Wednesday, May 21, 2014


Birders recently spotted on the Island,
originating  from various Wisconsin
locations.  (photo by Melody Walsh)
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

A covey of Khaki-Crested Birders, both male and female, was recently spotted on Washington Island, grouped along Town Line Road.  This may be, we think, the earliest such sighting for this time of year, and it bodes well not only for Island birding, but tourism in general, to record such activity at this date.

As news spread of the influx of Birders, even more Birders were attracted.  Given Washington Island's flagging start to the cool spring tourism season, the branching out of such low-impact activity couldn't come at a better time, harbinger of a greatly anticipated summer.

Birders, whether migrating through or local, shared a singular goal:  to set their eyes on - and photograph if possible - the Tropical Crested Caracara.   This bird has never been seen and recorded before in Wisconsin, and only infrequently in past decades has it been noted anywhere in the upper midwest.

Few Islanders, other than Birding Islanders, may appreciate the singularity of this event.  Besides likely establishing an official State of Wisconsin 'first,' local birders are excited for the broad interest the Caracara sighting spurred through web sites and social media, given this bird has flown so far beyond its traditional territory in Mexico.

Even with the ferry ride, Washington Island still offers Wisconsin birders quite a unique opportunity for a relatively accessible, but rare sighting.   Birders who are successful can check this bird off their annual or lifetime lists of birds observed.

Because the Crested Caracara has remained on the Island for over one week, this also bodes well for birders who might wish to adjust their plans for a Memorial Weekend outing.   Local carrion fare is to this bird's liking, and it seems not to be in a hurry to move on.

A recap on the Crested Caracara timeline

This flurry of activity began when Rock Island Park Manager Randy Holm saw a large bird he couldn't identify in the field across from his home on Michigan Road.  It had dark feathers with a yellow and white, heavy beak, and it feasted on a raccoon carcass.  Upon shooting an email photo to Melody Walsh, who was off-island at the time, her return email brought identification, along with her excitement for this singular opportunity.  Randy's name will be credited in the Wisconsin record book.

Since that first sighting, Melody and Randy have seen it multiple times, photographed the bird, guided other birders to finding it, and they've regularly fielded emails and phone calls from off-island birders who want more information.  Although it is believed it is just a single Caracara (and not a pair), the Island sighting has nevertheless stirred a quite a buzz in the birding world.

Melody sent this photo Tuesday evening with the following comment:  
 "Darn thing was on our septic mound tonight at 7:30 pm-ish!
This is the eighth day in a row!"

In two weeks (May 3, June 1& 2) the Annual Island Birding Festival begins, and Melody and other local birders hope that this bird might continue to enjoy its surroundings enough to remain for that event.   Generally, 30-40 birders register for this festival event each year.  The 2014 Festival could prompt a major migration of an even greater numbers of birders who might flock to the Island anticipating a glimpse of this bird.  Approximately 120 bird species are cumulatively recorded during that weekend's event.

Who knew one bird could cause such fuss?   In its quiet way, the Crested Caracara may become an economic engine drawing more coveys of birders, that no amount of paid marketing could ever have achieved.

-  Dick Purinton


mkschacht said...

Wonderful article.

Anonymous said...

The Crested Caracara was seen twice today on Michigan Road. That makes TEN days in a row on Washington Island! Great article.