November Doldrums

"The fact is that no species has ever had such wholesale control over everything on earth, living or dead, as we now have. That lays upon us, whether we like it or not, an awesome responsibility. In our hands now lies not only our own future but that of all other living creatures with whom we share the earth."

— David Attenborough
Experiencing a lull in birding can be likened to witnessing a setting sun. As the sun descends, casting its golden hues across the horizon, there's a palpable sense of transition — a shift from the vibrant, blazing daylight to the tranquil embrace of twilight. Similarly, in the realm of birding, this lull represents a gradual descent, a moment when the fervor for spotting new species or observing their behaviors dims momentarily. It's akin to the sun's descent where the once brilliant glow starts to wane, painting the sky with softer shades.
During this phase, much like the diminishing sunlight, the excitement of spotting birds might dwindle, and the usual rush of adrenaline from a new sighting might fade into a subdued appreciation. It's a time when the sky of fascination seems a bit dimmer, and the urge to seek out feathered friends might lose its intensity.
In the broader context, this lull in birding mirrors life's natural rhythms — an intermission in the orchestra of exploration. It's a phase where the silence isn't empty but pregnant with the promise of a crescendo, waiting for the return of passion and the rediscovery of the enchantment that first lifted the spirit skyward.
Experiencing a lull in the captivating world of birding is like wandering through a tranquil forest where the usual symphony of chirps and calls seems to have faded into a gentle hush. It's a natural ebb in the rhythm of fascination, where the feathers that once fluttered with excitement now seem momentarily still.
For a passionate birder, this phase might feel like a quiet interlude, a time when the binoculars hang a little heavier around the neck, and the yearning to spot that rare species loses its usual fervor. The skies might seem a touch less vibrant, the trees a tad more ordinary, and the absence of the usual avian companions can leave an unexpected void.
Sometimes, a lull in birding isn't about losing interest but rather a chance to rekindle the flame. It could be the perfect juncture to explore alternative approaches, whether it's delving into bird photography, jotting down reflections in a journal, or immersing oneself in bird-related literature. Perhaps it's a moment to step back, allowing the absence to amplify the longing and reignite the thrill of anticipation for the next season.

All images © 2023 Mike McDowell



"It's a most distressing affliction to have a sentimental heart and a skeptical mind."

― Naguib Mahfouz

"You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm."

― Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette
By now I would have thought there would be more S. arborea at Pheasant Branch Prairie, but I only heard a single individual briefly vocalize. It might have been a flyover bird. Well, there were a few J. h. hyemalis, but even their numbers seemed seasonly low. Perhaps once it snows they'll congregate to this rich source of sustenance. Avian-wise, the prairie was unusually quiet, barely any passerines. Having said that there were impressive numbers of A. canadensis at the north end of the parcel, perhaps as many as 200 birds. They were busy foraging, flying to and from the marsh, bugling, dancing, and otherwise simply stoically standing around and eyeballing things. 
Alas, the ground was rather warm given the sun and temperatures, so there was substantial mirage to contend with. Given the long focal length of my digiscoping rig, I had to be fairly far away to frame the cranes, and that meant more distortion from the turbulent air. 
Quite entertaining to watch and photograph!
They wouldn't (because they can't) care if I referred to them as birds, cranes, Sandhill Cranes, Antigone canadensis, or Cecaahkwa ― and perhaps that's one of the best things about being out in Nature ... the lack of judgement beyond things being potentially red in tooth and claw is utterly absent. Here you're assessed for threat, annoyance, and not much else. To have one of these large aves just chill out before you is a remarkable gift. Cranes have been on this planet relatively unchanged for millions of years, unlike that pesky naked and invasive primate that's constantly making value judgements about trivial things. On the one hand, perhaps more people will give two-shits about the environment. But on the other hand, lose those who scorn identity politics and performative activism. 
All images © 2023 Mike McDowell


One fine morning in October, 2024 ...

"Well, what about the extreme sexism in naming species based on the appearance of male birds? Black-throated Blue Warbler, and many others. No female should allow those names to stand! Just think about how many more women who will become interested in birds if we eliminate those sexist names."

― Lab Gurl
One fine morning in October, 2024 ...

Birder 1: “Did you see that? I think that was a Nelson's Sparrow!”

Birder 2: “There's no such thing.”

B1: “Oh, I forget the 'woke' name ― what is it again?”

B2: “Pumpkin Spice Bunting, you racist!”

B1: “Racist? That's hardly fair. How about if I call it 'Ammospiza nelsoni?”

B2: “What's that, Latin? Don't use that antiquated colonizing language around me, please.”

B1: “Well, isn't that its legitimate scientific name?”

B2: “It is, but we're hoping that minorities won't notice those Latinized slaver names.”

B1: “Nelsoni nelsoni nelsoni!”

B2: “Stop it, or I'm leaving!”

B1: “Oh, where are you going?”

B2: “I think I'll scope the lake for scoters from James Madison Park.”

B1: “Madison owned slaves.”

B2: “Crap.”

B1: “Hey, will you give me your Swarovski bins?”

B2: “Why would I do that?”

B1: “Members of the Swarovski family were early, active and enthusiastic champions of National Socialism.”

B2: “What!? Crap.”

Nelson's Sparrow © 2023 Mike McDowell



"Anyone who considers themselves harmed by a bird name needs to be dumped in an enclosure with an angry cassowary, so they can learn what actual harm is."

― Robert Elessar
This is a LeConte's Sparrow Ammospiza leconteii, named after John LeConte by John James Audubon. LeConte was an enthusiastic amateur scientist who dedicated his life to the teaching of chemistry and physics, eventually becoming the president of the University of California at Berkley. None of this ever mattered to me, but what did matter was seeing my lifer over a quarter century ago and linking the visual of the bird to a name. Not knowing anything about Mr. LeConte, I thought it a clever and fancy name for a smart-looking sparrow. 

Though descriptive names are fine ― and I'm a fan of most of them, I'm simply not going to jump on the rename the birds bandwagon. As it has been stated elsewhere here, if the birding community is not welcoming to minorities, it’s the birders that are a problem, not the names of birds. Trust me, people are the problem.

For a multitude of reasons and rationale, Máistir Nádúraí will not adopt whatever common names the 80 or so eponym North American birds are renamed to. Since none of the scientific Latin names will change, perhaps that's how I'll refer to all aves and animals from here on out, both on this blog and out in the public sphere when leading field trips ― won't that be fun! Don't like it? Don't come on them. As far as I'm concerned, LeConte's Sparrow will always be LeConte's Sparrow, and the same is true for all eponymously named critters. 

Incidentally, field guide author Kenn Kaufman said,"It's an exciting opportunity to give these birds names that celebrate them rather than some person in the past."

It'll be an exciting opportunity to sell a lot more field guides, but I won't be buying them.

And it will also be fun learning all the Latin names.

Wait a sec ... is Latin racist?

LeConte's Sparrow © 2023 Mike McDowell

It's November!

"This November there seems to be nothing to say."

― Anne Sexton
Wisconsin's farewell to October is a time of transition, a passage from the exuberant days of summer to the hushed stillness of winter. Nature's vibrant symphony quiets to a soft whisper, and the world seems to pause in a moment of reflection. It's a time for residents to savor the last, crisp bites of apple pie, the final harvests from the pumpkin patches, and the lingering warmth of community gatherings. As the leaves fall and the chill of November inches closer, Wisconsinites embrace the melancholy beauty of October's farewell, finding solace in the knowledge that, like the seasons, life is an ever-turning wheel, offering the promise of renewal and fresh beginnings.

In the quietude of November's arrival in Wisconsin, American Tree Sparrows become the delicate poets of the season. These small, unassuming birds, with their warm chestnut caps and dappled gray plumage, grace the landscape with their gentle presence. As they forage among the fallen leaves and frost-kissed grasses, their soft, melodic chirps seem to compose a sonnet to the changing world. Against the backdrop of November's crisp air and the backdrop of leafless trees, these sparrows remind us of nature's enduring beauty even as winter's embrace draws near. Their resilience in the face of the impending cold mirrors the human spirit's ability to find solace and grace in the simplicity of the natural world.
All images © 2023 Mike McDowell


Mike Johnson (R) LA

"One idiot is one idiot. Two idiots are two idiots. Ten thousand idiots are a political party."

― Franz Kafka
"Johnson is a young earth creationist and believes that the Earth was created approximately between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago."

And he's WRONG.

The speaker is second in the United States presidential line of succession.

Fall Colors Peak!

"Is not this a true autumn day? Just the still melancholy that I love—that makes life and nature harmonize."

— Mary Ann Evans
Well, almost! The timing of the peak fall colors can vary from year to year due to factors such as weather and temperature. To plan your visit, it's a good idea to check with the park's visitor center or their official website for updates on when the fall foliage is expected to be at its most stunning. Whether you're a nature enthusiast, hiker, photographer, or just someone who appreciates the beauty of autumn, Devil's Lake State Park's fall colors are sure to leave a lasting impression. It's a place where you can lose yourself among the vivid hues and find serenity in the rustling leaves. The trails wind through this living canvas, offering an intimate experience with nature's artwork. As the day turns to evening, the colors become even more enchanting in the soft, golden light of the setting sun.
All images © 2023 Mike McDowell



"You laugh at me because I'm different, I laugh at you because you're all the same."

― Jonathan Davis
Wow! There's a Clark's Nutcracker in Dane County!

I could either chase it, or keep spinning this top ...

Guess I'll keep spinning this top.

Top © 2023 Mike McDowell


After the Rain!

"Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons." 

― Jim Bishop
It poured rain most of the day on Saturday. The skies cleared overnight, so I returned to Pheasant Branch Prairie to check in on sparrow activity. Alas, it was a little on the light side. Still, the prairie provides a serene and natural setting to witness the beauty of these gorgeous migratory birds as they make their seasonal stopover before moving on. 

Southern Wisconsin experiences a stunning transformation as the leaves on deciduous trees change from their usual green to vibrant shades of red, orange, and yellow. The lush landscapes and wooded areas become a breathtaking display of autumn hues. Having said that, the bright fall colors are still holding back, but I expect that to radically change this coming weekend. 
Here's a handsome White-throated Sparrow ...
A concerned but curious Lincoln's Sparrow ...
This might have been the same LISP ...
And a Song Sparrow ...
Here's a Meadowhawk Dragonfly ...
Ah! An insect. They won't be around much longer. There's a sense of melancholy settling into the heart of the avid bug photographer. In the declining presense of these tiny wonders, a sense of longing arises, as if the changing season has hidden away the very subjects that once inspired countless frames of frozen time. But within this absence lies the promise of their return, and with each passing season, the world of the lens unfolds new chapters of wonder and discovery.

With my sparrowing mission concluded, there was still plenty of daylight left for another excursion. Where else? Devil's Lake State Park in Wisconsin is a fantastic place to hike in the fall. It's one of the most popular and picturesque state parks in Wisconsin, offering a wide range of hiking trails and stunning natural scenery, which becomes especially captivating during the evolving autumn season. 
Fall is a season of whispered enchantment and it graces the world with its presence. The air turns crisp, as if Nature itself were drawing a deep breath, and the breeze carries with it a symphony of rustling leaves and earthy fragrances. Woodlands are bathed in a golden glow, casting a spell of nostalgia and introspection. For me it's a time of reflection, change, and celebration of the Earth's final flourish before the slumber of winter. 
Fantastic views going up the bluff ...
And climbers at the top ...
Wisconsin transforms into a sanctuary of vibrant colors, where leaves, like whispers of change, descend from their lofty perches. With each day's gentle retreat, the landscape becomes a canvas, painted with the gleaming hues bidding adieu. I believe I'll return to Devil's Lake this coming weekend. 


All images © 2023 Mike McDowell