Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Fading Light

The frozen Lake Michigan at sunset
Another trek to Wisconsin for the holidays had me searching for a VERY short list of birds in my area.  There were only 3 or 4 birds I could hope to gain for the life list while keeping myself within short distance of family events. And to be honest, I love that challenge.  When I'm home, most of my birding takes place in beautiful Manitowoc County along Lake Michigan.  It's a fun challenge.  Plus I love revisiting my favorite places here in town. 

Northern Cardinal
If I can do it, I like to "straddle" the year when it comes to birding.  I ended my birding here in 2016 and began 2017 with a nice list of wintering eastern birds to kick start the year. As birders know, we all start over at "0" when January 1st begins.  For many of us, it makes us pause and reflect on what we've seen and experienced over the past year while wondering with excitement what we'll see and experience for the new year. 

Bald Eagle at sunset eating dinner(a gull)
During my trek out to visit family, I tried to prepare myself for the constant need to sleep and eat.  Overcast skies, frozen waterways and early dark nights were constant reminders of the difficulty factor for birding this time of year in the Great Lakes. Time was also a major player on this trip so I had to budget wisely to make it all work smoothly. 

I've found that creating a schedule several days in advance is a good thing.  Then there are the things that I always have to keep in mind while birding back here in the cold. Will a snow storm interfere?  How many warm clothes should I pack?  How can I prevent myself from getting sick? How much prep time is needed to get from point A to point B before it gets dark?  And even more difficult?  Predicting where the birds will be during the various shades of winter.  Even on the lake, we had to be conscious of the open water areas.  Ice drifts are good for gulls, but completely frozen rivers and harbors are not good for ANY birds. It's very different from desert birding:) And the weather can change at the drop of a hat. 

Northern Shrike
And then I got sick.  I just remember waking up one morning and thinking, Oh oh.  This day isn't going to be a good one.  It wasn't.  I worshiped the porcelain goddess for TWO days!  

Eastern Screech-Owl
Life birds don't care.  Nor will they wait. I made a vow that in sickness and in wealth I'd dedicate my life to finding them. Whether I am conscious or not doesn't matter:) So on our scheduled day, I mustered up my energy cells and got in the car and went to visit with friends Nancy and Earl (who were so kind to help me out with a visiting Eastern Screech-Owl).  After we saw the owl and returned home, I went back to bed and proceeded to die slowly.

Herring Gulls in flight
 And then there is the grunt work.  I saved finding a Thayer's Gull for this trek because they are not easy to pick out among the hundreds of similar looking Herring Gulls.  People were reporting Iceland Gulls but I didn't go chasing that bird species because it's most likely going to be lumped back in with the Thayer's Gull.   There's a similar discussion happening with the Hoary and Common Redpoll. So for me, it's just finding a Common Redpoll and Thayer's Gull. We stood in the icy cold 10 degree weather staring at the hundreds of gulls. The fingers in my gloves were frozen. And my desire to search for a Thayer's Gull fizzled out fast.  My decision?  I took a panoramic of the entire colony of gulls from different vantage points and when I got home, I stitched the pictures together and counted and ID'd every single gull on that massive ice sheet from the comfort of my warm living room. 

Common Goldeneyes
On the way home right before the sun set at 4 PM!!, we stopped to observe the Common Goldeneyes in the harbor. As they flew from the waters, I watched their wing flap pattern and listened to their calls. 

So as the skies got grayer and darker, I snapped my pics. Then I would carefully plan and time out my birding  for the next day.  Sometimes I had an hour.  Other times, it was several.  

Rough-legged Hawk
As our time came to a close, I tried to weave in birding time with my family.  They like to be outdoors like I do so the birding thing wasn't really an issue.  I just go slower and get distracted often. 

The good part about short sunlit days is that there is more time to goof around with family and friends at night.  Here, my family set up a cam to capture pictures of several deer visiting the yard.  Instead we captured a pic of the creature known as Bilda The Beast!  More from Wisconsin next week.  Until then, have a great weekend!


  1. Sorry to hear you got sick but it did not seem to stop you birding!!! HAPPY NEW YEAR.

    1. Happy New Year to you as well Margaret!!!

  2. Ha Ha - love Bilda the Beast :) Happy New Year Chris.

    A wonderful blog post to start the year - hope you had a lovely Christmas with your family and have recovered from your illness.

  3. Time isn't something we often think about in relation to birding, so this post is a good reminder about that. It's also challenging to bird when unwell or tired, so good to have friends who help!

  4. Chris, I love that shot of Lake Michigan. I am so sorry you got so sick! How nice to find the Shrike and the owl! Looks like all your planning paid off!


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