Sunday, December 7, 2008

Devil's Lake State park

Balanced Rock, Devil's Lake SP

Wow. I actually missed a day! Ok, need to work on that.  Didn't do too much anyway. Went on an un-successful search for a Thayer's or Iceland Gull.  I met Steve Thiessen at Olin park in Madison and we systematically searched out every group of gulls in the area and subsequently failed to find anything other than Ring-billed and Herring Gulls. 

Now, on to today.  I arrived at Devil's Lake State park at about 8:30am (slightly later than I wanted to). Devil's Lake is a great place in the spring and summer. Residents include Winter Wren, Black&White Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush and several other species. In spring and fall, one can usually find numerous waterfowl and Common Loons on the lake.  
The question for winter though is what is there to see?  All the migrants are gone, the summer residents have left and the lake is frozen.  So why Devil's Lake in winter? 
The answer lies in a certain bird that normally lives North of Lake Superior and west of the Great Plains. 

Townsend's Solitaire. 
Myadestes townsendii

A bird of the family Turdidae (Thrushes) Solitaires have a breeding range that stretches along the Rocky Mountains from Alaska to Mexico.  Most Solitaires winter only just downslope from their breeding territory but a few winter east of the Mississippi each year.  A small population of wintering Solitaires have been seen at Devil's Lake SP for many years now (I don't know the exact number).  
They are called Solitaires because of their secretive behavior (and therefore presumably solitary; although not really). The scientific name Myadestes townsendii means "Townsend's Fly-eater" (from the Greek "Mua" meaning fly and "Edestes" meaning "eater". Similarly, Myiarchus means "Fly Ruler.") 

This morning, I spent about 3 hours searching for this bird. In past years, my searches have been fruitless.  This time, I carefully picked a day that was forecast to have very light winds. The key to finding Solitaires at Devil's Lake is to go on a calm day. 
When I arrived, I was pleased and surprised to find it almost dead calm.  After walking the base of the cliff without luck, I resigned myself to climbing the cliff (roughly 500ft straight up icy rocks covered in 4" of snow). About a third of the way up, I heard two Solitaires calling further up the hill.  Unfortunately, the trail took me in the opposite direction and by the time I got to the are where I had heard them, they were nowhere to be found. 
So I can finally count my WI nemesis bird on my state list, albeit heard only.  I'll see them one of these days. 

Until then, 

Happy Birding! 

P.S. The above photo of the Townsend's Solitaire was taken in Banff National park this past summer.  Since I did not see today's birds, I (obviously) cannot provide a photo. Next time perhaps. 

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