Sunday, January 30, 2011

Milwaukee BIGBY update - 21 new life birds so far!!

Today I was taking a look at the checklist of birds seen during my Milwaukee walking BIGBY. I've never done a BIGBY near a large body of water, so I decided to see how many new life birds I've recorded. Not new BIGBY life birds, but new life birds overall.

I was surprised (but maybe not surprised) to find that 10% of the species I've recorded since I moved to Milwaukee were new LIFE birds.

Why was I surprised? I've added 21 new lifer birds since starting my Milwaukee BIGBY on 8/1/10!

Why was I not surprised? Most of my birding before Milwaukee was generally in Midwestern woodlands and grasslands. Birding the Lake Michigan waterfront was a completely new experience.

Not surprisingly, waterfowl, shorebirds, waders and gulls accounted for 20 of the 21 new life birds. The outlier was what I am convinced was a Cave Swallow in December at Lakeshore State Park (I filed a report with the WSO...we'll see what they think).

Also not surprisingly, I had no new lifer owls, hawks or falcons. No new warblers or sparrows or other passerines.

Here's the list of the 21 new life species:

Ross's Goose
Cackling Goose
Trumpeter Swan
Harlequin Duck
Surf Scoter
White-winged Scoter
Black Scoter
Long-tailed Duck
Barrow's Goldeneye
Red-throated Loon
Black-crowned Night Heron
Ruddy Turnstone
Franklin's Gull
Thayer's Gull
Black-legged Kittiwake
Greater Black-backed Gull
Iceland Gull
Glaucous Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Cave Swallow

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Birdwatching takes flight in Britain's prisons

Interesting story from the BBC:

"This weekend over half a million people in the UK will take part in the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds' big garden birdwatch, the largest survey of its kind in the world. Among them are inmates at 61 of the nation's prisons".

Full text at:

Lake Park "turkey hunt", 1/28/11

Yesterday I decided to bird Milwaukee's Lake Park. I've been focusing on the lakefront and kinda neglecting Lake Park. I also thought that, with the relatively fresh snow, it might be a good time to do a turkey survey (i.e., look for turkey tracks) to see if any turkeys might be visiting the park. (I've heard there was one in the park during 2009, and I've had reports of two nearby sightings in the past few years).

Anyway, I walked the ravine trails looking for tracks, and I walked circles around the three bird feeder sites in the park. No turkey tracks anywhere. But the fresh snow had been there only about 24 hours or so, so I may give it a shot again next week.

It was kind of refreshing hanging out with the woodland birds. I was sort of getting tired of ducks. :-)  Lots of chickadees and juncos. Three woodpecker species (downy, hairy, red-bellied). One Red-breasted Nuthatch and quite a few White-breasted. American Tree Sparrows. Northern Cardinals. A heard-but-not-seen Eastern Bluebird.

There were three Mourning Doves under a feeder in the park. They flew away as I approached. It's been awhile since I've been near multiple doves, and I'd sort of forgotten how their wings whistle when they take off. For some reason it was like I was hearing it for the first time.

But my big highlight of the day was a male House Finch. A House Finch as a highlight? Well, this one was perched in a tree lustily singing his little heart out. Tonic for a winter-weary soul! Reminded me that, yes, spring will get here one day.

And there was a little excitement during my walk, as well. As I was leaving the park I heard a number of emergency vehicles stopping in the general vicinity of Bradford Beach/North Point. I walked over to the top of the bluff and saw eight eight police cars (a mix of city and county), seven fire department vehicles (including the dive rescue truck), and a coast guard truck...all parked along Lincoln Memorial Drive. There was even a small boat moving along the shore. People were spread out on the shore, looking down into the water.

I was on top of the bluff in Lake Park, and didn't have a good way to get down to the lake, so I couldn't get close enough to find out what's going on. Haven't seen anything in the news.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Interesting "Daily Show" segment about birding saving a community

Edgy, provocative, but interesting "Daily Show" segment about the Mississippi Audubon Society saving what's left of a historic black community in Mississippi:

Monday, January 24, 2011

My "12-month BIGBY" list now has 200 species!

As I've mentioned in the past. I'm currently doing a "12-month BIGBY". What's a 12-month BIGBY? I'm recording all the species I see while walking from home during my first twelve months as a Milkwaukee and Wisconsin resident. This BIGBY started on 8/1/10, the day I moved to Milwaukee, and will end on 7/31/11.

My goal for the 12-month BIGBY was 200 species (I've been sitting on 198 for a couple of weeks). I reached this goal yesterday while watching the Bears/Packers game...without even going birding!!

During lulls in the action I was updating my BIGBY spreadsheet when, lo and behold, I found two species I forgot to add in September (Sharp-shinned Hawk and Spotted Sandpiper).

Funny way to reach a birding goal...relaxing in a chair with a beer, munching on chicken wings, and watching a Bears/Packers game. :-)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Milwaukee, 1/20/11 - Barrow's Goldeneye(?), leucistic Scaup, etc

I've decided that I'm now in birding's "winter doldrums" in terms of seeing new species. I'm two species shy of 200 species for my 12-month Milwaukee BIGBY (8/1/10-7/31/11). But every day I'm seeing pretty much the same usual suspects. I'm pretty much tapped out on duck and gull species...I don't think I can come up with any new ones. I'm thinking I'll probably have to wait for spring migration to hit the 200 mark...maybe some shorebirds I missed this fall?

But the "winter doldrums" aren't all bad. There's less of a drive to push for the next new species, and more time to simply enjoy and appreciate the birds that *are* around. Kinda relaxing...

Some highlights from Thursday, January 20:

* Barrow's Goldeneye(?). Lakeshore State Park. I posted an email about this bird Wednesday afternoon. I called it a "possible" first winter male. But after hearing from someone off-list who had also seen this bird and also ID'd it as a Barrow's, I feel a little more confident with my ID. The bird was sort of hanging out by itself, loosely associated with three female Scaups. Oddly enough, it's not a new 12-month BIGBY bird. I saw a female Barrow's off of Bradford Beach on 12/15/10. Guy from Germany found it, had it in his scope, and let me take a look.

* Leucistic Scaup. Female. Body was a light brownish color, the color of coffee with a lot of cream. Head was a little darker brown. Very different and interesting looking bird.

* Several hundred ducks in the open water at the entrance to the Discovery World harbor (this is where the leucistic bird was). Mostly Scaups, but with a fair number of Goldeneyes. At one point almost all of them took off abruptly and headed south. After looking around a bit I saw one of the resident Red Foxes down on the rocks. That must have been what spooked the ducks. Most of the birds eventually returned, but more gradually than they left. One thing I've noticed about Scaups is that they seem to spend a fair amount of time flying back and forth between different parts of the lakefront. A couple of birds will take off, and several dozen will follow. Doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason.

* Got another good look at the Meadowlark in Lakeshore State Park. Still can't decide on Eastern or Western. Hopefully it will stick around until spring, when its song will give it away (if it's a male, that is). Lots of "if's", I guess.

* Eight Northern Cardinals at the same time. Someone has been putting out sunflower seed along the ramp that leads down the bluff from Prospect Avenue. Most Northern Cardinals I've seen at once in a long time.

* Fifteen Northern Juncos in this same area. I believe that's the most I've seen at once since moving to Milwaukee.

* A male/female pair of House Finches. Nothing exotic, but the first ones I've seen since maybe the CBC. Can't wait til they start singing their spring songs.

* Very brightly colored male Purple Finch. Beautiful bird. Same area as the cardinals and juncos.

* Forty House Sparrows, in some bushes near Ogden and Humboldt, on my way to the grocery store. I know this seems like an odd thing to report, but I don't see many HOSPs when I'm birding along the lakefront. And I rarely saw them at my Indiana home...even at my feeders. Because of this, they look very strange and exotic when I see a decent-sized flock. :-)

Wild Turkey - My official 2011 BIGBY nemesis bird

I decided today that Wild Turkey will be my 2011 BIGBY nemesis bird. No matter how many species I tally in 2011, I will declare the year a success if I can find me a turkey while walking from home. I have turkeys as BIGBY birds in Illinois and Indiana, but not (yet) in Wisconsin.

Does anyone know where I might have a chance of finding turkeys within *reasonable* walking distance of the intersection of Prospect and Ogden on Milwaukee's east side? I'm planning on checking out the Shorewood Nature Preserve when conditions allow (I hear it's a pretty steep trail).

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

National Bird Day

For what it's worth, today is National Bird Day:

The focus seems to be on both wild and pet birds...

Bernie Sloan

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Rough-legged Hawk, 1/3/11 - Species #194 in my new BIGBY

The year 2010 has ended, and it's time for people to start their new 2011 lists from scratch.

But I still have a Big Green Big Year (BIGBY) underway. I moved to Milwaukee on 8/1/10. I'm now working on my "first-twelve-months-in-Milwaukee" Big Green Big Year. This BIGBY will end on 7/31/11.

Yesterday (1/3/11) I spotted a dark phase Rough-legged Hawk perched in a small tree near McKinley Beach on Milwaukee's lakefront. That's the 194th species I've found since moving to Milwaukee.

My goal is to reach 200 Milwaukee walking BIGBY species by 7/31/11. Six species to go, and seven months to do it. Sounds like a piece of cake, right? Not really. In looking at my list of Milwaukee BIGBY species recorded so far, I'm thinking I'll be hard pressed to come up with six new species. Looks like I'm going to have to come up with some interesting raptors, gulls, or shorebirds. Or maybe we'll be blessed with a few interesting northern species yet this winter.

Good birding!!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Did you do a Big Green Big Year (BIGBY) in 2010?

Just wondering how other BIGBY (green birding) folks fared in 2010?  I'm going to do a more detailed overview of my year in a week or so, but I thought I'd do a quick summary for now. (What's a BIGBY? See:

I had several BIGBY lists going in 2010. From January through July I lived in Bloomington, Indiana. I had 152 species on that list. From August through December I lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I had 193 species on that BIGBY list. And then I kept a "combo" BIGBY list for all of 2010. After accounting for the overlap between my Indiana and Wisconsin BIGBY lists, I came up with a total of 232 BIGBY species for the calendar year. (For the record, I did a walking BIGBY in 2010, counting only the species I encountered while walking from home).

If you did a BIGBY in 2010, how did it go?