Tag Archives: Wisconsin Birding

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.

P1330602
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.

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Retzer Nature Center in October

I went to Retzer Nature Center to check on the migrant bird activity. Just about all of the summer birds have officially cleared out and the birds of fall and winter have taken over. I started by walking the blue trail to the pond where Blue Jays were flying back and forth over the trail. The American Goldfinches that frequent the area have all transitioned to their drab colors. There were sparrows rustling in the tall grasses but none of them sat up high enough to actually make an identification.

Field Sparrow
Field Sparrow

I continued onto the green trail that goes past the tractor lane and into the forest. At the forests entrance there were three remaining Field Sparrows. As I entered the tree line I could see a lot of small birds flitting around. They turned out to all be Yellow-rumped Warblers. Further on the Green Trail I encountered a few American Robins and a Downy Woodpecker drumming in its usual location. From the woods I made my way to the top of the hill where the tall grasses of summer still remain. However, the bird activity had completely ceased. I did not find a single bird in the areas where the most activity happened earlier in the year.

From the hill I made my way down the tractor trail on the north side of the nature center. Here I encountered more field Sparrows and a group of Palm Warblers. The warblers were staying low in the shrubs but occasionally popped up and gave nice views. Also in the area was a single Ruby-crowned Kinglet moving quickly through the bushes. I moved south into the pines from the tractor lane and here I found the largest collection of birds on the whole nature center. At least 100 American Goldfinches were foraging on seeds from flowers as others were feasting on pine cones along with Black-capped Chickadees. Along with the Goldfinches and Chickadees were some Red-breasted Nuthatches. These birds are irruptive and can sometimes be found with much more regularity than others. I hadn’t seen any at Retzer for at least three years so it was nice to find a few of them again.

American Goldfinch
American Goldfinch

My last bird of the day was also found in the pines. It came in the form of the harbinger of winter: the Dark-eyed Junco. Juncos migrate south to Wisconsin each winter and they are a solid indication that cold weather is on its way.

In all, I tallied a decent amount of species in about an hour and fifteen minutes of birding.

 

Nelson’s Sparrow Vs. LeConte’s Sparrow

During fall migration, birders flock to their favorite weedy fields in search of migratory sparrows. While there are plenty of species to see, two of the birds at the top of the list are Nelson’s Sparrows and LeConte’s Sparrows. Both the Nelson’s and the LeConte’s are Ammodramus sparrows, perfectly at home skulking around in tall grasses and often only visible when flushed. Since these sparrows are quick moving and elusive, it’s important to know the key points to look for in order to make a positive ID.

At First Glance

A birder walks through a field of tall grass when suddenly a small bird kicks up for two seconds only to disappear back into the thick foliage. Was that a Nelson’s or LeConte’s Sparrow? Or was it something else entirely? Knowing some things to look for in a situation like this can narrow it down a bit. Both Nelson’s and LeConte’s have  a compact appearance with a short, worn looking tail. They also have notable orange features on their face that most other birds lack. For Nelson’s, their dark gray coloration on their cheeks and nape can be seen even in flight. For LeConte’s, their buffy color and brighter orange is notable.

Nape Color

When perched or relatively stationary, some ID points separating Nelson’s and LeConte’s Sparrows become more evident. One such feature is the nape. The nape of a Nelson’s Sparrow is solid gray. LeConte’s Sparrows have a pinkish brown nape with noticeable chestnut streaking. This may sound like a tiny detail, but when looking at the two images below, the contrast is easily visible.

Facial Colors

Some of the most striking features of the Nelson’s and LeConte’s Sparrows are their unique colors and patterns on their faces. Both species have orange on their face, but the Nelson’s orange is deeper and darker than the LeConte’s which is lighter and brighter. In addition, the same deep gray color on the nape of the Nelson’s Sparrow is also found on it’s ear patch. LeConte’s Sparrows also have an ear patch, but it is much lighter in color sometimes bordering on tan.

Head Stripe

Out of all the distinguishing features between these two sparrows, the most reliable may be the stripe of the top of their head. Nelson’s Sparrows have a dark gray head stripe while LeConte’s Sparrows have much lighter white or cream colored stripes.

These birds can be tricky to identify in the field in large part to their skulky and elusive nature. With these tips it may be a bit easier to discern the two species. Armed with knowledge, start checking damp, weedy fields to see if you can find one of these migratory birds!

 

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.

 

Brothertown Cattle Egrets

Last Wednesday while staying on the west side of Lake Winnebago, Derek and I decided  to take the half hour trip around the lower part of the lake to look for Cattle Egrets. Cattle Egrets technically are not considered rare for this part of the state but they can be tough to find some years.Fortunately, our girlfriends also agreed to join us in our search.

We turned onto lake shore drive where most of the sightings occur and almost immediately spotted a single Cattle Egret in a grassy field to the north of the road. It seemed to be content to sit by the small creek running through grass. We spent some time watching it and listening to a calling Eastern Wood-Peewee before moving on to see if we could find more.

Cattle Egret
Cattle Egret

We continued down the road in the direction of some large groups of cows hoping we could find egrets following close behind. We struck out on more egrets but we did find a field with about 200 Ring-billed Gulls and a weird looking hawk that was most likely a juvenile Red-tailed.

We were about to turn around and head back when my girlfriend Bri (aka the worlds greatest egret spotter) noticed some small white shapes in the distance way off to the south east. We immediately got excited when we noticed a crass street that could take us right next to where this group of egrets were. We became even more excited when we saw 12 of them all at close range associating with the cattle.

Cattle Egrets
Cattle Egrets

We had a great time watching them lurk around the cattle and pick insects and other items up from the weeds. Occasionally they would take flight and relocate further down the field, but they would always return to the cows.

Cattle Egret
Cattle Egret in tall grass

It’s always hard to rip yourself away from cool birds but we wanted to give them some space so we took off back to the house on the west side of the lake feeling great about our close up sighting.

Horicon Marsh In August

Derek and I met up at Horicon Marsh to see if we could find any cool wetland birds before they head south for the winter. We started out at Marsh Haven Nature Center to look around a bit before venturing into the marsh. We saw a juvenile Chipping Sparrow at the feeders and the usual Purple Martins chattering above the Martin houses.

Next, we started on the Auto Tour loop. I thought the loop could take us an hour or maybe an hour and a half if we walked some of the trails. We were breezing through it as the first pond contained a few ducks and some Great Egrets. However, when we got to Old Marsh Road we got out and started walking the trail east.

Great Egret
Great Egret

We immediately saw some common birds such as Northern Cardinals and American Goldfinches. after a few hundred yards onto the road we started seeing usual marsh suspects such as Pied-Billed Grebes and Wood Ducks. These were two of the most numerous species on the trail. In the watery areas to the north we located more Wood Ducks and an American Coot family with parents and young. Farther down we heard the call of a Virginia Rail that we were unfortunately never able to get a visual of. All the while, Marsh Wrens made their clattering noise from the tall reeds.

Pied-Billed Grebe
Pied-Billed Grebe

We continued on and came to the only shaded spot on the trail where we took a minute to relax before continuing. From this location east, the water opened up more and we saw gulls and American White Pelicans and a family of Common Gallinules. We were hoping to see a Least Bittern in this area as I saw one there last year. We got excited for a second as a small bird took off from the shoreline nearest to us and headed out to the opposite bank but it turned out to be one of three Spotted Sandpipers in the vicinity.

American White Pelicans
American White Pelicans

We turned the corner of the trail and went south for a short while. Suddenly, a small heron-like bird flew across the trail directly in front of us. It was a Least Bittern! It reached the reed line and vanished completely. I was able to get a blurry photo of its back but that was it.

From there we continued to follow the road when it turned east again and revealed drying mud flats. Canada Geese and Killdeer were numerous in this location and it was the best shorebird habitat we had seen to that point. there was a large flock of peeps that flew low over the mud but basically disappeared from our view somewhere out in the mud where we couldn’t see them. We happened upon several Least Sandpipers and a Stilt Sandpiper close to the path. Out in the tall grass was a weird looking bird that seemed to ungracefully walk through the weeds. At first I thought it was another Stilt Sandpiper but it turned out to be a non breeding plumage Wilson’s Phalarope. I had never seen one out of the water before so it was a unique experience for me.

Wilson's Phalarope

We figured it was time to head back to the car since we’d already spent about an hour and a half on Old Marsh Road Alone. On the way we stopped and scanned for the Least Bittern. Derek was able to pick it out on the opposite shore (an impressive feat). This was the first time we were ever able to get a recognizable photo of one before even though it was long range. We also noticed a few Yellow-Headed Blackbirds on the way back. Most of them seemed to have moved on already so we were happy to find a few left.

Least Bittern
Least Bittern

After a long walk back we cruised through the rest of the auto tour and headed over to 49. We stopped near a parched Double-Crested Cormorant and were flagged down by another birder. They pointed out four Trumpeter Swans extremely close to the road. This was the Trumpeter Swan family that people had been watching all year with two adults and two cygnets. They seemed to have no worries about people being within 20 feet of them. Also on 49 were several Black Terns and Swamp Sparrows.

Trumpeter Swan
Trumpeter Swan

With it starting to get late in the day we made our last stop at Point Road which is the other end of Old Marsh Road. We were hoping to see some Black-Necked Stilts the had been reported their earlier but we had no luck. There were some Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs but otherwise, the shorebirds were few and far between. The highlight of this location was a Sora that popped out at close range for a few minutes. These birds aren’t rare but they are elusive and tough to get a good look at.

Sora
Sora

In all, our trip was a success finding the Least Bittern and the Wilson’s Phalarope along with some of the usual suspects. We may be making another trip or two out there as summer turns into fall and more shorebirds come through, assuming some habitat develops.