by John Van Den Brandt

Bluebird – With its striking colors and generally cooperative nature, the bluebird is a favorite subject of many nature photographers and bird watchers. Bluebirds can be found in the open grassy fields and prairies of Mosquito Hill, High Cliff, and Heckrodt nature centers/parks.

“If we can teach people about wildlife, they will be touched. Share my wildlife with me. Because humans want to save things that they love.” 

― Steve Irwin, Australian naturalist and TV personality

As a professional wildlife photographer, Steve’s words resonate with me.  I too, “share my wildlife,” bringing you images that I hope will entertain, educate, and inspire. Lofty goals, but I know the lasting impact a photograph can make. The month of May marks the return of our migrating birds,  joining our year-round species to fill the woods with motion, color, and sound. Surprises and awe-inspiring sightings are around every turn. Here are some of my favorite birds that can be readily found throughout the summer. Grab this Appleton Monthly and head to your favorite nature center, park, or trail and see how many of these birds you can find. Whether it takes a day, a month or all summer to check them all off your list, I’m hopeful my images of “The Birds of Summer” might provide you the motivation to spend just a little more time in nature, to discover your own wild places here in the Fox Cities and want to protect the creatures found there. 

Baltimore Oriole – When asked what bird homeowners would most like to see in their backyards, the stunning Baltimore oriole was near the top of the list. Because they don’t eat seeds, attracting orioles requires fruit and nectar. Offering orange slices, grape jelly, and hummingbird nectar in spring is a sound strategy for luring these birds to your own backyard. 

Pelican – With a wingspan of 8 feet, the American white pelican is one of North America’s largest birds. Famous for its massive throat pouch that can hold 3 gallons of water, the bird uses its pouch to scoop fish, draining the water, and swallowing the fish whole. Great spots for pelican viewing include the riverfront along downtown Menasha and behind Fratello’s restaurant in Appleton. 

Green Heron – In this image, a Wisconsin green heron and a wildlife photographer are both rewarded for their infinite patience and quick reflexes.  The heron’s efforts yielded a breakfast of sunfish and my own patient stalking produced this memorable picture. To find green herons, carefully scan the edges of reeds and cattails and check limbs that hang low over swampy areas at the Menasha Nature Conservancy, Heckrodt and the Rydell Conservancy next to Fritse Park in Fox Crossing. 

Bald Eagle – With the abundance of eagles in the Fox Cities, it’s easy to forget that for many Americans, the mere sight of a bald eagle is a bucket list dream they can only hope to someday witness. The Fox River waterway is dotted with massive eagle nests along its entire course, affording limitless opportunities to observe them skillfully diving for fish to feed their growing chicks. You’re almost sure to spot eagles along the trails and at boat landings from Sunset Park in Kimberly to Little Lake Butte Des Morts in Neenah. 

Sandhill Crane – These stately birds with their haunting yodeling call are a staple of area meadows and wetlands. Also look for Sandhills in grassy fields or in planted farm plots, methodically strutting down plowed furrows in search of insects and seeds.

Cardinal – Regardless of season, cardinals add a brilliant splash of color to our landscape. But that wasn’t always the case. Originally, cardinals were found only in the southeastern states. However, over the past 100 years, they have gradually expanded their range all the way to Southern Canada. Some researchers speculate that this increase in range was helped by the steady increase in backyard bird feeders. 

White-breasted nuthatch – This tiny agile bird can often be spotted upside-down on tree trunks, probing the bark crevices for spiders and insects. Look for nuthatches anywhere that mature hardwood trees are abundant. They are also drawn to feeders where sunflower seeds and suet are their favorite fare. 

Indigo Bunting – This indigo bunting glows like a radiant sapphire in the early morning light. Surprisingly, indigo buntings are technically not blue at all – their feathers contain no blue pigment. However, every filament of each feather acts as a tiny prism, bending light into the blue spectrum to create the bird’s stunning plumage. An early morning hike along High Cliff’s Redbird or Lime Kiln trail should produce indigo buntings singing from the tops of trees.

Great Egret – We’re fortunate that the stunningly beautiful and elegant great egret is so common to our area. These birds were once hunted to the edge of extinction in the late 19th century when egret feathers in women’s hats were a fashion rage.  Today, you might spot great egrets in any of our shallow wetlands, even neighborhood storm drainage ponds.

Great Horned Owl – Although a challenge to find, the great horned owl is one of the area’s most common and widespread owls. Regardless of where you live in the Fox Valley, it’s likely that a great horned owl nest can be found within a mile of your home. The mature trees of City Park in Appleton are a reliable spot to find this bird. Begin at the northeast corner and slowly scan each tree, being careful not to overlook this master of camouflage. 

Red-winged Blackbird – The red-winged blackbird is one of the most abundant bird species in North America, with an estimated population of about 200 million birds. It’s also Wisconsin’s most common summer bird. Red-wing blackbirds can be found perched on the wires along country roads and in virtually every marsh, wetland and pasture. The colorful wing patches, called “epaulettes” are only found on males, while females have dull brown plumage. 

Scarlet Tanager – Despite their brilliant plumage, scarlet tanagers are often overlooked because they prefer to perch high in the dense foliage of mature hardwood trees. However, I captured this image when a spring rain stirred up a hatch of insects from the forest floor, luring this tanager down to feed. Watch for this spectacular bird during an early morning hike on the Lime Kiln Trail at High Cliff State Park.