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December 1 - 10


Racine has 9 hours and 7 minutes of daylight and Superior has 8 hours and 38 minutes of daylight at the end of the period. Southern Wisconsin loses 11 minutes of daylight and northern Wisconsin has 13 minutes less than the previous period. 






















Bird identification basics: An average birder gets anxious regarding a rare bird sighting. Most of the trepidation comes from perceptions of others, especially if a bird is misidentified.  


Every birder reacts differently when confronted with a misidentification, or in some cases, not identifying the bird as a “rare” bird, but a common species in the first place. Reactions run the gambit from introversion to an outright challenge of a birder’s identification skills. Some birders publically question other birders skills.  In addition, a big concern for many is not even making the identification in the first place.


A recent example comes to mind that may shine some light on the discussion, which follows this example. During a recent birding trip, the participants were conducting a several day bird-a-thon to raise funds for bird conservation. Pledges were raised to sponsor a monetary amount per bird species seen. A responsibility to have accurate bird identification was a paramount to those pledging dollars. Only two of the participants saw a soaring raptor. One claimed it was a Roadside Hawk and the other a Plumbeous Kite. The color patterns are very similar on these species, therefore a potential for misidentification could be made.


One of the participants utilized a method of basic bird identification, whereas the other used the method of carefully looking at the color patterns and then comparing to the field guide illustrations. Both species have prominent brown primaries and banded tails. The first participant went through the basic flying/soaring hawk identification method mentally asking the elimination questions:

  • Are the wings pointed or rounded? Separates eagles, accipiters and buteos from falcons and kites. 

  • Is the tail long or short? Separates accipiters from eagles and buteos. 

  • Is the bird large or small? Separates eagles from buteos, large falcons from kestrels, and goshawks from sharpies.


Then birder gets into color, plumage patterns and gestalt to identify the species of whatever group the bird is placed in. The second participant bypassed as the elimination basics and went directly to color, plumage patterns and gestalt. If the second birder had used the basics, he would have noticed the obvious buteo profile as the bird soared, eliminating his misidentification as a kite. This example seeks not to blame one birder for making a mistake, but to point out a primary tenant of bird identification that these skills honed over time will result in many fewer mistakes.


Every birder, no matter how many years of experience should on occasion go back to the basics. Bird identification is a process of elimination. By going through the steps, the process of elimination unfolds and many fewer mistakes are made. Ask these questions for every bird seen a few times then review occasionally throughout your birding life. By doing so you should become much better at bird identification.

  • What is the size of the bird?  Use familiar example for comparison – goose, crow, robin, sparrow, etc. Also, practice estimating distance – a goose ¼ mile away may appear robin size.

  • What is the shape of the bird? Most field guides have silhouettes in the front sections. Learn these silhuoettes.

  • What are the field marks? The section below will give the reader pointers on what to look for when documenting a rare bird.

  • What manners or habits does the bird exhibit? Look for flicking of the tail, bobbing of the head, etc.

  • What are the flight silhouettes and flight pattern?

  • What is the habitat?

  • More advanced questions revolve around bird sounds, geographical location, seasonality and rarity.


In the fall 1996 edition of the Passenger Pigeon, then records committee chair Jim Frank gave some pointers to birders reporting rare birds. Those comments are worth repeating here and every so often to keep us all cognoscente of the how to be a better birder.


“The description should include a systematic [my emphasis] comment on as many aspects of the bird as you looked at; head, eye, eyeline, supercilium, crown, lores, throat, neck, back, wing covets, rump, wings, wing bars, tail, breast, flanks, belly, bill, legs, and feet, This should include relative size and shape of these parts of the body to similar species as well as coloration, even if the more familiar species is not present at the time of sighting. Remember the usefulness of terms like longer, more curved, darker than, browner than, and rounder than. A reminder should be made to observers not to fall into the habit of using terminology ‘the characteristic color of’ or ‘the characteristic pattern of.’  You must state what the pattern of color is. Additional information such as flight patterns, foraging habits, or aggressiveness can be helpful in completing the description.


Sometimes an observer will see something about a bird that is not mentioned in standard field guides or is inconsistent with what is depicted. There is a tendency to ignore or fail to supply those facts. There are two good reasons not to overlook this information. First, field guides cannot show all plumages of a species [as in the case of the aforementioned Roadside Hawk] some species have a first year plumage before full maturity, or even several years as in the case of gulls. Birds may also be in transition plumages. Of surprise to some observers is that some field guides have occasional inaccuracies in their depictions and there are always refinements in our understanding of birds so information in them may become outdated. The bottom line is the inconsistency you saw is there for a reason. Report it as it may be significant to the accuracy/consistency of the sighting. It may even shed new light on unknown characteristics”.


When it comes to understanding the incredible diversity of life on this planet, we are all in various states of ignorance.  Equivalent statements can be made regarding our collective ability to identify, let alone understand birds. The best birder in the world is not infallible and has made many misidentifications. It is safe to say that every birder who’s strapped on a pair of binoculars has misidentified a bird. The crucial aspect is not the mistake, but what do you do about it.


Reactions to challenges regarding a birder’s identification of a bird can take on as many forms as there are people. Some birders will not change the way they bird, because they are happy and fully confident with the way they identify birds now. For the introspective birders who want to be better - a few times a year – go back to the basics.


Golden Eagles establish winter territories: Golden Eagles that nest in the Canadian tundra migrate south in late fall and establish winter territories in the Driftless areas of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. They utilize these bluff lands to feed on rabbits, rodents, and even wild turkeys. The winter use maybe a vestige of the ”Ice Age” when this part of the state was not covered in ice.


The National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota coordinates an annual Wintering Golden Eagle Survey on the third Saturday in January. The survey is part of an on-going project to learn more about the golden eagle population in the blufflands region. Golden eagles were not previously considered regular inhabitants of this area. The Wintering Golden Eagle Survey gathers important data to document a regular wintering population of golden eagles in the blufflands of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa.


Wintering Golden Eagle Survey – January 17, 2015












  • Open water is the winter home for the truly hardy winter ducks. The Common Goldeneye and Common Merganser dive for fish and other aquatic prey in open water areas, even among icebergs on the Great Lakes.  

  • Hackberry berries are dangling from the braches and are relished by frugivores (fruit eating birds).

  • Turkey tail fungi can be seen attached to dead wood. These fungi are identified by their concentric growth rings with youngest outer rings being white and progressively inward, they become yellowish to brown.  

  • Dead and downed trees may have large (up to 1-foot) conks with a broad hard surface and a red zone near the margin. The red belt fungus attaches to dead or downed hardwoods and conifers, whereas the pine heartwood conk causes serious heartwood decay to pine trees.  



Golden Eagle

Bald Eagle

Red-tail Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk

American Kestrel







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