Saturday, January 20, 2018

8-18 January 2018: A few surprises, a few misses

The past week or two I've done a few relatively short trips and some incidental birding around my commute to work. We got some snow, which puts a damper on bike-birding when the bike lanes and shoulders don't get plowed! That also means I've been riding my studded tires, which wear out my legs enough on my 14-mile (round-trip) commute to work every day - I'm not particularly motivated to bike long distances on them. I'm hoping that winter passes by quickly and we might not have to deal with cold and snow for much longer (though probably longer than last year, when spring started in mid February!). My few short outings were unproductive - I tried a few places for Short-eared Owls but those were a long shot, so I wasn't too surprised that I didn't find any.

That being said, I still found a few FOGYs! I picked up a couple of Mallards at one of the research ponds at my office on the 9th, and a Belted Kingfisher over a tiny patch of open water on the 18th, after it started warming up. I'd just biked to work during a glorious sunrise, and headed to the back of the parking lot to try to take a picture of the lovely magenta-orange sky. Unfortunately, my phone camera is completely unwilling to take a reasonable picture of a sunrise, so this dramatically underestimates the glory:

But it got me a kingfisher, anyway! I was sure to find a kingfisher sometime this year, but it was fun to find one at a time when they are relatively scarce. 

The best FOGY was entirely unexpected. I mentioned in my last post that something good flew over while I was out taking pictures of my pogies. They were Red Crossbills! That species has really irrupted into Wisconsin this year and people have been seeing them everywhere... except La Crosse. No reports yet. Of course I was keeping a sharp eye/ear out, and I had seen/heard dozens (hundreds?) during a weekend trip to the Northwoods last month (not by bike) to help tune my ear to them. I'd taken a bunch of recordings then on my cell phone and had an expert ID them to type, which was pretty fun. All the "types" of Red Crossbills look identical, but they have distinct call notes that can definitively separate them into types if you have a recording. Two of those types have recently been found to be separate species, and others might well be separated in the future.

Anyway, knowing that Red Crossbills (RECR) were on the move, I'd been hoping to find them here. Of course, when I'm hoping to see/hear a bird, it's pretty well guaranteed that I will see/hear it - or at least think that I have. Knowing that, I've been very careful about not falsely identifying some other bird as a RECR just because I'm looking for RECR. I thought I heard a RECR fly over during the CBC last month, but was not sure enough to count it (and that was before the Northwoods trip so my ID skills for the species were rusty). Then last week I was nearly certain that I saw/heard three fly over while I was biking out of the parking lot at work, but I had to pay attention to traffic and lost them, and wasn't quite sure enough to report them without further confirmation. But then when I heard a few fly over my house on the 15th, there was no room for doubt. Definite RECR, classic "jip jip" calls, sounding something like a Type 2 - I would not try to definitively ID them to type without a recording, but Type 2 sounds nothing at all like anything else I might hear around here. In contrast, Type 3 sounds a bit like a Common Redpoll to me, so there would be room for confusion if that's what it sounded like. 

So it would still be nice to get a good look at one, but heard-only is enough to put them on my list! I'd started to wonder if RECR would show up in La Crosse at all this year. I certainly never expected to hear them in my neighborhood, where there is a grand total of two pine trees (and those might not even be red pine, which are the preferred food of RECR). But anything can turn up anywhere, especially as a quick fly-by like these.


  1. Now of course I think I'm hearing crossbills...but of course...they're not. We think we're going to do a night fatbike ride on the bike trail tonight. It'd be great if some owls spoke up!

    1. Ha, I hope you hear/see some real ones soon! (Or anyone else, before I convince myself that I was imagining those ones too...) Owls were one of the hardest groups for me to find last year - barely managed a Great Horned for La Crosse County - probably because I'm not very nocturnal myself. =) Good luck!