For the Birds Radio Program: A Walk in Port Wing

Original Air Date: April 30, 2004

Laura and Photon discovered a weasel and other delights on their walk. (5:35) Date confirmed.

Audio missing


A Walk in Port Wing

The buds on my maple trees are suddenly getting fat, almost ready to burst into new leaves, Every day I wake to more bird song and an earlier sunrise. I’m getting restless as a migratory bird. It must be spring.

So this Wednesday (April 28) I hopped in my car with my little dog Photon and we headed out to the place where I most love to observe the changing seasons, Port Wing, Wisconsin. It was a sunny day, but throughout the hour-long drive, I noticed clouds building in the west.

Photon and I checked out the Roy Johnson Wetland first. The temperature was in the upper 40s, but the sun was shining and the sight of at least 50 or 60 Tree Swallows zipping about above our heads and flying along the water’s surface like tiny shearwaters kept me warm. The ponds were dotted with ducks, too—Buffleheads, Lesser Scaup, Ring-necks, Mallards, Green- and Blue-winged Teal, and a couple of pairs of Hooded Mergansers. One Pied-billed Grebe called out, maybe fearing I hadn’t noticed him. Best of all, though, was the flock of about a hundred Greater Yellowlegs. These shorebirds are as large as teal, but have a soft loveliness like Ingrid Bergman, who was taller and even heavier than some of her leading men, but somehow never seemed to out-power them even as she outshone everyone.

The Roy Johnson Wetland had plenty of red-wings and Canada Geese, of course, and apparently a tick or two, though Photon and I wouldn’t discover that until later. On the rest of the drive, we spotted one of the most intensely-colored, vivid Eastern Meadowlarks I’ve ever seen perched on a power line, an Upland Sandpiper, and half-a-dozen American Kestrels, all perched on powerlines along Highway 13. At my mother-in-law’s, we sat down to look at feeder birds for a while—the last of the Fox Sparrows and juncos with a few White-throats, several bright but still patchy goldfinches, and the usual chickadees, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, and other regulars. Suddenly a Goshawk rushed through and everything scattered.

The clouds were coming in faster than the birds returned. We watched a movie to the soft rumble of distant thunder, and by the time woodcocks would normally have been skydancing, a lightning storm had dashed my hopes. At 10 I headed to bed, but first took Photon out. The storm had passed, and a sudden lull in the wind had frogs piping and a few woodcocks dancing in the half-moonlight. I went to sleep with big hopes for the morning.

But the temperature had dropped 15 degrees over night, the wind was 20, gusting to 30 miles per hour, and the overcast sky dripped with sporadic showers. Photon and I still headed to the Port Wing Sewage Ponds. There weren’t many birds singing, but one Savannah Sparrow lisped out a song just as we passed, and we soon came upon a little cloud of Ruby-and Golden-crowned Kinglets and a few Yellow-rumped Warblers. The sewage ponds held plenty of ducks, and the occasional showers seemed to be keeping Bald Eagles from the scene, so we could enjoy the ducks at leisure.

The wind was sort of a nuisance, though, and so we started to head back, when Photon stopped dead in her tracks, and suddenly darted over to what looked like a tiny hill of matted down grasses. She wagged her tail furiously as she sniffed it, and suddenly little squeaky chattering noises sputtered from the inside. I called her over, and as she retreated, suddenly a weasel poked its head out to look at us. Photon must have discovered her den. She disappeared as suddenly as she’d appeared, so we waited for several minutes, one of us less patiently than the other, until the weasel popped up again, from the exact same spot, as if enacting in real life the “pop goes the weasel” of jack-in-the-box fame. Her intelligent eyes were so arresting that I didn’t even think to grab my camera until it was too late. We waited over ten minutes for her to reappear, but unfortunately real weasel dens don’t have a crank that you can turn until the weasel pops out again, and another sudden shower sent us packing.

Yep—these early spring mornings are like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates—you never know what you’re going to get. But no matter what, you just know there are sweet delights just around the corner, or hiding beneath the dead grass of winter.