Cutright's Old Coots Big Day (May 16, 2019): 168 species In Year 8, a record for Coots and predecessor Ancient Murrelets as they scour Ozaukee, Fond du Lac and Dodge Counties to raise conservation funding for the Great Wisconsin Birdathon
For those of who look for omens, the Barred Owl who was calling even as we gathered just before 3 a.m. in the driveway of painter and birder Tom Uttech's Saukville-area farm was a good one. Even better was the much rarer Long-eared Owl who called for us repeatedly several miles away along the Milwaukee River.
We would hear several other birds in the predawn darkness (Marsh Wren and Swamp Sparrow but no Eastern Whip-poor-will this year) before we'd be able to check off the other two owls we were seeking -- an Eastern Screech Owl at the Riveredge Nature Center and a Great Horned Owl along Knollwood Rd. - and with the addition of Tree Swallow, Gray Catbird and Red-Winged Blackbird we were at 9 species before 4 a.m. with sunrise still 87 minutes away.
We would spend all of those predawn minutes and then some working the roadsides in the area of the Cedarburg Bog and its adjacent Upland Woods before moving back over to the west end of Riveredge and then on to Hawthorne Hills County Park, which like Riveredge lies along the Milwaukee River. We made some targeted stops for Pine Warbler in a pine plantation and Bank Swallow at a repurposed gravel quarry, but our general strategy was pretty simple: keep moving in a variety of habitats with our eyes and ears wide open.
The list would reach 30 by 5 a.m. and 75 by 7 .a.m. By the time we left Hawthorne Hills around 8 a.m. we had recorded 90 species - but it was clear we were about to get wet. real wet if we birded on foot. So we opted for some alternatives, birding from Tom's studio windows for a bit (3 new sparrows and a hummingbird), made a dash down County I to find the nesting Osprey and birded Waubedonia Park (again along the Milwaukee) by car, watching a slew of warblers dance around a downed tree in the water and catching sight of 4 Hooded Mergansers and a Green Heron under another downed tree on the opposite side of the river.
When it really poured we camped out in a picnic shelter and watched warblers forced lower in the trees by the rain. Park total: 27 species, and by 9:15 a.m. our list had crept past the century mark. This was at least 90 minutes ahead of the previous year's pace when we ran a similar route on May 17. We felt inspired by the generosity of our many donors, knowing that our effort was going to be of significant support to the Bird Protection Fund. And we knew that a good start boded well for meeting several challenge gifts pegged to us beating last year's total of 156 species; but would we be able to meet one donor's second stipulation: more birds in fewer miles traveled? Only time would tell.. but we'd need to do both if we stood a chance of meeting our $13,000 goal.
So on a Big Day you can't just sit all day so the five of us climbed back in our minivan and resumed our roadside search, targeting spots we were familiar with for Eurasian Collared Dove and Sora and Virginia Rails, as well as what has been the best shorebird pond in Ozaukee County at Hawthorne Rd. CR-KK. The latter yield 8 shorebird species and two herons. In each case our scouting paid off, and by now the rain had moved out to the south and would not bother us again all day despite an iffy forecast.
Missing from this area of the county (along was much of its former grasslands) are birds that used to nest there like Upland Sandpiper, Western Meadowlark, Gray Partridge and Loggerhead Shrike.
By now it was getting harder and harder to record new species as we reached Harrington Beach State Park at noon (22 species and a previously-missed Brown Thrasher) and Forest Beach Migratory Preserve (27 species with Bald Eagle, Cooper's Hawk and Eastern Kingbird) at 12:30 before we headed into Port Washington to scan the harbor and record 5 gull species and more than 1,000 Common Terns (a highlight) along with a pair of nesting Peregrines.
Missing from our waterfowl list, however, were the Surf and White-winged Scoters, Green-winged Teal, Lesser and Greater Scaup and Bufflehead we recorded last year, as well as Glaucous and Great Black-backed Gulls.
Leaving Port Washington (and Ozaukee County) our list stood at 137 (compared with 132 at a similar point last year). We were now on a beeline for the Northern Kettle Moraine State Forest, Mauthe Lake and Halthauser Rd. We would however, record three new species en route: our 6th swallow of the day (Cliff) nesting under a bridge, a Warbling Vireo we happened to hear as we befriended a giant Snapping Turtle by escorting him the rest of the way across a busy highway, and Red-headed Woodpecker, tipped to us by a member of the Noel J. Cutright Bird Club who had found them at Lizard Mound County Park while doing field work for the 2nd Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas.
Our visit to NKMSF was the most successful in years, enabling us to add Broad-wing and Red-shouldered Hawk, Northern Harrier, Hooded Warbler, Scarlet Tanager and both Alder and Acadian Flycatcher. But by the time we were ready to head for our final major birding area of the day it already was past 4:15 p.m. It would be almost an hour before we could reach Highway 49 and the northern end of the Horicon Marsh. This was 90 minutes later than last year. Had we left ourselves enough time to do this magnificent IBA and Ramsar Wetland Site justice?
Hard to know the answer for sure, but we would add 22 additional species at Horicon (compared with 24 last year), including Trumpeter Swan, American Bittern, American White Pelican, American Coot, Common Gallinule, Yellow-headed Blackbird, 4 new ducks, 2 new terns and 8 additional shorebird species including both godwits and a dozen Black-bellied Plovers. The final bird of the day: Black-crowned Night-Herons gliding across the marsh at dusk.
Cutright's Old Coots Big Day (May 16, 2019): 168 species
(BOLD: not seen in 2018)
Lesser Black-backed Gull
American White Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Great Horned Owl
Great Crested Flycatcher
N. Rough-winged Swallow
Brewer's Blackbird Common Grackle
Cape May Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Seen in '18 but missed in '19
Great Black-backed Gull
Carl Schwartz Milwaukee County 414-416-3272 <cschwartz3...>