Thursday, August 16, 2018

4-8 Aug: Big trip part 5 (and last)

Day 9

I left Horicon Marsh feeling rested and satisfied with all the FOGYs I'd gotten there. I almost decided to just bike straight home, partly because there weren't many more species I could realistically expect to find on the rest of the loop... but also because I wanted to minimize my chances of something happening to prevent me from biking all the way home! It would be a shame to have all my green efforts canceled out if I had to get a ride due to major bike breakdown or injury.

But completing the loop didn't add a whole lot of distance in the context of what I'd already biked, so I decided to head north. From the north end of Horicon, I took quiet roads and the Mascoutin Valley State Trail to a random campground that was conveniently placed. The campground turned out to be more like a vacation resort, or even a small village! Lots of what appeared to be permanent residents, pool, mini-golf, even an air-conditioned bar! I was glad to hear they had one "wilderness site" tucked in the woods at the edge of the property. With my bike to help me get around the campground, I didn't mind being far removed from the showers and water. This was the second night that it rained a fair bit; I'd learned the first time (which I think I forgot to write about) that my trailer cover is less waterproof than it used to be, so this time I wrapped my tarp around it and all stayed dry.

58 miles today; no FOGYs.

Day 10

By morning, it had stopped raining, but there was rain in the forecast, so I put the tarp inside the trailer (over my stuff - under the trailer cover) and put my wet tent and laundry inside a garbage bag in the trailer. Turned out I didn't have another drop of rain, though!

Today I biked northwest through ag fields and tracts of prairie, visiting Leola Marsh State Wildlife Area and Buena Vista Grasslands (BVG). Based on what Google told me, I thought BVG was one tiny parcel of land. eBird doesn't load very well on a mobile device, so I didn't try to check where the hotspots were - but I should have! Turns out BVG is a multitude of parcels, some much larger than others, across a wide area. I happened to bike past several of them. It was the middle of the day and getting hot as the cloud cover burned off, so I wasn't surprised that I didn't see the Upland Sandpipers or Greater Prairie-Chickens I was hoping for. There were some nice bits of prairie, though!

Buena Vista Grasslands (one parcel of many)

This was basically the worst time of year to try to look for prairie-chickens, but it was worth swinging past while I was (relatively) in the area!
BUT, I did get two FOGYs today! The route I biked happened to take me past a cattle pasture where there were no trees and the grass was cropped short. Several Western Meadowlarks (#227) were singing there! This is one of the few places in Wisconsin where you can reliably find them, so I was very happy to add the species to my year list. Then, as I approached Wisconsin Rapids, I stopped at a birdy patch of forest to listen (that road was super quiet) and heard a pair of Common Ravens (#228) cavorting not far away (also added a couple of species to my trip list). Success!

I also saw a bunch of butterflies at the grasslands! A female monarch was ovipositing on young milkweed, so I waited until she left the area and then ran over to take a photo of an egg!

I almost wished I'd brought my macro lens all this way just for this photo... but the pocket camera had to do. Look how tiny it is!

There was also a monarch mimic flying around: the viceroy butterfly. The stripe across the hindwing is a good field mark to differentiate the two; the viceroy is also considerably smaller.


(Yeah, I know, this is a birding blog... but I would have had a pretty good butterfly list for the trip if I'd kept track, and been better at identifying the little ones!).

Tonight's campground wasn't a resort, but it was crowded and noisy and probably my least favorite of the trip! I'd thought about staying here another day and birding the grasslands again. But I was not at all optimistic about finding Uplands or chickens, and the campground helped make up my mind that I would continue towards home the next day.

53 miles today - mostly flat!

Day 11

Today I biked southwest through Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, hoping to find some Whooping Cranes. I did not find many places to view open areas, and saw no Whoopers (alas). Later I realized that the refuge map I'd downloaded to my phone cut off what probably would have been the best part of the refuge to visit! Well, it's not terribly far from home, so I might make it back there sometime.

Meanwhile, I found more butterflies... In contrast to the monarch and viceroy (different species that look very similar), these two are the same species but they look very different!

White admiral

Red-spotted purple
I was fascinated when I learned these were the same species, and I love the subtle beauty of the red-spotted purple.

I also saw (*gasp*) a bird!

A few Broad-winged Hawks flushed from the side of the road as I biked across the refuge, and this one landed again immediately and seemed unconcerned by my presence (this was the only photo in which it was looking approximately in my direction). Many birds are much more wary of me on a bike than they are of cars, so I never linger long just for the sake of a photograph. The abundant and vicious ankle-biting flies swarming the refuge helped encourage me to move along, too!

I continued south toward my campground for the night, which would be at Mill Bluff State Park. After two days of almost completely flat biking, I knew I was getting close when I saw this!

(With bonus photobombing birds... Any guess as to species?) Unlike at Devil's Lake, I did not have to bike up those bluffs! I might have rather done so, though, as the campground was between the interstate (which apparently never sleeps... constant traffic even at 3:30am??) and the railroad (with a crossing right next door... where they do blow the horn all through the night...), so it vied with last night's crowded mess for worst of the trip. And there were no showers! I'd been so spoiled with hot showers every day except two - much appreciated when covered with road debris and sunscreen. But the weather was still lovely, the bugs weren't bad, and it was my last night on the road, so I still enjoyed it.

61 miles today.

Day 12

Today started with a couple of busy highways in the fog - luckily they had decent shoulders and I had lots of bright flashing lights! I had one good climb, and then it was all downhill toward the Mississippi River. Soon I was back in Sparta and joining up with the La Crosse River State Trail, which took me all the way home very peacefully. 547 miles, 143 species, 18 FOGYs, and yes - not a single flat tire on either the bike or the trailer! My new saddle seems to be finished already (well... new last fall, but now with 2500 miles on it - but a saddle ought to last much longer than that!), but otherwise I was thrilled that my bike and legs did so well for the whole trip. Definitely a fantastic experience overall. Now to plan the next one.....

52 miles today - my fourth day in a row of >50! I was feeling it, but not totally exhausted. I'm sure it would have been a different story with more hills. For future trips, I'll aim for 2-3 days of travel (50-65 miles per day) followed by a low-mileage birding day - unless I manage to get into much better shape before the trip starts, but that would become a serious time commitment!

Monday, August 13, 2018

1-3 Aug: Big trip part 4: Horicon Marsh!

Day 6, 7, and 8

Horicon Marsh - and especially its shorebird habitat - was the primary motivation for this whole trip. Now I was finally there - and it did not disappoint! I started birding on Highway 49, 6 miles from the campground. It's a shame that the highway runs right through prime shorebird habitat, but presumably drivers are used to birders standing on the shoulder (which is decently wide, and you can get well off the pavement onto gravel/grass), because there's usually someone there. 

I quickly added a bunch of FOGYs to my list with the first sweep of my scope: Black-necked Stilt (no scope needed for those!), Short-billed Dowitcher, Long-billed Dowitcher, and Wilson's Phalarope put my green year list at 217. A little more searching turned up an American Black Duck (#218) - and the Red-necked Phalarope (#219) that had been around for a few days! The Red-necked was definitely a nice bird for the area, and she was still in lovely breeding plumage. The sky was overcast, which made for very good viewing conditions - no glare or backlight - but poor photos, so this is the best I got.

That's her in the back - identifiable, if barely, which is better than no photo!

I continued about a quarter mile down the road to another pond on the north side, which I scanned fairly quickly to add Semipalmated Sandpiper (#220) to the list. I was anxious to bird the rest of the refuge, and happy with my shorebird list, so I started back toward the auto tour. On the way, I noticed a new car scoping the area with the Red-necked Phalarope, so I stopped to ask the birder if he'd seen her. I didn't get his name then, but that birder turned out to be Tom Wood, who regularly birds Horicon, and he politely replied that he'd seen her several times this week already! I felt bad for bugging him. But then he asked if I'd seen the Buff-breasted Sandpiper. The what???!?!? Foolishly, I had not checked my birding emails the night before, so I had missed the report that a Buff-breasted was seen here yesterday. Tom described where the bird was - off to the side of the pool that I had just quickly scoped - so I headed back there. And there it was!

Buff-breasted Sandpiper for #221! (That blob at the back right is a Pectoral Sandpiper, which I'd already seen in La Crosse, but it was still fun to see many of them here.) I was so glad I'd stopped to talk to that birder. I had not expected to find either Red-necked Phalarope or Buff-breasted Sandpiper on this trip, so those were very nice bonus birds.

After that, I biked around half of the auto tour, enjoying Henslow's Sparrows, Bobolinks, and various other grassland and forest birds.

Juvenile Bobolink

Female Bobolink
Goofy molty male Bobolink
Seeing Bobolinks in La Crosse required a special trip up to a certain ridge - but here they were all over! Horicon Marsh really does have it all.

Then I biked down Old Marsh Road, a dike that is closed to cars but open to bikes. After the noisy, truck-filled highway, this road was wonderfully quiet and very birdy. Families of Common Gallinules, Marsh Wrens, and Black Terns abounded. 

And what are these goofy-looking birds?

They're young coots!

I also glimpsed a teenage Virginia Rail and no fewer than four Least Bitterns! Who ever sees four Least Bitterns in one day?? I'd heard them in La Crosse but had never before seen one in my life. Here they were just flying around the marsh in plain sight. But what I really needed was an American Bittern, which I did not yet have for my year list, despite many visits to a marsh where I had seen and heard them last year. It was past midday now and I thought about turning around several times, but I ended up biking the full length of Old Marsh Road in hopes of possibly coming across an American Bittern. All those Leasts and not a single American to be found. And then - just before the end of the road - an American Bittern (#223) flushed from the water next to the dike! (Two days later, I spoke with two birders on that road who were fruitlessly looking for a Least Bittern and had already seen four or five Americans!)

At that point, I could either retrace my tracks back to the auto tour, or make a big loop through the rest of the marsh. I also had the potential to ride even farther off that loop to the shorebird spot at the south end of the marsh. I decided to start on the big loop and see how I felt when I got to the point where I could continue for shorebirds. Well, I was quite tired by that point, and it was after 4pm, and I still had 15 miles or so to bike back to the campground, so I skipped the shorebird spot. Then the other dike that I took back across the marsh (Dike Road) turned out to be terrible for biking. The first half is maintained for cars and covered with large, sharp-edged chunks of gravel that make an awful substrate for bikes. The second half is closed to cars, but I discovered that it consists of two tire ruts along the dike, with the ruts sometimes too deep (and certainly too narrow) for my trailer. That ride wasn't much fun, and I was tired, and there were hardly any birds (much less FOGYs)! But if I hadn't done it, I always would have wondered what I might have seen if I had. I biked 45 miles that day (it was supposed to be an easy day!) and got back to camp around 7pm (that's late for me!) and I was exhausted!

The next two days, I went shorebirding in the morning (about 20 miles each day) and rested in the afternoon. On my second day at Horicon (Day 7 of the trip), I added Stilt Sandpiper (#224) and Baird's Sandpiper (#225) to my year list, and helped point out a Wilson's Phalarope to another birder (no sign of the Red-necked just then, but others saw her and the Buffy later that day). The next day (Day 8) I added an American Avocet (#226) on Highway 49, which was a nice surprise, and chatted with a few more birders on the side of the road.

I also tried some more digiscoping while the sun was out. I have yet to get a really nice photo with my digiscoping setup, but at least they're identifiable even when the bird is distant.

Semipalmated Sandpiper showing postbreeding molt
The other Semipalmated - this one a Plover
Least Sandpiper

Nearly-grown Killdeer chick
Then I headed back down Old Marsh Road, where another birder had spotted a couple of Black-bellied Plovers the day before. There were none in sight when I arrived at the mudflats, so I sat down to have lunch, browse through photos, and wait for as long as my patience held, knowing this would likely be my only chance to add this species to my year list. After about an hour, when it was getting really hot out in the sun, I heard one calling as it flew over! Their call is distinctive, and I'm well familiar with it (mainly from working several summers in the Arctic, where they breed)... but I hadn't glimpsed the bird at all, and it was very unsatisfying to have a heard-only shorebird. I took careful notes and listened to the call on my birding app to be absolutely certain that there was no room for doubt that that was what I'd heard. Then I looked back up... and there was a Black-bellied Plover (#226) in plain view on the concrete blocks that I'd been staking out!

Mission accomplished! After that, I felt rested, and was satisfied that I had maximized my time at Horicon, with 13 FOGYs and 40 trip birds. I was ready to pack up and leave the next day. 

We won't talk about all the additional species that have been reported from Horicon in the week since I left... including Wisconsin's FIRST EVER Sharp-tailed Sandpiper... *sigh*. Well, that's how it works with birding - there's always the one (or five) that you missed, so you'll just have to try to beat your own record next year!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

31 Jul - 1 Aug: Big trip part 3: Sauk Prairie, Goose Pond, Mud Lake

Day 4

Feeling much better after my mostly-rest day yesterday, I tackled the hills around Devil's Lake once more to leave the area. I biked out of the park, onto a highway that was busy but had a sufficient shoulder, and into Sauk Prairie State Recreation Area. This interesting area used to be an ammunition plant and is now set aside for nature and recreation. The "prairie" part was a bit of an optimistic designation, as shrubs are happily taking over the area. Much of it is still closed to the public, but there's a series of old roads that are open and provided lovely, quiet, flat bike-birding.

Sauk Prairie, with Devil's Lake hills in the background - good riddance!
I added a few trip birds there, including Brown Thrasher (finally - so abundant and vocal in the spring, yet so reclusive in the summer!), Clay-colored Sparrow, and Dickcissel. I was really hoping to find an Upland Sandpiper family that had recently been reported here, but had no such luck.

After a few miles on the brand-new Great Sauk Trail (a lovely paved bike path), I crossed the Wisconsin River and headed east through gently rolling hills. The first highway turned out to be far busier than indicated by the color-coding on my bike map, but luckily the shoulder was just wide enough for me and my trailer. After that, I was on extremely quiet country roads for the rest of the day (and the next). Of course, quiet roads don't provide much in the way of services, but an old church provided a shady rest stop that helped revive me during the midday heat. Most days of the trip saw highs in the mid 80s F, which is usually bearable, but started to get to me after hours of cycling on open sunny roads.

Then I biked past a couple of potential shorebird spots - but they were all cornfields with no water in sight at this time of year - and on to Goose Pond, an Audubon sanctuary of birding fame. But there was scarcely any water in sight there, either!

That dark green vegetation behind the top of the sign is all emerging from water (I think a lot of it is pickerelweed), but it's all much taller than duck head height, so scoping the pond was mostly a futile effort. I'd been hoping to see the pair of Eared Grebes that attempted to nest here this year - big news, as normally that species is only rarely seen on migration through the state. No sign of them, but I did find some Ruddy Ducks at the back and enjoyed listening to a family of American Coots in the vegetation in the front - both new birds for the trip. A picturesque monarch on a coneflower was a consolation prize.

I wish I'd counted the monarchs I saw along the way - there were many!

I stopped in Arlington for a much-needed water refill, then headed toward the campground... but was foiled by road construction! I had to detour on an indirect route over back roads, some of which had non-negligible hills, before I could finally cross the highway that was under construction and reach the campground. My ride for the day totaled 57 miles, and I felt surprisingly good considering the distance and hills - I was relieved that yesterday's rest had put me back into condition. Now that I was out of the Devil's Hills, the rest of the trip was expected to be much flatter, so now I was confident that I would make it (barring accident or injury). Just 6 new trip birds today and no FOGYs.

Day 5

This morning I did a little birding at Mud Lake State Wildlife Area next to the campground. One of the first birds I saw was a FOGY! Common Gallinule for #213, which tied the total number on my 2017 bike-birding list (assuming I made it all the way back home on my bike!). They were backlit and distant, but I took a poor photo to document the chicks and confirm that gallinules were breeding there. 

I was much more impressed with Mud Lake SWA than I'd expected to be - possibly because the name doesn't inspire high expectations! In addition to the marshy area with the gallinules, there were some very nice tracts of prairie.

I spent the rest of the day biking on quiet roads toward Horicon Marsh - my ultimate destination! It was exciting to be nearly there. But then road construction struck again! I'd planned to spend tonight at the south end of the marsh, bike-bird north through the marsh tomorrow, and spend two more nights at the north end. The road construction meant I had to backtrack along an unpleasant road that was full of big bumping cracks in the pavement... and then, just as I turned around, the factory next to the road closure must have had a shift change, because suddenly there was tons of impatient traffic following me back along the road. When I reached the point where I could either head south (as planned) or north along the refuge, I decided to scrap the trafficky constructiony south end, head straight to the north end today, and spend at least three nights there while birding the refuge. It meant missing one spot that I would have liked to bird, but setting up and leaving camp in one place for a few nights is definitely a time-saver.

Today was once again warm and sunny, and for the first time there was a bit of wind! It was a direct tail wind almost all day, and it was blowing at about the same speed I was biking. As a result, the air around me was essentially still even while I was moving, so that got very hot very quickly! I was also wearing a long-sleeved shirt after getting a touch of sunburn the previous day. So it was a relief to get on the shady Wild Goose Trail to bike up the west side of the marsh to Waupun, where I set up camp at a very quiet (until the weekend, anyway), very shady county park. That night I fell asleep to the periodic screeching of a fledgling Barred Owl begging for breakfast. I'd ended up biking 63 miles today, once again with only 6 new trip birds, and I was exhausted! But my average speed for the day was a new record: a whole 9.5 mph... and I would finally get to bird Horicon Marsh the next day!

Saturday, August 11, 2018

29-30 July: Big trip part 2: Devil's Lake area

Day 2

The morning of the second day, I woke to a calling Barred Owl, Eastern Wood-Pewees everywhere (they would become a theme for much of the trip), and blackberries all over the campground for breakfast! The mosquitoes were much less active in the cool morning, so I could pack up camp in peace. I headed down the hill from the campground and rejoined the trail in Elroy, which quickly became the 400 Trail, so named for the train that used to travel 400 miles in 400 minutes from Chicago to Minneapolis/St. Paul. It would be wonderful if that whole line had been converted to trail - but the 400 Trail only runs 22 miles southeast of Elroy to Reedsburg. The trails I'd ridden yesterday all had regular rest stops (marked on the map with symbols to indicate where you could find water, restrooms, etc.), but the 400 Trail had more standardized rest areas - each of which had a bike pump along with water, restrooms, and picnic tables.

While on the trail, I heard my first two FOGYs of the trip! First was a Black-billed Cuckoo (#211), which I have somehow managed to miss so far this year in La Crosse. It seems they're more abundant in southcentral Wisconsin than in the La Crosse area, because I heard and saw several more on the first half of my trip. This first one was calling in the distance when I happened to stop for a rest in the shade. 

Farther along, I heard a Winter Wren (#212) singing next to the trail! I hadn't expected them in this area, so that was a nice surprise. Amazing how you can search and search for birds in one area... then bike 70 or 80 miles to a new area, which doesn't appear all that different to me, and find them all with no problem. Of course, some luck helps too - but several other species that I'd found in La Crosse with much effort turned out to be fairly common on parts of this trip (e.g. Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Bobolink, Henslow's Sparrow, Red-headed Woodpecker).

After Reedsburg, I left the rail trails behind and biked east on the road. Once I'd left the town behind, the roads were all super quiet, which was very nice. But then they started to get hilly! I'd checked the elevation profiles for my route, but not in enough detail to realize that today's climbs would be a series of steep hills, rather than more gradual inclines adding up over the course of the day. The first hill was a beast, but there was a nice view at the top.

Then it was all downhill to Baraboo... then a series of hills through Baraboo... bike path to Devil's Lake State Park... and then the hills really got serious! I climbed a big one to reach the campground where I'd made my reservation. But then it turned out that you can't get to the campground from there. It's right next to the highway - but there is no road. You have to go back down that giant hill you just climbed, up another series of small but steep hills through the entire state park (which is full of people and traffic because this place is seriously popular), through a tunnel under that road where you'd just climbed (and gone back down) that big hill, and up another fairly beastly hill to the campground. Then of course you've made your reservation for what seemed to be a nice remote part of the campground.... which is up two more short but steep hills. I couldn't make it up the last one. I had to stop in the shade off the road, rest for a while, and eat and drink something - which I had failed to do for the last hour or so while I kept thinking I had nearly reached my campground! My legs were shaking and I was totally beat. The rest and food helped a lot, so then I continued the remaining five minutes (one minute if you're going downhill!) to my campsite. That was the most exhausted I would ever be on this trip (fortunately!). I never regretted doing the trip as a whole - but I would probably not bike to Devil's Lake State Park again (or at the very least, choose a different campground!).

Today was a total of 48 miles, and I added 13 new species to the trip list.

Day 3

Fortunately, I'd already planned to spend two nights here to rest and bird the park. After yesterday's exhaustion, I scaled back my birding plans in favor of more resting! I took a nice morning ride (yes, over a big hill) to Burma Rd on the west side of the park. Unlike everywhere else, this road was not at all crowded with people! There were also some nice birds here - several of the same species that are found at the Coulee Experimental State Forest near home, but that are otherwise absent from the area. I'm not sure what makes those two pockets favorable for those species. Acadian Flycatchers were calling, a Broad-winged Hawk flew through, and I counted four Hooded Warblers, which was flagged as a high count in eBird. Two were singing, one was an alarm-calling female with a bill full of food (confirmation of breeding for the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas!), and the last was a male who came in to check out the female (completely ignoring me), perching below eye-level right next to the road and offering stunning views for a couple of minutes. Alas, I did not have my camera at hand (I had moved a few steps away from my bike while watching the female), but that was my first-ever view of a male Hooded and it was a great one! Then I retrieved my camera, snapped a few photos of the female (in dim forest light), and moved on to leave her in peace.

I spent the rest of the day resting, reading, cleaning my bike, and washing clothes. Nearly every campground on this trip had showers, which was much appreciated after a long sunscreen-covered day of biking! This campground (and most of the park) was remarkable in having no biting insects at all! A thunderstorm rolled past in the evening, but I felt only a couple of drops of rain. Later, a band started up in the main part of the park, and I could hear it clearly even from this relatively remote campground - an interesting experience in a place that's supposed to be all about enjoying nature. 

I biked just 11 miles today and added 8 species to the trip list.

Friday, August 10, 2018

28 July: Big trip day 1: Rail trails and tunnels

Wisconsin pioneered the idea of rail trails: converting decommissioned railroads to bike paths (sometimes also allowing skiing, snowmobiling, horses, etc). When I started my trip, I biked 1.5 miles to the nearest rail trail - and the next 80 miles were entirely on four trails that are all connected! The trails are usually quiet, away from the road, and scenic.

The first mile or two was on the Great River State Trail. It was a cool, calm, foggy morning.

But by the time I crossed the bridge onto the La Crosse River Trail, the fog was clearing. Check out this multi-purpose trail: bike (me, not pictured), jogger, and cranes!

The Sandhill Cranes moved just off the trail to forage in the grass.

The La Crosse River Marsh is a highlight of this trail - and I was still just 6 miles from home.

After 22 miles, in Sparta, the trail became the Elroy-Sparta State Trail. Sparta is very proud of being the meeting point of the two trails and proclaims itself the Bicycling Capital of the World! All along the trails, old railroad depots serve as visitor centers and rest areas.

The Elroy-Sparta Trail is famous for three impressive tunnels that were dug to take the railroad through the hilly Coulee Region. The first tunnel I reached (which was actually Tunnel #3) was just over 3/4ths of a mile long! Bikes must be walked through the tunnels, which is wise, because it was full-on raining inside, the trail sloped down to drainage ditches on either side, the ground was slippery, and it was very dark. That first tunnel was also crowded!

The big wooden doors are closed each winter to protect the bats that hibernate in the tunnels! Here's Tunnel #2, which was about 1/4 mile long:

Tunnel #1 was my favorite: neither raining nor crowded! Amazing to think of the work that went into digging the tunnels.

I spent that night at a walk-in DNR campground in Elroy. It used to be a drive-in park but has since been closed to vehicles. I think I was the only one there, but it would have been easy to miss other campers in the multi-section, thickly vegetated campground. That night turned out to be the buggiest by far of the trip, so I was already glad I brought my new little bug shelter for cooking and hanging out at camp.

I have a chair frame for my Thermarest that was perfect for sitting on the ground inside the shelter.

I had my first two technical difficulties that evening. My bike tipped over on a steep hill at the campground (I wasn't on the bike! I'd left it standing while I registered for my campsite) and knocked the shifter/brake lever askew. I'm relatively new to drop bars (road bike style) and had never dealt with repositioning one of those, but I figured out how to peel back the hood to access the hex bolt, so that was quickly resolved. Then an old patch on my Thermarest, which was actually a bike tube patch!, came loose after having held for 6 years, and I slept essentially on the ground all night. But it was very comfortable ground, and I'd brought my Thermarest patch kit with me, and the new patch held all through the rest of the trip.

Day 1 totaled 58 miles and I was very tired! I'd made much slower progress than I'd expected, but luckily had planned only one day on the trip that would be longer than this one (and all plans were subject to change). Even a 3% incline (railroad grade) was tiring while dragging that heavy trailer. But in the meantime, I'd biked through marshes, woods, ag fields, and a couple sad scraps of what was meant to be prairie. I'd heard several Bell's Vireos (a species of concern in Wisconsin) in an unexpected place, saw a fledgling American Redstart, was serenaded by Wood Thrushes at dusk, and heard a coyote run right past my camp as I was falling asleep! That first day started off my trip list with 61 species of birds (no FOGYs) - not a bad tally for the end of summer.

All told, it was an excellent start to the trip - though I was a little apprehensive about just how far I was planning to drag that trailer!

Thursday, August 9, 2018

28 Jul - 8 Aug: Big trip overview!

I'm just back from my first big trip of the year! It merits more than one post, so I'll write in more detail in a series of posts over the next few days. For now, here's a brief overview.

12 days
547 miles
143 species of birds
18 FOGYs (first-of-green-year species)
7 rail trails
0 flat tires!!

I was incredibly fortunate with the weather, with only two rainstorms, both at night; two hot days (>90 F / 32 C), one of which I was able to make a low-mileage day; and two or three breezy days. I found many of the FOGYs I was targeting, lucked into a few more, and of course missed some that I'd hoped for - but I was very happy to come home with 18 new species. The majority of those were at Horicon Marsh, which was my primary destination for the trip (easternmost point of the loop on the map above). I explored a whole lot of southern Wisconsin, my legs and bike held up remarkably well, and I enjoyed nearly every minute of it!

The gear I took (including trailer, but not bike) added up to about 70 lbs (32 kg). The trailer itself is 14 lbs, which is actually pretty light for a bike trailer, but allowed me to take a couple of buckets for storing food. Otherwise I would have had to hang food bags at night to foil the raccoons and mice - and at least one campsite had a chance of bears. Next time I will hang my food and pack my gear into four panniers, minimizing weight as much as possible, because that trailer was a real drag on the hills! 

For reference, the olive green case holds my fairly-standard-sized Kowa TSN-884 scope. 
I can't shed too much gear, though. My birding gear (scope, lightweight tripod, camera with lens and digiscoping attachment) was much of the weight, and leaving that behind would defeat the purpose! My camping gear is already ultralight (only 6-7 lbs total!). I also frequently had to carry 4 liters of water lest I run out with nowhere to refill. But there are a few items I can leave behind, and I can definitely take less food - I ate less than I thought I would, and could buy more along the way than I did this time. 

Fortunately, there were only three days where the hills were a major factor. I soon learned to take my time and enjoy cruising along at 9 mph (ugh, so slow!) while listening for birds. 

Stay tuned for stories, bird pics, and views!