Saturday, October 18, 2014

This Time



I was listening to A Prairie Home Companion this evening on Wisconsin Public Radio and heard Joyce Sutphen recite her poem Next Time. It has some pleasant sentiments, but why wait until next time? What's the matter with this time? Perhaps I've missed the point or maybe this poem is meant for a different audience. But in a way, I believe this is one of the most perfect poems I've ever heard. After work today I went to Owen Conservation Park where I knew all the names of the birds. I wasn't really birding, though, I was admiring and photographing the dramatic fall colors. It was such a pleasant and healthy way to spend a couple of hours. So, maybe I'm giving this poem that I didn't write to you. Maybe it will give you hope or serve as a catalyst to escape the paralysis of modern life that grips so many and seldom ever lets go. Anyway, I've been to Istanbul. Hagia Sophia was incredible, but it doesn't have anything on the canopy Nature renders this time of year. Here is my church ... its only tenet is impermanence.


















Hermit Thrush

All images © 2014 Mike McDowell

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Nelson's Sparrow!



I hit the prairie parcel of Pheasant Branch Conservancy before sunrise. Kyle Lindemer was already present, scoping the trail for the Harris's Sparrow. There were dozens of White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows, plus a few Fox Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, and Song Sparrows. Eventually we were joined by Cynthia Bridge, Lindsey Boland, and Sylvia Marek (Dottie Johnson would join us later in the morning). After waiting for over an hour for the Harris's without luck, we decided to check the rest of the prairie to see if there were any other new arrivals.



There was an impressive variety of sparrows in the habitat along the southern slope of the drumlin, including Swamp, Song, Field, Lincoln's, and Chipping. We could also hear the calls of an Eastern Towhee coming from the top of the hill. The big surprise came near where the trail turns north along the eastern slope. I was busy taking landscape photos when Lindsey abruptly called out "Nelson's! I got a Nelson's!" She quickly got the rest of us on the bird and I got a lovely confirming look through my bins. The bird flew a short distance down the trail and I was able to take a crude digiscoped image of it (below). The little orange sparrow then flew across the path and popped out of the brush right where Lindsey, Cynthia, and Sylvia were standing, perching directly in front of them. "Please tell me you're getting photographs of that bird!" I said to Cynthia. She had her 100-400mm right on it and was able to get outstanding photographs of it.


Nelson's Sparrow


Yellow-rumped Warbler

After lunch we went to the creek corridor to see if there was any warbler activity. There were only Yellow-rumped Warblers, but the fall colors were pretty spectacular. While I was busy looking for macro photography subjects, Dottie Johnson found a Red-headed Woodpecker, which was my first of the year, or year bird in birder parlance. Other birds along the creek were Eastern Phoebe, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Tufted Titmouse, Black-capped Chickadees, and other expected species.



With the recent cold temperatures during the night, I didn't expect to find much in the way of spiders and insects, but there were still some around. I found a couple of treehoppers and Peacock Flies, but the macro highlight was finding a couple phiddipus jumping spiders right along the fence where we parked.


Jumping Spider Phiddipus audax





What a fantastic weekend! Awesome birds and wonderful pals to hang out with! With effort and help from my friends, I got three new bird species for the year. Saturday was the Harris's Sparrow, then Sunday a Nelson's Sparrow and Red-headed Woodpecker. What great fun!

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Oct 12, 2014 7:00 AM - 12:30 PM
47 species

Canada Goose
Mallard
Ring-necked Pheasant
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
House Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Orange-crowned Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Magnolia Warbler
Palm Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Nelson's Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2014 Mike McDowell

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Lots of WCSPs? Think HASP!


White-crowned Sparrow

Right on schedule! Just as White-crowned Sparrow numbers made a discernable jump, I found a Harris's Sparrow (bottom photo) this morning at Pheasant Branch Conservancy. I immediately called Dottie Johnson, left Sylvia Marek a message, texted a few friends, and then posted the sighting to the Wisconsin Birding Facebook group. Dottie and Mark arrived within 10 minutes and got to see the handsome sparrow; the bird was a Wisconsin lifer and their first Harris's in nearly 20 years. While we were waiting, I snapped a few digiscoped images of the gorgeous White-crowned Sparrows, however a couple of these images were taken yesterday.

Zonotrichia rules!


White-crowned Sparrow


White-crowned Sparrow


White-crowned Sparrow


White-crowned Sparrow


Harris's Sparrow

All images © 2014 Mike McDowell

Friday, October 10, 2014

A few more fall birds ...


Yellow-rumped Warbler


White-crowned Sparrow


Ruby-crowned Kinglet



All images © 2014 Mike McDowell

Sunday, October 05, 2014

October

"I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers."

~ L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables


The Prairie Parcel

It was a rather rainy Madison Audubon field trip Saturday morning at Pheasant Branch Conservancy, but Sunday was a golden October day. If I had explored the overlook and the North Fork, I probably could have topped 70 bird species for my outing. Still, 62 is very good for early October. In another month it will be challenging to surpass even 40 species, so I'm enjoying the remaining fall migrants while they're staging at or moving through the conservancy.


Song Sparrow

It was 33 degrees when I hit the field this morning. Most prairie plants were covered with sparkling frost. Many birds, including this Field Sparrow, were perched in the sunlight, puffed up to keep warm.


Field Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrows are becoming more numerous, which is a sign that's it's just about the right time for Harris's Sparrow. The juvenile white-crowneds lack the black and white crest the adults have, but their size and shape gives their identity away.


White-crowned Sparrow

And the rest ...


White-throated Sparrow


Swamp Sparrow


Ruby-crowned Kinglet


Red-tailed Hawk


Along the Creek Corridor

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Oct 5, 2014 7:00 AM - 11:00 AM
62 species

Canada Goose
Mallard
Ring-necked Pheasant
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Merlin
Blue Jay
Horned Lark
Tree Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Sedge Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
American Pipit
Cedar Waxwing
Northern Waterthrush
Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Magnolia Warbler
Palm Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2014 Mike McDowell

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Sparrow Portraits!


New England Aster

I'm on the prowl for Harris's Sparrow. I birded the prairie parcel for over five hours this morning and found 58 species, but no HASP yet. I think I'll need another blast of cold weather to bring down more zonothricia sparrows to improve my chances. The best time to look is when White-crowned Sparrows appear in high numbers and I've only seen a couple so far. For the moment I'm perfectly content with the variety of birds at the prairie and savanna.


White-throated Sparrow


White-throated Sparrow


Swamp Sparrow


Swamp Sparrow

Superficially similar at a distance, these close-up photographs of Swamp and Lincoln's Sparrows reveal just how different they are in plumage color. As sparrows go, they're both rather small and skulky. The Lincoln's Sparrow was ruffling its feathers in the warming sunlight. Though we had a high temperature today of 82°, the morning began cooler with temps in the upper 40s. The best time to capture portraits is between an hour after sunrise and 9:30am as the birds forage and preen. By 10:00am sparrows are less active. Plus, I like the low sunlight angle for photography.


Lincoln's Sparrow


Lincoln's Sparrow

At the north end of the oak savanna there's a dense tree line that attracts a wide variety of birds. This morning I found dozens of Cedar Waxwings, Brown Thrasher, a few American Redstarts, a Magnolia Warbler, and this Swainson's Thrush there. For the thrush, I had to change my Nikon 1 V1 to ISO 800 to get a fast enough shutter speed in the low light, but the quality didn't turn out too bad. There wasn't anything I could do about the obstructing branch, but that's authentic nature photography for you!


Swainson's Thrush


American Goldfinch

Chuck, Pam, and I found 28 bird species standing right from the platform at the springs! It seemed like we would find a new bird every minute. First a Nashville Warbler came in, then a Yellow-rumped Warbler, and even my first-of-fall Orange-crowned Warbler popped into view from seemingly out of nowhere. While American Goldfinches and House Finches remained close to the springs after drinking or bathing, many of the other birds left after wetting their whistle or conducting feather maintenance.


Watching birds at the springs.


The glorious prairie.

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Sep 27, 2014 6:45 AM - 12:00 PM
58 species

Canada Goose
Mallard
Ring-necked Pheasant
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Sedge Wren
Eastern Bluebird
Swainson's Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Tennessee Warbler
Orange-crowned Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Magnolia Warbler
Palm Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Clay-colored Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2014 Mike McDowell

Thursday, September 25, 2014

September wanes ...



I'll probably go birding at the creek corridor tomorrow morning, but the last couple of times I've been out I went to the prairie parcel of Pheasant Branch Conservancy. To my delight, sparrow migration is well underway. There are many Lincoln's Sparrows and White-throated Sparrows, but I was slightly surprised to find my first Dark-eyed Junco and White-crowned Sparrows of the fall season.


Lincoln's Sparrow

September sure went by quickly. Weather-wise, it's been very mild and still feels like late summer. October begins next week and that means the possibility for Harris's Sparrows, though I usually associate them with much cooler weather.


Song Sparrow


Gray Catbird



Beautiful place, isn't it? I'd write more, but I'm too tired and plan to hit the field early!


Palm Warbler


Common Yellowthroat

Gaura

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Sep 25, 2014 6:45 AM - 8:45 AM
48 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Mallard
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Sedge Wren
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
American Pipit
Cedar Waxwing
Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Palm Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Clay-colored Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2014 Mike McDowell