Sunday, October 08, 2017

Hopeful for Harris's

"At no other time than autumn does the earth let itself be inhaled in one smell, the ripe earth; in a smell that is in no way inferior to the smell of the sea, bitter where it borders on taste, and more honeysweet where you feel it touching the first sounds. Containing depth within itself, darkness, something of the grave almost."

― Rainer Maria Rilke

Pheasant Branch Conservancy

During fall migration at the prairie, I like to arrive about a half an hour before sunrise. The winged commotion is like an avian Grand Central Station as birds zip around in nearly every direction. Where they're off to is likely tied to their immediate needs after a night of slumber or migration. For sparrows, there's a particular spot just south of the first retention pond where they form mixed flocks and forage along the gravel trail. I have yet to see a Harris's Sparrow this fall, but their arrival generally coincides with peak White-crowned Sparrow numbers. Thus far I've only found small pockets of the latter species, so I believe there's still time.

Dense fog often covers the marsh and ponds during cool mornings. It's fun to watch Sandhill Cranes emerge on the wing from the dreamy mist as they return to adjacent fields in search of food. It doesn't take long for the fog to dissipate at the command of the sun's warming rays.

While the tree canopy is still very green, one can find colorful foliage displays where leaves have already fallen to the ground. As I make my way over dew-covered grass, I listen for the slightest ticks, chips, twisps, zeets, buzzes, and chirps to locate and identify my quarry; every avian sound offers a clue to its identity. It can be done, but it takes a lot of time in the field to be able to instantly match subtle voices to autumn's birds.

Swamp Sparrow


Field Sparrow

Tisk or tweeoo!

Lincoln's Sparrow

Zzzzzt or chup!

White-throated Sparrow

Beep or seeet!

White-crowned Sparrow

Like WTSP, but with less intensity.

White-crowned Sparrow (1st-year)

While sparrows are a highlight of fall migration for me, there are still plenty of other songbirds to be found at the prairie and savanna. During the NRF field trip this morning, we found Golden-crowned Kinglets, a single Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Palm Warblers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and an Indigo Bunting. There were also fly-over Eastern Bluebirds, Cedar Waxwings, American Pipits, and Pine Siskins. All participants were astonished when a Peregrine Falcon made a leisurely flight across the south end of the prairie. On the previous day I saw the falcon dive with great speed into a flock of Red-winged Blackbirds.

Indigo Bunting

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Oct 8, 2017 7:00 AM - 10:00 AM
53 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Ring-necked Pheasant
Sandhill Crane
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Peregrine Falcon
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
House Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
American Pipit
Cedar Waxwing
Tennessee Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Palm Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Eastern Towhee
Northern Cardinal
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Common Grackle
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2017 Mike McDowell

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