Saturday, August 28, 2010

Milwaukee BIGBY species #100 - Palm Warbler

Just a quick post to note that my 100th BIGBY species was a Palm Warbler.

Lake Park, Milwaukee, 8/26-27 – Ten new Milwaukee BIGBY species

I’ve really been striking out on shorebirds lately. Bradford Beach and the North Point algae mats have been really quiet. Yesterday all I saw there was one Spotted Sandpiper. Today I had another solitary Spotted Sandpiper, and several Semipalmated Plovers. And things looked so promising earlier in the week...

So, I decided to shift gears and head up the bluff into Lake Park on a warbler quest. There’s a spot in Lake Park where I’ve had pretty good luck with warblers this week. It’s a section of the Locust Street Ravine Trail where the tree canopy is kind of open. (I’ve marked this spot on the following Google map: I met up with Brian Hansen for part of my Thursday trip.

Some Lake Park highlights:

* Started out Thursday with a mystery warbler. Couldn't for the life of me figure out what it was. Thought I had something exotic...I looked through Sibley and it turned out to be a 1st winter female Chestnut-sided Warbler. Not even a new BIGBY bird. Oh well. Interesting bird, chestnut coloring of course I never thought Chestnut-sided Warbler.

* Next I saw three juvenile Eastern Bluebirds in an ornamental fruit tree near a parking lot. I saw bluebirds everyday in southern Indiana before I moved to Milwaukee. These are the first I’ve seen since I moved here a month ago. Milwaukee BIGBY species #90, and a real tonic for the soul.

* Black-throated Blue Warbler. BIGBY #91.

* Black-throated Green Warbler. BIGBY #92.

* Bay-breasted Warbler. BIGBY #93.

* Pine Warbler. BIGBY #94.

* Merlin. BIGBY #95. Brian Hansen and I were watching warblers when we saw an oddly moving flock of swallows up high. At first we wondered if they were hunting dragonflies. Then we realized they were mobbing a Merlin that was headed south along the lake bluff. Good find!!

* Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Female. BIGBY #96.

The following highlights are from this morning, Friday, 8/27, also in my favorite Lake Park warbler spot:

* Wilson’s Warbler. BIGBY #97.

* Ovenbird. BIGBY #98.

* Golden-winged Warbler. BIGBY #99.

* Chimney Swifts. A couple hundred swifts were flying over Lake Park relatively silently.

* Great Crested Flycatcher. I had the good fortune to see six of these birds flying at once in Lake Park. Family group??

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Milwaukee lakefront, 8/25 – Swamp Sparrow, Philadelphia and Yellow-throated Vireos

I woke up early this morning inspired by the passage of last night’s cold front. I left my apartment at 5:30AM, while visions of migrants danced in my head. I hit Bradford Beach, the algae mats north of Bradford Beach, and Lake Park. Let’s just say the morning’s birding did not meet up with my expectations. I did have three new Milwaukee walking BIGBY species, but other than that the birding was surprisingly quiet. A couple of Lake Michigan birders on the Indiana birding list also have talked about how the front didn’t really bring in anything new today.

A few highlights:

* In a posting earlier today, Brian Hansen reported seeing 4 or 5 shorebird species last night at the algae mats north of Bradford Beach. I had high hopes that the cold front had brought some additional BIGBY shorebird species for me. I hung out in this area for quite awhile this morning and only saw a half dozen Spotted Sandpipers and one Semipalmated Plover. It’s almost like most of the shorebirds left this spot with the front last night, and no new birds came in with the front.

* I had a Swamp Sparrow as BIGBY species #87. At the far north end of Bradford Beach there is a small kind of wet area with native plants. I stop by this spot every day looking for sparrows, but haven’t seen anything. Today some movement in a couple of plants made me think there might be a bird down low. After watching for a couple of minutes, a Swamp Sparrow popped up and sat at the top of a plant for several seconds before it flew off.

* Up in Lake Park I saw a Philadelphia Vireo in an open area in one of the ravines. There may have been two. BIGBY species #88.

* In the same area as the Philadelphia Vireo I saw a hummingbird that seemed to have a personal vendetta going against a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. When I first saw them the hummer was pursuing the gnatcatcher. The gnatcatcher flew into some thick leafy cover. The hummer perched on a bare branch. When the gnatcatcher emerged from the cover, the hummer attacked the gnatcatcher again. This happened a couple more times. Made me wonder what got the hummer so riled up?

* Speaking of hummingbirds, I saw several over a five minute period while watching the jewelweed in the ravine north of the lighthouse.

* As I was leaving Lake Park I checked out the ravine south of the lighthouse and got a brief glimpse of what I’m pretty sure was a Yellow-throated Vireo. BIGBY species #89.

* Finally, I had a real treat as I hit the lakefront before sunrise. I heard a coyote howl plaintively twice. I’m used to hearing coyotes in other places, but it was a different experience hearing one in a city. Gave me goose bumps.

Well, I’m getting another early start tomorrow morning. Maybe some more migrants will show up.

"New" Ivory-billed Woodpecker photos

Smithsonian Magazine has a short feature about some recently unearthed Ivory-billed Woodpecker nestling photos from James Tanner's 1938 expedition to the Singer Tract in Louisiana.

Here's the article:

Here are the photos:

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Waiting for Nighthawks

Every year in mid-August I get excited about the upcoming migration of the Common Nighthawk. I rarely see them in summer, and then suddenly there's the prospect of seeing hundreds of the birds silently on the move.

Now that folks on WISBIRDN (the Wisconsin birding list) have started reporting migrating flocks, my eyes are always on the sky in the evenings. I sit on my north facing deck and scan the horizon. I've had good luck in the past when I've lived in Indiana and Illinois, and I hope my luck continues here in southeastern Wisconsin.

In some ways it’s the same feeling I used to get with migrating Canada Geese when I was younger. It was invigorating to see the high flying v-shaped skeins of geese, up so high that their raucous honking was barely audible. The geese would inspire a sense of wanderlust...coming from who knows where, heading to who knows where, making only a brief appearance in my world. But the presence of year-round resident Canada Goose flocks has undermined that specialness. I think my earlier fascination with migrating geese has been replaced by the joy I feel when I hear the bugling calls of migrating Sandhill Cranes. Like the earlier geese, the cranes pass over unexpectedly, spending very little time in my world.

I think this fascination with nighthawks stems in part from the transient nature of migration. But there’s more to it than that. It’s also part of the same feeling that I get when I go out to look for displaying American Woodcocks in the spring. When I lived in Indiana and Illinois I could pick a night in the spring, go to a specific spot, and find displaying woodcocks. Same with migrating nighthawks in the fall. It was pretty cool to know enough about a bird that I could go out and reliably find it doing something special. It made me feel more in touch with the natural world. Hopefully I'll be able to continue these experiences in my new location.

In the meantime, I'll enjoy nighthawk migration vicariously, reading people's reports on WISBIRDN. :-)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

"The Life of Birds": new album inspired by birdwatching

British musician Dave Rotheray releases The Life of Birds, an album inspired by his birdwatching:

eBird gets supercomputer access

From the journal Nature:

"Last week (eBird & the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology) learned that the project has been awarded 100,000 hours on the US National Science Foundation's TeraGrid supercomputer. By performing intensive data analysis using the supercomputer, Kelling and his colleagues hope to turn the scattered observations of each bird species into a global view of its movements."

Full text at:

Monday, August 9, 2010

My first week of Milwaukee birding (August 3 – August 9)

After the dust settled from my move to Wisconsin last week, I had the chance to get out and do a little birding.

My primary goal was to stake out my new BIGBY territory (What's a BIGBY? See: My specialty is the “walking BIGBY”, so I needed to locate birding areas within walking distance of my apartment.

I had been a little concerned about moving to an urban location…my previous home in southern Indiana was a ten minute walk from several square miles of uninhabited forested hills, as well as a couple hundred acres of grasslands. When I moved to Wisconsin I’d already recorded 150+ species this year on my Indiana BIGBY list.

After a week of checking out potential BIGBY sites I’m thinking my concerns were unfounded...I have the good fortune to be living about 1,000 feet from Lake Michigan, and a number of fine parks along the lakefront. I wasn’t birding intensively, and it’s still sort of the birding summer doldrums, but I managed to pick up 45 species (for a complete list of species, see:

My new walking BIGBY territory ranges from Lakeshore State Park in the south to Lake Park in the north, a distance of about 3.5 miles. Nice mix of water, shoreline, grassy areas, and wooded areas. I was pleasantly surprised by some of the woodland birds I encountered in my wanderings: Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Red-eyed Vireo, Eastern Wood-pewee, etc. I thought I’d left birds like that behind when I moved from the rural woods of southern Indiana to the urban areas of Milwaukee’s east side. I was also pleased to see a Peregrine Falcon scatter some gulls.

Had one rather odd experience though...I’ve yet to encounter a single Blue Jay.

Milwaukee BIGBY Species List (August 3 – August 9)

I moved to Milwaukee in late July. Here is the beginning of my Milwaukee BIGBY list (What's a BIGBY? See: My specialty is the “walking BIGBY”, so the following 45 species were within walking distance of my apartment on Milwaukee's east side:

Canada Goose
Mallard (including one large male with a white chest)
Double-crested Cormorant (several dozen on Friday)
Great Blue Heron
Spotted Sandpiper
Common Nighthawk
Herring Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Red-tailed Hawk
Cooper’s Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk
Peregrine Falcon
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Northern Cardinal
Gray Catbird
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
American Robin
Red-eyed Vireo
Eastern Wood-pewee
Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Kingbird
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (my first ever in summer!)
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Chimney Swift
Northern Rouhh-winged Swallow
Barn Swallow
Tree Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Chipping Sparrow (including one feeding a fat cowbird)
American Goldfinch
Indigo Bunting (many!)
House Sparrow
House Finch
American Crow
Brown-headed Cowbird
Common Grackle
Red-winged Blackbird
European Starling
Mourning Dove
Rock Pigeon