Winter Birds

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

On a 30-degree sunny afternoon with light wind, about 20 people showed up at the Visitor Center for the Winter Birds tour. Owls and woodpeckers from our display collection were out on a table, along with different bird guides: Sibley, Kaufman, Peterson, Stokes, Tekiela, National Geographic, and others were available for people to compare.

We discussed the three tools needed to help identify birds: binoculars, a bird guide or smart phone bird app, and a local checklist. I handed out a list of 7 characteristics used to identify birds, and we briefly talked about size, color, song, habitat and behavior of birds to help identify them. Identifying “song,”—all bird vocalizations—is key to a good birder, since as much as 70 percent of bird identification is made by using your ears.

We then set out into the Native Plant Garden to look for birds. Our first sighting was a bald eagle soaring over the Visitor Center heading east toward Lake Monona. A red-tailed hawk soared high above, too.

Next, we wandered through Longenecker Horticultural Gardens heading east toward Gallistel Woods in search of wild turkeys. Not finding any, we proceeded into Gallistel Woods where we heard and then saw several black-capped chickadees. It was pretty quiet on Icke Boardwalk except for occasional crows calling and flying. Leaving the boardwalk, we heard a tufted titmouse but couldn’t see it. At Arboretum Drive we turned right around the curve to check for birds at the house with feeders. We saw our first mourning doves and more black-capped chickadees. Heading into Wingra Woods we heard a few white-breasted nuthatches but didn’t get a good view of them. At the T-intersection with the Lake Wingra shoreline trail we spoke to a couple who had just seen a robin at Skunk Cabbage Bridge. Going west to the Big Spring we spotted a pair of mallards and heard more nuthatches and chickadees. Heading uphill away from the lake toward the parking lot, we heard a distant northern cardinal. In the parking lot we watched three chickadees.

We crossed into Longenecker Horticultural Gardens intent on finding turkeys. Eventually, we spotted five of them near the crabapple and lilac collections.

Our one-and-a-half hour walk (about 2.5 miles according to one participant with a pedometer) netted a total of 11 species. Several participants expressed their appreciation for experiencing the Arboretum during winter and some for the good exercise they enjoyed on this sunny, blue sky, mild mid-winter afternoon.

—Levi Wood