Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Comet 17P/Holmes



Have you heard about Comet 17P/Holmes? Tonight I brought out my Celestron 8” SCT and photographed the comet with my Nikon Coolpix 4500 (45 second exposure @ ISO 200). I didn't bother to polar align, so that's why the stars are streaked a little. The comet is presently located in the constellation Perseus, which can be found in the northeast sky after sunset. Look for the more familiar "W" of constellation Cassiopeia; Persus is just below. Use your binoculars and scan – you can't miss it! For the next few weeks 17/P Holmes will be heading toward the star Mirfak in Persus, so it should be pretty easy to find.


(click for larger version)

Comet 17P/Holmes image © 2007 Mike McDowell

Monday, October 29, 2007

Sparrow's Home



This evening I went to visit a sparrow's home. As I write, the sun is well below the horizon and somewhere in the field the sparrow sleeps...I like thinking about that now. As I walked the trail, a few sentinel sparrows perched atop goldenrod and other browned prairie plants. All around their sweet calls sounded off. The fields are full of things to appreciate, absorb and photograph, but for the sparrows it's their shelter, sustenance and security.



The fields seem to belong to Common Yellowthroats during the summer breeding season. From now until early April, American Tree Sparrows will rely on them for survival. Every second of every minute, minutes and hours, for these next several months, these fields outside is where they'll be. When arctic air sends the mercury into minus digits, they will endure. The tree sparrows will be hunted by accipiters, shrikes and other predators – the injured or those suffering from failing health will be quickly taken.



Most of the other kinds of sparrows have left Pheasant Branch. There are still a few White-throated Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows, Fox Sparrows, but their numbers are rapidly decreasing as they head for fields of their own to the south. But behold the brave and hearty little sparrows that persist through the worst of what Wisconsin's winters can deliver. They might only be American Tree Sparrows, but they're among my favorite of all birds. I'm sure I'll be visiting again over December, January and February to check in on them.



Every so often I take a prairie souvenir home. They make great photographic subjects to adorn my blog posts with. Afterwards, I place them on my desk as to serve as a reminder and for inspiration. As it gets colder, my trips to Pheasant Branch will decrease. The outings are contemplative meditations of a sort and something I've found I really need. I'm amazed by how much I rely on the outdoors to sustain my overall sense of wellness. Last winter was tough, but I have reasons to hopeful this will be an easier one to endure.



I also wanted to extend a 'thank you' to those of you who have recently emailed me. I read every email I receive and appreciate the words, notes and feedback. Unfortunately, I don't always have time to respond and when I do I'm often a bit brief, or possibly even terse. I hope you understand. I'll keep the blog going as often as I can, and that's been my best way of communicating and sharing. The birds give to me, and I give them back to you.

All images © 2007 Mike McDowell

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Fall Birds


Sandhill Cranes


Eastern Bluebird


American Tree Sparrow


Cedar Waxwing

All images © 2007 Mike McDowell

Saturday, October 27, 2007

No Tripod Skimping!



It pains me to see a high-quality spotting scope mounted on an inexpensive and flimsy tripod that has a lot of plastic parts. Locating birds through a scope can be difficult enough, but it's made worse with a poor tripod and unrealistic digiscoping expectations. When a bird provides an opportunity to photograph it, struggling with a scope on a wobbly tripod mount is the last thing you want to worry about. I can't emphasize enough how critical having a quality tripod and head is for the kind of digiscoping I do. The Bogen combo I use is by no means perfect; there are things about the 3130 MF/QR head I don't like (slight fluid drift, recoil, etc.). Some of you probably use something other than a Bogen, but my point of isn't to offer or obtain a list of recommendations. Here's my point: tripod skimping – don't do it! The extra money is a worthwhile investment and will return great views and help deliver stellar digital images when digiscoping. If you're forking over big bucks for digiscoping gear, expect to spend $250 or more for a quality tripod and head.

Scope image © 2007 Mike McDowell

Friday, October 26, 2007

Nighthawk



I recently received a letter from WSO stating that my April 3rd, 2007 observation of a nighthawk at Pheasant Branch Conservancy was accepted as "nighthawk species." I suppose that's more than fair considering I never submitted anything. Still, I'm a little curious what the records committee might have considered. Because the observation was so brief, separating Lesser Nighthawk from Common Nighthawk would have been next to impossible and I doubt anyone could have done it. Any argument and supporting evidence had to be made after the fact, but I just kept putting it off.

Consider the following two photographs:

Labeled as Lesser Nighthawk

Labeled as Common Nighthawk

That's pretty tough, isn't it?

The argument for Lesser Nighthawk necessitates accepting a vagrant bird. An April 3rd sighting is reinforced by overall earlier departure dates (versus Common Nighthawk) from their wintering grounds. Some records exist for Lesser Nighthawks in Colorado and Oklahoma during the month of April. Though there are no confirmed Lesser Nighthawk sightings in Wisconsin, the species was once recorded in Ontario in 1974. Thus, Wisconsin is in within a theoretical range of a one-time documented vagrancy.

Arguing for Common Nighthawk is that Wisconsin lies within its normal geographical range, though exceptionally early (April 3rd). However, in support of this are three previous records prior to April 14th in Wisconsin, April 1st, 11th and 13th. (I wonder how these birders were able to separate Common from Lesser?) There are also established early dates for Common Nighthawks present in Texas and Oklahoma during the month of February, giving an early bird plenty of time to reach Wisconsin by April 3rd.

It basically breaks down to accepting a record early versus a geographical vagrant. Based on the above, I think it's much more reasonable to conclude that unusually warm spring weather coupled with strong southwest winds during night of April 2nd helped push a Common Nighthawk into southern Wisconsin. Incidentally, the April 1st, 1995 record was also in Dane County (where I live). Introducing a Lesser Nighthawk vagrant, while not impossible, seems reasonably unnecessary. Just as it would be unnecessary to introduce the possibility of Bicknell's Thrush whenever a birder reports a Gray-cheeked Thrush during spring or fall migration. Come on. Who in Wisconsin is seriously looking for Bicknell's Thrush? But if they can make it to the north side of Lake Erie, perhaps Bicknell's in Wisconsin isn't that far-fetched?



I think it's fair WSO embraced the record as "nighthawk species," though it seems to favor a slight bias for vagrancy. Vagrancy, early or late, during migration might represent a general assumption, but I'll wager it's much easier to find a vagrant when there are fewer birds to sift through. Do you think this level of species separation and scrutiny should continue throughout spring or fall migration? Objectively, shouldn't we be looking for Lesser Nighthawks and Bicknell's Thrushes throughout spring and fall? During the apex of Common Nighthawk migration, should I spend time scrutinizing every single Common Nighthawk that flies over because of the possibility of Lesser Nighthawk mingling in a flock? Throughout May and September, should I exhibit healthy skepticism regarding every Gray-cheeked Thrush I see?

All images © 2007 Mike McDowell

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Decompression



I spent most of the day at Devil's Lake to take in some space, scenery and fresh air, but also look for Townsend's Solitaires. The morning was a little chilly, but the climb up the bluff warmed me up quickly. I thought the fall colors must be right around peak, though a man on Balanced Rock trail told me I might have missed it by a few days. What did I miss? Once I got to the top of the bluff, I can't imagine what he was talking about – the view and colors were spectacular and I doubt it could have looked better.



I located a good chair in the rocks on the edge of the bluff and didn't do much else but bask in the warming sun. I listened and occasionally scanned for the solitaires, but found none. Still, many other birds were present. Around me were Black-capped Chickadees, Dark-eyed Juncos, House Finches, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Cedar Waxwings and a Yellow-rumped Warbler. Down below I could hear Blue Jays and the occasional call of a Pileated Woodpecker. I was impressed when hearing a Carolina Wren's song from all the way across the lake – such an incredibly loud and cheerful song.



All images © 2007 Mike McDowell

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Birds and Sleep


Baird's Sandpiper takes a snooze!

"Bird sleep is so mysterious that scientists are considering several answers, all intriguing. The godwit may have managed to stay awake for the entire journey. Or it may have been able to sleep while flying. Or, as Dr. Benca and other scientists suspect, its brain may have been in a bizarre state of semilimbo that they do not understand."

Link: Full Article from The New York Times

Baird's Sandpiper © 2007 Mike McDowell

Monday, October 22, 2007

Birding Essentials


By the third page of text, National Geographic's new book "Birding Essentials: All the tools, techniques, and tips you need to begin and become a better birder" (Jonathan Alderfer / Jon L. Dunn) states:

"Putting a name to a bird is the first step in preserving and protecting it. Without names, birds are generic and often ignored, but once you attach a name to a species, both it and you are transformed. For then you can consider this particular bird's nesting requirements, its feeding niche, its migratory pathways, and its singularity; and you care about its welfare. Because of our connection with birds, it's natural for many of us to become active conservationists. As a birder, your grassroots awareness of the local environment will place you among those best informed about conservation issues in your community whatever your political affiliation."

What a refreshing way to introduce birding to beginners. I've heard it said that the least important piece of information about a bird is the name we've given it – mere language tokens used to announce or note the presence of particular species. But how quickly a set of these names can become documentation used to help measure the quality of an otherwise ordinary looking tract of habitat. Glancing over a field along a country road and associating it observationally with Henslow's Sparrows, Bell's Vireo, Upland Sandpipers, Western Meadowlarks and Bobolinks advances our appreciation of the land.

Though this wasn't always apparent to me when I was a new birder, over time I learned that native grasslands are one of the fastest shrinking habitats in the United States, and thus, so are the numbers of their feathered inhabitants. From coastal shores, wetlands to boreal forests, habitats can be placed contextually with lists of birds associating in them. Experienced birders not only link birds with habitat, but also habitat type with very specific birds – they identify land patterns and can often predict which bird species might be utilizing it at different times of the year.

Though I've not yet read it from cover to cover, Birding Essentials will probably become the "intro-to-birding" book I point to people who are interested in honing their bird identification skills and fieldcraft. The guide is rich in information, beautifully illustrated with color photographs, charts, and diagrams, covering nine comprehensive subjects:
  • The Pleasure of Birding
  • Getting Started
  • Status and Distribution
  • Parts of a Bird
  • Variation in Birds
  • Identification Challenges
  • Fieldcraft
  • Taxonomy and Nomenclature
There is a fair amount of advanced material in the book, too, but don't feel you must know or memorize it in order to appreciate birds in the field. For example, I still don't completely understand nuances of the Humphery-Parkes molt system. That's the beauty of birding - there's seemingly no limit to what you can learn about birds. Still, anyone can take their binoculars to a nearby woodland or field and simply admire the natural beauty of birds, even if they've no idea what a supercilium or presupplemental molt is. But, complimenting a field guide, Birding Essentials takes the birder beyond diminutive enjoyment well into the borderlands of basic ornithology.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Take what you can...


This morning I had big plans to leave Pheasant Branch Conservancy with a flash card full of digital images of sparrows – it was not to be. The location was right, the light was perfect and sparrows were super plentiful, but for some reason I couldn't keep them in the frame today. Hey...it happens!

Field Sparrow (click for larger image)

Some days it seems like you can digiscope anything and everything, while other times it"s a struggle even under the best conditions. Luckily, I did get a nice photo of a Field Sparrow, but my favorite was this angelic looking House Wren caught giving its wings a good stretch:

House Wren (click for larger image)

Sparrows and allies present were: White-crowned, White-throated, Fox, Song, Swamp, Field, Chipping, Lincoln's, Dark-eyed Junco, Eastern Towhee and my first American Tree Sparrow of fall migration. After I finished digiscoping, I birded the prairie to the big springs where I bumped into Rick Terrien. We made one more lap around the prairie for another round with the sparrows.

I discovered a nice surprise when I got home - there was a veritable "finch fest" going on in our backyard. There were dozens of Pine Siskins, Purple Finches, House Finches and American Goldfinches at our feeders and birdbaths.


Pine Siskin


Purple Finch and House Finch


American Goldfinch

In fact, it was an incredibly good day for backyard birding:

Cooper's Hawk
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Cedar Waxwing
Chipping Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Purple Finch
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch

All images © 2007 Mike McDowell

Friday, October 19, 2007

Looking for better weather...



Weather-wise, it's been a pretty dismal week...gray skies, windy and rainy most of the time. There were a few breaks for the sun's rays to illuminate birds, but unfortunately I wasn't able to seize those opportunities for photography - it seemed like I was always on the wrong side of an office window. On Wednesday, I checked the northern parcel of Pheasant Branch and found a huge influx of White-crowned Sparrows...they're such smart looking birds. Later on, I was surprised to find a Black-and-white Warbler along the stream corridor trail. The forecast for tomorrow calls for sunshine, so I hope to get a chance to get out there and enjoy it.

White-crowned Sparrow © 2007 Mike McDowell

Thursday, October 18, 2007

That's some neck!



"Who is that over there?"

Fox Sparrow © 2007 Mike McDowell

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Stream Corridor


One of several such stepping-stone stream crossings.

Time and a little understanding have eased my vitriolic and emotional attitude toward Middleton's Public Lands practices and what some are calling “aggressive improvements” regarding restoration efforts at Pheasant Branch Conservancy. I've locked horns with Middleton Common Council and Penni Klein (Middleton's fervid public lands manager) in the past because I haven't agreed with certain park-like "beautification" and access projects. For the most part, though, I don't believe the current preventative erosion and restoration work along the stream corridor will adversely affect the birds that use it during migration or breeding season. Given time, I suspect some of the changes may even turn out to be beneficial for birds.

The Corridor Trail

Recently there have been op-ed pieces in the Middleton Times Tribune concerning these particular restoration efforts, but since the Tribune doesn't seem to be on-line, I'll cite a few pertinent quotations. Todd Berry of Middleton has his heart in the right place, but I doubt there is anyone who visits the stream corridor as frequently or spends as much time exploring it as I do, and I will differ with his opinion on the bridges. This may come as a surprise, but I agree with the city of Middleton as to why bridges need to be placed at the stream crossings. I'm not only watching birds while I'm there, but what people are doing, too. I'll have more on the latter in a moment.

As far as birds go, my eBird entries indicate that since January 1st of this year, I've birded Pheasant Branch Conservancy over 90 times in 2007. Of course, back-to-back days are more frequent during spring and fall migration. I try to at least get into the corridor once a week during the winter months. Since I have a good idea which bird species nest along the corridor, I often decrease my visits there in the summer and spend more time observing and photographing critters at the prairie and savannah on the north end of the conservancy.

Corridor Trail in Winter

Though the master checklist for the conservancy is up to 210 bird species, eBird indicates 175 species for the year 2007 (though that will undoubtedly increase this fall when ducks return). Naturally, there are birds on the master list inconsistently observed year-to-year, such as Peregrine Falcon, Hooded Warbler, White-eyed Vireo, Long-eared Owl, Varied Thrush, Harris's Sparrow, Pileated Woodpecker and many others. Depending on weather and water levels, mudflats occasionally form on the marsh, attracting a variety of shorebird species not typically observed at the conservancy. A birder I know photographed Willets at one of the ponds - a new species for Pheasant Branch in 2007. Looking at June and July for breeding candidates, 72 bird species were present in 2007 on conservancy lands (all sections, stream corridor, prairie and savannah). One section I don't yet have good records for is the marsh because there is no trail access; however, I suspect Sora, Virginia Rail, Marsh Wren and other associating species are probably present each year. They've been recorded in past years by myself and others, some who have canoed the stream bisecting the marsh.

Yesterday while birding with Sylvia and Dottie along the stream corridor, we saw a completed counter-measure erosion project along one bank, which I believe is the first of three such efforts under the current plan. Initially, it was quite shocking to see an area cleared away of large dead trees, many living smaller trees and brush where the stream makes two abrupt turns. But it was obvious in watching the sandy bank recede over the past several years that Penni would eventually be obligated to do something to curb erosion before it got too close to the adjacent apartment buildings beyond the line of trees at the top of the ravine.

On October 2nd, Todd Berry wrote to Middleton Times Tribune:

"We have large and expensive bridges where simple stepping-stones and shallow crossing served us well for decades. We have destruction and repaving of a park path that needed no replacement – only it now covers more area that was once vegetation."

Another crossing during Spring.

Let's talk about those stepping-stones (pictured above). After a heavy rain, the otherwise serene, trickling stream transforms into a raging rapids, capable of carrying entire trees down the corridor - I've seen it. The water level has risen as much as 2 feet or more during such conditions. The concrete crossings are impossible to get across because the stepping-stones are completely submerged under the rushing water. Some may contend that development on the west side of Middleton, over part of the Pheasant Branch watershed, is a contributing factor as to why the water levels rise so quickly during and after storms. But, I have to say that I've seen the corridor flood this same way after storms over a decade ago when the west development was significantly less intense than what it presently is today.

You would have to be a fool to try and cross the stream when it's flooded after a storm. You're likely to lose your life – it's impossible to cross without bridges under such conditions. For better or worse, the corridor trail is now a popular and safe artery (from automobile traffic) for joggers, walkers and bicyclers to get from one side of Middleton to the other. This past spring and summer, I rode my bike on the trail many times as part of my commute to work. I take the trail from Pheasant Branch Road to the business park where Eagle Optics is located, which accounts for 5 of the 11.5 miles of my commute from Waunakee. When the stream is flooded, the trail is simply impassible. When birding, I can't get to all the sections of the corridor I typically like to visit.

For several years, there's a certain jogger I see along the stream corridor who occasionally stops and asks about birds I'm seeing. This past spring he told me he had fallen into the stream after slipping on the stones because they were covered with black ice. Without bridges, and with more people using the trail, it's only a matter of time before someone is seriously injured or possibly killed. Trees fall during storms and sometimes block the path. To get to them, the bridges need to be strong and wide enough for service vehicles to cross. In the context of a multi-use trail, the bridges are necessary. Just a week ago I observed a man in an electric wheelchair struggle to get across the stream. He briefly got stuck right in the middle of the water, but eventually managed to get himself across. This time the water level was low enough not to deter him, but after a storm, forget it. When the man got over to our little birding group, he asked what we were looking at. We pointed out Tennessee, Black-throated Green and a few other warblers to him. These were probably the first warblers he's ever seen. You know, I like the stepping-stones, too. I think they're quaint, scenic and fun to cross. But shouldn't everybody be able to enjoy the conservancy without having to worry about the inherent dangers of crossing the stream?


I'll doubt you'll find a more passionate advocate for the birds of Pheasant Branch Conservancy than me. The vegetation along the corridor trail includes multitudes of exotic invasive plant species that are proliferating downstream. Of course, mowing along the trail can assist in spreading them, too. I'm all for their diligent and systematic removal provided that similar habitat structure is retained with native plants for birds that favor the habitat structure appearing a particular way. If the structure is radically modified, it's inevitable some bird species will decrease while others potentially increase relative to the form and composition of the habitat. Year-round residents like the Carolina Wren, Tufted Titmouse and Red-bellied woodpeckers depend on decaying and rotting trees for insect larvae - removing them makes it just a little harder for them to find food. As our winters in southern Wisconsin continue to be milder, I observe more and more American Robins and Hermit Thrushes in December through February subsisting on buckthorn berries at the conservancy. Yes - remove the buckthorn, but replace it with native berry trees. Apparently, this is part of Penni's plan.

Former Middleton Mayor, Doug Zwank, replied to Berry's op-ed saying:

"Contrary to Mr. Berry's opinion, our public lands are in much better shape today than they were 10 years ago. In fact, every year they continue to improve. This is supported by the many awards and recognition of successful projects by conservation groups."

Perhaps so, Mr. Zwank. Middleton recently received prestigious recognition by Money Magazine for being the best place to live in America. Cited in this somewhat dubious distinction was credit for Middleton's fabulous public parks. They are spectacular and that's why I bird and photograph there. My gauge won't consist of such illustrious awards and praise to measure the quality of Pheasant Branch Conservancy. Instead, it will be done so by the number and diversity of bird species I observe using the conservancy's various habitats as stop-over points during spring and fall migration, and also by the species that breed and successfully fledge young there. Improve that, and you'll earn my praise (not that it will matter to Middleton). My finger is firmly pressed on the record button; every bird I see or hear there is being counted in eBird. So, we'll eventually see if Middleton has done right by the birds.

All images © 2007 Mike McDowell

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Dogs are allowed, but...


Dane County Code of Ordinances / County Parks 53.09(07):

"All pets shall be effectively restrained on a leash no more than six (6) feet long and controlled at all times."

A diminutive version of this ordinance is posted on conspicuous signs at trail entrances to the prairie and savannah parcel of Pheasant Branch Conservancy. Whenever I mention this ordinance to people actively breaking it, they become almost invariably hostile. They won't listen to reasons why the ordinance exists in the first place and shout me down. They get so defensive. Some resort to petty insults, vitriol and other piffle as to why the rule doesn't pertain to them. They really believe they have a right to allow their pets to run free on conservancy land. Well, they don't. That pets are allowed on-leash is a privilege that can be taken away. It's the required dog permit that grants the owner the privilege of having their animal in the conservancy, and then only on a leash.

Yesterday morning, a repeat offender whom I had never approached before allowed two of his dogs to run loose again. At the savannah on the hill, they were off-trail, trampling, hunting through vegetation and flushing sparrows I was trying to observe. (Also, the owner did not clean up after his pets). After I made him aware of the ordinance, he challenged that because I probably drive over the speed limit means he doesn't have to abide by this particular county park ordinance. Interesting rationale, isn't it? Like, from two miles away, the act of me driving 60 MPH down County Highway Q somehow alleviates him of any obligation to respect Dane County Park's leash ordinance.

Let's see. How can I use this logic to work in my favor? Because this guy disrespects Dane County ordinances, I guess I don't have to pay my property taxes this year? Or I can go on a five-finger discount spree at a local convenience store? When I get caught, I can inanely plea, "But people speed! There are speeders out there, I'm telling you! They're real! Speeeeders! Argh!"

It's disappointing. The conservancy property is shared and enjoyed by many people with various interests. Dogs are allowed by permit and must be kept under control via leash. How simple! But unfortunately, when a few stooges break this ordinance, they ruin the experience of this natural area for others, as well as potentially jeopardize the welfare of the conservancy's plants, birds and other animals.


Sadly and predictably, this particular man quickly degenerated into a child. He resorted to expletives and insults that were political in nature. Regrettably, I became angry and returned spiteful rhetoric regarding his literacy skills, or rather lack thereof. At the parking lot, I took down his license plate and turned it over to the Dane County Park supervisor who will be issuing him a hefty ticket. To avoid it, all he had to do was politely recognize the information I provided and keep his pets restrained, something he was already obligated to do by the permit he carried (if he, in fact, had one).

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Settling in with the Coolpix 8400

The more I use it, the more I like the Nikon Coolpix 8400 for digiscoping. These were all taken this morning at Pheasant Branch Conservancy:


Eastern Bluebird


Swamp Sparrow


Gray Catbird


White-throated Sparrow

All images © 2007 Mike McDowell

Monday, October 08, 2007

Field Trip Results


Lincoln's Sparrow

We found 8 sparrow species plus Eastern Towhee and Dark-eyed Junco during the Madison Audubon field trip at Pheasant Branch on Saturday. Everyone got great views of a Lincoln's Sparrow that was first found foraging in tall grass, then flew up to a tree limb for all to appreciate. Other sparrows included Fox Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Field Sparrow and many Song Sparrows.

I was super impressed with the identification skills of the young birders/naturalists who attended the field trip – Nate, Max and Michael. Thanks again for finding the Fox Sparrow, Nate!

After the field trip officially ended, a few of us birded the stream corridor and found a few mixed warbler flocks that included Black-throated Green Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, Magnolia Warbler and Nashville Warbler. We finished with 58 bird species for both sections of the conservancy.

Pheasant Branch Prairie & Stream Corridor (10/06/07):

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Mallard
Blue-winged Teal
Ring-necked Pheasant
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift *
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker *
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe *
Blue-headed Vireo *
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse *
Red-breasted Nuthatch *
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper *
Carolina Wren *
House Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet *
Ruby-crowned Kinglet *
Eastern Bluebird
Hermit Thrush *
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
Cedar Waxwing
Tennessee Warbler *
Nashville Warbler *
Magnolia Warbler *
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler *
Palm Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler *
Common Yellowthroat
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Purple Finch
House Finch
American Goldfinch

* = stream corridor only

Lincoln's Sparrow © 2007 Mike McDowell

Friday, October 05, 2007

Owl Calling



So, the story finally comes together and all the pieces seem to fit. Sylvia and Dottie told me that on Wednesday evening they observed a Great Horned Owl flying up and down the stream corridor frantically calling and calling. It flew to tree tops and called – zoomed to the other side of Park Street, perched, checked around an old nesting site and kept on calling. Perhaps it couldn't see its lifeless mate in the grass below. And what irresistible thing had its mate seen during Tuesday night's hunt? Perhaps a morsel of a mouse, carelessly scurrying across the athletic fields adjacent to the conservancy. The hungry owl instinctively swooped down on its prey, but was stopped short by a barrier it had never dealt with before. The struggle to try and free itself from the soccer net probably lasted several hours, through dawn, and ultimately discovered that afternoon by some kids. Though freed with help, the stress and injuries were too great and had taken their toll. Aaron's story completes the tragedy of this owl – making its final flight across the street, choosing an easy perch to try and regain its strength. But there, sometime before dusk, it simply perished. Utterly spent, its life gently slipped away...its once powerful talons slowly releasing their grip, feathers moving through air for the last time, coming to rest in the moist grass below. One wonders how long the mate will search and call, and how long it will be until there is a new answer.

Great Horned Owl image 2007 Mike McDowell

Thursday Birding


Golden-crowned Kinglet

Ah, Friday at last! Just a quick reminder: I'm leading a field trip for Madison Audubon tomorrow morning (Saturday) at Pheasant Branch Conservancy and all are welcome to attend. A few people have asked, but this will not be a photography/digiscoping field trip. The aim of this field trip will be to try and find as many sparrow species as we can, and whatever other birds happen to be around.

Red-winged Blackbird

Yesterday didn't start out well at all. Within moments of arriving at Pheasant Branch, Dottie, Sylvia, George and I were alerted to a dead Great Horned Owl in the grass below a utility pole and wires. Dottie works at the National Wildlife Health Center, so she took the owl in for necropsy, but it will have a low priority. Though we initially didn't see any obvious signs of trauma, Dottie later emailed me that she found a fresh wound on one of its wings, leaving us to surmise that it probably collided with the wires directly above where we found it.

[update: probable cause of death of owl in comments]

Just as Dottie finished putting the owl in her trunk, a Middleton Police squad car pulled up along side of our vehicles and an officer questioned us. Apparently there had been a report of some type of disorderly conduct occurring at Parisi Park (a nearby resident had phoned it in). The four of us had only just arrived, had seen nothing, had nothing to share with the officer (other than the deceased owl), but he was a little more than inquisitive, seemingly wanting to pin something on George for a second. That George is such a shady character!

Eventually, we made our way down to the stream corridor for some serious birding and things were hopping. We had Blue-headed Vireo, Yellow-throated Vireo, still several warbler species and both Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets. I also checked the prairie side of the conservancy and observed half a dozen sparrow species.


And to the anonymous commenter who used vulgarities describing his experiences with butterfly excrement on his face...perhaps you should consider placing your head elsewhere. It's just more direct evidence supporting John Gabriel's theory. To everyone else, have a fantastic weekend!

Pheasant Branch Stream Corridor/Prairie – October 4th, 2007:

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Mallard
Great Blue Heron
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Yellow-throated Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Carolina Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing
Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Palm Warbler
American Redstart
Common Yellowthroat
Chipping Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Red-winged Blackbird
Purple Finch
House Finch
American Goldfinch


Sandhill Cranes

All images © 2007 Mike McDowell

Monday, October 01, 2007

Sloppy Specifications



This morning I was purging old email from MS Outlook when I stumbled across a gem from the archives. Every day at Eagle Optics we field lots of great questions, but this one I had to save. Enough time has passed and I don't think my employer will mind me sharing it with you. Nevertheless, I changed the name on the email. Naturally, we take every question seriously, regardless of the tone in the correspondence. Always check your arithmetic!

From: Terry Smith [mailto:terrysmith@snip.com]
Sent: Thursday, August 21, 2003 1:43 AM
To: webmaster@eagleoptics.com
Subject: Appalled by your sloppy specifications

Dear Eagle Optics,

I don't know which I am the most: angry, disappointed, disgusted, or frustrated. After a twenty-five year hiatus from using binoculars I have recently taken them up again. Since there have been many changes in both optics and my body in the interim, I have spent many hours over several months researching a new pair - I've got the charts to prove it.

Tonight as I was drawing my final list of ten candidates I realized that your field of view specifications are seriously flawed. I'm angry because I don't know how many good candidates I dumped based on your information. I'm disappointed because I intended to buy from you because you specialize in optics and because you support birders, birds and butterflies. I'm angry because I wonder whether it was deliberate to make yours look better, in the words of the current political mess in Britain, whether you "sexed up" your numbers and disillusioned because I thought that I had found a reliable vendor. Now I have to go back through all of my FOV and close focus measurements and go through every manufacturer's website and sales literature.

I found the problem in your sections on Leica and Zeiss - didn't spend much time on your site after that looking for more. I'm guessing that it started because in converting the field of view spec from European and probably Japanese manufacturers you apparently didn't understand or didn't care that there is a significant difference between, "X feet at 1,000 yards" and "X meters at 1,000 meters." I didn't want to look to see if the close focus measurements are equally screwed up.

There are 39 inches in a meter, not 36 inches as there are in a yard. That means, for example, that on the Leica BN 8x32 the 135 meter field of view that Leica has posted on its website is not 405 feet, but 438 feet! That doesn't even take into account the fact that standing at 1,000 yards produces a noticeably larger image than at 1,000 meters. I expected better arithmetic from optics people. Had you posted degrees of field as well I likely would have discovered it much sooner and saved myself a great deal of boring work.

Sincerely,

Terry Smith


From: Michael McDowell
Sent: Thu 8/21/2003 9:16 AM
To: 'Terry Smith'
Subject: RE: Appalled by your sloppy specifications

Dear Terry,

Thanks for writing and for the feedback on our binocular specifications.

Taken from: http://www.leica-camera.com/

Leica's provided specification for the Trinovid 8x32 BN is 135 meters at 1,000 meters.

  • 1 meter = 39.37 inches.
  • 135 meters = 147.64 yards, from ((135 meters x 39.37 inches ) / 36 inches).
  • 1,000 meters = 1093.61 yards.

Another way of listing the specification is 147.64 yards (442.92 feet) at 1093.61 yards. Now to convert this specification to be "at 1,000 yards," we must use the following proportion (this is the step I think you may have inadvertently omitted):



That's 442.92 feet X 1,000 yards / 1093.61 yards = 405.01 feet

Please let me know if I can be of any further assistance.

Best regards,

Mike McDowell
Eagle Optics
(800) 289-1132