"The beauty and mystery of this world only emerges through affection, attention, interest and compassion. Open your eyes wide and actually see this world by attending to its colors, details and irony."
― Orhan Pamuk
Pheasant Branch Conservancy
I visited several natural areas over the weekend within my eBird count circle, searching for new spring arrivals. Some of my favorite habitat patches are within the circle, including Pheasant Branch Conservancy, Pope Farm Conservancy, Owen Conservation Park, Middleton's kettle ponds, and a good portion of Lake Mendota. When being thorough, it's possible to observe over 200 bird species during the year in the 7.5 mile radius centered from my apartment.
My first stop was the North Fork section along Pheasant Branch Creek. The sun had been up for a few hours, but it was still a little below freezing by the time I hit the field. The cold air didn't deter the Eastern Meadowlarks, though. There were three of them in the field adjacent to the marsh, singing throughout my visit. Well, except for when an American Kestrel flew through. A few American Robins gave alarm calls, but I think they (and the meadowlarks) were probably pretty safe, as kestrels go for smaller prey items like shrews, voles, and other rodents. They'll eat large insects (grasshoppers, dragonflies, beetles, etc.), but they probably weren't going to find any of those today.
I checked Pope Farm Conservancy to see if any Eastern Bluebirds were back. I found just one pair foraging along fence line near the gardens. From their barbed wire perch, the male was keeping lookout and serenading his mate while she was scanning the ground for small insects in the grass below. Every minute or so they would drop to the ground, presumably discovering a morsel to eat.
Eastern Bluebird (male)
Eastern Bluebird (female)
I also checked the creek corridor between Parmenter Street and Century Avenue, but it was mostly an ensemble of winter birds. Northern Cardinals were the dominant singers, but there were lots of trilling Dark-eyed Juncos offering their voices to winter's final day.
Pussy willow catkins
My last stop of the day was the prairie parcel of Pheasant Branch Conservancy. There were still a few American Tree Sparrows around, but I sensed most of them were well on their journey back to the north. In their place, singing Song Sparrows could be found throughout the prairie. A sparrow's song is best broadcast from a perch of adequate height.
Resting from my hike, I sat down on the wooden observation platform and watched a pair of Red-tailed Hawks circling over the prairie. To be sure, it was an average day of birding. I didn't find many new arrivals in terms of avian species, but there are definitely more birds defending territories. The best part of this otherwise ordinary day was simply how much sense it all made to me that I should be there watching and recording.
Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Mar 18, 2017 10:30 AM - 12:30 PM
Great Horned Owl
American Tree Sparrow
All images © 2017 Mike McDowell