Saturday, September 30, 2017

September Finale!

"Autumn flings her fiery cloak over the sumac, beech and oak."

― Susan Lendroth

Pheasant Branch Conservancy's prairie and oak savanna.

As September draws to a close, Autumn's vivid accents are beginning to highlight the prairie and oak savanna in a dazzling display of grasses and wildflowers. We are still a few weeks away from fall's peak colors, however. Chilly morning temperatures necessitated wearing a jacket and gloves, but the huge glowing orb of hydrogen and helium rising in the east would warm things up in short time.

As the sun's rays fanned out over the plants and trees, sparrows and other songbirds perched in the open to warm themselves. It's Sparrow Season. Hooray! The unobstructed views are the perfect time to capture quality digiscoped portraits of these fine LBJs (little brown jobs). They're fairly abundant at the moment, but soon there will be hundreds more. At least, that's my hope. In addition to the emberizids pictured below, I also found Field Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, an Eastern Towhee, and my first Dark-eyed Junco of fall.

Chipping Sparrow

Lincoln's Sparrow

Swamp Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow (immature)

Song Sparrow

Several warbler species will remain present at the conservancy through the first half of October, like Yellow-rumped Warblers, Orange-crowned Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, and Palm Warblers. Here's drab but dapper Palm Warbler pumping it's tail and assessing me for threat level. Its brief pause was just enough time for me to obtain a few images of it. Perhaps this particular bird will spend the night at the prairie, as winds are once again out of the southeast.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

To the uninitiated, passerines (songbirds) may appear to be just different flavors of the same mold, but taxonomically-minded birders appreciate and categorize the incredible diversity found in late September's migrants. There are sparrows, warblers, nuthatches, wrens, thrushes, vireos, flycatchers, kinglets, finches, corvids, blackbirds, woodpeckers, and more. The cool air offers crisp views through binoculars and spotting scopes, rendering fine feather detail and, dare I say, even a little personality.

Eastern Bluebird

Where there are oak trees, there are acorns. And where there are acorns, you might happen upon the peculiar insect known as the Acorn Weevil. Their black eyes and elongated snout (rostrum) gives them a cartoonish and yet charming appearance. The rostrum has small saw-like teeth at its end, which the female weevil uses bore holes into the sides of acorns, and then draws out the contents for nutrition. But you have to be quick! The determined weevil goes on the march without stopping when moving from one acorn to the next.

Acorn Weevil

I tallied 104 bird species at Pheasant Branch Conservancy during September, 23 of which were warblers. Without looking at previous Septembers in eBird, I'm not sure if my counts are average, low, or high. Sill, I can't help but feel that over the years, from season to season, I'm observing fewer overall birds. Maybe times like when I saw hundreds of Fox Sparrows take flight from atop the drumlin were just anomalies; an exceptional flock that found the conservancy that particular fall. I also remember staying after sunset to hear hundreds of White-throated Sparrows erupt into a fantastical chirping frenzy before going to roost for the night.

New England Aster

Regardless of patterns and abundance, I'm continually appreciative of Nature's gifts and I take great care in presenting them to the best of my ability. September is over, but October is the grand songbird finale at the conservancy. I will be there to see them off and wish them safe journey. Though some might overwinter, most will not be seen or heard again until April or May.

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Sep 30, 2017 6:57 AM - 10:46 AM
64 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Ring-necked Pheasant
Great Blue Heron
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Eastern Phoebe
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Sedge Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Magnolia Warbler
Palm Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
White-crowned Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Eastern Towhee
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2017 Mike McDowell

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