Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011 Ends



Looking back at 2011...

Middleton became an official Bird City Wisconsin. This fall I entered my 500th eBird checklist for Pheasant Branch Conservancy since I began entering my sightings in 2007. For the year, I made 144 birding visits, recording 176 species, which is my highest ever year-count for the conservancy. New were Prairie Warbler and Red Crossbill. Sadly, I missed the Black-throated Gray Warbler by mere minutes, which is arguably the best new species observed there (see Eric Wood's excellent photograph). With the Red Crossbill found during the Madison CBC, I'm pretty sure my master list for Pheasant Branch is now at 222 bird species, but I have yet to confirm the total.

Most years I consider myself fortunate if I see just one Prothonotary Warbler at Pheasant Branch. This spring, however, several were present from April 24th to May 15th along the creek corridor. For a while I was beginning to think they might stay, but perhaps the habitat wasn't quite what they were looking for and moved on. The Picnic Point Prothontary Warblers returned to find newly installed nest boxes and successfully fledged young late June. A Kentucky Warbler spent most of the summer at Hoyt Park in Madison.

For the first time at my apartment I enjoyed having Baltimore Orioles visit my balcony for grape jelly from early May through the end of June. Even an Orchard Oriole made a couple of appearances but didn't stick around as long as the Baltimores.

Coming upon hundreds of Tiger Swallowtails mud-puddling at Baxter's Hollow was a special spring treat. I've always wanted to experience this particular butterfly phenomenon but never expected to see so many attracted to one place.

During the summer doldrums I began working on my family ancestry. I found the identities of all my great grandparents and most of my great-great grandparents. I discovered that my maternal grandmother, Edrie L. Darrow-Kellerman, was related to the famous Scopes Trial lawyer Clarence S. Darrow. With a lot of electronic digging through various online vital records databases, I traced some of my family ancestral lines back to the early 1600s in Scotland and Holland.

This year's Snowy Owl irruption is getting a lot of press. The arrivals seemed to peak in late November and early December, but there are still a number of Snowy Owls in Wisconsin. Reports have significantly tapered off the past few weeks. The last time I saw the Waunakee owl was on December 20th, but someone spotted one at Governor Nelson State Park on the 25th. It might be the same bird.

Approaching 300 members, the Wisconsin Birding facebook group I created is thriving. It's become a great way to share reports, stories, photographs, and videos from birders all around the state. There was a brief scandal concerning an image I chose to use for the group's profile picture. Though I was under no obligation to do so, I eventually changed the group name and the profile image. I also created a facebook group about digiscoping.

This blog will begin its 8th year of publication in February 2012. Since January 1st of this year, 18,207 people have visited with over 4 million hits to the birddigiscoper.com domain.

See you in 2012!

Snowy Owl Video from Cornell

Here's a cool video about Snowy Owls from the The Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Field Guides never looked so good!


Sibley Guide for iPad

I recently put my Digiscoper of the Year prize money toward the purchase of an iPad2 . Though I've been using Sibley and iBird Pro on my iPod Touch since early spring, the apps look so much nicer on an iPad. My eyes really appreciate the larger size and I'm certain my field trip participants will love the larger bird and range map images. My paper birding field guide of choice for years has been the Eastern Sibley, but what if I want to be able to identify butterflies, dragonflies, and wildflowers, too? I don't enjoy lugging around several books in the field, so in addition to Sibley and iBird Pro, I have various flora and fauna field guides installed as well. With an iPad or iPod, the conundrum over what field guides to bring along is gone! These handy gizmos easily fit inside a backpack or back pocket.


iBird Pro on iPad

All images © 2011 Mike McDowell

Sunday, December 18, 2011

PBC CBC


Hermit Thrush

We had a successful Christmas Bird Count at Pheasant Branch Conservancy yesterday, part of Area 21 for the Madison CBC. There were a few misses (Winter Wren and Belted Kingfisher) but some nice surprises as well. The Hermit Thrush I've been keeping tabs on for the past few weeks was still present at the southeast corner along the boardwalk. Raptor-wise we saw a Bald Eagle, American Kestrel, Northern Harrier, Cooper's Hawks, and Red-tailed Hawks. Though most of the time I have no trouble finding Great Horned Owls, the only owl we found was a Barred Owl, which was perched at one of its usual roosting sites. The biggest surprise of the day was a flyover Red Crossbill, my first for Pheasant Branch!

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Dec 17, 2011 8:00 AM - 1:00 PM
39 species

Canada Goose
Mallard
Green-winged Teal
Common Merganser
Ring-necked Pheasant
Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Cooper's Hawk
American Kestrel
Sandhill Crane
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Barred Owl
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
European Starling
American Tree Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
House Finch
Red Crossbill
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Hermit Thrush © 2011 Mike McDowell

Saturday, December 10, 2011

December Birding


Red-tailed Hawk

It was a clear and very cold morning with a strong breeze, so it felt even colder than 11 degrees. I didn't get up in time to watch the partial lunar eclipse, but this was intentional. I figured it wouldn't be as good as the opportunity I had back in February 2008 for photographs.

After making a quick trip to Waunakee to show Sylvia Marek the Snowy Owl, I hiked my usual route at Pheasant Branch Conservancy and observed 32 species. Birds I found last week but missed for today's eBird list were Northern Shrike, Winter Wren, and Rusty Blackbird. On the plus side, I found a Hermit Thrush and Belted Kingfisher. Perched on a limb at the southeast bridge by Century Avenue, a Red-tailed Hawk had its eye on something in the grass. Its back was to me while I was watching it, but just before taking flight it turned around and I was able to get a nice digiscoped photograph of it.

After Pheasant Branch, I stopped at Marshall Park to scope parts of Lake Mendota. There were Tundra Swans, Canada Geese, Common Mergansers, Common Loons, Common Goldeneye, Rudy Ducks, Bufflehead, Canvasback, American Coots, and Mallards.

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Dec 10, 2011 10:30 AM - 12:00 PM
32 species

Canada Goose
Bald Eagle
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Sandhill Crane
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Barred Owl
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
European Starling
American Tree Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Red-tailed Hawk © 2011 Mike McDowell

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Dakota is back home!



"The great horned owl spirited away from an Oconomowoc wildlife rehabilitation facility last month was finally captured Wednesday morning. He was dehydrated, very thin and tired though otherwise appeared healthy."

Link: Keep reading at the Journal Sentinel

Photo courtesy of the Wildlife In Need Center

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Waunakee Snowy Owl



Shortly after I finished birding at Pheasant Branch Conservancy this morning, my co-worker Tom Kuenzli called me with some interesting bird news. Apparently, someone spotted a Snowy Owl sitting right up along side of a building in the Waunakee Business Park. They were concerned about the bird’s condition and either called Waunakee Police or the Dane County Sheriff. Renee, Tom’s girlfriend and Dane County Animal Services officer, was called to the scene to assess the situation. When she approached the owl, preparing to capture it, she saw that it was merely guarding a freshly killed rat. The owl gave up its prey and flew across the parking lot to a patch of grass.



Renee had already left by the time I arrived and the owl had returned to the kill site where a few non-birders were watching it. I was told that the owl had eaten something, presumably the rat it was guarding. Moments later, the owl flew back to the patch of grass near the parking lot where I was able to get a few digiscoped photographs of it. Two American Crows flew in and began harassing the owl causing it to flee across the street where it perched on the roof of a building. The taunting crows were unrelenting and the owl took off behind the building. Eventually, I was able to relocate the snowy, which was hunkered down in tall grass about 30 yards from the road. A man from one of the nearby buildings wearing binoculars came down to look at the owl and told me it has been at this location since Friday.

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Dec 4, 2011 8:00 AM - 10:30 AM
36 species

Canada Goose
Mallard
Northern Harrier
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Sandhill Crane
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Barred Owl
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Northern Shrike
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Winter Wren
American Robin
European Starling
American Tree Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Rusty Blackbird
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Snowy Owl © 2011 Mike McDowell