Sunday, October 18, 2015


"I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house."

― Nathaniel Hawthorne

"Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower."

― Albert Camus

Indeed, the autumn light and colors have been superb the past few days. The prairie plants were covered with sparkling frost when I arrived, but it didn't take long for the rising sun to melt it away; the warming light merely replacing one dazzling Elysian vision with another. Delightful as it was, my morning's mission was sparrow photography.

I hadn't been out birding since Monday and the Harris's Sparrow was last reported on Wednesday. I didn't spend much time looking for it because I wanted to complete my usual route around the prairie and oak savanna. Well, I didn't find the Harris's. Perhaps it moved on or was foraging elsewhere, as there's plenty of habitat for hungry birds in and around Pheasant Branch Conservancy. Even without the Harris's, it was a very good morning for sparrows as you're about to see.

Fox Sparrow

Always wary and camera shy, this sentinel Fox Sparrow faced the morning light giving it a regal pose. There were a few Savannah Sparrows and White-crowned Sparrows in this particular foraging flock. Migration during the past few nights has been moderate to heavy, so I was a little surprised to find fairly good numbers of birds. However, during my entire outing I observed only a single warbler, a Yellow-rumped. Birds are moving out, as well as moving in.

Savannah Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow (immature)

This is Sparrowlandia!

The Melospiza sparrows often confuse novice birders (and experts, too) on account of their similarities, but the differences are more easily observed when studying portraits taken in good light. I think it's true that mastering sparrow identification was accelerated through photography. Additionally, the post-processing stage allows one to fully appreciate field mark subtleties.

Song Sparrow

Swamp Sparrow

Lincoln's Sparrow

Incredible fall colors...

White-crowned Sparrow (adult)

Chipping Sparrow

A spied a Chipping Sparrow preening in a spruce tree as I was walking past the central kiosk. My presence attracted the attention of a few more chippies and some Dark-eyed Juncos. Scanning toward the top of the tree, I also found three perched Eastern Bluebirds eyeing Virginia Creeper berries, which they eventually began eating.

Dark-eyed Junco

Eastern Bluebird

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Oct 17, 2015 7:30 AM - 11:15 AM
47 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Ring-necked Pheasant
Northern Harrier
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
American Pipit
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow-rumped Warbler
American Tree Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
White-crowned Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Eastern Towhee
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2015 Mike McDowell

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