Sunday, December 06, 2015


"To the attentive eye, each moment of the year has its own beauty, and in the same fields, it beholds, every hour, a picture which was never seen before, and which shall never be seen again."

― Ralph Waldo Emerson

I set out Saturday morning once the fog lifted. It left evidence in the form of dazzling frost covered oak leaves lining the path along the overlook trail. Though it was a chilly start to the day, the forecast called for temperatures in the upper forties ― beautiful conditions for a long hike. I heard busy calls of finches, jays, chickadees, nuthatches, and juncos on my way down to the woods. Just before the bridge I found a few White-throated Sparrows and a Winter Wren.

The weather was so mild that I half-expected Northern Cardinals to sing, but instead they perched stoically without making vocalizations beyond diminutive chip calls. I was hoping to find one of the Barred Owls during my hike, but no such luck after checking several of their traditional roosting sites. It seems we play this particular game every fall, but once the snow arrives (and stays) the owls are generally far easier to find.

Northern Cardinal

I searched areas east of the north corridor, but found only squirrels at rest on tree branches. The last time I heard a Barred Owl call was around three weeks ago. I have a pretty good idea where they are, but there's no trail access. It's a guess. Every so often I hear Blue Jays, Tufted Titmice, and Black-capped Chickadees express agitated calls in the pertinent area, but the owls have been silent.

Eastern Gray Squirrel

The boardwalk was slippery from the thawing frost, so the going was rather slow at times. That wasn't necessarily a bad thing because I picked up the calls of a Gray Catbird near the Marina Drive trail entrance. I located the patch of thicket where the catbird was, but it only offered an obstructed view so I wasn't able to get photographs of it. A December catbird ... how unusual!

Cedar Waxwing

After birding the overlook, I went to the prairie to see what sparrows were still present. I found a singing adult White-crowned Sparrow and just one Fox Sparrow. There was also a single Song Sparrow hanging out with a large flock of American Tree Sparrows that were actively foraging in the brown prairie grasses. Still no Northern Shrike ― good fortune for the sparrows!

White-crowned Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

Pheasant Branch Conservancy's beautiful prairie!

Apart from the catbird, I was also a bit surprised to find a Giant Leopard Moth caterpillar crawling across the path. It curled up in a defensive posture because I picked it up to check it out. I set it back on the ground and took a few documentation photos of it.

Giant Leopard Moth caterpillar Hypercompe scribonia

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Dec 5, 2015 9:30 AM - 1:30 PM
36 species

Canada Goose
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Pheasant
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Coot
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
Winter Wren
American Robin
Gray Catbird ⬅ Go south!
Cedar Waxwing
American Tree Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
White-crowned Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2015 Mike McDowell