Yesterday Derek and I met Rob in Manitowoc to see if we could find any interesting birds out on the lake. We started out checking the impoundment where there was a surprising lack of gull diversity. The only species present were Ring-Billed Gulls. Walking out to the impoundment we saw many Mallards and two Hooded Mergansers. Upon arriving at the walkway that circles the small lagoon we looked out over the shoreline with the sun in our eyes. There were two Tern species: Caspian and Forster’s, a Great Blue Heron, and several American White Pelicans. On the far shore we were able to see some peeps. Two were Semipalmated Sandpipers and one was a Least.
We walked around the the lagoon hopping from rock to rock to try and get a view of the birds sitting on the sand bar. Along the way we encountered high numbers of Song Sparrows. Most of the time they could be heard but not seen. We also located a few Spotted Sandpipers that would fly in front of us in order to stay a comfortable distance away.
By the time we got to the east side of the impoundment many of the gulls had departed from the lagoon, as a result we continued on toward the many gulls that were sitting on the break wall. On the way there, a crowd of Barn Swallows lifted off from the grasses. The birds swirled around us and some landed on the taller, stronger stalks. Almost simultaneously someone with a dog spooked all of the gulls. Feeling a bit dejected we continued around and located two silhouetted Short-Billed Dowitchers.
Next we headed to Sheboygan where we were primarily going to check the north point. There were many birds sitting on the rock shelf just off-shore. Many of these birds were Herring and Ring-Billed Gulls but we did see some Bonaparte’s Gulls and what appeared to be a pair of first cycle Lesser Black-Backed Gulls. Two Spotted Sandpipers flew from rock to rock on the shore and on the rock island. We also noticed Double-Crested Cormorants, Caspian Terns, Forster’s Terns, and Common Terns. We once again missed out on Franklin’s Gulls at this location.
In all, we didn’t have a great day at the lake as we didn’t come up with any difficult to find birds but it was still great to be outside and get the chance to look!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We headed home cold and tired but having been very successful in seeing our target birds as well as some other unique marsh species.