Sunday, September 07, 2008

How to spend a Late Summer day

Today was the kind of day I wish could have gone on forever. Before heading to Pheasant Branch, I stopped by a boat landing to watch the sunrise over Lake Mendota. Sitting on the pier, camera in hand, I reflected on my life's recent changes – my marriage is finally ending and I no longer live in Waunakee; it's Middleton once again. Though deep down I know this has been coming for years, somehow I thought this day would never come. I'm sure there are going to be difficult days ahead, but I already feel as if a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Today was all about me, my friends and how much the bunch of us love nature. I snapped a few more sunrise photos and headed off for the conservancy.

We were victims of comfort
Got no one else to blame,
I'm just a victim of comfort,
Cryin' shame.

-Keb' Mo'

New England Asture


Like most fall migration mornings, I met up with several of my birding friends at the stream corridor trail entrance; Jesse, Dottie, Sylvia, and Bill. There were others, too. Our adventure started with a comparatively subdued warbler status. We struggled to find a Wilson's Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, American Redstart, Black-and-White Warbler, and a very skulky Mourning Warbler – migrant birds were pretty scarce. Dang it all! And I was totally in the mood to digiscope! We eventually gave up on the corridor and moved to explore the prairie and oak savanna parcel on the north side of Pheasant Branch. This turned out to be a great decision because we were soon rewarded with a Red-headed Woodpecker – a species I haven't seen for almost two years:

It was entertaining to admire the woodpecker's incredible flycatching skills (I'm pretty sure it was grabbing cicadas on the wing) as well as cracking open acorns into the tree branch. Unfortunately, there just aren't as many of these amazingly beautiful woodpeckers as there once were (50% decline since 1966 according to Audubon's Watchlist). At one time, over a decade ago, they actually nested at the conservancy, but no more. These days I'm lucky if I see one Red-headed Woodpecker per year during spring or fall migration. Perhaps this particular bird is a member of the Necedah NWR colony to the north and on its way south for the winter.

Though not everybody in our group could stay, I spent nearly the entire day at the conservancy observing and photographing; listening to Sylvia identify wildflowers and insects. Her knowledge of nature is encyclopedic and never ceases to amaze me with her ability to recite even the Latin names of wildflowers and plants. Recent rains made everything seem fresh and new, and yet more change is in the air; falling leaves. There may not have been as many birds today at the stream corridor, but the flora and fauna we saw at the prairie and oak savanna were special. We finished the day with 60 bird species.

Bottle Gentian

Canada Goose
Ring-necked Pheasant
Turkey Vulture
Cooper's Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Common Nighthawk
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Sedge Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Eastern Bluebird
Swainson's Thrush
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Tennessee Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Northern Waterthrush
Mourning Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Wilson's Warbler
Clay-colored Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Common Grackle
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch

All image © 2008 Mike McDowell

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