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.
|Partially leucistic American Tree Sparrow|
|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|
|Blue-headed Vireo with blue-bottled birding steed|
|Cape May Warbler in flowering American plum|
|Black-and-white Warbler singing, or maybe in need of a Heimlich maneuver|
|Blue-winged Warbler. Alas, Golden-wingeds continue to elude my camera...|
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!