Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Our Big Day Results!

Ryan Brady and Dick Verch

Last Monday, Memorial Day, Ryan Brady, Dick Verch, and I got up at 2 am and spent the day trying to see as many birds as we could in northern Wisconsin. While we were loading the vehicles at 2:30 or so, we heard the first bird of the day—a Common Yellowthroat. 

Common Yellowthroat
(Not our Big Day yellowthroat)

We listened hard at several good spots for owls, but it was windy and apparently owls don’t give a hoot about Memorial Day, or at least they don’t give a hoot on Memorial Day. We also didn’t get a single Common Nighthawk. We weren’t entirely skunked on nocturnal birds—we had several woodcocks and Whip-poor-wills, lots of American Bitterns, one Le Conte’s Sparrow, Soras and Virginia Rail, and a distant Least Bittern—my first ever so far north in Wisconsin.

Le Conte's Sparrow
(Not our Big Day Le Conte's Sparrow)

We had lovely shorebirding in Ashland, including Ruddy Turnstones and a Black-bellied Plover in splendid breeding plumage. One Black Scoter swam near shore, and we saw the last Mute Swan hanging around Ashland, a sight that always makes me sad. I know that it was wise from a conservation standpoint to stop invasive Mute Swans from breeding in the state, but that doesn’t lessen the individual tragedy for the very last of its kind, imprinted on the Prentice Park area and returns year after lonely year in hopes of finally attracting a mate.

Mute Swan

Some farm fields in the Benoit area gave us looks at, but no good photos of, Upland Sandpipers. 

Upland Sandpiper

I did get a few shots of Bobolinks--this has been a good year for finding them.


In the Moquah Barrens State Natural Area, we found quite a few neat birds, like Scarlet Tanager and Blue-headed Vireo. We also heard a lovely Winter Wren song, saw Olive-sided and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, and enjoyed an unexpected flock of Red Crossbills.

From there we headed to the Port Wing beach where we had the best shorebird flock of the day, numbering about a hundred birds of eight species, including lots of one of my favorites, Semipalmated Plovers. 

Ruddy Turnstones

Mixed shorebird flock

Then we went to one of my favorite spots on earth, Big Pete Road. This excellent road through boreal forest in a state natural area gave us a handful of new birds for the day, including Golden-crowned Kinglet, Brown Creeper, and Northern Parula. 

Brown Creeper
(Not our Big Day Brown Creeper)

The most exciting find of the day was in Herbster, when we came upon a group of three Red-throated Loons in gorgeous breeding plumage. (No photo.)

Our list had reached 100 by 8 am, but sightings of new birds after that slowed down considerably, in part because we took time savoring some of our best sightings, like those shorebirds in Port Wing, in part because we never once came upon a flock of migrating warblers, and in part because the day was so windy. In the afternoon, well after we’d left Port Wing, a huge hailstorm hit there. By then we were in Washburn, and managed to elude the worst of the rain, though the edge of the storm did dump a bit of rain in late afternoon.


We called our team Invasion of the Boreal Chickadees, but didn’t get into the black spruce/tamarack bogs in the Clam Lake area, where we might have seen Boreal Chickadees and some other species as well. Plotting out routes for Big Days is tricky, and what with the weather and limiting our driving to less than 200 miles for the day, we were very pleased to tally 155 species. Spending the day with Ryan and Dick made the day even more fun for me. I’m usually a pokey kind of birder, trying to savor each bird I see, but focusing on sheer quantity for one day of the year was wonderful. Photos of the day’s more cooperative birds are on my blog. Check out the results of our and all the teams in the pilot Great Wisconsin Birdathon here.  It's also where to go to make a conservation toward Wisconsin bird conservation.