After rescheduling from the prior week due to cold rain, a hardy group of 16 people showed up in slightly-less-cold light snow and wind on Earth Day to go Beyond Backyard Birding. The trip, led by Ashley Olah, was co-hosted by the Friends and Madison Audubon. As we assembled at the entrance to Picnic Point, we heard sandhill cranes from far away, likely at the mouth of Willow Creek. We learned that sandhill crane calls can be heard from up to 2.5 miles away! Wow! A little way down the trail, there were feathered friends singing, “Oh sweet Canada, Canada, Canada!”. The white-throated sparrows singing that song are passing through on their way to breeding territory further north. Perhaps some of them may even make it to Canada! While white-throated sparrows are usually found foraging for seeds on the ground, this flock was mostly high in the trees, eating buds.
One member of our group said they hoped to see a loon, since they are not originally from Wisconsin and have never seen one. When we first scanned University Bay, there were no loons to be found. But we did have an osprey fly across the bay toward us and then perch in a tree nearby. One tip we learned for identifying osprey in flight is that their silhouette looks just like the shallow “M” shape used for birds in many kids’ drawings. We would continue to see the osprey through most of the rest of our walk, including a fly-by at the tip of Picnic Point.
Continuing down Picnic Point, we were greeted by many species that use the Preserve year-round, including black-capped chickadees, northern cardinals, white-breasted nuthatches, and downy woodpeckers. We also saw a few more migrating songbirds, including a palm warbler, which bobs its tail while it is perched.
Looking out to the water from both the north and south sides of Picnic Point, we did our best to identify waterfowl without a spotting scope. American coots, ring-necked ducks, and lesser scaup were plentiful. We also saw at least a couple of ruddy ducks and canvasbacks. And, luckily, we did see at least two common loons before the end of the trip!
Report by Anne Pearce; photos by Will Vuyk