For the Birds Radio Program: Biking to Port Wing

Original Air Date: July 10, 1989

Laura rode her bicycle from Duluth to Port Wing. What birds did she see? (3:53) Date verified.

Audio missing


(Recording of a Upland Sandpiper)

Last Sunday I rode my bike from Duluth’s Lakeside neighborhood to Port Wing, Wisconsin. Biking is a wonderful way to find birds in summer. You go fast enough to cover a lot of habitats but slow enough that you can easily avoid hitting butterflies. Last time I biked Highway 13, the road was squirming with caterpillars, but this time I saw only three woolly bears and not a single army worm. I averaged over one species of bird per mile, counting 68 species in 58 miles.

Of course I didn’t see all the birds I listed–most of them I heard, like the Ovenbird’s “teacher, teacher, teacher”:

(Recording of an Ovenbird)

Chestnut-sided Warblers shouted, “I’m here to see Miss Beecher!”

(Recording of a Chestnut-sided Warbler)

A few birds were more conspicuous by sight than sound, like Ring-billed and Herring Gulls floating over the harbor and domestic pigeons swarming at a Rock Dove convention over the Bong Bridge. Red-winged Blackbirds whistled their warning to steer clear of their territory.

(Recording of a Red-winged Blackbird’s whistle)

I wear a red and white Bell helmet when I bike, and my bike packs and water bottle are bright red, so whenever I ride through a good red-wing area, four or five of them circle right over me for a quarter or a half mile. This time a male darted down and bonked me on the head, reminding me of one excellent reason to always wear a helmet.

I’m not a speedy biker. I like to go fast enough to get where I’m going eventually but slow enough to enjoy the trip. I ride a Schwinn three-speed, and the sweet snoring of third gear is enough to drown out the voice of a LeConte’s Sparrow, but most other songs ring out loud and clear. Black-billed Cuckoos were calling every mile or so. I expected them to be around, so I was listening for them, but their cucucu call is so subdued that it doesn’t penetrate the consciousness of most people even when the birds are singing in their own backyards.

(Recording of a Black-billed Cuckoo)

A couple of Pileated Woodpeckers gave their banshee yells.

(Recording of a Pileated Woodpecker)

One flew over the road just ahead of me, and another hammered on a telephone pole—he gave me a good excuse to stop and rest for a few minutes. I knew it was a “he” because he had a red mustache and his red crest feathers began right at the base of the beak–the female’s red crest begins further up her head, and her mustache is black.

My best sighting of the morning was an Upland Sandpiper calling in flight in the pasture at the intersection of Douglas Co. “F” and Highway 13. Uppies give a long, slow “wolf whistle” If you whistle in a field where one lives, it often answers.

(Recording of an Upland Sandpiper)

Eastern and Western Meadowlarks sang throughout the morning. Their beautiful songs are easy to distinguish. People can whistle back to an Eastern Meadowlark:

(Recording of an Eastern Meadowlark)

The rich warbler of the Western’s is impossible for a mere human to duplicate.

(Recording of a Western Meadowlark)

Bobolinks sang while Eastern Kingbirds chased off robins and darted at me. Savannah Sparrows gave their sleepy two-part snore:

(Recording of a Savannah Sparrow)

With so much avian entertainment, the six-hour ride was over before I was ready to stop. Biking and birding are both wonderful pasttimes, and combining them is about as good as it gets.

(Recording of a Upland Sandpiper)

This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”