Scott Weberpal: Blog en-us (C) Scott Weberpal (Scott Weberpal) Sun, 01 Jan 2017 23:47:00 GMT Sun, 01 Jan 2017 23:47:00 GMT Scott Weberpal: Blog 80 120 A Look in the Rear View Mirror Long-eared Owl Man, 2016, just when you thought the world couldn't get any more crazy.  Cleveland wins an NBA title, the Cubs win the World Series, Donald Trump is elected president of the United States, and we said goodbye to many who entertained millions around the world.  Let us not forgot those we lost in 2016 who are easily forgotten but played significant roles in society such as Donald Henderson who lead the charge to eradicate Smallpox from the world in the 1960's and 70's, and John Glenn who was the first American to orbit the Earth.  The contributions of Henderson and Glenn along with countless others truly have a positive impact on society.

In my little piece of the world, 2016 was a great year, and a year filled with new adventure I had no way to know were coming when the year started. I'm still doing GIS work for the City of Whitewater, a position that, despite its tediousness at times, is nearly stress free and comes with a fantastic group of support staff.  Mid-year I turned down a job offer which would have put me in charge of the GIS and eventually land information for Green County. While it would have been a step up in duties and job title, it would have Common Loon only been a minor increase in pay and I would have lost a significant amount of paid time off I've accumulated over the years in Whitewater.

Ethan is doing well and is finishing his senior year of high school in Michigan. Ethan is very active in his church and also made the decision to join the Marines when he finishes high school.  He trains weekly with some of this fellow recruits to better prepare them for boot camp next summer.  He's expected to ship out in July shortly after his 18th birthday.  He's very much looking forward to the challenge.  I really don't know where the last 17 years went, it feels as if life is a vacuum and the further along you get, the stronger the suction.  Perceived time moves too fast.

Late in the spring I met a wonderful woman, Bethany, who for whatever reason, doesn't seem to mind putting up with me.  Her strength and perseverance blow my mind.  She is widowed, and I'm the first man in her life since that life-altering event.  She's helped me rekindle my love for concerts (our first date was a Carrie Underwood concert and we've been to several more concerts since then), and between her and her two young boys, they've kept me on my toes.  We've also been on a few trips together - we went to Gatlinburg, TN with her family in Jul Mississippi Kite fledgling y, and to Daytona Beach, FL in October.

I still do a lot of wildlife photography and occasionally chase storms.  As I get older and time away from work and other obligations becomes more precious, it's becoming more and more difficult to get out to the plains and chase storms.  I try to get in at least 2 or 3 chasers per year regionally on days with a higher risk of tornado potential than usual - I've all but given up on gambling with lower risk days given my time restraints, and quite honestly, I'd rather sit or walk through the woods or a wetland and photograph wildlife than drive hundreds of miles to watch a storm for an hour or two.  Some storm and photography highlights of the year were:

- A winter roost of more than a dozen Long-eared Owls in Milwaukee County.
- A litter of fox kits at a cemetery in Janesville.
- My first images of a black bear and some amazing landscape vistas near Gatlinburg.
- The first confirmed nesting of Mississippi Kites in Wisconsin (Janesville area).
- Photographing one of my nemesis birds, a Northern Saw-whet Owl, which I had been trying to find for years.

There were other highlights as well, including rescuing a young American Badger that had been abandoned.  I took the badger to a wildlife rehab facility and the badger was nursed back to health and eventually released back into the wild later in the year.  I've already added several images to this post, but if you wish to see the rest of my favorite images from 2016, feel free to browse them in this gallery.

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First Confirmed Nesting Mississippi Kite in Wisconsin When you're done reading, be sure to click the "MY PHOTOGRAPHS" link on the top menu bar to check out the rest of my gallery

Preface: Understandably, some birders may be upset that these birds were kept a secret. However, when I was asked to help search for the nest, I obliged under the veil that the location would not be given out until after the birds began their fall migration south, and even then, just the generic location of "Janesville area". This decision was made by the Atlas project coordinators and the DNR.

In August of 2015, a juvenile Mississippi Kite was found in Janesville, WI on the ground an unable to fly.  Hoo's Woods Raptor Center was called, and the bird was retrieved soon after. At the time of retrieval, no one was sure what species of bird it was.  It was a relatively small raptor, but it didn't fit with any of the typical species found in southern Wisconsin. After putting images online, Dianne Moller of Hoo's Woods was able to identify the bird as a Mississippi Kite. The ID of Mississippi Kite was a bit of a surprise at first as they had never previous nested in Wisconsin (and just because a juvenile was found doesn't guarantee nesting), they had, however, nested for the past several year in Rockford, IL just 30 miles to the south. While it wasn't clear if Mississippi Kites nested where the juvenile was found, it was relatively certain that a pair had likely nested somewhere in the area.

Mississippi Kite Sightings

If one looks at a Mississippi Kite range map in a birding book or online, they'll likely see the main nesting area for the Mississippi Kite is from the southern plains of Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas eastward through the deep south. Looking at more recent Mississippi Kite observation maps on eBird, it's very clear that the bird has slowly expanded its range northward, especially along the Mississippi River valley and also along some smaller river valleys such as the Iowa, Cedar, and Des Moines River valleys as well as Rock River which runs through both Rockford and Janesville.


8/17/16 Adult Male Mississippi Kite Feeding Fledgling8/17/16 Adult Male Mississippi Kite Feeding Fledgling


Fast forward a year to 2016, and the search was on for possible nesting Mississippi Kites in Janesville.  About a half dozen birders in Rock County knew of the approximate location where the juvenile was found the year before and began searching for adults in the area.  A pair of adults were eventually located soaring and hunting over Janesville in mid-summer!  Yes!  A pair of birds in the same area during nesting season likely meant they were nesting in the area.  I was asked to help document the adult birds and search for the nest if possible. Finding the nest site proved to be a somewhat difficult task.  Mississippi Kite nests are generally not as large as other raptors, and with dense foliage, it can be very difficult to see nests in trees.  On top of that, Mississippi Kites don't dive from the sky straight toward the nest, they generally drop into the tree canopy then fly through the tree canopy to the nest making following a nesting adult almost impossible.

One day while driving in the area the kites were typically soaring above, I witnessed one of the birds fly low through the canopy behind my vehicle but did not see it emerge on the other side.  I had to leave due to other obligations, but made a call of Aaron Boone and let him know the location where I saw the bird fly into the tree canopy and not emerge on the other side.  Later that day I was going to meet Aaron Boone and Aaron Haycraft to try and triangulate where the birds were diving into the canopy in the hopes of finding the nest.  That wasn't necessary.  About 30 minutes before I returned later in the day, I received a text from Aaron Boone that said "We found the nest!".  Sure enough, they found the nest in the exact location where I saw the adult bird fly into the tree canopy and not emerge earlier in the day.

Over the next few weeks, I would observe the nestling grow from a little white ball of fluff, to a beautifully streaked brown/gray fledgling.  Most of that feather growth happened in a 12-day period!  The top image was taken on August 3rd, and the bottom image was taken on August 15th.  Wow!

Click here to see the rest of my Mississippi Kite images

8/3/16 Mississippi Kite Nestling8/3/16 Mississippi Kite Nestling

8/15/16 Mississippi Kite Nestling8/15/16 Mississippi Kite Nestling

Birding Birds Breeding Illinois Janesville Mississippi Kite Nesting Rockford WBBA Wisconsin fledgling Thu, 15 Sep 2016 14:51:42 GMT
Fox Kits Roaming the Countryside In the same fashion as last year, I was able to locate a fox den this spring and for several days watched as young, playful kits emerged from the den.  I hope you enjoy my gallery which can be found by clicking on the image below.

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"Latka" Returns to Wisconsin This week I have had the pleasure of observing an endangered Whooping Crane in Rock County.  This Whooping Crane, however, isn't any ordinary bird.  Latka (named after the television character played by Andy Kaufman - also known as 59-13) has a very interesting story about how she got to where she is today.  From which has some amazing information about all of the individual Whooping Cranes in the Eastern Migratory Population:

LatkaLatka enjoy her Spring migration with Sandhill Cranes.

"How did she get the name Latke? ICF staff used the theme of TV sitcoms or sitcom characters when they named the new chicks. (A change in the numbering system is under discussion.) Latke is named after Latka Gravas of the old TV show "Taxi." Latka is the smallest chick, but she has a lot of spunk! She came to the DAR program as an egg from the Calgary Zoo Whooping cranes.

Latka and the other DAR chicks were costume reared and then transported to Horicon Wildlfe Refuge in early September. The chicks will now spend more time out of a pen and less time with the costume. They will be officially released probably at the end of October to mingle with other wild Whooping cranes and Sandhill cranes. If all goes as planned, the youngsters will follow the older cranes to learn the flock's southward migration route.

The DAR chicks got their legbands and colors on Sept 27. Over the summer, Laktke had not grown as much as the other chicks so she received only 3 color bands. The DAR chicks were released at Horicon NWR on Oct 24, 2013.

Latka (#59-13) was initially detected heading south with juveniles nos. 50, 51, and 54-13 on 11 December 11, but separated from them and returned to the Horicon NWR.

LatkaLatka enjoy her Spring migration with Sandhill Cranes.

 Since it was dangerously cold and it appeared she would fail to migrate, she was captured, held overnight at the International Crane Foundation (ICF), and transported by aircraft south to the Wheeler NWR in Alabama the next day. There she was released near other Sandhill and Whooping cranes. This intervention was necessary to give her the best chance to survive winter, although she did not learn her migration route. Latka (#59-13) apparently liked her new home at Wheeler NWR because she was still there as March began."

There you have it.  Latka, in true Andy Kaufman style, deviated from all things normal and did it her own way.  Even though I expect to see Whooping Cranes nearly every fall and spring, it never gets old and it likely won't until the reach numbers nearing the Sandhill Cranes - and there's a good chance that won't happen in my lifetime.

Thanks for reading!


Birding Birds Crane International Crane Foundation Latka Operation Migration Sandhill Crane Scott Weberpal Whooping Crane Thu, 26 Mar 2015 04:39:03 GMT
Spring Waterfowl Migration in Full-force! Sandhill Cranes dance as part of their spring ritual.Mating DanceSandhill Cranes dance as part of their spring ritual.

Below is just a sample of my images from this past weekend, to view more, visit my Spring 2015 Gallery.

For the past week or so, waterfowl migration has been in full-force in southern Wisconsin.  Unfortunately with a relatively long stretch of above normal temperatures, many lakes across the state opened up quickly allowing the waterfowl to spread out rather than being concentrated in a specific area as is often the case.  Waterfowl numbers on many of the area lakes are low, at least in part, due to the quick thaw, but the exact opposite was the case at our family wetland in Rock County.

I had a couple of hours to spare Friday after work before picking up my son, so I made a stop at our land and was instantly greeted by dozens of Sandhill Cranes milling about the upland ag fields in close vicinity to the wetlands. 

There was likely 150 or more Sandhill Cranes in the immediate vicinity, and another 100 or so scattered around the area in groups of 20-50 each.   As is common this time of year, many of the cranes were "dancing" with their partners in anticipation of copulating as most birds do just after returning to their breeding grounds.  

Sandhill Cranes dance as part of their spring ritual.Mating DanceSandhill Cranes dance as part of their spring ritual.

One of the best parts about watching the cranes dance is they don't seem to have a care in the world about what is going on around them.  Quite often they are in the fields near the road and will go about their business when I stop to photograph them from my vehicle.

Looking back to the west toward one of our larger ponds, I could easily see it was filled with waterfowl.  In years past, we've had a good number of Great White-fronted Geese, Snow Geese and Ross's Geese use our property during migration with white-fronted geese being the most common.  Normally this time of year, access to our ponds is limited to on-foot only as the poorly-drained, mucky soils are saturated with snow melt and March rain showers.  This year I was able to get closer access to the pond due to our unusually dry winter and early warm weather eliminating the typical muddy mess.

Getting a good, high-contrast look at the pond during the even hours is typically difficult as the easiest access to the pond is on the east side and you are left looking generally toward the setting sun.   Something spooked them and I don't think it was me.Greater White-fronted GeeseGreater White-fronted Geese take flight after being spooked by a passing eagle. I stayed mostly on the northeast quadrant of the pond to get the best contrast and was able discern that 90% of the geese on the pond (and it was PACKED with geese) were white-fronted geese - well over 300, and that's being conservative.  In addition to the white-fronted geese, Mallards and Northern Pintail were the most common ducks with a few other species mixed in.

At this time we're in the process of developing a few more ponds in that immediate area, and one of the new, smaller ponds was a favorite of the Canvasback as there was several of them on the new ponds both Friday night and Saturday morning.  I then made my way to one of our other larger ponds about a mile to the west and found a much larger variety of ducks - Mallards, Ring-necked, Gadwall, Canvasback, Hooded Merganser, Green-winged Teal, Bufflehead, American Wigeon, Scaup, and certainly a few others I'm not thinking about right now.


Saturday morning I woke up before sunrise and headed back to our land knowing it may be the best opportunity for good photography during migration.  The forecast called for clear skies with a high of 48 degrees - that is a PERFECT early spring day.  I first made my way to the large pond on the north side of the property.  The pond was again loaded with white-fronted geese, Mallards, and Northern Pintail.  As I was making an attempt to count the geese (an almost impossible task), and Bald Eagle came in low and spooked much of the waterfowl from the pond.  A VERY large flock of white-fronted geese (300+) took off and flew to the west until they were out of sight.  I do no know if they returned again.  Many Mallards and pintail remained on the pond, and once again, several Canvasback were on one of the new, smaller ponds.

I made my way to the large pond to the south, this time using the access drive from the west where I could park on a grassy hill and walk down into the wetland.  With the exception of a few Song Sparrows, a few Downy Woodpeckers, the typical allotment of Red-winged Blackbirds, and a single Belted Kingfisher, there wasn't much non-waterfowl activity in the wetland area.  I could hear a couple very loud Northern Flickers calling from the woods around Bass Creek to my north.  As I got to the large pond, the diversity of waterfowl was still 

Northern PintailNorthern Pintail

large, and I was able to get a good glimpse and a few photographs of some cooperative Northern Pintail.  Unfortunately I had moved just enough 

to spook the ducks, and they flushed to the other end of the pond.  I know I would flush them again if I walked to the other end of the pond, and I started to make my way back to my car.

Along the way I decided to check the Wood Duck nest boxes and clear out any unnecessary debris included wasp nests the wasps attempt to build inside the boxes annually.  Much to my surprise (BIG surprise), a few deer mice were using one of the boxes as a home.  As I opened the box and reached in, the mice decided to jump out with one of them landing on me.  Normally mice don't bother me, but I was a bit startled and something was jumping out of the box at me as I was reaching in to pull out debris.

After returning to my car, I made my way to another of our larger ponds.  This pond is on the east side of the property, and unfortunately has some high-tension transmission lines running through it that can make for a very unnatural scene in photographs.  For whatever reason, this pond normally doesn't have the numbers or variety that many of our other ponds have, but there's always something over there.

Mute SwanMute Swan I arrived to several Canada Geese, 3 Mute Swans, and a few Mallards and Wood Ducks working the far edge of the pond.  The Mute Swans were very cooperative and floated around in the water as I was lying in the grass photographing them.  For the most part, the swans stayed within 50 yards of where I was, yielding some great photographic opportunities.

As I was photographing the Mute Swans, I heard something rustling in the grass several feet from me and it was getting closer!  I wasn't sure whether to continue lying still, or get up and walk the other way.  I knew it wasn't likely to be a skunk and as they are largely nocturnal.  Perhaps a muskrat?  As it turns out, it was a mink!  The mink literally walked up to within 3' of me (bless the short minimum focus distance on the new Canon 100-400mm II), and I was able to snap off a few so-so images before it wandered into the water.   This mink snuck up next to me.  It got within 4' of where I was lying in the grass.MinkThis mink walked up to within a couple of feet from me. What a treat! I had only seen fleeting glances of wild mink in the past, so seeing one only feet from me was a HUGE treat.  I stayed for another 15-20 minutes after the run-in with the mink, snapping off another 100 or so images of the Mute Swans.

After leaving that pond, I grabbed some lunch then made my way back to Whitewater.  I decided it was the perfect day for my maiden 2015 kayak voyage, so I dusted off the kayak and took a relaxing afternoon paddle around Trippe Lake in Whitewater.  The highlight was a Bald Eagle perched in a pine tree on the southeast side of the lake near where Whitewater Creek flows in.  Both Cravath and Trippe Lakes in Whitewater were very limited on waterfowl species diversity and overall numbers.

After a long day outdoors, it was time to do what most college sports fans should be doing in March - watch basketball.  Go Badgers!  To see more pictures from this past weekend, visit my Spring 2015 Gallery.  Thanks for reading!




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An Owl of a Winter It's been an exciting winter thus far with many photographic opportunities.  One of my favorite subjects to photograph is owls.  Owls have a mystery about them that makes them no only sought out by photographers, but the subject of many historical and modern folk lore.

One owl I was able to photograph this winter was a Northern Hawk Owl.  Prior to this winter, I had never seen nor photographed a hawk owl, so to say I was excited would be an understatement.  To top it off, I was able to see the hawk owl in Eau Claire, Wisconsin while heading to Sax-Zim Bog.  At Sax-Zim, I was able to observe and photograph several Great Gray Owls.  I have observed and photographed a Great Gray Owl in the past near Mauston, Wisconsin (well out of their normal range), but seeing them in their natural habitat at Sax-Zim was a HUGE treat.  All of this on top of another major Snowy Owl irruption.

Here are a few of my favorite photographs from the Northern Hawk Owl, Great Gray Owls, and Snowy Owls:

Northern Hawk Owl - Eau Claire, WI

Until next time,

Scott Weberpal


Bird Birding Bubo Freedom Great Gray Owl Hawk Minnesota Northern Hawk Owl Owl Photography Sax-Zim Scott Weberpal Snowy Owl Wildlife Wisconsin Fri, 06 Feb 2015 03:48:31 GMT
Moving to Zenfolio, Hope You Enjoy Your Visit

I am in the process of moving my photography and blog all to one central location here on Zenfolio.  Expect more blog entries in the near future and I hope you enjoy your visit!

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