On Sunday Bri and I went to Harrington Beach State Park in Ozaukee County to do some exploring. I had never really walked Harrington Beach extensively so a lot of it was new to me. We started by heading to the beach where the high winds were causing massive whitecaps out on the lake. Many migratory water bird species were reported on the lake but today the only birds we could see were some common gulls and a small flock of Mallards.
We continued walking west where we found the quarry lake and followed the path around. Two Belted Kingfishers were rattling as they flew round the lake. In the soaked orange leafed branches two Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers chased each other around.
After a very pleasant walk around the quarry lake we started heading back north to the car. Along the way we found more flocks of assorted as well as a single Lincoln’s Sparrow that popped up momentarily and gave us nice looks. On some of the weeds along the trails we found our first of fall American Tree Sparrow. American Tree Sparrows along with Juncos are a natural indicator that fall is coming to a close and winter is on its way.
Near the parking lot we encountered a surge of Brown Creepers. These tiny spring and fall migrants are one of my favorite birds due to their adorable appearance. The can sometimes be seen in fall as they hop up trees but never down.
We had a great day at Harrington Beach State Park exploring the paths with sun and fall colors all around. We will definitely go back, hopefully next time there will be some more birds out on the water.
Birders often think of spring as the most exciting time of the year. Birds are flying from the millions from the south to the north and there are rarities aplenty. However, fall can be just as exciting if not more so exciting due to some of the unique birds that come through that aren’t readily reported in spring. Here are the top six birds to look forward to this fall.
6. Buff-breasted Sandpipers
Want an excuse to go to your local sod farm? Look no further! As August draws to a close and gives way to September, Buff-breasted Sandpipers migrate through the state and wind up on beaches and in areas with short grass (like aforementioned sod farms.) Buffies make their largest push through the state in late August and early September with a few stragglers showing up later than that. Looking for Buffies represents an opportunity to go to a unique birding location. Plus, it turns out a lot of sod farm owners are really nice and will let you walk around the property if you contact them and ask nicely.
Some of the state’s hardest to find sparrows make their way through Wisconsin’s fields and grasslands in autumn. The three most notable are the Nelson’s Sparrow, LeConte’s Sparrow, and Harris’s Sparrow. Nelson’s and LeConte’s Sparrows love hanging out in thick grasses and brush with both species frequenting wet grasslands and smart weed fields. They also pop up along the lake front. Harris’s Sparrows like shrubs and agricultural fields. They can sometimes be found at bird feeders. All three of these sparrows come through Wisconsin annually but are considered difficult to find.
Somehow miss seeing a Tennessee Warbler the first time they came through in spring? Have no fear, pretty much the whole lot of them will be back through in the fall. While some warblers may still be in breeding plumage as they head south in late summer, by the time most of them arrive in Wisconsin they will be donning their drab, non-breeding colors. This can make identification somewhat challenging, but with a little help from field guides and online resources it isn’t too bad. Also making things a bit more difficult is that the birds won’t be singing to find a mate. This makes elusive species such as the Connecticut Warbler incredibly tough to locate and positively identify. That being said, the challenge of identifying these little birds just makes finding them more exciting.
As is the case with warblers, shorebirds stop through Wisconsin in route to their winter destinations. Godwits, Willets, Whimbrels, and Red Knots are just some of the rarities that make an appearance in the fall. Of course, other species of more common shorebirds are also around in fairly large numbers. In addition, some shorebird species are actually a bit easier to find in fall including Black-bellied Plovers, American Golden Plovers, Baird’s Sandpipers, and Ruddy Turnstones. Check out those flooded fields and beaches to locate some cool shorebirds.
2. Migrating Hummingbirds
The smallest fall migrants can make a big splash in the birding community. Every fall, hummingbirds show up at hummingbird feeders and flower gardens to fuel up for their long journey. Along with the common Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are a handful of the Rufous Hummingbirds that are more rare in our state. Each year there are a number of them reported and typically one or two that stay at a particular feeder for a week or more, thus allowing people time to see them. Also making an occasional appearance are Anna’s Hummingbirds. Even rarer than the Rufous, Anna’s have been a habit of showing up later in the fall and sometimes staying as late as Thanksgiving. Keep an eye on those feeders and you just may get a glimpse of a quick moving rarity.
the Skua family have a habit of stealing food from the gulls on their southeastern migratory route. There are three species of jaegers that come through Wisconsin. The most common is the Parasitic Jaeger, but other potential species include Pomaraine and Long-tailed. Sounds cool right? What makes it even more of an adventure is that the happening known affectionately as “Jaeger Fest” takes place at Wisconsin Point, almost as far northwest as you can go in Wisconsin. With the point jutting out into Lake Superior, there are plenty of other interesting birds that can be seen including Sabine’s Gulls, Harris’s Sparrows, and American Avocets. If you’re interested in heading out to Jaeger Fest, feel free to check out the dates on the WSO page. There will be plenty of great birders around as well making it all the more entertaining.
Don’t be sad that summer is ending; be happy that fall migration is underway! Some excellent birds are going to be coming through and Wisconsin is about to be alive with colors and animals getting ready for winter. For more articles and updates on Wisconsin birds like Badgerland Birding on facebook!
Birding is a great thing. It takes people to places they wouldn’t normally go to see and lets people get in touch with the natural world. While birding can be extremely fun, there are some annoying things that can happen when birding. Here are the top five most annoying things that happen when birding for photographers and birders alike.
5. The Bird Won’t Sit Still
We’ve all been there. The Golden-crowned Kinglet was perched out in the open, on the branch overhanging the creek. Light shimmering down illuminate the colors on the top of the head in just the perfect way. Just as you press the button to take the shot, into the brush he goes. You spend the next twenty minutes trying to get a nice picture but end up with only blurry, obscured photos, and a solid “butt-shot.” But you’re also convinced the next picture will be “the one”.
4. Empid Flycatchers
Even if you get a perfect picture of it, you still may not be able to tell exactly what species it is without hearing it call.
3. When The Bugs Are So Bad It Ruins Your Trip
It’s almost impossible to enjoy a birding trip when a million things are buzzing in your ear, dive bombing your head, and/or biting you. If you see the bird you’re looking for it’s worth it. If you don’t, you never want to go outside again.
2. YOU FORGOT YOUR SD CARD (or other piece of valuable equipment)
You finally get to your favorite shorebird spot and can see the hundreds of peeps moving around way out there. Time to get out the trusty scope. Uh oh…Why is it not in the back seat? You always double check that you have everything, but today you were so excited that you forgot! What a horrible day. (Or you just didn’t have your camera on you when that Northern Goshawk swoops in and sits for 10 minutes on the branch in front of you). No way your friends are gonna believe this one.
1. When You “Just Missed It”
Everyone’s been here before. You drive 6 hours to see a rare bird only to be told “it was just here 5 minutes ago, I’m sure it will come back”. But it never does. The group who had been watching it for the past hour is laughing and joking and having a grand old time while you sit there in silence, knowing if you’d skipped having that bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios this morning, you would have seen the dang thing. You drive home wondering “what could have been.”
Is there anything about birding that annoys you that we didn’t list? Mention it in the comments below.
Some of the most interesting birds to watch were the many swallows swirling around our dock. To the south, Purple Martins could be heard and sometimes seen. From the north, Northern Roughed-winged Swallows flew threw, and just one dock away a colony of Barn Swallows gathered and dispersed every fifteen minutes or so. At the end of the day we were mesmerized by the swallows swooping just inches away from the water’s surface with the sunset colors in the background.
It was a decent birding day given the fact that we weren’t specifically trying to bird. We’ll see if we can find anything else interesting the rest of the week. Stay tuned.
With summer upon us, some of the brightest colored birds in North America are nesting all across the country including the Midwest. Two of these birds that can be somewhat difficult to tell apart without knowing the field markings are the Blue Grosbeak and the Indigo Bunting. Both of these species are bright blue, frequently overlap in geographic range, and can be found around the same habitat. This means birders are likely to encounter both at some point. The good news is that there are some surefire ways to differentiate the two.
As far as size is concerned. There is a discernible difference between a Blue Grosbeak and an Indigo Bunting. Blue Grosbeaks typically range between 15 and 16 cm while Indigo Buntings are between 12 and 13 cm. This means that in theory, an Indigo Bunting should never be as large as even a relatively small Blue Grosbeak. While it is hard to tell size on a single bird by itself, a side by side comparison shows this difference distinctly.
The range of these two species differs slightly with much of it overlapping.
Blue Grosbeaks general range is as far south as Central America during the winter months and as far north as North Dakota in summer. They span from the west coast to the east coast and can be found readily in the southern states. While the Blue Grosbeak is widespread in the United States, their basic range does not typically go north of Colorado and Indiana with only a few individuals spotted annually during summer in states like Wisconsin. They do however appear farther north in the central part of the United States as they also summer in Oklahoma and the Dakotas.
Much like the Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Buntings winter as far south as Central America. This bright blue bird also inhabits most of the southern United States with the exception of parts of Arizona and Texas. It is also notable to note that the Indigo Buntings range seems to skip over western Mexico. Unlike Blue Grosbeaks, Indigo Buntings make their way much farther north in summer as they are found in every state east of Montana and even southern parts of Canada.
Bill size is a solid way to differentiate between these two species. The indigo Bunting has a relatively small, conical bill while the Blue Grosbeak has a comparatively larger bill. In addition, The Indigo Bunting has a completely one colored gray/silver bill. The Blue Grosbeak often sports a two colored bill with a darker gray on the upper mandible and lighter gray on the bottom mandible.
Though both of these birds are a very similar shade of blue, there are some differences in pattern and coloration that go a long way in identification.
The Blue Grosbeak has a small black mask near the base of the bill going over the eye that the Indigo Bunting lacks. They also have very distinctive rusty wing bars that serve as an extremely reliable field marking. Female Blue Grosbeaks lack the deep blue of the males (instead they are a dark tan/light brown color) but still have the same rust colored wing bars.
Indigo Buntings are almost entirely blue with some of their only other coloring being a varied gray to black on their wings. They do have a very small amount of black near the base of the bill but not nearly to the degree that the Blue Grosbeak does. Females are a lighter shade of tan than the Blue Grosbeak and lack the wing bars of the Blue Grosbeak females.
Image comparison of females
These two species often co-exist in the same habitat and overlap readily in the United States and Mexico. Even in ranges where only one of these species would be expected. It is good to know the ways to tell them apart just in case.
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Today Derek and I headed out to Sauk County to look for some birds, reptiles, and insects at one of the most unique environments in the state: Spring Green Preserve. Spring Green is located in the south central part of the state and is one of the most arid places in the state. “Wisconsin’s Desert” is complete with sand, cacti, and numerous flora and fauna that are found nowhere else in the state.
We made the two hour drive and arrived a little after 7 am. We were immediately greeted by swarms of small insects buzzing around our faces. For the early part of the morning the small gnats and flies were nearly insufferable but we pressed on. We heard several loud calls coming from the Prairie as we broke the thresh hold between the parking area and the preserve. The preserve itself is relatively small with only one trail that leads from the lot into the large ridges that prevent moisture from getting to the sandy ground. One call that stood out was that of the Dickcissel. This has been a good year for the species and Spring Green is perhaps one of their greatest strongholds in Wisconsin. It seemed like every short tree and shrub had a Dickcissel on top.
If not a Dickcissel on a particular tree top it was a Lark Sparrow. Lark Sparrows can be found in other counties but they are more seldom reported. At Spring Green they are extremely numerous. This gave us a great opportunity to watch some of their behavior. The sparrows were constantly chasing each other from tree to tree and gathering large grasshoppers and other insects. There was even one Lark Sparrow that nonchalantly hopped on the trail just a few feet ahead of us gathering insects and acting oblivious to our presence.
One other very loud species on the Prairie was the Grasshopper Sparrow. These sparrows earned their name from their insect-like buzzing noise they make as well as the fact that they grasshoppers make up a large portion of their diet. Grasshopper Sparrows belong to a group of elusive sparrows known as Ammodramus Sparrows. This group of birds likes to skulk in tall grasses and other plants. They are often difficult to find, but these Grasshopper Sparrows perched up very nicely for us to view.
After a while we were joined by Rob Pendergast and continued searching. By the time Rob arrived a nice breeze had picked up over the preserve and a lot of the insect activity had subsided. We walked back the same way on the trail we had paced back and forth on earlier and came across one of the local reptiles: a Blue Racer. Blue Racers are among the fastest snakes in North America. They can be found in prairies and Oak Savannas in the western half of the state. This one was lazily slithering near the trail and eventually climbed a small tree.
Also present near the same area was another quick reptile: The Prairie Racerunner. Much like the Blue Racer, these lizards have incredible speed (up to 18 mph.) We found them quickly running across the sand trail and sunning themselves on rusted sheet metal.
Having thoroughly searched for all avian activity in the area, we turned our attention to some unique invertebrates. Spring Green is known by a proud few for its Tiger Beetles. Nine (possibly 10) species of this small but veracious predatory insect make Spring Green their home. We were able to find three species of them. The Oblique-Lined, the Festive, and the Big Sand. They would fly and sometimes run along the path we were walking. Much like everything else we encountered, the Tiger Beetles are extremely fast movers. So fast in fact that while they run after their prey they go temporarily blind until they stop moving.
In all, we were pleased with out day in the desert. We missed out on two rare birds that were reported recently (Blue Grosbeak and Northern Mockingbird), but seeing the other interesting birds, reptiles, and insects made the trip well worth it. It’s not everyday we get to explore such a unique ecosystem in our home state.
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.
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.
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.