Monday, March 23, 2015

A Balancing Act

My voyage home to Wisconsin focused on family and several target birds.  Last year, I discovered Long-tailed Ducks in Maine but wasn't able to obtain decent photo documentation.  I scheduled my birding treks during the day while everyone was working and carefully targeted several of Wisconsin's finest harbors along beautiful Lake Michigan. 

Long-tailed Duck
I needed ice chunks and an enclosed harbor to find this duck above.  The temps had warmed up and the ice was rapidly disappearing.  In winter, the Long-tailed Duck likes to hang near harbors full of ice.  We headed north where it was colder and the ice still remained.  On the way up to Door County with my parents, we stopped in a town known as Algoma.  It had a harbor with all the right conditions.  As I looked out over the frozen piers, I spotted what looked like trash in the water next to several large ice chunks.  Jackpot!  What an amazing bird!

The Amish return from their Sunday services

While I preferred and spent most of my time on the lakes, harbors and rivers, I needed to explore the country.  There were several birds that liked this marshy field area. So I went to Collin's Marsh and entered the land of the Amish.

American Tree Sparrow
Here I picked up two lifebirds with several new year birds including a rare Snowy Owl!  The problem?  I got so caught up with all the cool birds that I forgot about my lifebird targets.  However, the American Tree Sparrows wouldn't let me forget that I needed to see them.  I sat for a good ten minutes looking at the sparrows confused.  They weren't Chipping or Song or Swamp Sparrows. These sparrows were like a combo of these three birds....rufousy yet gray with a central breast spot.  Then it clicked within my head that I wasn't dealing with any previously observed sparrows.  I still think about that moment of confusion and marvel at the power of observation.  Sparrows are way cool!

Rough-legged Hawk pursuing a Red-winged Blackbird
However, I spent a good part of my morning locating several Rough-legged Hawks at this marsh with my cousin Erin and her boyfriend Josh.  After years of thinking I saw one, I was finally able to safely pull off the side of the road and watch several of these hawks in action. There are always a few in Arizona every winter, but every time I get close, I have a line of cars behind me and the bird flies off!   

Black-capped Chickadee
Other birds thrilled!  The common birds were as cool as the rare ones.  I observed lots of nesting Bald Eagles.  

Greater Scaup
Family events are always fun.  My family likes to be outdoors and we had a night out at Point Beach State Park eating chili in the cold temps.  These are all of my nephews and nieces from my side!  And that doesn't include several on the way from both our sides of the family!

What's that angry bird doing here??!!!
Lake Michigan is like the ocean. It's vast. People who have never been to the Great Lakes Region are always surprised by how large these bodies of water really are. Many people cross the bridges or drive along the lake not really looking at all the cool birds hanging out in the waters. They seem to look at the horizon wondering what's on the other side. 

Common Goldeneye
When I reported a Red-throated Loon, they were surprised.  So I pulled out the pics to show the loon make its awkward landing in the chilly waters.  The following pics are field pics not worthy of anything art.  Just cool moment shots in poor lighting conditions. 

Red-throated Loon-lighter overall with a speckly back in winter plumage.  No barring at all on this bird which eliminates Common Loon.
Also of great interest to me were the numerous White-winged Scoters found along the shoreline.  Now again, this isn't a great shot, but it's cool.  I watched this Scoter chow down on some mussels along the pier.  

Hooded Merganser
I find the photography of a new life bird at times irritating because I want to observe their behaviors instead of focusing on the shot.  Don't get me wrong. I love excellent photos but I'd much prefer sitting on the pier watching the birds.  So when I'm searching for new gulls(another favorite of mine to ID), I'm always happy.  Gulls play nice and don't mind posing most of the time.  

Left to right.  Glaucous Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, several Ring-billed Gulls(smaller) and Herring Gulls

On this journey, I studied a lot more about gulls.  In the photos above and below, there are 4 different gulls.  My targets were the Glaucous, Thayer's and Iceland Gulls.  

For the Glaucous gull, it was fairly simple to ID.  I had to look for a larger gull that was plain gray.  These gulls lack any black coloration.  Soon I hope to be advanced enough to pick out the much more difficult Thayer's and Iceland Gulls. 

Ring-billed Gull
Finally, I went looking for Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs and ended up with a Northern Shrike.  This Shrike was shy and didn't hang around long enough for me to enjoy a decent observation. But I got to see one finally!

Northern Shrike
It's difficult. I have birds in my head all the time.  I wish I could get them out, but there's nothing like the addiction of fresh air and the excitement of something new and wonderful just waiting to be discovered. 

Usually towards the end of the trek, I wear myself out. Then it's just fun hanging out with the gang.  If you come visit Wisconsin, you have to check out the sausage and cheese factories. BEST sausage and cheese in this country! Unless of course you are a vegetarian:)

Sausage fest!
 My cousin and her boyfriend were visiting from Colorado which made for a fun week. They loved the beef sticks. Be careful how many you eat or you might have a sore stomache:)  And like everything in this life, it all flew by much too quickly.

I'm going to apologize to my family now for my insane intensity.  I can't shut off this crazy addiction.  Here is the best way I can put it. I've always been an explorer and will continue to be one until the day I die.  I've realized that the days ahead are some of my best.  I will never have kids and I do want to leave something behind for the world.  I'm hoping I can contribute in some way to the preservation of our world no matter how dark it may seem sometimes. The more I know; the more sucked into this adventure I become.  

My pops or as the grandkids say.....Grandpalf The Gray. "YOU SHALL NOT PASS!"
 Take for example the Ruffed Grouse.  It's a bird on my list but like any grouse, it requires a bit of study.  While we were up in Door County, we studied this bird's habitat. I then went to a local zoo where they had this grouse for me to study.  I was able to listen to the low hum and vibrating vocalizations, observe movement, etc to get an idea what this bird was all about! Meanwhile my nephew and niece were getting slimed by a couple giraffes:)  Classic.  

Never have I become so acutely aware of time as I do now.  Time with friends and family and birding seem to all collide.  I want to do it all, but I can't.  And when I do it all, I'm exhausted from wearing myself out in the field all day.  But WOW!  I go to bed at night happy.  I know that someday my light will dim, but for now, my appetite for knowledge grows leaps and bounds. 

Woodland Dunes-home to the Pileated Woodpeckers and Northern Saw-whet Owls
I am back in Arizona again, but my adventures will take me south once more into Mexico. So for now, I want to say thank you to my family for a wonderful time.  I love you all.  See you in a few months! 


  1. That zeal for life and learning will keep you going, along with some sleep and down time.

  2. A happy balance is good. One stop never stop learning however one should know when to rest. I. Loved seeing your family and all the birds you photographed.

  3. You definitely have the birding bug .. just remember a little downtime now and again helps to keep you sane.

    Super selection of images from your excursions.

  4. Loved this family-filled, bird-filled post! Great photos. Too funny that grumpy uncle shot behind the kids, and Grand-pap-Gandalf's "Thou Shall Not Pass!" :-) Loved the beautiful photos, but I think it's wonderful that you just love watching the birds, even better than photographing them. You are giving the world a LOT, Chris. I'm glad to be a small part of your following!

  5. Love the Hooded Merganser and the Long tailed Duck. Saw my first one this year.

  6. How fun to read about your wonderful trip gathering souvenirs. Family is always close to heart.
    The hooded Merganser has such a funny head!
    I am pretty sure you'll have a book one day full of your various times looking for birds. Next step will be to record their voice :-)))

  7. Wonderful shots Chris - sounds like you had a great time with your family and fitted in some wonderful birding. Well done on getting the Long-tailed Duck shot too :) That cheese looks absolutely divine - whenever we go on holiday or out for the day I always try and come home with local cheese (goes so well with wine :) )

  8. Chr4is, you got such wonderful photos and had such wonderful adventures! I am so glad you saw so many birds! I had to laugh about your finding the American tree sparrow since you had said it was a target species for you. I'm glad you finally figured it out!

    Your family looks great!

    I hope one day I can bird there with you and I hope I get to meet your crazy family!

  9. Wow! I thought those rocks around the lighthouse were cool - until I realised they were REALLY cool!! Ice!!! Doesn't happen down here so much :D And I always thought that being a little bit scary was a good thing!! So don't apologise for the intensity!

  10. Hi Chris, looks like a wonderful trip back home.. I love all the birds photos and seeing your family.. My family thinks I am crazy over the birds too. Happy Friday!

  11. A great tribute to your family and friends Chris, you seem to me to be a lucky man surrounded by a loving and large family, and most of all you appreciate them!

  12. It sounds as if it was a great combination trip, lots of family, food and friends, and yet a bit of birding too, with the thrill of some new lifers as well. That sounds like balance!

  13. I enjoyed your Northern birds Chris because I'm more familiar with them than the Arizona stuff. Your trip up north certainly led to a good list and some I'm quite jealous of as we see them rarely - Rough legged Hawk, Lapland Longspur/Bunting and even Northern/Great Grey Shrike. Those northern sparrows can be quite difficult and even now after several years or more away, I get confused between Chipping Sparrow and American Tree Sparrow.

    A nice post Chris and good to see your (huge) family, not to mention the hearty looking foods.

  14. wow!! BIG family!!
    that big headed merganser is comical looking!!
    as always...beautiful shots.
    looks like you got a perfect balance of nature...birds...countryside & family!

    have a great weekend chris!

  15. Great set of pictures - you have a much larger family than me, and probably a longer bird life list as well!!

    Nice post.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne


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