Despite being sandwiched between Chicago and Milwaukee, Racine County boasts a surprising diversity of birds. At last count 344 species of birds have been recorded. Though we’ve lost some to extinction, every once in awhile a species shows up that nobody has recorded here before. The variety and potential keeps the local birding community excitedly looking for the next rarity to show up.
In my years of traveling the county, I’ve had a number of interesting experiences and I thought I’d share some of my highlights.
Tops on my “most unexpected” sighting occurred in mid-December, 1992 when a friend, who was developing an interest in birds, told me of a hummingbird coming to his uncle’s house. Ruby-throated hummingbirds are our expected hummer, but they reliably leave the state for warmer climates well before December, so my interest was peaked. A winter hummingbird!
Arriving at the uncle’s house, I waited patiently in the frigid air. A feeder full of sugar water placed next to the heat of a garage light was the hummer’s point of interest and it wasn’t long before he showed up. I quickly noticed the rose color extending from the throat onto the forehead and realized that it was an Anna’s hummingbird! Prior to this sighting there had only been one other Anna’s seen in Wisconsin. Surprisingly the bird stuck around and was enjoyed by many until January 4.
A bonus to that sighting was that it even more sparked the interest of the friend that had told me about the hummer and he’s since become one of the most well known names in the Racine birding community as well as one of the areas strongest advocates for bird protection, Rick Fare.
Many sightings I’ve had over the years could be chalked up as impressive but one stands out above all the others. My “most impressive” observation occurred in the late afternoon of August 27, 1985 while birding at in . Even as I arrived I noted large numbers of migrating common nighthawks flying by. Walking along the lakeshore my concentration was drawn to a group of shorebirds feeding along the water edge. When the shorebirds approached me too closely for my binoculars to focus I looked up and will never forget the sight.
From horizon to horizon all I could see was one massive swirling flock of nighthawks! I ran up the bank to the golf course for a better vantage point and the story was the same to the west. Birds were everywhere, some flying within five feet of my head! For ten minutes the mass of birds moved past, so close together I could not believe they were not colliding. I was so moved by what I saw that I sat down shaking and immediately wrote of it in a notebook that I have to this day.
Next week I’ll share some more of my outdoor experiences, but I don’t imagine for a minute that they are all behind me. There are plenty of them yet to come!