Field Trip Report: White River Marsh

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On May 27th, 2017, the WYBC held its first ever collaboration field trip with the Wisconsin Society of Ornithology. Local expert Tom Schultz led the group on a walk through White River Marsh SWA, visiting cattail, forest edge, and prairie habitats. Wendy Schultz and Jeff Baughman joined the group as well.

The trip began at 7am on White River Road. Immediately, a pair of Whooping Cranes serenaded the group from across the marsh. Sora, Virginia Rail, Marsh Wren and Willow Flycatcher were all observed in the first few minutes. While learning about the history of White River Marsh, we were wowed by singing Sedge Wrens and Yellow Warblers. Alder Flycatcher as well as both cuckoo species sang from a wooded edge as Ryan discussed the rules of thumb for bird call playback.

A small grove nicknamed the “Oak Island” yielded Yellow-throated Vireo, singing Blackpoll Warbler, two beautiful Scarlet Tanagers, and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

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Yellow-throated Vireo

As the weather warmed up, we decided to explore a new habitat along the edges of White River Marsh: grassy fields. There we were treated to displaying Bobolinks, Eastern Kingbirds, and singing Eastern Meadowlarks, though Henslow’s Sparrows were nowhere to be found. The trip concluded at Dead End Road, where Grasshopper Sparrow, Orchard Oriole, and American Kestrel were the last birds of the day.

Though the group was slightly smaller than normal, we all had a good time, seeing a total of 77 species — a new day record for a WYBC field trip!

Full checklist        Photo credit to Wendy + Tom Schultz.

Teen Team Big Day Report

Total Species: 141  Distance Traveled: 173.7 mi  Average Age: 16.7                                    Energy used: less than half a tank of gas!

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On May 13th, the Wisconsin Young Birders Club sent four teens – Josh, Ben, Ryan, and Michael – out on a ‘Big Day’ to see as many species as possible in Dane County. In doing so, the WYBC Teen Team raised $1226 for Bird Conservation efforts in Wisconsin. A big thank you to the Great Wisconsin Birdathon for organizing our fundraiser.

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 The day began at 5:00am at Cherokee Marsh. In the predawn light, the team started the day off strong with wetland species such as American Woodcock, Virginia Rail, Sora, and American Bittern. By 6 o’clock the day list had already risen to 50 species.

Next stop was the Creek Corridor of Pheasant Branch Conservancy. Though scattered showers and an overcast sky threatened to halt the team’s impressive progress, the warblers still put on a show: Bay-breasted, Golden-winged, Blackburnian, and Parula were all singing. Along the corridor the team ran into both veteran Madison birder Mike McDowell and a fellow WYBC member, Rowan! However, there was no time to lose — after a brief snack, the WYBC Teen Team was on the road again.

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By 8:30, Josh, Ben, Michael and Ryan had reached the County V Ponds. Through a strong wind, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Short-billed Dowitcher, Semipalmated Plover, and Northern Harrier were all checked off. Unfortunately, the first major miss of the day, a vagrant Snowy Egret, was absent. A quick scan of the County DM ponds yielded the unexpected rarity White-rumped Sandpiper along with Savannah Sparrow and American Pipit. Their total was fast growing, and the weather held.

As mid-day approached, the team ventured further into western Dane County. Pelicans and Orchard Orioles, plus the day’s only Pileated Woodpecker, were spotted at Indian Lake. Following a beautiful hike up the Oak Savannah of Pleasant Valley Conservancy, the team relaxed for a lunch break while looking over the driftless landscape. Ben practiced his DSLR camera skills on a Red-headed Woodpecker while Josh helped teach Ryan and Michael the finer points of Atlasing. (Was the kestrel we saw carrying food breeding already? Can those two associating Brown Thrashers be called a ‘pair’?)

Although the day’s total was already over 120 species, the team hadn’t finished. Exploring the Erbe Rd. Grasslands payed off with displaying Bobolinks, singing Grasshopper Sparrows and Clay-colored sparrows, as well as a confusing raptor (eventually agreed upon as a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk). Thousand Rock Prairie had Vesper Sparrows, but no Henslow’s Sparrow, Dickscissel or Upland Sandpiper. Ryan also learned that a road indicated public on a map may not really be so public…

It was time to swing back through Madison. Nine Springs was quiet, but keen eyes and a good scope helped chalk Green-winged Teal and Gadwall onto the list. Previously reported Forster’s Tern and White-eyed Vireo were absent from the Stricker’s Pond area in Middleton, though the team was lucky enough to spot an Eastern Screech-Owl and a stock-still Green Heron on the far end of the lake.

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A big thank-you to Ryan’s parents for facilitating a much-needed pit-stop on the edge of Owen Park; nachos, pizza, and lemonade were gone within minutes. Michael’s gaze skyward added Broad-winged Hawk for the day. Though Ben had to head out, Josh, Michael and Ryan set off to Fish Camp Park. There they located Common Tern, Black Tern, and Bonaparte’s Gulls. The day came to a subdued finish at Patrick Marsh: though a previously reported Eared Grebe was nowhere to be found, one female Red-breasted Merganser was the final addition for the day.

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Thank you to everyone that donated – we hope to raise even more next year!

Checklists: Patrick Marsh/Brazee Lake       Fish Camp Park         Stricker’s Pond         Nine Springs               Thompson/Thousand Rock Prairie           Erbe Rd.         Pleasant Valley           Indian Lake            County DM Ponds            County V Ponds            Pheasant Branch         Cherokee 2            Cherokee 1             Ryan’s house

January Young Birder of the Month: Luke

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Age: 15    Hometown: Reedsburg, WI

 How long have you been birding, and what got you started?        

   Somewhere around three and a half years. My interest was first sparked when we did a school project that involved drawing some of the birds that we’d seen. At some point we saw a bird that I couldn’t ID (a recurring problem), so we called a lady we had connections with (my recurring solution) who knew about birds! Of course she was an avid birder, so she invited me to our town’s local bird festival. I got involved with the birding group there, and they got me hooked!

Why did you choose to join the Wisconsin Young Birders Club?        

     I chose to join the club because it provided a great opportunity to meet and bird with more birders, as well as go on awesome field trips.

What is one bird you want to see in the future?      

    Definitely a King Eider! This bird has fascinated me since we visited the St. Louis Zoo years ago. We tried to see the one in Milwaukee, but got there just one day too late!!

Tell us an interesting/funny birding story from your experience in Wisconsin or elsewhere.             My favorite birding story is of a birding day during my first year out. I was just out with the aforementioned group seeing some great birds when we were standing at the top of a small hill. A bird flew right by us; everyone watched it fly by in silence. Long tail, pink underwing— I was just about to make a suggestion when the group leader took the words out of my mouth. A Scissor-tailed Flycatcher!

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Fork-tailed Flycatcher

If you couldn’t be a full-time birdwatcher, what would you want to be when you grow up?   

  A pastor and a dad. (Hopefully all three options can go together!)

Why is birding important to you?       

       Birding is important to me because it’s just so incredibly fun! I love the community that has grown around it and the opportunity that provides to meet awesome people. It’s really cool that you can walk up to random people with binoculars and scopes and start a great conversation.

What is one thing you like to do when you’re not birding?       

   I really enjoy goofing around with my siblings; we have some really great times together.

Thanks, Luke!

 

December Young Birder of the Month: Oliver B.

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Age: 13  

Hometown: Carpentersville, IL (main) / New Lisbon, WI (cabin)

How long have you been birding, and what got you started?

I have been seriously birding for about two years but I have been interested in birds for much longer.

A flock of Ducks (probably Ring-necked or Bufflehead) at our cabin back in 2013 was the first time I tried hard to identify a bird.

Why did you choose to join the Wisconsin Young Birders Club?

I saw it on the ABA website and thought it would help me with birding near our cabin (New Lisbon, WI).

Where do you see yourself as a birdwatcher in 10 years?

I see myself traveling around the world trying to see the most birds possible and as a avian field technician for my job.

Tell us an interesting/funny birding story from your experience in Wisconsin or elsewhere.

We were going to walk our dog and as I am walking down our driveway, I spot a Warbler about 7 feet up in a tree about 15 feet away. I walked closer till I was only about 5 feet from the bird. I got my binoculars on it and realized that it was one of the most rare birds I had ever seen. It was a Kirtland’s Warbler! The bird stayed for almost a minute with me at that distance allowing me to study the it very well.

 

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Kirtland’s Warbler

What advice would you give to a novice young birder?

Keep birding. Know that even the most experienced birders make mistakes and age is not a barrier.

Why is birding important to you?

Birding is important to me because

1 – I have made many friends through birding.

2 – It is the only hobby/activity that I have ever had that I can do anytime and anywhere.

And 3 – It gets me outdoors.

You can check out Oliver’s fledgling Illinois bird club, the Whimbrel Bird Club, here: https://whimbrelbirders.org/

Thank you Oliver! 

Pigeon Hawks, Oldsquaws and Water Pipits: One Birder’s Journey Into the Past

by Ryan Treves

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North American Vegetative Regions. Golden Field Guide to Birds (1966)

Most birdwatching journeys begin with a step out the door. They involve trips across miles through diverse ecosystems and vivid scenery. Today, however, I took an ornithological journey not through space, but through time — back to the origins of modern birding.

Tucked behind numerous flashy, modern field guides on my shelf is a modest book I had scarcely ever noticed. This time my eyes rest upon its beige-olive spine purposefully:  “Birds of North America,” it reads. How chaste. As I pull the book away from the shelf, a dazzling illustration of North America’s buntings is revealed on the front cover. The vibrant drawing and curling title contrast the book’s binding so starkly that I become curious immediately.

Cover.JPGThe Golden Field Guide to the Birds of North America was published in 1966, before the founding of the American Birding Association and several years before Kenn Kaufman’s first Big Year. The book describes about 700 species of birds observed in North America, including several casual visitors. Chandler Robbins, Bertel Brunn and Herbert Zim collaborated to put the guide together, with Arthur Singer illustrating each species. Turning the pages, I am continually absorbed in the artwork. In comparison to the refined depictions in my standby National Geographic guide, the plates in the Golden Guide show richer colors and more pure brush strokes. The page of tanagers stands out as particularly vivid, as Singer manages to capture the range of scarlet, rose and flame-colored hues of each male bird. The pine needles above and the subdued gold of each female tanager provide balance, adding an aspect of visual pleasure to the plate’s educational function.

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As I pore over the book, I begin to notice discrepancies within its pages. Why have I never heard of a “Pigeon Hawk”? Since when were there five species of Juncos? What is a Blue-Gray Tanager, native to South America, doing in a North American field guide?

Junco plate.JPGThe answer lies in nomenclature, taxonomy and distribution. Nomenclature is the devising on common names for individual species, for example, the convention to call Coccyzus americanus a “Yellow-billed Cuckoo.” Nomenclature has changed significantly across the years, leading to a “Pigeon Hawk” now being called a Merlin, a “Water Pipit” an American Pipit and the “Sharp-tailed Sparrow” a Nelson’s Sparrow. Nomenclature sometimes changes as older names predating modern species descriptions are replaced with names that modern Ornithologists deem superior, as is the case for the Long-tailed Duck (“Oldsquaw” in the Golden guide). More productively, it often shifts to prevent confusion between species. For example, Capella gallinago  had its name changed from “Common Snipe” to Wilson’s Snipe because it was not the same species as the Old-World* species named Common Snipe. Often, nomenclature changes are gradual in their affection: some birders still refer to the Eastern Towhee as a “Rufous-sided Towhee.”
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The Flycatcher family has had more than its share of name changes, as shown here in the Myiarchus genus. The “Wied’s Crested Flycatcher” in this plate is now the Brown-crested Flycatcher, and the “Olivaceous Flycatcher” is now the Dusky-capped Flycatcher. Both species retained their scientific names, however: Myiarchus tyrannulus and Myiarchus tuberculifer, respectively. 

 

Taxonomy changes, while more unusual, are certainly more interesting. These occur as a result of increased knowledge about what constitutes a species, and where a species fits in its genus or family. Alterations in the taxonomy of North American birds usually occur in two forms: ‘lumps’ and ‘splits.’ For instance, the five subspecies of Juncos illustrated above were ‘lumped’ into one species after the Golden guide was published, while the “Plain Titmouse” was split into two species in 1996, the Oak Titmouse and the Juniper Titmouse. Other notable examples include the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker split into the Red-naped Sapsucker, Red-breasted Sapsucker and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and the Blue Goose and Snow Goose lump. Taxonomic changes that are neither lumps or splits have occurred, though they are few and far between. The Screech Owl, for example, not only split into its Western and Eastern variety, but also moved into the new genus Megascops. Even more drastically, the Olive Warbler was moved into its own family — Peucedramidae —  as a result of a 1998 study of the bird’s mitochondrial DNA. Though taxonomy changes continue today (2016 changes), the definition of a species is questioned now more than ever. When a bird’s anatomy, behavior and genetics all suggest different conclusions, the reality arises that, in some cases, animals do not adhere to rigid classification.

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Bald Eagles were considered rare in the 1960s.

The last major clue to what makes the Golden guide so different is distribution: the way a species or population is spread across a given area. The most common distribution change is a decline in range or population. Several species in the Golden guide have experienced drastic population changes since 1966. Bachman’s Warbler, Dusky Seaside Sparrow and Aplomado Falcon** have been considered all but extinct due to habitat loss and/or hunting. The population decline of other species such as Red Knot and Black Tern can be seen by comparing the species descriptions in the Golden guide to a field guide today. Nevertheless, there are a few notable instances where a species has rebounded from its 1966 status to reach healthy levels today. Due to human effort and the ban on DDT in the 1970s-1990s, Bald Eagles and Ospreys have both made spectacular rebounds in North America.

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Grosbeaks, finches, sparrows and buntings.

 

Looking up, I realize several hours have passed. For a time I was completely consumed by the intricacies of a magnificent bird book, every page sparking new curiosity. By looking back through the years, I glimpsed what it would have been like to be a birdwatcher in the 1960s, in the budding field of ornithology and field identification. Yet I did not only learn about name changes and species lumps—I learned about why I love birdwatching. While names and styles and even species may have been different way back then, birding in 1966 was driven by the same core reason that birders go out today: for an unwavering passion for our feathered friends. On the 50th anniversary of the publishing of the Golden Field Guide’s Birds of North America, I became a better birdwatcher—without even leaving the house.

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*Old World refers to Africa and Eurasia. Old World warblers and Old World Buntings, among other families, are very different from New World Warblers and New World Buntings.

**Efforts to re-introduce the Aplomado Falcon to southwestern U.S. have had some success.

Bibliography
“All About Birds.” All About Birds. Cornell University, 2015. Web. 27 Nov. 2016.                                                                                         Robbins, Chandler S., Bertel Bruun, and Herbert S. Zim. Birds of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. New York: Golden, 1966. Print.

December Young Birder of the Month: Oliver B.

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Age: 13  

Hometown: Carpentersville, IL (main) / New Lisbon, WI (cabin)

How long have you been birding, and what got you started?

I have been seriously birding for about two years but I have been interested in birds for much longer.

A flock of Ducks (probably Ring-necked or Bufflehead) at our cabin back in 2013 was the first time I tried hard to identify a bird.

Why did you choose to join the Wisconsin Young Birders Club?

I saw it on the ABA website and thought it would help me with birding near our cabin (New Lisbon, WI).

Where do you see yourself as a birdwatcher in 10 years?

I see myself traveling around the world trying to see the most birds possible and as a avian field technician for my job.

Tell us an interesting/funny birding story from your experience in Wisconsin or elsewhere.

We were going to walk our dog and as I am walking down our driveway, I spot a Warbler about 7 feet up in a tree about 15 feet away. I walked closer till I was only about 5 feet from the bird. I got my binoculars on it and realized that it was one of the most rare birds I had ever seen. It was a Kirtland’s Warbler! The bird stayed for almost a minute with me at that distance allowing me to study the it very well.

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Kirtland’s Warbler

What advice would you give to a novice young birder?

Keep birding. Know that even the most experienced birders make mistakes and age is not a barrier.

Why is birding important to you?

Birding is important to me because

1 – I have made many friends through birding.

2 – It is the only hobby/activity that I have ever had that I can do anytime and anywhere.

And 3 – It gets me outdoors.

You can check out Oliver’s fledgling Illinois bird club, the Whimbrel Bird Club, here: https://whimbrelbirders.org/

Thank you Oliver! 

November Young Birder of the Month:   Elsa

Hometown: Madison, WI

In lieu of the traditional Q&A style of YBM articles, Elsa chose instead to write a short description of her time volunteering at the Open Door  Bird Sanctuary in Door County.

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“Interning at such a young age, I have found most people think is very surprising, and unheard of. If you ask me, almost anyone should try out such an amazing opportunity as this. I have been feeding owls, handling falcons, cleaning the water bowls for a turkey vulture, and much more! Interning opens up a whole new list of opportunities to both learn and have fun!

       On days when we are open to the public, I often get either stationed at the mews, or the education table. At the mews I get to give speeches about 4 out of 12 of the birds at the sanctuary. Here, I often see the visitors astounded, by both my knowledge of birds of prey, and the birds themselves. You would be surprised to find the number of people who haven’t heard of a great horned owl; explaining it to them and seeing them smile, is super fun. It is like suddenly I become the teacher! The education table is nice too. It is covered with tons of fascinating artifacts, that are irresistible and fun to touch. On all open days we also have a raptor show, often with this I help behind the scenes, tying falconers knots and lifting crates with birds in them. Someday I hope to be onstage, and handling the birds myself! After the show, on good days we have a guided trail hike. The trails around the sanctuary are some of the best kept trails I have ever seen. I always enjoy tagging along with the hikes, where we often see cedar waxwings, quail tracks, and eat apples right off the many trees which grow throughout the sanctuary.

       On volunteer work days, we come in ready to scrub down the mews and feed the birds. I do a lot of the water bowl and rock scrubbing for the first section, it isn’t the best job, but just being there makes it all worthwhile. By feeding time, this hard work all pays off. I get to slice up the quail for the Merlins, and I walk around placing frozen rats, (or rat-cicles as we like to call them) in almost every mew for the birds to enjoy. As you can probably tell, interning at Open Door Bird Sanctuary has been one of the best things I have ever done, and I would highly recommend an internship of any kind to almost anyone. It is a fantastic opportunity to learn even more about birds.”

-Elsa

Elsa is the perfect example of hope for the future of Wisconsin’s birds. While the WYBC loves members who show up to every event, it is so much more to see members like Elsa working outside of the club to help birds and give back to nature. Thanks Elsa!

First Annual ILYB Symposium

Wisconsin Young Birders at ILYB symposium

On August 27th, the WYBC was invited to the First Annual Ilinois Young Birders Symposium in Ryerson Woods, Illinois. It was a great event and we look forward to next year’s meeting. Here is the full report published on the ILYB page:

“Illinois Young Birders in conjunction with Brushwood Center offered the first Illinois Young Birders Symposium at Ryerson Conservation Area on Saturday, August 27th. The event was nearly sold out with more than 60 people in attendance!

The packed house got to enjoy complimentary breakfast, lunch, and snacks from Fresh Thyme Farmers Market, while young birders presented polished and impactful personal stories of how birds have affected their lives. Isoo O’Brien spoke about his year long adventure, birding around the world in more than 20 countries. Jackie Kuroda debunked the stigma surrounding pigeons, proving to us how intelligent pigeons are. Eddie Kasper regaled us with stories of Camp Colorado and birding from the arid grasslands to the mountain tops. Ryan Treves gave a moving speech of the struggle to start Wisconsin Young Birders, taking an dream and making it a reality. Jake Cvetas taught everyone how to get the most out of eBird from tracking your life list to calculating the probability of finding Eurasian Wigeon in Illinois. Finally, Kalman Strauss talked of his selfless work with the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors and how it once took six monitors to resuce a Virginia Rail in downtown Chicago.

Also on the agenda, author and naturalist, Joel Greenberg, moderdated a panel discussion of professionals who have turned their passion into a career with birds: Sulli Gibson – recent graduate of Cornell University, Vickie Igleski – Zookeeper at Lincoln Park Zoo, and Peggy Macnamara – Resident Artist at the Field Museum.

Finally, key note speaker, Josh Engel, recounted tales from his life and career from an early age through college and into professional life. Josh told us how his focus, friendships, and a bit of luck took him around the world from Chicago to Eucador and South Africa, all while working with birds.

After the talks ended and donated items were raffled off including a signed copy of a Sibley’s field guide, the group headed to Brushwood Center for an art reception. The walls of Bushwood proudly displayed photography, drawings, paintings and more by several young birders including Lucas Haberkorn, Nandu Dubey, and Brett Kasper.

Overall it was an amazing day!”