Please hold…

Not much new to report today, and we seem to be in bit of a holding pattern while waiting for the pond ice to hurry up and melt already.

The pair of geese were in the tiny patch of now-open water on the south end of the island when I arrived at the pond, and as I tried to capture a representative and attractive image of the scene, another pair flew in. This lead, of course, to a confrontation in fits and starts. First our heroes hopped up on the ice, but then there was grooming to do.

Eventually, there was an exciting moment, which I failed to anticipate and so did not capture on film, and the vanquished were forced to walk across the road, while the victors called after them. I hope they were gracious in their victory, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying.

Then I headed over to the river, which is up at least a foot from last week and also running quite brown now, so not very photogenic. I did see a couple common mergansers, about a dozen goldeneye, and more and more Canada geese, who are still actively sorting out which nesting site is whose, it seems.

Back at the pond, it appeared to be nap time.

On my walk home, I spotted patches of this white stuff on the grass, where piles of snow had recently melted, which look like those spider webs we see on lawns in the summer, especially in the morning when dew makes them stand out.

I’m sure you will be as stunned to learn as I was that these are not spider webs at all! Instead they are likely patches of grey snow mold (Typhula incarnata) or (T. ishikariensis). Apparently “snow molds are caused by cold tolerant fungi that require snow cover or prolonged periods of cold, wet conditions.” Cool, eh? So long as it’s not damaging your lawn, I guess.

Finally, as I reached the end of my walk, this little feller sung me out. Thanks, Buddy!

Lastly, there was a nice spot on yesterday’s evening news about beaver on the Milwaukee River that you might appreciate: Beavers are back on the Milwaukee River – and that’s a good thing.

Coming home to roost…

The big news in Estabrook is that the water fowl are starting to arrive back on the pond. We first saw a couple of Canada geese surveying the frozen situation from shore Saturday, but now that the open water is up to a solid (liquid?) 5%, there are a fine-looking pair of mallards…

… and more than just the pair of Canada geese.

Well, it was just three, and the couple concertedly chased of the bachelor who appeared to going stag. Maybe he was just trying to stake a claim before she got there, as a surprise, but the couple were not having it.

Then the two couples took a quick dip together to sample some of that finely-aged, pond-bottom muck that they haven’t tasted since last fall.

After all that excitement, I headed over to the river, where I didn’t expect to see much because the river trail is just mud now. Right off the bat, however, I spotted some gulls chasing of a small raptor of some kind, maybe our Cooper’s hawk, but didn’t get a picture.

Once I got to the water, I was thrilled to see that, between the two islands, it is still full of mallards, goldeneyes, and mergansers, including this dashing trio of commons…

… and more red-breasted mergansers than I believe I’ve ever seen in one place before, including this debonair quartet.

On the way back from the river, I happened upon this cute little nuthatch who had a lot of grooming to do. A second one appeared for an instant, which would have been an amazing shot, and then they were off.

Back at the pond, the geese were gone again already, but the mallards were enjoying an after breakfast preen in the warm morning sun, …

… and our little buddy, the red squirrel was looking hale and hearty after the cold winter.

Just some odds and ends…

The river trail was nice and firm this morning, after the cold temps last night, but that might be the last time for a while, with low temps forecast to be above freezing for the rest of the week, so I did my best to take advantage of it.

The lower river has pretty much emptied out, with just a handful of mallards scattered about, one common merganser, and one goldeneye, that I could see. There are still plenty of signs of beaver, but not a hide nor hair since February.

There was still a pretty good crowd above the falls with a couple dozen goldeneyes and mallards, a bunch of Canada geese, a common merganser pair, the bufflehead pair, and even one female redhead.

A male redhead was probably around, but I didn’t spot him before a couple of guys showed up in a boat, and every single bird took off.

Not much new in the trees either. The red-winged blackbird was singing at the pond again, but the grackle had moved down to the river, perhaps to sing in the morning sun without having to compete with that boisterous red-winged blackbird.

A junco posed uncharacteristically against a nice blue sky, if only for a moment, and a male cardinal scratched an itch between verses.

The pond ice is down to maybe 95% coverage, and the 5% open water grew a fresh, thin skin of ice overnight, but that won’t last long in the warmth of today. Here’s what some old footprints that were in the snow on top of the pond ice look like now.

Finally, here’s a look at how hoary the frost got this morning on the lawn above the falls.

Nature takes her time…

We’re in for yet another beautiful blue-sky day in Estabrook, and I feel like Steve Martin doing the LA weather report saying that, but my buddy Max suggests this is partially due to the recent reduction in human activity, and some science seems to back him up.1,2,3

The activity on the river continues to evolve with the loss of ice, but our pair of redheads are still hanging around on the upper river just downstream from the southern island.

The mallards are just about everywhere now, and this female was looking especially photogenic this morning as the sun was making its way into the river valley.

It was also super nice out yesterday afternoon, as you may recall, and I had a little time, so I popped by the pond again just in time to find this pair of Canada geese doing the same thing. There was a lot of honking going on, and I think the consensus was that there was still too much ice, so off they went. It’s getting to be egg laying time, and the pond better hurry up if we’re gonna have goslings by the end of April.

Finally, and by popular demand, here’s your still-life art-shot.

More signs of Spring!

Things are finally starting to happen at the pond. The ice is still thick and probably covers 99% of the water, but the birds are starting to arrive anyway. First up is this red-winged blackbird, who was enthusiastically announcing his presence to everyone within earshot on this glorious March morning. Woo hoo!

While I was trying to get the red-winged blackbird to cooperate and sit still for a second, I spotted another black bird nearby, and this one turned out to be a common grackle. Sweet!

Lastly, but by no means leastly, is our first arachnid of 2021, this handsomely striped spider, who I’m gonna say is one of the “more than 40 species of wolf spiders are found in Wisconsin.” Hip, hip, hurray!

Meanwhile the water fowl remain as dense as ever on the river. Today I saw common and red-breasted mergansers, goldeneyes, mallards, the newly-arrived Canada geese, and even our newest arrival, the redhead. The water is finally open over the sandbar that forms downstream from the southern island, and the ducks were having a field day there.

Although the ice is mostly gone from the river, there are still some big patches to be found.

Finally, after the exam at UWM yesterday, I tried to capture an image of our peregrine falcon pair in residence, but this is all I got so far. I saw one fly in, there was a lot of chatter, and then one flew off. So there are definitely two, and this “picture” is of the one that stayed behind.

Field Trip!

I’ve gotta proctor an exam at UWM this morning, so no time for a park visit. Skies are grey anyway today, and here’s hoping that the redheads will still be there tomorrow.

The good news is that it was crazy nice out yesterday afternoon, I got my chores done early, and a fellow park visitor yesterday had tipped me off about sights to see, so I took a field trip down to the open water around the Discovery World at the Milwaukee water front.

Sure enough, the water is full of fowl, including many of the mergansers, goldeneyes, gulls, and mallards that we see in Estabrook, but also a slew of these handsome devils with blue bills on. My sources tell me that they are greater scaup (Aythya marila) taking a breather on their way to breeding grounds way the heck up north.

The males were not on their own, of course, ’cause that would make the long trip kinda pointless, right?

Finally, here’s a happy couple foraging together.

Their “nonbreeding” areas are southern Illinois and south almost to the gulf, so this truly is an ephemeral treat, and I hope you get to see them in-person before they move on.

Finally, here’s a herring gull picture from a couple of days ago on the Milwaukee River that I didn’t use then, but I just can’t get the look on its face out of my mind.

And so it begins…

Where to start? Where to start? Spring is really starting to spring, the sun was out, the air was calm, the temperature was mild, and the sky was blue, blue, blue.

Best of all, we’ve got three, not one, not two, but three new arrivals in the park to report!

First, and most exciting for me, because I’ve never seen this creature before, is the aptly-named Redhead (Aythya americana), another diving duck. There were two males and a female on the upper river with the mallards and goldeneyes. We are in their “nonbreeding” range, so these folks are just passing through, but we’re sure glad that stopped in, if only for a moment.

Next, and nearly as exciting, is our first hooded merganser of the season on the far shore of the river. I would see a male on the pond now and then all last spring, so it’s great to have him back.

Finally, the third fresh arrival has obviously been here for a day or two, at least, but I finally noticed it this morning. A common mullein (Verbascum thapsus), which has a slew of alternate names including wild tobacco, flannel-leaf, velvet-dock, beggar’s Blanket, Jupiter’s staff, and feltwort, to name a few. And I can’t believe the picture looks blurry. I only took one, it looked good in the tiny display, and I kept moving. Oh well. Maybe I’ll see it again tomorrow.

In other news, an eagle swung by the far north end and launch all the non-diving ducks into the air, but didn’t come south enough for me to take even a bad picture. Instead, here’s some mallards settling back down after it the coast was clear.

Here are some goldeneyes going about their business and not worrying about some stupid old eagle.

I did stop by the pond again to check on the ice situation, and it is still pretty icy, enough so for me to still walk on it. It’s gonna take a while still.

Finally, it was so beautiful out yesterday afternoon, that I popped over to the park just for a short visit, and look who I found.

As I mentioned yesterday, the quartet were not in their usually spot yesterday morning, but this one showed up for some solo work. She stood still for her close-up, below left, but when I kneeled down to try to get some blue sky in the background, she wasn’t having it, and slowly stamped her front hoof a few times. You can just make out that she has it raised in the image on the right above. When I finally stood back up, she decided we were done, slowly wandered off, and left us with the parting shot on the right below.

Spring drags its feet…

Yikes! And to think I thought it was cold yesterday. At least I was better dressed for it this time. Even the deer quartet we’ve been seeing lately appear to have sought someplace warmer. Otherwise, it was a beautiful morning in Estabrook, and the mergansers and goldeneyes were on the river at the south end as usual lately.

The first pretty picture I have, however, is of this female cardinal who was not only making herself visible but also making herself heard.

Beside the falls, I was surprised to find this grey squirrel apparently eating the buds off this tree, which thinks is probably a pignut hickory (Carya glabra). Man, if it were an ornamental, or even a specimen tree, that I had planted in my yard, I would not be happy about this. Happily, it’s growing wild in the park so who cares, and bon appetit, my little friend!

Above the falls, there were plenty of goldeneyes, the pair of buffleheads, and a couple of geese, but I was surprised to see no mallards.

A bit further north, I might have spotted the reason why, but I’m sad to report that it took off before I could get any closer.

When I came back south, the male goldeneyes were doing their courtship displays again, and often more than one at a time would participate.

After a while, they appeared to quit that and resume foraging on the river bottom, so I headed over to the pond, and look who I saw there.

The park is full of cardinals right now, as it probably is all the time, so there is no reason in the world to think that she is the same one from earlier by the river, but I’m finding this side of their personalities fascinating.

Happy March!

Man, someone must have been watching the calendar because as soon as it turned March, the weather became “cold and blustery”, especially compared to that balmy last week of February. I checked the temps before I headed out this morning and thought to myself, “27°F ain’t bad”, but I failed to see the “real feel” temp was 14°F. Yikes! I had to come back in for more layers!

Anyway, the deer seemed unperturbed, and perhaps they were just thrilled to lying on leaves instead of snow for a change. It is fun to watch them simultaneously keep tabs on me and also check on who might be sneaking up behind them with those ears of theirs.

Down on the river, the birds are still doing their thing, though they seem to have abandoned the middle of the park. The mergansers now seem to favor the southern end.

And the buffleheads and some goldeneyes, along with plenty of mallards, a goose or two now, and even a young herring gull, are back on the upper river, just above the falls, now that a lot of the ice has cleared out and there’s some open water again.

As I was taking pictures of the ducks, it slowly dawned on me to notice that they all seemed to be hugging the shore, especially under overhanging trees. So I finally looked up, and sure enough, an eagle glided into view. It stayed high, though, and soon continued south, so no ducks bothered to take flight this time.

I hiked up to the north end and back with nothing really to report other than that much of the path along the river is now a lumpy sheet of ice, and that might explain the lack of other hikers, which is fine by me. As much as I’d like more people to get to enjoy the park live, it sure feels luxurious when I get to have it to myself for a while, even if that means picking myself up off the ground once or twice. I read that impact helps maintain bone density, and I sure gave my bones a workout this morning.

Finally, I swung by the pond, to check on the ice situation, if nothing else, as I have a hope that we’ll get some new visitors there as soon as there’s some open water to swim in or on. Last year, I spotted my first wood duck on the pond on March 26, which set off this whole operation, and that’s only three and a half weeks away! I’d say there’s still about 99% coverage, so far, with just some slivers of water along the northern shore, so we’ve still got a ways to go.

Anyway, there were no ducks there today, but I did see this handsome male hairy woodpecker working intently on a branch.