What is there to say about this somewhat innocuous bird? It's mostly gray and most hikers hiking through the bluffs at Devil's Lake would hardly give this bird a glance. But what is most astounding about this bird is that it's not suppose to be here...well maybe. The normal range of this bird is in the Western United States where it nests in mountain coniferous forests.
So what is it doing in Central Wisconsin? For those of you not familiar with the terrain of the Devil's Lake area, it is quite unique from other parts of the state. As a matter of fact, you'd almost think you were hiking somewhere out in the western states. There are many cliffs/bluffs in the area with many rock outcroppings along with coniferous and deciduous trees.
Today, I found these birds low in elevation—not normally where they have been sighted by many birders recently. I was lucky enough to meet three birders that were just leaving when I arrived and informed me that they spotted them along the base of the bluff rather than along the steep Balanced Rock Trail.
The three birders followed the flight of the Solitaires for as long as they could but eventually lost them in the deciduous forest between the railroad tracks and the base of the bluff. I figured my chances of seeing the bird was slim to none. Since I figured I was in for a steep climb up the bluff, I decided to take my small lens instead of carrying 20lbs of equipment over my back.
As luck would have it, I found three Townsend's Solitaires munching on some wild grape vines that had wrapped themselves up an oak tree right alongside the Grottos Trail. (Right behind a bench dedicated to the memory of Maxine Katz.) The birds stayed in this area for a good 45 minutes while I took many photographs. As a matter of fact, I went back to the car and dragged out the big lens with my tripod since they were close to the trail head and it did not require me to hike up the side of the bluff.
It was a beautiful day for early February with temperatures in the mid 40's. It was quite breezy though and maybe the birds decided to hang low and sheltered from the extremely windy conditions found on top of the bluff. Whatever their reason for being there, it was great to observe these rare birds.
After their noontime snack, the three Solitaires rested a bit. This particular one stayed in the same spot for about 5 minutes and allowed me to get within 25 feet of it. The bird really didn't seem to mind my presence. I left the area with the birds foraging in the deciduous forest and wondering if this is how a new species becomes established in a new territory. One can only hope that they will continue to return and flourish.