Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Snowy Owls are coming!



Actually, they're already here!

Wisconsin sightings so far this fall:



And North America:



Snowy Owl © 2017 Mike McDowell

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Back to the Prairie!

"Close your eyes and turn your face into the wind. Feel it sweep along your skin in an invisible ocean of exultation ... suddenly, you know you are alive."

― Vera Nazarian


Pheasant Branch Conservancy

Though cold and breezy, it was great to be outside for a hike along Pheasant Branch Conservancy's trails. Much to my consternation, we've had overcast skies the past several weekends, so I wasn't about to let the dip in temperature thwart whatever sunlit photographic subjects I might find. I needed the exercise, too.


American Tree Sparrow

Though I was hopeful for a Northern Shrike, I didn't learn until after I got home one was found further east near Orchid Heights. So I guess the prairie's sparrows got a reprieve. Still, a shrike has to eat something. Undoubtedly, other birds perished―just not the ones I was observing! Without the presence of a predator, though, the tree sparrows were quite cooperative.




Adorable up close, aren't they?



White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows have become scarce. Those that remain have moved to the woods near the Conservancy Condos. Most years a few over winter there, along with a Fox Sparrow or two. There's good cover, easy access to a small springs that doesn't freeze, plus plenty of birdseed put out by the condo residents. They'll still need to be alert for Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks, though!


White-throated Sparrow


White-crowned Sparrow (immature)



It's a short work week coming up on account of the holiday. With a 4-day stretch of time off, I hope to get back to Pheasant Branch and maybe finally track down that Northern Shrike!



Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Nov 19, 2017 8:30 AM - 11:30 AM
36 species

Canada Goose
Tundra Swan
Northern Shoveler
Mallard
Bufflehead
Ruddy Duck
Ring-necked Pheasant
Northern Harrier
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Hermit Thrush
European Starling
Lapland Longspur
American Tree Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
White-crowned Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch

All images © 2017 Mike McDowell

Friday, November 17, 2017

Ethics from Empathy



Take it from someone who has spent thousands of hours in the field observing and photographing birds and other wildlife; there is a lot of truth and value in this article!

"Whenever we are out in nature to pursue our hobby or profession of photography, we are in a relationship with, and have an impact on, wild animals. Ethical wildlife photography strives to minimize impact and disturbance on those animals; in short, do no harm to any living creature or its habitat."

Link: Full article at Outdoorphotographer.com

Barred Owl © 2017 Mike McDowell

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Strong NW Winds!



But not much to show for it over Wisconsin. Probably emberizids and other late migrants heading down to Texas.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Ducking Out!


Northern Shrike

Except for a few brief patches of blue, our skies have been overcast for the past several days. I birded Goose Pond and a few spots on Lake Mendota on Saturday, and then Governor Nelson State Park on Sunday. Birders in the area are reporting Northern Shrikes at various locations, including Pheasant Branch Conservancy. While photographing Tundra Swans at Goose Pond, I heard (then spotted) a shrike calling toward the west end of the pond near the railroad tracks.


Tundra Swan

There must have been over 300 Tundra Swans on the partially frozen pond, which is always a treat to see and hear. The waterfowl diversity was down compared to the previous weekend, but there were large numbers of Canada Geese and Mallards. Other birds included Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Gadwall, Greater White-fronted Geese, and a single Snow Goose.






Peregrine Falcon (back-left)

While scanning across the pond with my spotting scope at 25x, a bright red object caught my attention. Zooming in I discovered that it was a duck carcass being consumed by a Peregrine Falcon! Though the distance was substantial, I recorded a short video clip of the predator and its meal:



Goose Pond, Columbia, Wisconsin, US
Nov 11, 2017 1:30 PM - 2:20 PM
17 species

Snow Goose
Greater White-fronted Goose
Canada Goose
Tundra Swan
Gadwall
Mallard
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
American Coot
Sandhill Crane
Ring-billed Gull
Peregrine Falcon
Northern Shrike
American Crow
Lapland Longspur
American Tree Sparrow
Common Grackle


Sandhill Crane

A pair of Sandhill Cranes near the entrance of Governor Nelson State Park.




Common Loon

The following day I went to Governor Nelson State Park to see what I could find on the North Bay section of Lake Mendota. I figured strong south winds might push waterfowl in that direction and I wasn’t disappointed. A quick binocular scan revealed a large raft of American Coots and several Common Loons, but a slower spotting scope scan through the coots yielded a Surf Scoter, Black Scoter, and Horned Grebe. Further out I spotted a Long-tailed Duck, the first I’ve seen on Lake Mendota in several years.


Black Scoter and Surf Scoter


Long-tailed Duck

Governor Nelson SP, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Nov 12, 2017 11:00 AM - 12:38 PM
38 species

Canada Goose
Tundra Swan
Northern Shoveler
Mallard
Canvasback
Redhead
Lesser Scaup
Surf Scoter
Black Scoter
Long-tailed Duck
Bufflehead
Common Goldeneye
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Common Loon
Pied-billed Grebe
Horned Grebe
Bald Eagle
American Coot
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Bonaparte's Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Winter Wren
American Tree Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Common Grackle
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch

All images © 2017 Mike McDowell

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Yikes!

TONIGHT:

Mostly clear and unseasonably cold.
Low: 9; record low temperature for Madison is 10 set in 1979
Wind: N 8-15 MPH; Wind Chills: +5 to -5 by morning

Monday, November 06, 2017

Early November Update!


Fox Sparrow

Weekend weather was rainy, gray, and gloomy, but I did go hiking at Pheasant Branch Conservancy for over an hour to check out the avian situation. Taking my usual route, I didn't find a single Lincoln's or White-crowned Sparrow. There were only a few Fox Sparrows, Field Sparrows, and White-throated Sparrows, but large numbers of American Tree Sparrows.

I didn't see the Northern Shrike that Lisa reported last week, but I'm sure there's probably one or two hanging around by now. No wood warblers were observed, and there probably won't be any from now until the end of March when the first Myrtle Warblers return.

A Sunday trip to Goose Pond yielded Canvasback, Redhead, Ruddy Duck, Mallard, Northern Pintail, American Black Duck, Ring-necked Duck, Green-winged Teal, Bufflehead, Canada Goose, Greater White-fronted Goose, Tundra Swan, and a few Dunlin.

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Nov 5, 2017 10:30 AM - 12:00 PM
30 species

Canada Goose
Tundra Swan
Mallard
Ring-necked Pheasant
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
White-breasted Nuthatch
European Starling
American Pipit
Cedar Waxwing
American Tree Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
White-throated Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch

Fox Sparrow © 2017 Mike McDowell

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Good fall for LeConte's!


LeConte's Sparrow

Why do certain bird species show up in higher abundances some years versus others? We know of irruptions and why they occur for owls, finches, waxwings, etc., but there are also superflights when several northern species fly deep into the central and southern United States. But then there are other cases, like this fall's LeConte's Sparrow migration, which seems atypical to me.

When looking at recent LCSP eBird charts for the month of October, 2017 has been better than past years. Why? I suppose it could be that there are more eBirders than ever. Or maybe birders are getting better at finding these sneaky sparrows by looking for them in appropriate habitat. Perhaps how they're reported on social media forums increased their popularity.

Did they have an exceptional breeding season? Has habitat restoration played a role? Though I've been scouring Pheasant Branch Conservancy's prairies for nearly two decades, I only detected this species for the first time in 2012, then 2016, and even more individuals this fall. So, perhaps restoration efforts are making the prairie more attractive to these birds.

But there were also very strong west winds this fall, which may have pushed more of these sparrows our direction into higher concentrations. Naturally, the best explanation could be that all of the above reasons factor into this particular little migration mystery.

What ever the case may be, I'm just pleased to have LeConte's Sparrows at the prairie!

October 2017:


October 2015:


October 2013:


LeConte's Sparrow © 2017 Mike McDowell

Monday, October 30, 2017

Shrike!



I received a text this morning from Lisa Mettel reporting a Northern Shrike at the prairie parcel of Pheasant Branch Conservancy. Though I scoured the prairie yesterday, I didn't come up with a shrike, so perhaps this bird moved in overnight with northwest winds.



My past PBC Northern Shrike arrival dates:

2016-10-23 1 Mike McDowell Checklist
2014-10-28 1 Mike McDowell Checklist
2013-11-10 1 Mike McDowell Checklist
2012-11-01 1 Mike McDowell Checklist
2011-10-22 1 Mike McDowell Checklist
2010-10-21 1 Mike McDowell Checklist
2009-12-19 1 Mike McDowell Checklist
2008-11-03 1 Mike McDowell Checklist
2007-11-30 1 Mike McDowell Checklist

Northern Shrike © 2017 Mike McDowell

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Time

"I could feel the bite of the autumn air, warning us all of the harsh winter that was on its way."

― Jennifer Starzec


Pheasant Branch Conservancy

Another wonderful October draws to a close. American Tree Sparrows are beginning to occupy the prairie, signaling the final days of sparrow migration. I tallied 94 avian species at the conservancy this month, which is slightly above average for my records. There were unusually low numbers of Savannah and Clay-colored Sparrows, for which I can offer no explanation ― I just hope this isn't the start of a trend. I didn't find a Harris's Sparrow, but the LeConte's Sparrows were more than a worthy consolation.


American Tree Sparrow

It's the time of year I'll do less birding during weekday mornings before work. When Daylight Savings Time ends, it will be dark by the time I leave the office. Thus, most of my outings will take place on weekends from now until early March. But there are changes and challenges coming in 2018.


Dark-eyed Junco

As many of you already know, Eagle Optics, the company I've worked at for the past 17 years, is closing. The five remaining sales staff members will be transitioning to jobs with Vortex Optics. I bring this up because next spring we're moving our entire operations from Middleton to Barneveld. This means a 25-30 minute longer commute for me, which will most definitely cut into the amount of time I can spend birding during weekday mornings. So far I'm not planning on moving closer to Barneveld because I want remain near to Pheasant Branch for weekend birding.



Years ago I preferred a 10:00AM to 6:00PM shift because it allowed me ample time for birding before work. However, when we changed our hours to close at 5:00PM it meant my starting time was changed to 9:00AM. Losing that hour in the morning significantly impacted my time in the field, but it also meant new opportunities for birding after work during spring and fall. The 9:00AM start time will likely continue after the move to Barneveld, so I'll need to leave Pheasant Branch by 8:15AM in order to give myself a bit of wiggle room to be on time. Thus, there will be even less time for collecting observations and material to maintain this blog.



On the other hand, birding and nature photography isn't something I'm about to stop doing, even under the pressure of time adjustments. However, it will impact how much content I can create and share on this blog. A great deal of work goes into its production. The past few years I've tried to average at least a few blog posts each week, but that will probably be unattainable this coming spring. For readers of this blog, you'll probably notice a drop in the number of posts. Expect a shift in quantity, but not quality!




Field Sparrow



For the season ending, late October's palette always renders astonishing scenes of natural beauty. As other peak migration months go, they all sort of blend together and it's often difficult to recall by memory specific details and sightings. One of the benefits that comes from journaling in the form of a blog is that I can explore the archives and relive the highlights. October 2012 stands out for the first Pheasant Branch LeConte's Sparrows, and now 2017 will be remembered for their third appearance at the conservancy.









Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Oct 29, 2017 7:30 AM - 9:30 AM
47 species

Canada Goose
Blue-winged Teal
Mallard
Ring-necked Pheasant
Great Blue Heron
Cooper's Hawk
Bald Eagle
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
Winter Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
European Starling
American Pipit
Cedar Waxwing
Lapland Longspur
Yellow-rumped Warbler
American Tree Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
White-crowned Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Eastern Towhee
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Common Grackle
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch

All images © 2017 Mike McDowell

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Dang! Close!





But my shadow went there!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Open Birding: Canceled 10/22!

Sparrows will be hunkered down during the rain, so I'm canceling Open Birding for this morning. I'll consider scheduling another sparrow walk next weekend, either the 28th or 29th.