Monday, September 29, 2008

Rusty Blackbird flocks in autumn

*************************** It's time to start watching for and reporting autumn Rusty Blackbird flocks; please remember that this is North America's fastest-declining species, and reporting numbers helps to monitor this species. Report your numbers to eBird, and read more about this species at this link, and especially this one. I found 10 of them mixed in with a flock of Red-winged Blackbirds and European Starlings yesterday in northeastern Fond du Lac County. The entire group was doing the "rasp and clack" symphony; now, THAT was pretty cool.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

MCAMMP study sites, continued


Next in the series of photos of MCAMMP study sites (see this link for info about the MCAMMP project) are these. These photos were made in our Root River site, one of the 4 riparian sites. This is by far the least disturbed site I know of in Milwaukee County. I can't tell you where it is, but if you want to see it, a guided tour can be arranged...

today in the garden - colors!

I spent a bit of time helping Leah in the garden today. She was getting the gladiolas ready for storage. Some are still in bloom, but most are done. We also dug some potatoes and picked other vegetables. I included a photo of chard above, just because I love the color of this plant.

farm building progress, late September

The old farm building being moved and renovated on Leah's family's farm has shown more progress - the "knee wall" is now completed, and the building has been made 24" taller. This lower wall section is bolted in place, the sill is bolted to the concrete foundation, and any tall person can walk inside without having to stoop. Leah's brothers and nephews have done a tremendous amount of work, and there is a lot more work yet to come - but it is coming along very well. Lots of nailing. The jacks used to lift the building have been removed.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act

Please let your senators and representatives know that you want them to support this bill. Read more at this link.

Rep. Ron Kind of Wisconsin has done a lot to assist bird conservation and make it move forward, and he deserves our thanks. But the job isn't done. Go to the link above to send a message of support.

MCAMMP study sites

If you've been reading here for a while, you may know about the MCAMMP project (see this page, if you have not seen the story of the project). Here are a few photos in the first in a series of posts describing the MCAMMP study sites. All of the sites are in Milwaukee County. Some are in upland deciduous woods, while others are along streams (riparian sites). The one shown here is in Greenfield Park, in a beautiful upland woods. Greenfield's woods is less overtaken by invasive honeysuckle and buckthorn than some other county park sites. It also has some magnificent older trees, and a well-developed subcanopy. More to come...

on the farm: building progress

After the farm building was moved weeks ago, additional work has been done. In the first photo above, you can see the new "knee wall". Below that, you can see one of the 20-ton jacks used to raise this building high enough to move it, and then to insert that "knee wall" - thus making the building 24" higher. Those few words do not capture the work this entails! More details to come.

on the farm: autumn flowers


Leah among the goldenrods...

early fall color, foggy mornings

At this point in autumn, only some color changes are evident. But they are among my favorites, especially that of woodbine (Parthenocissus quinquefolia). The thickets along roadsides where I often stop to do avian surveys have it in abundance.
Some other roadsides are bathed in fog, another favorite early autumn phenomenon.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

learning lessons from the arctic

This past summer, a group of 100+ political, business, and religious leaders met in Svaalbard in the Norwegian arctic. They learned about climate change. Read their group statement here.

Then, read the list of participants here.


See a bibliography on birds and climate change, including recent publications, at this Partners in Flight webpage.

Friday, September 19, 2008


...but don't touch it! It's poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix), found in swamps and bogs. This one was found in one of my favorite places, the Cedarburg Bog, in Ozaukee County, WI. As you can see, it is highly colored in autumn.

more good reading

Would you like to read a REALLY fun book about where to find birds in Wisconsin? Well, you don't have to look far, because there's another superb choice available now. All of This and Robins Too: A Guide to the 50 or so Best Places to Find Birds in Wisconsin, by Steve Betchkal, is certainly such a book. Steve's humorous and very informative book, in Steve's own words, is most assuredly NOT meant to replace the well-known Wisconsin's Favorite Bird Haunts. (A new edition of that excellent and very successful guide is in the works at present, and should be available next year). But it has much to recommend it, and I give it an unqualified endorsement. Steve is a very witty guy; you'll find not only directions to great places, and reasons why they are great, but also a laugh on almost every page. Who doesn't need a laugh these days?

Steve focuses on groups of birds that he can help you find, but this is not a book devoted to the rarest species occasionally found in Wisconsin.

Dozens of excellent maps are found here, along with carefully-worded directions to the sites, and suggestions for the best time of year to visit each location.

This is a great book. Contact Steve at gonebirding88@hotmail if you want more info. Or call him at 715-832-7359.

I have found a few things in the book that I'm going to discuss with Steve. See if you can help him improve the next edition(s) - that's part of his challenge to you. And there's a "message" to this book, too...but I'll let you discover that for yourself, by reading it.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

searching in the mist...


I spent Friday doing a bird survey in Buffalo County, Wisconsin, northeast of Fountain City. These Driftless Area hills and valleys were partly shrouded in mist for much of the morning. But many raptors, woodpeckers, flycatchers, bluebirds, swallows, thrushes and other songbirds were eventually seen and heard among these magnificent valleys. Among them were three individuals of a species I now seldom find in most of the rest of Wisconsin: the Red-headed Woodpecker. RHWO have declined greatly in many areas, to perhaps only 30% of their numbers of a century ago.

Read more about these birds here. Although some habitat restoration in certain Midwestern areas has led to local increases in this species population, much remains to be done. Declines are still evident, proof of which is simply shown in a graph of breeding bird survey data for WI - see the graph here.

good reading

One of the most influential books I've ever read was published back in 2003, but I'm still talking about this book and re-reading sections of it.

Win-Win Ecology, by Michael Rosenzweig, (Oxford University Press) is a powerful tool for explaining the philosophy of a different way of looking at the natural world today: reconciliation ecology.

Highly recommended; see more at this link.


Read Scott Weidensaul's excellent blog, here.

Again, highly recommended.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

the future of birding?

In a few words, birding has a very limited future without a greater emphasis on conservation. Whether you are an experienced birder, or someone who has only recently developed an interest in studying birds; whether you are a "casual" birder, or someone who is much more serious about birding, I recommend the excellent overview of conservation topics to be found at this link on the American Bird Conservancy website.


Closer to home, have you looked at the website of the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative lately? Very worthwhile, with lots of resources. See it here.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

news from BirdLife International, Big Bird Year, etc.

See BirdLife International's news page, here


Now that Malkom and his parents are done with their Big Bird Year adventure, see how it turned out

agriculture and...birds

Agriculture and birds...yes, of course there is a connection. What farmers do about CRP will affect birds in many ways. And if you're concerned about birds, you should be concerned about the future of agriculture in every larger sense of the word. What America's farmers do every day affects wildlife in nearly every county, in every state.

Some good reading sources:
The Center for Rural Affairs

Pesticides and Birds

Audubon - Agriculture and Birds

Monday, September 8, 2008

beyond birding

You can make your birding count for larger purposes. It's a worthwhile goal: help convince land managers that your favorite birding spot is worth restoring and preserving. How can you do this? Choose a site or sites and do long-term record-keeping, utilizing eBird and a protocol that remains the same over time. In other words, measuring distance, area, and effort help to make the data more than just a collection of lists. Oh, yes; there's one more thing: for it to really have value, it is important to actually count individuals of each species you detect. MCAMMP is already working on this on eight study sites in Milwaukee County; read more about it here.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

moving the building

If you've been following the saga of the renovation and moving of a building on my wife Leah's family's farm, here is some video from the latest part of this adventure. After the new concrete foundation was poured some weeks ago, the inside of the building was braced in several directions. This Saturday (the 6th of September), a crew of folks gathered to jack up the building, put it on huge timbers (which were 17-18 feet in length), and put rollers made of sections of pipe under those timbers. You can see various aspects of the project below.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

how many broods for Wisconsin songbird species?

While doing a set of early fall/late summer bird surveys these past few weeks, I was struck by the number of species of passerine birds that were/are still on territory(or at least still singing) as of this date. This made me wonder how many Wisconsin passerines have multiple broods, and are still engaged in that aspect of their annual cycle in late August or even early September. Using the Breeding Bird Atlas and a variety of other references, I tracked down the following information:

1) A fair number of WI passerine bird species have multiple broods.
2) A good percentage of Neotropical migrants that breed in WI have only one brood (not surprising given their brief stay in WI each summer), but some do have more than one.
3) Some permanent resident species have only one brood, even though they do not need to leave on migration.
4) There is still a need for more research on this aspect of some species’ annual cycle; in other words, we simply don’t know for certain how many broods are raised by some species.

I am finding some Eastern Wood-Pewees and Red-eyed Vireos still singing this week and many more last week. What's going on? These two species both probably have only one brood, (but this is not certain for the pewee). Why would males still be singing now if they had completed their nesting cycle? I have not yet found an answer to this in the literature.

Utilizing this as a framework for questions, I developed a set of lists (not exhaustive lists, to be sure) for some relatively common species, with this information. There's a lot more to learn.

One brood

Willow Flycatcher
Least Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Warbling Vireo
Purple Martin
Red-eyed Vireo
American Crow
Bank Swallow
Cliff Swallow
N. Rough-winged Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Chestnut-s. Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Cerulean Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
American Redstart
Mourning Warbler (probable)
Scarlet Tanager

Multiple broods (number)

Eastern Phoebe 2
Barn Swallow 2
House Wren 2
Sedge Wren 2
Marsh Wren 2
Eastern Bluebird 2
Wood Thrush 3
American Robin 2
Gray Catbird 2
Brown Thrasher 2
Cedar Waxwing 1-2
Common Yellowthroat 2
Field Sparrow 2
Chipping Sparrow 2
Eastern Towhee 2
Grasshopper Sparrow 2
Henslow’s Sparrow 2
Vesper Sparrow 2
Savannah Sparrow 2
Song Sparrow 2
Swamp Sparrow 2
Clay-colored Sparrow 2
White-throated Sparrow 1-2
Northern Cardinal 2-3
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 1-2
Indigo Bunting 2
Red-winged Blackbird 2-3
Eastern Meadowlark 2
Western Meadowlark 2
Common Grackle 1-2
American Goldfinch 1; occ 2

Number of broods is unknown or uncertain

Eastern Wood-Pewee
Acadian Flycatcher
Cedar Waxwing
Veery (probably 1, but?)
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Northern Waterthrush