Monday, March 24, 2014

Milwaukee Airport Snowy Owl

Someone forwarded me a photo of a Snowy Owl that landed on someone's roof in my neighborhood. I was MAD. I usually only see the SNOWs when they are way far out on the ice under the Hoan bridge. Well, I can't be mad now--I happened upon a young, female SNOW as she scoped out her surroundings at the Milwaukee Airport while driving north along Howell this evening. I didn't have my camera with me, but, luckily, she was in the same place when I returned with it about ten minutes later. I got to watch her for about ten minutes or so. Then, she flew up on top of a light pole right on Howell, but only briefly before she soared east over the airport post office. What a great way to end a Monday!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Long-tailed Duck at Lakeshore State Park and Spring Birds at the CGI

The water along Lake Michigan is finally thawing out. I actually became a little giddy when I saw the shoreline at South Shore Park receding. The CGI was hopping--no "rare" birds, but still a good time. Gulls are still around...oh, spring! So exciting! And I finally manged a decent Bufflehead photo (above). Other birds seen today: Red-throated Loon, flyover Common Grackles

Dark-eyed Junco CGI
Killdeer making a fuss--already! It's not even breeding season yet!
Killdeer portrait
Long-tailed Duck at Lakeshore State Park
Long-tailed Duck at Lakeshore State Park
Long-tailed Duck at Lakeshore State Park
Red-tailed Hawk at the CGI
American Robin at the CGI
Red-winged Blackbird at the CGI
Northern Shovelers on ice at Cupertino Park

White-winged Scoter behind MAM

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Gulls, gulls, always gulls!

Like many, I am frustrated by this lingering winter. I am more than ready for migrant songbirds to return, as they are my favorite to observe and photograph. Alas, I will need to be patient...until then, at least there are still hundreds of gulls in the Milwaukee area to challenge me. Today, I saw Herring, Ring-billed, Glaucous and Greater Black-backed Gulls. When looking for gulls, I have to sort through so many Ring-billed and Herrings in order to find a different species. Plus, I'm not great with gull ID! Nevertheless, I enjoy watching one of our most tenacious birds in action.

Here is a pictorial of what I saw today:

Ring-billed Gull Making Its Voice HEARD!
Two Ring-billed Gulls
My favorite of the day--what I believe is an immature Herring Gull showing its tongue while yawning!
Ring-billed Gull in Flight
All right, I'm moving. Jeez! Two Ring-billeds.
Ring-billed Portrait
Another Ring-billed Portrait
Far-off Glaucous Gull
Far off Great Black-backed Gull that seemed small for a GBBG...but that's what it was!

Monday, March 10, 2014

More on diving ducks and an interlude with a pheasant

Of course I had to bird today--the temperature hit 50+ degrees. I hoped to spot my first of year Red-winged Blackbird. That didn't happen, though. Birding today was pretty slow--but once again, I was confronted with avian mortality.

My first stop was the Port Washington Harbor. It was quiet compared to last Monday when I visited (and yesterday, when people saw a Red-throated Loon and Long-tailed Duck). I first noticed this Greater Scaup, looking relieved to bask in the sun:

The next thing that I noticed were the numerous recently dead ducks--they floated belly up around the periphery of the ice. I shuddered. Sometimes I feel guilty birding when I know that birds have it so tough. My stomach really sunk, though, when I came across the following scene:
Alive Greater Scaup resting near a deceased Greated Scaup

Even though I felt sad, I didn't stop birding. I'm glad. I was able to watch many of the common divers and capture images of them all afternoon. They will be migrating north soon, so I want to get my fill.

Along with ducks, I again spotted a Red-throated Loon in the Milwaukee Harbor and I found a Ring-necked Pheasant in the middle of the road near 6 Mile and County A in Port/Belgium (not sure which). This guy barely flinched when a motorcyclist approached, then slowed, coming from the opposite direction. After the pheasant crossed the road, he pecked around in the dirt for awhile, occasionally finding something to munch on.

The pheasant was quite cooperative. I wish his mate would have showed herself, though, as I haven't seen a female pheasant yet.

The other interesting sight today was that of the female Red-breasted Merganser pictured below. As you can see, she was resting on the edge of an ice slab where it met open water (near the Milwaukee lighthouse). After a few moments of watching her, the lil lady began waddling on the ice--AWAY from the open water. No!!!! I yelled inwardly. GO THE OTHER WAY!!!! She kept padding along, then suddenly, she took off flying--from the ice slab! Again, though, she flew further into the ice, not away from it. I was befuddled. I thought that divers could not take off from the ice. However, on the ice sat a VERY shallow pool of water--maybe that is how she was able to anchor herself. In any case, I'm pulling for her. Hopefully, she returned to open water when she wanted to.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Horned Larks, Snow Buntings, and a Snowy Owl

Find the Snowy Owl!
Snowy Owls. We've all been taken with them this year. Nearly 300 have appeared in our state since December, 2013. It's been a delightful winter for birders, especially those in smaller, rural towns. Here in Milwaukee, we get Snowys every year. They usually frequent the Coast Guard Impoundment or the Petroleum Pier underneath the Hoan Bridge--and they're usually so far out, it is hard to get a good look at them without using a spotting scope. 

In places like Freedom and Janesville, at least five different birds have been seen in ONE DAY. I have been jealous of the people who live near those towns and have wanted to drive to them in hopes of seeing a Snowy closer up, flying across a field, sitting on a telephone pole or silo, making a kill....sigh. Long drives aren't my thing, though, so today I decided to try my luck in Kenosha County, where at least three Snowys have been seen this winter. I got lucky.
Male Horned Lark strutting
Before the Snowy made her appearance, I watched dozens of Horned Larks and Snow Buntings flit around. They congregate on roadsides, scratching for food (minerals?). If you see a farm field with chunks of dirt emerging through the snow in the winter, chances are you'll also see a Horned Lark or Snow Bunting (and maybe one or two Lapland Longspurs, too!). I parked my car so far over on the shoulder that a sheriff pulled over to ask if I was okay. I thought that was nice. So many people just don't care these days.
Female Horned Lark striking a pose

Horned Larks waiting for the traffic to pass by
 These birds are difficult to capture. They move fast, they blend in with their surroundings, and the glare of the snow can overtake the photo. I did the best I could considering all of the traffic on the road and the pummeling winds.
Beautiful Arctic visitor--the Snow Bunting

Another striking Snow Bunting

I can't resist birds when they tilt their heads

Snow Bunting flock foraging
 This picture is certainly not quality, but I've never seen so many buntings together at once before. I have only seen these birds two or three other times--and fleetingly.
This bunting flew right in front of my car
 Most of my encounters with Snowy Owls have been the same--but I finally saw one in a rural environment instead of sitting on a dock, a slab of ice, or a pier! Thank god for those buntings and larks--if it hadn't been for them, I never would have seen this lovely immature female Snowy Owl. She flew in from the west and I followed her with my camera (and its paltry 250mm lens). I captured the moment, though: indeed.
Snowy Owl flying across a well-traveled rural road
Snowy Owl being followed by numerous buntings

More of the same

The buntings were either curious or did not want the owl in their territory

Soaring low, about to land

I waited and waited for this lovely lady to fully open her eyes and begin hunting. I yearned for her to fly closer to me so I could see what other people have seen, what I have seen in dozens of photos. I waited about an hour, until it didn't seem prudent to wait anymore. I was too cold to wait another hour until sunset because I knew that when she did fly away, it might very well be in the opposite direction of me. It didn't seem logical. I went home, glad to have seen her, the larks, the buntings, and the singular longspur, but somehow, I still felt matter how long you have, it never seems long enough.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Great Black-backed Gulls...and dead diving ducks :/

Great Black-backed Gull juveniles dining on an easy, yet tragic meal
Birders throughout Wisconsin have been noticing an increased amount of deceased diving ducks on the ice-covered surfaces of Lake Michigan. Some birds were picked off by Snowy Owls, Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, or other predators, but many are dying simply from being stuck on the ice and not being able to feed, and/or by obtaining parasites due to coming in such close contact with other ducks due to the lack of open water. That is what WISN Channel 12 reported, at least, based on information obtained from the Wisconsin Humane Society, which aids not only cats and dogs, but wildlife, too. Some of the birds are flying out into the streets or open farmland because they are desperate to find open water and sometimes confused large, flat surfaces for it. A major problem is that they can not take off from land like dabbling ducks and other birds can.

After learning about local diving ducks' plight, I decided to keep an eye out for misplaced divers. Before I went to the Milwaukee Harbor to search for gulls this afternoon, I drove along the lakefront and through Veteran's Park, but I did not find any divers, which is good. However, I was not surprised to see a plethora of dead diving ducks on the ice near the Milwaukee Harbor upon my arrival. The only positive I can see is that scavengers like gulls and predatory birds like those I mentioned above may be provided an easy meal by dining on the dead divers. In any case, it's unfortunate. If you see a stranded duck and are able to help it, please do. (See the second link for info).

Link to WISN article

Wisconsin Humane Society Wildlife tips

Great Black-backed Gull, adult, coming in for landing

Another view of an adult Great Black-backed Gull
One final image of  an adult Great Black-backed Gull
Juvenile Great Black-backed Gull and a Herring Gull, plus two deceased ducks

Great Black-backed Gull juvenile in flight

Great Black-backed Gull, juvenile, again in flight