Chuck's Birding Report #42

29 December - 04 January 2021

Dear fellow flock of birders,

Somehow just saying 2021 feels better for multiple reasons. Let’s hope that feeling becomes a reality!

Before we look ahead let’s look back and review what kind of birding year each of you had. One question we could ask is: How many different species did you see in 2020? Another question might be: What was the most impressive or special species you saw in 2020? I find it hard to choose one but I do love all the warblers and this time of year I think the Tundra Swans are special. For those of you who are just beginning to learn the various species of birds, how are you progressing? 

Moving on to 2021, what was the first bird you saw or heard on January 1? Since my partying on December 31st was limited to a glass of wine I got up at 5:00am and arrived in the dark at the Arboretum at 6:45. As I stepped out of my car I was greeted by a hooting Great Horned Owl. That was the first bird I heard but did not see on the first of January. Shortly after that a small flock of American Crows came flying in and landed in that small dead tree between the two parts of the Visitor Center parking lot. They put on a preening show for me. I did attach a photo of a Great Horned Owl I took some time ago.

Today as I drove into the Arb on McCaffrey Drive I was stopped by 22 Wild Turkeys flying out of the white pines on the north side of the road. They perch in those pines overnight to remain safe from predators like coyotes. They all landed right in front of my car. It was actually quite a spectacle. Watching the turkeys fly up into the trees in the late afternoon is quite a treat. They are not great flyers but they are able to get the job done.

These past couple days have been punctuated by fog and a lot of hoar frost formation on all the trees, shrubs and spent wild flowers and grasses. It’s really made for a beautiful winter wonderland. I took another photo of a bright red male Northern Cardinal perched in a bush well flocked with hoar frost. Photo attached.  

The Great Blue Heron, who has decided to stay here in the winter while all its friends fly south to warmer climes, has been staying at the end of the outflow of Big Springs. This year instead of standing in the water and hiding behind bushes on the left it is now more often on the right and difficult to photograph. Attached is a photo of the heron from last year standing on the left side. Attached is a photo of the heron from last year standing on the left side.

I stopped at the Spring Trail Pond to see if the visitor from the west coast was still hanging out there. Sure enough the Spotted Towhee was there feeding on black oiled sunflower seeds dropped by human types. Feeding with it were Fox Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, American Tree Sparrows and tons of male and female Northern Cardinals. In the pond besides the 98 Mallards I looked for the Wood Duck that I had seen several days ago but was absent today. I did see and hear calling a Tufted Titmouse. Photos of the Spotted Towhee, Wood Duck and Tufted Titmouse are attached. 

Saving the best for last on Sunday, Jan. 3 I got a message from one of our birding group birders that she had seen a Snowy Owl. I was just about to leave the house in the morning so the timing could not have been better. When I got to the spot another birder helped me look for the Snowy Owl in the snow-covered, plowed fields. We found what looked like a clump of dirt with some snow on it but it moved just a bit. We pulled out our spotting scopes to get better looks and sure enough it was a Snowy Owl. We were over the moon. Simultaneous to the Snowy Owl find there was something happening to the sun. As we watched a sundog was forming around the sun. Some distance on either side of the sun were subtle arcs of colored light with red on the inside and blue on the outside. At the top of the sun there was a flattened V formation too. By this time some other birders had arrived and they were amazed by the sundog too. I used my binoculars to look at the arcs and the V shaped structure above the sun. I could actually see the ice crystals moving horizontally in the structure. I was in awe. Seeing a Snowy Owl and such an impressive sundog at the same time was most likely a once in a lifetime experience in nature. I would post my photo of the Snowy Owl but it’s not much more than a distant spot. Attached is a photo of a Snowy Owl I took several years ago where you can see some details of this impressive bird. I’ve also attached a photo of the sundog and a photo of the ice crystals in the part of the sundog above the sun. I hope you can all see a sundog someday.

Happy New Year and good health to all of you,


Wood Duck

UW-Madison Arboretum, Madison, WI


Dane County, WI