For the Birds Radio Program: A Day in Port Wing
On August third I took an early morning walk in Port Wing, Wisconsin, with my dog Photon. The fog was so thick that I had to keep drying off my glasses. But it was still and pleasant, if a bit murky.
There’s nowhere near the amount of singing in August as there is in May, but that just means that each song stands out better. Stepping out the door, I could hear the “chink” note of a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, a Red-eyed Vireo singing from the woods, a Common Yellowthroat singing from some thick hedges, a Blue Jay squawking in the distance, and a couple of Sedge Wrens in the nearby meadow. Earlier in the season, robins, Purple Finches, and other birds drown out quiet little Sedge Wrens, but this morning their tiny voices carried quite a distance.
I had my digital camera, and as Photon and I came closer to one wren, it suddenly occurred to me to try to get its picture. My camera takes video clips as well as still photos, so I tried to make a video, but the bird simply would not stay in view. I played the clip back to see if any of it was usable, and was startled to realize that the sound of the recorded wren coming out of the camera had brought the tiny real bird in just a couple of feet from my face. Ironically, last week I did a program about playing back bird songs, and how essentially rude it is, and here I was inadvertently doing exactly what I preached against. I quickly switched my camera back to the record mode, and though the wren retreated farther back, I still got a decent video clip of him singing and several good photos.
On Kinney Valley Road, a cluster of chickadees flitted about along with a host of warblers. There were dozens of Nashville Warblers and yellowthroats, along with a smattering of Black-and-white Warblers, Magnolias, and redstarts. We’ve had a fairly mild summer, without many major storms or insect pest invasions, and apparently the warblers had a successful nesting season because the vast majority were young ones. We found another chickadee flock at the Port Wing Sewage Ponds, and again they were joined by warblers—the same species I’d seen on Kinney Valley Road and also some Northern Parulas, Chestnut-sideds, a Red-eyed Vireo, and a gorgeous Golden-winged Warbler. This is the tricky interlude between the breeding season and migration, when many birds gravitate toward chickadees. Of course, any time of year it’s worthwhile paying attention to chickadees, perhaps the most endearing of all birds, but during migration it has added benefits.
Flocks of waxwings were here and there, making their soft lisping sounds that remind me of tiny mice snoring. A few perched on open branches, occasionally flying out to snatch insects, but mainly they just lazed about as befits a Sunday morning in August. There were a couple of broods of half-grown baby Wood Ducks in the sewage pond, as well as a family of 6 Canada Geese, the babies now almost as big as their parents.
At Twin Falls, an ovenbird sang a single song, calling to mind Robert Frost’s poem about this species singing in late summer. Photon sniffed at tansies, Queen Anne’s lace, daisies, and hawk weed as I watched an Indigo Bunting singing in a dead shrub on the way back. Our little walk had yielded 44 species—little more than half of what we’d hope to see in May—but quality made up for quantity. And we came back to my mother-in-law’s to discover the biggest treat of all—at least a dozen hummingbirds all zipping about her two feeders—a sweet dessert after a satisfying morning.