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.