Thursday, July 12, 2018

late June/early July: Slow but steady through the summer doldrums

Luckily I've been doing more birding than blogging recently! I'm fully recovered from my brush with Lyme disease and have even managed to find a few FOGYs recently. The weather has been fairly cooperative, with temperatures only occasionally rising above 90 F (which is pretty miserable, as the humidity is also usually high) and few thunderstorms. So far it's been a much more mild summer than last year (my first full year here), which is good, because I hate biking in the heat!

On June 24th I biked a 40-mile loop in search of several species, all of which were fairly long shots. Somewhat unexpectedly, a pair of Purple Martins (#206) flew over on my first stop - they're sparse around here, and I don't know of anyone who has a martin house, so I was glad to finally come across a couple. There was also a rather out-of-season American Wigeon at that marsh - apparently the first-ever June record in eBird for La Crosse County!

Male American Wigeon in eclipse plumage
He's probably taking a post-breeding vacation, or maybe he's a wandering bachelor.

From the marsh, I biked through farmland for 45 min or so. I was hearing Dickcissels everywhere, after barely hearing two a couple weeks prior - that species is one of our latest-arriving breeders.

Distant Dickcissel at New Amsterdam Grasslands
The best bird of that day, also at New Amsterdam Grasslands, was a number of singing Henslow's Sparrows (#207)! Like many grassland species (birds and otherwise), Henslow's Sparrows have been declining, and are listed as a state Threatened species in Wisconsin.

Also distant, but a good bird! Henslow's Sparrow
Henslow's Sparrows had been reported there earlier this year, but I'd missed them when I stopped by on my Green Big Day, so it was great to finally find them.

A few days later, I biked out to Coulee Experimental State Forest (12.5 miles from home). I'd been there a couple times in the spring, including on my Green Big Day, but both visits had been rushed. This time I planned to spend all morning there, and I really enjoyed watching all the breeding activity - it's fledgling season!

Fledgling Chipping Sparrow


I didn't get to see the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker chicks in this cavity, but I sure could hear them! Both parents were busy feeding them.

Fledgling Ruffed Grouse! A whole family spooked up in front of me, and this guy landed very close at eye level. I moved on quietly after snapping this photo.

I also saw, but didn't get a chance to photograph, a little clumsy fledgling Blue-winged Warbler with basically no tail, begging incessantly at its parent; and a very loud and extraordinarily upset female Wild Turkey. I was thrilled to finally get good views of both a male Cerulean Warbler and a female Hooded Warbler - both those species were heard-only lifers for me last year. The female Hooded was acting very suspicious, but didn't offer enough to confirm that she had a nest or chicks. I contributed all my sightings of breeding activity to the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas, which conveniently accepts data through a special eBird portal. 

Oh, and how could I forget? I also heard a Yellow-billed Cuckoo (#208) for my year list - finally!

My most recent trip (July 8th) was a 29-mile ride through some of the same areas that I'd hit on June 24th, still hoping for (but not finding) American Bittern, Red-shouldered Hawk, and Black-billed Cuckoo. But I did come across a Red-headed Woodpecker (#209)! Last year they were around that general area, but they're not necessarily site-faithful from year to year (they follow the acorn crops) and I hadn't come across them yet this year. On that day, I was biking along and glimpsed a bird as it flushed ahead of me on the trail. The bold white secondaries with a black border were pretty unmistakable, but that was about all that I saw, and I hate identifying birds by process of elimination! I moved very slowly past the spot where I'd seen it land... and then out it came, chased by a robin, to perch for a moment in full view, just a few trees down the trail. Alas, it didn't stay long enough for photos, but they sure are gorgeous birds!

That day was the first time in about a month that I'd been bothered by mosquitoes. Small flying insects have been shockingly sparse compared to last year, but we seem to be entering a midsummer peak (which did not happen last year - they peaked in early June and then disappeared in mid/late July). I'm very relieved for the sake of all the birds that are trying to feed their chicks, and maybe start a second nest... but there's a couple of spots on my daily commute where I wouldn't mind having a full face shield!