102 Birds

There are just a few days out of every year when the skies open up and it rains birds. Birders refer to it as ‘fallout’. You can actually track these events with radar and many, many birdwatchers do to know just when the best times are to look for new arrivals. Usually riding on the edge of a weather system, these tiny travelers arrive in droves on their way to their nesting grounds. Some stick around, some continue to spread North or just spread out to find a good place to find a mate and raise a brood. All, however, travel shockingly long distances. Warblers, for example, are often just 4 or 5inches long and they fly from South America to the Upper Midwest United States. They fly until they can’t because of weather or the need for food or rest. They stop and feast. And then they do it all again until they reach their breeding grounds.

The thing about birdwatching — and this is what sucked me in –is that you learn about birds, but you also learn a whole lot about the world around you. You have to understand habitat to understand what species you will see. I know to look for warblers in wooded areas with plenty of bugs and that you can watch the forest wake up from the top down as the sun slowly rises and warms from the tops of the trees to the forest floor. I’ve learned that 9 times out of 10 wood ducks will be in trees, not in water where you’d expect a duck to be. And I’ve discovered that if you make even the most urban tiny yard (like mine) a hospitable place, you can open your door and see any kind of bird passing through.

My husband and I spend a lot of time birding during spring migration. We have a whole loop from our house to and through Horicon Marsh that we travel. Some of it on foot, some of it in the car we will literally spend dawn until dusk watching birds. Earlier this week we had one such day. The goal was to see 100 species by the end of the day. We knew there was fallout in front of a big weather system rolling through, so we woke the whole family early and checked out the local lake while the kids got some playground time. Between our house and an hour at the lake we had tallied these 25 species:

1. English House Sparrow

2. Mourning Dove

3. House Finch

4. White-Crowned Sparrow

5. Red-Winged Blackbird

6. Robin

7. Double-Crested Cormorant

8. Starling

9. Grackle

10. Mallard

11. Crow

12. White Pelican

13. Ruddy Duck

14. Song Sparrow

15. Goldfinch

16. Tree Swallow

17. Canada Goose

18. Turkey Vulture

19. Herring Gull

20. Common Yellowthroat warbler

21. Chipping Sparrow

22. white-breasted nuthatch

23. Chickadee

24. Yellow-Rumped warbler

25. Red Bellied Woodpecker

We broke for a nice breakfast and dropped the kids at school.

 And off my husband & I went.

By 10:30, the skies looked like this…

20140508-074614.jpgbut we were up to 56 birds.

26.Black-Throated Green warbler

27. Ruby Crowned Kinglet

28. Blue Jay

29. Brown Thrasher

30. White-Throated Sparrow

31. Red Tailed Hawk

32. Ring Billed Gull

33. Kildeer

34. Forester’s Tern

35. Spotted Sandpiper

36. Least Sandpiper

37. Rock Dove

38. Green Heron

39. Northern Waterthrush

40. Palm warbler

41. Northern Parula

42. Hairy Woodpecker

43. Catbird

44. Sandhill Crane

45. Yellow warbler

46. Veery

47. Flicker

48. Blue Headed Vireo

49. Blue Grey Gnatcatcher

50. Magnolia warbler

51. Downy Woodpecker

52. Chestnut-Sided warbler

53. Ovenbird

54. Willet

55. Great Blue Heron

56. Purple Martin

And then this happened…

20140508-074632.jpgBut we were not discouraged. By noon, we had found 72 species.

57. Barn Swallow

58. Osprey

59. Blue-Winged Teal

60. Pintail

61. Shoveler

62. Baltimore Oriole

63. Brown-Headed Cowbird

64. Redhead

65. Pied Billed Grebe

66. Chimney Swift

67. Bufflehead

68. Turkey

69. Pheasant

70. White Egret

71. Coot

72. Wigeon

20140508-074642.jpgWhen the storm passed, the temperature dropped almost 15degrees and the wind was cold. But we birded on, marching toward that 100th bird. By 2:10 when it was time to turn for home and pick up the kids, we were at 95.

73. Northern Harrier

74. Eastern Phoebe

75. Greater Yellowlegs

76. Kestrel

77. Rusty Blackbird

78. Savannah Sparrow

79. Broadwinged Hawk

80. Sora

81. Horned Lark

82. Rough-Legged Hawk

83. Bobolink

84. Hermit Thrush

85. Clay-Colored Sparrow

86. Cardinal

87. Gadwall

88. Green Winged Teal

89. Ring Necked Duck

90. Trumpeter Swan

91. Peregrine Falcon

92. Black Tern

93. Northern Rough-Winged Swallow

94. Yellow Headed Blackbird (a family favourite)

 95. Lesser Scaup

We picked up the kids, got them a snack and returned to the lush little pocket of forest where we began. The trees were thick with birds. Exhausted from their journey and focused solely on food, a large portion of this hike was spent within 5 or 10feet of numerous warblers at once. The kids didn’t even need optics to see them, they just watched as the birds played right in front of them as they yo-yo to and fro trees snapping bugs from the air.


96. Nashville warbler

97. Bluebird

98. Cape May warbler

99. Redstart

Determined to not be denied our triple digit achievement, on the backside of the loop we scoured the trees for any movement. And as often happens, I found something and recognized it but had no idea what it was called. I called wildly for my husband who is a much better birder than me. By ‘called wildly’, I should specify that our family ‘call’ is to whistle like a Northern Bobwhite — distinguishable and yet this way we aren’t yelling and scaring wildlife. We use it everywhere though, so if you are ever shopping and hear a Bobwhite call I am probably nearby. In any case, he made his way back to me and got his eyes on #100…

100. Great Crested Flycatcher

And I’m not even kidding, after a day of cold and clouds and rain within minutes of spotting #100, this happened…

20140508-074652.jpgThe sun came out. The woods warmed. And we took another turn through the forest where the thickest birds were and picked up two more species.

101. Bald Eagle (both immature and mature)

102. House Wren

We went home and had celebratory sandwiches and I worked on my latest WIP/SIP…

20140509-084841.jpgKalajoki by Tiina Seppälä  in Sundara Yarn Sport Merino Two in the Imagine colorway. I am head-over-heels in love with this combination.

102 birds. 1 fantastic day.

18 thoughts on “102 Birds

  1. Wow! I love this! Amazing that you can identify so many. We had a roadrunner scramble across our back porch the other day… Very interesting bird. I doubt that I could pick out even a half of all the birds you did! Wonderful!!! We do have some species that stop at a lake near here on their way through, and surprisingly last year we spotted a group of Pelicans. Very unusual for here. 🙂

    1. I will admit my husband is a thousand times better than me — I would probably see about 1/3 of the birds I do without him and I’d be able to correctly ID even less, but I am learning and getting better! I just find it fascinating that there are so many around — amazing what you find when you start looking!

  2. Love this blog post! As the mother of a field biologist who coordinates Vermont’s ebird site (and many others) and the wife of an amateur photographer who specializes in birds, counting species and observing habitats are definitely a family thing!!

    1. Oh, I had no idea! How awesome! My husband used to manage an optics company specializing in birding optics — our very first dates were spent warbler-ing. 🙂

      1. Wow!! You can check out my son’s work (Kent McFarland) at Vermont Center for Ecostudies and my husband’s photography on Flickr (jerrygabby1). I think we must have been friends in a previous life!! LOL

      2. I will have to do that! We just ordered a camera adapter for our spotting scope, so I will finally be able to take some nice bird photos — after, you know, about a million hours of practice!

  3. I went on a bird walk in our community 2 weeks ago. I am not a big bird watcher (meaning I know nothing about anything other than robins) and I dont own binoculars. Most of the group had them and someone even lent me some. The leader had a scope that allowed us all to see a few birds really well. It was amazing! That was the friendliest group of people and I got to see part of our community that I didnt even know existed. I plan to go back and take some knitting to sit in nature and take it all in.
    Love your blog!

    1. Birdwatchers tend to be some of the nicest people around. We meet lots of people on the trail –both birders and non-birders — and always exchange sightings or if we have something neat in the scope we let them take a look. You learn so much about the world around you from birds. 🙂 So glad you had fun and that you have plans to go back!

  4. It sounds like a perfect day! I’ve just started “getting into” birds. I think I spend half my day looking out the window to see who’s at my feeders. 🙂 In fact, my blog post today features 4 photos of a Rose-Breasted Grosbeak. I was SO excited!

    Once my Little Ones get bigger, I’ll be able to go out and look for them on our local trails.

    1. We had our very first yard Rose Breasted Grosbeak last week! They are such pretty birds! We got our kids started with birds by doing Cornell’s Project Feederwatch. It’s a very cool citizen scientist program and it got my kids – they were 7 and 5 when we started – very into learning about birds. 🙂

      1. Thanks for the info! My oldest girl just turned two, but she loves sitting by the window and watching the “tweet-tweets.” She also prefers to spend her whole day out of doors, something I’ll keep encouraging as she gets older.

      2. I have a treasured photo of my daughter from around that age on all fours staring at a frog about a foot away. Priceless! Keep those babes outside – even little nature walks are a great start! Most of all, just enjoy the time spent outside together!

  5. That’s insane! I’ve never heard of anything like this. Now I wonder if bird “fallout” is something that happens here or if it’s unique to your neck of the woods.

    1. I would ask a local birding group. As I understand it fallout can happen anywhere, but it is more likely to occur (for obvious reason) along the more major migratory paths. We happen to live near a large natural area, so we benefit from that when it comes to sheer numbers of birds. More habitat = more birds. Worth checking out though – it is certainly a cool event to witness!

    1. Madison, Wisconsin? There are definitely loads in Madison- I lived there for years and did a good deal of birdwatching there. Mostly it’s just knowing what to look for – going with a knowledgeable guide helps a lot, too. I can certainly point you to some good spots if you are interested!

  6. I’m so impressed I don’t really know what to write. You & your husband are pretty amazing birders, wow, I feel like a loser in comparison!!!!! Lol. Congrats on a FANTASTIC day!

    1. Lol! If you are out looking at birds, you are so far from loser you can’t even see ‘loser’ with your binoculars! I think we make a good team. I am very patient and he is very good at IDing. I say things like, “I see something that looks like a small thrush” and he’ll say, “It’s probably an ovenbird.” Then he will find it and confirm. I used to freeload off of his skills a lot more, but he got me new binoculars for Christmas so I’m trying to pull my weight now – lol!

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