MIA: Winter in Wisconsin

All Points Bulletin: Winter has gone missing in Wisconsin!

Raise your hand if you can remember the winter predictions for Wisconsin made just a few months ago. “Temperatures below average all winter,” “Snowfall greater than average.” OK, you look ridiculous sitting at home with your hand up, you can put it down. Saturday marked the last full week in January with temperatures hitting 36 degrees, Little Lake Butte des Morts hosting little noticeable ice, and lawns displaying an equal amount of snow and grass. Winter where have you gone?

I spent the morning in my favorite chair reading a Pulitzer Prize winning collection of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, and prepping some gear for Costa Rica (more on that in an upcoming post) before spending a bit of time birding in the Neenah/Menasha area.

Reading room: My rocker/recliner is the perfect reading chair. Purchased used, I really need new cushions - not a big fan of that dark forest green.
Reading room: My rocker/recliner is the perfect reading chair. Purchased used, I really need new cushions – not a big fan of that dark forest green.

Warm temps mean more open water which is counterproductive to winter waterfowl birding. Normally at this time of year, Lake Winnebago is nearly or completely frozen over which forces large numbers of waterfowl, raptors, and gulls to the open rivers and byways allowing for great views. Gulls which will normally congregate on the marina ice during a good winter are now few and far between and the numbers of Common Goldeneyes are relatively paltry. Yet one of the nice things about the New Year is there are still new year birds to find and it was with this intent that I went out for 90 minutes on Saturday.

Common Merganser
UPDATE 2/3/15 – This is a female Red-breasted Merganser – not a female Common. Mistakes in birding do happen – I hope to minimize those and learn from them! Near the Neenah YMCA.
CLICK FOR LARGER PHOTO.
CLICK FOR LARGER PHOTO.
CLICK FOR LARGER PHOTO. Common Goldeneye
CLICK FOR LARGER PHOTO. Common Goldeneye
Mallard: Female center.
CLICK FOR LARGER PHOTO. Mallard: Female center.

Days like these, where it’s mainly common birds, are great for appreciating often overlooked species. Mallards are the most recognizable of ducks and as such they tend to get only a cursory glance. When’s the last time you really looked at a female Mallard? The subtle warm buffy-golden pattern is really stunning!

Mallard (female).
CLICK FOR LARGER PHOTO. Mallard (female).

This American White Pelican is overwintering here. A single Pelican overwintered here last year as well, could this be the same bird? Thankfully, this one is in much better shape than last years disheveled looking bird which stayed through a record year or snow and cold weather. One of the two new year birds I added.

American White Pelican; snoozing near an island in Little Lake Butte des Morts.
CLICK FOR LARGER PHOTO. American White Pelican; snoozing near an island in Little Lake Butte des Morts.

The other new year bird addition was the American Black Duck. I remember this bird causing me trouble when I first started birding. If it wasn’t near a female Mallard, I struggled with deciding if it was dark enough. Seems silly now, but confidence in a correct ID only comes from days in the field gaining experience.

In the photos below you can see just how dark it is compared to the female Mallards. The Black Duck has a dark “cap” and has a deep purple wing patch, known as a speculum, which is edged in black – whereas the purple in female Mallards is bordered by white (easily seen in the photo below). Paging through my National Geographic Complete Birds of North America, I see this species listed in “serious decline” partly due to over hunting during the last few decades. One thing you can do to help conserve land for waterfowl is purchase a yearly Federal Duck Stamp – 98 cents of every dollar goes directly to the purchase of land!

American Black Duck on Little Lake Butte des Morts.
CLICK FOR LARGER PHOTO. American Black Duck (center, right) on Little Lake Butte des Morts facing female Mallard (center, left). The Black Duck is much darker with capped crown. Purple wing patch on female Mallard shows white border – easily seen here.
IMG_3755 BIU
CLICK FOR LARGER PHOTO. Purple wing patch with black border seen here – click on picture for full view.
CLICK FOR LARGER PHOTO. American Black Duck vs. Mallard (female). By now the differences in tone should be easily recognizable.
CLICK FOR LARGER PHOTO. American Black Duck vs. Mallard (female).
CLICK FOR LARGER PHOTO. Red-tailed Hawk.
CLICK FOR LARGER PHOTO. Red-tailed Hawk.

It’s Sunday morning as I write this and looks to be a good day to stay inside, get more deeply acquainted with my rocker/recliner, continue with the short stories, make some progress in the biography on Roger Tory Peterson, and spend some time studying the birds of Costa Rica. If you happen to see Winter, send it my way.

Bird It Up!

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