Thursday, June 30, 2016

The War To See A WARbler

Adams County, Wisconsin.  It's a place where I've never seen bird security so epic before.  I didn't like it at first, but in the end, I learned to appreciate it.

This was the next stop on our Wisconsin trip.  Josh, Evan, and I pulled into this county in the evening of June 12, 2016, following our successful trip to Necedah National Wildlife Refuge.  Strange things take place in Adams County, Wisconsin, with some of the best security I have ever seen in my life.  And shockingly, it's all to protect a 5.75 inch bird.  That's right, a bird..

And if I wanted to see this bird, I would have to find it in all of this Jack Crap.

The Kirtland's Warbler is the foe I am talking about.  That's right, I saw it as a foe.  After driving for 5.5 hours one way to attempt at seeing a certain bird, they are your foe, not your friend.  If the bird shows itself, we can talk about friend over foe for sure, but until then...

For those who are hearing about Kirtland's Warbler for the first time, they are an endangered species restricted primarily to Michigan for their worldwide range, with a population also being in Wisconsin in Adams County and in a few other areas in Wisconsin.  Pretty small, huh?  Not as small as the ridiculous jack pine habitat they live in.  To survive, Kirtland's Warblers need large second growth stands of small jack pines for breeding and so on.  Most of these warblers refrain from choosing jack pines that exceed the ten foot mark.  Historically, such habitat was created by natural wildfires, but now, the habitat is created by jack harvesting and seedling planting.  As Josh pulled into Adams County, it didn't take us very long to find the Kirtland's Warbler habitat.  It was.....obvious.  There were some stands of some very small pine trees.  Due to a friend of Josh's who I'll mention later, we knew a few places to look.  When we got there, I opted into walking down one of the roads alongside the warbler habitat while Josh and Evan scouted further down the road.  As I looked deep into the small jacks, I thought, "Wow, what a dork warbler.  No wonder why it's endangered".  I always knew about Kirtland's Warblers in these jack pines from field guides and birding sources, but to actually see the habitat live was a different story.  The habitat was certainly unique but also strange for a warbler.

While walking alongside the habitat and listening for any Kirtland's, I heard a bear in the taller jack pines grunting nearby and I also heard and saw a few Common Nighthawks flitting in the sky in preparation for the night ahead of them.

I was scared of the bear noises that seemed to be following me, and Josh couldn't have come back any quicker than he did.  More intimidating than any bear though was the Adams County Kirtland's Warbler Police Department.  I couldn't see them in the jack pines, but I knew they were out there too.  I'll explain shortly.  Josh, Evan, and I scouted out more and more young jack pine habitats before it got dark out, which we found plenty of.  We stayed in Wisconsin Rapids for the night before hitting the appropriate habitat early in the morning for the warblers.

The following morning on June 13th was going to be the do or die of our Kirtland's Warbler search as we had to head back to Minnesota by noon.  I felt good about our chances, especially since Josh's Wisconsin friend, Setophaga Kirtlandii, was going to be joining us.  Setophaga is a good birder, and knew where the Kirtland's Warblers are.  But Setophaga also had some pressure on himself, because he knew that if he was recognized by the Adam's County Kirtland's Warbler Police Department, he might be thrown in jail for showing others where a bird was.  I'll explain shortly.

Josh, Evan, and I made our way into the habitats at first light hoping to get a head start.  At one point, I felt lucky.  At another point, I didn't feel so lucky.  Dark clouds were moving in, and Setophaga told Josh that it had been raining in Wisconsin almost every day.  At one point, we saw a Kirtland's Warbler nest monitor's car parked alongside the road.  At another point, we saw another nest monitor's truck going into the jack pines by following a dirt road.  Dark clouds continued to move in, and so did some temptation to "trespass" into the jack pines.  But Setophaga told Josh that all jack pine land was private and was no-enter, and that absolutely no one could be told whereabouts the Kirtland's Warblers territories were.   At one point, I didn't think it mattered that we couldn't go into the habitat, I thought we would hear a Kirtland's Warbler singing his loud song and we would have rewarding views.  But at another point, I was scared they would be at the back of a jack away from our pack.  As the dark clouds continued to move in, I didn't know what to think anymore.  Grey is not a good color to be birding in, I'd rather have black or white.  And Setophaga told Josh that not even he, as a Wisconsin resident, could be told about a Kirtland's Warbler spot.  How jacked up is that?

Something cool was already planned though and the search for the Kirtland's was going to be fun no matter what the outcome was going to be.  You know those two guys I have mentioned a lot on my blog, Gordon Karre and Chris Rohrer?  Well, they were in Adams County too on the same day we were.  And quite similarly to us, they were also looking for Kirtland's Warblers on the same day we were.  It was a cool group to meet up with just outside of the jack pines.  Because Setophaga was cool, he was going to meet up with us at a spot where he has heard and seen the Warbler multiple times.  Once we met up with Chris and Gordon and joined forces, the five of us waited for our guide, Josh's buddy, Mr. Setophaga Kirtlandii.  Once Setophaga arrived, he took us down the road a short distance to some Kirtland's Warbler habitat.  The six of us stood there and shot the breeze.  The dark clouds began to move in.  The Adams County Kirtland's Warbler Police Department was probably on patrol by now too.  The Kirtland's Warblers weren't singing yet, and it was past 7:30 in the morning.  It was probably because of the grey.  That wasn't a good sign until Setophaga interrupted a pointless breeze and pointed to a better deal, a male Kirtland's Warbler singing.  I was hoping for light to shine down on a bird on top of a jack, but the only thing that was happening was hearing the bird sing.  The Kirtland's Warbler has a loud but yet soothing song.  It really stood out from everything.  Here's a recording I made, listen closely to hear it:

I was growing anxious and impatient.  To hear a bird singing and knowing it's right there in front of me was crazy.  To know that I wasn't allowed to go into the habitat or go off the road only a few feet was killing me.  Josh, Evan, Chris, Setophaga, Gordon, and I watched the habitat carefully to see if the warbler would visually present himself.  Regardless, it was cool to hear the bird and know that it was right there.  And then it happened...

A car came driving slowly down the road.  It was some dude, and he looked like a birder.  It was a birder, and he was also a Kirtland's Warbler nest monitor.  He knew what we were doing, but still asked, "what are you guys looking for?  Just enjoying nature?"  We explained in two words, "Kirtland's Warbler".  He then explained his job to us on how he was monitoring a Kirtland's Warbler nest that had failed and a pair was now working on rebuilding a nest and trying again.  He also explained the rules to us for our own good: 

1. Don't go into the Kirtland's Warbler habitat
2.  Don't do anything to disturb the Kirtland's Warblers
3.  Stay on this road at all times
4.  Don't tell a single soul about this spot if you find one.

This dude was a decent person actually, he was just doing his job.  We could tell that he sensed our passion and that he sensed that all we wanted was to see a singing male on a jack pine.  It seemed like he wanted to tell us and wanted to take us to see a Kirtland's Warbler, but he wasn't allowed.  This guy "got it".  Over the next minutes, the six of us stood there, motionless and waiting.  Over those minutes, the Kirtland's Warbler would sing and then go silent.  At one point, he taunted us by moving in very close, within seventy feet.  His song was very loud and even more awesome this time.  We spent some minutes with him close by, but it still resulted in a heard only as he chose the wrong singing perch.  While Kirtland's Warblers are seen near the top of a jack pine, they are just as likely to sing lower in the tree or near the ground.  Like Palm Warblers, Kirtland's Warblers have a habit of constantly pumping their tail.  A Kirtland's nest is also on the ground, which is the reason people shouldn't be walking around in their habitat.

And then a second situation happened, and another car was coming down the road.  This time, it was a young good-looking girl, also a Kirtland's Warbler nest monitor.  What she said really shocked me, "Tommy, I'll take you to see a Kirtland's Warbler".....

Just kidding.  But she was a young good-looking girl and was a Kirtland's Warbler nest monitor, and what she said really did shock me.  She said to us, "Hey guys.  Your looking for the warbler right?  Right.  I just got off the phone with my co-worker who just talked to you guys a few minutes ago.  Um, well, I need to make sure you are aware of the fact you can't go into the habitats and do anything else to potentially interrupt a Kirtland's Warbler.  I've also called the game warden and need to take your license plate numbers.  Um, don't worry, your aren't in any trouble.  This is something we need to do, I hope you guys can understand.  Um, the warden is going to come and talk to you and I'm going to take your license plates to keep records of who has been in the area looking for the warbler.  Um, thanks for understanding".  

We were all shocked about the Kirtland's Warbler security base.  It was like a step-by-step thing.  The airport security seemed like bubblegum after this.  And license plates?  A visit from the Warden?  Wow!  After Princess Jack Pine left, we continued listening, and we continued hoping for that coveted target to show itself.  In fact, here's a picture I took of the five guys I was Kirtland's Warblering with.  Left to right:  Gordon, Setophaga, Evan, Josh, and Chris.

You all might be wondering why Setophaga is whited out, right?  It's because he's from Wisconsin, and some of these nest monitors know Setophaga.  If word got out that Setophaga took outsiders to a Kirtland's Warbler spot, then Setophaga might be in huge trouble.  Also, as you all should have figured out by now, Setophaga Kirtlandii actually isn't Setophaga Kirtlandii's real name.  That name is made up, only to prevent anything bad from happening to "Setophaga".  Setophaga man, I also altered your body shape several times on the whiteout to be completely safe.  You are completely fine from stencil detection.  Thanks for everything you did for us.  Kirtland's Warbler searching not only comes with Leave No Trace Land Ethics, but it comes with who you are birding with too.  There is something out there named Setophaga Kirtlandii though, and I don't like it very much sometimes...

The six of us spent more time watching before it was started pouring down rain.  When the Kirtland's Warbler sprang up close again, I've never been more tempted than to lie and say I had to poop so I'd have an excuse to go into the woods.  But Gordon and I frantically looked one last time as the rain came down (thanks Chris for the picture!).

As the rain poured down, Setophaga, Gordon, and Chris decided to leave.  "Day's shot", they said.  Chris and Gordon said they'd try the following morning, and that left Josh, Evan, and I in the pouring rain with 1.5 hours left before we'd have to head home.  As we hoped the rain would stop, it actually stopped soon after it started but then continued with light showers on-and-off.  The game warden then showed up.  I can still remember Josh saying, "Well....there they are".  

Warden rolls down window:  "Hay".  (Deep Mid-west accent, very deep)

Josh:  "Hi".  

Warden:  "How are you doing.  What are you looking for today?"

Tommy:  "The Bird".

Warden:  "The Kirtland's Warbler?"

Josh, Tommy:  "YES".

Warden:  She gave us the same info as the two nest monitors did plus-"You know about the regulations right.  This species is federally protected, so doing anything to interrupt them in their life, their nesting, stepping into their habitat, is a Federal Crime.  We take license plates to carefully monitor who's looking at birds and for the birds welfare and security".

Between the three cars and three sets of folks we pulled up, none of us ever did ANYTHING WRONG.  ANYTHING!  We were technically standing on a public road hoping to see a certain bird by simply standing on the road.

The Warden and nest monitors were friendly, but also very strict and and firm about Kirtland's Warblers and making sure that they were safe and sound.  

And good freaking grief, Wisconsin Kirtland's Warblers have more body guards than Shakira herself.......

After the warden continued on, I continued to look when Josh and Evan then had to run into town really quickly.  I decided to stand on the road and hope for the best until they returned.  The rain came and went, and then the Kirtland's Warbler came and went in song.  At times it would sound close, and then it would sound more distant.  That told me that the warbler was more active.  Before Josh left, he spied an interesting looking bird on top of a tree that looked different than the sparrows we kept seeing.  It flew and landed in a clump of pines.  When it flew and after it landed, the Kirtland's Warbler sang from that exact spot.  Gosh!  Once Josh left for about thirty minutes, I had the spot to myself.  Princess Jack Pine drove by once more and didn't stop to remind me anymore know.  When I was by myself and with no one there to watch me or know what I was actually doing, some evil thoughts came into my mind.  The warbler was singing nearby and was actively moving around, so why couldn't he actively move around a little more?  I had my iPod with me, loaded with bird sounds.  Among those bird sounds, there were a few authentic Kirtland's Warbler tracks.  I also had my speaker tucked in my pack.  I was seriously thinking about it.  All it took was for me to look around and see no one, plug my speaker in, turn the volume up and play a Kirtland's Warbler song out loud.  The result would probably mean me getting a good look at a bird, and I knew it.  I knew I could also make up a story, "I just got very lucky".

As the bird sang, I was reminded how shortcuts aren't what is truly rewarding in life.  With as badly as I wanted to see a Kirtland's Warbler, I also just as badly wanted to play a tape.  I was reminded of all the great times I've been rewarded with other species without playing a tape or causing potential harassment to a bird.  With as quickly as the thought came into my mind, it just as quickly went away.  I didn't break the rules, I let the bird be.  Besides, the Adams County Kirtland's Warbler Police Department might have had security cameras set up somewhere.  At that point, I wouldn't put it past them!  When Josh and Evan came back, we tried a few more minutes before the rain started to pour down again.  At that point, it was time to call it a day.

Perhaps someday I'll get another chance to see a Kirtland's Warbler, and perhaps, there will be another bird that I'll really want to see that'll go along with it that I wouldn't have had a chance at on this trip.  There's a reason for everything.  I want to say that I'm not completely putting the folks down about hardcore protecting the Kirtland's Warblers.  Actually, I'm not putting them down at all, I just have this bittersweet taste in my mouth.  Some drinks need their cherry on top, and this trek had a good drink, but was missing it's cherry.  It's awesome how hard they are working to protect this species.  Me tromping through the habitat of this sensitive bird isn't worth it based on my personal satisfaction.  That's what the word "wild" is all about.  You can't have control over birds, you have to let them be wild and free.  I think it's awesome that Adams County, Wisconsin, protects these birds and it needs to be done...well...for most of the Kirtland's Warblers.  However, with as many people who want to see this bird, I think it would be nice if they picked maybe one or two consistent singing males that they could offer tours for on a regular basis.  They do offer tours a few times a year, but not everyone can make it out at that time.  Josh, Gordon, Chris and I were willing to pay a for a guide and pay a good fee if someone was willing to take us on a tour before we found out about Kirtland's Warbler monitors saying that wasn't possible, at least when we were there.  There are risks of trespassers knowing where nests are and telling others, but the majority of birders out there just want to see one bird.  I think birders should be rewarded more often with this species in this area, because most birders are going to be good towards these birds.

In the small Adams County Area, there are close to 20 pairs of Kirtland's Warblers.  That's a lot!  And the funny thing is, more and more of them are being found often that weren't previously detected.  The total population of Kirtland's Warbler numbers close to four thousand birds, with most of them being in Michigan.  Our previous endangered species life bird was a Whooping Crane.  There are fewer than 300 Whooping Cranes left in the wild, and an estimated 4,000 Kirtland's Warblers in the wild.  I'm surprised the Cranes weren't more protected at Necedah after seeing how people acted about the Kirtland's Warbler on this outing.  The Necedah Whooping Cranes were very close to people at times.  With Kirtland's Warbler, even though I heard this bird only, I am still counting it as a life bird.  If I was able to have better access to the bird and didn't get to see it than that would different.  This circumstance was a lot different, and I deserve to count it.

I don't want to look at Kirtland's Warblers right now, or even show an example picture.  And if you want to see a recent picture of an Adam's County Kirtland's Warbler, in due time visit Gordon's blog and Chris's blog.  They went the next day and had the birds practically pooping on them.  Envision that...

Tuesday, June 28, 2016


The Whooping Crane is a bird that is both fragile and strong.  Standing tall at five feet, it is North America's tallest bird and it has an impressive wingspan of over seven feet.  It is also one of North America's most endangered birds, and was once on the brink of extinction.  Josh, Evan, and I really wanted to have the chance to possibly see one.  Necedah National Wildlife Refuge held that chance for our trio on June 12th as we got into Wisconsin.

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge is located in the heart of central Wisconsin in Juneau County.  This Refuge was established in 1939 to serve as a breeding ground for birds and to benefit other wildlife.  The name Necedah comes from the Ho Chunk tribe, which means, "land of yellow waters".  In our visit to the refuge, I didn't notice a lot of yellow in the water if any, but the name goes along with the yellowish water that is stained by minerals in the soil.  I don't care about names really, I'm just shooting up a small breeze.  Most importantly, Necedah has birds, and Necedah doesn't just have birds, it has a lot of birds!  With 44,000 acres of land taken up by the Refuge, the habitats that are found within Necedah include savanna, prairie, wetland, and forest.  There are many trails running through the Refuge, and it takes birders through the heart of an essential area.  Well over 200 species of birds have been documented here, but we were mainly after one of those species, the Whooping Crane.  While Whooping Cranes are seen often at Necedah, such a bird is never a given for detection.  And if detected, sightings here are often at the other side of the refuge where the most powerful of powerful spotting scopes are needed.  To be honest, I thought there was a half-chance our search would look a lot like this.

And then there was another half-chance also.  That was the other half of the Crane search, and the half that would show us jumping up-and-down in celebration.  After we arrived at the Refuge after a drive that went on for a long long time, Josh and I started to look over maps and decided we would scout the area out before we did any major hiking or Whooping Crane searching.  We entered Necedah on Sprague Mather Road, which runs east-west through the north-central part of the Refuge.  After driving through dense pine forest, we came upon an open marshy area that had big pools of open water and some lakes.  At this point, a side road veered north to a trail head and we were now officially between two water bodies called Goose Pool and Sprague Pool.  And then Josh said, "Is that one?".  To the right of us on the north side of Sprague Pool was a big white bird......

We lifted up our binoculars and saw everything that we wanted to see.  A Whooping Crane...already!

Josh had spied the Whooping Crane, and I felt bad for his fist after our fist pump.  I was very appreciative, that's all.  The crane was simply feeding out in the open meadow in front of us.  Most of the time, birds like this come at the middle or the end of a story.  It's not often that you are lucky right away like we were this time.  That's what makes birding fun, a variety of stories.  Necedah has it's Whooping Cranes, but it is also a very big area!

The three of us took some time to enjoy the Crane from a distance.  Our binocular views were solid and our camera shots were decent considering the Crane was pretty distant for photos.  

Here's an shot of the area with my lense zoomed out.  A large white bird stands out like a sore thumb.

As I was focused on this one Whooping Crane, it didn't occur to me to look around and check for others nearby.  Evan stood next to me and looked at the Crane.  Luckily Josh is smarter than I am and looked around for that reason.  Seconds later, "Hey, over here!".  I looked behind me to see that Josh had another Whooping Crane right there behind our vehicle.  It was just past a bend in the water flow!

The bird was just standing there, all along!  Wow.  

This second Whooping Crane allowed us to get some excellent views and and good photographs to go along with it.  As we felt blessed enough with the first bird, the second bird was more than what we could have asked for!

After watching this second bird for awhile, it then stopped, spread out it's body and wings, and let out it's noisy bugle call.  It was really neat to hear this Crane give this vocalization.  I did have trouble focusing on the crane because I had to use manual focus.  In the viewfinder, it can be challenging to line things up perfectly.

The Crane then took flight, and the three of us got to see this massive bird's seven foot wingspan at a close range.  It continued to bugle as it flew, and it joined the original bird that Josh found.

For some more factoids on the Whooping Crane, these birds travel in family groups year round.  As I mentioned earlier that they are one of North America's most endangered birds, the population of 200-300 birds in the wild really shows it.  In 1941, the population got as low as 15 birds.

For field marks on this bird, the red crown, red malar, all white body and black wingtips in flight make this bird very distinctive.  The Wood Stork may look similar in flight at only a quick glance, but has a completely different neck length, a much longer bill, and much more extensive black on the wings than a Whooping Crane does.  Plus, the Wood Stork is ugly and the Whooping Crane is good-looking.

At Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, these birds are part of a reintroduction.  So far, the reintroduction has been successful and these cranes have bred and have successfully raised chicks in the wild.  The Wisconsin population of Whooping Cranes migrates to Florida.  A few years prior to this year, Whooping Crane populations as reintroduction efforts weren't considered to be a substantial population of wild cranes outside of the birds that are found in Alberta, Canada, who migrate south to saltwater marshes to winter in Texas.  As birds who have been introduced have bred in the wild and their populations are growing, the ABA (American Birding Association) has changed some listing criteria.  A few years ago, they added populations of such birds like the Whooping Crane, Aplomado Falcon, and California Condor to the ABA list who are now breeding in the wild through recovery efforts.  As I list with ABA criteria in mind, all I can say is I'm glad they changed things up so I can count these birds on my list.  However, it would be very fun to see the Alberta/Texas birds someday knowing they are part of that original population.

Josh, Evan, and I sure felt lucky to be able to see this bird knowing that at one point we could just as easily only ever seen it in the extinct species section in a field guide.  Today, the Whooping Crane population is obviously doing a lot better, and hopefully, those numbers will continue to grow.

As we quickly found our target bird, it was then time to head out of bird rich/birds everywhere Necedah.  We still had more birding to do.  Here are some pictures of the area that the crane was in.  Awesome huh!...

I'm entirely joking.  The fun at Necedah was just getting started.

In flew our second Crane species of the day, the Sandhill Crane.

And away flew our first mimid of the day, a Brown Thrasher.

And then came my second lifer of the day, an Eastern Towhee!  Eastern Towhees are very common in eastern North America, and are the eastern counterpart of our western Spotted Towhee.  The Eastern Towhee sings a well known song that birders interpret as, "Drink-your-teeaaaa".  As Josh drove through the Refuge, the songs and calls of the Eastern Towhee grew to be quite common.  Funny thing was, we took a trail north of where we had our views of the Whooping Cranes.  We tried for about twenty minutes to see the first Eastern Towhee we heard singing before we saw it.  By the end of our outing there was no need to ever worry if we'd see one or not.  Eastern Towhee and Spotted Towhee were once a con specific Rufous-sided Towhee before they were split and each went their own separate way.

The two "Rufous-sided Towhees" look very similar to one another.  While Spotted Towhee is well named and has white spots on it's black wings, the Eastern Towhee has a white "patch" at the base of it's primaries which is quite a striking field mark.

We continued exploring throughout the Refuge.  The many roads went through an awesome amount of habitat.  Necedah is a place where one can easily spend an entire day of birding.

At one point, we stopped along the road to listen to a song we heard.  While listening, things got exciting as I heard the song of a Golden-winged Warbler!  The Golden-winged Warbler's main song is a fine-tuned and high pitched "Bee-buzz-buzz-buzz...".  The first note is the highest note of the Golden-winged Warbler's song, and the three following notes are lower in pitch than the first and are exactly the same as one another.  I freaked out and told Josh I heard the song, and right as we got out, Josh spied a Veery sitting in a bush just feet away from the vehicle.  Right before Josh and I were about to get killer photographs of the Veery, it managed to sneak away.  But my lifer Golden-winged Warbler sang once more, and we had to get some good looks at it!  After a short wait, we caught sight of the warbler, which was my third life bird of the day.

This is a male Golden-winged Warbler.  Females are similar but aren't as strikingly marked as the males are and have lighter field marks.  Because this bird hybridizes frequently with the similar and very closely related Blue-winged Warbler, traits to look for in identifying a pure Golden-winged Warbler include:  a bright yellow forecrown, black throat and ariculars, a bright yellow wing-panel, gray back, and an unstreaked pale gray and white overall (Sibley).  A bird with another striking feature not lining up with these key Golden-winged Warbler traits may very well be a hybrid.

While Evan slept in the car, Josh and I were treated to a show by observing this male Golden-winged Warbler.  Golden-winged Warblers prefer small patches of dense brush, stands of small young trees (especially aspen), and weedy areas within forest edges.  This warbler was another big warbler highlight for me on the trip, and it became the third lifer in the warbler family.

Golden-winged Warblers are declining in their total population because of habitat loss, which is due to human expansion.  This lifer was one that I found myself really enjoying and every warbler lifer made things get better and better.

Josh and I had to stand in some thick and tall grass while looking at the Golden-winged Warbler, where obnoxious bugs were almost everywhere.  A tick on my neck later in the day likely came from the observation of this warbler.  But it was worth it and lifer warblers always bring fun to the table.  As we continued on to bird and explore Necedah, we came to a stretch of oak savannah habitat, where Josh said is  a great place to look for Red-headed Woodpeckers.

It didn't take long for Josh to spy a Red-headed Woodpecker.

And then another...

And another!

We had entered into a Red-headed Woodpecker colony, and over a short stretch, we had counted at least 12 birds conservatively.  There were probably a lot more.  Most of the time, Josh, Evan, and I were enjoying the woodpeckers while driving slowly along the road.  Who knows how many we would have detected if we were actually walking around through the habitat.  As I lifered on this bird in East Grand Forks, it was cool to see them again up close and in high numbers.  The look of this bird in flight is very different from anything else in North America.

Woodpeckers are a fun family to enjoy.  During some of our observation, pairs of these woodpeckers or perhaps males fighting over territory and females seemingly had it out for each other.  Josh and I observed a pair fighting or doing whatever when two Red-headed Woodpeckers slowly fell to the ground together, appearing to have violent intentions.

We then went to the Refuge's headquarters where there is a visitor center, interpretive plazas and other stuff, hummingbird feeders, and boardwalks.  It was really pretty cool.  At this point, we had about an hour's time left for birding at Necedah before we had to leave to get dinner and scout for the following day's target bird.  The visitor center was pretty neat, and according to eBird, I saw that Whooping Cranes were sometimes observed from the lookouts within the immediate area.  When we got there, we looked out to see two more of our tall white birds in the distance...

Yeah baby!  And our Whooping Crane count was up to four.  Here's a zoom up.  You can clearly tell from here....

As we walked around the trails near the visitor center, we saw a few cool birds.  One of them was this low foraging Yellow-throated Vireo.  This Vireo was a constant vocalizer almost everywhere we went on this trip.  The problem was that they sing very high in the trees and it's hard to get a visualization of this bird that isn't a tree topper.  When we had this bird foraging low beneath our eye level, I got a little nervous when trying to photograph it because I wanted to seize the chance.  And I fared pretty well in the end!

A flash of black and orange indicated the Baltimore Oriole was coming in to the area too.

You know what was weird about the first half of the trip?  Other than detecting a few heard-only call notes, I didn't have any other hummingbirds on the trip.  And the Ruby-throated Hummingbird is supposed to be an easy and common bird to see in these parts.  I found myself scratching my head throughout the trip wondering where all of the hummingbirds were.  It was weird, and Josh and I couldn't figure it out.  And then there was that one feeder at the visitor center.  As we stood there listening and trying to find an elusive American Bittern who was calling from a nearby marsh, a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird finally showed up for me.  It became my 24th life bird of the trip, and my fourth life bird that was seen at Necedah.

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is obviously a well named bird.  As being the only regularly occurring hummingbird in eastern North America, this bird is very popular.  The male's ruby throat is something that is highly appreciated.  It felt funny to me thinking that these hummingbirds would be conspicuous throughout our trip and to then realize they wouldn't be common at all but rather hard to find.  The cool thing about this sighting is that it came when I was consumed with a lot of other birds during the time he flew in.  Regardless if the species is common or not, all you need is one..

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is very similar to the western counterpart of itself, the Black-chinned Hummingbird.  Both birds show a black chin and have a black "masked" look surrounding their eye and extending behind their eye (in good lighting).  They also are green in coloration on the head and back and below the gorget of the bird, a striking white upper breast with the white extending down to the belly and underparts.  With males of these two species, they are easily separable in good light by the color of their gorget.  Black-chinned is a purplish-blue and Ruby-throated is you know....ruby.

Being from Arizona I am blessed with how many hummingbirds are in my home state.  Ruby-throated has shown up only occasionally and is considered casual/accidental in Arizona.  Seeing my first "eastern" hummingbird was a real treat!

A White-tailed Deer crossing the road in front of me was pretty cool too, even though they were more numerous than birds!

Something else cool happened when I detected a calling Yellow-billed Cuckoo in some trees near us.  Josh and Evan were ahead of me, but I called for them to listen and the bird continued to call.   This was a lifer for Josh!  We searched and searched for the Cuckoo without any killer visuals, but from time-to-time, it would vocalize.  At one point, the bird flew right over our heads and into a section of willows along a riparian area.  Josh searched hard for it and saw a bird briefly that was skulking around that was probably the bird.  That's the way that cuckoos are, they are secretive and are tough to see.  There was actually a Cuckoo on this trip that was one of my most hopeful targets and what would be life bird for me, the Black-billed Cuckoo.  But it remained hidden when I was around and never even spoke once.  As I mentioned earlier in my posts, you win some and you lose some, that's what makes birding fun.  As for Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, it treated us very well.  What an epic place..

To close out this section of our day, on the way to Wisconsin Rapids, where we would stay, Josh, Evan, and I were treated to this Red Fox hunting out in a field.  After seeing my first Red Fox in the very northeastern tip of Arizona crossing the road briefly, it was cool to see this one hunting and taking his time.  There wasn't one hair of care on the Fox's behalf about us watching it.  Stay tuned for at least three more posts from this epic trip.