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

Saturday, November 01, 2014

November Arrives!

November comes
And November goes,
With the last red berries
And the first white snows.

With night coming early,
And dawn coming late,
And ice in the bucket
And frost by the gate.

The fires burn
And the kettles sing,
And earth sinks to rest
Until next spring.

― Clyde Watson


Fox Sparrow

Perhaps millions of songbirds rode the strong north winds over the past few nights and left southern Wisconsin. There's still a respectable variety of sparrows to see and hear at the conservancy, but not for much longer. American Tree Sparrows continue to become more numerous, but White-throated Sparrows, Song Sparrows, and Swamp Sparrows are more scarce. A few White-crowned Sparrows were singing from the brush piles this evening, but they'll leave soon, too. I didn't find any Northern Shrikes, but in my experience they're more of a morning bird. I'll probably check the prairie again in the morning. Everything is so brown now. Snow is coming, and apparently ... Snowy Owls!


White-crowned Sparrow (HY)






American Tree Sparrow





Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Nov 1, 2014 2:15 PM - 4:00 PM
30 species

Canada Goose
Mallard
Ring-necked Pheasant
Bald Eagle
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Downy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
European Starling
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
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2014 Mike McDowell

3,500!


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Join today!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

More late October birding!


Pheasant Branch Conservancy's prairie parcel

More American Tree Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos have found their way to the prairie over the past few days. I had a day off from work and spent a good share of the morning birding and digiscoping at the conservancy. Strong winds from the west kept sparrows concentrated on the east side of the drumlin, which was where I was able to photograph a few of them. While talking on the phone, I was alerted by another birder that a Northern Shrike had made a brief appearance. I circled the hill a few times and found a shrike perched atop one of the few trees that still has leaves, which you can see in the left of the photograph above. I got a documentation photo of the bird, but nothing I'm eager to share, especially when considering some of the great portraits of shrikes I got last year. I think this particular shot might be my favorite.


American Tree Sparrow


Dark-eyed Junco



Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Oct 28, 2014 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM
42 species

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

All images © 2014 Mike McDowell

Monday, October 27, 2014

Late October Sparrows


White-crowned Sparrow

Striking fall colors are fading and many trees are bare. Diversity-wise, the migration of sparrows at Pheasant Branch Conservancy is a little past peak, though Fox Sparrows are quite numerous at this time. American Tree Sparrows have begun trickling in; soon there will be a few hundred that will spend winter at the conservancy feeding on prairie plant seeds, plus doing their best to avoid being eaten by accipiters and shrikes.

Around twenty birders joined me on Saturday for a Madison Audubon field trip at the prairie and observed 37 bird species. In addition to the aforementioned sparrows, there are still White-crowned, White-throated, Song, Swamp, Savannah, Field, Chipping, but Lincoln's Sparrows have moved on. There might still be a straggler or two, but you can see from my eBird reports that they peaked between the end of September into early October:

Lincoln's Sparrows at Pheasant Branch Conservancy

2014-10-18 [1] Mike McDowell Checklist
2014-10-16 [1] Mike McDowell Checklist
2014-10-12 [6] Mike McDowell Checklist
2014-10-10 [4] Mike McDowell Checklist
2014-10-07 [8] Mike McDowell Checklist
2014-10-05 [8] Mike McDowell Checklist
2014-10-04 [6] Mike McDowell Checklist
2014-10-02 [8] Mike McDowell Checklist
2014-09-30 [2] Mike McDowell Checklist
2014-09-27 [10] Mike McDowell Checklist
2014-09-25 [5] Mike McDowell Checklist
2014-09-23 [4] Mike McDowell Checklist
2014-09-22 [1] Mike McDowell Checklist
2014-09-21 [1] Mike McDowell Checklist
2014-09-19 [1] Mike McDowell Checklist
2014-09-16 [2] Mike McDowell Checklist
2014-09-16 [1] Mike McDowell Checklist

This departure is slightly earlier than usual, but I've scoured the prairie parcel the last four times I've been there and haven't come up with any Lincoln's Sparrows.






Fox Sparrow


Fox Sparrow


American Tree Sparrow


Song Sparrow


Savannah Sparrow


White-crowned Sparrow (HY)


White-throated Sparrow


The Prairie Parcel


Along the Creek Corridor



Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Oct 26, 2014 7:30 AM - 11:30 AM
43 species

Canada Goose
Mallard
Ring-necked Pheasant
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow-rumped Warbler
American Tree Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2014 Mike McDowell

Saturday, October 18, 2014

This Time



I was listening to A Prairie Home Companion this evening on Wisconsin Public Radio and heard Joyce Sutphen recite her poem Next Time. It has some pleasant sentiments, but why wait until next time? What's the matter with this time? Perhaps I've missed the point or maybe this poem is meant for a different audience. But in a way, I believe this is one of the most perfect poems I've ever heard. After work today I went to Owen Conservation Park where I knew all the names of the birds. I wasn't really birding, though, I was admiring and photographing the dramatic fall colors. It was such a pleasant and healthy way to spend a couple of hours. So, maybe I'm giving this poem that I didn't write to you. Maybe it will give you hope or serve as a catalyst to escape the paralysis of modern life that grips so many and seldom ever lets go. Anyway, I've been to Istanbul. Hagia Sophia was incredible, but it doesn't have anything on the canopy Nature renders this time of year. Here is my church ... its only tenet is impermanence.


















Hermit Thrush

All images © 2014 Mike McDowell

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Nelson's Sparrow!



I hit the prairie parcel of Pheasant Branch Conservancy before sunrise. Kyle Lindemer was already present, scoping the trail for the Harris's Sparrow. There were dozens of White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows, plus a few Fox Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, and Song Sparrows. Eventually we were joined by Cynthia Bridge, Lindsey Boland, and Sylvia Marek (Dottie Johnson would join us later in the morning). After waiting for over an hour for the Harris's without luck, we decided to check the rest of the prairie to see if there were any other new arrivals.



There was an impressive variety of sparrows in the habitat along the southern slope of the drumlin, including Swamp, Song, Field, Lincoln's, and Chipping. We could also hear the calls of an Eastern Towhee coming from the top of the hill. The big surprise came near where the trail turns north along the eastern slope. I was busy taking landscape photos when Lindsey abruptly called out "Nelson's! I got a Nelson's!" She quickly got the rest of us on the bird and I got a lovely confirming look through my bins. The bird flew a short distance down the trail and I was able to take a crude digiscoped image of it (below). The little orange sparrow then flew across the path and popped out of the brush right where Lindsey, Cynthia, and Sylvia were standing, perching directly in front of them. "Please tell me you're getting photographs of that bird!" I said to Cynthia. She had her 100-400mm right on it and was able to get outstanding photographs of it.


Nelson's Sparrow


Yellow-rumped Warbler

After lunch we went to the creek corridor to see if there was any warbler activity. There were only Yellow-rumped Warblers, but the fall colors were pretty spectacular. While I was busy looking for macro photography subjects, Dottie Johnson found a Red-headed Woodpecker, which was my first of the year, or year bird in birder parlance. Other birds along the creek were Eastern Phoebe, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Tufted Titmouse, Black-capped Chickadees, and other expected species.



With the recent cold temperatures during the night, I didn't expect to find much in the way of spiders and insects, but there were still some around. I found a couple of treehoppers and Peacock Flies, but the macro highlight was finding a couple phiddipus jumping spiders right along the fence where we parked.


Jumping Spider Phiddipus audax





What a fantastic weekend! Awesome birds and wonderful pals to hang out with! With effort and help from my friends, I got three new bird species for the year. Saturday was the Harris's Sparrow, then Sunday a Nelson's Sparrow and Red-headed Woodpecker. What great fun!

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Oct 12, 2014 7:00 AM - 12:30 PM
47 species

Canada Goose
Mallard
Ring-necked Pheasant
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
House Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Orange-crowned Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Magnolia Warbler
Palm Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Nelson's Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2014 Mike McDowell