Sunday, January 19, 2014

All is right in the woods

Pheasant Branch Conservancy - the prairie parcel 

It was the type of day that made it feel like spring is right around the corner, but I know we'll get a lot of wintery weather through February and March. Though we reached temperatures in the mid-thirties today, we're looking at below-zero lows once again this coming week. I'm glad I seized the opportunity to take a long walk through the entire conservancy.

I scanned around the prairie with my binoculars. There was an American Kestrel at the north end and a Red-tailed Hawk soaring over the drumlin. I hiked the trails looking for the Northern Shrike, but I struck out. I'm sure it's still around somewhere. There were a few American Tree Sparrows and a Ring-necked Pheasant in the tall grass, but little else of notice.

The Overlook

From the prairie, I made my way to the overlook, which is my favorite locations at the conservancy to bird during the winter. Things were somewhat quiet until I got closer to the small springs where I heard an American Robin chirping and lots of chickadees singing. Northern Cardinals and American Tree Sparrows were also vocal at times, occasionally delivering full renditions of their songs.

Near the Conservancy Condos

The Barred Owl was comfortably perched as at its usual roost site. I really do have ample images of this particular bird, so I quickly took only two photographs and moved on. If you look closely, you can see a couple of its talons at the bottom of the picture. Should you happen to come across this owl, it's best if you look for a few seconds and move on. If you stay too long, it will fly off to a different tree. I wonder what this owl is doing at this moment. It's nighttime right now. I like to imagine the feathered hunter gliding through the trees in pursuit of its prey under a starlit sky.

Barred Owl

The springs near the condos is a small oasis. Its proximity to the bird feeders means the area is vibrantly alive with songbirds coming and going. It's the only location in the entire conservancy where I can reliably find White-throated Sparrows throughout the winter months. This particular sparrow seemed content with its perch, occasionally delivering a contact call with the other white-throats. I saw one of the Fox Sparrows, but it wasn't nearly as cooperative.

White-throated Sparrow

Near the entrance to the eastern leg of the creek corridor, I heard a serious commotion between Blue Jays, Black-capped Chickadees, and White-breasted Nuthatches. There may have been other birds involved in this mobbing, but their voices were drowning out everything else. I immediately knew that I was in the company of an owl. It didn't take me long to find the source of their distress.

Great Horned Owl (mobbing chickadee in foreground)

After enduring several minutes of agitated songbirds, the owl's peace was slowly restored. The Blue Jays were the first to flee the scene. Then one by one, or in pairs, the chickadees and nuthatches moved on and resumed foraging. All was right in the woods.

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Jan 19, 2014 10:00 AM - 2:00 PM
29 species

Canada Goose
Ring-necked Pheasant
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Barred Owl
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
American Kestrel
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
American Robin
European Starling
American Tree Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2013 Mike McDowell