As expected, the temperature was bitterly cold (starting at 2 degrees), just has it has been for the past couple of weeks. Participants started gathering at South Shore Yacht Club a little before 8:00 AM, and many took the time to add a layer or two of warmer insulation before joining the group. The attendance today (1/6) was greatly limited by the cold conditions, and there were only about a dozen hardy souls who showed up. (We found out later that there was also a nice-sized group of birders from Green Bay, but unfortunately they arrived too late to join us.)
The early morning sky was sunny, but today the sunshine didn’t seem to add any warmth! The moderate wind was out of the northwest, so we were mostly protected from additional windchill. Much of the harbor was iced over, but there were some pockets of open water remaining – and the ones near the marina were mainly filled with frosty-looking Canada Geese and a few Mallards. Just to the south there were larger patches of open water, but the rising sun made it nearly impossible to see anything that was in that direction – so we left the park about 8:15 to head down toward the Texas Avenue overlook.
From that vantage point we could see a decent number of ducks in the harbor (or in the harbor entrance), where some of the water was open. Most were Common Goldeneye (of which there were several hundred), but there were also several other species mixed in – including Greater Scaup, Red-breasted and Common Mergansers, and a few scoters! All had white spots on their faces, and with closer scrutiny we were able to identify one as a White-winged and the other two as Surf Scoters. Also spotted was a Snowy Owl, which was perched there on an ice cake. At one point we watched it fly, before it returned once again to perhaps the same perch on the ice.
From there the group headed north, with a brief stop near the Discovery Center to check another group of waterfowl – which was again mostly comprised of Common Goldeneye. Then it was on to the soccer fields near North Point. There was open water offshore, but also lots of floating slush and ice chunks. There were hundreds of ducks (again, mainly Goldeneye) in view, but most of them were quite a ways out.
As we were getting ready to head further northward we had a couple of suggestions from attendees. Carl Schwartz invited us to his home in Fox Point to check out his feeders, where he’s had Common Redpolls and Pine Siskins visiting his feeders regularly. We took his gracious suggestion and made a short visit there – where we found siskins and a number of other birds, but unfortunately no redpolls.
The other suggestion was to stop at Schlitz Audubon Center, to check for the Eastern Screech-Owl that has been regularly present in a roost hole. Fortunately the day’s sunshine caused the owl to be sunning itself in its regular spot, and we had a great view of this well-camouflaged bird.
Our next stop was Port Washington, where we first stopped at Coal Dock Park. There was lots of open water there on the south side of the marina, and thousands of ducks, geese and gulls were present. Interesting ducks included Redhead, Ruddy, and a lone Long-tailed, and an adult Great Black-backed was soon spotted. Shortly after that an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull was found, and we had good looks as it flew about not far away, and an adult Glaucous Gull was also present.
Several of us walked out to the (mostly frozen) pool at the east end of the canal, and we found a couple more Glaucous Gulls and two more Great Black-backed Gulls sitting or standing on the ice. A few Lesser Scaup were also observed, along with a big flock of Common Mergansers on the lake (roughly 1500), just off the eastern end of the south breakwater. Returning to the cars, we drove over to the north side of the marina, where many more Canada Geese were also present, with a few ducks mixed in among them.
Our final stop of the day was at Sheboygan’s marina, but unfortunately there was much more ice there, so there weren’t many ducks or gulls present. From North Point, except for 100-200 yards of open water near the shore, there was nothing but a sea of floating slush and ice chunks extending out as far as one could see. By this point the temperature had “warmed up” to about 14 degrees, but any time you were out in the wind it certainly felt much colder!
Thanks to the group of hardy folks who participated in the field trip, and to Jeff Baughman for co-leading this chilling event. We had a number of nice highlights for the day, and wrapped up about 1:45 PM.
Tom Schultz, WSO Field Trips Co-chair