Ornithology class outing to Potosi Point

On occasion, I have the opportunity to go on bird outings with my Ornithology class. We are required to write and submit three field journal entries as part of the course, whether it be from our own observations or during a class outing. Since this would typically be something I’d post on this blog, I figured I’d share this with you guys verbatim. There were some requirements to the assignment, one of them being to give the proper common and scientific names of any birds we mention. Other than that, this is a nice and causal assignment that I thoroughly enjoyed writing.

Hope you all enjoy and possibly learn a little something while reading this!

March 23, 2017
Observations took place at 8:35am – 10:20am

I went with my Ornithology class this morning to Potosi, WI for a bird outing. Our goal was to see what species of waterfowl we could find in that area. However, we didn’t go into Potosi, the town, itself; we went just outside of town to Potosi Point, located Southwest of the town. This was a very small peninsula that juts out into the Mississippi River. Like out other class outings, it was cold and windy (thankfully it wasn’t snowing or raining). Granted, it’s still early in Spring and we were standing on a wide, open peninsula by a large body of water. But overall, the weather wasn’t too terrible if I kept moving, but would also defeat the purpose of a stationary observation. We did walk the full length of the road on the Point though, so this wasn’t entirely stationary.

As I mentioned, the Point stuck out into the Mississippi River and the weather was cold, windy, and cloudy. Many of the Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis) and Buffleheads (Bucephala albeola) we saw didn’t move much if they were far from shore; they mainly rode the choppy waves and occasionally dabbled. However, we saw more movement the closer they were to shore as well as congregating with other waterfowl: Canvasbacks (Aythya valisineria), Redheads (Aythya americana), Blue-Winged Teal (Anas discors), Northern Shovelers (Anas clypeata), along with a few Greater White-Fronted Geese (Anser albifrons). This final species in particular is one we never learned in class before, so it was a neat and realistic experience for us. You never know if you’ll find a species you’ve never seen nor heard about before in the field.

As a group, we saw quite a few waterfowl (and non-waterfowl) species fly above or around us; however, I could only identify a few. Not surprisingly, I saw a number of Ring-Billed Gulls (Larus delawarensis) hovering and riding the strong air currents. I did manage to catch a few Trumpeter Swans (Cygnus buccinator) fly from one side of the Point to the other or to someplace else entirely. I also saw and heard quite a few Red-Winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) in this area, but I decided against recording them in my observations due to how common this species is in Southwest Wisconsin.

While walking towards the bridge we passed under going to the Point, me, my professor, Dr. Jeff Hubschman, and a few others noticed a Grebe in its winter plumage. However, we had difficulty identifying what specific Grebe it was. We think it may have been either a Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus) or an Eared Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis); again, this was difficult to determine as both these species’ winter plumages are similar and have red eyes as well. During this hike, our group noticed a couple Sandhill Cranes (Antigone canadensis) along with some more, previously identified waterfowl species. These were a bit difficult to spot, as their brown plumage blended in with the brown grass of the marshland.

I and a few others in the group spotted a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) perched on a log sticking out of the marshland. This was also on the same side of the peninsula where we saw the Sandhill Cranes. On our way to the Point, others in our group spotted a couple Bald Eagles flying overhead, who appeared to be copulating in midair when we were at the Point. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to spot these two instances personally.

There was so much activity in this area it was difficult to spot everything at the Point. There were also some species I did see, but could not get a good identification on their markings due to their distance and cloudy weather.

After being out on the Point for close to two hours, we relocated to the Banfield Bridge boat landing that’s just west of Dickyville, but still considered part of Potosi. We did notice a few more of the same species from earlier. I specifically found what appeared to be more Northern Shovelers; one in particular had its bill lowered close and parallel to the water and appeared to be filter feeding. I remember this being a unique feeding trait for Northern Shovelers, despite them being considered dabbling ducks.

One cool instance was when someone noticed a Great Blue Heron (Aredea herodias) off in a distant marshland from our location. By the time I looked, it had just took off, but I was glad to have caught a glimpse of it before it disappeared. That was only the second one I’ve seen in my lifetime, the first instance being when I visited Mines of Spain with a few friends a couple years ago. This specimen was simply treading a low-level wetland and I managed to capture a good photo of it with my camera (photo at end of journal entry).

While I admit being on the Point was a bit overwhelming (and cold) due to the number of waterfowl and non-waterfowl activity, I was thankful to have such an opportunity. I normally see Canadian Geese, Gulls, or some ducks that I did not know how to properly identify the species. Waterfowl are starting to become one of my favorite bird types, even from just learning about them in class. To me, they have one of the most unique behaviors and body shapes compared to non-waterfowl, and I admire their capability to cover huge distances in continuous flight. Honestly, it’s why I wanted to focus my research project for this course on these taxa of birds.

Great Blue Heron (Aredea herodias). Taken April 14, 2015 at Mines of Spain park. Photo © Ben Frick.

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