Bird Nerding Notes: Early April
I’ve been out quite a bit in the past few weeks in pursuit of birds. One adventure was with my mother, but I’ve been trying to go out daily for at least some birding. I’ve checked out Wisconsin Point, the Western Waterfront Trail, and Loons Foot Landing for birds and all three of them have yielded some new birds for my list. It has been an exciting adventure, as it has helped me to realize all of the birds that are around me that I never really noticed before. Like I’ve noted before, it is like an endless scavenger hunt.
My first adventure on Wisconsin Point yielded one new species. I found some common mergansers close to shore. Of course, they were quick to swim away, but it was neat to see a new bird. I visited for several days in a row, noting many common mergansers, even if they were far away from the shore. Because the birds are pretty shy, it is no wonder that I have never noticed them in all of the years that I have visited Wisconsin point. Otherwise, a large flock of seagulls had assembled on a sheet of ice, which slowly melted over the course of a week. I am not experienced enough to identify different species of seagulls, which all look pretty similar to me. Among the seagulls were some immature bald eagles.
Western Waterfront Trail:
The Western Waterfront Trail yielded several other species of birds. Again, the birds were spotted from a distance and only identified by zooming in on the photos I had taken. I noted a Common golden eye and Hooded merganser while hiking along the trail. Again, the birds were shy and even though I was quite a distance away from them, they were quick to move along. I hike on the Western Waterfront Trail dozens of times during the year but have never noticed these birds before. I hiked the trail later in the week and again spotted a flotilla of these same birds.
Loon’s Foot Landing:
My best birding has been at Loon’s Foot Landing in Superior. I have spotted Hooded mergansers, common mergansers, Northern shoveler, pied grebe, Common goldeneye, bufflehead ducks, Ring necked ducks, green winged teal, and what appeared to be Greater scaup. These waterfowl seem to enjoy hanging out together in a quiet corner behind some cattails. It makes photographing them a bit of challenge since they are safely tucked away quite a distance from the trail. I also saw my first Great blue heron of the season fly overhead.
Green winged teal, Northern shoveler, and Ring necked duck
Beyond the waterfowl were some interesting passerine birds. While walking back to my car, I spotted what appeared to be a robin sized bird in the brush near the shore. I followed the bird, trying to get a closer look. It was quick and active, but finally slowed down long enough to take a photo. It turned out to be a fox sparrow, which was pretty neat. I am slowly learning different kinds of sparrows, which until this year all seemed like ordinary brown birds that didn’t warrant much attention. The Fox sparrow was unique because of its gray and rust colored plumage and its large size compared to other sparrows. When I was following it, I thought maybe it was a female red winged blackbird. Only with the help of the camera was I able to identify it. Since then, I have visited Loon’s Foot Landing almost daily. While I have mostly noted the same birds each day, today I happened to see an interesting bird on top of a tree. I assumed it might be a robin, but upon closer inspection it was gray in color with a sharp beak and black band by its eyes. The mysterious bird appeared to be a Northern shrike! These birds are interesting, since they are carnivorous song birds that impale their prey on barbed wire and thorns. The bird is not very large, but manages to use its sharp beak to kill smaller birds, rodents, insects, etc. The bird is nicknamed the butcher bird because it is known to store meat in holes or on wires. I have also seen a Northern flicker, Northern cardinals, chickadees, and red winged blackbirds at this spot.
It has been fun going out and observing birds. I suppose that my friends have been a little bored, as I’ve dragged them along on some of my adventures. One of the most fun aspects of birding is the realization that there are all these interesting birds around us all of the time, but for years, they went unnoticed and unnamed. Learning to identify new birds is a bit like learning a new language. It opens up a whole new reality. It is the same with learning anything new. Learning to identify ferns, butterflies, amphibians, trees, etc. opens one up to the unique characteristics of the universe around us. The life around us is usually the backdrop of our own lives. It is just the setting, full of unnoticed extras. To know the names of birds, their habits, their songs, and that they were there all along…is a small peak into the vastness of our universe and the richness of the life of this planet.