Wednesday, May 16, 2018

5-16 May 2018: WARBLERS! IBIS! And a change of plans.

Hello, warblers! So many warblers everywhere! We've had excellent, sustained songbird migration for the past two weeks. Pretty much every day has seen lots of bird activity and, thus, little blogging...

I've added 36 species to my year list and biked about 170 miles (not counting commuting) since I last wrote 12 days ago. FOGY #200 is coming up quickly now!

Despite all my enthusiasm about the warblers, by far the best (rarest) bird was a White-faced Ibis (#166) that I came across on May 6th. Even more remarkable is that it's STILL here 10 days later! Many other local birders have been able to see it, though it ducks in and out of the viewable area of Halfway Creek Marsh. Thus far I have gotten only a horrible photo at midday with tons of thermal distortion, BUT you can tell it's an ibis, anyway! When I first saw it, I had a clear view of the face for a few minutes before it flew away, so I was able to ID it as a White-faced based on the red facial skin where a Glossy would be blueish (they both actually have white on the face, though White-faced has more). I was relieved to relocate it and get SOME kind of photo later that day so I could demonstrate that yes, it really was an ibis. Other birders have since gotten photos that are identifiable to species. The last White-faced Ibis in La Crosse was several years ago, but there have been multiple individuals sighted across Wisconsin this spring. Most of the others, however, have only been present for a day or two before moving on. Our bird flies well and has been feeding in a marsh that is popular with egrets and herons (thus presumably getting plenty of food), so hopefully it is choosing to stay here rather than being stuck here.

Other notable birds have included two gorgeous lifers: Canada Warbler (#182) and Mourning Warbler (#189). My first Canada Warbler was a silent, tailless individual that I spotted during one of the local Audubon walks (but maybe it only counted as 3/4ths of a lifer with no tail!), and I was thrilled to see and hear a few more today. The Mourning Warbler was also silent and a chance encounter as it hopped across the trail, and I picked up several other unusual-for-the-area (but fairly reliable at that spot) species on the same trip to Coulee Experimental Forest.

I've had two days with 22 species of warblers - a different suite of species each time, with a total of 28 warbler species for the year so far. We're seeing unusually good numbers of Cape May Warblers (#162) this year, which is a treat - last year I had only one, on a gray drizzly day, and it was a lifer for me then. This year they're posing all over the place.

Of course, "posing" is a relative term for a warbler. I compiled this typical set of a Blackburnian Warbler (#172) after a frustrating attempt at a decent photo:

But of course, this year my goal is to see/hear as many species as possible - and spending too much time photographing will take time away from building my year list. Some other year I might focus on getting decent photos. For now, I'm just happy if I can get identifiable documentation of unusual birds, like this first-year Black-crowned Night Heron that showed up today. I already had that species on my list after I saw two adults in exactly the same spot, but it's one I easily could have missed this year.

Amongst the warbler and wading-bird madness, we've had a dire lack of shorebirds. Apparently I got spoiled last year, when shorebird numbers were low but diversity was high and constantly turning over in a muddy farm field just 5 miles from my house. A very active local birder told me that last year was the best shorebird year he's seen in 25 years here! So... I might need to give up on local shorebirding for this year, which is sad, because shorebirds are my favorite. A trip to another part of the state for fall migration (late July/early August) might be in order. For you Wisconsin birders: If you were to choose anywhere in the state for fall shorebird migration, where would you go? 

Finally, a quick note on a change of plans. My last post outlined my big plans for a Green Big Day in Trempealeau County that would involve camping nearby before and after. A couple of days before I was going to go, my cat had a medical emergency, so I will not be doing any overnight trips this week. He's recovering well, but I'll feel much better if I'm around to keep an eye on him. Instead, I'll do my Green Big Day around home in La Crosse County, attempting to beat my total of 110 species from last year. It'll still be a great day, with even more detailed strategizing because I'll be visiting all of my favorite local hotspots, and you can still support my Birdathon adventure and the Bird Protection Fund. The big day will be tomorrow (assuming no further emergencies), so stay tuned for a full report after I recover from what is sure to be an exhausting day!

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