The weather on Sat proved quite miserable for birders, but made for fantastic birding!
Temps hovered in the upper 40s and at times, it rained sideways instead of down, but the birding was good. Pheasant Branch in Madison proved a little bit productive with my FOY Gray Catbird, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and Black & White warbler. After running into Mike McDowell and finding out that he was headed to Stricker's pond after an excellent list for the morning by Marty Pfeiffer, we soon followed. We quickly found Mike on the trail at Stricker's. He had just seen a Winter Wren and had found an Osprey sitting out in the open. After seeing the osprey, we continued on down the trail with Mike. Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers put on a show for us and my FOY Palm Warbler soon followed. We laughed as we watched a Sandhill Crane stalk into someone's back yard. Several species of ducks and a Green Heron also put on an appearance. On the other end of the pond, we found a Northern Waterthrush lurking in the bushes. In all, a decent day despite the miserable weather.
Sunday was not a whole lot better in terms of weather. I birded through Columbia County but found only a flock of Bonaparte's Gulls. Fisher Rd just north of Ashton Corners in Dane county proved a good spot, with Am Golden Plovers, 4 Black-crowned Nightherons and a Sora.
I later found out that 2 American Avocets and a Willet had been found the next day.
I birded all the way north to Buena Vista Marsh where I picked up my FOY Tennessee Warbler! Rather early for them I thought since they're a later migrant. I spent the night in a small RV camp just outside of Bancroft, WI. Sleeping in one's car is not the most comfortable, but it's cheaper than a hotel. I arose at 10 minutes til 4 on Monday morning (which is early. Even for a birder) and drove the 10 minutes down the road to the meeting site for the NRF field trip that took place that day. We met at 4:15 and were out in the blinds by 4:30am, waiting for the Prairie Chickens to show up. Right around 5am, a Greater Yellowlegs flew over and then about 15 minutes later, a lone Short-eared Owl winged it's way past! This was only the second time I'd ever seen one. As if on cue, at precisely 5:30am, 11 Greater Prairie Chickens flew in to the Lek and set about their business. Surprisingly, this was a new state bird for me.
Cramped inside the tiny blinds, we watched and photographed the Prairie Chickens for the next hour and a half. During that time, a pair of N Harriers flew in a scared up the chickens a couple times, but they always came back. I also spotted a Rough-legged Hawk in the distance. Right around 7am, an Upland Sandpiper called! Adding yet another bird to my year list.
We left the blinds shortly thereafter. Too stiff and cramped to stay any longer. When we got back to the cars, our leader said he had one more thing to show us. After a short drive through the now well lit grasslands, he stopped, got out and pointed to a field. Standing in the field, were 3 beautiful Whooping Cranes!! This was by far the closest I'd ever been to one. The ones I've seen at Necedah have always been at a distance. After spending about half an hour watching them (safely of course, without spooking them) we drove back to the meeting place where the leaders had morning refreshments ready and answered all our questions.
I then birded my way back home. Surprisingly, I found nothing unusual. Actually, very little at all. Best bird was a Spotted Sandpiper in a fluddle.
All in all, it was a good weekend! Til next time, happy birding!