A visit with the Cooper’s

It was a beautiful morning with bright blue skies for a change, so I brought my camera along on my walk to campus, and it paid off handsomely on my way back home. There’s a pair of Cooper’s hawks with a nest high up in an oak tree a bit off the Oak Leaf Trail near the end of Hartford Ave, and late this morning, someone came home from a successful hunt. There was a bit of flying back and forth from the nest to a nice low branch, and I could never capture an image showing the both of them at the same time, but here are some of the highlights.

Meanwhile, back in Estabrook, the third pair of geese appear to be making a go of it again on the east side of the pond. We’ll see if it’s for real soon enough. The other two geese were safely on their nests on opposite ends of the island.

Lastly, tragedy has befallen the third, southern-most robins’ nest we know about, and those are all the words I can manage at this time.

If it’s April, you know there’ll be graupel!

I know the rhyme’s not perfect, if you pronounce graupel correctly, but you’re probably here for the pictures anyway, and boy, do we have some pictures.

On the island in the pond, the goose on the southern tip got up briefly to gave her eggs a turn this morning, and I can count at least three of them, so that’s super encouraging. The one on the northern tip was on her nest as well.

When I first arrived at the pond, there were three mallard drakes, goofing off as usual.

Then a fourth one flew in, and everyone wanted to talk about it.

That didn’t take long, however, and they all got right back to work.

A female red-winged blackbird stopped by, so it appears she found the territory staked out by her intended to be suitable.

Finally, all five wood ducks, two hens and three drakes, came to see if there was anything new to eat, so we get some nice wood duck portraits for a change.

They had some sorting out to do amongst themselves, which ended with a hen and two drakes taking off, and then this drake returned by himself and needing to dry out his wings.

At the river, our killdeer was back foraging on the mudflats.

And the friendly coot stopped by to say “hi”.

Both robins were on their nests as I went past, and further north, the muskrat passed by on its way south.

At the north end, our owl was back in its spot, after being awol for a couple of days. For all I know, it is just off hunting sometimes when I stopped by, and I shouldn’t read to much into it.

I also spotted an immature goldeneye, whom we haven’t seen in quite a while.

Then the skies opened and it came down fast enough to almost start accumulating. One cool phenomonon was that suddenly all the little hammock-like spider webs were visible. Those critters have been busy since they emerged just a week and a half ago.

It didn’t seem to bother the mallards or the coot, however, who just went about their business as usual.

At the southern end, I disturbed yet another nesting robin, who was on a nest right over the trail. That’s great that we have one more chance to spot eggs or chicks, but let’s hope traffic stays light enough for her to get the job done. I read that her eggs only take 12 to 14 days to hatch and then about another two weeks to fledge. They grow up so fast!

April puts a pause on spring…

Wow! No snow, yet, but is sure as chilly this morning. Luckily, the goose eggs have moms to keep them warm, and the robin eggs might have the same, but one seemed not so sure this morning. She eventually climbed in, but it took her a while. I wonder what’s up with that.

As I was checking on the southern robin and her nest, Casper the Friendly Coot came by for some more pictures. It seems I had missed those sharp looking tail features during previous sessions. Plus, I got a nice demonstration of feeding agility.

On the way to or from the north end, I can’t remember, I was treated to this little bit of slapstick. One mallard drake found a nice perch on which to preen, and as I was trying to take his picture, a second one wanted in.

When the second one got up there, however, it immediately nudged the first one right off.

Finally, after the first one flew back down to the river, the second one followed. BFFs, I guess.

Those are both tough acts to follow, but the star performers of today happen to be this pair of nuthatches giving their nest a good spring cleaning.

Finally, one more flower has been able to glean just enough energy out of the cloudy skies we’ve been enjoying lately to open up these three little blossoms.

Yes, Virginia, those are bluebells (Mertensia virginica)

Why do they let me publish without a title?

It was a cool and damp morning in Estabrook after the brief early shower, and all four moms-to-be were keeping their eggs warm: the two geese on the island and the two robins along the river.

I hardly saw another creature, mammalian or avian, but I did finally manage to capture an image sufficient for identifying a large bird I’ve seen soaring over the park from time to time since last summer. Say hello at long last to a turkey vulture (Cathartes aura). You can see the tail narrower than a red-tailed hawk, but not as narrow as a Cooper’s hawk, the long beak with a little curve at the end, and the lighter flight feathers on the underside of the wing. I would take that positive ID to court!

There’s also a new fungus among us, and I’m not going down the rabbit hole of trying to identify a mushroom again so soon.

Finally, not everything was shades of brown, grey, and black. Here’s a goldfinch looking pretty yellow. Not completely yet, but almost there. Even he looks none too thrilled with the cool breeze out of the northwest.

Our owl appears to have found a warmer branch to perch on this morning, and I searched in vain for where that might be, so I hope it comes back to its usual spot soon.

A whole lotta incubatin’ goin’ on.

It was another beautiful April morning in the park, and I am thrilled to report that the incubating appears to continue undisturbed on the island in the pond. Here’s a quick shot of the two geese on their nests as the ganders keep watch nearby.

Along the river, both our robins appear now to be incubating as well. There where on their nests as I went north and again when I came south over an hour later. Both are not on an island and are amazing accessible, so keep your fingers crossed that their camouflage, such as it is, does the job.

Meanwhile, at the north end, our newest exciting find, the great horned owl, was on the same branch again this morning. I looked but could not find a nest nearby, so I don’t know what exactly the situation is. Is this one alone this season, is there a nest that I just can’t see, or is this like a bachelor pad “in the city” to take a nap while mom (or dad!) watches the kids at home. Perhaps time will tell.

I have heard from fine fellow local amateur naturalist, Jim Kogutkiewicz, that “a great horned owl is nesting this spring in Downer Woods, and for the last couple weeks or so.” You can see Jim’s beautiful pictures at https://www.instagram.com/p/CNz_0rgnAbM/

While I was carefully walking up and down the river bank trying to find the best angle for a shot, I spotted our first live mussel I’ve seen in the river. I’ve been seeing shells, hole and in pieces since last year, but I always wondered if they were just left over from someone’s clam bake. Now we may surmise that they were locally grown.

I read that “Wisconsin alone has 50 different species of freshwater mussel, and 18 of them have been found within the Milwaukee River.Here even is a gallery of pictures for identifying 13 of them, so have at it! Even the Journal Sentinel has a 2019 article on them titled “Underappreciated but important: DNR completes statewide mussel survey“. Of those 13, I’d go with Elktoe (Alasmidonta marginata). You?

Also at the north end, I spotted our first toadstool of the season. It might be one of several inky caps, of the genus Coprinopsis, or parasols, of the genus Parasola, but I can’t find a picture that matches exactly. Looks tasty, though, doesn’t it?

Anyway, on my way back south, I spotted our killdeer on the mudflats again, and I managed to get some nicer pictures this time. If you haven’t seen their “broken wing act” when they are trying to draw you from their “nest” flat on the ground, it is worth watching a video of one of nature’s most fascinating spectacles. You’d almost think it would just be easer to pick a better nesting site, but I guess they don’t see it that way.

Finally, some new blossoms have pushed through this colder weather and managed to bloom anyway.

Here’s a pretty white with blue speckles hybrid violet at the far north end that I don’t believe we’ve seen before.

Here’s Greek valerian, aka Creeping Jacob’s-ladder, Creeping polemonium, Spreading Jacob’s-ladder (Polemonium reptans), with 99.42% certainty, just north of the underpass along the path.

Here’s a thick patch of trout lilies that are open everywhere throughout the park now.

Finally, the hepticia, aka liverleaf or liverwort is opening up beside the parkway across from the guardrail.

Lastly, here’s an interesting bit of litter I picked up. It looks like it’s been there a while, eh?

Hoo-h’HOO-hoo-hoo!

Yesterday afternoon was so nice, I went out again and ran into our newest little buddy, the friendly American coot, at the south end again, almost within sight of the Capitol Ave bridge.

Then, this morning, I finally confirmed that there are indeed at least too coots on the river. Maybe our friendly coot from the south end met up with the shy coot from the north end. As with most birds, they look so similar, I’ll never know for sure, but here they are heading to the west side across from the mud flats in the pretty morning sun.

Above the falls, I spotted this pair of mallard drakes soaking up that morning sun after a pretty cold night. There was frost on the grass as I made my way to the river. One of our beaver poked its nose out of the water near there, too, but ducked back under as soon as it spotted me and must have kept swimming south because I didn’t see it again.

At the north end, there were a few wood ducks around, at least one hen, and at least 3 drakes. Here are two drakes who found a spot where the blue sky reflects nicely off the muddy water.

Here’s a tree trunk stretching out over the water from the northern island, and it was pretty crowded this morning. How many birds can you find on it?

I had hoped that I might find a warbler again in the trees east of the meadow there, but they were quiet this morning so I reluctantly headed back south. The river trail was seeing pretty good traffic by then, so I forded the little oxbow pond and kept close to the river.

As luck would have it, I found some litter to collect, and as I concentrated on picking it up without losing my phone or my keys, a big commotion erupted on the southern island just across the channel from me. A pair of mallards came first, on the wing and quacking for all they were worth, followed closely by a Canada goose doing the same. As I turned to gawk at the skeptical, I spotted a huge dark form land on a big branch high above.

At first I thought it was a hawk, but it was far too big for that. Then I thought maybe a young eagle who hadn’t gotten its white feather yet. Finally it dawned on me that this must, at long last, be an owl, a great horned owl (Bubo virginianus).

Well, I did the best mix I could manage of “as fast as I can” and “don’t make any sudden moves” and got out my camera. Meanwhile, our new guest quickly hopped down the branch into a less-conspicuous location.

It looks like that might be a thick grape vine beside the tree trunk that it found to hide behind. Here it is keeping an eye on me, at least for the moment.

Finally, it settled in behind that vine, and succeeded in waiting me out.

So, for the second time this week, I floated home on a cloud, at least until my reverie was broken by the call of this cardinal that was almost as bright as he was.

Long-time readers may recall last spring when a fellow bird enthusiast tipped me off to the great horned owls and owlets residing over at Newton and Prospect. Well, now we can finally say that we’ve seen at least one of them in Estabrook Park, too.

PS. Both geese were incubating away this morning on the island in the pond, so our string of good luck appears to be holding.

A warbler at last…

It did turn into a pretty morning, but it started out pretty grey. There is nothing new to report at the pond, which is good news as this point. Both geese were incubating at their respective ends of the island, and a third couple appear to have given up for the season. Well, two out of three is still two times better than last year.

At the river, I spotted a solo blue-winged teal drake off the mudflats with a pair of mallards. Here he is cutting in front of the mallard hen. With that face, I guess we should expect that he’d be cheeky, eh?

Here he is just chilling and cutting in front of anybody.

Just above the falls, I spotted the solo red-breasted merganser hen or immature male.

At the north end, the kingfishers toyed with me, and I didn’t even try today. Instead I found this guy who appears for all the world to be a male brown-headed cowbird, perhaps searching for that female we saw last Sunday.

While I was looking up, this Cooper’s hawk took off and climbed through a couple of lazy circles before heading west.

Finally, still at the north end, I spotted at long last our first warbler for the season. I’ve been hearing of sightings for a couple of weeks now, but this is the first one I’ve been able to capture in an image. It is a male yellow-rumped warbler (Setophaga coronata) in “Myrtle” plumage, on his way to breeding grounds that start upstate and continue to Hudson Bay.

He was very busy mining this tree for bugs and just about a nimble as a chickadee or a kinglet. It took me forever to get even these half-way decent shots.

An afternoon for the birds

The sky was turning blue and the sun was warm as I came home from campus for lunch, so I had my hopes up, but by the time I ate and took care of some work chores, the clouds were back and the wind was cold. Oh well.

I went out anyway, and I don’t think I saw a single mammal, let alone reptiles, amphibians, or insects. Luckily, there were a few birds about, and here they are.

The belted kingfishers were active at the north end, and I think I finally captured an image of a female with her decorative chestnut flanks.

Here’s the male who was in the vicinity.

Also at the north end was this lone female, or immature male, red-breasted merganser.

Finally, on the shore of the northern island was this lone American coot, perhaps the same one we saw there yesterday on that same island. It sure was not as friendly as the one that came to visit me much farther south yesterday.

Speaking of that friendly coot from yesterday, here’s another picture.

And one more, without goop hanging out of its bill this time.

Okay. Last one from yesterday, and this time one of the beaver, in which you can just see a bit of its grey tail on the ground just under its mouth.

The forecast is for mostly sunny to sunny tomorrow morning, so keep your fingers crossed.

Not a bad outing…

The park was very quiet this morning, under a cold grey sky, and things got off to a pretty slow start. When I arrived at the pond, this little critter was gleaning scraps that the geese and ducks failed to find on the west lawn.

The goose on the southern tip of the island was still on her nest, and as I walked around to the north side to check on the second one, I accidentally spooked these two.

That’s right, a pair of blue-winged teals right on our tiny little pond. They booked clockwise around the island, so I headed counterclockwise to meet them on the other side, where I was able to capture this slightly nicer portrait of the drake. Oh, and the second goose is also still incubating.

There was a kingfisher again, and I think a female for a change, but she eluded me, so I headed down to the river. Neither robin was on her nest this morning, but that’s not necessarily bad news yet. They could be still laying their clutches and not yet incubating.

Above the falls, I stopped to scan ahead to see if there is anybody I should try not too spook, and look who I saw. Hot Diggity Dog! With that white beak and black body, it sure looks like an American coot, so I headed off in hot pursuit, taking the back way, where I hoped it wouldn’t see me coming.

When I got up beside that northern island, there was no coot to be found, sadly, but as I searched in vain, I did spot another teal, this time a solo drake amongst the geese.

Oh well. I figured I might as well pick up the new trash brought in by the high water, and after a bit, look who decided to show up.

This is indeed an American coot (Fulica americana) stopping to preen right under the fallen tree trunk on which the muskrat rested two days ago. Ha!

With a spring in my step, I headed back south along the river, and I hadn’t gotten more than a couple hundred yards, when this handsome downy woodpecker couple obliged me as they foraged in front of a nice dark background, instead of the grey sky, which had brightened.

So, now I was pretty anxious to get home, and I continued along the river, but took the higher path, where I expected to find much less litter to distract and slow me down. This was my reward. I probably wasn’t even 20 feet away when he or she popped out of the water and paused a bit to scratch a few itches before continuing upstream.

This one even showed off its webbed hind foot.

Now I really wanted to get home, but I had to stopped for this pretty little sight. That’s early meadow rue (Thalictrum dioicum) looking like the buds of a bunch of flowers before it opens up and turns into green leaves instead.

Here’s a quick look at the progression from tiny purple balls into little green leaves.

Okay, now I am finally heading home, but there’s this one spot right on the water where a bunch of fresh white Styrofoam™ scraps has accumulated, and it is actually still early, and I even still have a couple of empty bags in my pocket, so I make just one more stop.

As I’m crouched down, intently picking up mostly just the bigger pieces so at least it isn’t an eyesore from the trail, look who I just happened to notice also intently foraging. An American coot again, giving me a third chance for a decent photo!

I don’t know if there is more than one on the river right now, but this little rascal was hardly 6 feet away from me, and maybe didn’t notice me either, until I looked up. At that point, I guess it figured that if I was going to eat it, I would have already, so it just kept on foraging as I slowly took out my camera to started taking pictures. I absolutely could not believe my luck. It eventually worked its way around the tiny peninsula of drift wood I was on, and then calmly headed down river.

Will wonders ever cease? A that point, I just floated home on a cloud and found my keys on the first try, securely zipped into my fleece breast pocket, right where I put them.

Oh-sweet-Canada…

Two geese were still incubating on the island in the pond, this cool morning, but it is not clear if the third goose is even laying eggs yet. We’ll know soon enough, I guess.

The breakout star at the pond this morning is this cheerful little white-throated sparrow, belting out Oh-sweet-Canada in the brief morning sun for all to hear.

Along the river, Mrs. Robin was working on her nest again this morning. There was a lot of rotating and strenuous looking pushing, but I guess that’s how it’s done.

Just below her, on the river, Mrs. Mallard took a nap.

While Mr. Mallard kept a watchful eye on me.

Meanwhile, a young red-tailed hawk flew lazy circles over the Oak Leaf Trail.

Finally, I found a few trout lilies that must have received enough warm sun yesterday afternoon to open up for us, and here’s the most photogenic one, even with that stick by its side.

Lastly, I somehow averted disaster again this morning. When I first got home, I couldn’t find my keys, and I figured I’d lost them somewhere along the river. They sadly do not have a feature to show me on a map where they are, and Anne was out. So after waiting around for a few minutes, I headed back into the park, which worked out nicely because that’s when I spotted the lilies and the hawk. Anyway, Anne returned, let me in, and that’s when I found my keys zipped up nice and secure in the breast pocket of my fleece, exactly where I put them to keep them safe. Ha! I really outsmarted myself this time.