This year’s outing was originally scheduled for last weekend, 4/14/2018, but with the 20+ inches of snow we received, I moved it to 4/21/2018, which is the latest I can recall ever holding this event. With the cold and snow hanging on so late, I was concerned what the weather might be like, but overall it ended up being the perfect day for viewing and enjoying our wildlife. The cool, crisp early morning soon gave way from hazy to bright sunshine warming up into the mid-50’s. In the peaceful stillness of the area, as our group was gathering, the many sounds of nature were already apparent.
I was pleasantly surprised and happy to see a couple of younger children included in our group that tallied 14 attendees for the day. Getting young people involved today and having them learn and appreciate the importance of the conservation of our precious natural world is key to preserving the beauty for upcoming generations to enjoy.
Leading our car caravan to our first stop, County Line Rd, we expected to see the few remaining Greater Prairie-Chickens on the only lek in Marathon County. As is typical for this time of year, the males were fighting, strutting their stuff, and with their sounds of booming, trying to win the favor of the females. We saw a total of 18 birds, with nearly half of them being female. The perfect lighting illuminated their beautiful plumage.
From there, we traveled to Smokey Hill Rd and stopped at the viewing platform on South Rice Lake. With the naked eye one would suspect there to be no life at all, as the lake was mostly frozen. Things seemed still and quiet, peace-filled and serene. It was only when looking through our binoculars and spotting scopes, that we could see some activity on the backside of the lake. At this stop we observed three Yellow-headed Blackbirds, many Trumpeter and Tundra Swans, and 10 species of waterfowl, plus a single Hermit Thrush, seen by Andy McGivern and his wife.
Next, we headed north on Smokey Hill Rd hoping to find Rusty Blackbirds that I had just seen earlier, but unfortunately, they were no longer there. Just ahead though, one of the cars stopped and said there was an American Bittern just off of the road in the cattails. With respect and awe for this bird and it’s habitat, we all came to understand and appreciate the meaning and purpose of camouflage, as we all scrambled to get a view of it. Those that found it, pointed and helped others to see exactly where it was, as the specimen was doing what it does best to stay hidden, being absolutely still and quiet in amongst the textured background, in which he blended perfectly. With the weather being what it was, it was a surprise to see this particular species at this time in this area.
Next, we headed over to Rangeline Rd. We stopped on the south end of the lake where there was some open water. Here again we saw Tundra Swans and some waterfowl such as Northern Pintail, Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal, Mallards, American Black Duck, American Wigeon, Ring-neck ducks, Bufflehead and one American Coot. At this stop we were also rewarded many great views of a single Great Egret, flying overhead, another unexpected find for the trip. Plus a Sharp-shinned hawk and a single Winter Wren. We concluded the morning with a tally of 67+ species.
It ended up being a beautiful, if not perfect day with an awesome group of people. We’d love to attract and encourage more, of all ages, to get out and explore their world. There is so much amazing life and beauty out there, if we only take the time to look for, see and enjoy it. We all should know just how beneficial spending some time in nature truly is. The peace and tranquility is good for the soul. It changes your perspective on things. It makes you feel more positive and alive and more at peace with yourself and others. I challenge you to get out there today and see and feel for yourself!
Myles Hurlburt, WSO Vice President