Quite a commotion was caused in the Wisconsin birding community when a Lewis’s Woodpecker (Melanerpes lewis) was discovered on a farm in Galesville, Wisconsin. This was only the eleventh recorded Lewis’s in Wisconsin! As can be seen from the range map below, this bird is typically western with a slight eastern winter surge.
This bird may very well end up being the most photographed in Wisconsin in 2015-even perhaps eclipsing a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher that spent some time in Manitowoc. The farm owners have very generously allowed birders hoping to get to a glimpse of this most magnificent bird take over their farm for the last week.
I left home at 6:50 a.m. and arrived at the farm at 9:20 a.m. Although it was a rather cold 17 degrees it was sunny with no wind so very comfortable.
When I arrived, there were already about 15 people there waiting for the bird. I was told that it had made a brief appearance around 8:00 a.m. which made me very confident it would return to the oak trees it seems fond of.
While I waited there was plenty of entertainment and activity from the local birds. There were a lot of Downy, Hairy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers constantly running form the surrounding trees to the suet and seed feeders hanging from a big oak in the front yard of the farm house. If I hadn’t seen some Lewis’s Woodpeckers in the Yakima ,Washington area in July and therefore knew their large size and black appearance in flight, I would have been constantly checking all of the birds flying around to see if they were the Lewis’s Woodpecker.
In addition to the many woodpeckers, there were, of course, the requisite numbers of House Sparrows.
Other birds included American Goldfinches, White-breasted Nuthatches and Oregon Juncos. Surprisingly there was a rare four-legged cat bird morph as seen below ;).
After waiting for a surprisingly nice (and entertaining) 51 minutes there was sudden excitement among some of the people watching for the bird. There it was! It had landed in the very top of the oak tree in the farm houses front yard.
It spent the next 50 minutes flying form tree to tree and even periodically taking off and going to trees in neighbors’ yards before returning.
Each time it would move, those of us watching and photographing it would collectively move to get better views. I imagine that was a pretty funny looking event! Of course, I was moving around just like everyone else.
After spending an hour with the woodpecker I embarked on phase two of this trip which was to make my way down the Mississippi River to Prairie du Chein and Wyalusing State Park via highway 35. Besides the great scenery, I was hoping to see some of the Golden Eagles that winter along the Mississippi and Wisconsin River bluffs.
Although I whiffed on the Golden Eagles this time, I did see a lot of Bald Eagles, Tundra Swans and Sandhill Cranes.
I made my way down to Wyalusing State Park and enjoyed the rather breathtaking view from the bluff about the spot where the Wisconsin River joins the Mississippi River.
The last leg of this trip was a 90 mile run along the Wisconsin River from Prairie du Chien to Spring Green and then on to Middleton. Along the way, I encountered a skittish Red-tailed Hawk that gave me some dagger eyes before flying off.
Just outside of Spring Green I was pleasantly surprised to see white in a flock of Sandhill Cranes which prompted me to execute the fast pull over which is a must in the repertoire of any serious birder! Once I was able to get my binoculars on it, I was able to confirm it was my thirteenth Whooping Crane…and a colt at that! What a bonus find!
This trip was fantastic and reminded me just how much I enjoy the long drive and anticipation of possibly viewing a Wisconsin rarity. In this case, the weather was very cooperative and I got the chance to take a return trip home along Wisconsin’s two major rivers which was a first for me. Additionally, these trips provide me with a chance to see the natural beauty of wherever I am. I have seen many things, been many places and met many interesting and friendly people in my birding pursuits which makes birding so much more than birding.
The Lewis’s Woodpecker was Wisconsin Life Bird number 275 for me. In order to reach that respectable number of 300 I am going to have many “chasing” trips in my near future. I can’t wait.