Sunday, May 07, 2006

A Desert in Wisconsin

Prickly Pear Cactus

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I've been spending most mornings at Pheasant Branch Conservancy watching the neotropical migrants come in. On Saturday, participants on the Friends of Pheasant Branch field trip were treated to a male Prothonotary Warbler singing away right from the parking lot (plus 14 other warbler species for the trip). We've been graced with Scarlet Tanagers, Canada Warblers, Blackburnian Warblers, Cerulean Warblers, Blue-headed Vireos and many more gorgeous birds.

But don't let me fool I said before, I love sparrows and other birds of the prairie. One of my favorite places to visit this time of year is Spring Green Preserve - just a little over half an hour's drive west of Waunakee. The weather was absolutely beautiful today and I knew the lighting would be excellent for photography.

Owned by The Nature Conservancy, Spring Green prairie is a remnant of a once 13,000 acre "Wisconsin Desert." Here you can find pocket gophers, hognose snakes, glass lizards, prickly pear cactus and other flora and fauna not commonly found in other parts of Wisconsin.

Lark Sparrow

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The prairie is also one of the few places in Wisconsin where Lark Sparrows are known to breed. Their chittery-chattery-buzzy songs fill the air, along with those of Eastern Kingbirds, Grasshopper Sparrows, Western and Eastern Meadowlarks, though Western have become scarcer the past few years. I knew if I waited long enough, a Lark Sparrow would eventually perch on the fence post I patiently waited near - the sparrows are very abundant at the preserve this year.

Bird's Foot Violet

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Wildflowers bloom from May through September and right now there are bird's foot violets, blue-eyed grass, prairie smoke and more. At the southwest corner of the preserve is a black oak barrens where Orchard Orioles often take up residence.

Blue-eyed Grass

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Link: All about the Lark Sparrow from Cornell's All About Birds

All images © 2006 Mike McDowell

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