A Winter Birding Excursion

By: Andrew McGivern, curator of exhibitions on January 14th, 2015

Although the National Audubon Society’s first Christmas Bird Count was in 1900, my first foray was a few weeks ago when I joined Mary Backus and Sarah Sabatke, members of the Wausau Bird Club. Before this, most of my birding occurred in the spring, summer, and fall. Sure, we keep tabs on the birds coming to our backyard winter feeders, but the idea of going out to search for birds in the winter never really appealed to me – too cold and not a great variety of birds to see, or so I thought.

Cedar Waxwing

cedar waxwings

Ornithologist Frank Chapman launched the Christmas Bird Count as a conservation effort to replace the holiday hunting competition to bag the most birds and animals. Today, teams of birdwatchers nationwide identify and count the number of bird species in more than 2,300 quadrants called circles. Each circle is 15 miles in diameter; the center of the Wausau Bird Club’s circle is located in the Wisconsin river near downtown. Our group surveyed a section of Wausau’s west side. We met at 7:30 am and drove to one of Wausau’s best birding sites – Bluegill Bay Park, where we walked through woods on the south side and worked our way around the pond on the north side by the Lake Wausau boat landing.

Our second Northern Shrike for the day.

our second northern shrike for the day

All told, we saw 28 species of birds, including two northern shrikes, a sharp-shinned hawk and a northern harrier. At Bluegill Bay Park, we came upon eighteen common redpolls. These may be common to some, but not to me; I was happy to see them. In fact, just last weekend my wife spotted a pair at one of our bird feeders – a first for us.

Mallards and Black Duck at Bos Creek

mallards and black ducks at Bos Creek

Next month marks the National Audubon Society’s 18th annual Great Backyard Bird Count, February 13-16. It’s a wonderful opportunity for folks who aren’t inclined to brave the snow and the cold searching for birds to contribute to the count.

Downey Woodpecker on our suet feeder

downy woodpecker on our suet feeder

If you enjoy birdwatching and prefer to stay warm, visit at the Woodson Art Museum, where you’ll find the best indoor birdwatching in Wisconsin. Be sure to check out artwork from the Museum’s collection in our south galleries before these birds migrate to storage to make room for the annual Student Art exhibition on view in March.

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