Sunday, May 19, 2019

Late winter and early spring catch-up

It's spring and birds abound! I've been neglecting this blog, but rest assured that I haven't been neglecting the birds. At least not since it finally stopped snowing.

The rest of February and the first half of March was a bust, with repeated snowstorms making it challenging to bike to work, let alone to get out bike-birding. That Lapland Longspur was definitely one of the best birds of the winter.

The other best wintering bird was a very special bird that I saw somewhere, sometime in the past 6 months:

A Long-eared Owl!

I won't disclose the location because this is considered a sensitive species - all data in Wisconsin are now hidden from public output in eBird, for example. That's because Long-eared Owls tend to roost in the same tree all winter... which means photographers have a tendency to park themselves under those trees. This will stress out the owl and cause it to seek a new roost, which is not great for the bird - better to let it stay in its first-choice tree, especially because this is a declining species and every individual counts. Owls are so charismatic that they seem to be irresistible, even when nature-lovers should know better. It's a real shame to have to keep sightings quiet, but sometimes it's necessary for the good of the birds. 

When I saw the owl, I took my quick documentary photo from a distance and left immediately, and I like that the bird is not even looking at me in the photo. It's also nicely puffed out and relaxed. A stressed Long-eared will draw itself up into a thin branch shape for camouflage. It's a pretty neat adaptation, but I don't ever want to be the cause of that!

In other birding news, as spring arrived and the snow and ice finally melted, I got out for a fair bit of waterfowling. I checked off all the expected species, but nothing unusual turned up - not even a Greater Scaup this year. Here's a variety pack from a nice day at the end of March:

You might recall that Horned Grebe was a bit of a nemesis for me last spring (finally found one in the fall), but there's one at the bottom left! The headless thing at the bottom right is an American Black Duck, which I also barely found last year.

Bonus non-bird that day was a mink!

But winter wouldn't let go so easily, and we had another anomalous April snowstorm that brought all the birds to the yard.

Fox Sparrow

Cassiar Junco

Partially leucistic American Tree Sparrow
We were still getting hard frosts at the very end of April!

Frosty sunrise at Halfway Creek Marsh

May arrived, but we kept getting cold rain. Migrants were showing up later than usual, and much later than the past two years (my only previous years here) when we had early springs. (Last April brought unusually late snowfall, too, but then it warmed up very quickly after that.) The cottonwood trees flowered with nary a warbler to sip the nectar before the trees went to seed.

But then, finally, the winds shifted to the south, temperatures warmed up (at least a little!), and the birds flooded in. The 5th of May added a whopping 23 species to my green year list! 

Photographing warblers is super frustrating and I don't usually bother trying - but you can't help but get some good photo ops when surrounded by swarms of birds, so I hope you're ready for some warbler photos. They're not always stellar photographic quality, but I think the avian beauty makes up for that.

Distant but handsome Black-throated Green Warbler

Palm Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Blue-headed Vireo with blue-bottled birding steed

Prothonotary Warbler

Swainson's Thrush
Cape May Warbler in flowering American plum

American Redstart

Black-and-white Warbler singing, or maybe in need of a Heimlich maneuver

Blue-winged Warbler. Alas, Golden-wingeds continue to elude my camera...

Blackpoll Warbler

Nashville Warbler

Acadian Flycatcher
 My favorite little-known hotspot (a fishing access area a few blocks from home) has been continuing to produce good birds, including the above Acadian, even though it is nearly entirely flooded. (The Mississippi continues to be very high due to all the snow and rain we've had.) The accessible area is only ~300 x 400 ft but has produced 86 species of birds this year. I've listed 83 of those, because I'm usually the only one who birds there, but it's an official eBird hotspot now and word is starting to get out that it's good! But really, at this time of year in Wisconsin, you can't go wrong as long as you get outside. I've biked somewhere every day in May thus far, and submitted eBird checklists all but 2 days, which explains why I haven't been blogging!

Two days ago I biked my annual Green Big Day, this time staying within my 5 Mile Radius, and it was a resounding success - I'll tell you all about it in my next post!