It’s always rewarding finding flocks of the same species, at the same time, in the same area from year to year. Partly it is the experience you gain from birding year after year and knowing where to look. But there’s also a sense of comfort in knowing that some of your fine feathered friends have returned and you were able to pay them a visit. It’s also a sign that with all the current environmental concerns, at least at this moment in time, the birds have returned to familiar ground. So it was on Sunday morning when I went looking for Snow Buntings, Lapland Longspurs, and Horned Larks. It was my first stop on what turned out to be a productive day. Within minutes of driving the rural roads I came across a flock of Horned Larks and a very large flock of Snow Buntings – conservative estimate of flock is 100, but it could have been upwards of 150.
Although the Horned Larks seem pretty tolerant of people, flocks of Snow Buntings are skittish; one bird gets spooked and takes to the wing and the rest follow. Being quick with the camera is a plus – and something I wasn’t on this morning although I did get a few Lapland Longspur photos. I always enjoy finding Longspurs and Snow Buntings – both have beautiful colors and my photos don’t do them justice. These are two of my favorite birds – I remember starring at field guides in awe at their markings years ago before I’d ever seen them.
Also found on the county roads was f lock of American Tree Sparrows – a regular winter visitor to Wisconsin. One of the easiest diagnostic marks is the bi-colored bill.
Just before noon I headed over to the Purdy Nature Preserve to do some scouting for our Northeast Wisconsin Birding Club field trip on Saturday, Jan. 17th. We’re trying something new this year by doing a snowshoeing trip and I was pleasantly surprised to find adequate conditions. The preserve is a mix of pines, some hardwoods, and open agriculture farmland on rolling terrain. Snowshoes with crampons in the winter are definitely required as the steep slopes would be treacherous without. Although overcast, it was a great day to be out. I decided that if there is a heaven, it would be snowshoeing through Purdy during a Packers playoff game; not another soul to be found and no traffic to hear. At times the woods were completely silent – peaceful.
Along my hike I came across two of the five species of tree squirrels that live in Wisconsin. The little guy below announced my presence and confirmed a couple of his nicknames: Boomer and Chatterbox.
How can any naturalist not take the John Muir Trail?
One of my target species for this preserve was the Pileated Woodpecker. I had him here last year during my winter hike and he is a regular in these woods. Although I struck out on this visit, there were a few trees baring his or her work. This woodpecker leaves unique signs – rectangular holes from drilling for prey.
On my way out I had my second squirrel species of the day. A Fox Squirrel thanked me for coming. Yes, one of my super powers is my ability to talk with squirrels….along with figuring out ways to keep them off my birdfeeders. I’ve been unofficially dubbed the Squirrel Whisperer by a fellow birder.
On the way home I decided to take a spin through Jefferson Park in Menasha and the Fox River near the Neenah YMCA. Picked through 150+ Common Goldeneyes looking for a lone Barrow’s, no such luck.
I’ve seen Common Goldeneye skim the water with their heads low before. I’ve always assumed they are feeding on small items suspended in the upper water columns, but I’m not positive. Are they drinking? Is it genetic? Or are they skimming for food? Drop me a comment if you have any input.
Not rare, but one of my favorite duck species, along with Northern Pintail, Harlequin, and Long-tailed Duck, Gadwall were found as expected on the Fox River near the Neenah YMCA. Are they as colorful as Wood Ducks? No, but the silvery feathers, rusty back feathers, black tail patch and white speculum (seen in the second and third photos below) make them one of the most prestigious looking of waterfowls, at least in my opinion. And if that’s not enough for you, these ducks are pirates! They are known to snatch food from other diving ducks just as they surface, making others do the work for them. How much do I like Gadwalls? Well, there’s a reason I’m giving them room for three pictures. Unfortunately, photos just don’t do these birds justice.
All-in-all it was a great day out. Three of my favorite species were found (Snow Bunting, Lapland Longspur, and Gadwall) and I got my first snowshoe hike of the year in. Added 9 new year birds and 10 year birds for Calumet County. It’s winter, but that shouldn’t stop you – get out there and Bird It Up!