Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Birding Wisconsin! - 03 - 09 Sep 2016


Robin and I are heading to Lac du Flambeau, WI for a week long art class with Joan Fullerton at Dillmans Bay Resort on White Sand Lake. We were going to take the fairy across Lake MI from Ludington, but couldn’t find a place to stay (Labor Day Weekend). So, we opted to drive through the UP and stay in Escanaba at the Comfort Suites Hotel.

The drive was fairly uneventful; traffic was light, skies were clear, and we listened to Michigan pound Hawaii 63-3 along the way. One birding note was a bird roadkill that looked like a juvenile Peregrine Falcon while driving along US-2. I was unable to pull over to check it for leg bands (grrr). A Broad-winged Hawk soaring overhead was also a nice sighting among numerous Common Ravens and several Bald Eagles.


We left Escanaba and headed toward WI at Iron River and Menominee. I saw a Gray Jay perched in a shrub just as we drove through Iron River and entered Wisconsin.

A juvenile Broad-winged Hawk was perched on the side of the road as we drove a 2-lane highway and was beautifully lit by the morning sun. So, I pulled over, drove backward, and proceeded to get some nice images from the car as traffic whipped by us. We managed to avoid hitting some deer along the way, and saw no other good birds along the way.

We checked in at Dillmans shortly before noon and had some time to kill before our cabin was ready, so we walked down to the lake. The resort is at the tip of a tiny peninsula and is a local favorite for wedding parties. Common Loons nest on the lake, so we’re hoping to see some during the week.

After getting into our cabin we unpacked and got ready for the evening reception of artists attending Joan Fullerton’s class. There was also several folks here for Greg Disch’s Photography Class that I decided not to sign up for. I did meet Greg and chatted with him and several of the gentlemen who were taking his class. In fact, we all sat together at the Little Bohemia Lodge during dinner. Little Bohemia is well-known for being the hideout of the gangster John Dillinger during the Prohibition years. The hotel has bullet holes from a shootout w/ the Elliot Ness / FBI when he was found.

Greg gave me a great tip about using extension tubes w/ my 300/2.8 VRII instead of buying a macro lens, so I plan to do that when I get home.

I did not sleep well our first night in the cabin. Probably because I was planning to take a kayak out to look for loons the following morning and was too excited to sleep.


Happy Labor Day. Folks are leaving the resort this morning so I hope that the lake will be quiet. It was windy this morning and it had just rained, but with Robin in her first day of class I had the day to myself. So, I decided to head to the lake, anyways. I had the choice of taking a kayak out, or a canoe. After trying the small kayak out on the grass it didn’t feel all that comfortable (or stable), so I decided to put the canoe in the water. Mistake - it was a two person canoe, and the front end stuck way up when I sat in. Plus, the wind was so strong I couldn’t get it off the break wall.

I pulled the canoe out of the water and was ready to call it a day when I decided to try the kayak again. It went in the water easier, and I was able to paddle away from shore. It felt unstable, but I got used to it after a few minutes paddling. I brought the Nikon D500 and 300/2.8 VRII and was worried about tipping and/or getting the rig wet, so I put it in a garbage bag between my legs.

I paddled the shoreline to my right as there was a small secluded bay with some marshy area and a portage stream to another lake. A Broad-winged Hawk flushed from the trees ahead of me and disappeared into the cedar and White Pine forest that surrounds the lake.

Incidentally, this is cranberry bog country. This portion on northern Wisconsin is peppered with small lakes and bogs, and is a bog-lovers paradise! Spruce, pine, birch, tamarack, ferns, serviceberry and cranberries grow everywhere. Common Loons are abundant, and Bald Eagles are more abundant than Common Ravens.

As I paddled into the small inlet at the corner of the lake an adult Bald Eagle flew out from the trees ahead of me. It circled around me and landed in a tree at the end of the inlet, so I pulled over to an abandoned dock and got the camera out. It was clumsy trying to get pictures of it while sitting in the kayak, but I managed a few sharp images. The difficulty of photographing in this kayak is that I had to rest the 9’ paddle across my lap, and had to worry about losing it in the wind and the waves.

A second Bald Eagle flew in and flushed the first bird, so I was able to get some nice flight shots as it flew along the shoreline. I was lucky I shot RAW as the bird was overexposed by 2-full stops as it flew along the dark shoreline, but I was able to recover the exposures in Lightroom. Both birds would soon take off and fly around close enough for some nice flight shots.

I paddled over to the small portage stream connecting White Sand Lake to a smaller lake. The canal was about 8’ wide, which meant that my 9’ paddle was too wide to maneuver the kayak through the water. I couldn’t take it apart, so I did my best use it as a pole and a rudder to steer my way through the portage lane. I would later find out from our host that the canal was dug by hand by native americans who were paid by a local property owner who wanted to connect the two lakes (and several others) for a resort he built during Prohibition for illegal activities.

The small lake had signs indicating loon nestings, but I did not see any. I enjoyed the calming winds and the brief show of morning sunshine before heading back through the canal to the big lake. Along the way I saw several Black-capped Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and a single Black-and-White Warbler.

Back in the big lake I paddled along the shoreline and looked for birds. The Bald Eagles were actively soaring overhead and eventually landed in a huge White Pine nearby, but I kept paddling into the adjacent bays looking for loons. A few fishing boats were out looking for Walleye, Pike and Muskellunge, but otherwise the lake was mine. A mild breeze was pushing me toward shore whenever I would stop paddling, but it was comfortable and I didn’t worry about losing my hat.

I got to the far end of the 1223 acre lake and had to turn back when strong winds and current starting to put a chop on the water. I had paddled about 2 miles away from the lodge so I had a ways to go back.

As I turned a corner of a peninsula I spotted a Common Loon floating in the water ahead. I paddled toward it hoping that it wouldn’t fly off. It dove several times while I approached and finally floated, stretched and preened. I drifted toward it ever so quietly so that I wouldn’t spook it, and got within about 300 yards when a boat coming the other way was approaching between me and the loon. I waved frantically for it to slow down, and they (a family of 5) eventually killed their motor once they had seen the bird on the water. Luckily they floated past the loon without chasing it away.

Once they drifted by I was able to float within about 200’ of the bird and get a few photos of it as it swam lazily nearby. I didn’t seem to be bothering it w/ my presence, but didn’t stick around. Besides, the winds were picking up, and I almost tipped the kayak w/ me and my camera destined for a watery grave in the deepest part of the lake.

I paddled on away from the bird as it stretched and wagged its foot as if to wave ‘bye-bye’, and made my way back to shore. By now the waves were starting to chop and forcing me to turn headlong into them to avoid getting swamped. At one point I paddled directly below the Bald Eagle pair but was too afraid to try and get the camera out for fear of tipping, so I had to just enjoy them with my naked eyes.

I eventually made it back to shore exhausted, but exhiliarated with my experience. I dragged myself back to the cabin and collapsed into an adirondak chair for a quick lunch in the afternoon sun. I could’ve slept there all afternoon.


Day 2 of our vacation at the resort started with lightning at 2 am. Thunder started about 3 am, and a drenching thunderstorm about 5 am. It would rain heavily for the next 4 hours with intermittent bouts of lightning and thunder, so the day was a wash. I managed to get out for a 2-mile run in the downpour but enjoyed the cool rain and smell of wet pine and cedar and gorgeous woodlands. I would spend the rest of the day working on images and resting my aches from yesterday’s workout on the lake. The sun would eventually come out late in day. That, and winds finally dying, made the lake a sheet of glass that had me tempted to back out. A pair of loons were out on the lake, but far away. I did have one fly over the lodge during lunch. Robin and I would also see a Pileated Woodpecker in Minocqua after dinner at the Minocqua Brewery.

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