Saturday, October 21, 2017

Simply Orange

"There's a sunrise and a sunset every single day, and they're absolutely free. Don't miss so many of them."

― Jo Walton

Pheasant Branch Conservancy 

Here in southern Wisconsin, we've been fortunate to have a string of days with beautiful weather. South winds have brought back warmer temperatures, but that also tends to temporarily suspend migration. I've been going to the conservancy most mornings looking for that elusive Harris's Sparrow, but there just isn't enough time to explore all the under-birded areas before work. With White-crowned Sparrow numbers beginning to taper off, the window of opportunity for HASP seems to be closing. However, there are still many other fascinating birds to enjoy throughout the remainder of October.

Venus and the Moon

You'll probably recall that I mentioned Venus and the Moon in my previous blog post, but I didn't publish the photograph. Not that it really fits the theme of this particular post, I decided to include it this time. I think it goes well with the sunrise photo. Anyway, I used my Nikon 1 V1 and Tamron 60mm lens tripod mounted to get the shot. You can just barely make out of hint of earthshine on the dark side of the moon.

Whether it's fall foliage, pumpkins, or mushrooms, the color orange is dominant in the nature-scape during the final few weeks of October. Some of the most coveted sparrows birders seek during fall migration just happen to be orange, but those are species I seldom find at the conservancy. Of course, I'm referring to LeConte's Sparrow and Nelson's Sparrow.

White-throated Sparrow

The standard and common sparrow species were present this morning, but I don't take them for granted. Handsome Fox Sparrows are starting to arrive in higher numbers, while White-throated Sparrows seem to be moving on, though some will overwinter. I'm seeing an uptick in Dark-eyed Juncos, so American Tree Sparrows can't be far behind.

Dark-eyed Junco

Fox Sparrow

For only the third time in all the years I've been exploring the conservancy, I found a LeConte's Sparrow (Ammodramus leconteii) this morning while birding with friends. We were all totally thrilled! While these LCSP photographs aren't too shabby, I still don't think they top the ones I got back in 2012. Interestingly, that discovery was also on the same day, October 21st, and nearly at the same patch of habitat. For me, sharing such a sighting with friends always adds something special to the experience.

LeConte's Sparrow

Most birders in the Madison area travel to Lake Barney for this and other ammodramus sparrow species. I could have gone, but I'd rather find them in my birding patch. Having the LeConte's Sparrow eye-balling us while doing the splits was adorable. Concerned with our presence, I almost wish I could have somehow conveyed to the bird that it had nothing to worry about, but that isn't true. Danger is omnipresent for songbirds.

Did you know that LeConte's Sparrow was recently renamed? Well, only the space between "Le" and "Conte's" was dropped. Apparently, historical evidence suggests that 19th-century entomologist John Lawrence LeConte, after whom the sparrow is named, usually wrote his name without the space. Having said that, I am not going to go back and change my old website files!

And who says sparrows aren't colorful?

The LeConte's Sparrow was our excitement for the outing. The only way to top or match it would have been to find either a Nelson's Sparrow, Harris's, or some other phenomenally rare or vagrant bird. We checked a few other under-birded areas and then decided to get breakfast at The Prairie Cafe in Middleton. We were carefully observed by a trio of Sandhill Cranes on our way back to the parking lot.

Sandhill Crane

Back on the gravel trail, we came across a baby Snapping Turtle. Around 30 or more of these little turtles recently hatched from a nest right on trail. With all the joggers and bicycle traffic, I'm astonished we haven't come across any tiny turtle corpses.

Snapping Turtle

And there it is ... another wonderful morning outing at Pheasant Branch Conservancy! Though there are many other fine natural areas in Dane County, there's no place else I'd rather go birding. Having walked its trails for so many years, it doesn't seem to have aged a bit. I wonder if anyone will ever follow in my footsteps, and see all that I've seen here, document the things I have, once I'm gone.

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Oct 21, 2017 7:00 AM - 11:26 AM
51 species (+1 other taxa)

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
American Black Duck
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Pheasant
Pied-billed Grebe
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
European Starling
American Pipit
Cedar Waxwing
Lapland Longspur
Orange-crowned Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
LeConte's Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
White-crowned Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Eastern Towhee
Northern Cardinal
Western/Eastern Meadowlark
Red-winged Blackbird
Rusty Blackbird
Common Grackle
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2017 Mike McDowell

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