Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Lion's Den Gorge Nature Preserve, WI - 04 May 2008

Having checked into the Hilton Milwaukee City Center I had a few hours before a meeting this evening, so I headed north along US-43 to Port Washington area and Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve. This is a roughly 200 acre wooded preserve along the bluffs overlooking Lake Michigan. It was partly cloudy and breezy but mild. The preserve has well groomed trails and several boardwalks, and I took the Gentian Trail toward the shoreline. There, I looked down a half-mile to the shoreline and found small groups of Red-breasted Mergansers swimming approximately 40 yds. out from shore. Farther out a couple pairs of Horned Grebes were swimming. A steady stream of Barn Swallows were migrating south along the bluffs, and the shoreward breeze made their flight a bit slow. Slow enough for me to try some flight shots as the passed by – both at eye level and 10 feet overhead. Caspian Terns were also passing by every few minutes, and made much easier targets for flight photography.
As I proceeded north along the shoreline a large flock of Double-crested Cormorants flew in a V-formation as they too were headed south.
Along the trail the trees were bare, and the only audible sounds were a few Red-winged Blackbirds and the scratching of White-throated Sparrows in the understory. As I walked toward the Woodland Trail I heard the distinct calls of Yellow-rumped Warblers, and found several brightly-colored males and a few females roosting in a tree nearby. As I put the binoculars to them I found a nice Blackpoll Warbler high up in a tree. I took several pics of it before it flew on. It was soon replaced by a noisy Blue-gray Gnatcatcher that allowed a quick photo before it moved on.

As I walked on I reached a point where a thick cluster of dogwoods and hawthorn trees provided a mini fallout for me as dozens of birds arrived and began calling and feeding on the swarms of freshly-hatched mosquitoes and midges. As I ducked off the main trail and followed a deer trail, I came to a small opening where I saw the following: Palm Warblers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, a Least Flycatcher, Tennessee Warbler, more Yellow-rumps. A Lincoln’s Sparrow appeared among several White-throated Sparrows and provided me a nice look at its gray head and buff breast. I was unable to get a photo of it before it flew into a thicket, but it did scare up a couple of Swamp Sparrows. At my feet a Winter Wren was scratching in the grass, and a House Wren was feeding nearby. A Downy Woodpecker worked the trees a few feet away, and was then joined by a Gray Catbird that perched in the open and chased the swarms of insects. An Indigo Bunting, Nashville Warbler and Common Yellowthroat rounded out the flock of birds. As I returned to the hotel a pair of Gadwall were swimming in a puddle alongside the road.

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