Monday, February 23, 2015

Blogiversary!



Celebrating an entire decade of blogging about birds and other nature-y subjects!

Last year on this day I wrote:

"The original version of this blog was a simple text log of my bird observations in an .HTML table. That was back in 2005. I switched to blogger shortly thereafter, but don't recall exactly when. The content and style evolved in various ways over the years, but birding and nature photography at Pheasant Branch Conservancy continues to be my primary focus. I will continue writing, photographing, and sharing my birding and digiscoping stories for the foreseeable future. Spring is just around the corner, so posts ought to increase as I start spending more time outdoors."

And last year turned out to be one of my favorite and most productive yet. But the amount of effort required to sustain such a high level of output and quality is a lot of work and sometimes it feels more like an obligation than ordinary fun. I guess in a way I'm very fortunate that my vocation and avocation are so closely aligned. Perhaps my feelings are a normal reaction from doing anything for such a long period of time. It isn't so much a question of whether or not I'll continue birding as it is about the production and publication of this website. An adjustment of some type feels necessary, but what that might entail I'm not sure. However, winter is not a good time to make a firm decision on this for the same reason I mentioned last year. Spring is coming and I will be spending more time at the creek corridor, the prairie, and the woods—there are bound to be discoveries and moments worth sharing.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Snowy Trail



It was somewhat breezy late this morning, but given slightly warmer temperatures beckoning me to get some fresh air, I decided to go birding. After the past week, 18° F just doesn't feel that cold! I wasn't expecting any major changes at the conservancy, and I wasn't disappointed by this fact. No matter the season, it's still a special place to explore and admire even if only for the sake of its splendid natural beauty. With all that troubles the world today, it's nice to feel lost in the simple mindfulness that occurs when plodding along a snowy trail.


Horned Lark

There were a few Horned Larks in the agricultural field along the north end of the prairie, but the snow drifts there were rather deep. Some of them were dense enough to support my weight for a few steps, but I kept falling through which made for slow going. The rest of the trail system only had a couple inches of snow, so I didn't bother putting on my snowshoes.



Well, there were some subtle changes. For one, there were fewer American Tree Sparrows. Also, I didn't locate any of the White-crowned Sparrows that have been overwintering. Have they moved on? Perhaps, but where? Maybe to the subdivision just to the east where there are bird feeders. Or maybe they were just resting in the tall grass someplace out of sight.


Great Horned Owl

Most songbirds congregate near the condos along Pheasant Branch Road on account of all the bird feeders. The White-throated Sparrows were present, as well as Pine Siskins, many woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, cardinals, jays, and more—it's where all the action is. On the other hand, it was comparatively quiet along the creek corridor where the Great Horned Owls are roosting. Come April, the corridor will become the migratory songbird magnet it's known for. Spring is just around the corner.

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Feb 17, 2015 10:15 AM - 12:45 PM
30 species

Canada Goose
Mallard
Ring-necked Pheasant
Red-tailed Hawk
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
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
Brown Creeper
American Robin
European Starling
American Tree Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2015 Mike McDowell

Sunday, February 15, 2015

GBBC Results!


Cedar Waxwing

Here are my results from a few hours of backyard birding this morning. Given the extremely cold weather, I was glad to bird from inside. I think the highlight was the large flock of Cedar Waxwings feeding on the crabapple tree in the courtyard. I made sure there wasn't a Bohemian among them, as happened a few years ago. As far as Pheasant Branch goes, there really isn't much changing right now. If I had gone to the conservancy I probably could have added another 10 to 15 species. I'm sure there were one or two c̶r̶a̶z̶y̶  intrepid birders out there counting them, though. For me it was a good day to lounge around in my PJs, catch up on some reading, watch the Badgers beat Illinois, and do household chores. Back to work tomorrow!

Great Backyard Bird Count
Feb 15, 2015 7:30 AM - 9:30 AM
16 species

Red-tailed Hawk  1
Mourning Dove  4
Downy Woodpecker  2
Hairy Woodpecker  1
Blue Jay  1
American Crow  1
Black-capped Chickadee  4
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
European Starling  7
Cedar Waxwing  42
Dark-eyed Junco  5
Northern Cardinal  3
House Finch  6
Pine Siskin  6
American Goldfinch  8
House Sparrow  12

Cedar Waxwing © 2015 Mike McDowell

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Would you trust this owl?


Great Horned Owl

At least two owl attacks have occured on people during the last decade at Pheasant Branch Conservancy, one of which resulted in someone requiring stitches. I would be cautious around the Great Horned Owls at the conservancy (or anywhere) this time of year, as it is nesting season. There have been a few stories in the news recently about owl attacks and I know it's pretty rare, but it can be brutal if it does occur. A good way to avoid being attacked is to spend as little time as possible around these magnificent birds of prey. Stay on the trail. If you're a photographer, take a few shots and then go. When the owls begin to get active in the evening, it might be best to move on.

Check out this story about an owl attack!

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Feb 7, 2015 2:15 PM - 4:45 PM
33 species

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

Great Horned Owl © 2015 Mike McDowell

Friday, February 06, 2015

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

First of February


American Kestrel

Saturday was awesome weather-wise, but Old Man Winter renewed his commitment with the calendar over the past few days. We got over half a foot of new snow on Sunday and then a few more inches yesterday. Still not quite feeling 100% recovered from my illness, I limited my first bird outing of February to just the prairie parcel of Pheasant Branch Conservancy.

This American Kestrel was the most exciting bird of the day. It was hunting over the prairie along Pheasant Branch Road and eventually came up with a small rodent which it consumed atop a telephone pole. It seemed to favor this particular tree and returned to the perch several times. Other birds included Song Sparrow, American Tree Sparrow, Red-tailed Hawk, American Robin, Northern Cardinal, American Crow, Canada Geese, and Mallards. No White-crowned Sparrows were found, but they might still be around.

Something I've been thinking about for several months is what to do about February 23th. On that day this blog will celebrate an entire decade of publication. Part of me would like to retire from blogging, but I know I'm likely to have something to share here and there. February seems like an odd time to stop. Perhaps after spring migration? However, I might just publish to Facebook. Being inclined to determinism, I'll just wait and see what I end up doing!

American Kestrel © 2015 Mike McDowell

Saturday, January 31, 2015

January Ends!



These have been my best friends while battling probable A(H3N2) Influenza for the past week. It's all over the office and elsewhere so I figured it was only a matter of time before I would get infected with the virus. Last Monday was just awful. I had a fever, headache (migraine level), and nausea. Now it feels like it has just about run its course with only lingering congestion. This morning I was ready to get out of the apartment and go do something fun.

I decided to head over to Bolz Conservatory at Olbrich Botanical Gardens and enjoy the warm temperature and humidity. It's an elaborate indoor tropical garden and it felt just heavenly to breath in the moist air. I'm so ready for spring. I brought along my Kindle and Nikon 1 V1 camera. After reading a couple of chapters from Living the Secular Life by Phil Zuckerman, I decided to photograph some of the incredible plants and flowers of the conservatory. I recorded names of species I was able to. The conservatory's plants are from all over the world, including South America, Africa, and Asia—over 475 species!


That's just exactly how I found it!


On your mark, get set, go!


It's an indoor jungle.


Heliconia


Cattleya


Oerstedella






Guzmania


Begonia


Lobster-Claw


Chenille Plant




Taffeta Plant


Rothmannia


Seersucker Plant


Blushing Bromeliad



By noon it was beginning to get little crowded at Bolz, so I headed over to Prairie Cafe to get a late breakfast. I decided on the scramble special and some coffee. I wasn't really planning on birding, but the trails beckoned me on account of being so close to Pheasant Branch Conservancy. Plus, it was calm and 35 degrees. With a winter storm looming, I decided not to waste the pleasant weather and daylight hours by returning indoors.


American Tree Sparrow

Perhaps a little spoiled by the extravagant colors at Bolz, I was still happy to see the winter woodland and prairie birds yet one more time in January. Does this Barred Owl ever move? Actually, I've been to the conservancy at night and have watched it hunt—an extremely cool experience.


Barred Owl


Monochromatic Woods

After birding I went to Barriques for tea and entered in my eBird checklist:

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Jan 31, 2015 12:30 PM - 3:30 PM
34 species

Canada Goose
Mallard
Ring-necked Pheasant
Red-tailed Hawk
Rough-legged Hawk
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Barred Owl
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
American Kestrel
Northern Shrike
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
American Robin
European Starling
American Tree Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2015 Mike McDowell

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

4,000!


The Wisconsin Birding Facebook group delivers!

  • Now over 4,000 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 pages on Facebook:


Sunday, January 25, 2015

On Cluelessness

The facts are:

1. No one from the Wisconsin Birding Facebook group ever accused Rick Schultz of baiting Snowy Owls.

2. Rick Schultz was not removed from Wisconsin Naturalists by any of its admins. He left on his own several days after the outburst on his Facebook wall.

3. In his own words Rick Schultz stated:

"Thank you so very much everyone, including the administrators from Wisconsin Birding. I have learned such a valuable lesson here. When questioned again as to how I obtain my photos I should not be so hasty or accusatory in any way."

Did any of this halt the slanderous cyber-whining by those who shall not be named? Nope! But I guess that's what happens when you rely on motivated reasoning rather than facts and evidence.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

American Tree Sparrows at Pope Farm Conservancy!



Here's an article I wrote appearing in the latest Pope Farm Conservancy newsletter!

Just because the wintery weather has moved into southern Wisconsin doesn't mean all the interesting songbirds are gone. There is a durable migratory sparrow from the northernmost regions of Canada that will spend the winter months at our fields, prairies, and also backyard feeders.

Around late October, as most migratory songbirds near the end of their southward journey, the first American Tree Sparrows begin to arrive at Pope Farm Conservancy. Their wintering range extends as far south as north Texas, but can also be found in northern California and all the way east to North Carolina.

The American Tree Sparrow (Spizella arborea) can be distinguished from other sparrows by their rusty cap and eyeline against an overall gray head. They have a bi-colored bill that has a yellow lower mandible and gray upper mandible. They also have a matching rusty colored shoulder marking, a white wing bar, and brown streaked back. The tree sparrow's grayish-white breast often has a dark central spot.

During winter, American Tree Sparrows can be found in medium-sized to large flocks feeding on the weeds and prairie plant seeds, especially goldenrod. They eat snow to obtain water. Though small in size (18 g), they can endure our coldest winters, even when it's twenty below zero! About the only thing they have to be concerned about is being captured and eaten by small hawks like Sharp-shinned and Cooper's, or Northern Shrikes.

As spring nears in March, male American Tree Sparrows begin to sing their melodious songs, especially on sunny days as warmer temperatures weaken winter's chill. They sing a sequence of clear notes and sweet whistles often falling in pitch. To me their songs are a harbinger of spring and a reminder that their migratory journey back to northern Canada is just about to get underway.

American Tree Sparrows are an abundant species, but they're easily missed unless you spend time outdoors during winter or have bird feeders in your backyard. Pope Farm Conservancy's prairies offer these sparrows exactly the type of habitat they need in order to survive our harsh winters. If you snowshoe or hike the conservancy’s trails this winter, pay note to a "teedle-eet teedle-eet" bird call. They're most vocal and active in the morning because they need to eat to keep warm!

Link: American Tree Sparrow - All About Birds

American Tree Sparrow © 2015 Mike McDowell

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Blue, White, and Brown


Pheasant Branch Conservancy - Prairie Parcel

It was a beautiful day for a long walk along the trails of Pheasant Branch Conservancy. At the prairie parcel I heard a few Horned Larks and one Lapland Longspur. They often fly over the prairie as they move from one agricultural field to another, but you have to know what to listen for in order to detect them. I was hoping to hear some Snow Buntings, too, but didn't find any today. Near the first retention pond there were many American Tree Sparrows, several White-crowned Sparrows, a few Dark-eyed Juncos, and one each of Swamp and Song Sparrows. A Red-tailed Hawk was soaring around the drumlin and an American Kestrel was hunting along Pheasant Branch Road.


White-crowned Sparrow (HY)

After the prairie I ventured into the woods north of Century Avenue. The usual suspects were present. By the Conservancy Condos there were Pine Siskins, White-throated Sparrows, American Robins, White-breasted Nuthatches, Black-capped Chickadees, many woodpeckers including a Northern Flicker. Of course, "Sprout" the Barred Owl was enjoying the sunlight from his favorite roost.




Barred Owl



Can you spot the Brown Creeper in the above photograph? Me either. I couldn't see it, but I did hear it. Sometimes they can be a little difficult to directionally locate by call; I can't tell if their high-pitched voice is coming from in front of me or behind me.


The Creek Corridor

There's still a fair amount of snow in the low-lying parts along the creek corridor, but it was mostly melted at other areas in the conservancy. Other than the creeper, a Blue Jay, a couple of woodpeckers, and some Dark-eyed juncos, things were pretty quiet at the corridor. The Great Horned Owls west of Park Street were perched near one another in the conifers.


Great Horned Owl

Once I arrived home I noticed a young Red-tailed Hawk perched on a light pole near the parking lot. I parked my car behind a couple of trees and was able to sneak out and snap a few photographs of it. It sure was nice to spend some time outside and not freeze in the process. It's far too early to say spring is just around the corner with all of February to get through, but at least we can say that Sandhill Cranes return next month!


Red-tailed Hawk

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Jan 18, 2015 11:00 AM - 1:45 PM
34 species

Canada Goose
Mallard
Ring-necked Pheasant
Red-tailed Hawk
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Barred 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
American Robin
European Starling
Lapland Longspur
American Tree Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2015 Mike McDowell