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White River Marsh 4 APRIL 2024

Our traditional start time for this field trip is 5:00 AM – an early start to experience the dawn chorus on the marsh – but I’d heard a couple of YELLOW RAILS near our starting point the day before, so I encouraged anyone interested in trying for them to arrive by 4:30!  Sure enough, as we arrived in the pre-dawn hours of Saturday, May 4 there was a YELLOW RAIL giving its distinctive clicking calls out in the wet sedge meadow to the north of us.  The bird seemed to be a fair distance from us, which made the calls difficult to hear and unfortunately nearly half of the group wasn’t able to pick up the sound.

White River Marsh 2024 5 4 6038 birding on White River Road


As the sky slowly began to brighten, and the marsh slowly awakened, the sounds of other birds could be heard – including AMERICAN BITTERNSORASEDGE WREN and SWAMP SPARROW. A WILSON’S SNIPE could be heard winnowing overhead, and BARRED and GREAT HORNED OWLS were hooting in the distance.  At one point, there were quite a few SANDHILL CRANES that were giving their boisterous calls, and then the harsher unison calls of a pair of WHOOPING CRANES were heard to the west.

<b>Swamp Sparrow</b> 2024 5 4 White River Rd White R Marsh 6048


As 5:00 AM approached we moved down the road to a nearby parking area, and left the cars as we hiked along White River Road.  A NORTHERN HARRIER cruised by as it hunted over the marsh, and TREE SWALLOWS chittered overhead.  We heard a VEERY calling nearby, along with several COMMON YELLOWTHROATSYELLOW WARBLERS, and SEDGE WRENS were fairly numerous.  SWAMP and SONG SPARROWS were singing from the cattails and thickets,

Off to the east we spotted a couple of BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERONS as they flew by in the distance, as well as a GREAT BLUE HERON and a BALD EAGLE.  We heard or saw several species of WOODPECKERS, including RED-BELLIEDDOWNYHAIRYPILEATED and NORTHERN FLICKER.

We visited a little oak island along this dirt road and found several WARBLERS, including NORTHERN WATERTHRUSHTENNESSEENASHVILLE and PALM.  A female EASTERN TOWHEE was spotted, as well as NORTHERN CARDINAL and BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD.

E Towhee f 2024 5 4 White River Marsh oak island 6070


After returning from our hike, we drove east along White River Road, and stopped for a time near a wooded area, where we heard a SCARLET TANAGER singing in the trees and a BOBOLINK in an old field to the north.  Next we continued on to Big Island Road, where we began to hear and see SAVANNAH SPARROWS and EASTERN MEADOWLARKS – along with more BOBOLINKS.  A nice surprise was finding a couple of RED-HEADED WOODPECKERS that were flying back and forth from trees along the road,

Red headed Woodpecker 2024 5 4 Big Island Rd White R Marsh 6091 crop


Other birds along this road included WILD TURKEYKILLDEERWILSON’S SNIPE, a SOLITARY SANDPIPER, and a LESSER YELLOWLEGS – with the latter two in a small farm pasture.  A couple of COMMON RAVENS were flying about, with smaller AMERICAN CROWS present for easy comparison.  PURPLE MARTINS were sitting on a nest box, and we also added EASTERN BLUEBIRDHOUSE WRENHOUSE FINCH, and a couple of GRAY CATBIRDS.

Additional birds heard or observed included BLUE-HEADED VIREOGREAT-CRESTED FLYCATCHERBALTIMORE ORIOLEWHITE-CROWNED and WHITE-THROATED SPARROW, and also NASHVILLE WARBLER.  We also hiked out into a DNR grassland where we added EASTERN KINGBIRD and HENSLOW’S SPARROW – with the latter species heard and scoped in the distance.

We headed west, driving along Hwy. D – then parked near the White River bridge.  As soon as we got out we heard a singing YELLOW-THROATED VIREO, followed soon by OVENBIRDAMERICAN REDSTARTCOMMON YELLOWTHROAT and YELLOW WARBLER. As we approached the river we added TUFTED TITMOUSEBLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERWOOD THRUSH and BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER.  At the bridge we spotted a pair of EASTERN PHOEBES, and heard RED-BELLIED and HAIRY WOODPECKERS, and a WOOD DUCK took flight.

Our next stop was along Dead End Road, where we heard FIELD SPARROWBROWN THRASHEREASTERN BLUEBIRDBALTIMORE ORIOLE and EASTERN MEADOWLARK.  A RED-TAILED HAWK soared nearby, and TREE SWALLOWS buzzed around us.

We headed south to Princeton, and made our traditional stop at a gas station for restroom visits.  During the course of the morning, we’d been hearing reports of a VARIED BUNTING that was being seen at Lion’s Den Gorge, down in Ozaukee County.  The temptation proved to be too great, and at least eight of our field trip participants made the decision to go and try for it… so about 10:30 AM our field trip suddenly took a big detour as we headed toward the southeast!

To make a long story short, those who had headed down there were able to join the group of searchers that were waiting at the site – and within about 10-15 minutes of waiting and watching we were all able to spot the bird!  This was the first time this Mexican species (which just gets in to AZ, NM and TX) that has been found in Wisconsin, so everyone was supremely delighted.

Thanks to everyone who attended this “unusual” field trip – which had started with a pre-dawn YELLOW RAIL, and ended with a totally unexpected VARIED BUNTING! During the White River Marsh portion of the trip we ended up with 88 species.

Tom Schultz, WSO Field Trips