Welcome to my Blog. My heart and soul sing when I write the stories behind the posted photos. I can relive the time I was on the shore of Lake Michigan at dawn on a brutally cold below zero morning, knowing full well this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. My passion for birds will be a common thread in the fabric of my yarns of the myriad of magic moments I've had in the field from Sanibel Island in Southwest Florida, to San Luis Obispo, CA, to Breckenridge,CO, to the Gunflint Trail in NE Minnesota, to Crex Meadows Wildlife Area in my home state if Wisconsin, and on and on. My love for the entire natural world spills out into the tales of taking the photos that have brought me so much happiness. I treasure them all and thank all of you who have visited my site and shared some of your feelings with me.
I usually visit Horicon Marsh at least once every year, sometimes twice. In terms of birding spots in Wisconsin, it's a Mecca for waterfowl, waders,shorebirds and raptors in spring, summer & fall. It encompasses 32,000 acres, is the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the U.S., and they've recorded more than 300 avian species. It's an awesome place, with massive and varied amounts of reasonably unspoiled habitat. I forgot about that last week when I spent a day there, and the place blew me away! In a given area, there wouldn't be just one or two Marsh Wrens calling( I had not heard a single one calling all year!) but more like fifteen or twenty. At one point while on the boardwalk off the Auto Tour, we had three Least Bitterns calling-that about matches the number I've heard in my entire life as a birder-no kidding! For ducks these wetlands are as busy as a big city obstetrics unit-there are mamas with broods everywhere. It was cool for me to watch them feeding their young-a daunting task when you've got ten little ones trailing behind. It seems that there's a sense of urgency with all the birds nesting there, but also a feeling of safety, that they somehow know they're protected. Then we stopped to view an area of prairie with a hiking trail running through it. There we saw and heard species that love the grasslands. Bobolinks, singing their unique twangy serenade, and one our favorites, the Dickcissel, throwing its head back, & singing its name, "tick-tick-tick-cissel", and posing positively perfectly atop a branch for pictures. Near the end of the afternoon we lazily drove along two dirt roads that led us far into this incredibly expansive breathtaking sea of green, teeming with Redwing and Yellow-headed blackbirds, Sedge and Marsh Wrens, Sora and Virginia Rails, majestic pairs of huge White Pelicans gliding over, and a precious gem, the American Bittern. One flew by not fifteen feet over our heads. a relatively rare sight for us, then dove presumably into its nest area, and thrilled us with its wild "lunk-a-lunk, lunk-a-lunk" made for the marsh sonata. Very special. Finally, as we meandered along, Egrets began to appear. Fabulous flyovers. Wading along on their home turf, comfortably spearing fish, frogs and the occasional small snake. So much beauty and grace and then more and more of it. At one point we had twelve right out in front of us! I came home feeling blessed and remembering how extraordinary Horicon really can be.
Mt wife and I decided to spend an evening outside a monastery about ten miles from our home. It is set just off a busy county road, but after you make the trip along the curving uphill driveway and see the "Welcome" sign in the parking lot, you've gotten to a special, quiet, place that invites you to serenity. As it happened it was a particularly hot day, humid and uncomfortable. But as soon as we got out of the car, a feather soft steady breeze made it into a lazy lovely summer evening. We headed right up the hillside to the pinnacle of the property, where a simple wooden bench afforded us the panoramic view that primarily brought us there. Mary went silent as she took a seat, and I could see the peace in her face. I was feeling the same, but looking for photographic angles across the whole of Lake Mendota, a splendid look at the skyline of downtown Madison, the Uw Campus, and the lakefront all the way to Middleton. This very spot is the only place I know that shows off this stunning landscape(see my website) and we knew we had caught it on a night that would bring us all its glorious visual spiritual gifts. We hardly spoke. There were many species of birds-Bluebirds, Waxwings, Flycatchers, Cardinals, Goldfinches-and more-all singing in the natural rhythms of their lives, music as sweet as any symphony you could play at home. The many wildflowers, Coreopsis, White Beardtongue, Creamy White indigo, Oxeye Daisies all decorated our evening with their beauty, aroma, and shimmered softly in the wind. Not a soul around, and then the bells-the Mission Bells! They chimed out the time that reminded us that we had been blessed with a natural communion, inner joy, and a memory to treasure, but it was time to go.
When we received an invitation to a wedding in Nags Head in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the idea of a pelagic birding trip popped into my head. As the time grew near to leave for the wedding, I waffled back and forth-cost, time,my serious motion sickness, all made me hesitant. The night before we left home, I went to a website that did only pelagic tours. I called the captain of the boat, The Stormy Petrel, and made a reservation. Done! When we got there I was initially turned off by how crowded and commercial Nags Head was. The morning of the late afternoon wedding, I drove down to Cape Hatteras, where I found the real Outer Banks I was looking for. I saw Great Egrets, White Ibises, both likely nesting in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, winds and sand dunes and a lot fewer people, houses and shops. It was and hour and twenty minutes one way, but I found The Stormy Petrel, moored in one of the three marinas down there. The next day we were heading out at 5:15a.m. so I would be arising about three at my hotel to make the drive in the dark. Now I was very pumped to see the "pelagics", birds that literally live on the sea in the Gulf Stream, generally 25 or more miles out and 81 degrees warm that day. It was very strange and a bit spooky to leave shore and see absolutely no birds until we reached our target destination, and Wilson's Storm Petrel's( pictured here ) suddenly appeared, seemingly dancing on the water's surface, so close and so beautiful! Then came the aggressive Pomarine Jaeger, sometimes landing in the sea to pick off some of the chum we were spreading in our wake. He was around for a long time and made many passes a few feet over our heads. Next came the Shearwaters, Cory's being the first. He was elegant to see, grayish brown upper parts, striking white underneath, with smooth languid flight, drifting close by and giving us views as though we were in our backyards, even at 41 miles off shore!! In all, I garnered eight life listers, all of whom live out there, coming to land only to nest, some in burrows on islands far from shore. I'll likely never see any of these guys again. It was a magical once in a lifetime journey-even if I lost my lunch in the huge swells on the way out!!
During spring migration there is a multitude of beautiful warblers and many other songbirds that pass through the woods in the Upper Midwest. Some stay to nest. One of my real favorites is the bright yellow Prothotary warbler, found in flooded river bottoms, and along streams and rivers that have overhanging branches in southern Wisconsin , where I live. This year I saw my first one on May 6th, singing loud,hopping around in a willow hanging over a creek in a nearby county park, What a striking bird! Its yellow plumage is almost luminescent and stands out more than any other yellow bird. Its shiny large, for a bird only about five and a half inches long, black beak helped helped clinch the ID for me. Then on May twentieth I found a curious one. When he saw me he flitted back and forth in the trees on both sides, often inside ten feet , singing his little heart out. This time I had my camera, and as he popped in close, I was able to shoot a lot of frames and came away with the best photos I have ever gotten. This was the first time in my fifty years as a birder that I have seen this guy twice in one spring. They are cavity nesters and will also use bird houses of the proper dimension in their watery habitat. I was thrilled and super excited to have an adult male so curious and tame. Knowing that this would probably be the best opportunity I'll ever get to see and photograph this gem of the warbler world, I felt some pressure not to blow it. I didn't, I shot more than seventy five times and came away with four or five beauties, including this one. When you're in the watery woodsy places he likes, be on the alert for the Prothonotary Warbler. Maybe you'll get one that comes in close like I did.
Many who are have just a passing interest in birding may still know of " The Big Woodpecker". The Pileated. Although they resemble the comic book and tv character "Woody Woodpecker" with the flaming red crest, in nature they are crow sized,16-19 inches in length, and vividly colored in black on white with their Flashing scarlet crest. At their nest site, as shown in this photo, they are noisy, and their drumming, as they hammer out their nest hole is louder and more baritone than any other North American woodpecker. When they are finding food or shaping their abode, whether you are lost in deep thought or heavy conversation, you WILL hear them. Therefore the average hiker, no matter their passion, will stop and say, What was that?" If good fortune is with them, one will fly off through the woods. Then he is unmistakable. Large white wing patches, visible from below, set off his shiny jet black body, and the clinching field mark, that luminous ruby top, will catch the eye of even the most casual outdoor enthusiast. If you still have missed him, you won't if he sings. A powerful and rapid "bup-bup-uap-bup-bup-bup"(my personal phonetics-develop your own to remember the call) rising trill louder and more urgent then the Flicker will lock up the ID for you. Once you know that he is a resident of your woods, you'll easily pick out the white patches beneath his thirty inch wing span as he flies by , the brilliant coloration, or noisy drumming and singing. If you are fortunate enough to find a nest site, give them space and respect, but enjoy the extraordinarily special look you'll get into the mating, egg laying and incubation, and raising of young to the point of fledging. If you can personally enjoy the biology of this stunning large woodpecker, I'll guarantee you'll become more serious about birding. I hope you can find one soon-they're out there!!
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