Sunday, October 31, 2010

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, 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:

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.

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