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The Northwoods River News | Rhinelander, Wisconsin

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home : outdoors : outdoor news
July 16, 2019

6/15/2019 7:30:00 AM
Natural Reaction
Serious birding at the Mercer Bird Festival
Jacob Friede
Of The Lakeland Times

The trees were flush with fresh leaves at the Little Turtle Flowage outside of Mercer last Saturday, which resulted in a beautiful, gleaming green border surrounding the wetlands, but made for tough birding conditions. It's not that the birds were not there. Their songs could be heard in every direction, but a sighting, especially for a beginner like me, was nearly impossible in the dense growth on the ground and branches.

That didn't stop enthusiastic birders from attending the Mercer Bird Festival and putting their eyes and ears to the test. The festival was headquartered out of Mercer's Carrow Park and included bird banding, live birds, information booths, demonstrations, birdhouse building, and a bird calling contest, as well as off-site, guided field trips.

I joined festival goers on a group walk along the Little Turtle Flowage and was thoroughly impressed as guide Zach Wilson, conservation specialist for Iron County, picked out one bird song after another from the tangle of trees and relayed the names of the hidden singers. It was a sonic tour of complex tunes and a terrific birding challenge.

Surprisingly though, the highlights of the day took no searching at all.

While busy connecting bird songs and names, a violent splashing upon the water was heard from across the flowage. We all turned and then witnessed a territorial showdown taking place. A Canada goose and a tundra swan were face to face as if ready for battle. Then suddenly the swan began flapping its huge white wings in the face of the goose, but the goose held its ground. It flapped back and screamed and eventually a wild ruckus broke out, splashing water everywhere, before the two big birds separated.

There were obviously goslings around and the goose was letting nothing get close to them. The swan, meanwhile, kept a distance, but not very much, never going into full retreat.

Not long after seeing the dust-up with the waterfowl, we witnessed another scuffle between two impressive birds, this time in the open sky.

We caught sight of an osprey, in gorgeous glide, circling above the trees. However, right below it, flying in tandem, was a bald eagle. The two birds hovered around and around as if caught in a funnel cloud, until the eagle cut out of its flight pattern. The eagle swooshed up at the osprey and startled it so it dropped a fish it was holding. The eagle quickly secured the fish and scored itself a stolen dinner.

That airborne battle between raptors and the standoff with the goose and the swan are fascinating examples of the surprises discovered when out birding.

The scenes were also a reminder birds are not on display. What you see when birding is the real deal, and that's what's so awesome about it. You experience the natural rhythms and rituals of wildlife, both the beautiful and the brutal, which through the lens of binoculars are often one in the same.

Jacob Friede may be reached at jacob@lakelandtimes.com or sports@lakelandtimes.com.





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