For the Birds Radio Program: A Walk in Port Wing

Original Air Date: Sept. 8, 2003 (estimated date)

Laura and Photon took a long walk in Port Wing when the birds way outnumbered the people.

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Walk in Port Wing

My favorite years are the ones when the first Saturday in September falls after Labor Day. This weekend my little dog Photon and I took a long walk in Port Wing, Wisconsin. Thanks to the early Labor Day weekend, we encountered very few people but plenty of birds.

The end of August and beginning of September are always rich in warblers. And true to form, there were Palm Warblers everywhere, and huge numbers of Black-throated Green Warblers and Black-and-whites. Lots of adult males showed off their beautiful plumage, but there were also plenty of young birds. We also saw a lot of young redstarts and Magnolia Warblers, indicating that was probably a good year for nesting warblers. I only saw one or two Blackburnian Warblers, and no Chestnut-sided Warblers, but the many other species—Canada Warblers, Cape Mays, Parulas, and yellowthroats—made a splendid day even better. In total, I saw 16 species of warblers. One of the Black-and-whites suddenly decided to sing—he sang five or six songs before he remembered that warblers never sing in September. And when I was on Big Pete Road, a Blue-headed Vireo broke into song, too. Blue-headed Vireos are far less common than Red-eyed Vireos, but this bird’s song was louder, sweeter, and more emphatic. I usually see a lot of Blue-headeds on Big Pete Road, so I was positive of the song even before the bird came right out in the open and sang while looking me straight in the eye. Even Photon, who was usually intent on checking out the ground for interesting smells, looked up at that.

Red-eyed Vireos were much quieter. I heard many of them making their mewing call notes, but heard only one sing all day. When Red-eyed Vireos stop singing, we know for sure that it’s fall. Canada Geese flying overhead aren’t a sign of fall anymore, now that geese breed just about everywhere, and even winter in areas where they didn’t used to, but when a few groups flew over, the sight still felt like another sign of autumn.

It was a glorious day—sunny and clear, but with low humidity and a comfortable temperature. Photon went swimming in the lake at the Quarry Beach, the little cove where some of the boats take off, the main beach, and the beach at the end of Big Pete Road, so this was a red-letter day for her. But even without the swim, the temperature was pleasant enough that neither of us ever felt uncomfortably warm. I was playing with my new GPS all day, keeping track of every one of the 10 miles we walked, but I also tried to notice every one of the bazillions of Cedar Waxwings at virtually every place we went. This time of year, waxwings are very conspicuous. They feed heavily in dense berry bushes and trees, calling like little mice snoring, only there were so many that it sounded like whole mouse dormitories. And they perched or fluttered out from the bare branches of virtually every dead tree. Waxwings have such a leisurely flight that the forages seem carefree and effortless. And every time I focused my binoculars on a waxwing, I was struck anew with the sleek, elegant plumage of this handsome bird.

A few Barn Swallows were still down by the beach, and at least a dozen Eastern Bluebirds, mostly babies, were at the corner of Highway 13 and Quarry Shores Road—I wasn’t sure if these were in a migratory flock, or if they’d been raised right there in one of the many bluebird houses. I was sad to see the walk come to an end, but after ten miles, Photon’s and my legs were ready for a break. So we sat at my mother-in-law’s for a spell, bidding farewell to her hummingbirds. She still had two or three young birds, and this is sort of late for them, but as soon as their body fat gets up to the right level, they’ll take off, covering thousands of miles a lot more effortlessly than Photon and I manage. Their presence made this the perfect day—some of the best of summer and the best of autumn all rolled into one.