Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Great Weekend of Birding!

Our snow has just about melted and most trails are free of ice. Of course, it's only late March. You wouldn't know it from these photographs, but it was a very breezy and chilly weekend here in southern Wisconsin. I birded Pheasant Branch Conservancy today and yesterday, tallying 44 species. The only new species today was a pair of Rusty Blackbirds near the small springs at the prairie parcel. I don't often see these particular blackbirds at the conservancy, but you can find them in higher concentrations at Nine Springs and other places.

The scenic photographs I take of the conservancy tend to reflect an impression of remoteness. I try to experience it that way in my mind, but there are always reminders and signs of nearby subdivisions and cities. Madison can be seen from the top of the drumlin. Pan a little to the right and you'll see the houses of Orchid Heights. Behind me, Middleton Hills. Even the field in the background will likely contain houses at some point in the future. I once overheard a couple of guys talking as they rode past the prairie on their bikes. One of them exclaimed, "Hey! The top of that hill would make a great place for a house!" Perhaps so, but it's also a great place for an oak savanna where Field Sparrows, Eastern Kingbirds, and Yellow-breasted Chats nest.

Raccoon skull

After walking the prairie trails for a couple of hours, I headed over to the creek corridor. The ice that once covered the creek is gone. The water level actually appears to be a little low. In fact, I read an article last week indicating many parts of Wisconsin are experiencing near drought conditions once again. I sure hope we don't have another dry summer like we've had the past couple of years. For one thing, I enjoy a good thunderstorm and it seems like ages since we've had any impressive ones. Maybe it's the long winter affecting my memory.

I was hoping to photograph Song Sparrows this weekend, but the wind kept them silent and low in the grass. You would think with several dozen bird species around that I would have lots of bird photographs to share. However, most birds were occupied and on the move, especially American Robins looking for berries because the frozen ground isn't giving up earthworms just yet.

American Robin

Red-bellied Woodpecker

I adore the churr-churr calls of Red-bellied Woodpeckers. It's another bird vocalization that is quintessentially spring. Speaking of woodpeckers, there's a Pileated Woodpecker making visits to the wooded part of the conservancy north of Century Avenue. I hope it nests there, but so far observations have been somewhat sporadic. Perhaps Pheasant Branch is just an occasional pitstop during its daily itinerary.

Barred Owl

This Barred Owl looked so peaceful and relaxed that it made me feel a little sleepy just looking at it. In fact, I typically take a nap after a long day of birding. As I do after most visits to the conservancy, I birded on the way home. There are a few small prairies and ponds between Pheasant Branch and my apartment I check for new arrivals, but I certainly wasn't expecting what happened next!

As I stepped out of my car at my apartment parking lot, a bird perched atop a tree across the street caught my eye. I knew that shape! I put my bins up to it, sure enough, it was a Northern Shrike! I grabbed my digiscoping rig and casually headed toward the bird. I didn't have the best angle with the light, but I managed to get some fairly nice shots of it. The shrike went after a House Finch but missed. It then took off after a flock of Cedar Waxwings, but that flock escaped, too. The viscous hunter turned around, headed back in my direction, and then dove into a tree line where there was a mixed songbird flock that included robins, waxwings, juncos, and chickadees. There was an intense commotion as the birds sounded off their alarm calls and scattered. I didn't see the shrike again, but I hope it was able to catch something to eat. What a great yard bird and awesome way to end a weekend of birding!

Northern Shrike

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Mar 22, 2014 8:00 AM - 12:30 PM
43 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Ring-necked Pheasant
Turkey Vulture
Cooper's Hawk
Bald Eagle
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
American Woodcock
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Barred Owl
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
American Kestrel
Blue Jay
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
American Tree Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Common Grackle
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2014 Mike McDowell

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