Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Year in Blogging

"The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes."

― G.K. Chesterton

The bitter cold winter has arrived and this photographer is hanging it up for the final few days of the year. It was -7°F when I checked the temperature this morning. Yikes! So I decided not to go birding. Instead, this is my closing post for 2017. I'm sure most readers of this blog will agree the past year was pretty bizarre. While there were many personal and professional challenges that required a lot of my time and attention, one thing that a year mindfully exploring Nature can do is provide a profound sense of restorative balance.

As anyone can appreciate, the present political climate is not especially friendly to the environment, but at the same time there’s still a lot out there for one to explore and document. My advice? Spend as much time outside as you can. Here in southern Wisconsin, I’m grateful for all the protected natural areas I visit season to season, year to year. We know, however, that such protections are not necessarily permanent and require advocacy and support to sustain them for future generations. Still, try not to despair, for the pendulum swings. Be a voice for wilderness and critters in 2018!

Birding New Year's Day 2017 yielded 34 bird species at Pheasant Branch, finishing January with 49 species. Perhaps the most exciting find was a cooperatively perched Merlin on Balzer Road. Mark Johnson got a better photograph of this bird stretching its feathers.

Photographed at Pope Farm Conservancy, there was a fantastic frozen visual display rendered by a February ice storm. The photographs need the crunchy crinkly sounds to go with, though!

March's highlight was bittersweet, for I knew it would be the last time I would be able to photograph returning Eastern Meadowlarks in fields behind Electronic Theater Controls. Turns out they needed to make more parking lots for their expanding business. Where will the meadowlarks go?

On cue, April brought spring ephemerals and early feathered migrants.

May's singers soon graced my favorite bird haunts. Once again the creek corridor offered opportunities to see (and hear) Prothonotary Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, Hooded Warbler, and Connecticut Warbler. As Mays go, this one was really good!

It was a great summer for Dickcissels at Pope Farm Conservancy and many other places were best practices for managing prairies is respected, but apart from two sightings, they ignored the prairie parcel at Pheasant Branch.

In June, Mark Johnson and I got Tiger Beetle Species #14, Northern Barrens Tiger Beetle (Cicindela patruela) at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge ― an excellent and ferocious little beastie!

Only two to go!

Speaking of tiger beetles, I made several summer trips to Spring Green Preserve, which is one of the best places to observe and photograph these fascinating insects. During this particular outing, I got one of my finest ever photographs of Big Sand Tiger Beetle. Late afternoon on the same trip I sat next to several Prairie Fame-flowers and waited for them to open.

Part birding and part astronomy, I traveled to Nebraska with a few friends to watch the Solar Eclipse. An added bonus was getting lifer Burrowing Owls!

A late-summer curiosity was the amazing reproductive success of Eastern Gray Treefrogs along the creek corridor of Pheasant Branch. Though I've heard their trilling calls many times over the years, I've rarely ever had the opportunity to actually see them. For whatever reason, I kept running into them throughout August and September.

Warbler season came and went, and then it was time for fall sparrows. It seems Harris's Sparrows skipped Pheasant Branch this year, but LeConte's Sparrows were even better! And photographing one doing the splits? Priceless! This is probably my personal favorite photograph of 2017.

The huge flock of Tundra Swans at Goose Pond was my definitive November highlight. Mark Martin and Sue Foote-Martin, resident managers, said it was the most they've ever observed at the Audubon sanctuary. Extended warm weather kept the swans at the pond for weeks, but eventually they moved to Lake Mendota just in time for the Madison Christmas Bird Count.

With over a hundred outings to choose from, a pair of Snowy Owls and a beautiful sunset at Goose Pond was probably the coolest thing to happen in 2017. I've seen some stunning sunsets over the years, but this one was special.

And that's it for 2017!

If I can keep it going, this blog will see the start of its 14th year in 2018. Many birding blogs have come and gone since I started this one, but some good ones are still out there. Alas, I don't follow very many of them because it's vastly easier to share stories and images via Facebook and other social media platforms. Is blogging dead? It might be. Still, I prefer having a web domain and a way of sharing my nature photography with complete control over its content.

For the numbers, I submitted 141 eBird checklists for 208 species, 199 of which were in my 7.5 mile radius patch for Middleton, and 188 at Pheasant Branch alone. This represents a fairly average year without much chasing, adding a few other year birds during insect excursions at Spring Green Preserve and Baxter's Hollow.

Happy New Year to all!

All images © 2017 Mike McDowell

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