"We all are travelers traveling on a very big spaceship called Earth. Let's not ruin the engines of our very own spaceship in the name of development."
― Mohith Agadi
Warmth and cerulean skies! Birds have been on the move given the unseasonably warm weather. Birders in southern Wisconsin have reported returning Sandhill Cranes, Red-winged Blackbirds, Song Sparrows, Killdeer, and Turkey Vultures, but so far only in small numbers. Yeah, they're a tad early, but not by much. March's weather will set the pace of bird migration from the southern part of the US, but most neotropical birds take their migratory timing cues from the photoperiod ― they will likely be right on schedule come late April and early May.
I took long hikes Saturday and Sunday at Pheasant Branch Conservancy, covering the same ground and finding ~30 species each outing. Overwintering White-throated Sparrows were present on Saturday, but I wasn't able to find them on Sunday. A Northern Shrike continues to hunt along the patches of dogwood south of the big springs. Unsurprisingly, there were a number of flying insects observed as well.
Once again the conservancy's woods are filled birdsong. The February choir consists of Northern Cardinals, Black-capped Chickadees, Dark-eyed Juncos, American Tree Sparrows and other songsters. This Tufted Titmouse was singing "peter peter peter" even while holding a seed in his beak.
As we progress through late winter and into spring, the choir membership changes. Some species will migrate north and birds presently birds to our south take up residence here. The phenological pattern of bird migration is so predictable that if you recorded several minutes of birdsong and played it to an expert, one could likely determine the date give or take a few days.
Red-bellied Woodpecker (female)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (male)
I still think we'll probably get another blast or two of wintery weather; we still have all of March to get through, and early April can be just as unpredictable. For now, it's nice to have the trails free of snow and ice, making them far easier to traverse.
A pair of Great Horned Owls have taken over an old hawk's nest to the north of the woods. Fortunately, they are far enough away from the trail so they'll not encounter disturbances from onlookers. The male keeps the crows away while the female incubates her eggs. It'll be fun to periodically check in on them once the young hatch next month.
Great Horned Owl
Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Feb 19, 2017 8:00 AM - 12:00 PM
Greater White-fronted Goose
Great Horned Owl
American Tree Sparrow
All images © 2017 Mike McDowell