|Bobolink in Durand, Wisconsin|
After spending the past couple of days looking at migrants on the Buffalo River in Alma, I decided to check out the Lower Chippewa River bottoms this morning. I stopped along County Road M several times - teased by Yellow-rumped Warblers flitting from the road to the brush and into the grass.
I wasn't a mile from State Road 85 when I heard what I thought was the sound of the avian version of a calliope.
But it couldn't be Bobolinks. Not here in Durand.
I've only seen them twice: years ago in a farm field along the Delaware River in northern New Jersey, and more recently at Crex Meadows in northwestern Wisconsin. Both times I made a special trip just to see these rare grassland blackbirds.
I've driven County M for years and I've never seen or heard Bobolinks there.
No, it couldn't have been Bobolinks. But what was that sound?
I slowly eased my stealth Prius back on to County Road M - and scanned the unremarkable, as yet un-plowed, farm field. Then I heard it again. I pulled off the road on to the shoulder and again looked for the sound. There they were: three Bobolinks!
Tom and I sat and watched the trio for almost an hour. They flew laps around the field, stopping to forage in the growing hay. Then they were up again, flying in a circle, landing atop the shrubs along the side of County Road M, looking at us.
According to the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative, Bobolink populations in the Badger State are declining at a precipitous rate - approximately 2% a year since the mid-1960s. Why? Loss of prairie habitat, modern agricultural practices (mowing alfalfa and hay fields during the breeding season), and, on their wintering grounds in the grasslands of South America (where they're considered agricultural pests) they're shot or sold as cage birds.
It was great to see and hear them, but I hope these three don't stay in this field. They're likely to do better in the prairies along the Lower Chippewa.