Sunday, March 11, 2018

March Weekend of Birding in Wisconsin

This past weekend provided sunshine and a temperature over 40 F. So I knew going into the weekend, that it'd be a good time to get back out into some nearby parks to see what migratory birds were making their way back into the neighborhood.

Certain visitors had already made their way into our yard. On my 2018 species list, I'd already documented: Common Grackles, American Robins, and Red Winged Blackbirds. My goal for the weekend was to find some of the feathered travelers who I didn't necessarily anticipate seeing in my backyard.

The Madison area is full of great places to bird. If you are looking to spy waterfowl, there are a host of lakes and parks with open water. Other birds species can be found in abundance as well: there are nearby state parks, conservancy lands, and the varying habitats at the UW Arboretum. I chose none of above.

To avoid the cold and the dark on Saturday, I opted to go birding in the afternoon rather than in the early morning. An odd time to be sure, and I wasn't certain how much fruit my venture would yield. To my surprise, the Goose Lake area and Quarry Ridge Recreation Area (managed by Dane County and the City of Fitchburg) made for an excellent afternoon of birding.

The first thing to catch my eye was this lone Bald Eagle.

Beyond this, the trip involved a number of the usual suspects: Herring Gull, Ring Billed Gull, Canada Goose, and of course the familiar Mallard.

Amongst the ducks and geese, I spotted one swimming alone. This Northern Shoveler.

I decided on Sunday to bare the cold. It was just below freezing and still some what dark when I headed out into the Sugar River Wetlands State Natural Area (managed by the WI DNR and Upper Sugar River Watershed Asso.) in Verona. This marsh yields regular sitings of Sandhill Crane, Red Winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Song Sparrows, and later in summer: Yellow Warbler, Common Yellow Throat, and even Ruby Throated Hummingbirds.

This chilly March Sunday morning did not disappoint. A number of the usuals were present: Song Sparrows and Red Winged Blackbirds in abundance. A single Eastern Meadowlark I could hear but not spot. 5 Sandhill Cranes wondering the property, two walking down the mucky trail just like me.

As I turned to head back to my car, a large black bird swopped through the stand of oaks at the south of the SNA.

While nonmigratory, this Pileated Woodpecker really made my day.

Regardless of where you live, get out a map. Find some local parks. They don't have to be state parks or designated conservancy lands. Local and county parks, or scrub land along a bike trail. These call can make for unique birding experiences. Get out there and enjoy the early spring weather, after all, winter is only 9 months away.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Rare or Endangered Bird Sightings: What You Can Do

NPR ran an article this past week on the rediscovery of the native Florida Flamingo population which I found fascinating. In short, the bird was believed to be extirpated from the state in the 1800's. In the early 2000's a small population of flamingos was discovered to still be living in Florida year round in Florida Bay.

This got me thinking about what birds might we think no longer live in Wisconsin. It also got me thinking about the value of logging our observations in citizen science databases like or by participating events like the Midwest Crane Count.

I did a little digging and came across a Wisconsin DNR listing of rare bird species in Wisconsin. The list is pretty interesting and provides status codes for the species based on how endangered or numerous they are.

For example, a species I've often seen in parks near me, the Eastern Meadowlark, is listed as SGCN as part of the Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan. SGCN is "Species of Greatest Conservation Need". I've often logged my Meadowlark sightings in eBird, which is generally a good thing to do. However what I learned by visiting the DNR site is that for some of these species, there is a another database being used to track them.

The Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory is part of the DNR and is responsible tracking the location of rare or endangered species in Wisconsin. A full list of life being tracked and other useful information can be found here.

For birders, the list of rare birds is a good place to start. There were a number of species which I've seen in my birding adventures. Keep these species in mind the next you are out birding and be sure to log them in WI DNR's Natural Heritage Inventory.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Spring is Here: Robins, Red Winged Blackbirds, Grackles, Killdeer, and Cranes Return

I've only managed to photograph American Robins in our nannyberries but as of today, we took a walk this evening and saw Red Winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles. We also hear Sandhill Cranes and Killdeer today. Generally I declare Spring to have sprung when I've seen the Red Winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, and American Robins which is typically closer to March 10th. When I have some good photos I'll share them here.

The Robins have been busy picking away at the berries left in our nannyberry viburnums.

The blackbirds like the Common Grackle have been looking through the leaf litter we didn't rake or remove last fall.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Wisconsin Wetlands

Two things drew my attention to wetlands this week. First Wisconsin's state legislature have advanced a bill to allow some amount of filling of wetlands in urban and rural areas without a permit. Some details of the bill can be found here. The short version is that isolated wetlands 1 acre or smaller in urban areas or 3 acres or smaller in rural areas can filled without permits.

The ironic part is (the second thing drew my attention) that various parts of the state have been under flood warnings recently because of melting snow and fairly heavy rains. In fact, the city of Fitchburg was recently distributing sand bags.

Of course after Hurricane Harvey, folks have paid some more attention to the value of wetlands in and around urban areas because the wetlands slow or absorb flood water. It's estimated that after over $600 million of damage was prevented during Sandy. because of local wetlands. However Houston's development boom filled wetlands and covered them with impermeable surfaces like roads and houses. Not only do you lose the wetlands ability to absorb the water, the impermeable surfaces give water nowhere to go and speed up the overall flow.

Wetlands provide a variety of benefits beyond flood protection. Clean fresh water continues to be a major concern whether it's about literal supply or the cleanliness of the water. Wetlands naturally clean fresh water. They filter chemicals and fertilizers and other substances which can be harmful to people. They are also excellent habitat for a diversity of wildlife. For those concerned by the number of Canada Geese, remember that every time a retention pond goes in and a wetland goes out, we've chosen the Mallards and Canada Geese over other bird species like Snipes, Rails, Herons, and Cranes.

In short keeping wetlands intact provides aesthetic and ecological benefit as well as economic and practical benefit.