Saturday, December 31, 2005
Wisconsin Year Birds 2005: 271
Wisconsin State Life Birds: 308
ABA Life Birds: 435
Digiscoped Birds: 160
Life Birds for 2005: Prairie Warbler, Whimbrel and Cave Swallow
Best digiscoped image from 2005: Sedge Wren
Best Bird Experience: January 29th – Finding a Snowy Owl on my way home from work.
Update 6:00 p.m.
Patrick Ready called to let me know that a Snowy Owl had been seen north of Waunakee. I picked up Jesse Peterson and we made the short drive to take a look. A very nice bird to end the year on!
Happy New Year!
Sedge Wren image © 2005 Michael Allen McDowell
If your current binocular resembles this pair, then you should definitely keep on reading. Laura Erickson of Binoculars.com wrote an intro to a binocular review featured in the recent issue of Birder’s World Magazine. Her “Guide to buying affordable binoculars” is a nice overview of what to look for if you’re in the market for an entry-level to mid-priced binocular. The article is followed by “top picks” from five reputable birdwatchers.
Eagle Optics also carries the majority of binoculars featured in the review (well, some of them are ours!) and offers super competitive pricing with excellent customer service, bar none. So if you’re looking for an experienced opinion on a binocular recommendation, feel free to speak with one of our knowledgeable optics experts at (800) 289-1132. And who knows? You might even get me! I’ve used nearly every binocular featured in the review and own a few of them as well.
Link: Top Binocular Picks from Birder's World
Image © 2005 Michael Allen McDowell
Friday, December 30, 2005
A. Chipping Sparrow
Black-eye line, prominent rufous-cap, small black bill, mostly light-gray on the belly with no streaks. Clean, white supercilium and very little moustachial stripe and almost no malar stripe.
B. Lincoln's Sparrow
Small, dark bill. Buffy breast band to sides and flanks with fine dark flecks. Broad gray supercilium, white throat with dark malar stripe. Slight lightly colored eye-ring. White belly. Slight central spot on breast not always visible. Close-up look reveals rufous cap has black outline.
C. Swamp Sparrow
Golden morning sunlight made this a little more difficult picking up the gray face and white throat. Prominent rufous buffy sides and flanks with white or light-gray belly. No wingbars.
D. Field Sparrow
Small, pink bill. Eye-ring detectable in this picture. Gray face and rusty colored crown (again, barely noticeable in picture). Pinkish legs. Virtually no malar stripe. Weak wingbars.
E. American Tree Sparrow
Bicolored bill. Central breast spot. Rufous cap. Rufous stripe behind eye. Gray face and light brown throughout sides and flanks. Rufous shoulder patch. Two prominent white wingbars.
F. Song Sparrow
Dark bill. Mostly white underparts. Breast striping with central spot (barely noticeable on this bird) - but patterns are longer and thicker than Lincoln's Sparrow. Broad brown malar stripe.
G. White-crowned Sparrow (1st winter)
Orange-pink bill. No malar or moustachial stripe. Unmarked gray underparts. White wingbars. No eyering. While resembling American Tree Sparrow, their long, slender body and slightly raised crest can sometimes give them away. Head can sometimes seem small in proportion to body compared to similar plumaged sparrows.
Thursday, December 29, 2005
Here's an awesome story by Julie Zickefoose I heard on the radio yesterday...
"All Things Considered, December 28, 2005 - Commentator Julie Zickefoose raised three orphaned hummingbirds a couple of years ago, never expecting to see them again. This is the story of their return."
Link: Audio - When Hummingbirds Come Home (NPR)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird image © 2005 Michael Allen McDowell
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
(Red Phalarope - Milwaukee, WI from 11/20/05)
"Pacific storms have blown thousands of rare sea birds into the Bay Area, many of them weak, emaciated and seeking refuge in rain puddles of suburban yards and parking lots. The small birds, called Red Phalaropes, ordinarily live many miles off the Pacific coast and are rarely seen on land. Since the afternoon of Christmas Day, they've been sighted in Los Gatos, Palo Alto, San Francisco, even Campbell's percolation ponds at Budd Road and San Tomas Expressway. Most abundant on the coast, a flock of 1,200 was reported near Half Moon Bay. "
Link: Full Story from Mercury News
Red Phalarope image © 2005 Michael McDowell
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
A few days ago I was outside with my digiscoping gear near our patio, attempting to image Red-breasted Nuthatches, when I noticed a lone Blue Jay hopping around the branches of our spruce trees. I knew it wanted to come down to the platform feeder for peanut halves, but I thought to hold my ground a bit longer.
I captured the above shot through maple branches from about 20 yards, admittedly much further away than I normally like to be when digiscoping songbirds. I decided to check my focus on this image, so I zoomed it up on my CP995’s LCD screen. Once I saw its eager expression (as interpreted by me) I became obligated to abandon my effort and allowed the jay to have its way at the feeder.
"The Jay" by Emily Dickinson
No brigadier throughout the year
So civic as the Jay.
A neighbor and a warrior too,
With shrill felicity
Pursuing winds that censure us
A February day,
The brother of the universe
Was never blown away.
The snow and he are intimate;
I’ve often seen them play
When heaven looked upon us all
With such severity,
I felt apology were due
To an insulted sky,
Whose pompous frown was nutriment
To their temerity.
The pillow of this daring head
Is pungent evergreens;
His larder - terse and militant -
Unknown, refreshing things;
His character a tonic,
His future a dispute;
Unfair an immortality
That leaves this neighbor out.
Blue Jay image © 2005 Michael McDowell
Monday, December 26, 2005
Below is a link to an on-line article about the 2004/2005 owl irruption written by Susan Foote-Martin from the December issue of Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.
"The owls of winter gave many people an unusual chance to connect to nature on their own terms, face-to-face and eye-to-eye. These owls have relatively little contact with people and are consequently unfazed by human contact. Thousands of people saw great gray and northern hawk owls for the first time in their lives at very close range. Schoolchildren to grandmothers called us, e-mailed and sent handwritten notes describing their experiences. It was clear that they had found something special and they wanted to share it."
Link: Read Susan’s entire story from WI DNR
Great Gray Owl © 2005 Michael McDowell
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Given a report of a VARIED THRUSH from yesterday and a day off work, I had big plans to try and digiscope it today. I searched for 4 hours this morning by the Big Springs at UW Arboretum, but no luck. A couple other birders were there until we all left around 12:30 p.m. without finding the bird. Alas, I had to settle for HERMIT THRUSH…
(click on image for larger version)
Hermit Thrush #1
Hermit Thrush #2
Hermit Thrush #3
But what a great bird to observe and photograph. The HERMIT THRUSH proved to be very interesting and I thoroughly enjoyed watching its foraging behavior and technique. It seemed to be finding some type of invertebrate in the water and mud along the springs, eating every minute or so. It was also employing the jiggly-foot strategy for bringing food to the surface like some shorebirds do.
By looking at this map, you can see that this particular Hermit Thrush isn’t too far off out of its normal wintering range. A birder from Illinois emailed me saying he found 6 Hermit Thrushes just over the border in McHenry County last Saturday during his Christmas Bird Count.
Link: All about the Hermit Thrush from Cornell Labs
I watched 30+ AMERICAN ROBINS flipping leaves over as they searched for something to eat. Several WHITE-THROATED SPARROWS periodically joined in and at one point a NORTHERN FLICKER came down to the water's edge for a few minutes. As long as these birds stick around the springs there seems to be plenty of food for them. Well, there's also plenty of fruit and berries to munch on in the area.
In the gardens there were HOUSE FINCHES, AMERICAN GOLDFINCHES and a PINE SISKIN. On my way home I found LAPLAND LONGSPURS, HORNED LARKS and SNOW BUNTINGS along Meffert Road between Waunakee and Middleton.
All images © 2005 Michael McDowell
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
From BirdLife International...
Christmas Island Frigatebird Fregata andrewsi is officially classified by BirdLife as Critically Endangered. The species has a huge wingspan of up to 2.5 metres and was named after its piratical habit of snatching food from other seabirds. It is sometimes known as the "Man o’ War bird" after the Portuguese pirate ships or frigates that plied the oceans hundreds of years ago.
During 2005, scientists from Parks Australia have been satellite tagging the frigatebirds at their Indian Ocean nesting site in an attempt to find out more about their movements. Parks Australia was awarded four satellite-transmitting devices (known as Platform Terminal Transmitters) by the American Bird Conservancy in an international grant competition in 2005. The devices (worth about US $3000 each) were donated by North Star Science and Technology, the manufacturers of the devices and founders of the grant program.
Link: Full Article from BirdLife International
Monday, December 19, 2005
UPDATE 12/21/05: - YES!!!
Ben Lieberman’s article “Myths about Drilling in ANWR” appearing on Foxnews.com would almost be funny were it not for the fact that the House of Representatives voted Sunday to attach ANWR drilling to a “must-pass” Defense Spending Bill. There are so many factual errors and flawed logic in Lieberman’s article, I haven't the time to address them all (please visit Manomet's ANWR FAQ), but I will at least cite the following bungle:
“It is worth noting that another wildlife refuge in Alaska, the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, has had drilling onsite for decades. The oil production there rarely makes the news because it has not caused any problems, even though Kenai has far more wildlife than ANWR.”
Apparently to Mr. Lieberman 350 hazardous chemical spills…just isn’t a problem! In fact, in January of 1999 Unocal spilled 228,000 gallons of crude oil in the Kenai NWR. For a more detailed article on damage to Alaskan refuges, see “Toxic Tunrda: Oil Drilling in an Alaskan Wildlife Refuge Leaves a Toxic Legacy of Oil Spills and Pollution” from Audubon.org.
When Lieberman writes “we’re talking about 10 billion barrels of domestic oil located in an area with a proven track record for environmentally responsible drilling” one wonders exactly what he means. He's either wholly ignorant or being intentionally deceptive to Fox News readers. I guess that's "fair and balanced" for you!
As I’ve stated here before, oil spills are so commonplace that the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has established a website for the Prevention and Emergency Response Program. You can read about the latest spills and cleanup efforts at this website.
© Mike McDowell
Link: FAQ about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from Manomet
"It took years of study and involved weighing 10,000 sparrows, but Scottish scientists believe they have discovered a vital clue that could unravel the mystery surrounding the dramatic decline of one of Britain's best-known birds."
Link: Full Article from The Herald
House Sparrow image © 2005 Michael McDowell
Sunday, December 18, 2005
(click on image for larger version)
Apparently, Mourning Dove...
A little later the predator perches in our maple tree...
(click on image for larger version)
All images © 2005 Michael McDowell
Friday, December 16, 2005
Snow, snow and more snow. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this much snow during the month of December. Nothing brings Horned Larks, Lapland Longspurs and Snow Buntings together in fields like freshly spread manure after a snowfall. Along Meffert Road this morning, I found a mixed flock of all three species enjoying the hearty banquet of undigested seeds and grain.
Since the dawn of civilization, birds have inspired our creativity through art, poetry and music, and yet there they were picking through it. As much as they seem to enjoy and benefit from it, there’s just something sort of “eww” about watching birds in manure. Hey, I worked on a farm…it’s not like I have a problem with manure or anything. I’m just saying…
By coincidence, just after I published this blog entry I found a funny Horned Lark blog post by Bill Thompson III. Continue reading about manure and larks with “Smells like Horned Larks.”
Horned Lark image © 2005 Michael McDowell
Thursday, December 15, 2005
No. Not a good day for digiscoping...very poor lighting, but an excellent morning of birding! Large fluffy snowflakes are still coming down and the birds were very active along the stream corridor of Pheasant Branch Conservancy. As predicted, a CAROLINA WREN belted out a fragment of its song just as I arrived, but was silent and out of sight the remainder of my hike.
The only cooperative bird for photography was this MOURNING DOVE. I became more of a growing concern as I walked past it, but not enough for it to fly away.
The TUFTED TITMOUSE population along the stream corridor is steadily growing each season. Today I observed over a dozen of them feeding in the upper-story...I’m pretty sure I saw a couple of them raiding a hornet’s nest. Their “peter peter!” call could be heard up and down the corridor. Though I didn’t get a good picture of one today, I’ll have to return when the lighting is better.
Only a few open-water spots along the stream provide for the birds and they were utilizing them as best they could. I observed several DARK-EYED JUNCOS taking turns hovering (with impressive agility!) above one such spot. They would take a quick dip, being careful not to be taken by the current, and then preened and ruffled their feathers in the snow.
Other birds observed this morning:
Great Horned Owl
All images © 2005 Michael McDowell
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
(Lost or not? This Rufous Hummingbird visited Black Earth, WI this fall)
This super-cool story is just one example of why I think bird banding is a worthwhile endeavor. Are vagrant hummingbirds lost or not? Perhaps only #Y14855 knows for sure, but it sure seems like "Perdita", a female Rufous Hummingbird, has her migration strategy nailed down. First banded in 2003, she was recaptured in 2004 and now once again this winter at Hilton Pond Center. How many of us would love to know if certain birds spending winter at our backyards are the same ones from year to year? Here are some incredible photographs and data of such a case that's much more than just an interesting story.
Link: Perdita: the "Lost" Rufous Hummingbird
Rufous Hummingbird image © 2005 Michael McDowell
Grim news about Snowy Owls being found in Wisconsin...
"It's not unusual for snowy owls or other arctic birds to travel here in search of food. Most survive the trip exhausted but in relatively good health. This time, however, the snowy owls that have made it to central Wisconsin are close to death."
Link: Full Article from Wausau Daily Herald
Snowy Owl image © 2005 Michael McDowell
For the past three days I’ve been working the early shift. This means leaving home just as the sun is coming up and leaving work as the sun is going down. About the only birding I’ve been able to do is from my car during my commute. Birding may very well constitute an addiction, as I can sense a craving to be on snow-covered trails on a long walk through frosted woods. Tomorrow my shift begins at 11:00 a.m. and my plan is to spend a few hours exploring the stream corridor section of Pheasant Branch to see if Carolina Wrens are still there. In any case, I’m sure to see a Tufted Titmouse and they’re always a joy to watch. I’ll also check on the Barred Owls, as I haven’t seen them since spring.
As far as “commute birding” goes, I continually see a Northern Shrike as I drive past Pheasant Branch Conservancy’s prairie restoration area. I’m regularly seeing a Northern Harrier along Woodland Drive near Waunakee and the flocks of Horned Larks, Lapland Longspurs and Snow Buntings have dispersed with the fresh snowfall. The same is true for the mixed-flock I’ve been watching along Balzer Road. All three species are still present but more scattered along my 6-mile route to Middleton. I’m always on the lookout for a Snowy Owl, but no luck so far, though they’re being seen all over Wisconsin at present.
On Monday morning I saw an American Kestrel perched on a fence post near the intersection of Balzer Road and Pheasant Branch Road. At work, a Cooper’s Hawk has been making a regular appearance in front of our store, sending several dozen House Sparrows and a few Dark-eyed Juncos underneath cars. So far I haven’t seen it take one, but I’m sure it isn’t sticking around just to scare them away!
So in local birding news, there isn’t much to share. But if you’ve not yet read the Kirtland’s Warbler / Brown-headed Cowbird series on the Bootstrap Analysis blog, it’s definitely worth checking out.
White-breasted Nuthatch image © 2005 Michael McDowell
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
"Scientists are closer to solving high-level tensions between fishermen and cormorants around the globe. Using trained cormorants and underwater video cameras to learn more about the birds, scientists at the Technion are hoping to find a peaceful alternative to mass cormorant culls. "
Link: Full Article from NewsWire.com
Double-crested Cormorant image © 2005 Michael McDowell
Monday, December 12, 2005
Saturday, December 10, 2005
This morning I was a little surprised to find a solitary AMERICAN TREE SPARROW at our platform feeder. It made two brief appearances before I had to leave for work. It was dark by the time I got home this evening so tomorrow will tell whether or not it plans to stick around. I hope it does. I mean, I’m perfectly content with the company of juncos, but it’s nice to have a little sparrow variety out there.
The deep blue hues and long shadows of winter have taken hold and go well with the quietness in the wake of twilight. I remember when I was a kid I used to pretend the snow transformed Wisconsin into the fictional planet Hoth of Star Wars fame. I would bundle up and explore the nearby woods, also pretending I was on some sort of National Geographic adventure…until the pangs of frostbite called me back to base camp. Now when I gear-up for winter birding, a sense of purpose has replaced that style of imagination…but the level of fun remains the same.
On Wednesday I made an attempt to digiscope Snow Buntings. I found them easily enough but the bitter cold was too much for bare hands to work the camera. Though I got within 30 feet of one, I wasn’t able to locate it in the LCD viewfinder before a car zoomed past, sending the flock of larks, buntings and longspurs to an adjacent field. After nearly an hour of watching and waiting for them to return to the side of the road, I decided to head back to base camp.
All images © 2005 Michael McDowell
"The global impact of farming on the environment is revealed in new maps, which show that 40 percent of the Earth's land is now given over to agriculture. University of Wisconsin-Madison scientists compiled the maps using satellite images and crop and livestock production data from countries around the world. The team presented their picture of global land use this week at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco."
Link: Full Article from National Geographic
Friday, December 09, 2005
See what I mean? Just unbelievable...
They trek out onto Coos Bay’s North Spit loaded down with spotting scopes, binoculars and bird books. Coos Bay resident Tim Rodenkirk is probably one of the most recognizable birders. It’s not uncommon to see his tall lanky form walking down the trail next to Weyerhaeuser Company’s former effluent pond. He’s there all the time. On Saturday, Rodenkirk wasn’t ogling the usual shorebirds or scoping for rare sparrows. It was a rare snowy owl that drew his interest. He was with fellow birder Barbara Griffin of North Bend.Link: Full Article from WorldLink.com
Rodenkirk was so intrigued with the owl, he returned Sunday morning around 8:30. He soon spotted it, but it wasn’t moving.
It was dead.
Someone had shot it.
Thursday, December 08, 2005
Dismal news that concerns birds, their habitat and the environment is never all that difficult to find. So it’s a relief and wonderful change to wake up in the morning and find a little good news! Here are a couple of land acquisition stories from Wisconsin that made my day. As you've probably seen from my previous posts, Pheasant Branch Conservancy is the place I most often frequent for birding and bird photography.
Friends of Friends step up
Madison Community Foundation donates $100,000
The Friends of Pheasant Branch have a new best friend today. The Madison Community Foundation made an 11th-hour donation Tuesday that put the Friends within reach of their goal to purchase 19.27 acres of key watershed land within the Middleton City limits. "I didn't even have a response. I just melted in my chair," said Brian Butler, president of the group, describing his reaction when he learned that the foundation was donating $100,000 to make the Friends' $3 million purchase a reality.
Link: Full Story from the Capital Times
The Nature Conservancy’s Save of the Week
Protecting Waters and Old-growth Forests in Northern Wisconsin
Through a combination of a multi-million dollar state grant and major financial support from private individuals, the Conservancy has launched an effort that will protect close to 1,000 acres in the headwaters of two major rivers, the Presque Isle and Ontonogan, in northeast Wisconsin.
Link: Full Story from The Nature Conservancy
Grasshopper Sparrow image © 2005 Michael McDowell
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
(adult Tundra Swan)
Friends and family have reported seeing flocks of "large, white birds" that they thought might be Snow Geese. I told them I'm pretty sure what they actually observed were TUNDRA SWANS, which have been moving through Dane County in large numbers over the past week. In fact, a local birder observed over 1,000 of these gorgeous swans on Lake Mendota near Governor's Island on December 4th.
(immature Tundra Swan)
Unlike the Mute Swan, the Tundra Swan is native to North America and was formerly known as the Whistling Swan. They are quite a spectacle to behold, whether singularly or in large flocks. I have no idea if they're still around but I see the temperature outside is presently -4°F...yikes! I think I'll be staying in this morning. The swans, however, must endure in this nasty cold.
Here's a map of the Tundra Swan's distribution and as you can see they have a more disparate eastern and western population split during the winter season. They're monogamous and migrate in flocks composed of family groups. Tundra Swans are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Canadian Wildlife Service as two population sizes - 80,000 for the eastern population and 60,000 for the western one.
Link: All about the Tundra Swan from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Tundra Swan images © 2005 Michael McDowell
Monday, December 05, 2005
I’m thinking about asking a farmer permission to enter his property in order to get nice digiscoped pictures of SNOW BUNTINGS. This afternoon on my way home from work I made a couple of birding stops. At Pheasant Branch Conservancy, the NORTHERN SHRIKE remains as well as two NORTHERN HARRIERS and an AMERICAN ROBIN. A little further north, I checked Balzer Road and found a mixed-flock of HORNED LARKS, LAPLAND LONGSPURS and SNOW BUNTINGS.
I pulled over and watched them forage in the snow for a while. The lighting would have been really nice, but I left my digiscoping gear at home. The above pictures were taken along Balzer Road in 2002 – it’s a very reliable spot for these three species, but I just don’t think I can get close enough from the road. Perhaps getting a good picture of a Snow Bunting will be my digiscoping mission of the winter.
Lapland Longspur & Snow Bunting images © 2005 Michael McDowell
(image courtesy of US Fish & Wildlife Service)
Freezing temperatures and snow finally pushed thousands of snow geese south last week into wildlife refuges along the Missouri River in Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri. More than 30,000 snow geese arrived at DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge near Missouri Valley, Iowa, over the last several days, said deputy refuge manager Mindy Sheets. “Yes, we finally got some in. They started coming in Wednesday and Thursday ... We hope we get more,” she said. Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge near Mound City, Mo., reported about 50,000 snow geese last week. “We’d like to see 200,000 to 300,000,” said refuge employee Jim Broker.
Link: Full Story from JournsalStar.com
Sunday, December 04, 2005
Yesterday's plan seemed simple enough - pick up Kim Benton, meet Katie Fitzmier and her boyfriend Sim in Milwaukee for a Lake Michigan gull/scoter/purple sandpiper search. Kim and I were a little late getting to Milwaukee and never found Katie and Sim. As a reward for taking one more birding trip, I got the snowstorm I asked for...the only problem was being on the road when it hit.
It was a great day of birding with stops at Milwaukee's North Point, Port Washington and Sheboygan. I picked up Glaucous Gull for the year, which was a life bird for Kim. She also got two others: Black Scoter and Great Black-backed Gull. We also saw Common Mergansers, Hooded Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Long-tailed Ducks and more. Habitat at Sheboygan that held a couple of Killdeer also looked promising for Purple Sandpiper, but we didn't find one.
The weather forecast called for snow flurries later in the day, but I guess we lingered too long. The roads became treacherous and we ended up being part of a six car accident southbound I43 near Mequon. A spinning jeep that had already hit a sedan missed us by mere inches and we ended up in the ditch as I struggled to avoid being hit by other cars. Unbelievably, we escaped without a scratch on the car or ourselves.
Kim quickly called 911 on her cell and police and emergency crews from Mequon were there in a minute. There were other accidents on both sides of I43, north and south of ours - what an awful mess. EMT's asked me to help carry an injured woman to a cart - not what I thought I'd be doing after seeing some great birds. It took nearly 2 hours to clean up and get back on the road and then 4 more hours of scary driving on slippery roads to get home.
Glaucous Gull image © 2005 Michael McDowell