"The most beautiful gift of Nature is that it gives one pleasure to look around and try to comprehend what we see."
― Albert Einstein
Pheasant Branch Conservancy
I observed my first Fox Sparrow of fall migration this morning at the conservancy's prairie parcel. It was foraging with a few dozen White-crowned Sparrows along the main gravel path that bisects the prairie. Also taking part in the feeding frenzy were White-throated Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Swamp Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, and a Lincoln's Sparrow. I saw an immature White-crowned Sparrow grab the tail of a Song Sparrow and pull it out of the spot where it was foraging. Though somewhat comical to me, they're aggressive little things at times.
The adult Harris's Sparrow is still present, but obtaining a quality portrait of it has proven to be a challenge. Thus far I've only been able to get a few distant documentation photographs of it. I wonder how long this bird is going to stay at the prairie. Well, there's certainly no shortage of food. I'm guessing it will probably leave with the bulk of the White-crowned Sparrows, whenever it is they decide it's time to move on.
The season's brown and coppery colors arrive at the prairie through a variety of transformations: growth, development, migration, decay, etc. In the insect realm, the appearance of Woolly Bear caterpillars along the trail signals more of a beginning than an end. By avian cues, each new arrival represents a fond farewell until spring.
Woolly Bear caterpillar
Second to last! The regal Fox Sparrow is second to the last. So, what comes last? It's the American Tree Sparrow―the last sparrow of fall, but the first to to sing spring songs. Fox Sparrows will be present at the prairie throughout October and even into November. Sometimes one or two try to overwinter at the conservancy, but I'm not sure if they stay. I occasionally find one during the Christmas Bird Count in December, but usually near the Conservancy Condos where the feeders are.
White-crowned Sparrow (immature)
White-crowned Sparrow (adult)
The prairie is fading spectacularly; it's still beautiful and teeming with things to behold and appreciate. Sometimes it's hard for me to believe I've been exploring Pheasant Branch for over two decades and yet it still feels like a new experience every time I visit. When it comes to visiting Nature, John Muir said we always receive more than we seek. This is undoubtedly true to me. Though I've observed, documented, and inventoried extensively, sometimes I feel like I've only just begun to uncover its secrets.
Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Oct 8, 2015 7:00 AM - 10:30 AM
All images © 2015 Mike McDowell