high powered camera.

Notice the leg and eye color differences in the images below.

wf ibis
White-faced Ibis

Glossy Ibis

Facial Pattern

The best way to tell the White-faced and Glossy Ibis apart is by their facial patterning. The White-faced Ibis has a namesake white mask that starts near the bill and goes completely around the eye. This thick white mask is unbroken by any other colors. In addition, there is pink coloration going from the start of the bill up to the eye.

Glossy Ibises have a much thinner pattern on their face going near the eye but in most cases not going around it completely. This gives the pattern a “broken” look. In addition, as opposed to the white and pink face of the White-faced Ibis, the outer color on the face is a light blue and the inside color is the same as the rest of the head.

The image below shows a great side-by-side comparison of the two species. Note the facial differences with the Glossy behind the White-Faced.

Glossy and White-faced Ibis
Glossy and White-faced Ibis

These identification tips should be enough to correctly determine the species of a breeding plumage Ibis in Wisconsin and other Midwest states. We hope you found this article helpful. Please feel free to contact us to suggest other similar articles or provide feedback.




Horicon Marsh Ibises

Derek and I woke up at five in the morning to meet Bill at a park and ride in Richfield. The reason for rising so early on a Sunday was simple: birds.

Four Ibises were reported at Horicon Marsh the day prior. To make things even better, two different Ibis species were present: the White-Faced Ibis and the Glossy Ibis. Out of the two species, the Glossy is more rare in Wisconsin. Obviously, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

After about an hour drive we arrived at Horicon Marsh on highway 49 where the birds were reported. Although it was still before 7 am, over ten cars were lined up along the road with their drivers out and looking south with high powered scopes and cameras.

We assumed that with all the fanfare around the area that the other birders would have had a lock on the Ibises but it turned out that nobody had seen them yet. We waited for about half an hour and then decided to walk up the road to the east and see what other birds we could find.

Black-Crowned Night Heron

We immediately spotted several classic marsh species such as Marsh Wrens, Great Egrets, Blue-Winged Teals, Coots, American White Pelicans, Greater Yellowlegs, and Dunlin. Black-Crowned Night Herons occasionally rose up from the tall marsh grasses and became view able only to descend back down and out of sight. The whinny call of the Sora and the “cow-cow-cow” call of the Pied-Billed Grebe could be heard from the reeds as well.

One of the coolest bird species we saw on this stretch was the Black-Necked Stilt. Rare in the rest of the state, these stilts flourish at Horicon and even early in the year, we counted over ten.

After enjoying some of the more common marsh species,  we headed back to the car near where the Ibises were seen the day before. Just before reaching the car we encountered Tom Wood who was scoping out in the marsh. He said he could see Ibises but they weren’t close enough to tell what species they were.

Feeling excited that the Ibises were present, we attempted to position ourselves to get a look at any ID points we could find. The birds were indeed too far away to tell. However, after just a few minutes they took flight and landed closer to the road. Unfortunately, they vanished in the tall plants to the point where they were barely visible.

News quickly spread that the Ibises had been seen again, and numerous cars quickly showed up. For the next 45 minutes a group of twenty birders watched as the Ibises would fly up, and then go down behind the reeds. Through these quick looks, it became clear that three of the Ibises were White-Faced and one of them was Glossy. We were extremely excited to be able to view both of these rare species even if it was for only seconds at a time. Eventually, the birds walked to a clearing and gave us distant, but clear views.

After watching the Ibises for a while, we moved on to the auto tour loop. Most of the ponds on the auto tour were too high to contain any shorebird habitat, but the edge habitat where forest met water. In this area we found a Nashville Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, and Yellow-Rumped Warbler. Also present was a particularly cooperative Rusty Blackbird that gave us great looks as it called from a tree and then moved on to foraging in the shallow water. Farther down, there were two Black-Necked Stilts close to the road at the red rock pond. These birds gave amazing views as they used their long legs to wade through the water and pick out food.

Black-Necked Stilts

After we went through the auto tour, we arrived at the Marsh Haven center. There we found a single Yellow-Headed Blackbird at the bird feeder and numerous swallows flying overhead. I even got dive bombed by a Tree Swallow when i accidentally got too close to a nestThe distinctive almost robotic chattering calls of the Purple Martin could clearly be heard. These birds in the swallow family are dimorphic with males being a deep purple color and females being mostly gray-ish with some patches of darker color. These birds aren’t rare in Wisconsin, but they are still incredibly cool, so we stayed and photographed them for a while.

Purple Martin

After Marsh Haven, our last stop was at the visitor center on the east side of the marsh. Here we found a White-Crowned Sparrow, Field Sparrows, and Song Sparrows. The most striking part of this location was the sheer number and variety of swallows flying about. Tree, Barn, and Cliff Swallows were all chattering and acrobatically soaring through the sky. We had a good time observing the Cliff Swallows building nests on the side of the building out of mud.

Cliff Swallow

We headed home cold and tired but having been very successful in seeing our target birds as well as some other unique marsh species.

Kettle Moraine State Forest Bobwhite

Derek and I went out to the Kettle Moraine State Forest to see if we could find any interesting birds. We made it out there at around six pm and started walking the ski trail near Mackey Picnic Area.

The forest was incredibly quiet. The only birds that we heard or saw were American Goldfinches, Brown-Headed Cowbirds, Black-Capped Chickadees, and a single Blue Jay.

After having little success at that location we went to the field closest to the Ottawa Lake Campgrounds in search of sparrows and other grassland birds. We immediately heard the quirky song of a Brown Thrasher singing in a nearby tree as well as an Eastern Towhee in the distance. Several Field Sparrows were also in the area and occasionally perched up in the snags.

Brown Thrasher

While walking one of the paths in the field, we came across the best bird of the day: A Northern Bobwhite. Neither of us had ever seen a Bobwhite in the wild and we were extremely excited to see it foraging in the short grasses.

Most Bobwhites found in the state are part of populations that were released or escaped captivity. In fact, some people estimate that there are no Bobwhites left in Wisconsin that are not related to a bird that was at some point captive.

Northern Bobwhite

After watching the Bobwhite for about five minutes we continued walking the field. All of the sudden, Eastern Meadowlark calls started coming from seemingly every direction. We were finally able to get a visual on two birds chasing each other around and landing in the larger trees. Also in the area were a Palm Warbler and a Chipping Sparrow.

Eastern Meadowlark

Although we didn’t find a very high number of species, any day you find a life bird is a pretty solid day!

Milwaukee Lakefront Piping Plovers

After work, Derek was kind enough to bring my camera and meet my at the Milwaukee lakefront in search of some cool birds that had been reported recently. Our primary target was a Le Conte’s Sparrow that was found this morning near the small section of trees and bushes north of Bradford Beach known as “the magic hedge.”

Looking For A Le Conte’s

We arrived just at the magic hedge just after the rain stopped. Even without the precipitation, the conditions were less than ideal with dark gray skies and gusty winds coming off the lake. We quickly spotted several sparrows in the west side of the hedge. We took some time to identify the species and found them to be mixed. A White-Crowned Sparrow, White-Throated Sparrow, and Swamp Sparrow hopped around in the leaf litter while a Field Sparrow and American Tree Sparrow occupied the upper part of the bushes. The American Tree Sparrow was particularly surprising considering most of them should have headed back up north by now.

Further east, we found three Palm Warblers high up in the trees, and a chattering Common Yellowthroat lower in the thickets. There was also a very cooperative Veery foraging along the ground. This bird gave us excellent looks, and while not as rare as a Le Conte’s Sparrow, it was a nice consolation to get close looks at it.


We continued east and walked along the lake going south hoping the le Conte’s had simply relocated nearby. We encountered at least six Savannah Sparrows around the large boulders that line the shores of Lake Michigan as well as extremely high numbers of migrating Double-Crested Cormorants and Red-Breasted Mergansers. A chorus of terse, raspy calls of Caspian Terns could be heard as the birds flew back and forth over the lake. The le Conte’s was nowhere to be found.

Birding The Beaches

After striking out of the Le Conte’s Sparrow we decided to head south to Bradford Beach to look for the Piping Plovers that had been reported earlier in the day. When we arrived, there was no sign of any birds on the beach. We began walking anyway just because it’s always fun to hang out on the beach. While we were aimlessly walking we came upon two tiny birds running up the coast along the tide. They were the Piping Plovers! We spent time watching the two birds searching for food and moving along the sand. Both birds were banded with one of them sporting more bands than the other. According to additional research, one of these birds was banded in South Carolina and nesting in the Apostle Islands in Wisconsin.

Banded Piping Plover

After spending some time with the Piping Plovers we went to Mckinley Beach. Mckinley beach is a small and typically muddy beach surrounded on both sides by rocks. At this location there were nineteen Willets. These birds appeared to be a bit chilly as they were huddled together and rather puffy looking. Willets have a humorous high pitched, one-note call that groups of the species will perform in sequence as if talking to one another.


Even though we missed the Le Conte’s Sparrow, we were rewarded by a few other Wisconsin rarities. Even on a cold and rainy day, it was definitely worth the trip.