Orniscaching?: Birding and Geocaching
This weekend I went on a Feminist Frolic and tried geocaching for the first time. I downloaded an app to my phone and found one awesome, mushroom shaped cache with our group. The event was a Cache in Trash out event, so we also collected some garbage from the park as part of the adventure. It was a fun time. Although it seems that there is a lot of jargon and rules regarding geocaching, I am eager to continue with this new found hobby. I think that the best thing about this activity is that it involves spending time outdoors while investigating nature for a hidden world of secret treasures. I was surprised to see how many caches appeared on the map of Superior. To think that all this time there have been hidden items all around me! I also like the collective and individual nature of the activity. Geocaching creates a sense of community, since many people have visited the same site in pursuit of the same time. The community is evident by the logbook and online logs about the site. The activity also builds community since it can be done in groups and appeals to all ages. As for the individual aspect, it can also be done solo, as I did today. So, it can feel like an individual quest to follow in the path of many others to a common destination.
After trying the activity for the first time on Saturday, I decided that I would head out on a birding + geocaching adventure. Adam decided that he was interested in coming along, so we headed to Cloverland, WI to the Roy Johnson Wetlands. I also wanted to visit the Davidson Windmill to try to find a cache. So, we set out on an adventure to the rural areas outside of Superior.
Early on, I became quite frustrated. I soon learned that it is very hard to operate a car, a camera, and the geocaching app on my phone. I also learned that there is very spotty cellphone reception in that area. I hadn’t downloaded the maps for geocaching which made this aspect of the adventure impossible. I was angry at myself, since I wanted to try out my new activity. I also became angry because I saw various hawks on wires and flying over the farmland. However, they either flew away before I could identify them or I was unable to stop. Adam wasn’t keen on the slow driving and stop and go, as he wanted to head to Cloverland. I was unhappy with trying to juggle driving, birding, and caching. In any event, I passed up several birds on the way to the Windmill. Thankfully, my phone sort of worked at the Windmill, but after milling about for 20 minutes, I failed to find the cache. This was a very bad start to our journey and heralded the end of my attempt to geocache. Instead, I would focus on birds.
We traveled to Cloverland and went on a short hike, but didn’t spot any birds. We continued down a dirt road past an old barn, where Adam said he’d seen an owl in the past. Adam spotted a dark, moving object in a tree near the barn. This was hopeful! However, it turned out to be a porcupine. The porcupine lifted my spirits a bit, and we continued onward. Our drive did not yield any unusual birds, but we pushed on towards the Roy Johnson Wetlands.
Not far from the wetlands was a trail or narrow road, which ascended a muddy hill. We hiked up the hill and our luck with birding changed. The top of the hill featured a small pond with a nesting goose. The road was flanked by scraggy bushes, where small birds flitted back and forth. They were too quick for me, but I managed to photograph a robin and a dark eyed junco. By then, the sun was setting, so our time was limited. A large hawk flew by, keeping low to the ground as it hugged the curves of the marshy landscape. I captured a blurry photo of what appeared to be a light gray hawk with a white underside. I believe that it was a Northern Harrier hawk. Finally, as we continued a little further down the trail I spotted what looked like a chickadee with a yellow bottom! Of course, this little bird did not turn around, so I had a hard time determining what it was. My best guess is that it was a yellow-rumped warbler. Spotting these two birds redeemed the adventure, though by then I was already over my earlier frustration over my lack of organization and inability to juggle my activities. I decided that I would try geocaching + birding the next day!
Today, I woke up and realized it was cold and windy out. This put a damper on my outdoor adventures until the late afternoon. Once the sun peeked out and the wind seemed less intimidating, I hurried to Park Point…determined to make geocaching and birding work. I set out alone and on foot, which is the key to balancing these two hobbies. It also helped that I had cellphone reception. With my bird books, camera, and phone, I started hiking! The hike was pleasant and birds were plentiful. Several birds of prey flew overhead. However, they were too fast for me to identify. One was quite large with dark banding under the wings. I am new at identifying birds, so this usually involves photographing birds and then comparing them to the bird guides. I admired the birds as they passed by, then continued into the woods. I spotted a red-breasted nuthatch and then a quick moving bird that bounced from branch to branch and tree to tree. I spent quite a while observing it, trying to photograph it and commit its features to memory. The bird had a bright yellow crown and solid white or gray stomach. Its eyes were masked with a black stripe. I assumed that it might be some kind of warbler. There are numerous warblers and I don’t really know how to identify any of them. However, using the bird guide, it seems that the bird most closely resembled a golden-crowned kinglet.
Near where I spotted the golden-crowned kinglet was a cache. I looked around, but did not find it. However, there were several more up the trail, so I continued. Along the way, I found two caches. This was great! But, I failed to find a third cache further up the trail. As I had a meeting at 5:30 pm, I hurried along, trying to find one more cache before I had to turn around. I managed to find one more, but failed to find one more for lack of time. With that, I turned around and hurried back to my car. The hike back yielded two more birds of prey. One of them had distinct black wing tips on its underside and a head that was darker gray than the rest of its body. Its underside appeared to be lightly barred. I was confused, but I think it may have been another Northern harrier hawk. Finally, I saw one last bird of prey at the top of a conifer. It was smaller than the others and of course, hard to see. I moved around to try to view it from different angles. It may have been a female merlin, but I can’t know for sure. I also spotted a common merganser.
Prior to Saturday, I did a little birding at WI Point and Loon’s Foot landing. Many of the ducks I had seen in the previous weeks have seemingly moved along. I did capture a picture of a female cardinal though.
In all, it seems that geocaching and birding compliment each other. In both activities, I am searching for something. Both have highs and lows. It is certainly disappointing to miss a cache. It is also frustrating when I struggle to identify birds as they are too quick or I am just not skilled enough. However, these struggles make identifying a new bird or finding a cache all the more exciting! I know that some people do both activities at the same time, but oddly, there is no name for it (that I saw online anyway!). Since geocaching seems to have developed its own language, I think I will call it orniscaching!