Thursday, May 28, 2015


"To be admitted to Nature's hearth costs nothing. None is excluded, but excludes himself. You have only to push aside the curtain."

― Henry David Thoreau

Pheasant Branch Conservancy - Oak Savanna

For me, late May birding at Pheasant Branch Conservancy is a time of shifting strategies. Rather than exploring the creek corridor for migratory songbirds, I begin searching the prairie and savanna parcel for birds on territory. The reason? Species diversity! Right now the mornings are a time of aggressive countersinging between males of the same species, which provides golden opportunities for the nature photographer to obtain stunning bird portraits.

Field Sparrow

Most birds will initially be a little wary when you first step onto their territory, like the above Field Sparrow with a mouthful of morsels for its young. But when you stop and stand still for a few moments, eventually they get back to business whether it's singing, finding food, collecting nest material, etc. Everything they do now is centered around reproductive success. I enjoy watching how birds behave as if there is no time to waste with efficient intentionality in every action. Actually, that's quite likely their reality.

Yellow Goat's Beard

A different prairie yields a different collection of wildflowers, but there's a little crossover between Pheasant Branch and Spring Green. In some cases I've noticed different petal shapes between what I presume to be the same species observed at both locations, but I suppose it's possible they might be subspecies. This is a good question for Sylvia Marek, my plant and wildflower mentor.




Prairie Smoke

The first countersinging was taking place near the parking lot between a few Common Yellowthroats. While two males seemed to be fine with one another's presence, there was a third that kept getting chased around by the others. Their main songs were occasionally followed by aggressive chattering, which the males often vocalize when they hear another male's song.

Common Yellowthroat

Indigo Buntings were countersinging at the oak savannah at the top of the drumlin (or drumlinoid to be technically correct). This gorgeous male Indigo Bunting kept returning to the same oak perch. I was concealed under the tree in the shade while he tirelessly sang away his sweeping notes, giving me one of the best series of images I've ever obtained of this species.

Indigo Bunting

Willow Flycatchers don't have much in the way of a melodious voice, but they're still quite territorial when it comes to multiple males on adjacent territories. Of course, he might simply be singing to attract a mate!

Willow Flycatcher

Yellow Warblers were engaged in countersinging at the springs.

Yellow Warbler

Sweet-sweet-sweet, little more sweet!

There was an added bonus to my morning before arriving at the prairie. I always drive down Pheasant Branch Road with my windows down to listen to birdsong. As I went past the wooded area just north of the overlook parking lot, I heard a Hooded Warbler. I parked at the bottom of the hill and confirmed the observation. Though I wasn't able to obtain a photograph, I did record the bird's song. This makes 31 warbler species observed at the conservancy for 2015 ... so far!

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
May 28, 2015 6:00 AM - 10:30 AM
46 species

Canada Goose
Ring-necked Pheasant
Turkey Vulture
Red-tailed Hawk
Mourning Dove
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Willow Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Warbling Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
Cedar Waxwing
Common Yellowthroat
Hooded Warbler
American Redstart
Yellow Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch

All images © 2015 Mike McDowell


  1. Beautiful as always, and interesting reading!

  2. Thanks for the outstanding photos and observations. I will get out there tomorrow. Beautiful bunting!!