Tuesday, September 10, 2019

With A Watchful Eye

A parent Barn Swallows feeding young at Woodland Dunes in Two Rivers
Moments are all we ever will have.  I tried memorizing the Wisconsin landscape one last time. 

As the young were getting ready to leave their parents, so was I.  Once again the summer flew by much too quickly.

My brother's beautiful oasis.
Wisconsin was the end of my 2018-19 birding season. It will be some time before I go back again. 

I realized that everything is different now.  I cannot help but see the past everywhere I go.  Faces that were once a fixture of a place are now gone.  It's like the town grew old without me. 

For the first time in my life, I actually felt like my family had dodged a bullet.  My Dad was going to be okay this time, but I got a glimpse of the future and I didn't like what I saw. 

Green Heron in Manitowoc
I don't feel any different here in Arizona.  When I observe birds in Wisconsin though, I feel some strange past connection.  The birding has a weight to it.  In Arizona, it's a fun daily game.  But when I see a bird in my hometown, it's like hearing an old 80's song from high school. It floods my brain with memories and people.

Common Yellowthroat
Sometimes I'd walk down causeways.  I like lighthouses.  And I like gulls and cold lake air.  I memorize the smells and feelings that belong to that moment. I am in command of that moment. There will never be another moment like it.  I see my future and I am at peace with it. But living in the moment can be difficult for me because I know the "now" can never last forever.  In that moment, everything is as it should be, safe. It won't be that way again. 

A lighthouse in Kewaunee
The mascot of this blog is the Bonaparte's Gull.  It is a gull that I love most. It's also why it's the header to Las Aventuras. I wish I could trap this moment and return to it again and again and again. It brings me joy. 

A Bonaparte's Gull
Whether it was a birding thing or family outing, I tried to absorb every detail. Normally, I "disappear" from my family when I'm not home visiting. I'm in Arizona and if it weren't for texts, I'd be missing in action for months.  I hate talking on the phone and am not one for writing letters anymore.  We all live our busy lives.  When I'm home, I catch up on all the daily happenings between the family members.  

In the Upper Pennisula of Michigan with my Dad and Jax
I see patterns and cycles. Change does not happen easily there. Perhaps we are all stubborn and set in our ways.  I wonder if we all truly appreciate that we are together.  One event flows into the other without really giving everyone a chance to think about the experience.  Or appreciating that moment. It's always planning for the next. Maybe it's because my siblings have children and that's what children do, talk about the "next thing" that they're going to do instead of taking in the moment.  I tried working with 4 of the nephews and nieces on that one.  We were at a movie and my niece asked me what we were going to do the next day.  I told them to just watch the movie:)

Henslow's Sparrow at High Cliff State Park
One morning I won't forget anytime soon will be the one where I went with Travis to find the Henslow's Sparrow in a prairie 40 minutes away from home. It would complete my sparrow chase for the state and the list of new sparrows I had hoped to observe in the field for this summer. What a wonderful morning out as we watched this amazing lifer sing on top of the bushes surrounded by a sea of grass.

My Dad and I usually do a trek out to Washington Island from Door County.  We took J-man with us.  I'll say he was pretty good for most of the time, but not having had children myself, he certainly knew how to get me to snap.  There was one night I blew a gasket with him.  He wanted up and down and up and down and up and down a chair while I was trying to get a project done.  I don't know where that darkness came from but it emerged quickly and took only a moment to put this 3, turning 4 year old, in his place.  I can't believe I actually yelled at him. I love that kid. I actually went to bed upset that I snapped at him. 

In Door County
There are so many voices in a family.  Quiet time is a must.  If I don't have that space, I unravel into a nightmare of a human.  I know myself well enough to make that an important thing.  My father tries to do the same, but he often can't escape the noise.  We both have that in common.  Peace and quiet are sacred things and I wish we all respected those a little more with each other because it is important.

One day, I watched Trumpeter Swans at Horicon alone. I only had a few hours to play.  If this had been in Arizona, I'd have spent the whole day there counting birds. 

My brother created his peaceful retreat.  He put his pontoon into the river by his home.  This land used to be my Grandmother's before she passed. I'm glad he has it now.  It's so beautiful there. While home, we took the pontoon up and down the river. I'm proud of my brother for taking something precious and making it better. That river is incredible.  

My little sister pulls the pontoon to the dock in her fancy shoes
But at the end, I was ready to go home.  It had been a great summer, but I had work waiting for me back in Tucson. It will be another several years before I head back to Wisconsin.  My birding year for next year is already planned.  I'll be in Oregon and Washington this October and Hawaii in December.  Then there are potential treks to New Zealand, Florida, Thailand and Central America.  One of them will have to be cut from the schedule, but for now I'm leaving it all open. 

This little guy will be bigger the next time I see him. I hope he stays curious and continues his love for the outdoors. Over the next several weeks, we head back to Arizona for a scouting mission, a birding festival and trek to Greer in the White Mountains.  

Until next time friends......

Sunday, September 1, 2019

The Rubberband

Oh trouble was brewing at the Rohrer household.  A little demon child known as J-man kept his Uncle and Grandparents busy. His ailing grandfather needed some quiet time to heal after his heart surgery. And so his uncles and grandma kept both he and his adorable baby sister busy. 

Baltimore Oriole
Birding with family can often be difficult. Still, it can be done, but it requires careful planning.  Here are some things I've learned from over the years to accomplish my birding goals while spending that quality family time that is much needed. 

Family fun at Bay Beach.  Also near the site of secret breeding Piping Plovers!

1. Find ways to include light birding while spending quality time with family.  My personal goal is to blend birding into the outdoor activities.  We have to begin somewhere and teaching our young minds is important to the future of birding. It starts off with curiosity.  A trip. A pair of binoculars and some hands on experience with birds. Toddlers are tactile.  So are Canada Geese. 

Over a hundred Canada Geese overtook J-man and one gave him a little nibble. The child who caused terror to others was terrorized himself, for a moment. There was a scream and then some crying involved. He flew up to Grandma for protection and for fun, I threw a little more corn around Grandma's feet to hear her yell out. I'm terrible.  I know:)

2.  Stay close to home. You never know when you will be needed for.....
a. family pictures  b. family dinner  c. babysitting
d. running errands or e. all the above:)

A fledged Chipping Sparrow

3.  Be clear on what you want to accomplish.  You can't do it all, BUT you can knock off some birds from that much wanted list. 

So many nephews and nieces
During my trek home, I was only focused on warblers and sparrows.  There was a possibility of adding two new lifers to the list. The Hooded Warbler was one of those warblers.  It was only 10 minutes away from my parent's home. 

Hooded Warbler
4.  Do your birding in the morning or early afternoon.  Birding is best in the morning, but sometimes there are errands that have to be run.  Most people work during the day.  Family generally meets at night or on the weekends.  If you can't go in the morning, try for the early afternoon when the grandkids or nephews/nieces are down for their nap. 

Family photos are NEVER easy. 

But they are always memorable and a necessary evil:) Never take those moments for granted because you don't know if you'll get the same opportunity again.  So much can change in a short time. 

My lifer Hooded Warbler in the dark forest of Point Beach State Forest

5.  Challenge yourself and stay within your own county.  You may have seen a Wild Turkey a million times in a million other places, but did you see one in your hometown? Be a kid again and play detective working on hunches.  

Wild Turkey
6.  Remember to stop birding as well. I speak to the choir here when I say it's hard to turn off the birding gene, but try and do it.  I was proud of myself this summer when I could completely let it go and not keep looking at every bird flying past my radar. 

I feel like Cambrie in this shot.  Trying to get that perfect family pic is NO easy task. 

7.  Carefully choose the places you'd like to bird. Keep the family in the loop where you plan on birding.  Keep it a half hour or so, no more, from home. 

American White Pelicans hang out near the Manitowoc Marina
8.  On occasion, treat yourself to a full day of birding.  Don't feel guilty.  It's your holiday and you deserve some quiet time away from the family. 

Cerulean Warbler
Even though I had seen the Cerulean Warbler once before, I wanted to see it again.  It's one of my favorite warblers.  And it was on my short list of birds I wanted to see while back home. 

Purple Martin
9. Let yourself just flow with the family plans.  Ebird wherever the family goes.

My brother Adam bought a pontoon and it allowed us to count birds along the river in his backyard.  We discovered several new bird species breeding along the river like Spotted Sandpipers. 
10. Create new hotspots for the public. You know your hometown best. 

When I was home, I discovered this beautiful rare Horned Grebe(below) near my brother's cabin.  There was no ebird hotspot so I created one. We can discover new birds by just paying attention.  This Horned Grebe completed an atlas block for someone. They were thrilled. 

A rare Horned Grebe!
I am more aware now of the world around me. Birders can make anything work with a little ingenuity. I use the word "rubberbanding it".  I'm never too far from home and if I'm needed back home ASAP, I am able to "snap back" in a second. I don't see it as limiting in any way.  It just makes me a little more creative with my birding. 

Who added the dog?!  

Hope you found these tidbits useful. Everyone has a different situation so do what's best for you.

Until next time.....

Sunday, August 25, 2019

A Time For Study

Before everyone in Wisconsin had vacation, I had a little time to hang out with my friend Nancy.  She lives on this beautiful farm FULL of cool critters.  So on this day we spent time with a hummingbird banding team from Milwaukee at her place.  Also joining us was new friend and birder Travis.  He brought his kiddos to help with the banding project of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. 

Chimney Swift
Nancy helped record data while the rest of us carefully trapped hummingbirds for banding. "Trapped" makes it sound terrible but I assure you that none of the hummingbirds were harmed for this very important tracking project.  The team members banding these little birds are professional and excellent at what they do. 

During my time in Wisconsin, I ran surveys for my hometown helping several organizations for our 5th and final year of the Wisconsin Bird Breeding Atlas.  

Canada Goose
Wisconsin in June is lovely.  It wasn't too buggy nor was the bug population quite the same as it was in Maine:)  The birding challenge? Water levels are rising and swallowing up land around the Great Lakes and have affected the piers, shorelines, and road systems which normally allow for easy access to birding hotspots.

I wore water shoes on several of the trails at Woodland Dunes because the boardwalks were submerged under river water. 

The end of this boardwalk at Woodland's Dunes was completely submerged. 
It was crazy.  In some areas, I wasn't able to access platforms!

Blue-winged Warbler
I focused my energies on warblers and sparrows.  Two Rivers and Manitowoc are unusual cities in that northern breeding Canadian warbler species can sometimes be found breeding in our area. 

I'd monitor the rivers and lakes as well for that breeding information. 

American White Pelican 
I'd do stationary counts for 15-20 minutes each day and collect data. 

May, June and July are especially important months in regards to breeding birds. 

female Red-winged Blackbird

For example, if I saw this female Red-winged Blackbird carrying food, I'd enter that this bird was carrying food. 

Clay-colored Sparrow
During my sparrow surveys, I'd mark down if these birds were in their normal territories.  For example, I'd check areas from years past where I've seen these birds before.  In the case of the Clay-colored Sparrow above, I marked "singing male". 

Everyone in the state of Wisconsin was working around the clock to collect the data to complete their data blocks on this last year.  I could only give a couple hours a day. 

Red-bellied Woodpecker
At Nancy's place, we found so many incredible things. 

Rose-breasted Grosbeak
While our hummingbird banding was happening, we were also making an inventory of all the birds she had on our property.  Nancy's property covered an "atlas block".  Normally birders who live in their "blocks", because it's close to home, like to cover their area. Some adopt other blocks around their areas. 

White-crowned Sparrow
Once a birder has found enough breeding evidence on 40 species of birds in their block, they've completed their area. That block will go dark. While home, I helped complete some of the blocks and/or add more information to those blocks. 

Purple Finch

In Manitowoc county at Nancy's place, we discovered a RARE, for the summer, White-crowned Sparrow.  And I was able to confirm a pair of breeding Purple Finches for the atlas.  I was not able to see a nest, but food was being gathered.  Historically, Purple Finches used to breed during the summer in Manitowoc. 

There were a lot of people managing records and checking areas for birds.  

Back home, where I could stay close, I watched Purple Martins feed their young.  This can be a tricky species to find.  They depend entirely on people to provide homes on the eastern half of the US.  

Purple Martin populations on the eastern side of the US are declining.  And if you don't know where to look for the colonies, they can be very difficult to find.  I found 2 breeding colonies in my town.  A third colony had collapsed and the population for that area had completely disappeared. 

It was fun watching these fast birds snatch butterflies and other insects out of the air and then swirl down to feed their young. 

I took notes and lots of documentation. It was an absolute thrill to be able to contribute to the count.  Next week, we'll explore the idea of birding near family.  Do you document your birds in your area when you find evidence of breeding? Until next time.....