Friday, August 29, 2008

a Spruce Grouse for Wayne and his grandson

You may recall a while ago when my friend Wayne Rohde mentioned his Spruce Grouse adventure on the Wisconsin Birding List. Well, Wayne's my guest blogger here, let's let him tell the story in more detail:
A Spruce Grouse for Boompa
By Wayne Rohde

As I type, I hold in my hands my cherished third edition of Roger Tory Peterson’s A Field Guide to the Birds.

It’s a personalized guide. And a very personal guide.

Long ago, when I was in high school, I attached little colored tabs to the 60 plates of bird paintings, scattered here and there throughout the guide. It was my attempt to more easily and quickly navigate my way around the field guide. This book, the birder’s “Bible,” also sports a plastic cover, designed to afford it a measure of protection against all sorts of hazards – like falling in the creek more than once. Its discolored cover now bears several scars and cracks, and not a little Scotch tape. To say it’s well-used is an understatement of understatements.

My Peterson is inscribed with a brief and simple note from my Uncle Dave & Aunt Neva, in the distinctive cursive of my Uncle Dave – the one who introduced me to birding:

To Wayne, Don, & Lynn
Good Birding!
--- from Neva & Dave

I carried this guide with me when I found my first Savannah Sparrow on my parents’ Green County farm in July of 1968, just one year after I started watching birds. And this treasured book has traveled far and wide with me to all sorts of special places around the state.

To this day I continue to enter the first sighting of every species I’ve ever seen or heard in its “My Life List” section. The next to last such entry is for the Blue Grosbeak I observed and photographed this past May in Rock County, during one of the WSO preconvention field trips.

Most entries list only the month and year, but several also include the initials “DB” – an indicator that my Uncle Dave was with me when I came across some of the birds for the first time. In point of fact, on such occasions he was undoubtedly the one who spotted and identified the “new” species - such as Great Blue Heron and what were once called American Egret, Baldpate and Marsh Hawk in April of 1969 (undoubtedly all at Horicon Marsh). All told, DB appears next to at least 15 species.

Other names appear as well – such as Dr. Weir next to Rough-legged Hawk and (what was once called) Hungarian Partridge (I’m told Dr. Weir, himself a birder, is the one who delivered me; perhaps his love of birding rubbed off on me the very day of my birth!), Daryl Tessen next to Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Tom Schultz next to Thayer’s Gull, and Noel Cutright next to White-winged Crossbill. One of my favorite memories is of my first encounter with a Stilt Sandpiper east of Walworth in August of 1999; next to this line I’ve recorded the simple words, “with Jessica” – a reference to the fact that my daughter Jessica was with me at the time. What a treat!

Just moments ago, as I reviewed my notes, I noticed that I saw my first Common Loon in Canada, back in 1972, and my first Bohemian Waxwing in Door County in March of 2001.

In a way, then, my field guide serves as a sort of diary. Perusing the various dates and notations jogs my memory, and helps me piece together quite a host of memorable events from days gone by.

It’s no wonder that the page after my uncle’s greeting I’ve filled a page with my name, postal address, phone number, and email address … followed by these words in “caps”


Fast forward to late June of 2008…

Our family was eagerly awaiting a July two-week camping outing north of Rhinelander, and my mind raced with visions of finding Spruce Grouse and Boreal Chickadee (birds I’d never yet seen), as well as Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Winter Wren, Connecticut Warbler, LeConte’s Sparrow, Ruffed Grouse, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Whip-poor-will, Gray Jay, Red and White-winged Crossbills, Common Redpoll and Evening Grosbeak (birds not yet seen in 2008).

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers proved plentiful, as did Winter Wrens at our campground of choice: Fort Wilderness. While there I also happened upon Common Loon, Bald Eagle, Broad-winged Hawk, Blue-headed Vireo, Hermit Thrush, and Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Green and Pine Warblers – northern birds seen during spring migration, but not since. I awakened to the squawks of juvenile Common Ravens each morning. I could live for such mornings.

An early morning trip to Thunder Marsh north of Three Lakes netted me Lincoln’s and LeConte’s Sparrows (I absolutely love the song of the former bird, while the latter is but a dry, almost inaudible, insect-like buzz), and an afternoon outing to the Giant Pine Trail in the Nicolet Forest added the elusive Connecticut Warbler to my year list (I discovered it in dense underbrush, as it walked along a fallen log). I also came across a Ruffed Grouse while traveling between Rhinelander and Three Lakes. The grouse walked right in front of our van, and I quickly lowered the window to snap a photo of it, before it crossed the ditch and disappeared into the nearby woods.

Yes, I love Wisconsin’s Northwoods! And I was ecstatic that my grandson Oliver gladly accompanied me on a July 6 afternoon when we walked the trail to Cranberry Point at Fort Wilderness.

Oliver and I stopped now and then, to play detective, just as my Uncle Dave and I paused years ago, to investigate this or that. When we arrived at “the Point,” Oliver ran to the end of a small pier, and sat there watching reflections in the water. It was a hot Sunday afternoon, and just the type of lazy summer day to “take our good old time.” So we poked along, pausing frequently … Oliver, to enjoy his newly-found walking stick … and I, to capture any scene I deemed photo-worthy (my Canon 28-135mm equivalent lens was perfect for such walk-about photos). Neither of us was in a hurry. We had nowhere to go.

But all good things must end, and we finally made our way back down the trail toward civilization – where we heard the distant sounds of people enjoying the sand beach along Spider Lake.

And that’s precisely when Oliver yelled, “Boompa! What’s that chicken?”

“Chicken?” I thought to myself, “What’s a chicken doing out here in a place like this?”

But almost immediately I saw what four-year-old Oliver had seen: a grouse.

Miffed that my camera only had a short lens on it (instead of the 110-480mm equivalent which I normally use for bird photography), I aimed and shot. Then I shot about four more times, and “bingo,” the grouse vanished in the dark woods.

“That,” I told Oliver, “is a Ruffed Grouse!”

As we made our way the 100 feet or so to where the grouse had been, I scanned the forest with my binocular, hoping to relocate it. And, to my surprise, I was successful! But something didn’t look quite right: particularly the rusty-tipped tail, and the generally blackish background coloration of the bird. Could it be…?

There was only one thing to do: get back to the camper as quickly as Oliver’s stride would allow (I’m not sure his feet hit the ground!) to view enlargements of the bird on my camera’s LCD.

Yes, that’s when I conclusively determined that the grouse Oliver had spotted was a Spruce Grouse! Yes, a SPRUCE GROUSE!!! A prize find for any Northwoods birder! A “lifer” for me!!!

About two hours later that same afternoon I received a cell phone call, while walking the shoreline of Spider Lake, that my Aunt Neva had just passed away – pretty much at the same time Oliver found me my Spruce Grouse. Sunday afternoon, July 6, 2008.

My Uncle Dave passed away some 15 years ago. But I’d like to think that the love of birds planted in me over 40 years ago lives on, not only for my daughters, but also for my grandson Oliver … who often reminds me of that special day about two months ago: “Hey, Boompa! Remember when I found that Spruce Grouse?”

Do I remember?

How could I forget?

I couldn’t wait to get home, take Peterson’s third edition from the shelf, and write next to Spruce Grouse the words, “July 2008 – spotted by Oliver – the dream lives.”

Saturday, August 23, 2008

conservation and research news

Migrating songbirds are moving through Wisconsin now. Learn about birds & collisions with windows at the WiNGS site of the WI Humane Society, and learn more about how you can prevent collisions at your home and business; more information is available at the following:

Suggestions in this article ...

And more at this link...

When you think of hunting for birds, you possibly think of pheasants or ducks or geese...but in other parts of the world, a long list of other species are hunted. Some of that hunting is illegal, unregulated, and unsustainable. Learn more in this BirdLife article.


Learn about new research on the Black-throated Blue Warbler - here.

Here's info about a workshop on the Rusty Blackbird.

More, on the links between acid rain, insects, and warbler populations.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Impact of climate change on migratory birds - new research

Another excellent paper entitled "Impact of climate change on migratory birds: community reassembly versus adaptation" by Hans-Christian Schaefer, Walter Jetz, and Katrin Böhning-Gaese is available here. This paper, published in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography is well worth a thorough reading.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

understanding population change in migratory songbirds

For nearly 40 years, Richard T. Holmes and a long succession of his students have studied various species, ornithological processes and problems at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. Professor Holmes has a great paper you can access here, published in the Ibis (journal of the BTO). As expressed in his abstract, his findings in this paper: "clearly demonstrate that to understand changes in abundance of long-distance migrant species requires knowledge of events operating throughout the annual cycle, which presents a challenge to researchers, managers and others concerned with the welfare of these species".

Thursday, August 14, 2008

USFWS waterfowl population status report, and more

The Fish and Wildlife Service annually publishes a status report on the continent's waterfowl populations. See it here.
The ongoing issue of lead as a hazard to wildlife is continuing to produce action, varying from legislation against lead fishing sinkers, regulations mandating nonlead bullets for big game in California, and recent mandates on the use of nontoxic shot for some upland game when hunting on state lands in Wisconsin. Read more about lead and wildlife here, at the WI Bird Conservation Initative Issues Committee page (scroll down to the Issues Paper on Lead Poisoning). This month's Issues Committee meeting will have a partial focus on lead; I'll report more on this after the meeting in 1 week.

pouring the concrete! and other things....


This past weekend, my wife's family poured the concrete for the new foundation for the old building they are restoring on the farm. Grandpa Wendel would be fascinated, no doubt, to see what is happening to his handiwork, and to see how the current generations are still involved in and on the family farm. Photos above are in sequence, showing the guys standing in the forms with insulation and piping for radiant heat, then the start of pouring, striking, and finally the complete poured foundation (with Hannah!). Great job, folks!
More to come in the saga of this building....
Nights are getting longer, and a bit cooler - the wonderful weather of autumn is not far off. Migrants are appearing regularly, now. You can visualize the nocturnal migration by learning how ornithologists use Nexrad radar - start by reading more at this link.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

changes in checklists

The Committee on Classification and Nomenclature of the American Ornithologists' Union has just published the 49th Supplement to the AOU "Check-List of North American Birds". As usual, there are some changes that affect Wisconsin's list. I'll get to that in a minute.

I'm re-working the Annotated Checklist for Wisconsin right now, and expect it to be published on the WSO website in about a month. The total number of valid species on the list is 429. Changes include the acceptance of the Hooded Oriole to the WI list, and the addition of Virginia Warbler to the hypothetical list.

Changes include a reworking of gulls. You'll see some new names for certain genera; including several species that were formerly placed in the genus Larus. Here is a section from the new N. American list:

(These are in the sufamily Larinae):

Rissa tridactyla Black-legged Kittiwake.
Pagophila eburnea Ivory Gull.
Xema sabini Sabine’s Gull.
Chroicocephalus philadelphia Bonaparte’s Gull.
Chroicocephalus ridibundus Black-headed Gull.
Hydrocoloeus minutus Little Gull.
Rhodostethia rosea Ross’s Gull.
Leucophaeus atricilla Laughing Gull.
Leucophaeus pipixcan Franklin’s Gull.
Larus crassirostris Black-tailed Gull.
Larus heermanni Heermann’s Gull.
Larus canus Mew Gull.
Larus delawarensis Ring-billed Gull.
Larus occidentalis Western Gull.
Larus californicus California Gull.
Larus argentatus Herring Gull.
Larus thayeri Thayer’s Gull.
Larus glaucoides Iceland Gull.
Larus fuscus Lesser Black-backed Gull.
Larus schistisagus Slaty-backed Gull.
Larus glaucescens Glaucous-winged Gull.
Larus hyperboreus Glaucous Gull.
Larus marinus Great Black-backed Gull

More notes to come.

restoring grandfather's work....

As I mentioned a week ago, my wife's family is restoring an old building. There are twofold purposes here: saving the building itself, and eventually more finishing touches planned for Leah to utilize the building as her art studio. The building is made of oak. Here's more progress, depicted in photos. The form for the new concrete slab now is ready, including insulation and tubing in the floor, for the eventual solar panel on the roof. You can see the outside and inside. Pouring the concrete comes next; then...moving the building.

look closely as you pass...

********************************** You could walk past dayliles like this one, because the blooms are rather small. But you would be missing something.

Friday, August 1, 2008

some (temporarily) good news for a change

From the Birding Community E-Bulletin; mixed news (temporarily good, anyway):

CRP: ONE BULLET DODGED The Farm Bill’s $1.8-billion-a-year Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) has evolved over the years into a major gain for conservation and a boon to birdlife. Much of the CRP-enrolled acreage has traditionally been planted – under 10- and 15-year contracts - with perennial grasses or been restored to wetlands. Over the past month there was much speculation that the Department of Agriculture (USDA) would actually allow penalty-free, early-withdrawal of CRP lands from the conservation roster. Both hunter-conservationists and "green-oriented" environmentalists resisted the concept. See, for example, organizational letters to Agriculture Secretary Ed Shafer from these two parallel communities: and Toward the end of July, and despite several weeks of speculation to the contrary, the USDA announced that penalties would not be lifted for farmers who wish to pull their conservation lands from the CRP program. This is good for the birds, wildlife, and water and soil conservation that has benefited from CRP. It’s also good for the American taxpayers who have paid farmers for these conservation actions. Still, agricultural interests point to the corn-based ethanol boom, record-high prices for many other agricultural commodities, international food shortages, widespread regional flooding, regional drought, and high prices for feed crops as having seriously altered the agricultural economic landscape. Farming interests are looking for assistance, and release from CRP presents just such an opportunity. Currently 34.7 million acres across the country are enrolled in CRP; approximately 32 million acres will be the limit allowed under the new Farm Bill. Moreover, about 2.2 million acres of farmland conservation "rentals" under CRP expire this year, to be followed by an estimated 4.5 million in 2009, 4.7 million in 2010, 4.4 million in 2011, and 5.6 million in 2012. All astute conservationists expect CRP renewals to drop substantially over the next few years. Thankfully, one bullet has been dodged (a penalty-free withdrawal incentive), but another awaits (a drop in CRP renewals). Birds and habitat will clearly suffer.

If you want to receive the Birding Community E-Bulletin, here's what to do:

You can access past E-bulletins on the National Wildlife Refuge Association (NWRA) website): and on the birding pages for Steiner Binoculars

If you wish to distribute all or parts of any of the monthly Birding Community E-bulletins, we simply request that you mention the source of any material used. (Include a URL for the E-bulletin archives, if possible.) If you have any friends or co-workers who want to get onto the monthly E-bulletin mailing list, have them contact either:

Wayne R. Petersen, Director
Massachusetts Important Bird Areas (IBA) Program
Mass Audubon
718/259-2178 at OR
Paul J. Baicich

and another meadow....

The members, officers and friends of Madison Audubon can be proud of their tireless efforts to preserve and restore this place of wonder: Faville Prairie, in Jefferson County. You know the old saying "a sight for sore eyes"? That's what this is. Roll down the hill from Hwy. G onto Prairie Road, and feast your eyes on these coneflowers (Ratibida pinnata), compass plants, and on the prairie blazing star (Liatris pycnostachya) pictured above. You can imagine that "The Professor" (A. Leopold) would have been gladdened by the sight - this was an important place to him. If you want to learn more about Faville Prairie, go to this site, and scroll down the page. You can also see more at the WI State Natural Area description of this site, here.

Bird Year news, other birding alternatives

Malkom and his parents have completed their Bird Year cycling/birding adventure. Read more about it at their blog.

Mike McDowell's got some good news at his blog - plus, of course, his wonderful photos.


And the folks at the 10000 Birds blog always have something interesting to write about....


And what are the Bigbyists up to lately? Go here to find out.