Monday, February 01, 2010

Wintering Robins of Pheasant Branch

Welcome to February! This blog celebrates the beginning of its 6th year of publication this month. So, how many of you have been here for the whole tour? As some of you know, I experienced a pretty grim start to 2009, but this year I sense a whole new level of rebirth and commitment to birding and nature photography. By the end of May, I knew I was having one of my best seasons ever; this continued into summer and fall. As this spring gets closer and closer, I can already feel its arrival in the form of longer days and by male Northern Cardinals breaking into full song. By the end of this month, Sandhill Cranes will return to the conservancy.

Cool combination of color on a rock.

I worked on Saturday, but managed to find a little time on Sunday to go birding at Pheasant Branch. The snow-covered fields were still and quiet. Except for a Red-tailed Hawk soaring over the drumlin, there wasn't another bird in sight. I briefly heard the flight call of a Horned Lark, but failed to see it as it flew by overhead. Scanning across the prairie with my binoculars, I spotted several bird nests, exposed by the absence of foliage. These particular nests likely belonged to Song Sparrows, Clay-colored Sparrows, and Field Sparrows. With no sign of the shrike, I decided to move south to a nice "hot-spot" just before the bridge behind the Conservancy Condominiums that attracts a diversity of birds. There, they have a natural springs that doesn't freeze, plenty of food, and good cover from predators - everything a resourceful songbird requires!

American Tree Sparrow

As I traversed the icy path through the oaks, I began to hear Black-capped Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches, Cedar Waxwings, and American Robins. Finally! Birds! The pair of Fox Sparrows I found a few weeks ago were still present, same for several White-throated and American Tree Sparrows. I was somewhat surprised by a first-year White-crowned Sparrow that briefly popped into view just long enough for me to confirm its ID.

American Robin

Part of my entertainment was pointing out robins to other people on the trail whenever they asked what birds I was seeing. Naturally, there's almost no reaction when I run down the various sparrow species, but the moment I get to "American Robin" I'm either met with incredulity or "Oh! There are still robins here? Where!? I want to see one!" As Wisconsin birders know, American Robins can be found in our state throughout winter, but these are probably not the same robins that nested in our backyards, parks, and local natural areas during the spring and summer. To me, a January robin is always worthy of photographing, even if only for digiscoping practice. That said, judging from its remarkable beauty, this particular robin seems to be doing exceptionally well this winter.

House Finch

All images © 2010 Mike McDowell


  1. Thanks! I just linked this to Gathering Waters Conservancy's facebook page so our fans can pause to appreciate Pheasant Branch Conservancy for the open space and January robins in our own back yards.

  2. Ahhhh . . .

    Thanks for the redirect.

    This is much better.