Saturday, January 27, 2018

27 January 2018: Lovely day on the prairie

Today's lovely weather was a welcome change from the past week! After last weekend's thaw, we got a whole lot of rain on Monday. Then it got cold, the rain froze, and we got a couple inches of snow. Needless to say, the roads (and bike paths, etc) were a mess and I was glad for my studded tires. Then we got another thaw over the past couple of days. By today, the roads were completely clear, but anything that hadn't been well plowed and/or salted looked a bit like a slowly melting glacier. But it was sunny, ~40 F, with a light breeze - beautiful day to be out.

On the ride out this morning, I biked through some farmland and was excited to hear a Horned Lark (#34) singing. Not a bird I was worried about missing this year, but sometimes you can find Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs flocking with Horned Larks. I stopped to take a good look around, but only saw a couple of singing - and then fighting - larks. I ended up hearing Horned Larks in several places today, all out in the wet, thawing fields, apparently starting to lay claim to their breeding territories (they're early breeders, though I doubt they'll start nesting quite yet). So there was probably little hope of any of the larks being part of a multi-species flock with anything more exciting.

Very soon after the lark, I noticed a large dove sitting on a power line above the road. It was big and chunky, with a squared-off tail - not the right shape for a Mourning Dove. As I biked under it, I got a clear view of the black line at the back of the neck - it was a Eurasian Collared-Dove (#35). It obligingly sang as I continued on my way, nothing like a Mourning Dove - "good MOOORNing, good MOOOORNing.." as my four-year-old nephew would render it.

That's a "good" bird for here in that it is rare, though I knew of a couple spots where I could almost certainly find some this year. But it's hard to think of any invasive species as a "good" bird. Eurasian Collared-Doves were introduced to the Bahamas about 40 years ago, made their way to Florida a few years later, and have been spreading northwestward ever since. Wisconsin is probably on the edge of their ideal climate, but that's changing too, and Eurasian Collared-Doves are now breeding here (usually around farmsteads, from what I've seen) and becoming more common.

I continued on up to the New Amsterdam Grasslands, a property of the Mississippi Valley Conservancy and probably the largest patch of prairie remaining around here. There's a trail around the rather convoluted perimeter of the parcel of land, but most of it is closed when birds are breeding to protect their nests from disturbance. It looks like the property is a series of old fields, and there are still trees and shrubs along where the old fence lines must have been. Most of those trees are some kind (several kinds?) of fruiting tree - really impressive in the fall when the berries were fresh and bright and multicolored. Now they're all shriveled and dark red, but the birds still love them.

As I'd expected, there was a moderately large flock of Cedar Waxwings (#36) feeding on the berries. I wanted to pick through them for a Bohemian (rare throughout Wisconsin - there's only a small chance I will find one this year), but they were flighty, possibly because of a Cooper's Hawk that I glimpsed later. The sun was in my favor while they were flying around, so I got a good look at as many bellies and undertail coverts as I could - all Cedars, as far as I could tell. A couple of American Robins (#37) were also enjoying the bounty (yes, robins do overwinter in Wisconsin, and even farther north!).

Lots of American Tree Sparrows in the grassland, too - they do usually
hang out in trees or shrubs, but typically in fairly open habitats.

On the way back, I swung through Brice Prairie to check a field that had hosted five Snowy Owls in December. No owls today; they haven't been reported for a while so it's possible they've moved on. Given today's weather, they might have headed north to get out of the heat! 

24 miles biked, 2.5 miles walked; 4 FOGYs and a total of 24 species for the morning.

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