Monday, January 30, 2012

January Ends



I slipped on some ice and hurt my back last week. With coffee in one hand and backpack in the other, I caught my balance in an awkward twisting motion and managed to throw out my sacroiliac joint. At least I didn't hit the ice and give myself a concussion like I did last winter. I was sore enough that I didn't feel up to walking long distances until yesterday. After brunch at Prairie Cafe in Middleton with Sylvia, Dottie, and Mark, we headed to Pheasant Branch to do a little birding (Mark opted to head home, though). I'm glad I was well enough because I wanted to get one more January PBC count into eBird.

We found many of the usual suspects, including the Hermit Thrush that's been present most of this winter. Northern Cardinals have been singing since late December and are most numerous throughout the conservancy. There was a gorgeous fly-over Rough-legged hawk and one Common Redpoll heard calling but we didn't get a look at it. There were two Belted Kingfishers; one male, one female, but at different locations. The owls were in their usual daytime roosting spots and various woodpeckers were hammering and tapping - all was well in the winter woods!

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Jan 29, 2012 11:30 AM - 2:00 PM
30 species

Canada Goose
Mallard
Red-tailed Hawk
Rough-legged Hawk
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Barred Owl
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
American Tree Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
House Finch
Common Redpoll
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Northern Cardinal © 2012 Mike McDowell

Monday, January 16, 2012

Appreciating a Songbird - Cedar Waxwing


Digiscoped Cedar Waxwing

That Cedar Waxwings often perch nearly motionless for extended periods makes them perfect bird portraiture subjects. But for their high-pitched and forlorn calls, they're quiet sentinels of the branch. When hearing a waxwing call, I'm never too sure how many I've stumbled upon until I actually look up and count them. Their calls are so soft that they blend together sounding like a single bird. They're exhibit a high degree of sociality during winter, so it's not uncommon to find a dozen or more of these elegant little birds perched together in a single fruit-bearing tree during winter. You can find such flocks almost anywhere there are trees with berries, even in your own backyard. Check out this poem I wrote a few years ago about waxwings!

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Jan 14, 2012 10:30 AM - 1:00 PM
30 species

Canada Goose
Red-tailed Hawk
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Barred Owl
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Shrike
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Lapland Longspur
American Tree Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Cedar Waxwing © 2012 Mike McDowell

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

January Birding


Digiscoped American Robin

The cold temperatures didn't last long. While this unseasonably warm weather streak has been pretty bizarre, it's coming to an end tomorrow with a winter storm warning. We're expected to get up to 8” of snow. I hope we get it so I can go snowshoeing at Pheasant Branch or Pope Farm Conservancy.

With all that's been going on with Operation Migration and my job, I haven't had time to report on my weekend birding. Like many other Wisconsin birders, there are a number of sightings that seem more befitting of spring than January. On December 31st I found a Gray Catbird at Pheasant Branch which was still present on Sunday. I saw a post to the Wisconsin Birding facebook group that Tom Prestby found a Common Yellowthroat at the 1918 Marsh near Picnic Point yesterday. While not totally unexpected, I found a Belted Kingfisher at the new pike breeding site, a Hermit Thrush, Fox Sparrow, and Winter Wren over the weekend at PBC. Though there have been other reports in southern Wisconsin, a pleasant surprise for me was a flock of Common Redpolls found at the Conservancy Condominium feeders. It's been a couple of years since I've seen one. There's also a large flock of American Robins moving about the conservancy in search of berries. Mostly, though, they're feeding on Buckthorn Berries, which isn't exactly good food for them, but it helps get them through winter. In this flock are two leucistic robins; one has a completely white head while the other is more speckled. Hopefully I can get a photo of either of them at some point.

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Jan 8, 2012 9:30 AM - 12:00 PM
30 species

Canada Goose
Mallard
Red-tailed Hawk
Mourning Dove
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
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
American Tree Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
House Finch
Common Redpoll
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

American Robin © 2012 Mike McDowell

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Let the Cranes Fly!



Update:

Told ya! From the FAA's facebook wall...

"The FAA has granted an exemption to Operation Migration that will allow pilots to continue to aid the whooping crane migration. Normally, the FAA limits light sport aircraft and pilots to personal flights without compensation. Because the operation is in 'mid-migration,' the FAA is granting a one-time exemption so the migration can be completed. The FAA will work with Operation Migration to develop a more comprehensive, long-term solution."

I have always regarded everyone at Operation Migration as heroes, especially the ultralight pilots who accept the risk of flying the endangered Whooping Cranes down to Florida. As many of you know by now, Whooper Class of 2011 is stalled in northern Alabama waiting for Federal Aviation Administration to grant OM pilots a waiver. At issue is whether the pilots are flying for hire or the benefit of a nonprofit organization. Ultralight planes are licensed as sport aircraft and FAA rules prohibit flying them for hire. Once OM is granted a waiver by the FAA (which they will undoubtedly get), the pilots and cranes will be able complete their migration, with help from many friends, closing yet another chapter in this amazing and unique wildlife reintroduction program.

But I wonder how Chris Gullikson's legacy and reputation will fare once the propeller dust settles. As identified by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Chris is the disgruntled former Operation Migration employee (and pilot) who filed complaints to the FAA against OM. As such, Chris well knows the vast majority of hours worked by the pilots, year round, does not involve flying at all. They're not only pilots. The job requires unfailing patience and dedication, working with the cranes at all times. And even when they are flying, their main focus is the cranes. They must be in costume, are not allowed to talk, and must avoid coughing and sneezing as much as humanly possible. Even during the peak of migration, they are on duty 24/7 while only being in the air a few hours at most, and only on the days when weather permits flying.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, "The FAA scrutiny came after a former Operation Migration employee filed a complaint. The FAA office in Milwaukee told Operation Migration officials that the migration could go forward. But when a second complaint was filed at the regional level, the agency opened an investigation." Clearly, for Chris it's no longer about saving an endangered species; it's all about him and his personal vendetta against OM.

To me it doesn't seem like Chris has carefully thought through all the repercussions of going after a former employer, especially one as popular in the public eye as Operation Migration. I don't know the particulars and circumstances surrounding his termination with OM, but I was taught long ago never to burn a career bridge. So, what about any future prospective employers? Are they likely to hire someone who might turn on them should things sour?

There is an outpouring of support from people from all around the world calling for the FAA to act quickly to get the whoopers back into the air. One would hope Chris would have anticipated how unpopular his ill-intended actions would go over with the public and just moved on with his life instead of going after a nonprofit during troubled economic times. Though Chris may have scored a few legal and technical points, he will not have earned any moral points through his heartless and selfish behavior.

Link: New York Times article

Link: Huffington Post article

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

First Outing of 2012



We finally have below freezing temperatures but still no snow cover. Despite the blustery weather and extremely slippery ice-covered trails, I initiated my 2012 birding year yesterday at Pheasant Branch Conservancy. As usual this time of year, there was a lot of activity near the conservancy condominiums because of all the feeders placed on balconies. A few Northern Cardinals were singing and the chatter of chickadees, nuthatches, goldfinches, and other songbirds made the winter day seem a little more cheerful. In addition to expected winter emberzids like American Tree Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos, I also found a Fox Sparrow and a few White-throated Sparrows. Perched right where they're supposed to be, I saw two roosting sentinel Barred Owls. The male tends to hold the same spot in the trees just north of the condominiums, while the female typically rests on a ledge at the entrance to their nest cavity.



Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Jan 2, 2012 9:00 AM - 10:30 AM
27 species

Canada Goose
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Barred Owl
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
American Robin
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
American Tree Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2012 Mike McDowell