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On Beyond Warblers

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

On my way to the Duluth/Superior airport for the flight home from Wisconsin, I finally got into some grasslands. Burbling bobolinks and western meadowlarks, Savannah sparrows, and these little cuties: clay-colored sparrows. It's a little blurry, but see that gray hindneck? Kind of like a bleached-out chipping sparrow. They like evergreens in grassy savannah. I got out of the car at several places and just breathed, and let the songs wash over me. It all made me thirst for North Dakota's Potholes and Prairies Birding Festival, held in Carrington June 7-10, where we'll be speaking, field-tripping, and playing music for the fifth consecutive year. I missed it last year due to severe burnout; Bill soldiered on alone. We're taking the kids. They can't wait. This year, they'll be going on the field trips with us, as they did in West Virginia. Oh, boy! It's nice that they're old enough to drag out of bed early, and be good troopers on long field trips.

Here on the blog, we're still in Wisconsin. I hope that by now all birders with a pulse will be heading to Chequamegon Bay's Second Annual Birding and Nature Festival next May. Tuck your pants into your socks. I'm currently fighting a tick-borne disease (take your pick; there are at least four I could have) and I'm rooting for the doxycycline. Feeling like I've been run over by a truck, and still having to get up and go. I've had Lyme disease four times (oddly enough, while living in Lyme, Connecticut) so I'm pretty familiar with the symptoms. Had a spectacular bulls-eye bite on my ankle, and a week later couldn't lift a jug of milk without groaning in pain. I will say that this is a fairly mild case as they go, and I hope I'm catching it in time.

Enough about me. Not only warblers were migrating, and stacking up on Superior's south shore. Everything was moving: woodpeckers, hawks, sparrows, nuthatches, vireos, grosbeaks. It was a heady show.

The nasal yanks of red-breasted nuthatches sounded through the spruces everywhere I went. They'll breed here, but they, too, were waiting for a tailwind.
I was eager to see a black-backed woodpecker, which would have been a life bird, so I checked out every woodpeckeresque form and woody tap. Who's that? All the clues are there.
A resplendent female yellow-bellied sapsucker. If she were a guy, she'd have a red beard.Earlier in the day, I'd followed a slow pecking deep into the woods, visions of black-backed woodpeckers dancing in my head, to find a pileated woodpecker working on a trunk at ground level. It always pays to check. And it reminded me of my childhood, when I made a sport and science of sneaking up on any woodpecker I heard in the Virginia woodlands. Man, the looks I got at pileated woodpeckers that way! I learned the peck intensities and rates of different species, too, stuff you can't get from any field guide. Funny: we all seem to remember our childhoods as quite solitary. I can assure you that, for the most part, mine was. Youngest of five, obsessed with birds and nature, alone and quiet, and in the woods as much as possible. Not much has changed.

A red-eyed vireo found a lovely backdrop in maple seeds. I always marvel that maples set seed before most trees even have their leaves!This gorgeous adult broad-winged hawk flew low in front of my creeping car, then swept up onto a low-hanging limb. Car as blind. I poked myself out the window to make a portrait, then waited for him to move on of his own volition before advancing. I count it a little victory when a bird moves because it wishes to, not because I've forced it to. Each bird has its own comfort zone, and I try not to violate that. Wisconsin's gifts have fueled this blog for a long time. Hard to believe I was only there for two full days and parts of two more--Friday afternoon to Sunday morning. What treasures will four days in North Dakota's pothole region bring to a blogger who's finally gotten a good camera? I'll probably be blogging about the birds out there until Christmas. Brace yourselves! We're off at the screech of dawn.
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