Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Two weeks later.......

I've started a post several times but something always happens. Hopefully, I'll get this one in. 

Let's start with what I've been up to for the last 2 weeks.  
I attended the WSO Sheboygan field trip where I picked up several species of ducks for the year and finally added Harlequin Duck to my USA list!  Also had a few Glaucous Gulls and 3 Red-throated Loons. 

Fast forward, I birded Columbia County with one of my friends. We quickly discovered that Okee Bay on Lake Wisconsin is an excellent Gull spot right now.  we picked up 6 species of gulls including two of my nemesis gulls.  Iceland and Thayer's!! We also had 3 Lesser Black-backed Gulls among all the Ring-billed and Herring Gulls. We had found a Bonaparte's earlier in the day along with all 5 WI Geese in one field. 

Jump to this past Sat, I and some friends attended the WSO Columbia county trip.  It was a fun trip.  Had about 30 cars in the caravan.  We found all 5 WI Geese and my year American Pipit! 
I had to cut out early, but managed to get back to Okee Bay later in the afternoon where I managed to find my 7th species of Gull for the day!!  I had 1st cycle Iceland, 1st cycle and adult Thayer's, 2nd cycle Glaucous, adult Lesser Black-backed, Ring-billed and Herring all within 5 minutes of each other.  A single winter adult Bonaparte's from earlier in the day provided 7 gulls for the day.  

Had a Richland County Bird and Nature club field trip yesterday. We found a bunch of Ducks at Bakken's pond and both Yellowlegs together.  

Otherwise, nothing too spectacular going on right now.  I've been working on finding a car. Not easy let me tell you. I found a pretty nice Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo, but it had some engine problem. Actually thought it was going to die on me once. Not good for a trip to AZ. 

Anyway, til next time, Happy Birding! 

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Thurs Birding

Last Thurs, I spent the entire day out birding.   

I started out with a chilly sunrise and birded my way across Richland, Sauk, Columbia and Dane Counties.  I flew down County JJ to check the status of the shorebird ponds. Still frozen, but ought to be good in the next few weeks.  Bakken's Pond was mostly frozen but held a Hooded Merganser along with the Canada Geese. 

I then turned west to Arena boat landing where all of my previous visits and hours of searching through a seemingly dead area finally paid off. As I drove in, a single RED CROSSBILL flew over the road!  I finally nailed my Iowa County Nemesis bird!  Then I hopped it over to Sauk City where the VFW park had a small raft of Bufflehead.  

The town of Lodi had a flock of Gulls waaay out on the ice and a small number in close to the road. It was here that I managed to pick out a slightly smaller looking Herring Gull that had a brownish streaked hood.  The Herring Gull next to it had a pure white head.  Then the bird lifted it's wings. Almost no black on the underside of the primaries!!!  Thayer's Gull right? 
I'm not so sure. Despite the fact that the Primaries leaned the ID heavily towards Thayer's, they also provided some points to the contrary.  They were just as jet black on the upper side as the Herring Gull next to it. Definitely inconsistent for Thayer's.  The bird also had a perfect YELLOW eye. Exactly the same color as the Herring Gull next to it.  The legs didn't seem to be much pinker and the mantle was pretty much the same color as the Herring Gull. So was it a Thayer's?  I think not. However, it was not a Herring Gull either. I have arrived at the conclusion that it must have been either a Thayer's or Iceland X Herring Gull.  Therefore not countable on my life list. There goes another of the countless Thayer's that I've proved were not actually Thayer's.  To this day, the only gull I have observed to have no black on it's primaries has been Glaucous.  My challenge to you is to show me a Thayer's Gull (not photos but an actual bird I can observe) and prove that it's a pure Thayer's Gull.  I will bet that 80% of the time, I can find inconsistencies with a Thayer's ID, therefore proving that the bird is not a Thayer's Gull.  I sincerely wish that the AOU would just save all of us a lot of trouble and lump the bird back in with Herring Gull like they did the first time around.  It would also save me a lot of trouble proving that the "Thayer's" I'm looking at is actually something else. 

People seem to take the Thayer's ID for granted. Personally, I think it's much harder than anyone thinks and I certainly wouldn't take the word of anyone except the country's top birders that the bird they're looking at is a Thayer's.  There's just too much variation in gulls in general for the ID to be called "easy." 

Anyway, then I headed out to Whalen Grade where I picked up a Trumpeter Swan. Then I took a spin through Columbia County to check out Harvey Rd and Goose Pond. Nothing. All frozen and empty.  
Fish Camp Park on Lake Kegonsa held what I had been looking for all day. Around 50 Greater White-fronted Geese stood out on the ice!  Also had 3 beautiful Mute Swans and a whole slew of Ducks.  

After attending a concert in Madison, I headed home. Not a bad day. 63 species including my long sought for White-fronted Geese.  They were there. Just hiding farther downriver than I'd been looking. 

Happy Birding! 

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Sax-Zim Bog trip Pt 2: Hoary Redpoll

Almost forgot to add this. :D

We were at Morse's feeders on Blue Spruce Rd on Sun morning watching the feeders.
All of a sudden, I noticed a much lighter bird among the large flock of Common Redpolls. Libby noticed it at the same time and said "Check out that one Redpoll, it's lighter than the others."

I said "I know, I was just looking at that."

A closer inspection proved that the bird sported a small, conical bill, very light flank streaking, a rosy wash over the chest and a perfect, white rump.
It took only a few minutes to prove that my suspicions were correct.
"That's a Hoary Redpoll!!!" I yelled to the others. They quickly got on it and agreed. We quickly snapped a few photos and then took time to observe the bird closely and make sure every field mark was correct.

Note the white rump

very little streaking


It was a lifer for all of us and one we had really wanted on this trip. 
It was one awesome weekend! 

Happy Birding! 

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Sax-Zim Bog trip report

Sax-Zim Bog. A birder's mecca for boreal birds. Every winter, this is the place birders from around the country go to see such boreal specialties as Great Gray Owl, Northern Hawk-Owl, Boreal Chickadee, Pine Grosbeak, Bohemian Waxwing and Boreal Owl.

4 of my birding friends and I made the trip for the first time this past weekend.  
We all stayed over at Alex's house on Fri night and then awoke at 4am on Sat morning to make the 7 hour drive to the bog.  After stopping a few times for food, to gas up and to buy a map, we made it to the bog at around 11am. We immediately started off our weekend with a stop at Morse's feeders on Blue Spruce Rd where we picked up our first year birds and lifers of the trip. These Evening Grosbeaks were my first year birds of the weekend:

Year bird #2 came in the form of this Red-breasted Nuthatch!  A bird that I had been unable to find anywhere in Southern Wisconsin:

The feeders were completely swarmed with Redpolls.  This photo represents about 1/8 of the entire flock:
After checking through each Redpoll and failing to find a Hoary, we continued around the loop to see what else we could find.  As I drove down the road (I happened to be driving at the time) I spotted a rather chunky reddish bird hiding a few feet back in the thick spruces by the side of the road. I slammed on the brakes (thank goodness we weren't going very fast) and yelled PINE GROSBEAK!!!!    I pished a couple times and the birds flew out into the open. Well, almost open anyway.........
Stupid branch........

Would have been the most spectacular photos of a male Pine Grosbeak ever!  
And it was my lifer Grosbeak!!!
It was also the only male Pine Grosbeak we saw.
Oh well, next time.......

Did manage to get a nice shot of a female though:

Then we headed up to McDavitt Rd in search of the two species of woodpeckers that frequently inhabit the tamarack bog. Black-backed and Three-toed.  Once again, we failed miserably. We did find this highly inquisitive Gray Jay though. Another cool year bird for me:

We then drove to the North end of McDavitt and turned back south on Admiral Rd. It was an interesting drive since Admiral was still snow-covered.  We managed to make it down to the feeding station though.  There were many Redpolls around including this possible female Hoary:

Note the whitish rump:

And small, rather conical bill:

and light streaking:
Whether it is a Hoary or not though, would take DNA testing.  After consulting some experts, we just left the bird as Redpoll Sp. 

Now this bird, is a Male Common Redpoll:

and a bright one at that!

Then, the bird we were waiting for flew in:

Boreal Chickadee!! 
My second lifer of the day and the trip. 

He posed quite nicely for us. I highly doubt that I'll ever get better photos. 

This Common Redpoll also posed quite nicely:

Another stunning male:

This is what having a camera that will shoot 6.5 frames/sec will get you: 

Then we headed down to Arkola Rd where we found a few more female Pine Grosbeaks

They also posed quite well:

We called it quits for the day and headed back.  As I was driving back (yea, I drove for the entire afternoon) at about 50mph, I spotted some largish birds out of the corner of my eye sitting in a bush a few feet off the ground.  I spun the car into a U-turn and headed back. I was quite pleased to find 4 Ruffed Grouse sitting in the bush. Another year bird for me and a lifer for some of the others!  Rather evil looking bird eh? lol 

Day 2, Sax-Zim Bog!  

We started off the day with a 2 hour stop at Morse's feeders where I got another shot of this Red-breasted Nutcatch:

I then spent some time photographing Redpolls.  This one didn't seem to like the cold snow and preferred hovering above it:

This guy came to check me out:
That's what you call a Common Redpoll at 4 feet. :D 

This rather light Common Redpoll perched perfectly on a stick to have his photo taken:

Mr Nuthatch was very photogenic: 

Amazingly, the birds let us get super close. Even the Grosbeaks after a while.  This adult male Evening Grosbeak let me get within about 5 feet of him:

The girls managed to get a bit closer.........

Yea, Abbey has better Redpoll photos than the rest of us put together.......

Then we headed on up to McDavitt Rd to look for the woodpeckers again.  
When we got to the spot, we pulled up in front of a black pickup truck that looked vaguely familiar.  We hopped out and started to enter the woods when all of a sudden from in the woods a voice called "Chris?"  Chris West?"  I stopped dead, completely surprised and called back "yea, who's there?"  
The voice called back "Jackson."   Almost at a loss for words at our good luck, I called "Dan Jackson?"   Dan is a birder from La Crosse, WI who I have known for around 3 years now. We've birded together off and on over the years.  Of all the people I could run into in the bog, I hadn't expected him at all.  "Lucky we ran into him though" I thought. "Dan's a good birder and knows what he's doing."  

After introducing everyone, I asked Dan if he'd seen anything. He replied that he'd just seen a female Black-backed Woodpecker about a 1/2 mile down the road and offered to take us there. Naturally, we couldn't refuse an offer to show us a life bird, so off we went.  
We drove down, hopped out, Dan listened for a second and then headed off into the woods. We eagerly followed.  He stopped about 100yds in a pointed. Perched near the base of a Tamarack, was this female Black-backed Woodpecker:

After thanking Dan for the lifer, he headed off in search of his nemesis bird. Three-toed Woodpecker. 

We hung back and enjoyed the Black-backed a bit longer:

Then we walked back out to the car and drove down to thank Dan again for showing us the bird. Before we could do so however, he told us he had just found a Male Black-backed Woodpecker. Naturally, we wanted to see that too, so Dan told us to just follow his tracks in the snow. 

We drove down the road about 200yds, found Dan's tracks and walked in a little ways and stopped to listen.  I quickly picked up the tap tap tapping of the woodpecker as it worked a tree a short distance back into the bog.  We walked back a bit farther til the tapping was right in front of us. Then Abbey said "There!"  and she pointed to the base of a nearby Tamarack.  There, working hard to strip the tree of it's bark, was the male Black-backed:

He was very cooperative and allowed us to get within about 8 feet of him. 

After the show was over, we decided to head south and east in search of Hawk-Owls.  
We had just made it to the south end of McDavitt when Dan came tearing up in his truck, screeched to a halt next to us and mouthed something through the window while pointing over his shoulder excitedly. Figuring it was something good, we rolled down the window.   Dan yelled "Male Three-toed Woodpecker!!!!"  He didn't have to say anything more. We spun the car into a U-turn and raced after him up the road.   We got to the location, screeched to a halt and jumped out. Dan's son who was with him and had been "babysitting" the bird, pointed to a nearby Tamarack and said "there."  

This bird didn't allow quite the views that the Black-backed did, but it was good enough to tell what it was.  Another lifer for all of us. My 5th of the trip!! 

Without Dan's help, there was no way we would have found either woodpecker. 
Thanks a million Dan!!!!!!

We finally headed off in search of Hawk-Owls.  We had heard of a road that had had at least 3 separate birds reported on it in the last couple days so we started there.  We arrived at Melrude Rd at about 1:45pm and began cruising up and down.  At about 2:30ish, I finally spotted a Hawk-Owl through the trees, perched at the back of an aspen stand. We slid to a halt and hopped out. The moment we did so though, the Owl flew off.  I was the only one who had gotten a decent enough look to ID it.   

We kept cruising around a bit longer and about 20 mins later, I spotted a telltale shape at the top of a tree.  I yelled "Hawk-Owl! Stop!! Backup!!" 
This time the bird allowed me to put a scope on it. I managed to pick out a telltale black patch on it's side among the overall greyishness of the bird before it flew. I glanced up and watched it fly down into the undergrowth. Something wasn't quite right. Then it clicked.  "Did you see how that flew??" I asked. "It was a friggin Shrike!!" 

I managed to get a photo of the miscreant Shrike in question. 
The shape is rather similar at long range, but the tail is too long, the posture is wrong and the head is a little small.   We started to head back to the highway. 

On the way out, Alex asked if we should turn down Lindstrom Rd just for the heck of it.  We all agreed.  It was the best decision we made during the entire weekend. 
We pulled up to where the road made a sharp lefthand turn and a cat ran across someone's driveway in front of us. Abbey said "hey, look at the cat."  Fortunately though, Luke's and Alex's eyes were not on the cat, but on something a little farther away. Alex was the first to recognize what it was and yelled "HAWK-OWL!!!!" 
We piled out of the car and set up our scopes. Sure enough, there sat a beautiful Northern Hawk-Owl:

We only managed to get within about 300yds without trespassing too badly so my photos are a little fuzzy, but there it is:

It was my 6th lifer of the trip and easily the best bird of the weekend. A lifer for all of us!!  
After watching the highly cooperative bird for about half an hour, we decided not to push our luck any farther and to call it quits and head home.   
We had a grand total of about 27 species for the entire weekend, but what awesome species they were!! and what awesome photo ops!!!  
Add on the beautiful (albeit cold!) weather we had and you couldn't ask for a better way to spend a weekend with friends. :D 

Happy Birding!