Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Plain Moon

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Singing Begins!

"There is something that can be found in one place. It is a great treasure which may be called the fulfillment of existence. The place where this treasure can be found is the place where one stands."

― Martin Buber


Pheasant Branch Conservancy ― Owl Country

What a wonderful change in the weather compared to last weekend! Temperatures reached into the low 30s on Saturday and birds were taking advantage of the balmy respite. An early avian phenological change in January, Northern Cardinals were singing their bright whit cheer cheer cheer songs. White-breasted Nuthatches, Tufted Titmice, and Black-capped Chickadees were more vocal and Red-bellied Woodpeckers were churring and defending territories. These are the principal voices that will shape the woodland choir throughout February and into early March.


Barred Owl

Hiking near an owl roost I know extremely well, I spied a Barred Owls tidying its feet. I wondered what those feet were catching under the moonlight. After a few minutes of preening, the owl fluffed up its feathers and settled into a slumber. But I knew it was keeping a keen eye on me, so I left the bird to the tranquility of the winter woods.


Barred Owl

Bird-wise, everyone was busy. Busy stretching...


Mourning Dove

Hammering away at seeds...


Black-capped Chickadee

Contemplating which branch to fly to next...


White-breasted Nuthatch


White-breasted Nuthatch

Nuthatches, chickadees, and other birds of the forest have much work to do, but they're always on the alert for predators. Once you become familiar with their alarm calls, upon hearing them your first instinct should be to look for a raptor, especially an accipiter like a Sharp-shinned or Cooper's Hawk. This time fortune was on the side of the birds in my vicinity, but the hungry Cooper's Hawk flew off into the direction of Harbor Village Condos where there are lots of bird feeders.


Cooper's Hawk

Some interesting ice formations along the creek:





Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Jan 23, 2016 10:00 AM - 1:00 PM
35 species

Canada Goose
Mallard
Ring-necked Pheasant
Cooper's Hawk
Bald Eagle
Red-tailed Hawk
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
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
American Tree Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
White-throated Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
House Finch
Common Redpoll
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2016 Mike McDowell

Monday, January 18, 2016

Ethics of LEOW Roosts


A snoozy Long-eared Owl

You’re probably familiar with the story – someone discovers a Long-eared Owl winter roost site and shares the sighting (usually with photographs) on social media, and eventually people begin privately requesting the specific location from the discoverer. Birders are a sharing lot by nature and it’s difficult to keep owls a secret, especially when under immense pressure from other birders and photographers to reveal the roost location.

As a species of special concern in Wisconsin, here’s what Wisconsin Bird Conservative Initiative has written about Long-eared Owl roosts from their ethical standards:
"Please do not closely approach these roosting birds, as doing so may cause them to abandon the roost site, which may adversely affect their winter survival. Please do not report roosting locations on online birding networks."
But eventually the person who reported the owls caves to the pressure and reveals the location to a few people, often under an agreement of sworn secrecy not to share it. Invariably, new photographs of the owls begin appearing on social media and the cycle begins anew. Before too long the owls are receiving regular visitors and we’ve compromised the very ethical guideline established by various birding organizations to protect these owls. In the worst case, the owls eventually abandon the roost site from repeated disturbances.

What to do:

  • If you find a Long-eared Owl roost, please don’t report it to listservs or social media networks.
  • If you encounter a post about Long-eared Owls on the Internet, don’t ask for the roost site location.
  • Here’s how to report sensitive species to eBird.

If you bird long enough, eventually you will encounter Long-eared Owls in the wild all on your own, and what an amazing experience it will be!

Long-eared Owl © 2016 Mike McDowell

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Creaky Trees and Crunchy Snow!


Pheasant Branch Conservancy ― Frozen!

I met Mark, Dottie, and Sylvia at Craftsman for lunch today and wasn't sure whether or not I would want to endure the -20 windchill weather afterwards. But with a hot meal and coffee in my belly, I decided to go for it. Mark and Dottie are both getting over a cold virus and Sylvia had another obligation, so it was just me, creaky trees, crunchy snow, and the conservancy's birds.


Red-bellied Woodpecker

Near the Conservancy Condos there was the usual assortment of chickadees, nuthatches, finches, woodpeckers, and sparrows. I found a Common Redpoll at one feeder, but not as many Pine Siskins compared to my previous visit. There were Downy, Hairy, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, but I didn't see or hear the Northern Flickers today. Sparrows were American Tree, White-throated, Song, and Dark-eyed Juncos.


American Robin

In the deepest part of the woods I found a flock of American Robins ― a few dozen in all. Feathers puffed, all were using perches in the sunlight to keep warm. I noticed by walking more slowly they were less likely to be disturbed by my presence, so I took my time to find a nice spot from where I could get a few portraits of them.


American Robin ― Feather check!


American Robin ― Settling in.

There were lots of Northern Cardinals going about their business, but a few were perched out in the open to collect the sun's warmth. Soon the males will start singing early mornings, which is one of the first phenological changes that can be detected with the present assortment of winter birds at the conservancy.


Northern Cardinal

The overwintering Gray Catbird appears to be doing just fine. I observed it foraging in a small springs, which doesn't freeze no matter how cold it gets. The catbird was flipping over vegetation and finding things to eat, perhaps small invertebrates of some variety. When I went through the area again, though, it was back eating buckthorn berries.


Gray Catbird

After my walk through the woods, I went to the prairie to check the big springs. On my way there I spotted a Northern Shrike, but it was too far away to photograph in the dogwood patches to the south. You can see in this photograph that despite the super-cold temperatures, there's a veritable oasis for the ducks and geese. With the water temperature at 50 degrees, it renders a sauna-like atmosphere to help the birds survive winter's chill.


Waterfowl at the Conservancy sauna!

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Jan 17, 2016 12:30 PM - 3:15 PM
32 species

Canada Goose
Mallard
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Pheasant
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Shrike
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
American Tree Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
White-throated Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
House Finch
Common Redpoll
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2016 Mike McDowell

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

So I went birding...

"You have to feel the bite of the wind to appreciate the warmth of a winter coat."

― Fennel Hudson


Pheasant Branch Conservancy

I waited until the temperature was a balmy 5 degrees F. before heading out to Pheasant Branch Conservancy today. Even so, the windchill was between -10 and -15 ― yikes! My "bundling up" protocol includes a toasty-warm down jacket, Hestra gloves, Asolo boots, SmartWool socks, thermal underwear, balaclava, plus Yaktrax for the slippery snow-packed trail. However the cold might try to coil around me, I was determined to put some birding time in.

My first stop was a walk through the woods north of Century Avenue to check in on a bird that should be much further to our south right now. Amazingly, a Gray Catbird continues to endure the current trend of frigid temperatures. I first found this bird on December 5th. Though I missed it on the CBC, it's been hanging out in an area with plenty to eat, a small springs for water to drink, and dense cover from wind and predators.


Gray Catbird

You can tell these birds are doing their best to keep warm!


American Tree Sparrow

My hike around the prairie parcel was largely just physical exercise. About the only grassland birds I found were Ring-necked Pheasants and a few American Tree Sparrows. Most of the sparrows have moved to the feeders at the Conservancy Condos along the west side of the woods. Other birds included a large collection of waterfowl at the big springs consisting of Mallards, Canada Geese, and a few Green-winged Teal. I scanned dogwood patches for shrikes, but found none. I spotted a Rough-legged Hawk soaring overhead as I made my way back to the parking lot.

Next stop? Barriques for hot tea and lunch!


Cedar Waxwing

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Jan 12, 2016 11:15 AM - 1:30 PM
30 species

Canada Goose
Mallard
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Pheasant
Red-tailed Hawk
Rough-legged Hawk
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing
American Tree Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
White-throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
House Finch
Common Redpoll
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2016 Mike McDowell

Monday, January 11, 2016

Snowflakes!



I haven't been to Pheasant Branch Conservancy since the 3rd, but I may venture out there tomorrow morning if it isn't too cold. Digiscoping in super-cold weather doesn't work very well on account of turbulence from the temperature differential inside the spotting scope compared to the outside air. It's pretty difficult to achieve sharply focused images.

This evening I spent some time photographing fresh snowflakes from my patio using my macro lens. Some were photographed on my patio railing, others I let collect on my cap for a few minutes. Read this if you're curious about the scientific explanation for their six-sided shape.

















All images © 2016 Mike McDowell

Thursday, January 07, 2016

5,500!



The Wisconsin Birding Facebook group delivers!

  • Now over 5,500 members strong!
  • Daily sightings from all corners of the state.
  • Discussion on Bird ID with the best birding experts in Wisconsin.
  • Birding educators, authors, bloggers, and photographers.
  • Seasoned field trip leaders and guides.
  • Camera and sport optics professionals.
  • Professional ornithologists and other scientists.
  • Regular updates from ornithology groups.

Join today!

Here are some other worthwhile Wisconsin birding resources on Facebook:


Monday, January 04, 2016

Shrike!


Northern Shrike

A fierce Northern Shrike recently arrived at the prairie parcel of Pheasant Branch Conservancy. I first spotted it perched atop the oak tree near the parking lot, but something caught its attention and it took off across the prairie. I followed it to another tree where it held its perch until spotting prey beneath a patch of dogwood. The "butcher bird" zoomed down, grabbed a small rodent, and then made quick work of it from a more distant perch.

My first few outings of 2016 were pretty productive. I did well with raptors, finding both Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks, plus Red-tailed Hawks, Northern Harrier, and a Bald Eagle. The Gray Catbird I was hoping to count on the Madison CBC reappeared at the same buckthorn patch at the end of Marina Drive. I wonder where it was during the count? Sneaky bird!

There are still a few Sandhill Cranes around and I wonder if they'll even bother to migrate this winter. It's been a strange season for lingering migrants. Charles Naeseth called me earlier this evening to tell me he found an Eastern Phoebe at the Arena boat landing. It'll be interesting to see if Lake Mendota eventually freezes this winter.

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Jan 1st and 3rd, 2016
37 species

Canada Goose
Tundra Swan
Mallard
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Pheasant
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Bald Eagle
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
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
American Robin
Gray Catbird
American Tree Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
White-throated Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Northern Shrike © 2016 Mike McDowell

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Ends!



And that's it for 2015!

The birding year started with a Snowy Owl at Goose Pond ― what a great bird!

By the numbers it was an average year with 181 bird species at Pheasant Branch Conservancy over 149 outings. There were no rarities and no new species added to my patch list. I found 31 warbler species during spring migration along the creek corridor and got to see Black-throated Blue Warblers in both spring and fall. The breeding season was a bit of a bust and I missed nearly all of July on account of a muscle injury. Fortunately, with rest and physical therapy I recovered just in time for fall migration.

This blog celebrated its 10th anniversary in February. Though I thought for a while the decade mark would be a good stopping point, I ultimately decided to keep this blog going. The year at Pheasant Branch provided many opportunities for observing and photographing birds, wildflowers, and insects.

I made a couple of trips to Spring Green Preserve to photograph tiger beetles and my personal "Naturalist" highlight of the year was the Ghost Tiger Beetles near Buena Vista Grasslands:


Ghost Tiger Beetle

Other tiger beetle excursions included a great new spot for Punctured Tiger Beetles and the Sauk City Canoe Launch proved to be just as good as Spring Green Preserve for species diversity.

Digiscoping-wise, my favorite portrait was this Indigo Bunting countersinging with another nearby male at the prairie parcel of Pheasant Branch Conservancy:


Indigo Bunting

I was also pleased with this Lark Sparrow portrait taken at Spring Green Preserve:


Lark Sparrow

The overall birding highlight for 2016 was the Northern Saw-whet Owl Sylvia Marek found across the street form her house:


Northern Saw-whet Owl

What an adorable bird!

A fall lunar eclipse was pretty exciting:


Lunar Eclipse

And for 2016? I hope to try and find the last five tiger beetle species I need for Wisconsin to complete my photography list. Apart from that I'll keep birding and exploring at Pheasant Branch Conservancy, Pope Farm Conservancy, and Spring Green Preserve. I will continue to blog. There will be field trips, open birding, and lots of great birds and other wonders of the natural realm to experience and share. Most of all, though, I hope to stay healthy.

All the best to you and yours in 2016!

Happy New Year!

All images © 2015 Mike McDowell

Monday, December 28, 2015

Who's attacking Wisconsin's wetlands now?



AB 600 is bad for Wisconsin and Wisconsin's wetlands because it:

  • Allows destruction of publicly important resources (isolated wetlands and emergent, near-shore wetlands) for private benefit.
  • Creates an incentive for people to purchase wetland property for speculative development.
  • Encourages siting of subdivisions and other development in low-lying agricultural landscapes.
  • Allows for unfettered development of some of Wisconsin's most valuable wildlife and waterfowl production areas in the state. 
  • Will increase the annual acreage of permitted wetland destruction far beyond the increases already authorized by the regulatory reforms enacted in 2012.  
  • According to the Wisconsin State Journal, those reforms have already doubled the average amount of authorized wetland development across the state and the required mitigation has not kept pace. 

And who is responsible for AB 600?

Adam M. Jarchow (R)
Scott Allen (R)
David Craig (R)
Mary Czaja (R)
Rob Hutton (R)
Dan Knodl (R)
John Nygren (R)
Kevin David Petersen (R)
Paul Tittl (R)
Frank Lasee (R)
Daniel LeMahieu (R)
Stephen Nass (R)
Duey Stroebel (R)
Chris Kapenga (R)

What a coincidence! But don't worry. I'm sure each of them is an expert in geology, hydrology, and wildlife ecology. Isn't it a relief to know Wisconsin's wetlands are in such capable hands among the party of science?

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Last outing for 2015!


Barred Owl

I probably won't return to Pheasant Branch Conservancy during the final few days remaining of 2015. Feeling a little cabin feverish, I walked some of the conservancy's trails after lunch today. Without putting in an extensive effort like last weekend, I still managed to find a couple owls. One of the Barred Owls was perched like a little ghost at its usual winter roost and a Great Horned Owl was getting mobbed by American Crows on the east side of the woods. I checked a few of the sparrow spots, but only came up with Dark-eyed Juncos, American Tree Sparrows, and White-throated Sparrows. There are still Sandhill Cranes present on account of the mild weather we've been having.

Hopefully I'll find time to put together a year-in-review post for 2015 sometime this week. If not, I'll return in 2016 for another year of birding, digiscoping, and blogging from Pheasant Branch Conservancy and other nearby natural areas!

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Dec 27, 2015 12:30 PM - 2:00 PM
25 species

Canada Goose
Ring-necked Pheasant
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Barred Owl
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
American Robin
American Tree Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
White-throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Barred Owl image © 2015 Mike McDowell

Sunday, December 20, 2015

CBC Results!


Madison Audubon CBC Count Circle

"Each year, thousands of people across the U.S. and Canada join in on these local, coordinated bird counts to help compile data about North America's incredible bird species. 2015 will be the 116th Christmas Bird Count (also known as the CBC) and we encourage you to find out more about the CBC and to get involved in a count near you. Read here to find out how!"


Barred Owl

Yesterday I tallied 46 bird species in Area 21 during the Madison Audubon CBC, which covers a good portion of Pheasant Branch Conservancy. Best birds were two BARRED OWLS, a pair of WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS, a single HORNED LARK, SWAMP SPARROW, AMERICAN ROBINS, CEDAR WAXWINGS, and BELTED KINGFISHER. On the stream south of the big springs there were GREEN-WINGED TEAL, AMERICAN BLACK DUCKS, and one GADWALL mixed in with dozens of MALLARDS. It was a chilly start but a pretty good day of birding!


American Tree Sparrow


American Coot

Madison Audubon CBC Area 21
Dec 19, 2015 7:30 AM - 3:00 PM
46 species 

Canada Goose  157
Gadwall  1
American Black Duck  4
Mallard  82
Northern Shoveler 1
Green-winged Teal  5
Bufflehead 17
Common Goldeneye 4
Ring-necked Pheasant  2
Wild Turkey  3
Cooper's Hawk  2
Bald Eagle  1
Red-tailed Hawk  3
Common Loon 2
American Coot 3
Sandhill Crane  32
Ring-billed Gull 15
Rock Pigeon 12
Mourning Dove 1
Barred Owl  2
Belted Kingfisher  1
Red-bellied Woodpecker  4
Downy Woodpecker  6
Hairy Woodpecker  3
Northern Flicker  2
Blue Jay  7
American Crow  4
Horned Lark  1
Black-capped Chickadee  25
Tufted Titmouse  5
White-breasted Nuthatch  8
Brown Creeper  1
American Robin  13
European Starling  6
Cedar Waxwing  4
American Tree Sparrow  50
Dark-eyed Junco  27
White-crowned Sparrow  2
White-throated Sparrow  8
Song Sparrow  2
Swamp Sparrow  2
Northern Cardinal  14
House Finch  7
Pine Siskin  14
American Goldfinch  4
House Sparrow  35

All images © 2015 Mike McDowell