Monday, December 15, 2014

December Birding!



The white owls are garnering most of the attention right now, but the brown ones are still supremely cool. The weather has been exeptionally dreary lately and has had a negative impact on my photography and blogging. Still, it was good to be outside and hike a few miles while breathing the moist air and listening for birds. This past Saturday was a practice run for this weekend's Christmas Bird Count, so I made a point to cover as much ground as I could at the conservancy. I was surprised to find several White-crowned Sparrows at the prairie parcel, one adult and six juveniles. Five of them were hanging out in the tall weeds in the northwest corner while the other two were associating with a flock of American Tree Sparrows near the retention ponds. No sign of the Barred Owls, but I hope that means I'll find them on Saturday's count!

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Dec 13, 2014 12:30 PM - 3:30 PM
41 species

Snow Goose
Canada Goose
Tundra Swan
Mallard
Common Merganser
Ring-necked Pheasant
Cooper's Hawk
Bald Eagle
Red-tailed Hawk
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
American Kestrel
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
American Robin
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Snow Bunting
American Tree Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Great Horned Owl © 2014 Mike McDowell

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Snowy Owl on Pheasant Branch Road!



There was a Snowy Owl along Pheasant Branch Road today! Me, Mark & Dottie Johnson, and Sylvia Marek were planning to take my Snowy Owl route after breakfast, but Kristin Schmitt and her husband Mark found one before we set out. This isn't the first time a Snowy Owl has been observed at this particular location. My route, which has produced several Snowy Owl sightings over the past decade, consists of Pheasant Branch Road, Fisher Road, Kingsley Road, then going through Waunakee to get to Schumacher Road.



These images were the best I could get from 175 yards away. Still, sometimes it's nice to present a bit more habitat in a bird photograph. Clouds rolled in and we lost the sunlight for the remainder of the day. Watching from Fisher Road, I observed the owl until sunset. Sometime near 4:00PM it left the boulder and flew a short distance west, landing on a row of hay bales. What an impressive wingspan! It seemed somewhat interested in a flock of Mallards that kept flying in circles over the field, but nothing came of it. Eventually the ducks headed toward the conservancy.

I wonder what the owl is doing right now?



All images © 2014 Mike McDowell

Sunday, November 30, 2014

2015 Phenology Calendar!



The Friends of Pheasant Branch Conservancy 2015 Phenology Calendar is out!

Link: Calendar preview or order!

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Flock!



They're back! A few hundred Cedar Waxwings were feeding on berry trees across the street from my apartment this afternoon. The sun was obscured by clouds, but I thought I would use the building behind the tree to work with different colors. By adjusting my position, I could have a white, tan, blue, or orange background. Each color rendered a slightly unique feel and temperature. While I was digiscoping the waxwings, around a dozen Common Redpolls flew in, perched, but quickly departed before I could get a photograph of one.













All images © 2014 Mike McDowell

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Winter Wonderland!



Pheasant Branch Conservancy always looks magnificent after a fresh snowfall. I wasn't the first person to hit the trail this morning; a couple of joggers beat me to it, but I got there early enough to catch the sunrise. The clear skies didn't last long as clouds moved and rendered more of a monochromatic look to the snow-covered wooded scenery. Sprout the Barred Owl was at his usual roost along the creek corridor and looked much more relaxed and contented compared to the last time I saw him when he was being mobbed by crows. I only had a couple of hours to explore and I wanted to check the prairie, woods, and creek corridor for birds. There was a Northern Shrike hunting on the north side of the prairie, but it flew west toward Pheasant Branch Road and I lost it behind a row of trees.











Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Nov 25, 2014 7:00 AM - 9:15 AM
37 species

Canada Goose
Tundra Swan
Mallard
Ring-necked Pheasant
Northern Harrier
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Barred Owl
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Northern Shrike
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
American Robin
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Snow Bunting
American Tree Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2014 Mike McDowell

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Friday, November 21, 2014

I just had to go back for it...



A couple of weeks ago I saw this cool steampunk "bird & binocular" piece at the Madison Contemporary Museum of Art. I was downtown for the Saturday evening performance of Sarah Chang playing the Sibelius Violin Concerto with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, so I couldn't conveniently take the piece with me. It's strange when art speaks to you and I kept thinking about it later that night and into the next morning. A bird perched on a binocular ... in steampunk? How cool is that!? The museum opened at noon on Sunday, so I decided to go back for it. Now it's sitting on an end table in my living room. It really suits the Myst-like decor of my apartment.



Incidentally, I had Sarah Chang sign my copy of Bruch & Brahms during the intermission. I was a little starstruck, but she was super cool. It would figure that I listen to classical music, wouldn't it. In almost 10 years of blogging, I don't believe I've ever mentioned it here. The Sibelius Violin Concerto is one of my all-time favorites.

Want a steampunk bird like this? Check out Mullanium!

All images © 2014 Mike McDowell

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Sprout!



It's late evening and it's snowing. The morning skies were clear but temperatures were in the low teens. It's going to be even colder tomorrow morning, so I'm not sure whether or not I'm going to go out birding again this weekend. There are Snowy Owls not too far away from home, so I might do my usual owl route if road conditions aren't too nasty. It's still over a month before winter officially begins, but so far late fall has been more than a prelude to winter … it is winter.

The highlight of my walk at the conservancy this morning was finding a Barred Owl. But not just any Barred Owl. This is an owl I've known for over a decade – I know most of his usual roosting sites. Me, Sylvia and Dottie refer him as “Sprout.” It's a name Dottie gave him on account of how he appears to be sprouting from a particular tree when perched at one of his usual roosting spots. Unfortunately for Sprout there were several American Crows mobbing him today, which was how I became aware of his presence. You can tell by his alert posture that he was very concerned about the crows.



I think I took my first photograph of Sprout around 2003. Over the years I've had many fascinating Sprout observations. I've seen him fish during the night. I once observed him watching huge snowflakes fall. Another time I saw him carefully removing ice from his leg feathers. He can do an astonishing vanishing act when being mobbed and pursued by crows by diving full speed into a tree cavity. What makes me pretty confident it's been the same owl all these years comes from knowing his habits and habitats. I suppose there's a chance it hasn't been the same owl, but something just tells me it's him.

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Nov 15, 2014 8:15 AM - 11:30 AM
36 species

Canada Goose
Mallard
Ring-necked Pheasant
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Barred Owl
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
American Robin
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
American Tree Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2014 Mike McDowell

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Getting Colder!


Cedar Waxwing

I spent a few hours birding at the prairie parcel and overlook area of Pheasant Branch Conservancy this morning. The highlight was spotting a flock of 31 Tundra Swans flying over the marsh making their way toward Lake Mendota. The temperature was in the low twenties and there was a fairly strong wind so it felt even colder. Tomorrow morning it will be only in the teens and this birder is going to stay home and drink coffee!

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Nov 12, 2014 7:00 AM - 9:00 AM
37 species

Canada Goose
Tundra Swan
Mallard
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Pheasant
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
American Kestrel
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
American Robin
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
American Tree Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Cedar Waxwing © 2014 Mike McDowell

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Two Pics!


White-crowned Sparrow (HY)


American Goldfinch

And that's it!

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Nov 8, 2014 7:15 AM - 9:00 AM
33 species

Canada Goose
Mallard
Ring-necked Pheasant
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
American Robin
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
American Tree Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2014 Mike McDowell

Thursday, November 06, 2014

New Mary Oliver!

http://www.amazon.com/Blue-Horses-Poems-Mary-Oliver/dp/1594204799/

Do you like nature poetry? I sure do. I even dabble in writing it on occasion, but haven’t for a while. Mary Oliver is one of my favorite nature writers and I recently discovered she has released a new book of her lyrical nature poems. As with many of her previous poetry collections, themes in Blue Horses include mindfulness, exploration, humor, and the wise pace of appreciating the everyday as it pertains to nature’s elements and critters, especially birds.

Here’s a sample from Blue Horses, a short poem simply titled "Owl Poem":

One has to say this for the rounds of life
     that keep coming and going; it has worked so far.
The rabbit, after all, has never asked if the grass
     wanted to live.
Any more than the owl consults with the rabbit.

Acceptance of the world requires
     that I bow even to you,
Master of the night.

Mary Oliver is often regarded as one of the great poets of our age. I’m inclined to agree. Personally, I find her writing as rewarding and inspirational as works by Burroughs, Emerson, and Thoreau. When walking the prairie or along the creek corridor pondering what I might choose to write, I often find myself trying to channel Mary Oliver’s style in how I take in the wilderness and world around me. Whether you're new to Mary Oliver or a longtime fan, I'm sure you'll enjoy her latest work!

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Feathers and Frozen Flowers



During sunrise this morning, the underside of a narrow band of clouds became decorated with brilliant orange highlights. Too bad I wasn't yet at the conservancy as it would have made a stunning photograph with the drumlin in the background. It was windy. By the time I arrived at the conservancy, the fast-moving cloud layer had already blocked the sun. Skies were clear to the west, so I knew the sunlight would return momentarily. As I photographed frost-coated wildflowers, an American Kestrel flew overhead, sending several American Tree Sparrows for cover. When the danger level subsided, the sprightly sparrows returned to their perches and resumed calling teedle needle teedle-eet. Once the sunlight returned, their little voices gained energy.


American Tree Sparrow

I found a group of five White-crowned Sparrows, consisting of one adult and four hatch-year birds. These very well could be the last of this species I'll see until spring. I do occasionally find them at the conservancy during winter, as was the case last year. Years ago, I recall seeing one at the prairie during a blizzard. The hearty sparrow was clinging to a goldenrod plant, successfully eating its seeds while getting pelted with snow. The durable sparrow endured.


White-crowned Sparrow

I found this majestic Red-tailed Hawk perched on an oak tree atop the drumlin. The young raptor was unfazed by a couple of joggers that went by. I invited one of the joggers to take a peek through my spotting scope at the bird. By his accent, I guessed he was probably originally from Australia or New Zealand. After being thrilled by the scope view, he asked if he should run back to the trailhead in the opposite direction so not to disturb the hawk. I told him so long as he didn't stop or make eye-contact, it would likely remain perched. And so it stayed!


Red-tailed Hawk

Dozens of Sandhill Cranes remain at the conservancy. During mild weather they'll roost in the marsh until early December. Somehow I don't think that's going to be the case this year. Each morning they depart the marsh and head to the adjacent agricultural fields to forage for food. It's nothing like the spectacle on the Platte River in Nebraska, but a hundred calling cranes can still put on quite a show!


Sandhill Crane

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Nov 2, 2014 6:45 AM - 9:00 AM
36 species

Canada Goose
Mallard
Blue-winged Teal
Ring-necked Pheasant
Northern Harrier
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
American Kestrel
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
European Starling
Snow Bunting
American Tree Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2014 Mike McDowell