Birding Rainbow Flowage and Powell Marsh

This was one of the best days of birding I’ve ever had — definitely in the top 10. We were  in Wisconsin. I got up at 5:30 and drove to Manotowish Waters. On the way I stopped at a bakery in Woodruff and discovered that they don’t know how to make bagels in Wisconsin.

I started at Powell Marsh, a state wildlife area.

  • Common Loon — Flew over open water by main parking lot
  • Common Yellowthroat — Calling in bushes along causeway by large pond
  • Yellow Warbler — In bushes along causeway by large pond
  • Sandhill Crane — Two adults and an immature calling and walking on a sandhill by large pond.  Another three on the causeway near the center of the marsh.  A flock of five flying overhead
  • American Crow — Flying over marsh, calling
  • Pied-billed Grebe — Floating and diving among lily pads in large pond
  • Savannah Sparrow — Feeding on gravel ruts on causeway.  Flitted into brush and grass as I approached
  • Hooded Merganser — Floating in large pond near lily pads
  • American Bittern — Flushed out of ditch as I approached and flew across marsh.  One was chased and dived on by a Merlin as it flew
  • Swamp Sparrow — Immature in brush along causeway
  • Canada Goose — Cackling at me from sandhills in center of marsh
  • Sedge Wren — Calling from grass near sandhills in center of marsh
  • Northern Pintail — Swimming and feeding in shallow pool in marsh
  • Northern Harrier — Immature coursing over marsh, chased and dived at repeatedly by a Merlin.  At one point it hovered over my head about 20 feet up
  • Merlin — One first seen diving repeatedly at a Northern Harrier.  It would circle up and stoop, pulling up just before hitting the much larger bird.  After five minutes of this, it took off, flying straight, steadily and incredibly swiftly across the marsh out of sight.  It was next seen diving at an American Bittern that was flying low over the marsh.  When the Bittern landed, the Merlin began diving at a second Merlin that had appeared from somewhere.  They circled, dove and flew across the marsh, coming close enough to me so I could see their heavily streaked bellies, brown backs and barred tails.  One was much larger than the other
  • Mallard — Perhaps included males in eclipse, but I wasn’t paying much attention with Merlins in the area.  Tipping in shallow pool in center of marsh
  • Common Snipe — Flying swiftly over marsh two or three times
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird — Seen briefly as it darted briefly to a flower along a ditch near the center of the marsh
  • American Goldfinch — Flew out of bush along causeway by large pool and headed over marsh
  • Belted Kingfisher — Diving into ditch, then perched in dead pine close to main parking lot
  • American Robin — Flew and landed in dead pine along marsh near main parking lot
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker — Immature in woods by main parking lot
  • Palm Warbler — Seen briefly high in trees in woods across road from main parking lot

From Powell Marsh, I drove to the Rainbow Flowage, near Lake Tomahawk. It’s a lake created by a dam on the Wisconsin River. The water was very low and I was able to walk across flats far out into what was usually the middle of the lake. I happened upon a huge flock of shorebirds that moved hardly at all as I approached. I was able to walk right out into the middle of the flock. The birds moved away a little bit, but came back within a couple feet when I stood still.

  • Black-capped Chickadee — In woods along rutted road near where I park my car
  • Ovenbird — Flew across rutted road and nabbed a caterpillar
  • Bald Eagle — One immature flying over back bay, one adult flying over woods, one near-adult soaring over main part of lake
  • Osprey — One flew to dead pine by nesting platform, one dove unsuccessfully for fish in main part of lake.  It disappeared briefly under the surface
  • Song Sparrow — Darted out of grass into bush in field that is usually under water
  • American Crow — Feeding on large mudflat exposed by low water levels near center of lake
  • Great Blue Heron — Standing around lagoons in large mudflat exposed by low water levels near main part of lake
  • Ring-billed Gull — Standing on mudflats exposed by low water levels and flying over flats and lake
  • Killdeer — Foraging on mudflats exposed by low water levels
  • Double-crested Cormorant — One standing on stump, three swimming in lagoon on mudflats exposed by low water levels
  • Northern Harrier — Immature flying over mudflats exposed by low water levels
  • Mallard — Huge flock flew up from lagoons in large mud flat exposed by low water levels
  • Lesser Yellowlegs — All over in puddles and lagoons in huge mud flat exposed by low water levels
  • Green-winged Teal — Flying over mudflats  – landed in lagoon
  • Cooper’s Hawk — Chasing back and forth with a couple of crows in one of the “islands” in the lake
  • American Golden-Plover — Picking at mud on huge mudflat exposed by low water levels.  Later, I saw them flying amid a large mixed flock of shorebirds (mostly Pectoral Sandpipers).  Later still, I saw two preening at edge of one of the lagoons.They were in mid-molt.  The white stripe was visible but didn’t stand out because their bellies, chest and necks were mottled black and white
  • Sandhill Crane — Flying over mudflat, calling
  • Pectoral Sandpiper — Feeding in mud and puddles on large mudflat exposed by low water levels.  Flocks of twenty or so would often fly past to a new spot or back to the spot just vacated
  • Least Sandpiper — Feeding on gnats on mudflats exposed by low water levels
  • Short-billed Dowitcher — Probing in puddle on mudflats exposed by low water levels.  They wouldn’t flush, even when I walked within ten feet, but just ambled out into the center of the puddle.  I saw one preening.  At times, it would hold its bill out and separate the two halves just at the tip, like lips.
  • Greater Yellowlegs — Standing on log in puddle on mudflat exposed by low water levels
  • Red-necked Phalarope — Rapidly running around, feeding and chasing other shorebirds (mostly Pectoral Sandpipers) on mudflat near open water.  Later saw them swimming in lagoon on the flats, spinning around and picking at the water
  • Semipalmated Plover — Standing on mudflats near other shorebirds
  • Ruddy Turnstone — Walking on mudflats between open lake and lagoon with large mixed flock of shorebirds
  • Blue-winged Teal — Flying over mudflats exposed by low water levels
  • Buff-breasted Sandpiper — Flew in to higher, sandier section of mudflats exposed by low water levels near open part of lake.  They scattered and picked at the sand while walking about.  Later, three landed on a small bar in a puddle about yards from where I stood.  The entire flock would occasionally fly up and land shortly somewhere nearby

I told my wife I’d be back at the house by 2:00 so she wouldn’t have to spend the entire day watching the girls argue. I hated to leave, but I did. I told her, “If you ever wonder if I really love you, remember today.” I told her about the shorebirds and she said, “I want to see. Take me there.” We left the girls with grandma and grandpa and took off. The birds were still there, with the addition of a small flock of Buff-breasted Sandpipers, a lifer. We stayed perhaps 45 minutes, then left for the house.

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