Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Lakeshore State Park, 12/21/10 - Meadowlark, Long-tailed Duck

Walked down to Lakeshore State Park today to try to relocate the meadowlark I saw during Saturday's Christmas Bird Count. Chilly, damp, and foggy. The harbor behind the Milwaukee Art Museum looked particularly Arctic, for some reason: http://bit.ly/dIim8f

When I got to the park, I ran into Jim Edlhuber. He had already found the meadowlark. Together we saw it flying back and forth several times. It was also easier to spot on the ground what with the fresh dusting of snow. The bird didn't sit still long enough for me to view with my binoculars, but my gut impression is still "Eastern Meadowlark". Anyway, Jim got several good photos that he will post later, so hopefully we'll be able to determine the species. I'm actually rooting for Western Meadowlark. It would prove my preliminary field ID wrong, but it would also give me a new BIGBY species. :-)

I also relocated the Long-tailed Duck. It's (still) in the open water under the park bridge. I had about given up on it after searching in vain for 15 minutes when I first got to the park. But it popped up from out of nowhere as I was leaving the park.

Monday, December 20, 2010

My very first BIGBY Christmas Bird Count

Saturday was the first time I've ever done a walking BIGBY Christmas Bird Count. Here are my three favorite birds from my Christmas Bird Count along Milwaukee's lakefront:

* My first favorite bird was a big surprise. I'd barely left home, and was walking down the ramp that heads down the lake bluff from the intersection of Prospect and Ogden. At the top of the ramp I heard some crows doing some serious mobbing. I stopped halfway down the ramp and saw the crows gathered in a wooded area along the bluff, not too far from the ramp. Following the direction the crows were all looking, I spotted a magnificent GREAT HORNED OWL maybe 50 feet away from me! Well camoflauged. I would never have seen it if the crows hadn't pointed it out to me. The owl seemed completely unperturbed by the unwelcome attention it was receiving from the crows. Maybe only the second or third time I've seen a Great Horned Owl in broad daylight. Really made my day! Only one block away from home, and MilWALKee BIGBY species #192 for 2010.

* My second CBC favorite bird was pretty cool. Eastern Meadowlark in Lakeshore State Park. Had to look around quite a bit to find it in the small prairie there. I'd seen the bird only once over the past week, but got a quick glimpse on Saturday. Two other people had seen it as well earlier this week. My gut says "Eastern Meadowlark". But I'm reporting the bird as "Meadowlark species" on the CBC because I didn't have long enough looks to completely rule out Western Meadowlark. I have one blurred photo of the bird in flight, in poor lighting (taken by someone else). I've shown it to a number of other folks, and the consensus is that yes, it's definitely a Meadowlark. But none of them could conclude Eastern or Western from the photo.

* And my third favorite CBC bird was the old reliable dependable female Long-tailed Duck in Lakeshore State Park. I've seen it every day the past week or so. Good close-up views! At least two birders have posted great photos of the bird. When I last saw it Saturday, it was in the patch of open water under the footbridge to Lakeshore State Park. It spent most of its time underwater, surfacing to catch its breath and then diving again. I found myself hoping that it was finding sufficient food on its frequent dives...

Very cold day to be out birding, but very satisfying!!

Bernie Sloan

Friday, December 17, 2010

Long-tailed Duck, Lakeshore State Park, Milwaukee

Nice photos of the Long-tailed Duck that's been hanging around in Milwaukee's Lakeshore State Park this week. I like how you can see some drops of water beaded up on the duck's back. Note: Photos were taken by Kelly Herrmann, NOT by me. Reproduced with Kelly's permission.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Milwaukee Lakefront, 12/16 - Eastern Meadowlark, Long-tailed Duck

I birded my CBC route intensely today, in preparation for Saturday's actual Christmas Bird Count. Veterans Park lagoon frozen solid. Milwaukee harbor iced over. (See: http://bit.ly/i2rpVP). Lakeshore State Park lagoon and the Discovery World harbor were pretty much frozen solid, with small open patches at the entrance to the harbor, and beneath the bridge leading to the park.

Some highlights:

* There was a mass exodus of ducks and other waterfowl when Milwaukee's harbor iced over on Tuesday night. But I discovered today that they didn't go very far. There was a large raft of ducks at the mouth of the harbor closest to the McKinley Marina entrance. I'm estimating 6,000 ducks, and I probably didn't see others because my view was blocked by the breakwalls. In descending order of numbers: Scaup, Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Ruddys, Coots, etc. Vast majority were Scaup. Maybe 5-10% Goldeneyes.

* Absolutely NO Mallards behind the art museum (all iced up). This was a first-of-year experience for me. :-)

* Long-tailed Duck. One female. In the open water under the bridge leading to Lakeshore State Park. I first saw this bird Tuesday, but missed it yesterday. Another birder told me she saw it yesterday. I saw it again this morning.

* Eastern Meadowlark. Lakeshore State Park. I've been gunning for this bird ever since two other birders told me about seeing it over the past couple of days. Seemed *really* late for this species. I tend to think of meadowlarks as an insectivorous species. But, in checking BNA Online's range map, southeastern Wisconsin looks to be pretty close to the northern dividing line for year-round distribution. BNA's "Food Habits" section notes: "Main winter diet consists of noxious weed seeds and waste grains (mainly corn), supplemented to some degree with wild fruits." There's all kinds of seeds in the Lakeshore State Park prairie.

* About 200 ducks in open water at the entrance of the Discovery World harbor. Mostly Scaup, Goldeneyes, and Mallards, plus a few Coots.

* Redhead. Same area as above. Seems kinda late.

* Red-breasted Merganser. Same area as above.

* Eastern Bluebird. Several. In some small trees at the north entrance to Lakeshore State Park. First bluebirds I've ever seen in that park, I think.

* A flock of 45 raucous American Crows in Veterans Park. I believe that's the most crows I've seen since I moved to Milwaukee.

* Lots of American Tree Sparrows on the east side of the Veterans Park lagoon.

* 10-15 Dark-eyed Juncos in the flock of tree sparrows.

Milwaukee's Bradford Beach and North Point icing up

I went up to Bradford Beach and North Point yesterday afternoon and was surprised by how things were freezing up. There were several rafts of ducks thickly packed together in small patches of open water along the beach and North Point. I'm estimating maybe 6,000 birds total. Mostly Scaups, but with Buffleheads, Goldeneyes, etc.

Looks like there's ice away from shore, and the water near the shore has the consistency of a convenience store slushy drink. At one point I noticed a flock of distressed Mallards near the shore. The icy water was too thick to swim in, and too thin to stand on.

As I left in late afternoon, the patches of open water seemed to be getting smaller, and the rafts of ducks seemed more tightly packed.

Here are a few photos to give you a feel for the icy conditions:


Bradford Beach Barrow's Goldeneye, 12/15/10

I was chatting with a guy with a scope next to the parking lot south of Milwaukee's Bradford Beach yesterday afternoon. I asked if he'd seen anything interesting in the raft of ducks off of the beach. He said "female Barrow's Goldeneye". He looked around for it for about ten minutes and refound it. I took a look through his scope and it sure looked like a female Barrow's. Head was an overall darker brown than a female Common Goldeneye, and bill was mostly yellow.

This birder was from Germany, and was headed back home tomorrow. He'd been here on a work assignment for two weeks. Seemed like a pretty serious and knowlegdeable international birder.

That's MilWALKee BIGBY species #191 and 2010 "combo" BIGBY species #230.

Milwaukee Lakefront, 12/14 - Turkey, Harlequin and Long-tailed Ducks

Tuesday I surveyed my Milwaukee CBC route (the south end of my regular BIGBY route). I was out for 3+ hours in single digit wind chills. Brrrr!

I saw a turkey in Veterans Park! Unfortunately, I can't add it to my BIGBY list. See here to find out why: http://bit.ly/easYXO  :-)

Must have been some big waves with this past weekend's storm, judging from the ice on the railings behind Milwaukee's art museum. See here for an idea of what the railings usually look like, sans ice: http://bit.ly/ebPo77. Then see here for a section of the railing encased in ice and icicles: http://bit.ly/fu80Ux

Speaking of ice, the Veterans Park lagoon and McKinley Marina are pretty much frozen over. The Discovery World harbor and Lakeshore State Park lagoon are, as well, with a few patches of open water. But the Milwaukee Harbor is wide open...that's where I'm pinning my hopes for my Saturday CBC route!

Some highlights from today:

* Many, many, many ducks in Milwaukee's harbor (off of Veterans Park, behind the art museum, and off of Lakeshore State Park). I am estimating 10,000-12,000 ducks. Mostly Scaups, but with quite a few Common Goldeneyes. It was a really amazing sight to me. I stood still on the rocks in Lakeshore State Park and soaked in this scene for 10-15 minutes.

* While I was admiring the Scaups, I noticed another creature doing the same. One of the park's resident Red Foxes was sitting on a rock and staring wistfully at all the ducks, some of which were quite close to shore. The park's foxes are on a largely vegetarian diet right now, judging from the scats I've examined. I imagined the fox thinking "come closer, come closer"! :-)

* Harlequin Duck. One female, in the mix of ducks behind the art museum.

* Long-tailed Duck. One female, in a small area of open water in the Lakeshore State Park lagoon.

* Ruddy Ducks. A dozen or two, behind the art museum.

* Mergansers, both Common and Red-breasted.

Looking forward to my first Wisconsin CBC!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Milwaukee Lakefront, this week in review - Two new BIGBY species

I'd just about given up hope of finding any new 2010 BIGBY species when, lo and behold, two new species pretty much fell into my lap. Brings my MilWALKee BIGBY count to 190 species, and my 2010 "combo" BIGBY species count to 229.

Some highlights:

* I'll start with a mystery. Small gull, black bill, bright yellow legs, white chest and head, light gray wings/back. Any ideas?

* Lots of gulls hanging out on the lakefront. 400-500 birds on the ice in Lakeshore State Park. 2,000+ over the harbor at the mouth of the Milwaukee River. Several thousand on the ice at McKinley Marina. There has to be something interesting out there! :-)

* Scaups everywhere. 7,500 off of Bradford Beach on Monday. 4,000 on Wednesday. 500+ behind the art museum today.

* 20-25 Ruddy Ducks behind the art museum today, including the first two males I've seen this season. I'm just about ready to declare the Ruddy Duck as the "cutest North American duck". :-)

* The other day I saw the biggest Cackling Goose I've ever seen. It had the stubby bill and rounded head of cacklers, but it was pretty much the same size of the Canadas around it. Hybrid?

* Saw a flock of 25 American Robins along Lincoln Memorial Drive on Tuesday. First robins I've seen in a while.

* Two Eastern Bluebirds in Veterans Park on Wednesday. First bluebirds I've seen in that park,I think.

* Snow Goose. Blue phase. McKinley Marina. Hanging out with Canadas. MilWALKee BIGBY species #189. 2010 "combo" BIGBY species #228.

* Red-breasted Merganser. Several birds hanging out in the raft of ducks behind the art museum. Pretty close to shore. Got good looks. MilWALKee BIGBY species #190. 2010 "combo" BIGBY species #229.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Milwaukee radio station manager shares passion for birding

Great OnMilwaukee.com article about Tom Crawford. He's the station manager at WMSE radio (91.7 FM), and a lifelong birder:


Documentary film on New York City's "Redtails in Love" gets mixed reviews

Many of you are no doubt familiar with the story of the Red-tailed Hawks that nested in New York City. Their story inspired Marie Winn's 1998 book "Red-Tails in Love: A Wildlife Drama in Central Park", as well a 2007 PBS "Nature" television episode.

Now Belgian filmmaker Frederic Lilien has chronicled this story in the documentary film: "The Legend of Pale Male". Here's the film's web site: http://www.thelegendofpalemale.com/HOME.html

This movie has received mixed reviews. Here are the reviews listed at imdb.com as of 12/9/10:
  1. The Village Voice [Nick Schager]
  2. Film-Forward.com
  3. New York Times (registration req'd)
  4. filmsoundoff.com [Curt Schleier]
  5. PopMatters [Cynthia Fuchs]
  6. Slant Magazine [Andrew Schenker]

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Anna's Hummingbird is front page news in central Illinois

A rare Anna's Hummingbird is featured in a front page story in the Peoria (IL) Journal-Star. Normally this species is basically a West Coast bird.

Here's an image of the front page: http://bit.ly/g3iDrX (unfortunately the full article is for subscribers only).

I'm reminded of the old saying "But, will it play in Peoria?" I guess rare birds do play in Peoria. :-)

Mystery Bird Imprint in the Snow (ID challenge)

I was walking along Milwaukee's lakefront yesterday when I came across the imprint of a bird in the snow. It looked like the bird had hit the snow directly from above, leaving impressions of its body, wings, tail and part of the head. This bird then apparently took off vertically. There were no signs of the bird walking or struggling away, and no signs of another animal dragging it away. The snow all around the imprint was undisturbed. That made me think it was the work of some bird of prey.

Here's my original photo of the imprint (there had been some drifting of the snow since the imprint was originally made):


I measured the imprint by taking photos of my shoeprints alongside the imprint. It looks like the wingspan was maybe 29 inches. The length of the body from tip of tail to approximate top of head was 17-18 inches. The width of the tail (spread) was about 6 inches at the tip. The length of the tail was maybe 4 inches.

Here's a photo of the imprint with my shoeprints alongside. My shoes are just shy of 12 inches long:


Any ideas about what bird made this imprint?

Milwaukee Lakefront, 12/6 - Lots of ducks, one new BIGBY

Yesterday I spent three hours prowling the Milwaukee lakefront in single digit wind chills. I was surprisingly comfortable. Must have dressed right. Here's a chill-inducing photo from Bradford Beach...the waves are turning into ice/slush on the shoreline: http://bit.ly/fEcvvd

The surf was surprisingly rough, given that the wind was out of the west, blowing offshore. The flag at the south end of McKinley Beach was pointing straight to the east, yet these waves were coming in *against* the wind: http://bit.ly/h7yjUI

The big highlight of the day was a HUGE raft of ducks off of Bradford Beach. It ran almost the full length of the beach, which is about 2,000 feet long. The northern end of this flock was maybe 100 feet wide, and the southern end was about 300 feet wide, Even if you conservatively estimate 2 ducks per foot over 1500 feet you get 3,000 birds. And I'm pretty sure that's an underestimate.

The ducks were mostly a mix of Scaups, Buffleheads, and Goldeneyes...predominantly Scaups. But there was a new BIGBY bird in the mix: a Long-tailed Duck. MilWALKee BIGBY species #188, and 2010 "combo" BIGBY species #227.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Milwaukee Lakefront, 12/4 - Lake effect snow squall and one new BIGBY

I picked a perfect time to go birding along the lake today...right in the middle of a heavy lake effect snow squall, pushed along by a stiff NE breeze off of the lake that made heading back north rather uncomfortable. It actually felt worse than in looks in this cell phone photo: http://bit.ly/fGuNTD.

Exceedingly unbirdy...only nine species for the whole hike. But I did add one new BIGBY species, bringing my MilWALKee BIGBY count to 186, and 2010 "combo" BIGBY count to 225 species.

Here's my *entire* species list for the day:

* Canvasback. Female. My new BIGBY bird. One bird, in one of the several rafts of Scaups. Seems a little late, but I'm not complaining. :-)

* Scaup. (I'm thinking Greater?) Several hundred birds behind the Milwaukee Art Museum. Here's a cell phone photo of one of the rafts...I counted about 190 little black dots in this one: http://bit.ly/hwi5Ax  :-) There were a couple of other groups as well.

* Common Goldeneye. A few mixed in with the Scaups.

* American Coot. 10-15

* Mallard. Couple dozen.

* Herring Gulls.

* Ring-billed Gulls.

* Canada Goose. 150+ in Veterans Park. They were nosing around in the snow trying to reach the grass. Made *my* nose cold just to watch!

* Mute Swan. Didn't see any swans behind the art museum on my way south. As I headed back north the snow tapered off briefly and the swans gradually emerged from the snowy backdrop, sort of like a veil being lifted. I'm sure they were there the first time I went by, but it's hard to see white birds (no matter how large they are) in wind-driven heavy snow. Here's a distant cell phone photo, good enough to tell they are swans: http://bit.ly/ewy1Gg  :-)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Milwaukee Lakefront, 11/28-12/1 - Cave Swallow and four other new BIGBY species

This week has been interesting so far along the Milwaukee lakefront. The ducks have started to show up in greater numbers all along my BIGBY route. Scaup, Scoters, Buffleheads, Goldeneyes, Gadwall, etc. I've been pretty busy this week and haven't had time to post anything until now.

From Monday through today I added six new BIGBY species, bringing my MilWALKee BIGBY count to 185 species, and hitting the 224 species mark for my 2010 "combo" BIGBY species list. The "combo" list is a list of birds found while walking from my old home in southern Indiana (1/1/10 through 7/31/10), and walking from my new home in Milwaukee (8/1/10 to present date).

The high winds and rough surf this week brought the surfers out in full force on Lake Michigan. Here's a good example of the rough water from Monday morning: http://bit.ly/g3YkHe. And here's a surfer heading home from McKinley beach on Sunday night after catching one last wave: http://bit.ly/hmuRwx. And here's a Milwaukee surfer catching some air off a wave off of Bradford Beach on Monday morning: http://bit.ly/fM5Vx0. He's using a para-sail (very large kite) to help him get airborne.

There was also a fitting end to the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. A pumpkin washed up on Bradford Beach Sunday night. Neat contrasts between the orange pumpkin and the beach sand. Here's a wet sand photo from Monday morning: http://bit.ly/dMAShx. And here's a drier sand version from yesterday morning: http://bit.ly/gBAzD9.

Now for the birding highlights:

* Harlequin Duck (11/29). Milwaukee BIGBY species # 181. Combo BIGBY species #220. Just off shore at the North Point algae mats. Wasn't there the next time I walked by there on Wednesday.

* Northern Shoveler (11/30). Milwaukee BIGBY species # 182. Combo BIGBY species #221. Lakeshore State Park.

* Cave Swallow (11/30). Milwaukee BIGBY species # 183. Combo BIGBY species #222. Lakeshore State Park. This bird was a BIG surprise! It made a couple of passes over the south lawn, and over the park lagoon, and then headed in a southeasterly(?) direction towards the mouth of the Milwaukee River. It was flying low over the park, maybe 5-6 feet above the ground. At the closest it was maybe ten feet in front of me, flying relatively slowly into the stiff wind, so I got good looks. A Cave Swallow has been seen for several days at Milwaukee's South Metro Pier, accompanied by two Tree Swallows. Could my bird be the same bird as the South Metro Pier bird? Maybe not, since the pier is several miles from my sighting. Anyway, I hope it managed to get south before the real cold settled in!

* Ruddy Duck (11/30). Milwaukee BIGBY species # 184. Combo BIGBY species #223. Three birds behind art museum.

* Common Merganser (12/1). Milwaukee BIGBY species # 185. Combo BIGBY species #224. Three birds, off North Point rugby field. This marks a new personal record BIGBY species count for a single location in a calendar year. I recorded 184 BIGBY species in 2009 in southern Indiana. So the 185th Milwaukee species in 2010 is a new record.

Milwaukee Lakefront, 12/2

I walked the southern portion of my Milwaukee BIGBY route today. No new birds, but a few interesting highlights:

* The Veterans Park lagoon is iced over. See: http://bit.ly/gEqtb2. Also see: http://bit.ly/eZFN5p for an evening view.

* Probably the most Mallards I've seen since I moved to Milwaukee. Couple hundred, at least. Speaking of Mallards, I've been noticing some interesting behavior the past few days. Whenever it's windy and the water is rough, a lot of zebra mussels wash up on Bradford Beach and North Point. Not just shells, but clumps of zebra mussels attached to each other, either still alive or just recently expired. Anyway, the Mallards appear to be bolting down the clumps of zebra mussels, shells and all. Looks like it would be kinda painful swallowing those sharp edged shells. Guess the ducks must have tough gizzards.

* Lots of Canada Geese in Veterans Park. Maybe 500 in total? The orange-collared Canada Goose that was banded 8+ years ago on Hudson Bay is STILL hanging out there. I first spotted her on October 11.

* Two Cackling Geese mixed in with the Canadas.

* A raft of maybe 200 Scaup behind the art museum. A few Goldeneyes and Buffleheads mixed in.

* The Ruddy Ducks were still there, in pretty much EXACTLY the same spot they were in on Tuesday. You wonder what makes some birds favor a location so much?

* Double-crested Cormorant in the Discovery World harbor. This seems kinda late to me. It's been at least a couple of weeks since I've seen one.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

What is a BIGBY?

Several Montreal-area birders started doing a Big Green Big Year (BIGBY) in 2008. While the definition of a BIGBY can be rather fluid, it focuses on birders reducing their carbon footprint while familiarizing themselves with the birds on their own local patch of land.
In my case, I am doing what is called a "walking BIGBY", keeping track of the birds I see while walking from home. This year (2010) is the third year I've done this. For the first seven months of this year, home was in southern Indiana (Bloomington). I've continued the walking BIGBY after moving to Milwaukee in August. I recorded 152 species in Indiana, and as of today I have 186 walking BIGBY species in Milwaukee. Combining my Indiana and Wisconsin species, I know have 225 walking BIGBY species in 2010.
I also have an Illinois walking BIGBY life list from when I lived in Urbana. That list stands at 190 species. Not bad for walking in central Illinois.
Here are a couple of informational items about BIGBYing:
BIGBY informational web page: http://bit.ly/bGUVxi
BIGBY newsletter: http://bit.ly/aXrd7e
BIGBY e-mail list: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/bigbybirding/
And here are four brief articles I've written about my BIGBY experiences for the newsletter of the local Audubon Society chapter in southern Indiana. Note: the URL takes you to the newsletter issue as a whole. You will need to scroll down to the applicable page number.
In My Backyard: Big Green Big Year Satisfies. The Leaflet (newsletter). January/February 2009. ARTICLE ON PAGE 5.
Big Green Big Year — 2008 Summary of Four Experiences. The Leaflet (newsletter). March/April 2009. ARTICLE ON PAGE 6.
Big Green Big Year 2009: It’s All About Location, Location, Location. The Leaflet (newsletter). July/August 2009. ARTICLE ON PAGE 8.
Green Birding 2009. The Leaflet (newsletter). January/February 2010. ARTICLE ON PAGE 8.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Milwaukee Lakefront, 11/10/10 - Sanderling, Surf Scoter, Snow Buntings

I walked the north half of my Milwaukee BIGBY route today. Another day of not-too-good air (Air Quality Alert). See the following photo for an example: http://bit.ly/d5nyxl. This photo has a vaguely post-apocalyptic look to it. :-)

No new BIGBY birds, but some interesting highlights:

* The lake was pretty rough today (http://bit.ly/cKBzsT). Not sure why...the breeze was pretty calm.

* Lots of algae at North Point. See: http://bit.ly/9TmYsl. The algae has even created a calm lagoon to shelter the ducks from the rough surf: http://bit.ly/bj8bLi.

* Six Snow Buntings were flying up and down the rocks at McKinley Beach. They look rather exotic in flight at close range. They briefly landed on the rocks not ten feet from me. They didn't seem to be bothered by my presence.

* There was a lone Sanderling foraging on the algae mat at the far south end of Bradford Beach. I haven't seen a Sanderling in six weeks, so this was a pleasant surprise. It's always fun to watch them "chase" waves.

* A couple dozen Buffleheads were calmly riding the surf just off of Bradford Beach. It's interesting how they can ride up over the crests of breaking waves without seeming at all concerned.

* There was about a 50-50 mix of Mallards and Gadwalls right near shore off of North Point. They were either napping or foraging in the lagoon created by a wall of algae. See: http://bit.ly/dggioT for another view of this lagoon.

* A Surf Scoter was working the surf just south of the rugby field by the water treatment plant. I'm not sure what it hoped to find...the waves were pretty rough, and there probably was no visibility under water what with the algae and churned up sand.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Bradford Beach, Milwaukee, 11/8 - Thayer's Gull, Dunlin

What a beautiful day for birding, or for just sitting on a park bench and soaking up the sun!! Had two new MilWALKee and combo BIGBY species. My MilWALKee BIGBY count is now up to 173 species, and my 2010 combo BIGBY count stands at 213 species.

Some highlights:

* While walking alongside McKinley Marina looking for waterfowl, I noticed another unfortunate sign that winter is drawing closer: http://bit.ly/aMFGf3

* Thayer's Gull. Very cool adult bird! It was perched on a wooden piling in the lake just off of the Bradford Beach parking lot. Great close-up views. MilWALKee BIGBY species #172. 2010 combo BIGBY species #212.

* Dunlin. Nervously working the extensive algae mat at the far south end of Bradford Beach. I say "nervously" because there was a steadily increasing number of people walking the edge of the beach in the nice weather. The bird gave up when someone came along with a dog. It flew out over the lake. Maybe the same bird that John Idzikowski saw later in the afternoon at North Point? MilWALKee BIGBY species #173. 2010 combo BIGBY species #213.

* Steve Lubahn reported a possible Pacific Loon off the shore of Lake Park near the rugby field and the water treatment plant. I didn't notice any loons while I was in that general vicinity today, but there were LOTS of Buffleheads, several Coots, maybe a dozen Gadwalls, a couple dozen Mallards, several Common Goldeneyes, and at least one Bonaparte's Gull mixed in with the Herrings and Ring-billeds.

* I walked back home through Lake Park and saw several Pine Siskins on a tree on the golf course.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Milwaukee lakefront, 11/4-11/5 - Three new BIGBY birds, first of year snowflakes

Ran across three new MilWALKee BIGBY species over the past two days. My list of MilWALKee BIGBY species now stands at 171. Two of these birds were also 2010 "combo" BIGBY species, bringing that count to 211 species.

Highlights from Thursday, 11/4:

* Wilson's Snipe. Flushed from the south end of Veterans Park lagoon. MilWALKee BIGBY species #169.

* Common Nighthawk(?). This seems REALLY late! I was by Discovery World and heard what sounded exactly like a Common Nighthawk "peenting" as it headed south. Couldn't make visual confirmation. The only other bird I know of that can make a sound like that is a displaying American Woodcock, and I'm pretty sure they only do that in spring. Not sure what to think.

* American Coot numbers seem to be gradually declining. Where I used to see hundreds, I'm now seeing dozens.

* Saw the largest flock of Canada Geese I think I've ever seen on the ground. 600+ birds just north of Veterans Park. The orange-collared goose from Hudson Bay is still hanging around. It's been there since at least October 11. There were also several Cacklers mixed in, although they weren't as small as the one I photographed earlier this week.

Highlights from Friday, 11/5:

* First really wintry day I've experienced this fall. And I saw several first-of-season snowflakes! I was out for 3+ hours with the temps in the mid-30s, and wind chills in the mid-20s. Lake Michigan was pretty rough, with some pretty big waves. I remember thinking "you could almost surf on these waves". Right on cue, when I got to Bradford Beach there was someone in the surf with a small (maybe 8-foot) board, trying to catch some waves. It chilled me to the core just to watch! This photo might give you a sense of how rough the lake was: http://bit.ly/dyaADK.

* Lots of duck activity off of Bradford Beach and North Point. Both Scaup species, Buffleheads, White-winged Scoter, Black Scoter, Ring-necked Duck. And, of course, lots of Mallards. Given the weather conditions, I was surprised by how much flying in and flying out was going on. There was quite a bit of turnover as I watched. I was also surprised to see sleeping ducks riding the rough surf with heads tucked under their wings.

* Ring-necked Duck was MilWALKee BIGBY species #170, and 2010 combo BIGBY #210.

* Black Scoter was MilWALKee BIGBY species #171, and 2010 combo BIGBY #211.

Bernie Sloan

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Bradford Beach/North Point, 11/2 - Ducks, Snow Buntings

Covered the northern half of my Milwaukee BIGBY route today...

No new BIGBY birds, but some interesting highlights none the less:

* Snow Buntings. Had a fair number of flyovers along the lakefront. Almost stepped on one near the edge of the Bradford Beach parking lot. I was walking along when my eye detected some motion on the ground at my feet. Snow Bunting. It was hunkered low to the ground in short grass with one eye cocked towards me, checking me out. It was only five feet away at most, the closest I've ever been to one of these birds. After eyeballing me for about five seconds, the bird ran a short distance and then flew to the shoreline rocks. Pretty cool!

* Lots of ducks off of Bradford Beach and North Point. Nothing new, species-wise, but good numbers. There was a raft of 40-50 ducks just out of binocular range, bobbing up and down in the waves off of Bradford Beach. I saw them just enough to think it might have been a mix of scaups and scoters. Closer in, off of North Point, there were quite a few Buffleheads, and by far and away the most Common Goldeneyes I've seen so far this season. And along the shore there were dozens of Mallards.

Also saw two signs of winter, one of them literally a "sign" of winter:


My 2010 BIGBY list now has 209 species

What's a BIGBY? See: http://bit.ly/cn3cbv.

What's a combo walking BIGBY? See: http://bit.ly/bUNmAv.

On October 19 I recorded my 200th combo walking BIGBY species for the year: Bufflehead.

Since then I have added nine more species to my 2010 BIGBY list:

* Henslow's Sparrow - #201
* Mute Swan - #202
* Surf Scoter - #203
* Snow Bunting - #204
* Greater Yellowlegs - #205
* Gadwall - #206
* Franklin's Gull - #207
* Cackling Goose - #208
* LeConte's Sparrow - #209

I'd really like to hit 220 species by year's end. That would be a great personal accomplishment...220 species of birds seen while walking from home.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Oddly quiet on the Milwaukee lakefront today (11/1)

I walked the southern portion of my BIGBY route today (Veterans Park and Lakeshore State Park). It was very quiet, both literally (the easterly breeze kept the city sounds pretty much at bay) and figuratively (not many birds).

The coots and geese numbered in the dozens, rather than the usual hundreds. The Mallards behind the art museum made themselves pretty scarce. Even the ubiquitous gulls were few and far between. I found myself wondering why.

There were a few highlights:

* Cackling Goose. See my earlier posting.

* Two Hooded Mergansers.

* One Pied-billed Grebe.

* Several Snow Bunting flyovers.

* An interesting mixed flock of American Tree Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, and Dark-eyed Juncos. The most juncos I've seen this fall.

* Two accomplished European Starling impressionists. One was doing a cardinal, the other was doing a robin.

* A wildflower without access to a calendar. Apparently it doesn't know this is November...and Wisconsin! See: http://bit.ly/dix4gt. Looks like a coreopsis species?

* And, finally, a spruce tree with a bumper crop of cones. See http://bit.ly/dqYx9X and http://bit.ly/auJJJW

Cackling vs. Canada Goose - Size comparision photos

I was strolling through Milwaukee's Veterans Park early this afternoon when, lo and behold, I ran across my nemesis bird again (Cackling Goose). This bird has been in the park since at least Friday. I saw it Friday morning on the big lawn east of the Veterans Park Lagoon. Paul Hunter's duck watch group saw it late Saturday afternoon in the same general area, and I saw it again today, by the lagoon, a little north of the paddleboat rental shed.

Remembering that I had my cell phone with me, I decided to try to take a few photos to document the size differential between the Cackler and the Canadas. The Cackler was a little skittish, and not as tolerant of human presence as the Canadas. In fact, when I stopped to watch, three Canadas walked up to within two feet of me looking for a handout.

Anyway, I couldn't get real close to the cackler without it scooting away. I stood there quietly waiting for the Cackler to get close enough to me and my cell phone, and for it to get close enough to a Canada for a size comparison.

Here are a few photos. Remember, I used a cell phone, so they aren't close-ups, but I think they do the job of demonstrating how much smaller the Cackler is. In fact, at one point a passerby said to her companion: "Look at the baby goose!" :-)


Sunday, October 31, 2010

Milwaukee lakefront, 10/28/10 - Possible Cave Swallows, two new BIGBY species

Wednesday on Milwaukee's lakefront was sunny and very windy. Thursday was a little less windy, colder, and I walked through a couple of bouts of light wind-driven rain. Another day when it's crazy to spend 4-5 hours outdoors birding...but the birding was kinda interesting.

* The day started with a HUGE highlight. I finally got this year's nemesis bird! I have spent many hours in Veterans Park scanning huge flocks of hundreds of Canada Geese looking for a Cackling Goose. So far, every time I've seen a small goose it turns out just to be a smallish Canada. But yesterday morning I noticed an especially small goose with a stubby bill. It was only about 30 feet away. Cackling Goose! It's kinda funny. When you first see a Cackling Goose it is so obviously a cackler that you wonder why you'd ever bothered looking at smallish Canadas. Definitely new to both my BIGBY lists!!

* Henslow's Sparrow. One bird, on the rocks, behind the art museum. Looked a little tired and dazed. Not a new BIGBY, but special none the less.

* Lincoln's Sparrow. Several, at the far east side of Veterans Park.

* LeConte's Sparrow. Fleeting views in the brush on the rocky shoreline just a little south of the water treatment plant. Also looked a little tired and dazed. New to both my BIGBY lists!!

* A fair number of swallows, which surprised me since I haven't seen a swallow in weeks: Barn (8-10), Northern Rough-winged (one), Tree (4-5), and a couple of birds that looked tantalizingly like Cave Swallows. As far as I'm concerned they were probable Cave Swallows, but since I can't rule out Cliff Swallow I can't count them as a BIGBY bird. Never thought I'd have a four-swallow-species day at the end of October. Just a testimonial to how strong the storm was...

* Finally, I had a very late female American Redstart in Lake Park! Haven't seen this species in several weeks. Interesting!

Birders on the storm, 10/27/10 - Four new BIGBY birds

I think I've become one of those certifiable nut-case birders...I was out birding for six hours this past Wednesday, buffeted by extremely strong winds. I was almost knocked to the ground by one especially strong gust (and I'm not a small person), and my hat blew off three times (my hat has never blown off before). Why was I such a glutton for punishment? I wanted to see what sort of birds this record-breaking storm might kick up.

According to weather.com, this storm came equipped with a record low barometric pressure reading for Wisconsin and Chicago. The strong southerly winds also caused a significant storm surge. At one point the Lake Michigan water level in Port Inland, MI (northern end of the lake) was almost two feet higher than normal, and the water at Calumet Harbor (southern end of the lake) was nearly two feet lower than normal. I saw a news report that indicated that the level of the Fox River (empties into Green Bay) was down by three feet at one point. Here in Milwaukee the lake water levels were noticeably lower, especially in shallower spots like Bradford Beach and North Point. This area had a decidedly "low tide" look to it.

The day wasn't completely nasty, though. Here's a nice view from just south of the water treatment plant: http://bit.ly/aiGmzF

OK, OK...on to the birds. The highlights:

* The day started out on a promising note, with a half dozen Wood Ducks hanging out with the usual Mallards in the Veterans Park lagoon. Not a new BIGBY bird, but always nice to find them. Other than these woodies, the birding was abysmal at the south end of my BIGBY route. There were Canada Geese, Mallards, Coots, and Gulls, but everything else must have been hunkered down out of the wind.

* I headed north feeling kinda discouraged and more than a little bit insane as the winds buffeted me. When I got to the North Point algae mats I had a big surprise. I thought I was done finding new shorebird species there until next spring. I haven't seen a new shorebird in at least a month. But there, standing on the edge of the shore, was a Greater Yellowlegs! New MilWALKee BIGBY species, and first time I've ever had this bird on a BIGBY list. Very cool!!

* Next I noticed a half dozen Gadwalls right up near the shore. Another new bird for the MilWALKee BIGBY list, and the first time I've ever had this bird on a BIGBY list.

* Then I started moving north along the rocky shore towards the water treatment plant. Through an opening in the trees I spotted a gull that was noticeably smaller than the usual Herrings and Ring-billeds. It had very distinctive markings on its head. Franklin's Gull!!! In addition to being a new BIGBY species, it was a new LIFE bird for me! Extremely cool!!!

* Finally, I walked up the bluff and into Lake Park to head home. I stopped to rest on the park bench memorializing Paul Hunter's parents. From this bench you can observe the feeders just to the north of the Erastus Wolcott statue. I had fleeting views of a Pine Siskin at the feeder. Another new MilWALKee BIGBY species!

All in all it was a crazy day to be out in the elements. I even strained several muscles trying to keep balanced during the strong wind gusts. But I think the payoff was well worth it.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Milwaukee lakefront, 10/21-22 - Snow Buntings and three other new BIGBYs

Over the past couple of days I have added four new species to my MilWALKee BIGBY list, for a total of 162 species on the year. (What's a MilWALKee BIGBY? See: http://bit.ly/cBLtSk). Three of those species were also new to my 2010 combo BIGBY list, bringing that total to 204 species for 2010. (What's a combo BIGBY? See: http://bit.ly/bUNmAv).

Here are the four new MilWALKee BIGBY birds:

* Mute Swan. MilWALKee BIGBY #159 and combo BIGBY #202. This bird was lounging just off of Bradford Beach for a couple of hours yesterday afternoon. Most of the time it had its head tucked under its wing, but it popped up often enough for me to ID it as a Mute Swan. First time I've ever had this species on a BIGBY list. I managed to squeeze off a quick cell phone shot. See: http://bit.ly/ctYgFF. The swan is a ways off, but you can tell it's a swan, and the picture of lake and sky is kind of pretty.

* Surf Scoter. MilWALKee BIGBY #160 and combo BIGBY #203. This bird was mixed in with a raft of ducks off of the North Point algae mats yesterday. First time I've ever had this species on a BIGBY list.

* Purple Finch. MilWALKee BIGBY #161. Male. Hanging out at one of the Lake Park feeders.

* Snow Bunting. MilWALKee BIGBY #162 and combo BIGBY #204. Two birds, hanging out on the concrete breakwall of the water treatment plant, just northeast of the Lake Park rugby field. An American Tree Sparrow was hanging with them. They were just on the other side of the security fence, sitting on the concrete, basking in the sun and soaking up some rays. I got really great views with my binocs. They are really cute birds! But I'm not sure I like finding birds with the word "snow" in their names on such a beautiful fall day! First time I've ever had this species on a BIGBY list.

A few more random highlights:

* Saw a Ring-billed Gull perched in a Hackberry Tree, eating Hackberries. Seemed odd. A not-so-great photo to document it: http://bit.ly/a82kKH.

* Saw lots of shells (Zebra mussels?) washed up on Bradford Beach today. See this photo to see how thick they were in places: http://bit.ly/b3s192. And here's a photo from a wider angle: http://bit.ly/ao1gxq.

* Finally, I took some photos to demonstrate the shallowness of the water off of the North Point algae mats (Bradford Beach is pretty much the same). For whatever reason, I think it's the shallow water in this area that attracts waterfowl. The water is relatively shallow quite a ways out into Lake Michigan here. In this photo (http://bit.ly/99wDMv) you can see a deep blue band of water on the horizon. That's the normal water color of the lake. The water in the foreground is brown. That's because the wave action is churning up sand in the shallow water. This photo (http://bit.ly/bBehGz) shows the contrasting colors from a different angle, from the top of the bluff in Lake Park.

Bernie Sloan
Milwaukee, WI

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What's a MilWALKee BIGBY?

I use the term "MilWALKee Bigby" for the list of bird species recorded while walking to and from my home on the east side of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It's a walking BIGBY within the city of Milwaukee. MilWALKee is pronounced the same as Milwaukee...I've just incorporated the "WALK" in recognitition of the fact that I'm birding while walking in Milwaukee.

What's a BIGBY, generally? See: http://bit.ly/cn3cbv.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My 2010 "combo" walking BIGBY list reaches 200 species for the year

This year (2010) is the third year that I have kept a "walking BIGBY" list. A walking Bigby list is a list of the bird species you encounter while walking from home. There are other types of BIGBYs, e.g., some people cover a lot of ground while riding their bicycles. I chose to more intensively bird a smaller patch of ground on foot. For more info on BIGBYing in general, see: http://bit.ly/cn3cbv.

For the first seven months of this year I lived in Bloomington, Indiana, near the Indiana University cross country course and an adjoining patch of two square miles of uninhabited forested hills. As of July 31, I had recorded 158 species while walking near my home.

Since August 1, I have lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, just a couple of blocks from a string of public parks that stretch along the Lake Michigan shoreline. At present, I have recorded 156 species while walking near home.

Late this summer I decided to put together a combined ("combo") walking BIGBY list for the whole year. I combined my Indiana list with my Wisconsin list to see how many species I had. Before I did this exercize I publicly set a goal of 200 walking BIGBY species for 2010. After announcing this goal I got a little nervous that the overlap between the 2010 Indiana and 2010 Wisconsin lists would be bigger than I thought, and that I would fall well short of this goal. Well, my fears were unfounded. This morning I recorded my 200th "combo" walking BIGBY species for the year...Bufflehead.

Of the 200 species, 114 (57%) were common to both Indiana and Wisconsin. Of the remaining 86 species, 44 (22%) were unique to Bloomington, IN, and 42 (21%) species were unique to Milwaukee.

I'm wondering how much higher my count might go, what with waterfowl migration just starting and some winter species yet to come.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Lakeshore State Park, 10/15 - Red-necked Grebe

I know, I know...I cried wolf on Red-necked Grebe in August (turned out to be some immature mergansers). But I'm pretty confident with my ID this time. :-)

I was walking through the southern half of my Milwaukee walking BIGBY route early yesterday afternoon, looking for new ducks. Not much except hundreds of Canada Geese, hundreds of American Coots, dozens of Mallards, and quite a few cute Golden-crowned Kinglets.

There were a few points of interest, though:

* Red-necked Grebe. One adult non-breeding bird. It was about 2:30PM. The size was right compared to the Mallards it swam past. Coloration was right. Large thick yellowish bill. And it had this weird behavior of sometimes paddling along with its head under water, which is consistent with the following BNA Online statement: "Sometimes peers underwater with eyes submerged, presumably looking for prey". I first saw it in the harbor south of Discovery World and then followed it as it swam under the bridge and into the inner harbor at Lakeshore State Park. Milwaukee BIGBY species #153. 2010 "combo" BIGBY species #198. (What's a "combo" BIGBY? See: http://bit.ly/a2HhKW).

* Two Red Foxes at the same time! There's a path between the prairie and the large rocks on the shore towards the north end of the park. It's not unusual to see foxes in this area. But yesterday I looked up to see two of them! One slipped into the prairie and the other dashed into the rocks. I decided to wait out the fox that went into the rocks. He popped up numerous times and I got pretty close. At one point we got into a staring contest, looking at each other intently for at least a minute. I took a lot of cell phone photos and got a pretty decent shot of the fox staring at me (see: http://bit.ly/9XAixR). For those of you who have ever taken cell phone photos of wildlife, you know you have to get REAL close to your subjects to get a halfway decent shot. I guess that's what I like about cell phone wildlife photography...the thrill of stalking the animal or bird and getting close enough to it to get a recognizable photo of it. FYI...I took my photos
between 2:00 and 2:15, so the foxes were definitely out and about in the middle of the day.

* Common Goldeneye. One male, and NOT the same bird that spent two months behind the art museum this summer. Markings were different. Same location, though.

* Saw another orange-collared Canada Goose in Veterans Park. Got relatively close, but couldn't read the numbers. Note to Hudson Bay researchers: white letters on an orange neck collar are very hard to read. Very poor contrast.

* Still no Cackling Geese. I've scanned what seems like thousands of geese over the past week, and all the small ones have just been smallish Canadas.

* Finally, there were two idiots intentionally running their jet skis at full-throttle through a large raft of coots. The coots were pretty adept at getting out of the way. I don't think any were killed or injured, but I sorta found myself halfway wishing that one of the jet skiers would catch a coot to the head so he'd think twice about it next time. :-)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A few interesting birds at Schlitz Audubon Nature Center (SANC)

Last night there was an interesting program at SANC about the "Bird City Wisconsin" initiative. (SANC is on Lake Michigan, in Bayside). I went there a couple of hours before the program to squeeze in a little birding. My main mission was to find some turkeys and follow them around for a bit. :-)

Some highlights:

* Lincoln's Sparrow. A single individual was moving around in the cattails and brush at the edge of Teal Pond. I had to watch it for quite a bit to confirm the ID as it was very fidgety, and often down in the brush.

* Sora. Pretty sure I heard a Sora calling from the edge of Mystery Pond. The call was four or five notes seperated by maybe one second. It sounded sorta like "wink! wink! wink! wink! wink!".

* Possible Empidonax flycatcher species. I watched the bird for about five minutes. It was perched on a snag and flying out over Mystery Pond, snatching insects. I wasn't about to try to figure out which particular species, especially with the late afternoon light. I'm thinking this is mighty late for Wisconsin?

* Great Horned Owl? The sun was getting pretty low in the sky and the woods were getting kinda dark when I heard this harsh piercing scream. Sounded like a cross between a cat and a hawk. Gave me goosebumps! I heard it a couple more times and then briefly saw the profile of a large owl flying among the trees on the other side of a ravine. Both Peterson and BNA mention that immature Great Horned Owls will make such a screaming noise in the summer and fall. It was a spooky experience, which is fitting what with Halloween just a couple of weeks away.

* House Wren. It was foraging through the brush while I was watching the flycatcher. Got pretty close to me, maybe 2-3 feet away. Fun to watch. Not a rare species by a long shot, but it's most likely the last of the season for me. Probably won't see another one until next spring.

* Grackle. Maybe 30-40 of them, perched in a tree, cackling noisily. I mention them because they made me realize I haven't seen any of these relatively common birds in maybe three weeks. They're not very common on my Milwaukee BIGBY route. When I lived in Indiana they were everyday birds. Sounds kinda weird to be excited about seeing Grackles, but I was.

* Wild Turkey. Mission accomplished! I located three males and followed them around for about half an hour. I've probably mentioned this before, but I love to follow Wild Turkeys and observe their behavior. This time they were stripping small seeds from several native plant species. They would grasp the seed heads at the base and strip the seeds with an upward motion of their bills. Interesting to see such large birds feeding on such small seeds...these were the kind of plants you normally see goldfinches and sparrows feeding on. When I had backyard turkeys in Illinois, I sometimes would see them pecking vigorously on the lawn as if it was a turkey buffet. Then I would go out and look at the spot where they'd been feeding and see only very tiny grass and weed seeds. I think this is why turkeys have spread so successfully in recent times...they can make a meal of just about anything.

Milwaukee Lakefront, 10/11-12 - Rusty Blackbirds (new BIGBY bird)

I birded the southern section of my Milwaukee walking BIGBY route: Veterans Park, the harbor behind the art museum, and Lakeshore State Park. Not particularly birdy, although I did manage to pick up my 152nd Milwaukee BIGBY species.

Some highlights:

* Not bird-related, but I did see some things a little out-of-the-ordinary today in Lakeshore State Park. First I saw a Milwaukee police officer on horseback slowly making his way through the park. Then I saw a Milwaukee fire department boat briefly cruise the harbor by Discovery World. Then a Milwaukee police boat cruised all the way into the small inner harbor that's part of Lakeshore State Park. As I was leaving, another fire department boat was near Discovery World. Made me wonder if something had happened in this area recently.

* Late Monday afternoon I heard, and then saw, several Rusty Blackbirds at the south end of the Veterans Park lagoon. Milwaukee walking BIGBY species #152.

* There were also a few American Black Ducks in the same area.

* Lots of Canada Geese and American Coots. The geese were in the Veterans Park lagoon, grazing on the lawns, and in the harbor. Hundreds. The coots are in the harbor behind the art museum. Maybe 200+.

* Two Pied-billed Grebes. One was a loner. The other hung out with the coots as if it thought it was a coot.

* The coots frequently get aggressive towards one another. One coot suddenly takes a serious dislike towards another coot and all hell breaks loose. Happens all the time. Today I watched a coot take umbrage with a much larger Herring Gull. The coot harrassed the gull to the point where the gull took flight.

* Haven't seen the local Common Goldeneye in several days. He's been a regular behind the art museum since August 3.

Monday, October 11, 2010

An odd sort of bird ID challenge :-)

An odd sort of bird ID challenge...

Last week I took a photo of one of the most picked clean bird carcasses I've ever seen: http://bit.ly/doYq1F. What is it?

I'm pretty sure I know what species it is, but then I had the advantage of studying it in person. The colors are kinda bleached out by the harsh sunlight, but I wasn't about to pick it up and move it to a spot with better lighting. :-)

And if you know something about fish, I'm curious to know what species this picked-over carcass is: http://bit.ly/ddfID9

It was maybe 10-12 inches in length. I sort of think I might know, but I'm not very sure.

Milwaukee Lakefront - Four new BIGBY species

My computer was in the shop for some repairs, so I haven't had much in the way of e-mail access. Just wanted to give a quick BIGBY update. I added four new 2010 Milwaukee walking BIGBY species last Thursday (10/7), bringing my Milwaukee count to 151 species. I added these four species near the beginning of my walk and had visions of a big day dancing in my head. No such luck, though...nothing new for the rest of the day. But it was still a very nice day for a walk.

Here are the new BIGBY birds:

* Fox Sparrow. Milwaukee walking BIGBY species #148. Near the entrance to Lakeshore State Park.

* Vesper Sparrow. BIGBY #149. Near the south end of Lakeshore State Park.

* Lapland Longspur. BIGBY #150. At south part of Lakeshore State Park. This was also species #197 in my 2010 "combo" BIGBY list. My goal of 200 species for 2010 isn't far from reality! (What's a "combo" BIGBY? See: http://bit.ly/a2HhKW).

* American Tree Sparrow. BIGBY #151. Saw several more of them later in my walk.

And a few non-BIGBY highlights from 10/7:

* I noticed a flock of small birds headed my way through some brush. I stood still as they approached me. They slowly foraged past me with several birds within arm's length. Golden-crowned Kinglets. They are really cute birds up close.

* It just now struck me that, for the past couple of weeks, I have been regularly seeing and hearing more Red-breasted Nuthatches than White-breasted. This is an experience I've never had before. Pretty cool!

* There were quite a few Winter Wrens out and about on Thursday. They really are mouse-like in their movements.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

My 2010 "combo" BIGBY birding effort is approaching 200 species

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I was keeping a combined walking BIGBY list for 2010. I lived in southern Indiana through the end of July, and have lived in Milwaukee since the beginning of August. (What's a BIGBY? See: http://bit.ly/cn3cbv).

I went out on a limb and set a 2010 "combo" BIGBY goal of 200 species. Then I started worrying that maybe that was unrealistic...that the overlap between my Indiana and Wisconsin lists was greater than I thought, and I'd wind up short of my goal.

The other day I had the time to set up a spreadsheet for my "combo" BIGBY. I had 158 species on my Indiana list, and 147 on my Milwaukee list. The overlap was smaller than I thought. After weeding out the duplicates I came up with 196 BIGBY species so far in 2010!

So, the countdown is on! :-) I have three months left, and just four species to go. I'm pretty sure that with waterfowl migration just beginning, the ducks will push me past the 200 mark fairly soon.

I'll provide a more detailed breakdown once the list hits 200 species.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Milwaukee lakefront, 10/2-10/4 - Three new BIGBY species, plus gulls in a hackberry tree

I added three new species to my Milwaukee walking BIGBY list this weekend, bringing my 2010 Milwaukee BIGBY count to 147 species.

This weekend was kinda frustrating in one respect. I'd been looking forward to looking for new waterfowl species behind Milwaukee's art museum...I was curious to see what the recent cold front might have brought in. But the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Department had sealed off my favorite vantage point for viewing waterfowl behind the museum on both Saturday and Sunday. A helpful deputy informed me that the "American Idol" TV show was holding auditions in the newer part of the museum, and that the show's producers did not want people wandering around behind the museum. I never ever thought my birding plans would be thwarted by "American Idol". :-)

Here are a few highlights from the weekend:

* Bobolink. Milwaukee walking BIGBY species #145. Several birds in the prairie of Lakeshore State Park on Saturday. The weather was pretty nasty. Strong winds. Chilly temps. The adult nonbreeding-plumaged birds kept popping up out of the prairie plants and diving back in.

* Pied-billed Grebe. BIGBY #146. Hanging out with the coots behind the art museum this AM.

* Field Sparrow. BIGBY #147. In Lake Park today, near the North Point lighthouse.

* Gulls in a hackberry tree, eating hackberries. Today. South end of Bradford Beach. I've never seen a gull perched in a tree before. But three of them were awkwardly balancing themselves in a smallish hackberry tree and dining on the berries.

* Golden-crowned Kinglets. Everywhere, from Veterans Park to Lake Park.

* Palm Warblers. All over the place at North Point (north of Bradford Beach). In fact, they were the only species near the North Point algae mats. No gulls. No shorebirds. No Harlequin Duck. Heck, not even any algae mats.

* Dark-eyed Juncos. Many in Lake Park. One flock had 50+ birds.

* Ran into Jim Edlhuber in Lakeshore State Park this AM. He was trying to find a Gray Fox to photograph. He had to settle for a Red Fox. :-)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Early signs of waterfowl migration, plus TWO gray foxes in Milwaukee's Lakeshore State Park

It was a relatively quiet morning on the southern part of my Milwaukee walking BIGBY route. No new BIGBY birds, but still some nice highlights:

* TWO gray foxes were seen in Lakeshore State Park. More details at the end of this note.

* There's a spruce tree full of small cones east of the Veterans Park lagoon. This tree seems to be a magnet for chickadees, nuthatches, etc. Quite a few species on it today. Sort of looked like a Christmas tree festooned with passerine ornaments.

* The American Coot numbers have increased behind the art museum. For the past two weeks the count has been at a steady 10-12 birds. This AM I'm guessing there were ay least 60 coots (counting coots can be a challenge since they're constantly diving underwater and popping back up). Maybe a sign that waterfowl migration is ready to kick into gear?

* The Common Goldeneye population behind the art museum has doubled, increasing from one to two birds. :-) There's been a male hanging out there since early August. This morning there was a female goldeneye swimming and diving with the coots. Interestingly, the male goldeneye was nowhere near the female. Normally he hangs out in the area where the female was this AM. Today he was farther north in the harbor, near Veterans Park. Wonder if this new goldeneye is a harbinger of additional birds that might be coming in with this weekend's cold front?

* Lots of Palm Warblers foraging in the prairie area of Lakeshore State Park. They flew up and down and in and out of the prairie enough that I didn't attempt to count them. They didn't seem to be fazed at all by the foraging Gray Fox (the fox seemed more interested in grasshoppers).

As I noted earlier, TWO gray foxes were seen in Lakeshore State Park today. I was tracking one at the south end of the park, trying to get close enough for cell phone photos. A woman stopped and watched with me for a bit, and then headed north. She came back 10-15 minutes later to tell me she'd seen another one at the north end of the park. I was following "my" fox that whole time at the far south end of the park, so there definitely was a second one to the north. Here are a couple of cell phone photos of "my" fox: http://bit.ly/9BSzwD and http://bit.ly/bjxMZu

While these photos are clearer than the one I posted a week or so ago (you can actually tell its a gray fox this time) they're still nothing to write home about. But I was shooting blind because the sun's glare washed out the view screen, so I guess they're not all that bad. I need to get me a digital SLR. :-)

One final note on these foxes. From what I've read, Gray Foxes are nocturnal animals that like forested, brushy habitat, away from human habitation. Lakeshore State Park is a 17 acre tract in an urban area with a frequent human presence. No trees. The tallest vegetation is probably goldenrods. Interesting.

View from my Lake Park sparrow spot

At the very southern tip of Milwaukee's Lake Park there's a bluff filled with foxtails.

I've been checking this spot on a regular basis during migration, with fairly decent results: White-throated, White-crowned, Savannah, Song, Swamp, and Lincoln's (only one of the latter). It can be a challenging spot since you're looking down a steep hill...it's not like checking out a level plot of grasses. Sometimes there's nothing. Other times you can hear the darned birds chirping down in the foxtails, but you never really see anything. But every now and then patience pays off.

Anyway, the other day I was trying to get a visual of some chirping birds and I looked up and was struck by how beautiful this spot can be. Funny how sometimes we can be focusing on the small details of birding and miss the big picture.

Here's a photo I took with my cell phone: http://bit.ly/cyc3xS

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Milwaukee Lakefront, 9/29 - White-crowned Sparrow (first of season)

I added a new Milwaukee walking BIGBY species today, bringing my total to 144 species for 2010. It's been almost a week since BIGBY species #143. Hopefully things will start to pick up again soon with waterfowl migration.

A few highlights:

* Several White-crowned Sparrows in Lake Park. Various locations. BIGBY species #144. I really like the vividly contrasting black and white stripes on the crown. Perhaps my favorite sparrow.

* Dark-eyed Junco. One bird. In the ravine under the iron bridge in Lake Park. It's funny...I saw a small flock of juncos almost a week ago in Veterans Park and assumed I'd be seeing them regularly now. Today's bird is the first junco I've seen since last Thursday.

* Two Brown Creepers working on the same tree trunk in Lake Park. That may be the first time I've had multiple Brown Creepers in sight at one time.

* At least a half dozen Savannah Sparrows foraging on the rocky shore just to the north and south of Bradford Beach. Maybe the most Savannah Sparrows I've ever had in a single outing.

* Yesterday morning the American Coots behind the art museum were very cranky. They were constantly chasing each other agitatedly. One bird would swim rapidly towards another, and then they'd start skittering across the water on their feet. They rarely flew. They were also calling a lot. I never realized before how comical their calls can sound. The coots have been there for two weeks now. Maybe they're starting to get on each others' nerves. :-)

* Speaking of coots, the water behind the art museum was so calm and clear Monday morning that, in a couple of spots, I could actually watch the coots under water after they would dive. I could watch them go down to the bottom and then come back up with a choice morsel of vegetation. Very cool!!

Finally, a couple of fish highlights:

* On Monday I watched a school of maybe 300 6-inch-long fish swimming in tight synchronized movements. This was at the far north end of the sidewalk behind the art museum. It was interesting to watch the school twist and turn, but still keep in tight formation. At one point they became briefly stuck in a loop, swimming in a circular motion. Made me wonder what dynamics are at play that keeps their movements so coordinated?

* On Monday and Tuesday there were several very large fish swimming near the surface in the same area as the school I mentioned above. Probably not a coincidence? The fish looked like Lake Trout (I could be wrong, but they did have the looks of salmonids). They were easily 2-3 feet long, with the largest definitely 3 feet. They were so close to the surface that their dorsal fins would occasionally show above the surface. On Tuesday I was actually watching them with my binoculars. I believe that's the first time I've ever used my binoculars for fish watching. :-)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Milwaukee Lakefront, 9/22 and 9/27 - 3 new BIGBY species

It's been pretty quiet lately on my Milwaukee walking BIGBY route. But I did manage to add three additional species to my BIGBY list, bringing the total to 143 species. (What's a BIGBY? See: http://bit.ly/cn3cbv).

I wanted to mention a mammal highlight before I get to the birding highlights. Today I had my second sighting of a Gray Fox in Lakeshore State Park. The fox was out on the lawn at the north end of the park, hunting grasshoppers. It would stand stock still and then suddenly jump up in the air and pounce nose first on some unsuspecting grasshopper. Then it would bolt down the grasshopper and stand still again, waiting for another grasshopper snack to come its way. It was so intent on its brunch that it was oblivious to the occasional passer-by. All in all, it was a VERY neat experience...there's something very special about watching wild predators at work in an urban environment!

I watched the fox for maybe two minutes before I remembered I had my cell phone with me. By this time it had moved farther away. I did manage to squeeze off a quick cell phone shot. Definitely not the best nature photo in the world, but enough to convince myself that I wasn't hallucinating. :-) If you're interested, the photo is here: http://bit.ly/a5j21f. You'll need to read the description below the photo to find the fox. (I have another photo that shows the fox's coloration more clearly, but it is so well-camoflauged against the background that I would actually have to point my finger at the spot in the photo for someone to pick it out.)

Now on to the birding highlights:

* Dark-eyed Junco (9/22). Milwaukee walking BIGBY species #141. A flock of 6-7 birds to the east of the Veterans Park lagoon. It's a funny thing...I get really excited when I see first-of-year juncos. I try to envision what sort of remote northern areas they've come from. They seem almost exotic to me. But after I see them for a week or so they just sort of fade into the background. :-) Another thing I like to do with juncos is keep track of the last-of-season junco in the spring. You have to pay more attention doing this than when noting the first-of-season junco in the fall.

* Common Loon. BIGBY #142 (9/22). In the harbor off of Veterans Park. Definitely not a cormorant. Haven't seen a loon in quite a while. First ever as a BIGBY bird in several years of BIGBYing. Pretty cool!

* Eastern Meadowlark. BIGBY #143 (9/27). In the northernmost section of prairie in Lakeshore State Park. First meadowlark I've seen since I moved to Milwaukee from Indiana nine weeks ago. Meadowlarks are special birds for me. Back in Indiana I initiated a successful campaign to stop unnecessary mowing of meadowlark habitat on the Indiana University cross country course. If you're interested in more details see: http://bit.ly/ajarUW and http://bit.ly/aozDy0.

* A flock of 10-12 American Pipits at Lakeshore State Park today, 9/27. Not a new BIGBY bird, but the most I've ever seen at one time.

* I've been seeing Red-breasted Nuthatches daily for the past 10-12 days. Back in southern Indiana I'd have maybe two sightings all winter. I'm loving it!

* It took me about three weeks to encounter my first Milwaukee Blue Jay on 8/16. Since then they have been few and far between. But over the past several days the numbers have picked up. In several hours of birding today I encountered maybe 12-15 jays, including three at the same time...I'm assuming they are migrants.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Wild Turkeys at Schlitz Audubon Nature Center

I made a visit to the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center (SANC) yesterday afternoon. It's north of Milwaukee, on Lake Michigan. While I'm a member, I'd never been there before. Nice place. Nice trails. Very natural and wild looking beachfront.

While I was walking a trail back from the beach I encountered a small flock of four Wild Turkeys! First turkeys I've seen anywhere since June 18 (in southern Indiana). Too bad I can't count them as BIGBY birds (I drove there).

Wild Turkeys are special birds to me. A small flock of turkeys lived in my neighborhood in Urbana, IL, from 2005-2007. I spent many, many hours observing them. They seemed to accept me as a part of the flock, even though they could be aggressive towards others.

Anyway, I was following around the SANC turkeys yesterday trying to get close enough for some cell phone photos. You have to get REALLY close to turkeys to take cell phone photos. I started making the soothing sounds I used to make with my old neighborhood turkeys, and got really close to the birds...maybe 15 feet away. They also seemed really curious about the beeping sounds my phone made as I took photos. I think this curiosity also helped me to get so close.

At one point, when I was 15 feet away and trying to get closer, one of the turkeys gave me a funny look. I thought "Oh-oh. I've pushed my luck and he's going to come after me." I backed up about ten feet and he resumed foraging.

I know what it's like to be chased by turkeys. A couple of my old neighborhood turkeys came after me once, the only time they'd been aggressive towards me. I took photos while the chase was on, if anyone's interested:

Here are the photos, with my comments:


And here's a photo slide show - larger photos, but without my commentary:



Ontario ornithologist Ron Pittaway has released his new finch forecast for this coming winter (2010-2011).

As he notes in his forecast: "Forecasts apply mainly to Ontario, but neighboring provinces and states may find they apply to them." In other words, his forecast may be of interest to birders in the Great Lakes states.

His forecast is available at: http://bit.ly/9YZc2Q

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Milwaukee lakefront, 9/21 - American Pipits, Northern Pintail

I took it easy today...only four hours in the field. I covered the southern part of my BIGBY route: Veterans Park to Lakeshore State Park. Two more BIGBY species, bringing my Milwaukee walking BIGBY count to 141 species.

The two new BIGBY species are:

* American Pipit. At least two birds working their way south along the rocky Lake Michigan shore of Lakeshore State Park. Field marks consistent with pipits. The diagnostic tail-bobbing cinched the ID for me. Milwaukee walking BIGBY species #140.

* Northern Pintail. Female/immature, behind the art museum, hanging out with the Mallards, who weren't very hospitable towards their guest. I was just standing there, leaning against the railing, enjoying the warm breezes, when it struck me that one of the Mallards looked "different". Milwaukee walking BIGBY species #141.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Milwaukee Lakefront, 9/20 - two new BIGBY ducks

I swear that my BIGBY birding is coming close to being a full time job. I left home today at 6:45AM and didn't return until 2:45PM. That's right...eight hours of wandering around the Milwaukee lakefront and nearby environs!

It wasn't especially birdy today, but I did have a few nice highlights:

* Three different heron species practically right next to each other along the Veterans Park lagoon. Left to right they were: Great Blue Heron, Green Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron.

* Best views I have ever had of a Savannah Sparrow. Along the edge of the prairie plantings near the entrance to Lakeshore State Park. Only ten feet away, posing cooperatively. Very strikingly marked sparrow.

* Excellent closeup views of a Red-breasted Nuthatch extracting conifer seeds from cones in a tree to the east of the Veterans Park lagoon.

* Greater Scaup. In the harbor behind the art museum. Milwaukee walking BIGBY species #138.

* Green-winged Teal. Several, in the Lakeshore State Park lagoon, hanging out with Mallards. Either females or immatures. They were so small looking that I first thought they were half-grown Mallards. :-) Bigby #139.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Veterans Park, Milwaukee, 9/19/10 - Sedge Wren AND Marsh Wren (both new BIGBY birds)

Part way into my walk this AM it started to rain. I almost cut my outing short, but I had my umbrella along with me and decided to continue walking in the rain. I'm glad I didn't head home, as I picked up two interesting new BIGBY species, bringing my Milwaukee walking BIGBY species count up to 137 species. (What's a BIGBY? See: http://bit.ly/cn3cbv).

There wasn't much of note for most of my walk, other than a flock of at least 200 Canada Geese grazing on the big lawn at Veterans Park, and about ten American Coots behind the art museum.

The heaviest part of the rain hit while I was at Lakeshore State Park. It was kind of cool to look at the Milwaukee skyline in the mist and rain, and watch the storm head out east over Lake Michigan. Just glad it wasn't a thunderstorm. This is NOT the place to be with lightning around. You're out on a peninsula in the harbor, and for most of the time the top of your head is the highest point around. Makes you feel like a lightning rod.

The rains ended just as I hit the south end of Veterans Park. I spent some time scanning the large flock of Canadas in hopes of seeing a stray blue phase Snow Goose or a Cackling Goose. No luck. I then focused on the Veterans Park lagoon. No waterfowl other than the resident Mallards and Canadas. But I did have two nice highlights:

* There's an area on the east side of the lagoon where the grass is never mowed, giving it a prairie-like look that merges into a thick stand of willows and shrubs. I don't imagine it would be worth your while to go out of your way to bird here, but it's a nice location on my BIGBY walks. I kept thinking I was hearing Sedge Wrens calling, but I've been known on more than one occasion to mistake a Common Yellowthroat call for a Sedge Wren. Sure enough, a male Common Yellowthroat emerged from the brush. But then some motion caught my eye not twenty feet away...Sedge Wren posing nicely on the top of a weedy plant! They are very attractive little wrens. Haven't seen one in maybe 4-5 years. BIGBY species #136.

* I've been spending a fair amount of time lately (several hours?) at the far south end of the Veterans Park lagoon. Nice area with cattails, willows, and other shrubs and small trees. Every once in a while it holds some interesting birds. Most of the time lately though it's just been Gray Catbirds, Palm Warblers, and White-throated Sparrows. Today I kept seeing a small bird flitting in and out of the cattails. Every time I'd get my binoculars focused the bird would be gone. After about 25 minutes of waiting patiently I finally got a clear view of the bird. Marsh Wren. After this brief view, the bird more or less disappeared. BIGBY species #137.

I'm assuming both wren species were migrants, as I've not run across either in these areas before.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Milwaukee lakefront, 9/13 and 9/14 - Nine new BIGBY species

Spent a lot of time birding in the beautiful Monday and Tuesday weather. I was out for eight hours yesterday alone, starting at 5:30AM. I located nine new Milwaukee walking BIGBY species, bringing my 2010 count to 135 species. (What's a BIGBY? See: http://bit.ly/cn3cbv).

It's kind of funny how sometimes a simple thing can affect you psychologically. On Monday I saw my first-of-season White-throated Sparrow hanging out with a mixed flock of birds by the Lake Park tennis courts. Didn't think anything about it at the time. Yesterday the WTSPs were all over the place...including a single flock with 30-40 birds, with several singing snippets of their sweetly haunting songs. The presence of so many winter sparrows made my brain shift subconsciously into winter mode, and I was cold for the next half hour or so.

First a couple of mammal highlights, both from Tuesday:

* A bat was sleeping under the overhang above the walkway on the south side of Discovery World. Not sure how it managed to get a grip there...the surface seemed pretty smooth. I'm guessing it was a Little Brown Bat.

* I saw a Gray Fox running through the large white rocks at the Summerfest venue near the entrance to Lakeshore State Park. I'm assuming it was one of the foxes that live at the park.

Here are the Monday bird highlights (an especially birdy day):

* I was serenaded by an Eastern Screech-owl as I walked past Lafayette Place where it heads down the hill to the lakefront. It was in some trees just to the east of a couple of ultra-modern apartment highrises. Kinda interesting contrast...the small owl vocalizing in front of the tall white towers.

* Lots of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, including one who burst into song by the North Point Lighthouse.

* Six thrush species in Lake Park: Hermit, Wood (BIGBY #127), Swainson's, Gray-cheeked, Robin and Bluebird).

* Five woodpecker species in Lake Park: Flicker, Sapsucker, Downy, Hairy, Red-bellied.* Both nuthatch species, including 3-4 Red-breasted. I don't know why it is, but when I see my first RBNU migrants in the fall, my gut reaction is "chickadee". Maybe it's the black and white pattern on the head. Then, a couple of seconds later, it registers in the old brain.

* Fifteen warbler species. No new BIGBY species, but fun none the less. This is the most warbler species I've ever had in one outing. Most were in a flock by the Lake Park tennis courts: Cape May, Tennessee, Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Black-throated Green, Palm, Bay-breasted, Black and White, Redstart, Yellow-rumped, Nashville, Blackburnian, Wilson's, Pine, and Common Yellowthroat.

* Blue Jay. Only the third one I've encountered in my six weeks birding the lakefront.

* Turkey Vulture. Milwaukee walking BIGBY species #128, high overhead.

* Ruby-crowned Kinglet. BIGBY #129. Lake Park.

* White-throated Sparrow. BIGBY #130. One in Lake Park Monday. Everywhere on Tuesday.

* Lincoln's Sparrow. BIGBY #131. South end of Lake Park, where the upper part of the lake bluff is thick with foxtails.

And here are Tuesday's highlights:

* Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. BIGBY #132. Lake Park. As my Peterson's says: "a wash of yellow from throat to belly." Eye ring had a slight yellowish tint as well.

* Brown Thrasher. BIGBY #133. Flew by as I looked for sparrows in the foxtails at the south tip of Lake Park.

* American Coot. BIGBY #134. Four birds behind the Milwaukee art museum. Waterfowl migration has started!!

* Wood Duck. BIGBY #135. Veterans Park lagoon. I was distracted by the harsh sound of a heron's call. I found an immature Black-crowned Night-Heron who seemed a little irritated by the Wood Duck invading its personal space. I never would have noticed the Wood Duck if the heron hadn't been so cranky.

Bernie Sloan