"We are often taught to look for the beauty in all things, so in finding it, the layman asks the philosopher while the philosopher asks the photographer."
― Criss Jami
Year lists have been reset! Let the birding begin!
Like many other birders across Wisconsin, I celebrated the new year by going birding. With gorgeous weather beckoning me to hit the field, I went for a long hike Sunday morning on the trails of Pheasant Branch Conservancy. My plan was to cover the creek corridor, central woodlands, and the prairie. The going would be a little challenging due to icy trail conditions. I slipped a few times, but thankfully never lost my balance.
Following a makeshift cross-country ski trail to the back part of the woods, I explored a lowland area with a lot of decaying grounded branches and trees. Within a few minutes of my search I heard the rapid di-dip dip di-dip chatter-chirps of the bird I was hoping to find ... a Winter Wren! Following the calls, I eventually found the tiny sprite foraging through narrow crevices of an old stump. Even in the dead of winter an able wren can find plenty of morsels to eat in such habitat. I thought to myself that the bird was probably present during the CBC, but I forgot to check this particular area. As small as they are it's amazing how much ground a Winter Wren can cover in a short period of time.
Throughout my walk in the woods I heard winter's usual avian laborers at work. There were woodpeckers starting to drum, chickadee pods scouring the understory, and nuthatches calling from above. Though I checked several traditional roosting sites, I failed to find any owls.
Save for a flyover Rough-legged Hawk and a few American Tree Sparrows, there wasn't much happening at the prairie parcel. I scanned the patches of dogwood to the south with my spotting scope, but was unable to locate the Northern Shrike. I suppose it might have moved on, but I suspect it's still hunting the area. There's plenty of suitable habitat outside of the conservancy where a shrike is likely to find ample food.
Sylvia Marek joined me for the creek corridor portion of my hike. Again, we checked all of the roosts where we've observed Great Horned and Barred Owls in the past ― site after site, no owls. At least the corridor still held its usual winter assortment of woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, titmice, and cardinals. If nothing else, it was just nice to enjoy the corridor without competing trail traffic.
Before leaving, I thought of one last roosting spot to check and that's where we found a Barred Owl. Sylvia was thrilled. This is the first Barred Owl I've seen at the conservancy since September. I really don't know why it seems like they're harder to find this winter. Perhaps it's on account of increased trail traffic or maybe the building construction that's been going on adjacent to the creek corridor. Whatever the reason, we were pretty excited to see an owl. We watched it for about a minute, admiring its natural ability to blend into the habitat. Then the owl slowly turned its head to look at us, and that's when I said it was time to leave.
Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Jan 1, 2017 9:00 AM - 12:00 PM
American Black Duck
American Tree Sparrow
© 2017 Mike McDowell