Ornithology class outing to Eagle Point Barge

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!

April 6, 2017
Outing took place 8:30 am – 10:20 am

I had another opportunity to make some more bird observations with my Ornithology class, this time at a different location along the Mississippi River in the SW Wisconsin region. Specifically, we went to Eagle Point Barge near Hazel Green, WI. Thankfully the weather wasn’t all that bad this time, though it was still windy; it was much sunnier and less cloudy though. This is to be expected as we were on another peninsula that sticks out into a large body of water like the Mississippi. Regardless of wind, the less gloomy skies made this outing much more enjoyable.

Most of our observations were right on the riverbanks themselves, so a fair number of birds we saw were also found at Potosi Point and may not be mentioned here. However, right away as soon as we parked, I and several others noticed two juvenile Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) soaring overhead around where we parked. Later, as we were walking down the road from the barge, those same two eagles flew…quite close to us. If it was hard for someone to get a good look at them earlier, they sure as hell would get a good look at them flying just above their head.

Probably the greatest number of birds that I and a few others saw were several groups of American Coots (Fulica americana). Every instance I observed these guys, they were always in a group of varying size, wading in the river almost as one unit. I started counting these at first, but after seeing one group, and then another, and then a huge flock, I simply couldn’t keep track of how many there were exactly.

On one side of the road to the boat landing was the open waterscape of the Mississippi (I believe this would be on the North side of the peninsula), and on the other side was this wooded marshland or floodplain (the South side of the peninsula). We did find birds that are common in this area and have seen before on the South side, however we did find a species at least I haven’t observed before. We saw a total of six Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor), from what I counted. They weren’t doing much except just hanging out in the trees close to the road, although this allowed us to get a good look at them up close. Aside from Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica), these were very distinguishable due to their bright, iridescent, blue-green coloration.

(Barn Swallows were not observed on this trip, but I have unintentionally dealt with them while working over the summer. As annoyed as I was with them, I sure as hell got a good look at them and know what they sound like.)

While I have seen plenty of American Robins (Turdus migratorius) everywhere since Spring started, there were two in particular that caught my interest. I could not tell if they were male or female, but I’d assume they were both male given their behavior. From what I could tell, they were both being quite aggressive towards each other; I’d assume they were competing against each other for one reason or another.

Finally, there was one Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) a few in our group noticed was all by itself and seemed to be struggling to get in the water, let alone wade in it. We noticed it appeared to have a broken leg and was honking loudly, seeming desperate to rejoin with its group. It was quite sad really; I hope it did find its group again after we left.

There were a few other observations our group made, however I will not be going into detail for two reasons: 1) they are unrelated to our purpose; and 2) this entry is starting to sound depressing enough. Other than that, this has been the extent of the more unique observations during this outing.

While I do not know if I’ll be in a position involving lots of field observations, I think I’m starting to get better and better at this field research stuff. I generally try to see what’s unique or new when I go for an outing. What species haven’t I seen before or which one haven’t I seen in a long time? What’s a behavior I haven’t observed or rarely observe? However, I know I shouldn’t count out anything that I’ve seen repeatedly; odds are, those may bring up questions I never thought about answering before.

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