Not that I have plans to go back anytime soon, but today marks the emergence of one of Wisconsin’s earliest butterflies from hibernation: the satyr comma! It’s a “little known” butterfly of northern forests. I’d love to see one, and I’m glad to start thinking about butterflies after this long winter.
Goodbye, Upper Midwest
Though I hadn’t yet gotten official notice, I was pretty sure this was going to be my last year at NRRI. I had known my funding was running out and there weren’t any new grants in sight. So, I made the best of it by starting off the birding year immersing myself in cool-looking red-tailed hawks. I was lucky enough on a weekend trip to the Twin Cities to see a Harlan’s Hawk (2/1) followed by a rufous/intermediate “abieticola” (2/2). Later that month, I saw a “mystery morph” that was later called some sort of dark “harlani/abieticola/calurus” (2/22) which highlighted how much work is to be done on red-tailed hawk morphology.
My favorite experience this year of guiding the Sax-Zim Birding Festival was spotting a northern goshawk (2/15) in flight close to the bus! All the participants saw it, and this year we saw got to see the bird for longer in flight and perched! It actually perched twice, giving distant but exciting looks for everyone.
We got in a trip under the buzzer before the pandemic erupted in full! When we walked out of our condo (3/8) there were several cinnamon hummingbirds up the driveway. In the evening, there was a small flock of lesser nighthawks.
The next morning (3/9) we heeded our bird alarm clocks and were treated to views of streak-backed orioles and black-headed trogon again right within the confines of the condo complex! We continued up the road and found stripe-headed sparrow in an area that, sadly, may be marked for development. As we walked back down the road, I saw my lifer squirrel cuckoo and rose-throated becards in the same tree. In the evening, a small flock of white-throated magpie jays came in to the treetops visible from our deck.
We went on to explore Santa Rosa national park. There, we saw our lifer lesser ground-cuckoo, white-lored gnatcatcher, and elegant trogon right along the roads. We also saw my lifer white-tipped dove. At the visitor center, we got knockout looks at pale-billed woodpecker and orange-fronted parakeets.
The next day (3/10) we decided it was worth it to get to Santa Rosa early, and we weren’t disappointed! I finally got good looks at the banded wrens we briefly glimpsed the day before. I was also delighted by the time we were able to spend with yellow-olive flycatchers. Not only did we have great looks at several of them, we learned their song! Along the entry road, we got brief looks at lesser greenlet. Excitingly, we saw a crested guan at the campground! When we were able to enter the casonas parking lot, we found an ivory-billed woodcreeper along the nature trail.
3/11 was our journey to Arenal! Once we got to Nuevo Arenal, we got our lifer palm tanagers. Downtown, we finally got good looks at gray-breasted martins. Once we arrived at our accommodations, Paul spotted our lifer Passerini’s tanagers and long-tailed tyrant. I spotted our lifer piratic flycatcher. Then, we went into town for to lunch. Along the way, I spotted my lifer black phoebes. From the balcony, I finally felt good about calling a gray-capped flycatcher. We came back and birded for the rest of the evening right where we were staying, at Arenal Tropical Gardens. Paul pointed out black-cowled orioles, and we worked together to ID common tody-flycatcher. I got excellent recordings of a vocalizing tropical pewee! Paul was excited to spot his quarry, the scarlet-thighed dacnis. It was a female, and we still hoped to see the male. Then, black-headed saltators flew right into the tree in front of us. Among the last new birds of the evening for us were green honeycreeper and bay-headed tanager from the main building.
3/12 was our only full day in Arenal, so we made it count! We were awakened by a common pauraque singing in the twilight hours, which would bookend our day. We got to the observatory lodge at 6 AM and made our way on the “orange trails” to the garden. There, we saw our lifer scaly-breasted hummingbird, green thorn tail and black-crested coquette. Among the plants were several Black-striped sparrows. Also in the treetops were red-lored parrots and a white-crowned parrot. We went to celebrate our early morning success with breakfast at the lodge. From the window, I spotted my lifer green hermit! We went out to the deck and also saw our lifer stripe-throated hermit. Then, we walked back along Los Monos trail to find a scale-crested pygmy tyrant, but unfortunately only I got to see it before it flew. We took a break after hiking the river trail to get lunch in town. On the way out, I got my most casual lifer of the trip: a drive-by groove-billed ani! We also drove the evacuation road for a short bit, and lucked out finding a pair of gartered trogons building a nest. In the evening, we started on the farm road and were rewarded by spotting a rufous motmot.
We spent our last morning in Arenal (3/13) on the farm roads. On the trail to the hanging bridge, we were pretty excited to be able to confidently separate 2 rufous mourners from the pihas we’d seen the days before. We weren’t as confident in the initial ID until we got great looks at its lookalike. Across the river, we saw a laughing falcon hunting a farm field. As we continued along the dirt road, we saw 2 emerald tanagers in a thicket along the river. Our biggest “boom” of the day was at the shelter, where we ran into a mind-blowing pocket of bird activity! There were so many things moving in and out of the lush foliage that we couldn’t ID everything we glimpsed. We were so glad to get excellent looks at (and even bad photos of) a blue-and-gold tanager. I got a glimpse of a slate-headed tody-flycatcher that Paul saw better. I saw possibly both a tawny-capped euphonia and slate-throated redstart in the same tree, but Paul only saw the euphonia, so I only counted that too. It’s always great to get lifer warblers, and there we saw a tropical parula! Farther down, I was thrilled with another lifer warbler: gray-crowned yellowthroat! As we walked out, we saw several Morelet’s seedeaters. While we continued to bird the rest of our time there, that was a wrap on my lifer additions from this fabulous trip!
Unfortunately, we returned to the hard reality of a pandemic, which led to a drought in many areas of life. I was delighted by a few bright glimmers, though, such as a Bullock’s oriole (5/6) at a random feeder in northern Minnesota. Then, we had a fallout on Park Point (5/26) which was a great sendoff from this place I was fortunate to have lived. I got to see almost all of my birding friends, many for whom it would be the last time before I moved away. Among the many warblers that day, we saw a Connecticut warbler which is always special.
Home Sweet (New) Home
This summer, I had the privilege of moving to one of the top 100 birding spots in the world: Cape May, NJ! The lifers were immediate (post-quarantine) — a singing saltmarsh sparrow (8/20) followed by a great look that weekend.
One of the best fall migration spots in the world
I saw 2 roseate terns coming through a tad late (9/1) to properly kick off my 1st fall in Cape May! Then, the floodgates opened in ways I hadn’t imagined: a little stint showed up that weekend that I was able to successfully chase! (Not a rarity, but that same afternoon, I got to see the first worm-eating warbler I’d seen in over a decade.) The following week, I fully experienced the joy of working with an office full of birders (including a boss and coworker/birding BFF who have a boat) when we ducked out to take a ride up the inlet for a masked booby. The next week, said birding BFF banded an Allen’s hummingbird I got to see! Unfortunately, Paul was away for those, but then he returned in time to see a northern wheatear. This barrage of lifers was so laughable that we joked “things were slow” when I didn’t get my next lifer until the following month: common cuckoo (11/8/20)! Mid-November brought roosting cave swallows at the Montreal. In the same week, I saw my lifer ash-throated flycatcher at my nearest local park!
Heading into Winter
At the end of the month and into the next, we went on 2 pelagics: one for my birthday (black Friday, close enough) and the next on our 6 year dating anniversary! These amounted to several much-wanted lifers: razorbill, black-legged kittiwake, Manx and great shearwaters. The hits just kept coming with a Couch’s kingbird in between, followed by a barnacle goose near home (well, in commuting distance, anyway). This was immediately followed by another rare goose on the east coast: tundra bean-goose!
Christmas Bird Count (CBC)
We went back to Wisconsin for Paul’s count, and though unrelated, the day before we saw a great tit. (It’s not really “countable” to my knowledge, but there’s a small persistent population of them in Sheboygan.)
Though this year was hard for many reasons, it was one of the best birding years of my life! There are many ways to quantify that, and arguments could certainly be made for the greatness of any given year, but my last year like this was probably 2012 (the 1st time we went to CR). It was just kind of unreal all around…while everything societally was tough, the outdoors held so many delights for those who were able to seek them. I counted my blessings this year, in bird species as well as our other nature sightings!
Reposting this because as of this evening, we’ve arrived for the remainder of the holidays! This isn’t a risk we’d ordinarily take in times like these, but some logistics need to be tended to, one of which is running my partner’s CBC. So, here’s hoping for some great birds in the coming week!
This is an interpretation of the Wisconsin state checklist and records during the month of December, as well as local knowledge/recent sightings. On the big lakes, it’s good to be aware of Ross’s gull. Ancient murrelet has been found inland, though still still near a big lake in Dec. decades ago. Surprisingly, vermilion flycatcher has been spotted in the state in Dec. Other long shots, but feeder dreams possible this month…
- black-throated sparrow
- Scott’s oriole
Phew — just typing that title sounds daunting; there are so many! I don’t know how I’m going to break this list up but I figured I’d at least start it and chip away as I go. Please comment regionally with your favorite places too! My current home city is Duluth, MN so my favorite places in the state…
- North Shore Scenic Drive: as the name implies, this goes along the north shore of Lake Superior, with lots of pull-offs
- Brighton Beach
- French River
- Two Harbors
- Lakeview Park
- Agate Bay (scan for waterbirds)
- St. Louis Co.
- Canal Park
- Minnesota (Park) Point
- Sax-Zim Bog
- McGregor Marsh State Natural Area (SNA)
- Cook Co. water treatment ponds
- Carver Co.: a rural area birded by Twin Cities birders in search of farm fields
- Grand Rapids: the closest “bigger town” to NRRI’s other facility
- Richfield Lake Park
- Wisconsin Point
- Crex Meadows Wildlife Area
- Buena Vista Grasslands
- Lake Maria
- Horicon National Wildlife Refuge (NWR)
- Wyalusing State Park
- Schurch-Thomson Prairie
- Rose Lake SNA
- Door Co.
- Crow Wing Co.: rural area, houses with feeders worth checking
- Trempeleau Co.: including the NWR, it’s a fun area to explore
- Sauk Co.: this was a frequent birding destination for us because of all the unique natural areas in the county, including…
- Spring Green Preserve SNA
- Iowa Co.: rural area that has been a rarity host
- Dane Co.: this is where I lived for 4.5 years during my Ph.D., so I spent a lot of time on campus. I used to do the Big Green Birding Year (BIGBY) which meant finding as many species as I could on foot/by bike, so I walked and biked much of Madison, WI.
- Pheasant Branch Conservancy
- 9 Springs
- Lerner Conservation Park
- Chicago: there are lots of small city parks, and lots of birders, so it’s likely something interesting will be found
- Sugar Grove Nature Center
- Roughlock Falls
- Haakon Co.: farm fields for days!
- Custer State Park
- Badlands National Park
- campus: there was an AOU meeting here in 2015!
- Wichita Mountains NWR
- Great Salt Plains State Park
- Hampton Creek Cove
- Western Regional Park
- Centennial Lake
- Patapsco Valley State Park
- Ocean City inlet
- Assateague State Park
- Truitt’s Landing
- Assawoman Wildlife Area
- Great Dismal Swamp NWR
- Huckleberry Trail
- Heritage Community Park & Natural Area
- Pandapas Pond
- the Blue Ridge: broadly…
- Appalachian Trail
- Blue Ridge Parkway
- New River
- Mountain Lake
- Claytor Lake State Park
- Outer Banks: this area likely needs no introduction as a tourist destination
- Pickens Nose
- Jackson Park
- Dupont State Forest
- Clemson Experimental Forest
- South Carolina Botanical Garden
- Lake Conestee
- Huntington Beach State Park
- Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center
- Pitt St. Causeway
- Bear Island Wildlife Management Area (WMA)
- Edisto Beach
- Savannah NWR
- Anderson Co.: home of Townville, the bird mecca of the upstate.
- Beaufort Co.: this is where I did my M.S. field work on golf courses, so I went on a number of private properties as well as natural areas in the county.
- Georgia Botanical Garden
- Storm Water Treatment Area 5/6
- Everglades National Park
- Lee Co.
- Collier Co.: my parents used to have a beach house there, so I birded a lot of places (mostly wherever I could walk)
- Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
- Alki beach
- Discovery park
- Luther Burbank park
Thunder Basin National Grassland
We took the clipper from Seattle to Victoria and saw some great birds along the way! Highly recommended!
- Holland Point Park
- Gonzales Bay
- Trafalgar Park
- Kitty Islet
- Queen’s Park
- East Sooke Park
- George C. Reifel Park
- Queen Elizabeth Park
- marine blue – very rare!
- Reakirt’s blue – Burnett Co.
- green comma
- tawny-edged skipper
- striped hairstreak
- northern broken-dash
- broad-winged skipper
- black dash
- Little yellow
- gray copper
- Acadian hairstreak
- juniper hairstreak
- American snout
- tawny emperor
- funereal duskywing
- wild indigo duskywing
- common sootywing
- little glassywing
- Byssus skipper
- dion skipper
- Brazilian skipper
- hickory hairstreak
- Poweshiek skipperling
- Ottoe skipper
- two-spotted skipper
As prior mentioned, I “deconstructed” the histograms on Mike’s site to list species by their peak occurrence dates. This is mostly to help me, as I’m learning butterflies, to know what’s occurring here when. For this week…
- northern blue
- tawny crescent
- southern cloudywing
(Shoutout to my friend Em for the sweet post title!)
I don’t think I officially announced here that I am moving back East next month! Given that my time up north is coming to a close, I realized now is not the time to skimp on photos nor stories. Today, we walked into a bog I’ve walked into before, but this year it’s a bit drier. Thus, it was honestly kind of perfect for walking barefoot. There’s no better barefoot habitat than a sphagnum bog! There was just enough cool, freshwater to delight my feet with every spongy step. I touched the cotton grass and marveled afresh at how this really is a magical place.
We saw lifer butterflies today, including a much sought after jutta arctic in that bog! Singing across the street was an olive-sided flycatcher presumably on breeding territory. We also saw one of the rarer checkerspots (Harris’) amazingly perched right next to the road in the first group of butterflies we looked at. It was perfect.
Lest we forget that life outdoors is plenty messy, though, we had a markedly different experience at Douglas Co. Wildlife Area. It was still pretty good; excellent weather and my first time reporting pink-edged sulphur. However, we made a regrettable choice to walk down an unmarked trail, without considering that the annual burning had likely not proceeded as usual this year. As I took in the scent of sweetfern and wondered aloud to my love if life got any better, he looked down and noticed a few wood ticks has hitched a ride. I kind of laughed, then looked down and noticed I had probably about 100 on me!😵We both worked quickly to pick them off (not before Paul laughed in disbelief and took a photo with my phone) as I seriously considered the option of just ditching my pants and running back to the car as quickly as my legs would take me. I had a naive hope that we had “caught them all” along the way in, but the way back was quick walking with stops every few minutes to pick off the next 10.😒Both of us being career wildlife biologists, we had honestly never seen anything like it.
We made it back with a few bites and continuing to find them in the car almost the whole way home! I think they’re all gone, but that will likely be the stuff of my nightmares for nights to come, and we’re still on the lookout for apartment intruders…