Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bird Walk for One…no waiting

Havenwoods State Forest located within the city limits of the City of Milwaukee…all 237 acres of it.  That makes it one of the most readily accessible woodland natural regions for a large urban city’s population in which to encounter wildlife.  By contrast; New York City’s Central Park is 843 acres however only 136 are woodlands; the rest are open “green space” and water.

I mention this to highlight one of the main differences between a typical “park” setting (of which Milwaukee County boasts an amazing 148 and the City of Milwaukee itself has been blessed with an additional ninety-five Children's Play Areas, Passive Areas, Playgrounds, and Play-fields) and a State Forest such as Havenwoods; usage.  Generally speaking, a park is a place where large numbers of humans congregate to recreate, conduct celebrations, and be near one another in communal proximity; while I have found Havenwoods to be a serene, quiet, and diverse escape from humanity where wildlife and wild-ness abound.  It’s a place where in a few short minutes one can park their car in a generous (free) lot and disappear on foot from the trappings of raucous playgrounds, expansive goose-pooped green space, overflowing trash cans, ugly stray litter, unfortunate piles of doggy doo-doo, and (mostly) annoying crowd noise.

Bird Walk for One?
This particular overcast early morning, I was to lead a two-hour “Adult (more than 12 years of age) Bird Hike” from the front door of the Havenwoods center into the bucolic beyond.  It was raining.  It was Memorial Day weekend.  These two facts pretty much determined I was going to have to go it alone.  I waited an extra half hour standing inside talking over the counter to the delightful Havenwoods Superintendent, Judy Klippel about birds and life…and the weather.  At 8:30 AM I pulled the hood of my rain jacket over my Bird City Wisconsin ball cap and headed out solo anyway.  The rain was a drizzle and not too annoying so I dropped the hood so I could hear better. 

I admit to doing a great percentage of my best birding, recognizing the call and song of the different species even before I get an eyeball on them.  There are times when I never actually do “see” the animal, but that doesn’t (pardon the pun) dampen my enthusiasm.  The first song I heard was a familiar (but new to me at Havenwoods); the “teacher-teacher-teacher” of an Ovenbird in the distance.   The Ovenbird is a smallish olive green bird with a white/brown streaked breast which gets its name from its covered nest. The dome and side entrance make it resemble a Dutch oven.  It sports a jaunty white eye-ring and yellowish stripe on the crown of its head.  Oven bird males will often sing together (one then another) for up to 40 sets; rarely overlapping each other’s song.  The echoing nature of the calls makes it extremely difficult to pinpoint their origin; it is high or low, near or far? Estimates are that nearly half of all Ovenbird migrants die each year during their trek.  Ovenbirds are a distant relative of the wood warbler species and the oldest known survivor was thought to be about seven years when it died.

teacher, teacher, teacher...
This particular Ovenbird was not to be seen this morning.  I counted it anyway as number one.  With the rain steadily sprinkling on my head; I walked through the short (lawn-mown) wet grass along the Havenwoods trails finding and counting.  Crickets, frogs, and American toads could still be heard chirping and croaking in the reduced sunlight as I walked.  Out in the “open” of the prairie regions the rain would soak me a bit more, but when I ducked into the cool, darkened overhangs of the old-growth woods; it had a harder time reaching me.  Almost instantly the haunting sound of a Hermit thrush filled the air between the pit-pat of fat raindrops hitting the leaves of the tall trees.   I walked for two hours in total as the rain picked up in intensity as I finally walked back to the main building, using the overhanging wet branches as cover for as long as I could.  

Over all I was quite impressed with the variety and numbers of birds that morning.  Even though there was no one else along for my walk, I was still pleased with the morning.  I dropped off my birding checklist with Judy, bid her a good day and told her that I looked forward to the next time I would lead a walk - Saturday, September 22, 8:00 - 10:00 am (adults)

1.     Ovenbird
2.     Canada Goose
3.     Mallard
4.     Ring-billed Gull
5.     American Herring Gull
6.     Mourning Dove
7.     Chimney Swift
8.     Downy Woodpecker
9.     Northern Flicker
10.   Eastern Phoebe
11.   Eastern Wood Pewee
12.   Alder Flycatcher
13.   Least Flycatcher
14.   Eastern Kingbird
15.   Warbling Vireo
16.   Red-eyed Vireo
17.   Blue Jay
18.   American Crow
19.   Cedar Waxwing
20.   Black-capped Chickadee
21.   Tree Swallow
22.   House Wren
23.   Grey Catbird
24.   Eastern Bluebird
25.   Hermit Thrush
26.   Wood Thrush
27.   American Robin
28.   House Sparrow
29.   American Goldfinch
30.   Common Yellowthroat
31.   American Redstart
32.   Yellow Warbler
33.   Orchard Oriole
34.   Baltimore Oriole
35.   Brown-headed Cowbird
36.   Red-winged Blackbird
37.   Common Grackle
38.   Song Sparrow
39.   Swamp Sparrow
40.   Indigo Bunting

Thursday, May 10, 2012

F.O.Y. = J-O-Y

If JOY is to be found...start with your FOYs

Hayward, Wisconsin (not to be confused with Hayward, CA or Hayward, MN or any other Hayward) has many nice places to find and observe birds, if you don't mind a bit of a treasure hunt of sorts to find them.  I was fortunate to spend several weeks at the end of April into May of 2012 looking.  I was in the area to assist my Dad with his second hip replacement as his assistant in all things recovery.  There were (fortunately for me) times when all he needed was sleep, so I was able to find time to go bird-watching.

One such hidden treasure was the Town of Hayward Recreational Forest. You find it heading out west on County Hill road out of downtown.  The Town of Hayward purchased the 160 acre Kozniesky property in May of 2007.  Development began in March of 2011.  The purpose of this area was described as; “To provide Sawyer County with a “green space” in an area that is rapidly being developed, offering hiking trails, interpretive trail identifying plants, trees and forest management practices, skiing and snowshoeing trails and other non-motorized sports. We also will provide an area to sustain the 4th grade tree planting days as room allows, and an area for the high school science class and area residents to do a native plant and wildflower restoration in some of the open field areas within the (Rec) Forest. We feel that the Forest will draw new visitors to the area and offer a peaceful place to go enjoy each season of the year.”   {GPS Coordinates}

The Kissick Swamp Wildlife Area (940 acres - map - designated 1983) is just west of the recreational forest area (to the north) of County Hill road.  Find it from Hwy. 63 in Hayward, take Greenwood Lane ¾ mile north to County Hill road turn left (West) and travel 1 ¼ mile to the SE corner of the property. The property consists of Aspen and swamp conifer (cedar, black spruce, tamarack).  The property features a 10 acre lake known as the Kissick Alkaline Bog Lake (No. 191) NoteIt is completely undeveloped with two barely used "roads" just off the pavement (into the grass) that end at locked steel gates.  You have to look closely to find them.  While lots of wildlife inhabit the forest and swamp; the Wood and Deer ticks are voracious and rampant in their numbers.

FOY Eastern phoebe
Another place to find birds is the small knot of gravel trails that wind through a sparse woods behind the Hayward Sherman and Ruth Weiss library located on Hwy 77, 1/4 mile west of Hwy 63.  Park in their lot and walk north towards Hospital road to find the new trails and the boardwalk and long pier that juts out into a nameless pond.  You may see waterfowl as I did, like beautiful Hooded and Common mergansers.  Eastern phoebes and Blue jays surround the pond, flitting and darting between the pine trees.

FOY Y.B. Sapsucker
The Smith Lake Pond trail (off Nyman Avenue) under the newer of the two water towers, is a springtime wet wonderland.  Eastern American Toads and Leopard and Bull frogs abound, with peeps and croaks of varying pitch ranges.  Today (May 9th, 2012) I went to visit the trail around 9:00 AM.  Huge fluffy clouds set upon intermixed azure-blue background floated overhead.  The temperature was 57 degrees.  As I started down the rough trail, it seemed as though the recent rains of the past week had completely flooded the wood-chip trails in most places. The Smith Lake stream and pond had overfilled and were running off into the underbrush, determined to follow gravity's pull.  Carefully walking through the shallowest areas, my waterproof Hi-Tec boots did the job, keeping my feet nice and dry.  

FOY Chestnut-sided warbler
My attention was immediately drawn to new bird-song in the nearby trees. Learning (and remembering) the many, many different songs are a birders first (and in my opinion most important) tool in identification of bird species.  For example; the nasal "pank, pank," of a Red-breasted nuthatch would have birders looking higher in the canopy and nearer to the tree's trunk, than would the "FEE-be" of an Eastern phoebe lower and more towards the periphery of that same tree.  Songs and calls are not the only "sound" to pay attention to while bird-watching.  The scratch and shuffle of dead leaves could mean that a small mammal such as a chipmunk were nearby, or that a pair of Spotted towhees, White-throated sparrows, Brown thrashers, etc. are foraging for insects under last year's fallen vegetation.  Pay strict attention to the sounds you hear.

FOY Baltimore Oriole
When a bird-watcher sees a certain bird for the first time of any given year, the abbreviation is "FOY" or First Of Year.  As it turned out; this day would bring me many FOYs.  Among these were a male American redstart, Yellow warbler, Chestnut-sided warbler, and Connecticut warbler.  Finally seeing these colorful and lively migrants for the first time of the year always fills my birdy-heart with "joy."  Birders from all over the world report their individual "FOYs" to Internet databases like "e-bird." Wisconsin birders in particular report their on an Internet email-listserve called "wisbirdn" (or the Wisconsin Birding List.)  The purpose for this "reporting" is many-fold.  Some birders report to give other birders tips on where they are seeing birds and when, while other more novice birders report to ask for identification assistance, etc.  Either way, there are always plenty of faithful bird-watchers posting their FOYs as a way to celebrate their personal J-O-Y.

So, what are the FOYs in YOUR lives?  Remember them and celebrate them...after all, even though they come each year they bring J-O-Y each and every time!

My list of FOY's for May 9, 2012 are:

  • Chestnut-sided warbler
  • Connecticut warbler
  • M American redstart
  • Yellow warbler
  • Rose-breasted grosbeak
  • Black and white warbler
  • Baltimore oriole
  • Brown thrasher
  • Black-throated green warbler
  • Ovenbird
  • Wood thrush
  • Red-eyed vireo
  • Yellow-bellied sapsucker