Thursday, December 31, 2015

Frozen Pursuits

Point Beach State Park
At the end of it all, I returned back to my hometown in Wisconsin. Arizona is a great place to bird, but my interest these days centers around this Great Lake state.   Today I have a lot of questions about the Two Rivers and Manitowoc areas. I grew up here playing in a lot of the fields, forests and farmland along Lake Michigan. I'm now exploring as an adult and have many many questions. As I spent time with family, I, of course, wove in the necessary birding needed to find several important life birds. 

Long-tailed Ducks
I believe my book studies of the state are now leading me to a return home for the summer. On this trek, weather played a strong role in what I could and could not do.  A major snow storm blew into the area and disrupted my bird tour.  It was frustrating but I liked relaxing with the family at the same time.  

Snow Bunting
Both the Manitowoc and Two Rivers harbors are excellent for scoters, loons, ducks, rare gulls and many other amazing birds like the Snow Buntings and Long-tailed Ducks above.  

Then it was off to the Killsnake State Wildlife Area(also within Manitowoc County) for Short-eared Owls.  I had a fantastic observation as 10 owls were on the hunt.  As one of them caught lunch, they all descended into the grasses and disappeared.  Pretty amazing show!

Short-eared Owl

Everyday was overcast. And some days were downright blustery. At one point, water edged both sides of the road and had me a little nervous.  

Killsnake Wildlife Area
I had never heard of this area before nor had my family.  The birds educate me about their habitat and force me to discover new places. 

As I returned from my venture, I stopped for a quick lunch and watched this Ring-billed Gull hang out in the parking lot. 

Ring-billed Gull
Another great spot for Common Redpolls, American Tree Sparrows and Northern Saw-whet Owls is the Woodland Dunes Nature Center off of Highway 310 in Two Rivers.  I was hoping that Common Redpolls had arrived but I was a bit early for these birds to see them at the feeders.  Right now they are hanging out in the woods along with the White-winged Crossbills:) However, I did have nice observations of several birds I don't get to see often. 

Woodland Dunes Nature Center
Then I heard about this Snow Storm Ashley being discussed at the nature center.  It was scheduled to hit Two Rivers Tuesday night.  The bitter wind had kicked up and birds were quiet.  In fact, many of them had all but disappeared. Where do they go?!?!  And right before the storm, there was a feeding frenzy at the feeders. 

American Tree Sparrow
Birds flew in and out and they filled their bills with seed and suet. 

Red-bellied Woodpecker
One of the most difficult challenges on this trip was locating a rare Whooping Crane.  They are not posted on ebird nor are they to be mentioned by others about their location. Their protected endangered status and numbers parallel that of the California Condor...except that their locations are kept hidden. For an out-of-state birder, this can be very tricky with all the secrets.  But somehow, days before my trip, I had been reading that there still was a lingering Whooping Crane in the area.  Magill and Kathie gave me the extra nudge and courage I needed to explore this HUGE area.  

Horicon National Wildlife Refuge
During my ride into the ever darkening skies, I noticed several Sandhill Cranes in flight.  While I knew I was on my own with this bird, I followed my instincts and followed the Sandhill Cranes in flight.  As I did, I was careful to navigate myself into a farmer's field where they all were landing.  

One Whooping Crane next to a couple Sandhill Cranes
As I parked my car, I scanned the fields and found my bird rather easily!  In a subtle message from the bird gods, I was reminded of my 2015 start.  We went on January 1st to find a "lost" Common Crane in Roswell, New Mexico.   It only seemed appropriate that I would end my year with the last of the cranes needed for my life list in the US.  And it was an amazing experience that I shared alone.  Of course, I had been texting the crew about my chase, but ultimately, it was me in the car alone.  It's times like this one when I wish I could share this important bird observation with my friends.  For several of them, this would be a lifer.   If anything, I now have a better idea where I can take them for this bird if they visit the state. 

Top to bottom and left to right-Common Crane, Sandhill Cranes; Sandhill Cranes, Whooping Crane
Much of my wanderings were done alone.  And there is value in this.  Sometimes it's best to bird alone and keep sharpening those necessary tracking skills.  I like playing a detective whether it's finding a bird or scouting new habitat.  Connecting the dots builds the knowledge base and makes me a better birder. 

Exploring habitat for a future search of the American Woodcock at Woodland Dunes
Meanwhile my Packer loving family was shocked to watch the Pack lose to the Arizona Cardinals:)  Bird power rocks!

Then came Winter Storm Ashley.  More to come from the scenic Wisconsin......


  1. The short-eared Owl is pretty amazing and the weather gives the pictures such a strong effect.

  2. A wonderful post and photos Chris - so glad you found the Sandhill Cranes. I love the first photo in particular - so atmospheric :) Wishing you a very Happy New Year :)

  3. Hello Chris, awesome collection of birds and photos. Cool sighting of the Whooping Crane. I love the Owl and the Snow Bunting.
    I wish you and your family all the best in 2016, a Happy, Healthy New Year!

  4. oh so lake Michigan.....
    loved seeing the snow bunting.

  5. So Cool! You found the Whooper. Brave you are to face the snows alone.

    Happy New Year!

  6. The last photo is such a classic!

    Happy New Year, Chris!

  7. I love that first image, of Point Beach, Chris - very atmospheric! Apart from your marvellous finds, I'm very impressed by you managing to get a great flight shot of the Snow Bunting.

    Wishing you both, and your families, all the best for 2016 - - - Richard


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