Category Archives: Days in the Field

North Dakota Trip Report (Part I) – Bring on the Birds!

Sunrise at Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge, South Dakota 5-27-2016
Sunrise at Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge, South Dakota 5-27-2016

I’m calling this the North Dakota Trip, but since we’re travelling through Wisconsin, Minnesota, and spending the first night in South Dakota – well, we’re birders so we start birding when we see birds. But alas, the title “North Dakota Trip” rolls off the tongue a bit better than the “Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana Trip”. Semantics aside, let’s get on with it……

After more than a year of kicking around the idea of a birding trip to North Dakota, all the ducks (fitting right?) fell into place. This was somewhat of an easy trip to plan because the Northeast Wisconsin Birding Club has this unique combo of GPS/bird guide/wildlife photographer/bird expert-extraordinaire; I highly recommend that each bird club out there get their own “Neil”! A “Neil” is someone who has decades of birding experience, can navigate multiple states with little reference to maps, and is willing to introduce new birding locations to others. Not to mention helping each of us collect some new lifers. And NO, you can’t have our clubs Neil – get your own!

Do you have a "Neil"? I highly recommend one! Sand Lake, South Dakota 5-27-2016
Do you have a “Neil”? I highly recommend one! Neil working to get photos of Bank Swallows – Sand Lake, South Dakota 5-27-2016

The four of us, Neil, Vicki, Lynn, and myself left Appleton at 5am on Thursday, May 26th. A few weeks earlier, Neil had provided an itinerary, both Lynn and Neil booked hotel reservations, I scoured the internet for bird sights from the Dakotas, and Vicki well, Vicki didn’t do anything (hahaha Vicki!). Wait, I take that back Vicki brought the alcohol. Leaving early ensured we’d arrive at our first night of lodging before evening and gave us an opportunity for a bit of birding along the way. By the afternoon we had travelled and birded through Wisconsin and Minnesota, crossed the Red River into North Dakota, and arrived in Aberdeen, South Dakota shortly after 4pm.

Sand Lake NWR - near Aberdeen, South Dakota - our first nights destination.
Sand Lake NWR – near Aberdeen, South Dakota – our first nights destination.

On the way into Aberdeen, I got my first looks of what we were in-for: shorebirds galore!!! Oh, and my first lifer of the trip on what was essentially a travel day – an American Avocet.

American Avocet - Sand Lake, South Dakota 5-27-2016
American Avocet – Sand Lake, South Dakota 5-27-2016
Shorebirds!!! Day 1 - a great indication of what we were instore for. Near Aberdeen, South Dakota 5-26-2016
Shorebirds!!! Day 1 – a great indication of what we were instore for. Near Aberdeen, South Dakota 5-26-2016

After overnighting in Abeerdeen, we got an early start on Friday morning, May 27th. Witnessing the sunrise over the prairie marsh at Sand Lake is a spectacular way to start the day and was only rivaled by the addition of two more lifers; Franklin’s Gull and Swainson’s Hawk. Although the Swainson’s was to distant to get a photo, there would be ample opportunities in the days ahead and spoiler alert, I got a few decent shots that I’ll share.  Some of the other highlights from our morning at Sand Lake:

Western Grebes - we counted 37 here, but there will be many more to come! Sand Lake, South Dakota 5-27-2016
Western Grebes – we counted 37 here, but there will be many more to come! Sand Lake, South Dakota 5-27-2016
Digiscoped and heavily cropped Marbled Godwit - Sand Lake, South Dakota 5-27-2016
Digiscoped and heavily cropped Marbled Godwit – Sand Lake, South Dakota 5-27-2016
Black-crowned Night-Heron - Sand Lake, South Dakota 5-27-2016
Black-crowned Night-Heron – Sand Lake, South Dakota 5-27-2016
Yellow-headed Blackbird - Sand Lake, South Dakota 5-27-2016
Yellow-headed Blackbird – Sand Lake, South Dakota 5-27-2016

From Sand Lake we headed over to McPherson County and stopped at the Ordway Memorial Prairie. This is one of the benefits of having a “Neil” – this prairie is nearly unmarked and located along a highway; a place you could easily drive right by without realizing it was there. Stop number 2, life bird number 3 for the day; Western Kingbird.

Wilson's Phalarope - Ordway Memorial Prairie, South Dakota 5-27-2016
Wilson’s Phalarope – Ordway Memorial Prairie, South Dakota 5-27-2016
Marbled Godwit - Ordway Memorial Prairie, South Dakota 5-27-2016
Marbled Godwit – Ordway Memorial Prairie, South Dakota 5-27-2016
Eastern Kingbird - Sand Lake, South Dakota 5-27-2016
Eastern Kingbird – Sand Lake, South Dakota 5-27-2016
Grasshopper Sparrow - Ordway Memorial Prairie, South Dakota 5-27-2016
Grasshopper Sparrow – Ordway Memorial Prairie, South Dakota 5-27-2016

In the afternoon we said good-bye to South Dakota and headed for our overnight lodging in Jamestown, North Dakota. Jamestown is not only home of the world’s largest buffalo (and a shop where it was impossible to control Vicki & Lynn), but is also where one of my uncles favorite authors was born – the American novelist and short story writer Louis L’Amour. And while we did stop to see the world’s largest buffalo, the birds were still the highlights – including my 4th lifer of the day, Eared Grebe!

Ahh yes, nothing like birding a sewage treatment area! But hey, you go where the birds are. Eared Grebe - Jamestown, North Dakota 5-27-2016
Ahh yes, nothing like birding a sewage treatment area! But hey, you go where the birds are. Eared Grebe – Jamestown, North Dakota 5-27-2016

Travel day + day 1 and I’m 5 lifers in…not a bad way to start a trip!!! Until next time, Bird It Up!

 

Spring Migration 2016 – High Cliff

Yellow Warbler - High Cliff State Park, Sherwood, WI 5-6-2016
Yellow Warbler – High Cliff State Park, Sherwood, WI 5-6-2016

Well, I’ve finally gotten around to writing about spring migration…just in time for the beginning of the end of summer! I had intentions on writing much sooner (in fact all the photos were uploaded on June 20th), but if you missed all my excuses for not blogging about it sooner, please reference the following blog post as I try and justify my inherent procrastination: Alive and Kickin’!

As the bulk of my birding in May takes place at one place – High Cliff State Park – I thought I’d do a review of the month by focusing on that location and a few of the surrounding ponds. If you’re not familiar with High Cliff SP, it’s located on the Northeast corner of Lake Winnebago, Wisconsin’s largest inland lake. Situated on limestone cliffs, the bluff makes for excellent warbler viewing. At 170 feet above the lake, the bluff affords viewing at the top or above the tree line, meaning no nasty warbler neck, although it can be a different story on the Lime Kiln Trail which runs between the bluff and the lake (this is where Stuart started a count of migrating Baltimore Orioles with the results tallying 55 in approx. 90 minutes!).

Nancy (with camera) looking down towards the lake and avoiding warbler neck. Michael (in shorts) pointing out birds to Stuart and I thereby increasing our warbler-neck!
Nancy (with camera) looking down towards the lake and avoiding warbler neck. Michael (in shorts) pointing out birds to Stuart and I thereby increasing our warbler neck! Photo courtesy of Mr. Bigby, Ross M. – High Cliff State Park, Sherwood WI
On the top of the bluff - no warbler neck here! But I guarantee you there were tons of birds! Left-to-right; Mary, me, Stuart, and Tony. Photo courtesy of Mr. Bigby, Ross M.
On the top of the bluff – no warbler neck here! But I guarantee you there were tons of birds! Left-to-right; Mary, me, Stuart, and Tony. Photo courtesy of Ross M. – High Cliff State Park, Sherwood WI

Of course viewing is only as good as the birds at a location and this is another area where High Cliff shines. Two things make this a micro-migrant trap. First, when the migrants hit the south end of Lake Winnebago they filter up one of the shorelines and the east shoreline seems to be the one they prefer. By the time they reach the north end of the lake, most come right through High Cliff or over the bluff as they journey north.  The second reason this is an ideal spot is lake flies! Journeying thousands of miles – some with many more miles to go – the neotropical migrants time their flight with the outbreak of lake flies. This is a huge source of protein. How huge? Trillions of lake flies!! Don’t believe me? Checkout this article and photos from our local paper: Lake flies return to Lake Winnebago.

High Cliff State Park located at the Northeast corner of Wisconsin's largest inland lake, Lake Winnebago.
High Cliff State Park located at the Northeast corner of Wisconsin’s largest inland lake, Lake Winnebago.

So how productive was High Cliff this spring? Over 9 days, from May 3rd through the 16th, I tallied 99 species, including 23 warblers (I managed to miss Wilson’s Warbler this spring).  Normally I would have birded 20-23 days at the park during May, but this year I was off to the Dakotas at the end of May (blog posts on that trip still to come).

Taken on the bluff at High Cliff High Cliff State Park. Blue-headed Vireo - High Cliff, Sherwood WI 5-6-2016
Taken on the bluff at High Cliff State Park. Blue-headed Vireo – High Cliff, Sherwood WI 5-6-2016
Blue-headed Vireo - High Cliff, Sherwood WI 5-6-2016
Blue-headed Vireo – High Cliff, Sherwood WI 5-6-2016

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention two other events from this spring at High Cliff. First, I had the privilege of leading a contingent  of birders from the Heckrodt Birding Club on a birding hike. Although it was windy and temps were low, we still had a productive morning, including outstanding views of a Black-throated Blue Warbler. We not only tallied 18 warbler species for the morning, but I believe everyone saw just about every bird!

The second memory, which I’ll always remember, was getting the chance to take one of my great friends out birding with me for the first time. Before buying my house, I spent 2 years living with Beatty and he got to know my love for birds by watching me run out the door to chase a rarity, leaving before down day-after-day during migration to bird before work, or sitting with my laptop looking at bird porn (that’s bird photographs – get your minds out of the gutter!). My birding interests rubbed off on Beatty and soon he was describing birds to me that he’d seen while frisbee discing. Well, this past spring I finally got to take him out and show him the magic of migration and the beauty of the warblers, tanagers, buntings, and grosbeaks.  At the end of June Beatty moved to Colorado to start a new career; my going away gift to him was a Peterson’s Field Guide to the Birds of Western North America. I still get text messages of bird photos from him, but I’m proud to say he’s now IDing birds on his own (one of his most recent IDs was an American Dipper!).

Ok, let’s get onto some birds. A little caveat here – I purposely didn’t take my camera with me on a number of days in the field. Leaving the camera behind, especially when the birding is heavy, is a nice sort of freedom; the job goes from trying to get a good photo to enjoying the birds in their natural habitat. So while I had a chance at some other great photo opportunities (like the Black-throated Blue Warbler), I chose to be in the moment and just watch. Do I miss not having those photos? NOPE!

Now kickback and enjoy some photos from the spring migration in Wisconsin:

The marina can host grebes, Sanderlings, Osprey, loons, gulls, and terns and a host of other waterfowl.
Horned Grebe. The marina at High Cliff can host grebes, Sanderlings, Osprey, loons, gulls, terns and a host of other waterfowl – High Cliff State Park, Sherwood WI 4-25-2016
Nashville Warbler - High Cliff, Sherwood WI 5-9-2016
Nashville Warbler – High Cliff, Sherwood WI 5-9-2016
American Redstart - High Cliff, Sherwood WI 5-9-2016
American Redstart – High Cliff, Sherwood WI 5-9-2016
House Wren - High Cliff, Sherwood WI 5-9-2016
House Wren – High Cliff, Sherwood WI 5-9-2016
Brown Thrasher - High Cliff, Sherwood WI 4-25-2016
Brown Thrasher – High Cliff, Sherwood WI 4-25-2016

Lunch anyone? Found this Osprey in a nearby field enjoying a fish lunch.

Orchard Oriole - High Cliff, Sherwood WI 5-3-2016
Orchard Oriole – High Cliff, Sherwood WI 5-3-2016
Black-throated Green Warbler - High Cliff, Sherwood WI 5-5-2016
Black-throated Green Warbler – High Cliff, Sherwood WI 5-5-2016
Palm Warbler - High Cliff, Sherwood WI 4-25-2016
Palm Warbler – High Cliff, Sherwood WI 4-25-2016
Spotted Sandpiper - High Cliff, Sherwood WI 4-25-2016
Spotted Sandpiper – High Cliff, Sherwood WI 4-25-2016
Caspian Terns - near High Cliff, Sherwood WI 4-28-2016
Caspian Terns – near High Cliff, Sherwood WI 4-28-2016
Pileated Woodpecker - High Cliff, Sherwood WI 4-25-2016
Pileated Woodpecker – High Cliff, Sherwood WI 4-25-2016
Dunlin & Greater Yellowlegs - near High Cliff, Sherwood WI 4-25-2016
Dunlin & Greater Yellowlegs – near High Cliff, Sherwood WI 4-25-2016
Broad-winged Hawk - High Cliff, Sherwood WI 5-5-2016
Broad-winged Hawk – High Cliff, Sherwood WI 5-5-2016
Willet - near High Cliff, Sherwood WI 5-3-2016
Willet – near High Cliff, Sherwood WI 5-3-2016

There ya go, my spring migration recap of High Cliff. As always, I hope to be back sooner than I actually will be.  And as appreciation to you dear reader, the woodchuck below wishes you adieu. Until next time, whenever that may be, Bird It Up!

Woodchuck - High Cliff, Sherwood WI 5-9-2016
Woodchuck – High Cliff, Sherwood WI 5-9-2016

 

Alive and Kickin’!

Least Flycatcher - Northern Kettle Moraine, WI 5-18-2016
Least Flycatcher – Northern Kettle Moraine, WI 5-18-2016

Four months! Yep, four months since my last post and my thoughts are, “Oh my!” So what’s been going on? Well, a whole of birding, reading, yard work, and laziness. And while I’ve been slacking on blogging, I’ve kept some reminders in my inbox from online friends (thanks Shannon) as motivation to get back at it. So with temps in the mid-80s, it seems like an ideal day to sit out back with a fan keeping me relatively cool and the  Dave Douglas Quartet providing some audio bliss as I try and catch you up. And while I work to catch you up, I’ll be peppering this post with photos taken during my absence.

Whooping Crane - Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, WI 5-21-2016
Whooping Crane – Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, WI 5-21-2016
Common Loon - Green Lake, WI 4-23-2016
The bird that started my obsession – Common Loon – Green Lake, WI 4-23-2016

Birding – yes, I’ve been birding pretty intensely the past few months; just haven’t been blogging or editing photos. Once May arrived, all non-essential activities (i.e. cleaning, doing laundry, weeding the garden, grocery shopping, etc…) ceased completely. I was out birding 12 of the first 14 days of the month (and 22 of the 31 overall days) as migration kicked into full gear and most of these excursions were 4-6 hours in length. May was one of the major reasons I decided to move to second shift and it has paid dividends! During the week I was typically out the door by 6am, in the field by 6:15am and then birding until noon or 1pm before heading home to start work. Ahhh yes, it was wonderful to be birding in the parks without the “expendables” – those non-birders whose actions and activities are antithetical to birding (high school kids running around yelling, joggers, little kids, etc…). And yes, I understand how selfish that is, but honestly, I don’t care. I’d be perfectly content to never hear another walker/student/child in a park complaining over a cell phone about some trivilality while missing the natural beauty all around them.  See, they frustrate me even when writing about them – it’s one of the reasons I said if I ever win the lottery I’m buying a huge parcel of excellent birding land and opening it to birders only; joggers, walkers, and kids under 16 need not apply (with the exception of Michael and anyone he vouches for of course).

Hooded Warbler - Northern Kettle Moraine 5-18-2016
Ahh yes, there is always one stick in the way of a perfect shot! Hooded Warbler – Northern Kettle Moraine 5-18-2016
Black-necked Stilt - Horicon, WI 4-23-2016
Black-necked Stilt – Horicon, WI 4-23-2016

And I recently completed one of my goals for the year as I spent the end of May and beginning of June in the Dakotas  birding. Since returning I’ve been limiting my time on the computer; hence I haven’t even edited a single photo from the trip…..yet. I do plan on at least one, and possibly two, posts covering the trip. Oh, and for those of you wondering, the answer is Yes – I do plan on completing my Costa Rica trip reports.

Great Horned Owl on nest - Calumet County, WI 3-11-2016
Great Horned Owl on nest – Calumet County, WI 3-11-2016
Red-headed Woodpecker - Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, WI 5-21-2016
Red-headed Woodpecker – Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, WI 5-21-2016
Trumpeter Swans - New London, WI 3-7-2016
Trumpeter Swans – New London, WI 3-7-2016
Black-capped Chickadee - Horicon, WI 4-23-2016
While I was neglecting my own housework, this Black-capped Chickadee was getting his order by excavating a nesting cavity – Horicon, WI 4-23-2016

So you know I’ve been birding, but what’s truly been holding me up from blogging? Well, that would be reading. I’ve been in the grips of an insatiable reading marathon for the past 4 months and there is no end in sight. For those avid readers out there, my marathons normally take on a different flavor from most. Without a wife or kids, I can dedicate a number of hours daily to reading because really, if I don’t feel like cleaning there is no one there to complain (thankfully I can’t understand my cats crying so who knows if she’s complaining about living in squalor). So when I haven’t been birding, it’s not unusual for me to spend 4-8 hours a day reading. Yes, an average day is probably in the 4 hour vicinity and on “ideal” days I can easily spend 8 hours engrossed in a book. And for those of you who have been birding with me during this period, thanks for putting up with my repeated diatribes against the government and the 1%.

Brewer's Blackbird - Buena Vista Grasslands, WI 5-22-2016
Brewer’s Blackbird – Buena Vista Grasslands, WI 5-22-2016
Least Sandpiper - Van Patten Road, WI 5-11-2016
Least Sandpiper – Van Patten Road, WI 5-11-2016
Great Horned Owl - Outagamie County, WI 5-1-2016
Great Horned Owl – Outagamie County, WI 5-1-2016

One final note before I sign off, I mentioned above that I’ve been spending less time on the computer, but I’ve also been focusing on spending less time online. Since returning from the Dakotas, I’ve been limiting myself to one day per week on Facebook, and on that day I’ve been trying to keep to under 10 minutes. I basically have been logging on, checking for messages, looking at the Northeast Wisconsin Birding page to see what my local birding friends have been up to, and that’s about it. I was an opponent of Facebook for a long time, but joined in order to keep up with bird sightings and birding friends. Over the past few years I’ve slowely slid into being on it way more than I care to admit. So I’m remedying the situation now and I can honestly say it’s very liberating! Instead of scrolling through my news feed multiple times a day, I’m burning through pages in a book.

Osprey - Green Lake, WI 4-23-2016
Osprey – Green Lake, WI 4-23-2016
Greater White-fronted Goose - Calumet County, WI 3-14-2016
Greater White-fronted Goose – Calumet County, WI 3-14-2016
Clay-colored Sparrow - Buena Vista Grasslands, WI 5-22-2016
Clay-colored Sparrow – Buena Vista Grasslands, WI 5-22-2016

That’s it for now – my plan is to post a photo gallery post next week which will be heavy on photos and light on text and then start to work on a recap of my trip to the Dakotas and get back to the Costa Rica reports. That being said, I plan a lot, but don’t always follow the plan. Until next time, Bird It Up!

Song Sparrow - Calumet County, WI 3-12-2016
Song Sparrow – Calumet County, WI 3-12-2016
Barred Owl - Mosquito Hill, WI 5-7-2016
Yep, horrible lighting – one of my trademarks! Barred Owl – Mosquito Hill, WI 5-7-2016
Rough-legged Hawk - Collins Marsh, WI 3-19-2016
Rough-legged Hawk – Collins Marsh, WI 3-19-2016
Pectoral Sandpiper Horicon Marsh, WI 4-23-2016
Pectoral Sandpiper Horicon Marsh, WI 4-23-2016

Costa Rica Trip Report Part (Part VIII) – Well We’re Movin’ On Up

Sunrise over Heliconias Lodge - Costa Rica 3-22-2015
The Howler Monkeys were….well, howling as the sun rose over Heliconias Lodge – Costa Rica 3-22-2015

This is the eight post in a series documenting my Costa Rica birding trip from March14-28, 2015. To read the previous post, click here: Costa Rica Trip Report Part (Part VII) – “Forget the Horses!!”

Yes it’s true – we were movin’ on up, but not to an east side deluxe apartment in the sky. On this day, Sunday, March 22nd 2015, we were movin’ on up towards the Nicaraguan border and a complete change in habitat. This shift in location presented a whole new group of birds and greater opportunity for photos. So buckle up for a photo intensive post – I hope to be sparse with words, but long on photos.

Heliconias Lodge to Cano Negro 3-22-2015. Black line represents approximate travel route to date. Blue line is todays travel.
Heliconias Lodge to Cano Negro 3-22-2015. Black line represents approximate travel route to date. Red line is todays travel.

We spent the morning birding the trail at Heliconias Lodge and taking in the suspension bridges which had us near the top of the canopy.

The trail at Heliconias Lodge indicating distance and suspension bridge locations - Costa Rica 3-22-2015
The trail at Heliconias Lodge indicating distance and suspension bridge locations – Costa Rica 3-22-2015

Along the trail we came across a number of large Leaf Cutter ant mounds. The photo below doesn’t do justice to just how big this area is – I’d estimate it was 20 feet wide by 15 feet across.

Leaf Cutter Ant Mounds - Costa Rica 3-22-2015
Leaf Cutter Ant Mounds – Costa Rica 3-22-2015

I shot a brief of the ants in action:

Below are some of the birds and flora we came across while on the trail:

Heptatic Tanager - Costa Rica 3-22-2015
Heptatic Tanager – Costa Rica 3-22-2015
White-ruffed Manakin - Costa Rica 3-22-2015
Our 5th Manakin of the trip: White-ruffed Manakin – Costa Rica 3-22-2015
Flower - Costa Rica 3-22-2015
Flower – Costa Rica 3-22-2015
Northern Barred-Woodcreeper
Northern Barred-Woodcreeper – Costa Rica 3-22-2015
My roommate Dar and I on a suspension bridge at Heliconias Lodge.
My roommate Dar and I on a suspension bridge at Heliconias Lodge. Not sure who gets the photo credit, but I know it isn’t me. Carol possibly?

Not a very good photo, but I was on a suspension bridge and yes, they do swing. Photography from the bridges added a new challenge.

Blue-throated Goldentail
Blue-throated Goldentail – Costa Rica 3-22-2015
I believe this is a Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer. Unfortunately, one of the diagnostic field marks is red feet, which obviously can't be seen from in this photo. Costa Rica 3-22-2015
I believe this is a Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer. Unfortunately, one of the diagnostic field marks is red feet, which obviously can’t be seen in this photo. Costa Rica 3-22-2015

Near the canopy level Tom spotted something below on the canopy floor and being a true birder, he was ready to climb over and jump down. Thankfully Dar was able to ID the species from the suspension bridge thereby saving Tom’s life. Did I ever mention I can be facetious?

IMG_7496

After our morning hike, we said a final good-bye to this region of Costa Rica and began our trek Northeast.  Although we weren’t moving far, we were movin’ on up (technically we were movin’ on down, but that doesn’t fit the song). As always, we birded a bit along the way and found this cooperative Roadside Hawk right where he should be – along the roadside.

Roadside Hawk - Costa Rica 3-22-2015
Roadside Hawk – Costa Rica 3-22-2015

The afternoon was our first chance to do some lazy birding; no trails, no mountains, no roadside birding. No, it was time to relax on a boat ride through the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is located just a few miles from the Nicaraguan border and consists of wetlands, rainforest, and swampland. Encompassing 25,000 acres, the refuge is of the most important wetlands in the world and was named Wetland of International Importance in 1991. The diversity at Cano Negro is stunning with more than 350 species of birds, 310 species of plants, and more than 160 mammals! Instead of boring you with more commentary (and at the same time relieving me of having to do so more writing), kick back as we did and enjoy some photos from Cano Negro.

Michael enjoying the boat ride in the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge - Costa Rica 3-22-2015
Michael enjoying the boat ride in the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge – Costa Rica 3-22-2015
Amazon Kingfisher - Costa Rica 3-22-2015
Amazon Kingfisher with lunch – Costa Rica 3-22-2015
Snowy Egret - Costa Rica 3-22-2015
Snowy Egret – Costa Rica 3-22-2015
Boat-billed Heron - Costa Rica 3-22-2015
Boat-billed Heron – Costa Rica 3-22-2015
Ringed Kingfisher - Costa Rica 3-22-2015
Ringed Kingfisher – Costa Rica 3-22-2015

Below you’ll see the American Pygmy Kingfisher (male in first two photos, female below). This bird stands out not just for it’s color, but it’s size. Clocking in at a mere 5 inches (13 cm), it’s easy to see where the “pygmy” portion of the name came from. Checkout how tiny the legs are on the male!

American Pygmy Kingfisher (female) - Costa Rica 3-22-2015
American Pygmy Kingfisher (female) – Costa Rica 3-22-2015
Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks - Costa Rica 3-22-2015
Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks – Costa Rica 3-22-2015
Gray-necked Wood-Rail - Costa Rica 3-22-2015
Gray-necked Wood-Rail – Costa Rica 3-22-2015
Black-necked Stilt, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, and Roseate Spoonbill - Costa Rica 3-22-2015
Black-necked Stilt, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, and Roseate Spoonbill – Costa Rica 3-22-2015
Great size comparison - Snowy Egret in front, Great Egret in back - Costa Rica 3-22-2015
Great size comparison – Snowy Egret in front, Great Egret in back – Costa Rica 3-22-2015
Limpkin, White Ibis, Pale-vented Pigeon - Costa Rica 3-22-2015
Limpkin, White Ibis, Pale-vented Pigeon – Costa Rica 3-22-2015
Limpkin, Black-necked Stilt, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, and Egrets - Costa Rica 3-22-2015
Limpkin, Black-necked Stilt, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, and Egrets – Costa Rica 3-22-2015
Black-collared Hawk - Costa Rica 3-22-2015
Black-collared Hawk – Costa Rica 3-22-2015
Glossy Ibis - Costa Rica 3-22-2015
Glossy Ibis – Costa Rica 3-22-2015
Caiman - Costa Rica 3-22-2015
Caiman – Costa Rica 3-22-2015
Wood Stork - Costa Rica 3-22-2015
Wood Stork – Costa Rica 3-22-2015

So, is that enough photos for ya? If not, stay tuned – we’ll be back at Cano Negro in the next installment of the Costa Rica Trip Report. Until then, Bird It Up!!

 

January Review to Date

Cedar Waxwing - Oshkosh, WI 1-19-2016
Cedar Waxwing – Oshkosh, WI 1-19-2016

Wow, we’re already heading out of January and into February!! The past few weeks have flown by and since I’ve been focusing on reviewing my 2015 goals, setting 2016 goals, and the Costa Rica trip reports, I haven’t posted any local updates. I’ve been out birding quite a bit this year and next week I plan to post about my species number and days out birding this January compared to the past few years. It’ll be interesting to see how my new work schedule has affected my birding. But for now, here’s some of the birds I’ve seen so far in 2016.

Earlier in the year I joined Todd, Stuart, and Ross on their weekly Wednesday morning birding trip. Like me, Todd works second shift, but has Wednesdays off. For the past 4 years, he and Stuart have been birding Wednesdays and making me very jealous while I was stuck at work watching them post their findings. Well all of that has now changed and I’m able to join them!

We found a few Red-headed Woodpeckers knocking around. The photo below is heavily cropped in order to show the remaining brown head feathers indicating a immature.

Red-headed Woodpecker - Wolf River Bottoms in Outagamie County, WI 1-6-2016
Red-headed Woodpecker – Wolf River Bottoms in Outagamie County, WI 1-6-2016

The following Wednesday, in 0 degree Fahrenheit temps (that’s -18 degrees Celsius for most of the world) we headed for the Buena Vista grasslands. We each added some first of year species, but I had to head back earlier for work and missed on the Greater Prairie Chickens. Oh darn….guess I’ll just have to go back out there this spring!

Buena Vista Grasslands, WI 1-13-2016
Buena Vista Grasslands, WI 1-13-2016

Spent some time working on my Calumet County year list – need all the birds I can get if I’m going to keep up with Dar!

A good size flock of Snow Buntings in a tree. Calumet Count, WI 1-11-2016
A good size flock of Snow Buntings in a tree. Calumet Count, WI 1-11-2016

On January 9th, the Northeast Wisconsin Birding Club was treated to a fascinating presentation on the banding and track of Golden Eagles in Waupaca County. The following weekend, January 16th, was our club field trip where we searched for Golden Eagles in the same county. Although we missed on the Goldens, we did find this immature Bald Eagle feasting in a snow covered field.

On January 19th, Stuart and I headed down to Oshkosh. Found a nicely perched Northern Shrike and a flock of Cedar Waxwings getting fat on berries.

Northern Shrike - Oshkosh, WI 1-19-2016
Northern Shrike – Oshkosh, WI 1-19-2016

The following day Stuart and I did some gulling down in Jefferson County.

Iceland Gull - Jefferson County, WI 1-20-2016
Iceland Gull – Jefferson County, WI 1-20-2016

The day after I was working from home – yes, this is why I decided to work from home full-time – when a Cooper’s Hawk visited to hunt sparrows on my brush pile! The photos below were taken while I was on the phone working with a client – working from home and birding will definitely improve my multitasking skills!

Took two trips to find the worlds fastest animal in Oshkosk, but it was worth it!

Peregrine Falcon - Oshkosh, WI 1-22-2016
Peregrine Falcon – Oshkosh, WI 1-22-2016

So there you have it – a quick recap of some of the birds I’ve seen to date in 2016. Next week I should be back with another Costa Rica Trip Report and a summary of my January birding. Until then, Bird It Up!

 

Costa Rica Trip Report Part (Part VII) – “Forget the Horses!!”

What are you looking at? White-nosed Coati at Celeste Mountain Lodge - Costa Rica 3-21-2015
What are you looking at? White-nosed Coati at Celeste Mountain Lodge – Costa Rica 3-21-2015

This is the seventh post in a series documenting my Costa Rica birding trip from March14-28, 2015. To read the previous post, click here: Costa Rica Trip Report (Part VI) – A Day in the Life

Some days on a tropical birding trip are just more memorable than others, and this day happened to be one of them. That’s not to dis any of the days – they were each memorable, productive, exciting, and fun. This day was just kicked up a notch due to an unexpected sighting and the phrase “Forget the horses,” which none of the tour participants will ever forget. But, I’m getting ahead of myself…….

We woke for the last time at the Celeste Mountain Lodge; today, March 21st, 2015, we would be saying goodbye to heaven. If I haven’t made it clear yet, Celeste Mountain Lodge was a place I wanted to stay. So much so, that I did inquire with the owners about a job. But alas, I’m back in Wisconsin. Our guide Richard had tried to reserve rooms for a third night at this lodge, but they were already booked. So after some morning birding and one final delicious lunch, we’d be headed 15 minutes down the road to Heliconias Lodge.

Day 7 - To Heliconias Lodge
Day 7 – From Celeste Mountain Lodge To Heliconias Lodge 15 minutes down the road.

After some coffee and a bit of birding at the lodge feeders, we headed back across the street to the properties reserve for a pre-breakfast walk where we got excellent looks at a Dull-Mantled Antbird and fleeting looks at a Gray-chested Dove.

Dull-Mantled Antbird - Costa Rica 3-21-2015
Dull-Mantled Antbird – Costa Rica 3-21-2015

We returned to Celeste for breakfast and as would be expected, some birding at their feeders.

Green Honeycreeper (female) at the Celeste Mountain Lodge feeders - Costa Rica 3-21-2015
Green Honeycreeper (female) at the Celeste Mountain Lodge feeders – Costa Rica 3-21-2015
Golden-Hooded Tanager at Celeste Mountain Lodge feeders - Costa Rica 3-21-2015
Golden-Hooded Tanager at Celeste Mountain Lodge feeders – Costa Rica 3-21-2015

After breakfast we returned to the nearby road which we birded the day before. When we went to board the bus, an extremely tame White-Nosed Coati was wandering around the driveway. Michael learned just how sharp their claws are as it stood on it’s hind legs and put it’s front paws on his leg, like a friendly dog would. Quickly backing away, Michael let us know just how sharp they were, and he had the small hole in his pants to testify to it!

Michael & Tom investigating a White-Nosed Coati....or was the coati investigating them? Celeste Mountain Lodge - Costa Rica 3-21-2015
Michael & Tom investigating a White-Nosed Coati….or was the coati investigating them? Celeste Mountain Lodge – Costa Rica 3-21-2015
Broad-Billed Motmot near Celeste Mountain Lodge - Costa Rica 3-21-2015
Keel-billed Motmot on the left, Broad-Billed Motmot on the right. Near Celeste Mountain Lodge – Costa Rica 3-21-2015
Your's truly watching a Blue Morph Butterfly. Can you see the brilliant blue of the butterfly? Costa Rica 3-21-2015. Photo courtesy of Nancy at Bluestar Enterprises.
Your’s truly watching a Blue Morph Butterfly. Can you see the brilliant blue of the butterfly? Costa Rica 3-21-2015. Photo courtesy of Nancy at Bluestar Enterprises.

Although Michael & Nancy spent most their time birding, they were also on a family vacation as Nancy’s husband Lance and daughter Amanda were along for the tour. Most days while we were birding, Lance and Amanda would be off on their own excursions like visiting waterfalls, ziplining, or simply lounging around the lodge or pool. On this morning they were off doing a horseback ride, but little did we know they’d be following the same road we were birding. Around the bend comes Amanda and Lance – with Lance in a memorable pink helmet. Most of us were watching them when Richard uttered those now famous words – “Forget the horses!!” Those words were followed by Umbrellabird and immediately the horses were forgotten.

The Bare-necked Umbrellabird is endemic to Costa Rica and western Panama and is officially listed as endangered. According to Birdlife.org, the breeding population in Costa Rica is estimated at 190-330 mature individuals. Along with Panama’s population, the global population for the Bare-necked Umbrellabird is placed at 1,000-2,499 mature individuals. Stated another way – this is a hard bird to see and likely the rarest I’ve ever seen if global populations are below 2,500 individuals!

Forgetting the horses was easy as this usually hard to see bird sat content in a nearby tree for a good 7-10 minutes. Everyone in the group got excellent looks and Tom shot some amazing video through his scope. This bird deserves some love…..

If Elvis was a bird, he'd be a Bare-necked Umbrellabird. Costa Rica 3-21-2015
If Elvis was a bird, he’d be a Bare-necked Umbrellabird. Costa Rica 3-21-2015
Bare-necked Umbrellabird - Costa Rica 3-21-2015
Bare-necked Umbrellabird – Costa Rica 3-21-2015

I was also able to capture some video through my camera:

With smiles all around after getting killer looks of the Bare-necked  Umbrellabird, we boarded the bus in route to another nature reserve. Along the way we found one of my target birds for the trip – Bat Falcon.

Bat Falcon - Costa Rica 3-21-2015
Bat Falcon – Costa Rica 3-21-2015
Laughing Falcon - Costa Rica 3-21-2015
Bat Falcon – Costa Rica 3-21-2015

We also crossed a river where the water runs blue…….

Costa Rica 3-21-2015
Costa Rica 3-21-2015

Once at the nature reserve we were treated to some great looks at a host of birds and flowers. Although I didn’t get a photo of it, one of the highlights was hearing and seeing a nearby Laughing Falcon!

Summer Tanager - Costa Rica 3-21-2015
Summer Tanager – Costa Rica 3-21-2015
Banaquit - Costa Rica 3-21-2015
Banaquit – Costa Rica 3-21-2015
Social Flycatcher - Costa Rica 3-21-2015
Social Flycatcher – Costa Rica 3-21-2015
Flower – Costa Rica 3-21-2015
IMG_7232
Flower – Costa Rica 3-21-2015

It’s kind of fun traveling with the guide that everyone wants to have!! Multiple times throughout the trip Richard stopped to autograph copies of his book – and not just for birders, the other guides were also after signed copies!

Need a guide? Look no further than Richard Garrigues!!!
Need a guide? Look no further than Richard Garrigues!!!

After saying goodbye to the Celeste Mountain Lodge for the last time, we were off down the road to Heliconias Lodge.

Heliconias Lodge - Costa Rica 3-21-2015
Heliconias Lodge – Costa Rica 3-21-2015
A few from our room at Heliconias Lodge - Costa Rica 3-21-2015
A few from our room at Heliconias Lodge – Costa Rica 3-21-2015

One of the benefits of lodging at Heliconias is the hiking trails located right on the property. We spent the afternoon exploring these trails, which includes three suspension bridges – one of them a double bridge which wraps around a large tree.

Dar enjoying some birding near the canopy level on one of the suspension bridges - Costa Rica 3-21-2015
Dar enjoying some birding near the canopy level on one of the suspension bridges – Costa Rica 3-21-2015
IMG_7357 black-throated trogon
I apologize for the crappy, heavily cropped photo, but you can still make out the Black-throated Trogon in a nesting cavity – Costa Rica 3-21-2015

I know the photo below doesn’t do the bird justice, but at Heliconias we ticked off our 7th trogon in 7 days! And with the Resplendent Quetzal it was our 8th species from the Trogonidae family in the first week! Could we complete a trogon slam? Although there are two other trogons found in Costa Rica that we had yet to see, one was out of range from our tour, so that left just one more to find over the next 7 days. If you’re one of those inquiring minds that wants to know whether we got it, well you’ll just have to keeping following these trip reports to find out.

IMG_7323
Trogon species #7 – Lattice-tailed Trogon – Costa Rica 3-21-2015
IMG_7326
Plant – Costa Rica 3-21-2015
IMG_7434
Flower – Costa Rica 3-21-2015

I thought it would be nearly impossible to compete with our bird of the day – the 10 minute looks of a very cooperative Bare-necked Umbrella bird – but Richard found a way to try; ant swarm #2!! Some tours never come across a single army ant swarm and here we were enjoying our second. A couple of the birds brought in by the swarm:

IMG_7372 spotted antbird
Spotted Antbird right where you’d expect to find a bird with “ant” in it’s name, at an ant swarm – Costa Rica 3-21-2015
Spotted Antbird - Costa Rica 3-21-2015
Spotted Antbird – Costa Rica 3-21-2015
IMG_7397 zeledon's antbird
Zeledon’s Antbird – Costa Rica 3-21-2015
photo (3)
Your’s truly surveying the canopy on one of the Heliconias suspension bridges – Costa Rica 3-21-2015 Photo credits: Thanks to Dar (I think???) for this photo.

Bare-necked Umbrellabird, a second ant swarm, Laughing and Bat Falcons, if there is one thing this tour didn’t do, it’s disappoint! Spoiler alert – we’ll be leaving this area of Costa Rica in the next trip report; whole new terrain, lots of photos, and some magnificent birds! Bird It Up!

Since I’m sharing only a small portion of my photos, and since those only represent a small fraction of what we saw, below is a list of other notable species from day 7:

King Vulture

Common Pauraque

Bronze-tailed  Plumeleteer

Bicolored Antbird

Ocellated Antbird

Wedge-billed Woodcreeper

Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant

Tropical Pewee

Yellow-faced Grassquit

Scarlet Tanager

Montezuma Oropendola

A Quick Update, An Owl, and Some Gulls

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve posted, but things are starting to slow down a bit. The holidays not only brought some family and friends to town, but also a personal change which I’ll post about in the coming days. I’m also making headway on the next part of my Costa Rica trip report so stayed tuned for that.

For now, kickback and enjoy a few photos and some brief text of a few recent outings……

While attending the November Northeast Wisconsin Birding Club field trip, I photographed the gulls below:

Glaucous Gull – the world’s second largest gull. Notice the relatively short-tail and lack of any black markings.

Glaucous Gull - Lake Michigan shoreline - Sheboygan, WI
Glaucous Gull – Lake Michigan shoreline – Sheboygan, WI

Great Black-backed Gull – the world’s largest gull species. Seen here it completely dwarfs the nearby Ring-billed Gull.

Great Black-backed Gull - Lake Michigan shoreline - Sheboygan, WI
Great Black-backed Gull – Lake Michigan shoreline – Sheboygan, WI
Great Black-backed Gull - Lake Michigan shoreline - Sheboygan, WI
“Feed me Seymour” Great Black-backed Gull – Lake Michigan shoreline – Sheboygan, WI

Although it was cold and snowing at times, it was a typical NWBC November field trip. Much fun was had by all!

From left to right: Stuart, Mike, and myself birding the Lake Michigan shoreline.
From left to right: Stuart, Mike, and myself birding the Lake Michigan shoreline. Photo courtesy of Ross M.
Scanning for waterfowl along the Lake Michigan shoreline. Photo courtesy of Ross M.
Scanning for waterfowl along the Lake Michigan shoreline. Photo courtesy of Ross M.

On this years Appleton Christmas Bird Count (CBC), my mate Stuart was in town for the first time during CBC season and I was fortunate to have him along on my route along with my annual compadre Eric. Stuart’s a gull expert and he’s the one you want standing next to you as you search for rarities.

Gulls over the Fox River during the Appleton Christmas Bird Count - Appleton 12-19-2015
Gulls over the Fox River during the Appleton Christmas Bird Count – Appleton 12-19-2015

A Snowy Owl is always a nice find on a CBC! This was late in the day in crummy lighting conditions, but still worth sharing.

Snowy Owl impersonating a windsock at the Appleton airport during the Christmas Bird Count - Appleton 12-19-2015
Snowy Owl impersonating a windsock at the Appleton airport during the Christmas Bird Count – Appleton 12-19-2015

Until I became a birder, I had no idea how lucky I was to have a rubbish dump nearby. Yesterday (Tuesday, December 22nd) Stuart and I spent a few hours sorting through hundreds of gulls. The gulls feed at the dump and then flock to a nearby field to digest. There were easily 500 gulls in the field and on a nearby rooftop and we could see another 500 flying over the dump.

Picking through a thousand gulls is actually quite fun – it’s like “Where’s Waldo?,” but with gulls. As Stuart has taught me – you’re looking for the one (or two…or three) which looks different from all the others. On this day we tallied 5 species of gull (Herring, Ring-billed, Great Black-backed, Glaucous, and Thayer’s).

Even in bad lighting, you can easily see the noticeably darker mantle (back) of the Great Black-backed Gull versus the Herring and Glaucous Gulls.

From left to right: Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Glaucous Gull - Appleton 12-22-2015
From left to right: Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Glaucous Gull – Appleton 12-22-2015
The two largest gulls in the world: Great Black-backed Gull & Glaucous Gull - Appleton 12-22-2015
The two largest gulls in the world: Great Black-backed Gull & Glaucous Gull – Appleton 12-22-2015

Hopefully you’ll hear from me again before the end of 2015, but until then…..Bird It Up!

Costa Rica Trip Report (Part VI) – A Day in the Life

Sunrise over the Celeste Mountain Lodge 3-20-2015
Sunrise over the Celeste Mountain Lodge 3-20-2015

This is the sixth post in a series documenting my Costa Rica birding trip from March14-28, 2015. To read the previous post, click here: Costa Rica Trip Report (Part V) – A Trip to Heaven

After arriving in heaven, i.e. Celeste Mountain Lodge, late in the afternoon the previous day, the morning of March 20th gave us our first morning birding the lodge grounds and our first full day in the surrounding area. Since we overnighted here again on March 20th, I thought this would give me an opportunity to breakdown a day in the life on the tour when we did not move to a new destination. So with that in mind, let’s get on with it……

Day 6 – Overnight at Celeste Mountain Lodge – 3-20-2015
Day 6 – Overnight at Celeste Mountain Lodge – 3-20-2015

5am Wakeup: Brush the teeth, throw on some clothes, gather my gear and head out the door.

5:25am: With sunrise arriving at 5:44am, it’s still dark as we make our way toward the dinning area for coffee. Over the next 30 minutes the entire group is sipping coffee or juice and saddling up to the bar overlooking the property as the grounds crew fills the feeding platform with a variety of fresh fruit. From 5:45-6:15am we “bird by coffee” from the comfy confines of the lodge – this gives us ample opportunity to get acquainted with some of the familiar birds in the area.

Although we were familiar with the Variable Seedeater from our first days at Hotel Villa Lapas, this species at Celeste is quite different looking – hence the name “Variable”. From northern Costa Rica and extending into southeastern Mexico, the Variable Seedeater is primarily black except for a white spot at the base of the primaries.

Variable Seedeater (Caribbean race)3-20-2015
Variable Seedeater (Caribbean race male) 3-20-2015

As you continue south, the same species looks quite different. Below is the Variable Seedeater we saw while at Hotel Villa Lapas in the Pacific lowlands; same bird, completely different markings.

Variable Seedeater 3-16-2015.
Variable Seedeater (Pacific race male) – Hotel Villa Lapas 3-16-2015.
Variable Seedeater (female) - Celeste Mountain Lodge 3-20-2015
Variable Seedeater (female) – Celeste Mountain Lodge 3-20-2015

Around 6:15am we walked across the road to a private reserve owned by the Celeste Mountain Lodge. The reserve is made primarily of transitional rain-to-cloud forest and we spent approximately 80 minutes birding the trails.

IMG_6973
The trails and steep hillside of the private reserve owned by the Celeste Mountain Lodge. This mountainside trail is yet another reason to stay at Celeste; besides enjoying the birding on the grounds, the short 5 minute walk to the reserve is home to a host of other species.

The highlight of our morning walk at the reserve was the Black-throated Trogon seen below. This was our 6th trogon species in 6 days!!!

By 7:35am we were back at Celeste having worked up an appetite. We would be leaving the lodge at 8:45am so we had time to eat breakfast, cleanup, and of course do some more birding. As I mentioned in the previous post, the meals at Celeste are first class, which caused consternation as I swayed between trying to enjoy my breakfast and stuffing my face in order to get back to the birds.  See – even the dilemmas in heaven are delightful; do I spend more time looking at the specular avian wildlife or do I continue to gorge on an incredibly delicious breakfast? My choice – do both at the same time!

Squirrel Cuckoo 3-20-2015
Squirrel Cuckoo – Celeste Mountain Lodge 3-20-2015
Passerini's Tanager & Buff-throated Saltator 3-20-2015
Passerini’s Tanager & Buff-throated Saltator 3-20-2015

We also had our first looks at a Collared Aracari on the property grounds!

We left the grounds around 8:45am and Carlos drove us down the road for some late morning birding. We stopped along the road side and bird from approximately 9-10:35am. Below are some of the highlights:

Scarlet-rumped Cacique 3-20-2015
Scarlet-rumped Cacique – near Celeste Mountain Lodge 3-20-2015
White-fronted Nunbird 3-20-2015
White-fronted Nunbird – near Celeste Mountain Lodge 3-20-2015
Black-crested Coquette 3-20-2015
Black-crested Coquette – near Celeste Mountain Lodge 3-20-2015
The Costa Rica crew – you know it’s a tough ID when Stuart is driven to consulting his field guide! Near the Celeste Mountain Lodge 3-20-2015
Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner – near the Celeste Mountain Lodge 3-20-2015
Blue Morpho Butterfly – near the Celeste Mountain Lodge 3-20-2015

From the roadside we took a drive to a nearby property where we hiked in and birded from 11am-12:45pm. Birding through what is normally considered lunch hour, it’s a great time to remind everyone to pack some snacks when touring; keeping the energy levels up is of utmost importance, especially when birding with Richard who takes every advantage of daylight to squeeze in a few more species.

Birding near the Celeste Mountain Lodge 3-20-2015
Great Kiskadee nest building near the Celeste Mountain Lodge – 3-20-2015
White Hawk soaring near the Celeste Mountain Lodge 3-20-2015
Olive-crowned Yellowthroat near the Celeste Mountain Lodge 3-20-2015
Blue-black Grassquit near the Celeste Mountain Lodge 3-20-2015

We got back to Celeste around 1pm and would have ample time to enjoy lunch, pickup a few new birds on the grounds, and some free time to catch a quick nap, clean some clothes, or just relax with a cold beer.

Lunch at Celeste Mountain Lodge 3-20-2015

During lunch we got our first looks at one of the most stunning birds in Costa Rica, at least in my opinion, Crimson-collared Tanager.

Crimson-collared Tanager 3-20-2015
Crimson-collared Tanager at Celeste Mountain Lodge 3-20-2015

I also shot this short video from the birding bar viewing area on the side of the lodge. In the video you can see the feeding platform where many of the photos in this post were taken and to the left is the mountain where the lodge has its reserve, and where we hiked pre-breakfast.

After lunch, at approximately 2:45pm, we headed back over to the Celeste reserve located across the road from the lodge. After seeing the male Black-throated Trogon in the morning, we got great looks of the female in the afternoon.

Black-throated Trogon (female) 3-20-2015
Black-throated Trogon (female) – Celeste Mountain Lodge reserve 3-20-2015
A view of the Celeste Mountain Lodge from the reserve across from the property – 3-20-2015

By 5pm we were back on the lodge grounds birding in comfort during the last hour of daylight.

Black-striped Sparrow at Celeste Mountain Lodge 3-20-2015
Black-striped Sparrow at Celeste Mountain Lodge 3-20-2015

The morning started with “birding by coffee,” the night started with “birding by beer.” Does it get any better than birding by beer while watching the sunset over the mountains in Costa Rica?

Sunset view from the Celeste Mountain Lodge 3-20-2015
Sunset view from the Celeste Mountain Lodge 3-20-2015

With the sun setting at 5:50pm, it was time for the nightly ritual. Over an adult beverage we gathered to go over the days birding checklist. This was followed by a fantastic meal, another adult drink, and a quick check of email. By this time it was around 9pm and most of us went to turn-in. After a  shower to clean off the grime and sunscreen, getting gear and clothes organized for the following day, it was lights out around 10pm. Six days in and I still netted 31 lifers! Yes, if there is a heaven, this is it!

Bird It Up!

600….and One!

Life bird #600 - Gray Jay on Pine River Road - Three Lakes, Wisconsin 11-8-2015
Life bird #600 – Gray Jay on Pine River Road – Three Lakes, Wisconsin 11-8-2015

Last week I received a message from Nancy stating that she and Michael, two of the now famed Costa Rica trip contingents, were planning a trip up north to look for some boreal species and asked if I’d like to join? Hell yeah!! OK, that wasn’t my exact response, but I jumped at the chance to join them. So this past Sunday (November 8th), I lumbered out of bed at 2:30am and made the 40 minute trek to their house where we left for the northwoods at 4:30am.

By 7am we were in the Nicolet National Forest on the hunt and a few minutes in Michael picked up a call he described as “not one we get back home.” A moment later, pointing through the moonroof, Nancy got me on life bird #600 – a Gray Jay! Nothing quite like picking up a milestone life bird perched 10 feet above the truck.

As I mentioned in a post last month, what’s better than picking up a life bird? How about adding a second? A few minutes further down the road and Nancy spotted what would become #601 – a Spruce Grouse.

After the Spruce Grouse, we picked up our third target species of the day – a Ruffed Grouse. Not a bad first hour of birding: 2 lifers and 3 first of year birds! I’m keeping this post short so I can get back to working on the new Costa Rica trip installment, but let me just say – all in all it was a fun day!! We picked up 3 of the 5 boreal species we had targeted (missing Boreal Chickadee & most surprising – Evening Grosbeaks which seem to be a staple in nearby Alvin) and each of us got extended looks at the Spruce Grouse. And to top it off – it was a full day with good birding company.

Ok, now it’s back to work on the next Costa Rica trip post. Until then, Bird It Up!

October Local Recap (Part II)

Lincoln's Sparrow
Love me some sparrows! Lincoln’s Sparrow 10-11-2015

The day after my trip to the Brillion State Wildlife Area, which you can read about here: October Local Recap (Part I), Michael invited me out to his place to see among other things, the Lincoln’s Sparrow which had been calling his hedgerow home for the past few weeks. It was a nice treat for multiple reasons; I need the Lincoln’s for my year list, I never get extended looks at this somewhat secretive species, and it’s always fun birding with Michael. Well, the Lincoln’s didn’t disappoint and I was happy to spend a good 15-20 minutes watching it feed near the hedgerow. Yes, you can classify this as a LBJ (little brown job), but the fine brown streaking on a golden breast really make this one snazzy sparrow.

After a couple of hours of morning birding, I bid adieu to Michael and took a quick swing past a local sod farm on my way back to town. American Pipits were relatively close to the road and I spent some time photographing and watching them feed.

Later in the afternoon after returning home I peered out my windows and was happy to see yard bird #40 enjoying my pond – a Hermit Thrush. The photos below were snapped through the window so not the best pics, but a few doc shots none the less.

The following weekend, October 17th, was our bird clubs monthly field trip. We spent the morning birding the Navarino Wildlife Area. Although the birding was relatively slow, we still managed to check 30 species and I added another new year bird, a Ring-necked Pheasant (admittedly, I’m a bit embarrassed to have missed the pheasant until now, but at least I’m not going to miss it for the year!)

I also added another butterfly to my fledgling list – an Eastern Comma warming itself in the early morning sunlight.

Eastern Comma at Navarino Wildlife Area 10-17-2015
Eastern Comma at Navarino Wildlife Area 10-17-2015

The final full weekend in October produced another excellent day of birding. Neil, Vicki, and I birded our way down to Goose Pond in Columbia County on Sunday, October 25th. It turned into a nice fall day with warm weather, sunny skies, and each of us tallying at least one FOY (first of year). How does it get any better? Well, let me tell you – adding two lifers! Although I’d gotten distant looks of a Vesper Sparrow in the past, I never had a good enough look to tick it off. Well that changed this day as we came across one perched on a nearby wire giving excellent looks. My other lifer was a Tufted Titmouse which we found later in the day at the Mud Lake Wildlife Area.

We stopped by Goose Pond in the morning and then again after lunch and were rewarded both times. In the morning, we had excellent, close-up views of a small flock of White-rumped Sandpipers – the same species from my Part I post at the Brillion Wildlife Area earlier this month. These were much more cooperative as they were feeding right next to the road in optimal lighting. The long, extended wings, rufous coloring on the back, think bill, and white rump are all readily apparent in the photos below.

White-rumped Sandpiper 10-25-2015
White-rumped Sandpiper 10-25-2015

Goose Pond also hosted a number of cackling geese. The cacklings are similar to a Canada Goose except noticeably smaller. The size comparison can often be hard to tell from a distance, but two other diagnostic field marks are the short bill and relatively short, thick neck. Compared to the Canada Goose in the photo below, you can see the difference in bill and neck size.

Cackling Goose at Goose Pond 10-25-2015
Digiscoped – Cackling Goose at the aptly named Goose Pond 10-25-2015

Although I didn’t get photos of it, during our afternoon visit to Goose Pond we were witnesses to a dive-bombing Peregrine Falcon. I’ve seen Peregrines many times – perched, feeding on the ground, soaring in the sky – but what we got to see was something I’d only seen on TV. While watching it through the bins soaring high in the sky, it suddenly folded both of its wings back and dropped straight down towards the pond like a heat seeking missile. With a top speed of 242 mph, the Peregrine Falcon is the fastest member of the animal kingdom and it was truly breathtaking to see it dart towards the ground at those speeds!

October was a good month; I made it out each weekend, spent some quality time birding with a number of friends, visited the Birds in Art exhibit, collected a handful of FOY birds and added a couple of lifers. Life is good – go Bird It Up!