As I’ve grown busier and busier in recent years, and am spending more and more time traveling, I’ve let slide one of the loveliest and favorite of all my birding activities—taking long walks in Port Wing, Wisconsin. My normal route was about 7 miles, but I could shorten it to about 5 miles or add various detours along the way, bringing it up to as many as 12 miles. When I was in my 20s and 30s, I took these walks several times a year, but it dropped to only once or twice a year at most by the time I was in my 40s. And as far as I can remember, I didn’t take the walk a single time while I was in my 50s. But I decided this was one lovely tradition I wanted to revive during my Conservation Big Year, so I set out on June 3 to take a hike.
My little dog Photon and I set out together about 5:30 am. Birding along Russ’s mom’s driveway wasn’t as satisfying as usual—no Alder Flycatchers, Sedge Wrens, Le Conte’s Sparrows, or even Savannah Sparrows serenaded us as we walked. I hope this was just because migration is so late this year, and that they’ll show up eventually, but the late mowing of that field last fall, combined with the late spring, means it probably won’t provide suitable habitat for ground-nesting birds this year. One snipe winnowed from overhead, a pair of Sandhill Cranes called from the distance, and a Ruffed Grouse drummed in the woods not too far from Russ’s mom’s house—that soft thumping was balm to my soul.
Once we made it to Kinney Valley Road, I found a small group of migrants, including a Canada Warbler, but again, very few birds on territory. Leaf-out is late this year, and without leaves, there are no hatching caterpillars—the food that fuels warbler migration and feeds them as they arrive on territory. It was eerily quiet for a beautiful June morning, but a second grouse was drumming—a promising sign for one species at least. Photon is slowing down now that she’s 15, so she wasn’t running ahead and charging back as she used to, but she was holding up pretty well, checking out every odor along the way and holding her tail up at a jaunty angle.
Along Highway 13 to the Quarry Road, I finally heard a Le Conte’s Sparrow—that was a most welcome addition to my Conservation Big Year. I was almost to the quarry before Russ drove up to rescue Photon—she’d walked over two miles and was starting to grow weary. She’s in good shape for her age, and I felt lucky I had her along that far. I’ve always done this walk with a dog—first my golden retriever Bunter and then Photon—so I felt bereft as she went off in the car, but it was impossible to stay sad as three Winter Wrens started singing—this particular stretch of Quarry Road has always been my best spot for hearing them. Several other birds were on territory here, including a lovely Solitary Vireo and a pair of Yellow-bellied Flycatchers that kindly provided long photo-ops. I saw a small migrating flock of warblers that included two late Wilson’s Warblers.
Next, I headed to the slough and the main beach. Barn Swallows twittered overhead as I watched an American Pipit and two gorgeous Dunlins on the beach—more late migrants.
Then I wended my way to my favorite spot on the planet, Big Pete Road. I had one unexpected new bird for the year—a Black-backed Woodpecker who called out to grab my attention but refused to pose for photos—and one expected one—a Golden-crowned Kinglet.
Twin Falls had more water than usual, and at the old sewage ponds, American Redstarts cooperated splendidly for photographs as large numbers of spring peepers and toads called. Even if the numbers of individual birds were low, I ended my long walk with 83 species, three of them new for my Conservation Big Year. I’m growing discouraged by the falling numbers of birds, but was filled with quiet joy at spending a day with so many lovely little survivors.
This walk and the woodcocks I heard the evening before along my mother-in-law’s driveway bring my year list to 431. You can see the list, with photos, here.