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.....

Sunday, August 18, 2019


The moment I arrived home, I knew I'd be going to a lot of family events. One of those events was the family reunion up in the northern part of Wisconsin.  Many years ago, my father searched for his biological mother and found her in the forested little town of Antigo.  During times of ignorance, it was expected a woman go "visit her Aunt" up in the North if she found out she was pregnant out of wedlock. In my Dad's case, a woman by the name of Lorraine gave birth and gave up her first born, my Dad, for adoption. Because that is what you did. The biological father didn't want to have anything to do with Lorraine or my Dad. She was put in a difficult place. My grandparents couldn't have children and desperately wanted a child. It was here that they found my father and adopted him in the forests of the northern woods of Wisconsin. It was all "hush hush" back then. 

After a year of investigation, my father and his biological mother eagerly agreed to meet.  It was a very happy reunion. When it happened, he was exposed to a much larger family.  They embraced him as one of their own. This time around, I'd finally get to meet that side of the family.  And from a birding point of view, I knew I'd find some great birds around the cabins of the northern woods of Wisconsin.  

Swamp Sparrow
The forest surrounding the cabins was a lovely emerald.  I saw my first American Beaver and heard the nightly calls of Common Loons on the lake. 

Between family, I went off into the woods and watched the loons call to one another on the water.  It was beautiful. 

Common Loon
This was the first time that I've actually birded in the northern parts of Wisconsin. So I added many new birds to my Wisconsin state list. 

Night would arrive and we'd break piñatas full of adult beverages. 

My sister tries her hand at the piñata. 
My mother hits the piñata with a whack. She is a pro.  I mean, she did raise 6 kids:)

My mom hits the piñata with a resounding crack! and small bottles of liquid fire fall out.  Adults rush to the ground for these delightful beverages. 
I wonder (and worry!) about the immature American Robin nestlings that are a little too close to the main cabin.  Over 30 people sit around the nest while the adult robins try to feed their babies. In fact, there are baby birds everywhere. 

immature American Robins
This fawn is alone and cries for his mother. Humans freak out as the baby animal follows everyone to the campfire.  What the humans don't know is that the mother didn't abandon her baby, she was only feeding herself so that she could feed her baby later on.  Apparently, we were just babysitting:) It's a number one human "no no". Leave the fawn alone. The little deer will be okay. 

I watch helplessly as J-man discovers a nice chocolate doughnut. 

7 ways of attacking a chocolate covered donut

Then I see what the sugar has done to him.  A Sith baby!

All around us, the forest is alive with young birds leaving their nests. 

Black-capped Chickadee
And nearby, their human counterparts are chasing bubbles. 

 As I grow older, I find myself understanding some of my siblings better than others.  The distance and time have changed us all.  Each developing and defining their own lives in their own worlds.  If I am not careful, I could lose touch with each of them.  For the first time during my trip home, I felt a disconnect.  It was a bizarre feeling.   

Family is everything.  I wish I could fix and make everything better for everyone, but it is not mine to fix. I love them all. But ultimately we live our own lives.  I guess the most important part is to let them know that I am there for them.  I've always been an independent person so when I got home, I discovered new family dynamics. I find myself thinking about my family more than my birds which is how it should be.  But for the first time in my birding life, birds do not distract me from this visit. 

Eastern Kingbird
I've always tried to understand my grandparent's and parent's relationship with their own siblings. The idea of losing the familiar bond with a sibling is a scary thought.  I'm not a talker on the phone nor do I live near my family so the first several days home is like an overload of information.    

I had a blast with the nephews and nieces.  Some are growing up too quickly.  I was able to spend some time with quite a few of them, but there's never enough time to spend quality time with all of them. 

My nephew goes for a bird walk with me. We explore feathers, bugs, fish and birds. 
This trek was good and necessary.  Mixing birding into the mix was a fun challenge.  Over the next several weeks we'll explore some excellent areas for birding in Wisconsin while catching up with the family. Until next time......

Thursday, August 15, 2019

What Was And What Is

It is a strange thing transitioning from one birding experience to the other because each birding moment has a different feel. At home in Arizona, I often guide and spend much of my time with the birds, but when family is involved, it's a delicate balance between family time and the birds. For this trek home, it was more about spending time with the family. But I did sneak in some time each day to get some birding done.  In this next series of blog posts, you'll see how it all "fused" together.

American White Pelican
I missed home. And I wanted to be there to help out with my Mom and Dad.  Sometimes my mother says everything is fine when it's not.  I get it.  She doesn't want us to worry.  For the first time in my life, I was actually worried about my parents. No one wants to see their parents get older.  My mission was to break up the routine and give my Mom a break when I could.  

My hometown remains the same, but there's much more diversity now.  Each day I took some time to bird alone or with family. On those outings, I noticed a different community from the one I knew for decades. 

The wonderful birding hotspot that is the Manitowoc Impoundment
Like always, I pondered what it would be like to live in Two Rivers as an adult. There's a part of me that can see myself in a home on the lake surrounded by forest smoking a pipe researching birds in my study. The other part of me freaks out at that notion. I don't want to get comfortable and complacent. In Maine, I wasn't connected to any one place so I could just explore and have fun. But in Wisconsin, I remember what was and what is now.  At a very young age, I remember telling my friend that I would never live in our little town when I grew up. We aspired to build a plane and fly it to places unknown.  When our plane didn't fly, I was bummed out.  So instead we built tree houses in the surrounding woods. I had wanderlust at a very young age. 

Marsh Wren
I have been watching, for some time, the aging of the "factory generation" from my hometown. Most of the factories are gone now. The people who worked there were hard workers that followed a formula. It was a hard life. There were also a lot of others who owned a lot of the popular establishments around town that supported that factory population. Until the factories moved elsewhere. They are my parent's generation.  The ones who believe in a nice and tidy green lawn, a husband who should be served his food by his wife, and in general that there is an order to all things that should be followed.  But their memory is vanishing as many are aging and passing away.  These old ideas cannot sustain themselves for the next generations. These historical supper clubs and local stores have been shutting down now for several years as the people either die or are unable to keep them open. I see achievements left behind.  I remember the old arguments of the people who are no longer with us.  And the ones who still are. 

A dedication to the founding father of Woodland Dunes, Bernie Brouchard, 
Bernie has been gone now for a couple years, but Woodland Dunes is painting the barn where he did much of his bird banding over the years.  Some remember Bernie.  Most will never know who he was.  The same goes for Winnie.  There's a bench on the boardwalk with her name. Every time I pass that spot, I think, 
"Oh Winnie. What would you say about the world today?" I've worked with them both over the years and am glad they are remembered. I always wondered who would fill their shoes. I'm proud to say that there are many new faces who are educating the public about Woodland Dunes and Point Beach State Forest. 

Common Yellowthroat
For the first time in years, I see a cultural shift in my old community.  People from all backgrounds are moving into old homes that no longer have the strong family names that once lived in them. They will never know. Nor do they care. People from out-of-state have discovered the Lakeshore area and how beautiful the area is. This is exciting. So I see change happening and it gives me hope. I'm a whole mixed bag of emotions though. I hated the old generational attitudes towards "norms" like a woman being a servant to her husband. Or having to do something because that is what is "expected of you".  Or if you were different, you didn't belong.  And yet, I still miss some of those faces. 

As the factory generation fades into memory, a newer one is taking place.  I spoke with Doc Sontag this last time.  He is in his 80's and going strong.  Another friend met up with us, also in this 80's, at the Manitowoc Impoundment (which is a great place to bird!). There in our little bubble we pondered what will happen after their generation was gone.  And in fine Doc fashion, he looks over and points to me, "Chris and his generation are the next in line to take over for us old coots." Me?  No. I could never replace that man.  He is wise beyond years and full of experience. But he's right. We must carry the torch and teach the next generation.  There is a comfort knowing that Doc is out there every day counting birds in the same place. Who will take his place when he's gone?  

Double-crested Cormorant
During my stay, I did as much as I could.  I slept in. I tried to memorize everything the best I could.  I followed my parent's routine.  For the first time in my life, I worried about them both.  They always took care of me when I was a kid.  Now it's me and my siblings turn.  Often we take each other for granted until we realize that we shouldn't. I'm glad they caught my Dad's heart blockage before it was too late. That scare has changed "the tone" in our family.  

Common Grackle
I see my nephews and nieces.  Some are older and some are very young. I love them all for all their energy.  I think for a moment that we'd be great parents if we had kids. But I am also glad we didn't have kids. It was the best decision I've ever made. That doesn't mean I don't like kids.  I'm a teacher and I believe in our future generations. They make me laugh, but as I get older, I find my patience wearing thin:)  While I was home, I had fun taking the kids out.  There were times I wanted to pull the remaining hair out of my head, but by the end of the day, they went home to their parents:)

I love this little guy. We often spent time out in the field looking at birds. He shows a good interest in the birds. 
There was often so much "noise" happening around me with 20+ people in our family that I had to find a private place for quiet time. These were my birding times. I'd only get so many hours each day to explore and do my bird counts which was fine. I remember on my last day there that I skipped out on some of the family things and just enjoyed the silence.  It's sacred. People who are used to noise all the time often have a difficult time with it.  Not me.  It's a beautiful thing.  

Ring-billed Gull
My family all laughed at my idea of "helping".  For my siblings, their definition of "help" was taking my turn to cut the grass for our parents.  No my dear brothers, that was your deal. Plus it gave us some time to chat without the kids or spouses around. And where were my sisters in the cutting-of-the-grass deal?  I think it was rather sexist that they were left out:)  My "help" was trying to get my parents to understand that they are retired and that they must compromise to enjoy this last chapter of their lives while they still can.  They both have ideas and dreams about what they want to do.  I want them to live their fullest lives together. They owe each other everything.  It's ok for them to be selfish now.  They've done their work as parents and don't owe us anything. Arizona is the land of retirement and I tried to explain to them what retirement can look like if they so chose that life. And it's okay to say no.  We, the siblings, should not put any burdens on their lives now.  It's their time to fly. 

The fact of the matter is that it's all complicated.  Family is that way.  The most I could do is take away some of the stresses that my parents had every day by running errands, watching the niece and/or nephew, and allowing everyone to multi-task instead of being stuck in one place. My point here is that we all hopefully contribute to our families in different ways. 

Barn Swallow
We had a great time in Wisconsin and I am so thankful that I could spend time with everyone. 

American Goldfinch
Over the next several weeks, we'll explore the careful planning between family and Wisconsin birds on this blog.  

It was good to be back home. Until next time.....