Monday, January 15, 2018

Conservancy Lands Plan: Survey

"Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us."

― Theodore Roosevelt


Middleton's Conservancy Lands

The City of Middleton is in the process of developing a five-year update to its Conservancy Lands Plan. They recently put up an online survey to gather opinions about conservancy usage, access, preferences, and suggestions for improvement. I usually won't participate in online surveys, but answered this one because Pheasant Branch Conservancy an important area for migratory and nesting birds. In the context of land set aside for nature conservation―in the truest sense of the word―I answered the questions with respect to the welfare of birds and not my personal benefit. Anyway, the results displayed at the end of the survey. Below are a few questions and results I found noteworthy.

In Question #1, respondents were asked what conservancy areas and trails were visited or used in 2017. Naturally, Pheasant Branch Conservancy and the creek corridor received the highest percentages:



With this in mind, Question #2 on usage is revealing:



Participants are allowed to make multiple selections on this question, but I am a little disappointed (but not surprised) that Birdwatching is only 33% and Other Wildlife Viewing scored 34%. On the other hand, it's good that a whopping 83% like to use it for Walking/Hiking. Though the creek corridor trail was paved to accommodate commuter bicyclists, it's overwhelmingly used for recreational bicycling. I think this breakdown is pretty accurate. When I'm birding at any part of the conservancy, this seems like a good approximation how I see conservancy lands being utilized.



I guess this isn't all that surprising. Often I joke with friends that the conservancy has effectively become a 500-acre outdoor physical fitness center. Most joggers and walkers are probably unaware of the conservancy's birds and other wildlife unless they happen to have a chance encounter with something. I recall a jogger coming up to me to ask what I was photographing. When I answered, he replied, "There's wildlife in here?" Another amusing question is when people ask if I'm looking for The Owl. That's the one owl at Pheasant Branch! This became a common question since the Great Gray Owl visited Middleton several years ago.



It's great to see a majority of respondents prefer natural surface trails. Though the creek corridor was paved several years ago, the trail system north of Century Avenue is presently a mix of natural surface, gravel, and woodchip trails. I still wish they hadn't painted white and yellow racing stripes on the paved section. It prompted one rebel (not me) to illegally post these signs along the creek corridor.



To me, this last question may be the most disappointing one. Respondents are asked to rank and distribute percentage points for future allocation of conservancy resources. While acquisition of new land has a score of 24%, restoration (17%) is doing worse than trail maintenance (30%). Sadly, education has an impressively low score 5%, and volunteering just 3%. In reality, as a single issue comes up for people to vote on, it may have an entirely different support breakdown. Still, I can't help but feel these results don't bode well for the future of the conservancy's birds and non-avian wildlife as there is much what I see as ongoing parkification.

The survey is still ongoing, to please feel free to submit your thoughts!

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Back to the Arb!


Townsend's Solitaire

I brought Dottie and Mark Johnson to the UW Arboretum today to view the Townsend's Solitaire. They've been out of the Wisconsin birding scene since the end of October with trips to Australia and North Carolina. The solitaire was a Wisconsin state life bird for Mark, but Dottie has previously observed them at Devil's Lake State Park. Content with our visit with the bird, we explored roads north of Middleton in search of Snowy Owls. We did find several Red-tailed Hawks, a single Rough-legged Hawk, American Kestrels, and Northern Harriers ... but no snowies!

UW Madison Arboretum (general), Dane, Wisconsin, US
Jan 14, 2018 10:45 AM - 11:45 AM
20 species

Canada Goose 
Mallard 
Wild Turkey 
Red-tailed Hawk 
Red-bellied Woodpecker 
Downy Woodpecker 
Northern Shrike 
Blue Jay 
American Crow 
Black-capped Chickadee 
Red-breasted Nuthatch 
White-breasted Nuthatch 
Townsend's Solitaire 
American Robin 
European Starling 
Dark-eyed Junco 
Northern Cardinal 
House Finch 
Common Redpoll 
Pine Siskin 

Townsend's Solitaire © 2018 Mike McDowell

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Ice is Nice!

"Patience is to wait for the ice to melt instead of breaking it."

― Munia Khan


Pheasant Branch Conservancy

The wind chill was -15°F when I hit the trail this morning. We did have a warming trend for a few days that melted all the snow, but another round of arctic air blew in just in time for the weekend. This time I began my hike from the creek corridor as opposed to the prairie. I eventually ended up at the latter, but there wasn't much going on there apart from an American Kestrel, Red-tailed Hawk, and a few Ring-necked Pheasants. I have yet to see a Northern Shrike this year. At the corridor, though, I figured I would find a few new birds for the birding year.


Dark-eyed Junco

It's been a good January for winter finches. I already have House Finch, American Goldfinch, Pine Siskin, and Common Redpoll. Other birders are finding crossbills and Hoary Redpolls, but observations have been far less common. Typically, the only other finch I see during my birding year is Purple Finch, usually in early April. My last encounter with White-winged Crossbills was five years ago, but it was a very memorable one.


Pine Siskin


Pine Siskin

At the risk of chilling my fingers to the bone, I spent some time away from birding to photograph interesting ice formations along the creek. Every few minutes I'd have to warm my fingers by putting my gloves back on. I had hand warmers inside of them, but I don't think that's cheating! I used to have a rechargeable hand warmer, but I can't remember where I put it.















These frosty ones look like tiny icy forests:







Checking conifers carefully with my bins, I found my first owl of the year. This Great Horned Owl was tucked away and keeping its eye on a nearby squirrel. Once the squirrel was out of sight, the owl closed its eyes and appeared to nod off. But even through thin eye-slits the ever-watchful owl keeps tabs on everything that goes on in its neighborhood.


Great Horned Owl

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Jan 13, 2018 8:30 AM - 11:30 AM
34 species

Canada Goose
Mallard
Ring-necked Pheasant
Wild Turkey
Red-tailed Hawk
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
American Kestrel
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Winter Wren
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
European Starling
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 © 2018 Mike McDowell

Plastcanis Feculentis



This is an interesting species I have been finding with increasing regularity the past few years at Pheasant Branch Conservancy: Blue-bagged Crap (Plastcanis Feculentis). This extremely cooperative specimen is nicely perched in the understory for a good photo-op. I've never seen such a deep hue in the blue morph of this species, but I've also found them along the creek corridor in black or green plumage. Nesting on the ground or in low tree branches, not much else is known about the breeding behavior of P. Feculentis. However, it's thought they have an ecological relationship with a subspecies of hominini called H. Sapiens Irresponsiblicus. Derived from its Latin name, Blue-bagged Crap is known to emit a foul odor when its dermis becomes damaged, so watch where you step when hiking on the conservancy's trail system.

© 2018 Mike McDowell

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Impact


Ground nesters are vulnerable!

Here's a comprehensive review complied by Metro Parks and Nature (Oregon) summarizing research on the impact pet dogs (on or off leash) can potentially have on natural areas.

Impacts include:

1. Physical and temporal displacement – The presence of dogs causes wildlife to move away, temporarily or permanently reducing the amount of available habitat in which to feed, breed and rest. Animals become less active during the day to avoid dog interactions. Furthermore, the scent of dogs repels wildlife and the effects remain after the dogs are gone.

2. Disturbance and stress response – Animals are alarmed and cease their routine activities. This increases the amount of energy they use, while simultaneously reducing their opportunities to feed. Repeated stress causes long-term impacts on wildlife including reduced reproduction and growth, suppressed immune system and increased vulnerability to disease and parasites.

3. Indirect and direct mortality – Dogs transmit diseases (such as canine distemper and rabies) to and from wildlife. Loose dogs kill wildlife.

4. Human disease and water quality impacts - Dog waste pollutes water and transmits harmful parasites and diseases to people.

Naturally, this is all very bad for birds and other critters that live at the conservancy. It's refreshing to read something I've long suspected true in my gut about dogs at Pheasant Branch Conservancy. According to eBird data, there are some puzzling population declines for around a dozen or so grassland bird species. But is it really a mystery?

There has been ongoing discussion about dogs at the conservancy on the Friends of Pheasant Branch Conservancy Facebook page. Some residents of nearby North Lake and Orchid Heights were not pleased when the "No Dogs" signs went up. Of note, I found the following comments rather disappointing (all from the same individual):

"I support dogs on leash, but let's be clear banning dogs will 'Never' be an option."

"Agreement, that people should work harder to keep dogs on leashes. However, start talking 'No dogs' and you will have no support from me and many people in Middleton. Extremists and authoritarians have basically ruined this country. Let's keep Middleton, the good neighbor city."

"It is an organization that allows citizens to enjoy nature in an non-authoritarian environment without an abundance or rules and restrictions. It is one of the reasons we don't mind paying healthy property taxes."

Naturally, I disagree with all three comments. First of all, banning pet dogs is most definitely an option, which is the state at several other excellent nature conservancies in Dane County. Second, what about being a good neighbor to the prairie's wildlife? Though there are a few dog parks near the conservancy, my proposal to Dane County Parks and Friends of Pheasant Branch Conservancy only suggested banning dogs at the very northern prairie and oak savanna parcel (green on map). This is where as many as 60 bird species nest during the spring and summer breeding season.


Greed is not a 'good neighbor' value.

In the top-middle of the map is Orchid Heights Park (sports fields, pond, shelter, and playground equipment). Dogs would continue to be allowed there as well as the overwhelming majority of the conservancy's trail system. In light of the evidence, I contend that fighting to keep the prairie parcel open to dogs is selfish and irresponsible when there are other nearby options available to pet owners. Being pro-no dogs at the prairie parcel is a moderate and responsible stance that’s being distorted and misrepresented by fallaciously calling it "extremist"and "authoritarian."

I liken this dilemma to the movie Field of Dreams. Recall the scene when the ghost players are actively playing a game in the baseball field that was once a cornfield. Mark (played by Timothy Busfield) is unable to see the players; he can see the baseball field, but nothing else. Throughout the movie he harshly advises Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) and his wife to sell their farm to prevent foreclosure. But it isn’t until Ray’s daughter chokes on a hotdog and is saved by one of the players walking off the field that Mark becomes aware of what’s occurring at Ray’s baseball field. Finally, he sees the players and immediately reverses his position: "Do not sell this farm, Ray. You've got to keep this farm!"

I contend that once people become fully aware of the unique and sensitive flora and fauna at the prairie and savanna at Pheasant Branch Conservancy, they will begin to understand what makes it worth further protecting by banning pet dogs. Compelling scientific studies show even leashed dogs threaten, harass, cause declines, even kill wildlife, and further degrades habitat quality. "Do not allow dogs on bird breeding territory, Ray. You've got to keep them safe." Sacrifice something.

To my way of thinking, even one unnecessary bird death at the hand of man (because of their pet) at a nature conservancy is one too many. It’s time to respect and treat the conservancy as a conservancy, and not a multi-use park. There are plenty of other places where residents of this city can walk their pet dogs, but there is no place else for these amazing and federally protected birds to live.

All images © 2018 Mike McDowell

A Disturbance in The Force!



I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of my blog readers suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Here we go!

"Here we go! No ... No way! No one ... gonna stop, now go!"

― Jane's Addiction


Pinetum at UW Arboretum

The Townsend's Solitaire that's overwintering in the pinetum at Longenecker Gardens (UW Arboretum) has been eBirded 38 times so far this year. Temperatures today climbed into the upper 20s and lower 30s, so it seemed like a perfect day for winter birding.

I began my day by hiking Pheasant Branch Conservancy. As I expected, the highest concentration of birds was to be found at Conservancy Condo bird feeders. There were several dozen Pine Siskins, but fewer House Finches and American Goldfinches. The overwintering White-throated Sparrow population is slightly higher than average. There were also Dark-eyed Juncos, American Tree Sparrows, and the usual assortment of woodpeckers and other winter birds.

Though I searched for the Northern Shrike at the prairie, I wasn't able to locate it. I also found Horned Larks, Lapland Longspurs, and Snow Buntings along Balzer Road, just north of the conservancy.

Back to the solitaire!


Plenty to eat!

I decided to pay the Townsend's Solitaire one final visit. It might be a long time before Dane County birders have another opportunity as good as this for this particular species. As I've written here before, to get this bird on a Wisconsin year list generally means a trip to Devil's Lake and an arduous climb up steep bluffs with slippery rocks.

This is one lucky bird. There is plenty to eat (juniper berries) and good cover should an accipiter fly through. Still, it's amazing this bird (and other songbirds) can endure subzero temperatures while they roost at night. Certainly, some birds probably die during harsh winter weather. But how do you know whether it's this one or that? Given it's rare status in our neck of the woods, this has been the same bird all along since first discovered on December 12th. We know this one is doing just fine.


Eating snow!


Eating juniper berries!


Eating snow!

Some nice portraiture ...





And American Robins, too. Yes―they do overwinter in Wisconsin!



Pondering birding styles this evening, I got a little curious to find out how many species on my 2017's year list (209 bird species) were represented by a single bird. To find out, I ran the "Summarize my Observations" under "My eBird" and then view the Species Totals tab. I counted the rows where only a single "1" tick shows for the entire year.

Here are my 11 singles for 2017:

Surf Scoter (waterfowl scoping Lake Mendota)
Long-tailed Duck (same outing)
Sharp-shinned Hawk (during CBC)
Willet (chased, Stricker’s Pond)
Eastern Screech-Owl (during CBC)
Northern Saw-whet Owl (while looking for flying squirrels)
Townsend's Solitaire (chased, UW Arboretum)
Kentucky Warbler (warbler migration at the creek corridor)
Yellow-breasted Chat (chased, Cherokee Marsh)
Henslow's Sparrow (hike during a wedding reception)
Blue Grosbeak (while photographing tiger beetles)

Of these, three were intentionally chased birds: Willet, Townsend’s Solitaire, and Yellow-breasted Chat, two of which were in my Middleton count circle. The remaining eight were encountered during my regular birding efforts at Pheasant Branch, Pope Farm Conservancy, Spring Green Preserve, and a few other locations. For my 2017 effort, I was a bit under average with 141 total eBird checklists, most of which were in Dane County.

The race to be 1st in Dane County has begun! It's only the 7th day of the year, but some in Dane County have already submitted over two dozen eBird checklists. When we birders begin a fresh birding year, there’s a rush to get out there and start building the new year list. With a few exceptions, most of the birds out there right now will be encountered during spring migration and the remainder of the year. So, why chase with such intensity now, especially when it’s been so cold outside?

Another puzzling thing I’ve observed the past few years involves BIGBY birding. For the uninitiated, BIGBY stands for Big Green Birding Year. This is when a birder focuses on reducing his or her carbon footprint while searching for birds by walking or biking a local patch or area for a year. The problem is, many BIGBY birders still chase throughout the state via automobile; they just keep different lists, thus defeating the whole point of so-called “green birding.” If you want to do a BIGBY year, then do one. But I digress.

I think the greatest challenge is have the highest bird tally in combination with the fewest number of outings. But even then, I know some birders simply skip submitting their eBird observations if they fail to get a new bird during an outing, thus giving a false impression of skill and efficiency. But what if you simply want to bird as often as often as you can? Shouldn’t you? Yes! What if this means birding every day, twice or three times a day? Yes! If an eBirder, though, then I think you should submit a checklist for every outing, and not just those with year birds.

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Jan 7, 2018 8:00 AM - 11:00 AM
28 species

Canada Goose
Mallard
Ring-necked Pheasant
Red-tailed Hawk
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
American Kestrel
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
American Tree Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
White-throated Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Balzer Road, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Jan 7, 2018 11:45 AM - 12:00 PM
5 species

Northern Harrier
Bald Eagle
Horned Lark
Lapland Longspur
Snow Bunting

UW Madison Arboretum (general), Dane, Wisconsin, US
Jan 7, 2018 12:35 PM - 1:35 PM
8 species

Mallard
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Townsend's Solitaire
American Robin
European Starling
Northern Cardinal
Common Redpoll
Pine Siskin

All images © 2018 Mike McDowell

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Who named Pheasant Branch Creek?

"Every name is real. That's the nature of names."

― Jerry Spinelli


William Banks Slaughter's grave marker in Madison, WI

I received an interesting text from fellow birder and friend Shawn Miller this evening. Apparently, he happened upon a book belonging to his dad titled Dane County Place-Names by Frederic G. Cassidy, University of Wisconsin Press, 1968. Fascinatingly, it has a few mentions of Pheasant Branch and Pheasant Branch Creek and how it may have gotten its name.

Pheasant Branch
Another, probably the earlier, name for Pheasant Branch Creek.

Pheasant Branch, vill. 
Probably for the creek; see next. The land was bought in 1838 by Thos. T. Whittlesey, of Conn., who laid out the village in 1849. It was platted 1853: secs. 1 and 12, MIDDLETON.


Thomas T. Whittlesey

But here's the relevant and interesting entry...

Pheasant Branch Creek
This is a later form of the original name Pheasant Branch, evidently descriptive, there having been pheasants on this branch, or creek.

“The Pheasant Branch” was first used of the stream (earliest record found is 1845: Dane 127, 129, etc.). Next, the village of Pheasant Branch was laid out in 1849 and platted in 1853. Later, the pleonastic word “creek” was added to the name of the stream (earliest record found is 1861: Lig.), probably to distinguish it from the village, and also, no doubt, because “creek” is more familiar locally than “branch” (compare Nine Springs Creek).

Exactly what “branch” meant, in application to the stream, is a question. In the N Atlantic states it is not a common word, but when used, it means a division of a larger stream. In the S Atlantic states it is the most common word for a small stream, usually when this is a tributary, but even when it is the whole stream. (See NED, DAE, Ling. Atlas of New England, Wentworth's Amer. Dialect Dict.) Since Pheasant Branch (Creek) flows together with the water from Whittlesey's Marsh before entering L. Mendota, it is possible that “branch” is here used in the N Atlantic sense. The latter seems more likely because “branch” is coupled with “pheasant.”

For, assuming that the name was descriptive, “pheasant” must have referred to some local bird. At the time when the name was given, the most common that could have gone by this name was the ruffed grouse (Schor.), called “partridge” by Northerners and “pheasant” by Southerners. Thus the evidence seems to point to the name's having been given by a Southerner.

Who he can have been is another question. Since Thos. T. Whittlesey bought a large part of this land, including the stream, in 1838, and laid out the village and named it in 1849, some have thought him also responsible for the name of the stream. But Whittlesey was from Connecticut.


Pheasant Branch Creek Corridor 1937

However, Whittlesey was not the first in this location. In 1835 Col. Wm. B. Slaughter had purchased land just E of the mouth of the stream, where he planned to found his City of the Four Lakes. Since Slaughter was a Virginian, it seems more probable that he, finding what he would have called “pheasant” plentiful along what he would have called a “branch,” named the stream (perhaps about 1835).

Pheasant Branch PO
For the village. Est. June 28, 1850; disct. Dec. 31, 1902.

Pheasant Branch Spring
For nearby Pheasant Branch: a large spring in E sec. 1. MIDDLETON. (Schor.)

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a photograph of William Banks Slaughter, but I did find many instances of a book he had written:



At findagrave.com, I found this about William B. Slaughter:

"He was a fine scholar and an ornate writer, and prepared lectures on philosophical, moral, and literary subjects. He wrote a number of sketches for the American Biographical Company, for their work on the prominent men of Wisconsin; and had published a volume of his own on " Reminiscences of Distinguished Men ''— Jefferson, Jackson, and Randolph among them. He was a fine conversationalist, and possessed a wonderful memory."

Sounds like an interesting person. Anyway, I bought a copy of his book!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

One more Bird for 2017!


Townsend's Solitaire 

Having missed it on two previous occasions, I decided to give the Townsend's Solitaire that's been visiting a patch of junipers at the UW Arboretum one final try. After a brief hiatus, the bird reappeared a few days ago. The icy cold weather would make it challenging. The wind chill was -17 and though I dressed appropriately for the frigid conditions, my toes got pretty cold after about an hour of searching.


Longenecker Gardens

Upon arrival, I met Rob from Kentucky at the visitor center parking lot. He was in town visiting family and wanted the solitaire for a life bird. He didn't quite know where to look for it, so I told him to follow me out to the pinetum at Longenecker Gardens. I was a little concerned that he didn't have gloves and was wearing shoes instead of winter boots. We parked near the visitor center because there have been car break-ins at the parking lot on McCaffery Drive.

While waiting for the solitaire to appear, there were some other interesting birds to study. I expect Black-capped Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches, but it's somewhat strange seeing Yellow-rumped Warblers in this kind of weather. Like the solitaire, they're able to subsist on juniper berries and will probably survive Wisconsin's worst chills.

Just over a half an hour into our search and wait, Rob was getting cold, so I suggested he walk back to his car to warm up and took down his phone number to call him when (if) the solitaire showed up. He thought that was a good idea. More minutes passed and I was beginning to lose my resolve for the bird.

And then it happened.

It flew in from the south over by the McKay Center at 8:44AM. I got the small songbird in my bins, but didn't realize it was the solitaire until it was nearly to the pinetum. The bird perched for a few seconds, then began to consume juniper berries. After feasting for a few minutes, it returned to a high perch and appeared to be warming itself in the sunlight.

Oh yes ... I called Rob right away and he got the bird!

I've already observed this species for Wisconsin at Devil's Lake State Park, but this was the first time seeing one in Dane County. Though my county records are a little sloppy, I believe the solitaire is my 289th species for Dane.

Got the bird.
Went home.
Made coffee and breakfast.
Took a nap.

So, this really is it ... for 2017.

See you in 2018!

UW Madison Arboretum (general), Dane, Wisconsin, US
Dec 30, 2017 7:45 AM - 9:15 AM
19 species

Wild Turkey
Bald Eagle
Red-tailed Hawk
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Townsend's Solitaire
American Robin
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Northern Cardinal
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch

Townsend's Solitaire © 2017 Mike McDowell

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Year in Blogging

"The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes."

― G.K. Chesterton



The bitter cold winter has arrived and this photographer is hanging it up for the final few days of the year. It was -7°F when I checked the temperature this morning. Yikes! So I decided not to go birding. Instead, this is my closing post for 2017. I'm sure most readers of this blog will agree the past year was pretty bizarre. While there were many personal and professional challenges that required a lot of my time and attention, one thing that a year mindfully exploring Nature can do is provide a profound sense of restorative balance.

As anyone can appreciate, the present political climate is not especially friendly to the environment, but at the same time there’s still a lot out there for one to explore and document. My advice? Spend as much time outside as you can. Here in southern Wisconsin, I’m grateful for all the protected natural areas I visit season to season, year to year. We know, however, that such protections are not necessarily permanent and require advocacy and support to sustain them for future generations. Still, try not to despair, for the pendulum swings. Be a voice for wilderness and critters in 2018!

Birding New Year's Day 2017 yielded 34 bird species at Pheasant Branch, finishing January with 49 species. Perhaps the most exciting find was a cooperatively perched Merlin on Balzer Road. Mark Johnson got a better photograph of this bird stretching its feathers.



Photographed at Pope Farm Conservancy, there was a fantastic frozen visual display rendered by a February ice storm. The photographs need the crunchy crinkly sounds to go with, though!



March's highlight was bittersweet, for I knew it would be the last time I would be able to photograph returning Eastern Meadowlarks in fields behind Electronic Theater Controls. Turns out they needed to make more parking lots for their expanding business. Where will the meadowlarks go?



On cue, April brought spring ephemerals and early feathered migrants.



May's singers soon graced my favorite bird haunts. Once again the creek corridor offered opportunities to see (and hear) Prothonotary Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, Hooded Warbler, and Connecticut Warbler. As Mays go, this one was really good!



It was a great summer for Dickcissels at Pope Farm Conservancy and many other places were best practices for managing prairies is respected, but apart from two sightings, they ignored the prairie parcel at Pheasant Branch.



In June, Mark Johnson and I got Tiger Beetle Species #14, Northern Barrens Tiger Beetle (Cicindela patruela) at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge ― an excellent and ferocious little beastie!



Only two to go!

Speaking of tiger beetles, I made several summer trips to Spring Green Preserve, which is one of the best places to observe and photograph these fascinating insects. During this particular outing, I got one of my finest ever photographs of Big Sand Tiger Beetle. Late afternoon on the same trip I sat next to several Prairie Fame-flowers and waited for them to open.



Part birding and part astronomy, I traveled to Nebraska with a few friends to watch the Solar Eclipse. An added bonus was getting lifer Burrowing Owls!



A late-summer curiosity was the amazing reproductive success of Eastern Gray Treefrogs along the creek corridor of Pheasant Branch. Though I've heard their trilling calls many times over the years, I've rarely ever had the opportunity to actually see them. For whatever reason, I kept running into them throughout August and September.



Warbler season came and went, and then it was time for fall sparrows. It seems Harris's Sparrows skipped Pheasant Branch this year, but LeConte's Sparrows were even better! And photographing one doing the splits? Priceless! This is probably my personal favorite photograph of 2017.



The huge flock of Tundra Swans at Goose Pond was my definitive November highlight. Mark Martin and Sue Foote-Martin, resident managers, said it was the most they've ever observed at the Audubon sanctuary. Extended warm weather kept the swans at the pond for weeks, but eventually they moved to Lake Mendota just in time for the Madison Christmas Bird Count.



With over a hundred outings to choose from, a pair of Snowy Owls and a beautiful sunset at Goose Pond was probably the coolest thing to happen in 2017. I've seen some stunning sunsets over the years, but this one was special.



And that's it for 2017!

If I can keep it going, this blog will see the start of its 14th year in 2018. Many birding blogs have come and gone since I started this one, but some good ones are still out there. Alas, I don't follow very many of them because it's vastly easier to share stories and images via Facebook and other social media platforms. Is blogging dead? It might be. Still, I prefer having a web domain and a way of sharing my nature photography with complete control over its content.

For the numbers, I submitted 141 eBird checklists for 208 species, 199 of which were in my 7.5 mile radius patch for Middleton, and 188 at Pheasant Branch alone. This represents a fairly average year without much chasing, adding a few other year birds during insect excursions at Spring Green Preserve and Baxter's Hollow.

Happy New Year to all!

All images © 2017 Mike McDowell