Frigid Birding – I’m Ready for Spring

Well winter is refusing to give up and let spring come so we are still experiencing below zero wind chills and snowy weather. I for one am very very ready for spring to hurry up and get here. I made myself go birding though because with everything going on I needed that stress relief of just walking in the woods to see what I could see. In the sheltered areas of the trees the birds were singing their ‘it’s almost spring’ songs which made me feel a little better even if the wind was biting my cheeks. I got a kick out of the chickadees playing around in the shrubs – they really are fun to watch. The cardinals were also laying claim to their territories and singing loudly over the pines.

There is a pond fed by a natural spring which I’ve mentioned before, and also posted pictures from, where the water stays open year round. Today it was so cold there was steam coming off of the water which made for some really neat visuals as the Mallards swam around.

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Snowy Owls in Wisconsin

The day was absolutely gorgeous with clear blue skies and stunning pastoral landscapes making it a perfect day to drive around on a hunt for the ever elusive Snowy Owl. I was beginning to get nervous that the winter season was slowly coming to an end and that I would miss the irruption of Snowy Owls that have invaded the United States this year, Wisconsin in particular. The number of Snowy Owls this year has been unprecedented with an almost 150 individual owls reported.

Owls have a soft spot in my heart so any time I get to see one it’s a huge deal. Today was apparently the day that my friend and I were to be blessed with our very own Snowy Owl sighting. We were thinking it was the bird’s birthday gift to my friend who is going to be celebrating her birthday this Wednesday. Whatever the reason an absolutely beautiful (what appears to be) female Snowy Owl flew from one farm silo to another which alerted us to her presence. The site of that wingspan was something to behold. She then proceeded to perch upon another silo affording us a wonderful prolonged viewing. Our car was not the only one that found her – very quickly after she flew a convoy of other bird enthusiasts appeared to take in the view.

Needless to say my friend and I freaked out after we confirmed that it was indeed a Snowy Owl and proceeded to geek out in the car over our excitement. We were close enough to be able to get photographic evidence of our new lifelist addition despite the biting wind and not wanting to trespass on private farmland.

I’m so glad I was able to capture this and experience this bird in person before they head back up north to their normal Arctic stomping grounds. Hopefully this individual is finding enough food and will have a long healthy life ahead of it.

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Barred Owl in Repose

I had a very fun excursion on a birding field trip hosted by the local Audubon society. There were eight of us, including the leader and co-leader of the outing who were very knowledgeable, enthusiastic individuals. The temperatures that day were as they have been for a while – single digit forecasts with wind chills below zero. I had ordered snow pants to add to my birding in cold weather gear and decided to use this excursion as a field test of whether or not they would keep me warm and dry as we tromped through the snow. I am pleased to say that they worked wonderfully and am very glad that I decided to invest in them.

The highlight of the trip for me was the Barred Owl I spotted sitting silently next to the trunk of the tree. There was a comical couple of minutes while I, the last in our single-file line of marchers in the snow, tried to *silently* get everyone’s attention to look at the owl. Eventually we caught everyone and they got a glimpse of the beautiful bird in what may actually have been it’s nesting cavity. The idea of being able to watch for Barred Owl babies is an exciting one to me, but we will see what happens. The other highlight was a Merlin perched near the parking lot of the nature preserve. Overall the trip was very productive with me adding two new species to my life list – the Barred Owl and the Merlin. Other notable sightings during the trip were several Red-headed Woodpeckers, a very large gaggle of turkeys, and a Great Blue Heron wintering over in a local spring. I was not able to get a very good picture of the Merlin unfortunately because of how dark it was that early in the morning, but here at some of the other pictures I took during the trip.

Eclipse Waterfowl Confuse Me

I’m finding fall, and then winter birding, is a lot trickier than spring given that you have birds in their eclipse (i.e. non breeding) plumage, as well as youngsters that haven’t grown into their adult plumage resulting in some very interesting looking birds. I took a trip last week to a spring-fed ‘duck pond’ that stays open year round and that typically houses 200+ mallards. Sometimes if you are lucky there are other interesting things mixed in with the hordes of mallards swimming around.

My compatriot and I that braved the cold were in luck and got to add a new species to our lists: the Gadwall. Identification was tricky given the eclipse plumage but Gadwall males apparently have all black rump feathers year round which helped identify what species this was. Another duck that we thought maybe was another new species is more than likely a hybrid of a domestic and non domestic duck, like a mallard. Apparently in this area that is fairly common so I will need to be more aware of that when attempting to identify things.

I tried to go birding yesterday with the 40 degree weather (up from -30’s we were having earlier!) as well but the breeze was keeping almost everything in deep cover so I didn’t seem much. A small flock of robins joined me on my walk though which wasn’t totally unexpected but still strange to see them hanging around here year-round. The vivid orange of their breast feathers was a nice splotch of color against the white and gray brown landscape.

Tree Sparrows and I

Well looking at the weather forecast it looks like I have embarked on my last birding excursion for the 2013 year. Looking back on the year I can say that I have added to my life list, but definitely not to the degree I had hoped to. Still, my skills in telling apart sparrows has improved over this year which is something so I am grateful to get that experience under my belt.

Yesterday was gorgeous so I’m glad I went birding: the sun was out, the skies were clear and there was little wind. Despite that though, there was not a lot of bird activity. I went to check out the spring in a local nature preserve that stays open pretty much year round but the only birds in evidence were a pair a Tree Sparrows. In fact it was pretty much all Tree Sparrows that kept me company on my walk. Those and hundreds of Canadian Geese flying overhead. I did enjoy the walk though so I’m glad I went but I had hoped to at least see a few more winter-specific species on my trip.

On my way back to my car I ran into a flock of probably 40+ Tree Sparrows foraging long the path and in the long grass which was a lot of fun. They are gregarious little things and didn’t seem to mind me watching their antics. A few even posed nicely for me in the snow letting me snap a few pictures.