Saturday, November 07, 2015

A Walk through Sparrowlandia

"An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day."

― Henry David Thoreau

Now that Daylight Saving Time has ended, the evenings are dark by the time I'm finished with work. As such, a sunny morning without obligation is all the more cherished. While the warm light just after sunrise has its visual moments of appreciation, I prefer to conduct bird photography about an hour or so later. A chilly morning brings the birds out to feed with less concern over my presence. There is a feeling of promise in the crisp air.

The Prairie of Pheasant Branch Conservancy

The long shadows retreated and I began my hike around the prairie...

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrows continue to arrive and can now be found in just about every mixed sparrow flock throughout the conservancy. White-crowned Sparrow numbers have dropped a little with more immature birds present than adults. I was pleased to find a single Savannah Sparrow and Eastern Towhee, but there were no Lincoln's, Field, or Chipping Sparrows just like last weekend. I ponder their current location for a moment.

White-crowned Sparrow

There are still Swamp and Song Sparrows around and a small number of them will overwinter. However, they'll soon abandon the prairie for the small springs close to the Conservancy Condominiums. There they'll have ample food, water, and cover to endure the snowy season. Having said that, I have heard we're supposed to experience a comparatively mild winter. It will be interesting to see what stays.

Swamp Sparrow

Sprightly Dark-eyed Juncos occupy nearly every habitat type available at the conservancy, sometimes together in small flocks, but I occasionally happen upon a solitary bird. This one has a messy beak from recently feasting on prairie plant seeds.

Dark-eyed Junco

Beyond any doubt, the showy Fox Sparrow is my favorite November emberizid. There's something about their rich burnt orange and russet, white highlights, and a touch of gray that embodies the fall migratory songbird. Stunning as they appear, their fall songs are just as sweet to the ear as they are during spring migration.

Fox Sparrow

When I arrived at the north side of the drumlin, I was a little surprised to see a stunning display of lingering fall colors. Very soon, though, these will also fade and fall, then the entire savannah will be devoid of leaves until springtime. I pause to take in the scenery and then snap a few photos.

While photographing the fall foliage, a Fox Sparrow popped out on a branch just dozen or so feet away from me. I slowly backed up, popping the lens off my camera and mounting it on my scope while moving. You can tell from the dirt on its feet and beak what this sparrow has been up to. It hopped over to an adjacent branch and the wind from behind blew up a skirt of feathers.

Fox Sparrow

Fox Sparrow

All better now...

Fox Sparrow

I heard the high-pitched plaintive calls of Cedar Waxwings coming from above, so once the Fox Sparrow returned to the ground to resume foraging, I aimed my lens at them. There were several dozen waxwings in the flock. I carefully picked through them with my binoculars to make sure they were all Bombycilla cedrorum. You never know when a Bohemian Waxwing will show up!

Cedar Waxwing

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Nov 7, 2015 7:30 AM - 11:30 AM
44 species

Canada Goose
Ring-necked Pheasant
Northern Harrier
Cooper's Hawk
Bald Eagle
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Golden-crowned Kinglet
American Robin
European Starling
American Pipit
Cedar Waxwing
Lapland Longspur
American Tree Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
White-crowned Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Eastern Towhee
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Rusty Blackbird
House Finch
Purple Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2015 Mike McDowell

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