Seasoned birdwatchers and casual nature observers have probably noticed that we have all kinds of new arrivals here in the Northland and around the state.
The incredibly geektastic BirdCast migration radar map (https://birdcast.info/live-migration-maps/) showed lots of activity in southeastern Wisconsin and western Minnesota during the overnight hours of April 28-29. And the same map shows that the southeastern U.S. and lower Midwest is just packed with birds heading in our direction. In the meantime we have an astonishing variety of birds in the area even though the bulk of our summer breeders haven’t arrived yet. A recent hour-long walk through the town of Gingles revealed just how much is going on in our woods, fields and yards.
I ventured out on one of the pleasant but cool days we were having later in April, with a brisk northeast wind creating the icebox effect we get closer to the lake (readers closer to Mellen or Cable had a much warmer day than we did!) The first thing I noticed upon leaving the house was all the racket from some of our yearlong residents, the American goldfinches, mourning doves and black-capped chickadees.
The open meadows and wetlands are full of song sparrows, one of our earliest spring arrivals. The first flocks of tree swallows had just arrived and were already squabbling over nesting boxes, and I heard the bleating song of the eastern phoebe at several intervals along the way. This was an encouraging development, since their local populations took a hit two years ago after the April blizzard. Canada geese were guarding new nesting spots near ponds, and a spooked pair of wood ducks gave their shrill alarm as I walked past. And a pair of sandhill cranes loudly announced their presence in a distant field.
Large flocks of red-winged blackbirds, the bane of hikers and cyclists in early summer, hounded me along the way. They haven’t quite settled into their own territories and presently can be seen stacked up in willow trees and on top of cattails. I had a rare daylight sighting of a lone Wilson’s snipe out poking through the mud before it rapidly flew off, looking much like its sandpiper cousins. I didn’t see as many killdeer as I expected I would in the open areas, but there were a couple of them around making their shrill call. I hope I can spot some baby killdeer later in the season if the parents let me get close enough. I think they’re the cutest baby wild birds ever, with their wing stubs, long legs and black collars. And I heard the neighborhood’s first white-throated sparrow of the season, with its clear, plaintive whistle. Readers in central Wisconsin may only hear this call during spring migration unless you’re near some northern bog habitat where they might stick around and raise a family. A little merlin sat in a poplar tree cleaning its beak and two bald eagles soared overhead. I was disappointed to note that the pair of trumpeter swans that had been hanging out on a local pond had moved on. I don’t know if it was the same pair that are now in the slough near Ashland’s Prentice Park or if they went further afield, but it’s nice to have them around as long as I’m not too close to them in a boat.
Midway through my walk, I headed into a wooded area with mixed pines and hardwoods. Spring peepers and cricket frogs were at it despite the cool temperatures and the patches of snow that were still clinging to shady areas in the ditch. A pair of pileated woodpeckers were gliding from tree to tree and pounding away, and a yellow-bellied sapsucker gave its loud squeal from the trunk of a maple tree. Ruffed grouse were also busy drumming throughout the woods, although I didn’t see any.
One of the confounding and exciting things about bird-watching or any amateur naturalist hobby is running into something you can’t identify; as I emerged from the woods, I heard a melodic six-note bird song that I didn’t recognize. Since I’ve never heard it in the summer, I assume it was a migrant on its way north. It appeared to be about robin-sized, with maybe yellow underparts and brown or reddish wings and back and it sings from both treetops and on open ground. I’ll work on trying to identify it before it moves on. What are you seeing in your neighborhood? Let me know.
Sarah Morris is a bird-watcher and outdoorswoman who explores northern Wisconsin from her home base in the town of Gingles. She can be reached at email@example.com.