Sunday, October 29, 2017


"I could feel the bite of the autumn air, warning us all of the harsh winter that was on its way."

― Jennifer Starzec

Pheasant Branch Conservancy

Another wonderful October draws to a close. American Tree Sparrows are beginning to occupy the prairie, signaling the final days of sparrow migration. I tallied 94 avian species at the conservancy this month, which is slightly above average for my records. There were unusually low numbers of Savannah and Clay-colored Sparrows, for which I can offer no explanation ― I just hope this isn't the start of a trend. I didn't find a Harris's Sparrow, but the LeConte's Sparrows were more than a worthy consolation.

American Tree Sparrow

It's the time of year I'll do less birding during weekday mornings before work. When Daylight Savings Time ends, it will be dark by the time I leave the office. Thus, most of my outings will take place on weekends from now until early March. But there are changes and challenges coming in 2018.

Dark-eyed Junco

As many of you already know, Eagle Optics, the company I've worked at for the past 17 years, is closing. The five remaining sales staff members will be transitioning to jobs with Vortex Optics. I bring this up because next spring we're moving our entire operations from Middleton to Barneveld. This means a 25-30 minute longer commute for me, which will most definitely cut into the amount of time I can spend birding during weekday mornings. So far I'm not planning on moving closer to Barneveld because I want remain near to Pheasant Branch for weekend birding.

Years ago I preferred a 10:00AM to 6:00PM shift because it allowed me ample time for birding before work. However, when we changed our hours to close at 5:00PM it meant my starting time was changed to 9:00AM. Losing that hour in the morning significantly impacted my time in the field, but it also meant new opportunities for birding after work during spring and fall. The 9:00AM start time will likely continue after the move to Barneveld, so I'll need to leave Pheasant Branch by 8:15AM in order to give myself a bit of wiggle room to be on time. Thus, there will be even less time for collecting observations and material to maintain this blog.

On the other hand, birding and nature photography isn't something I'm about to stop doing, even under the pressure of time adjustments. However, it will impact how much content I can create and share on this blog. A great deal of work goes into its production. The past few years I've tried to average at least a few blog posts each week, but that will probably be unattainable this coming spring. For readers of this blog, you'll probably notice a drop in the number of posts. Expect a shift in quantity, but not quality!

Field Sparrow

For the season ending, late October's palette always renders astonishing scenes of natural beauty. As other peak migration months go, they all sort of blend together and it's often difficult to recall by memory specific details and sightings. One of the benefits that comes from journaling in the form of a blog is that I can explore the archives and relive the highlights. October 2012 stands out for the first Pheasant Branch LeConte's Sparrows, and now 2017 will be remembered for their third appearance at the conservancy.

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Oct 29, 2017 7:30 AM - 9:30 AM
47 species

Canada Goose
Blue-winged Teal
Ring-necked Pheasant
Great Blue Heron
Cooper's Hawk
Bald Eagle
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
Winter Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
European Starling
American Pipit
Cedar Waxwing
Lapland Longspur
Yellow-rumped Warbler
American Tree Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
White-crowned Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Eastern Towhee
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Common Grackle
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch

All images © 2017 Mike McDowell


  1. Sorry to hear Eagle Optics is closing but wish you all the best with Vortex. It is too bad about the commute though. I was always within walking and busing distance of my employers as I hate car commuting but for most of us it is the norm. When I do have to take a trip audio books keep me from going insane feeling like my time is being wasted. Although yesterday I was so engrossed in the book that I missed an exit and lost more time but the book was great. I prefer non-fiction in the car and I have learned a lot about history, science and nature while driving. Madison Public Library has a great selection. If you even do only a weekly post that is still a wonderful gift for those of us who follow your blog and are inspired by your photography, insights and interesting quotes.

  2. Thanks! It will be challenging! I'll definitely be listening to more podcasts!