Sunday, January 21, 2018

21 January 2018: A bit of open water and... a bat!?

We've finally warmed up a bit, but had some extraordinarily thick fog this morning! I waited for it to clear a bit and headed down to the river this afternoon. I live "on the river" but the section here is called Lake Onalaska for a reason. The whole Mississippi River has so many locks and dams that much of it is hardly free-flowing. Thus, much of it ices up for much of the winter. With our recent cold snap, it's been pretty solid close to home.

A bit farther south, though, there's a narrower channel that flows a bit more and thus stays open in a couple of spots. I didn't expect to see a lot of birds there, but there was only one way to be sure! I biked to Riverside Park in La Crosse and worked my way south for a few miles from there. Riverside Park is home to about 250 Mallards, which were there looking for handouts - but there was something else out in the water, too. It was a lone Common Goldeneye (#32) that had just caught a fish and was being chased in circles around a small patch of open water by a gang of hungry Mallards! The goldeneye finally managed to swallow the fish, which was large enough to pose a challenge. 

The other FOGY (that's "First of Green Year") of the day was a juvenile Cooper's Hawk (#33). I was unknowingly right next to the hawk when I arrived at the park and stopped to put on some warmer layers. I saw the hawk when it hopped over a few branches to maintain a more comfortable distance, though it's clearly used to being around people at the park, as it quickly seemed to forget about me. I still made sure not to linger after snapping a couple of quick photos, as birds that appear unconcerned might still be experiencing stress.

Juvenile Cooper's Hawk
Other interesting sightings included an American Kestrel plucking a starling while the rest of the starling flock (several hundred) wheeled in figure eights overhead; two river otters; and a bat! A bat, out flying around in broad daylight in January! It was flitting around over a small patch of open water next to a culvert, swooping down for drinks of water. My first thought was that the poor thing must be suffering from white-nose syndrome, which can interfere with hibernation in bats (not a good thing). But then it disappeared into the culvert, and I realized it might be hibernating in there and just woke up to get a drink on a relatively nice day - something that, I've heard, hibernating bats regularly do. I thought they usually chose to hibernate in caves that had some standing water inside, but maybe a culvert is close enough.

So, not a particularly birdy trip (14 species over 20 miles), but it was definitely nice to be out and not freezing to death! (Funny how balmy 34 F can feel after a cold snap - especially with no wind.) It was also a treat to ride on normal tires - I've been commuting on my studded tires for the past couple of weeks, and they are SLOW, and pushing them over the road is hard work (because of the studs, the knobby tread, and the extra weight versus my mostly-slick touring tires). I'm grateful for the studs when there's ice on the road, but today the snow had melted off the roads and nearly all the bike paths, so normal tires were fine. The ride today reminded me that biking is supposed to feel like freedom!

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