Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

A Brief Visit to Port Wing

Sandhill Crane

On Tuesday morning, I got up a few minutes after 3 am. It was quite a bit before dawn but a catbird was singing away, so I set my recorder on my front porch. Then I made a cup of coffee, took my time about getting dressed, loaded up my car with my birding stuff and my little dog Pip, stopped my recorder and put that in the car, too, and drove to Port Wing, Wisconsin. I have a new mirrorless camera and now a splendid lens to go with it, and I badly wanted to photograph the Le Conte’s Sparrows that usually nest in the field where my mother-in-law lived.  

Le Conte's Sparrow
Le Conte's Sparrow young bird from the Port Wing field in 2019

There was virtually no traffic anywhere along the way, so I set my cruise control at 50 mph—that not only minimizes the chances of me hitting any animals but also minimizes my carbon footprint—for the day, I ended up getting 58 miles per gallon. I can’t feel virtuous about it—that still means I burned up 2 gallons of gas—but I feel a little better if I at least minimize what I use. I got to Kinney Valley Road about 6. I spent over an hour there and used my SongFinder—the little device that lowers the frequency of the highest-pitched songs so I can hear them—but didn’t pick out a single Le Conte’s Sparrow. I left my recorder on near my car, but it didn’t pick up any Le Conte’s either, and between the Highway 13 noise and a lot of loud barking dogs, the recording it made there didn’t turn out well.  

Michele Wheeler Wetland Restoration

Next, I went to what used to be the sewage ponds but is now the Michele Wheeler Wetland Restoration area. I didn’t know that there were three different parking spots, so I parked at the first one, which I knew was too close to Highway 13 for recording. The wetland was lovely, with Sandhill Cranes...

Sandhill Crane

... a Green Heron...

Green Heron

... and an adorable Sedge Wren as the biggest highlights. Next time I’ll park at the third parking area so my recorder can do its magic by my car as I’m walking around. It would have gotten some splendid Sedge Wren sounds had I done that this time.  

Sedge Wren

I stopped very briefly at the beach but spent the most time walking along my favorite road on the planet, Big Pete Road, where Red-breasted Nuthatches are essentially guaranteed. They were calling throughout, along with warblers and vireos, though the only songbird I got photos of was a Pine Warbler. 

Pine Warbler

I ended my Port Wing birding at Twin Falls. A bit of water still flowed in both falls, but we need some rain if that’s going to last. 

Twin Falls

Three Hermit Thrushes were singing away, but I’d left my recorder in the car during that walk.   

I came home to a really nice recording from when I’d set my recorder near my car while I walked on Big Pete Road. (You can listen to it or download it here). It’s very satisfying for me to listen to recordings with headphones when I get home, especially when they turn out this well. When I hear the sounds of a place in real time with just my hearing aids, I don’t know how many birds I’m missing—the hearing aids improve my hearing significantly, but not to the hearing equivalent of 20/20 vision. And when I use my frequency-lowering device, birds sound different than, and not nearly as pretty as, they do at their real frequency. Even worse, my brain can’t focus on anything else, so my walk doesn’t have the same relaxing, calming effects it would without the device. I don’t hear the highest-pitched sounds on my recordings even with headphones, but I can -see them on the spectrogram—the pattern identifies most of them, and to actually hear them, I can select just the songs I want, boost the volume 50- or 60-fold, and listen without background sounds. If I’m still having trouble, I save the song and just ask one of my young birding friends to take a listen.   

A hundred-and-ten-mile drive to spend a morning birding is a higher cost to this planet where my little grandson will spend a lifetime than I can really justify, so I won’t be doing this very often—when I go back to Port Wing, I’ll at least try to stay a couple of days so I have more to show for each drop of fuel I burn. But Pip and I had a lovely day and I’m very glad I went this one time. 

Sedge Wren