Tag Archives: Birding Wisconsin

Yellow-breasted Chat at Brooklyn Wildlife Area

Last Sunday (June 3, 2018), I decided to sample a few areas in the southern part of the state in both Dane and Sauk Counties. The trek began early in the morning at Brooklyn State Wildlife area located just south of Madison in Dane County. Several Field Sparrows perched up on my way down the trail. I was also serenaded by the songs of Brown Thrashers, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and Eastern Wood-Pewees. It wasn’t until I walked about half a mile in that I heard the distinct mewing and catcalling of a YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT. I was able to locate the bird singing near the top of a nearby tree hunkered in it’s leaves.

This bird, about the size of a grosbeak, is often heard and not seen due to their elusive nature. Chats are found in areas with dense brush, such as thickets and forest openings and primarily seen in the southern part of the state. The Yellow-breasted Chat was once considered to be in the Wood Warbler family, but in 2017, this species became the only member of the Icteriidae family.

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Sauk Prairie Recreation Area, in the background is Pine Glen Gorge of Devils Lake State Park

After being satisfied by a decent show from the Chat, I moved north to Sauk Prairie State Recreation Area. This area was formerly the Badger Army and Ammunition Plant, at one time the largest manufacturer of munitions in the world. The drive down the main road yielded some decent open country birds such as Eastern Meadowlarks and Clay-colored Sparrows. Most notable was a singing BELL’S VIREO not far from the entrance. After driving a few miles into the property I made it to the dense brush I was looking for. A singing WHITE-EYED VIREO sang its harsh, rapid song. Unfortunately, the bird never made an appearance before the wind picked up and activity died down.

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Common Redpoll vs. Hoary Redpoll

Each winter, the search for food drives birds from the north woods into areas south of their summer range. This winter migration brings many new species within view of birders who eagerly search them out. One such species that makes this journey is the Common Redpoll. Common Redpolls are small, colorful finches that eat seeds and often show up at bird feeders.

While Common Redpolls can be scarce in certain years, another Redpoll species is even harder to find: The Hoary Redpoll. Hoary Redpolls look incredibly similar to Common Redpolls and they often flock together. In fact, they look so much alike that there has been talk about lumping them together into one species. For now, however, the two remain separate, and some key identification features can help to tell them apart.

Bill

While both birds have very small, triangular-shaped bills, the bill of the Common Redpoll is slightly larger. Hoary Redpolls will have a shorter bill than a Common Redpoll that will appear stubbier and more pushed in.

Streaking

One of the most notable differences between the two species is the streaking on the  chest. Common Redpolls have chest streaking that is more defined than in Hoary Redpolls. They also have bold streaking on the flanks, along with streaking on the rump and undertail coverts, which is either absent or subtle in Hoary Redpolls. Note the differences in the photos below with the heavy streaking on the Common Redpoll (Top Left and Top Right) vs. the Hoary Redpoll’s lack of streaking (Bottom Left and Bottom Right).

 

Crown and Chest

Another distinguishing characteristic of Redpolls are their red coloring on the crown and chest. Both Common and Hoary Redpolls display bright red crowns, however the Hoary Redpoll’s crown is smaller and primarily at the front of the head, whereas the Common’s crown will extend back further. Additionally, the male Common Redpolls will have more red on their chest compared to the male Hoary Redpoll, which may have only washed out red coloration on the chest, or almost no red.

Overall Appearance

All in all, the Common Redpoll has a body coloration ranging from tan to brown, compared to the “frosted” and muted browns seen in Hoary Redpolls. The red on the breast of the males is typically more apparent in Common Redpolls, as is the red on the crown. When compared with Common Redpolls, Hoary Redpolls sometimes look like they are in black and white other than their darker red crown.

With winter approaching, these birds will start to pop up in local parks and bird feeders. Finding a Hoary Redpoll in a flock of Commons can prove a difficult task to the untrained birder. Hopefully these ID tips can help you differentiate between the two species.

Haory Redpoll photos by Ryan Brady

 

Migrants at Harrington Beach State Park

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.

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Waves on Lake Michigan

From the beach we went up the coast and had some success looking up into the trees where Yellow-rumped Warblers and Golden-crowned Kinglets were hopping from branch to branch. Also in the trees close to the lake were several Dark-eyed Juncos.

As we moved farther inland, a different variety of birds were foraging. Hermit thrushes were hopping along the ground along with flocks of White-crowned Sparrows and White-throated Sparrows. I checked each bird I could see in hopes of finding a rare Harris’s Sparrow but had no luck.

White-throated Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow

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.

American Tree Sparrow
American Tree Sparrow

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.

Top Six Reasons To Be Excited For Fall Migration In Wisconsin

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.

5. Sparrows

Nelson's Sparrow
Nelson’s Sparrow

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.

4. Warblers

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.

3. Shorebirds

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

Rufous Hummingbird
Rufous Hummingbird

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.

1. Jaegers

Parasitic Jaeger
Parasitic Jaeger

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!

Top 5 Most Annoying Things That Can Happen On Your Birding Trip

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.

 

Birds Of Lake Winnebago

We took a family trip out to the western shores of Lake Winnebago in Fond Du Lac County. Of course, we were keeping an eye out for birds.

House Finch
House Finch

When we went out in the back yard of house we were staying at we immediately started seeing birds. In the trees near the water there House Finches and a single Warbling Vireo. Foraging along the ground were House Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, Mourning Doves, and American Robins. For a few minutes a Spotted Sandpiper also made a brief appearance on the lawn.

Warbling Vireo
Warbling Vireo

Out over the water there were plenty of Ring-billed Gulls and Double-crested Cormorants. Every so often the majestic American White Pelicans flew over or sometimes even landed within 50 feet of the shore. The raspy call of the Forster’s Tern could also be heard from time to time as groups of them flew past.

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American White Pelicans

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.

Barn Swallows
Barn Swallows

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.

Blue Grosbeak vs. Indigo Bunting

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.

Dawn Scranton
Indigo Bunting – Photo by Dawn Scranton

Size

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.

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Blue Grosbeak – Photo by Mike McDowell

Range

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.

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Blue Grosbeak Range

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.

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Indigo Bunting Range

Bill

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.

Field Markings

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.

Alan Schmierer
Blue Grosbeak – Photo By Alan Schmierer

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.

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Indigo Bunting – Photo by John Flannery

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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