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2014 Wisconsin eBird—A Year in Review

By cabridge February 8, 2015

In 2014 participation in eBird continued to grow in Wisconsin. 90,013 checklists were submitted in 2014 (a 4% increase over the 86,507 Checklists in 2013) and 341 species were observed (340 in 2013).

2014 ended in the same way it began, with a Snowy Owl irruption. Over 200 individuals were tallied during each irruption. See this article for a report on the irruption from the fall and winter of 2013-2014. A few Northern Hawk Owls were also noted at the beginning and end of the year. Individuals in Door and Eau Claire Counties lingered for extended periods of time.

Snowy Owl © Dave & Kerry Sehloff

Snowy Owl © Dave & Kerry Sehloff

Northern Hawk Owl © Myles Hurlbut

Northern Hawk Owl © Myles Hurlburt

Early in the year Red-throated Loons and White-winged Scoters were routinely observed a close range from various Lake Michigan hotspots. These birds were concentrated in open water remnants as Lake Michigan set a record for ice cover (records date back to 1973).

Many birders braved the severe cold to search for Gyrfalcons. A Door County bird was elusive, but many birders were successful spotting a bird that frequented the Buena Vista Grasslands/Marsh.

Baird’s Sandpipers staged an unprecedented early-April migration arriving record early in a broad front across the southern part of the state.

Baird’s Sandpiper © Sunil Gopalan

Baird’s Sandpiper © Sunil Gopalan



Figure 1: Baird’s Sandpiper migration peaked during the first week in April in 2014.


Figure 2: Baird’s Sandpiper migration typically peaks in mid-May (data from 2008-2013).


Garganey—The bird of the year?  © Sunil Gopalan

Garganey—The bird of the year? © Sunil Gopalan

For many, the bird of the year was the cooperative Garganey (a first state record) at Crex Meadows. A few lucky birders spotted a Mountain Bluebird in addition to the Garganey.

Mountain Bluebird ©Chet Anderson

Mountain Bluebird ©Chet Anderson

Ashland had a nice string of goodies in May including Say’s Phoebe, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, and a Piping Plover on the mainland. Additionally a Western Sandpiper was observed in the area in September. Western Sandpiper was also reported in Dane County in May and Milwaukee County in September.

The highlight of spring warbler migration was a western gem. A Townsend’s Warbler was spotted in Pheasant Branch Conservancy (Dane Co.) by a number of birders.

Townsend’s Warbler © Mike McDowell

Townsend’s Warbler © Mike McDowell


Crested Caracara © Jack Swelstad

Crested Caracara © Jack Swelstad

Washington Island proved to be a magnet for rarities during the spring and summer. The best was Wisconsin’s first record for Crested Caracara. Black Vulture, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, and Western Kingbird were also noted on the island. This begs the question, was 2014 an aberrant year for rarities on the island? Does Washington Island routinely trap vagrants that previously went unreported due to a lack of coverage by birders?


Black-bellied Whistling-Duck © Mike Wanger

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck © Mike Wanger

Summer rarities included a Painted Bunting in Green Lake County and a White-winged Dove in Marathon County in June. Notable in July was a Black-bellied Whistling-Duck in Ozaukee County.


Little Gull © Davor Grgic

Little Gull © Davor Grgic

In recent years Little Gull numbers are on the rise—one observer spotted 11 birds in Manitowoc in June. At one time the Manitowoc/Sheboygan Area was the place in the United States to see this species. For most of the 2000’s this species was either absent or present in only small numbers as a non-breeding summer resident.

Figure 3: Little Gull Frequency (2012-2014). 2012 data is more representative of the past decade. 2013-2014 are atypical.

Figure 3: Little Gull Frequency (2012-2014). 2012 data is more representative of the past decade. 2013-2014 are atypical.

2014 provided evidence of a first breeding record for Wisconsin. In August, a juvenile White-faced Ibis was observed in the company of up to 5 adults along the Mascoutin Valley State Trail. Adults were routinely observed at this location during summers of 2013 and 2014.

September and October are the most productive months for “pelagic” birding in Wisconsin. Lakewatchers at Wisconsin Point (Douglas Co.) reported all 3 jaegers, Sabine’s Gull, Arctic Tern and a California Gull. For birders unable to visit Wisconsin Point spotting pelagic specialties is still possible. Parasitic Jaegers were reported from Brown, Ozaukee, Milwaukee and Racine Counties, while Red Phalarope was reported from Brown and Racine.

Several Rufous or Rufous/Allen’s Hummingbirds and 2 Anna’s Hummingbirds were spotted in southern Wisconsin. What is the migratory path for these birds? The Fort Atkinson Rufous, which was banded, was last observed in Wisconsin on October 23rd. This bird was RECAPTURED in North Carolina on November 22, 2014. While perhaps counterintuitive a hummingbird observed after mid to late October is more likely to be a western species than a Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Anna's Hummingbird (c) Cynthia Bridge

Anna’s Hummingbird © Cynthia Bridge

Figure 4: Hummingbirds in late fall are probably not Ruby-throated.

Figure 4: Hummingbirds in late fall are probably not Ruby-throated.

A Western Wood-Pewee was banded at the Forest Beach Migratory Preserve (OWLT) in early October. Pending acceptance by the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology’s Records Committee, this would be the third record for this species in Wisconsin. Separating Western and Eastern Wood-Pewee’s in the field is extremely difficult—particularly in October/November when the birds are largely silent. Any Wood-Pewee observed in October/November should be scrutinized carefully for Western Wood-Pewee field marks and vocalizations should be noted or recorded. For silent individuals in October or November submitting them as Western/Eastern Wood-Pewee on your eBird Checklist may be most appropriate.

As the year ended an American Three-toed Woodpecker was spotted off and on in Burnett County.

American Three-toed Woodpecker © Daniel DeKeyser

American Three-toed Woodpecker © Daniel DeKeyser

To round out the year as Lake Superior froze a Common Eider, which had been attempting to over-winter in Minnesota, moved into Douglas County waters.

In January of 2015 more than 3500 observations accepted by the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology’s Records Committee from 1981-2011 were uploaded into the eBird database. Records from 2011-present will be uploaded in the near future. Rare bird observations prior to 1990 were captured in last year’s upload of the observations listed in Robbins’ Wisconsin Birdlife. These two data sets incorporate the vast majority of rarities observed in the state from the late 1800’s to the present. Want to know when a vagrant Burrowing Owl is most likely to occur in the state? The eBird Bar Charts are now built on a nearly complete record of all rarities found in the state and can help rarity seekers more narrowly target their search dates.


Explore a Region
This tool allows birders to explore recent, first and last observations for any eBird Location. Birders can also investigate hotspot, county and state species totals and species lists using this tool.

Target Species
Since its inception eBird has gathered data on bird abundance and distribution. Increasing numbers of tools have been made available through eBird to analyze this data. Missing (until now) was a way to determine which species you have NOT seen. The Target Species tool not only lets you know which species are missing from your list, but it also prioritizes the list based on eBird frequency data for a given location.


Top 10 counties – most checklists submitted in 2014
Once again Dane and Milwaukee Counties come out on top. Dane County eBirders submitted a staggering 10,805 checklists in 2014. Only 9 other counties have more than 10,000 checklists all-time.

top 10 2014

Bottom 10 counties—fewest checklists submitted in 2014
For comparison purposes—Dane County averaged 208 checklists a week in 2014.

bottom 10 2014

The tables below highlight some of the disparities in county checklist data. While Dane County averaged 900 checklists a month in 2014, 8 counties have not reached 900 checklists all time.

Counties with more than 10,000 all-time checklists (as of 2/1/15)


Counties with less than 1000 all-time checklists (as of 2/1/15)





2014 county species totals2014 coutny species totals 2

We would like to highlight the efforts of just a few of the many dedicated eBirders out there! Below are the 2014 county leaders by number of species and number of checklists. All of this information is available via the Top 100 on the Explore Data tab, if you’d like to see how you rank for counties you birded in 2014. Some of these totals are quite impressive while others call attention to areas of the state needing more coverage.

County leaders – Number of species 2014
County leaders 2014-1County leaders-2

County leaders – number of checklists 2014

County checklists-1County checklists-2

Top County Totals – Number of species 2014 (Threshold 200)

200+ checklists-1200+ checklists-2 (2)
The 2014 Wisconsin Local Patch Challenge (WLPC)
In 2014 over 60 birders identified patches in eBird as part of the 2014 Wisconsin Local Patch Challenge. The WLPC is a relatively green challenge, where birders try to find as many species as possible 7.5 miles or less from home. The WLPC initiated some friendly competition amongst birders from across the state. The greatest challenge was often personal and intellectual. To increase their species lists WLPC participants had to identify local microhabitats and be out in the field during peak migration for various regional rarities.

The cumulative species total for the group was an impressive 310 species. The biggest misses were likely the boreal birds (Boreal Chickadee, Gray Jay, Spruce Grouse and Black-backed Woodpecker) and “upland game birds” (Gray Partridge and Sharp-tailed Grouse). These misses were not especially surprising given the core range for most of these species lie far from the state’s population centers and the declining populations of some of these species.

WLPC participants submitted over 7000 eBird checklists! 30 birders reported 150 or more species in their local patch and 7 birders exceeded 200 species in their patches. Tom Prestby (247 species) and Steve Lubahn (245 species) deserve special recognition for finishing 25+ species ahead of the nearest competition—Steve was over 230 species by the end of May.
Below are the 2014 Wisconsin Local Patch Challenge Participants and their year totals:


Text, Charts and Tables by Aaron Stutz

Text and Map by Nick Anich

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