Thursday, July 4, 2019

Late spring and early summer

Still more catching up to do on blog posts! Read on for a summary of my Green Big Day, a bike trip to the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology annual convention, some Breeding Bird Atlasing, and news on where my bike and I will be for the rest of the year...

I biked my annual Green Big Day on May 18th. This time I restricted myself to areas within 5 miles from home (as the crow flies) for the 5MR Challenge, so I was expecting a shorter list due to the reduced habitat variety that I could cover. Last year I'd had great success targeting breeders a little later in May (within and outside of my 5MR), but for the 5MR Challenge, I figured I should try to catch peak migration this year. That way the birds would come to me if I couldn't go to them. I planned my route carefully, south to north through my 5MR, to maximize habitat diversity while not making too many long or hilly detours for the sake of my legs.

Early that week, I decided Friday would be the day and planned accordingly. As the day approached, the weather forecast deteriorated considerably... I'd hoped for cloudy skies, but not all-day rain and thunderstorms! But the weekend looked even worse, so I decided I would just have to see how much I could find in the rain.

But the forecast was all wrong! It turned out to be a perfect day: overcast (I hate having sun glaring in my eyes all day), light wind (only once annoying for birding), and a few light sprinkles that weren't even enough to interfere with optics. And migration was absolutely at its peak! At dawn I saw both Yellow-rumped and Canada Warblers - a great sign that we were at the sweet spot and I'd be able to find both early and late migrant songbirds. Diversity and numbers were incredible, with multiple individuals of all the right species at every stop. At one point, I took 1 hr to travel 0.2 miles because I was surrounded by a big, diverse swarm of warblers - and that was at 1-2pm!

The day started with American Woodcock and ended with a Virginia Rail on the way home - after I'd given up listening for them where I'd targeted them! After 38.5 miles and 15 hours, I sat down to tally my list and was thrilled to discover that my total was 124 species. That's one more than last year (when I'd gone outside my 5MR to hit two extra habitat types, but a few days later so I was primarily targeting breeders) and a whole 14 more than the year before (when I was primarily in my 5MR, but several days earlier, and I was new to the area then). I'd call that a resounding success! The list included 23 warblers(!) and a few FOYs, including a new shorebird for the year - always fun for me and a challenge here: Semipalmated Sandpiper.

The only rare bird was a late Greater White-fronted Goose - but it wasn't even a surprise because I'd first seen it about a week ago, and it has been hanging out in exactly the same spot ever since. Not sure if it's injured or simply a lost/late youngster, but it was a nice addition to my Big Day. American Black Duck was the most surprising bird - not considered rare in eBird but definitely sparse here; I'd only seen one so far this year, and this one had not been present recently where I saw it yesterday. Everything else was entirely expected here at this time of year, but it sure was nice to find so many of those expected species! I felt like I got really lucky to happen across several species, but I always seem to say that on a Big Day. I think it's just a matter of putting in the time out in the field.

Biggest misses of common birds were Pileated Woodpecker and Belted Kingfisher. I checked a couple of home ranges for both, but they are both pretty hit-or-miss when you look for them on a particular day, so missing them wasn't a big surprise. I also nearly missed Brown Thrasher but finally saw one in the evening - they are so quiet at that time of year!

The next weekend was the WSO Annual Convention in Eau Claire, which is about 110 miles from my home. I biked there, taking two days each way, camping at a boring but conveniently located RV park on the way and a boring but conveniently located city campground in Eau Claire. The biking route there was mostly really nice, with about half of the distance being on two bike paths (Chippewa River State Trail was new to me and really lovely!). The weather was pretty awful, though, with a headwind nearly the whole way there and pouring rain for a full day on the way back - but there were also some nice moments, and it was still worth every mile. I enjoyed meeting other birders that I "knew" from Facebook groups, and had fun tagging along on a carpooling field trip and attending the social events at the convention.

These House Finches were all registered and ready to enjoy the Chippewa River State Trail!

Bird-wise it was also a great trip. One of the best birds appeared just 5 miles from home at my favorite shorebird muddy field: a Ruddy Turnstone! Four Franklin's Gulls were in the same field - not a year bird, but it's nice to get a good look at them (normally they are kettling way up high over the middle of Lake Onalaska).

On the way up, I also added Ruby-throated Hummingbird to my year list (finally!!), Willow Flycatcher, Ruffed Grouse, and Vesper Sparrow. On the way back, I took a slight detour to Carson Park in Eau Claire to pick up a green Pine Warbler (they are very sparse here in La Crosse, so this was a great bird to pick up), and also had my FOGY Bell's Vireo, Alder Flycatcher, Connecticut Warbler(!), and Black Tern on the way back. Back at my shorebird field, a bunch of White-rumped Sandpipers had appeared!

In June, I shifted my focus to the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas. I spent a good morning in "my" block (where I'm taking the lead in trying to confirm breeding activity), which is up in Buffalo County. I got a ride up there in a car very early in the morning, so it wasn't a fully green trip, but biking around the block was a fantastic way to hear signs of breeding in passing! Never would have heard the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker nestling(s) if I'd been in a car, for example. One of my best confirmations that day was Trumpeter Swan, which wasn't yet confirmed anywhere in the area.

I also helped out in a couple of La Crosse County blocks, which added Bobolink to my green year list and involved lots of fun sightings.


Song Sparrow host parent feeding Brown-headed Cowbird fledgling: a two-for-one breeding confirmation! 

Chestnut-sided Warbler is not expected to breed in La Crosse County, so I was pleased to get this doc shot of a singing male, but the birder who's leading this block later confirmed the species as breeding there! 

Red-eyed Vireo carrying nest material 

Savannah Sparrow 

Mourning Warbler 

Blue-winged Warbler carrying food for nestlings 

I guess we'd have to code this as "FL - recently fledged young"...??? (Monarch caterpillar) 

And now for the news: In early August, I'll be moving to Anchorage, Alaska, to start a new job there! And a new green list! Here's a classic (though non-avian) sighting from my visit last week:

Mama and baby moose blocking the bike path! I rented a bike to go look at houses for rent while I was in Anchorage for a conference.

Stay tuned for stories from my new northerly 5MR and surroundings! There will be LOTS of shorebirds!