Tag Archives: Milwaukee

Birding Rainy Milwaukee

On a cold Thursday in May, a report came through of Willets and American Avocets at Lakeshore State Park in Milwaukee. In spite of the fact that the temperature was in the 40s and a steady rain poured over the entirety of southern Wisconsin, we decided to brave the weather and go see these annual, but still difficult to find birds.

When we arrived we could see numerous Herring Gulls dotting the grass and sand but couldn’t make out anything that looked like shorebirds. As we got closer, we noticed two dark shapes a few feet out from the beach. We were excited to see that these were American Avocets. We then noticed a group of five Willets that were tucked behind a large boulder and just now coming out. We stayed to enjoy these interesting birds for as long as we could until we were soaked to the point where we feared that our cameras would get too waterlogged.

We moved up the coast of Milwaukee to McKinley Beach. Here we found many Caspian Terns and two significantly smaller Common Terns. Also out over the water were hundreds of migrating Double-crested Cormorants.


Further north, we surveyed the area near Linwood treatment plant where we had a nice variety of sparrows including Swamp, Savannah, Song, and White-crowned. We also located Hermit Thrushes, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Bonaparte’s Gulls, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and our first of year Black and White Warbler. Perhaps the biggest surprise was a lone male Bobolink calling from a large tree. I have had them in this location before so perhaps its a more common area for them than I realize.

Our final stop of the afternoon was Lake Park. Here we found White-crowned Sparrows, Northern Flickers, more Hermit Thrushes, and a Brown Thrasher. In the trees was a large group of warblers but the persistent rain and dark sky made them appear to be nothing more but black shadows against gray. A few of them dropped low enough for us to start distinguishing some features. The only non yellow-rumped in the group was an Orange-crowned Warbler. At this location, the most interesting bird was a Wilson’s Snipe that was feeding in some of the puddles in the grass.

Overall, for such a nasty weather day, we had a pretty good time birding. Even so, we were happy to go back home and change into some dry clothes.

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.