Saturday, December 16, 2017

Early Owling!

"Society is always taken by surprise at any new example of common sense."

― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Prairie Parcel of Pheasant Branch Conservancy

There were some nice avian surprises at Pheasant Branch Conservancy during today's 118th annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count. Still recovering from a bad cold virus, I hit the field a little after 5:00AM to see what owls I might hear calling. There was a Barred Owl in the woods north of Century Avenue, two duetting Great Horned Owls near the drumlin, and an Eastern Screech-Owl near the Conservancy Condos. Remarkably, for all the time I've put in birding, this is the first screech I've observed at Pheasant Branch. Unfortunately, it was too dark outside to photograph it. Still, Patch Bird # 225!

How about a snoozy but keenly watchful Great Horned Owl?

Great Horned Owl

During last year's Area 21 CBC, Katie Fitzmier and I didn't find a single owl. We also failed to find the Northern Shrike at the prairie, but this year things went much better. In fact, 53 species is my all-time high tally for the count. Other Madison CBC captains reported similar results. Lake Mendota and Monona have almost no ice and there isn't any snow to speak of in Dane County. Despite the absence of snow, a flock of Horned Larks with a single Lapland Longspur was found in the agricultural field adjacent to the prairie. Amazingly, over 150 Sandhill Cranes remain at the marsh.

While scoping Lake Mendota for waterfowl, I took a break to photograph some of the interesting ice formations near the shoreline's rocks and trees. There's something about these images that makes me want to photoshop eyeballs on them. The top one looks rather crocodilian, the middle one looks like a shark's mouth, and the last one kind of reminds me of a Sperm Whale's jaw.

But the biggest surprise of the day was discovering new signs installed at the prairie parcel. After several years of non-compliance by irresponsible pet owners regarding the leash ordinance, Dane County finally made good on their threat to close it off to dogs. Hey, it's a nature conservancy, right? Naturally, there will be an adjustment period. However, I'm hopeful that over time there will be a decrease in offenses.

I recently provided Dane County with an article about a study indicating the mere presence of dogs (even leashed) can negatively impact avian populations and diversity. Curiously, there have been some discouraging trends the past 3 to 4 years: Clay-colored Sparrows last nested at the prairie in 2013. Grasshopper Sparrows vanished around that same time, too. Yellow-breasted Chats were last seen in 2014. Additionally, there have been noticeable declines in Eastern Meadowlarks, Sedge Wrens, and Savannah Sparrows during the breeding season. Correlation isn't causation, but it will be interesting to see if these trends reverse in the coming years.

A Big Surprise!

Here's an aerial view of Pheasant Branch Conservancy excluding the creek corridor. Only the area I've left in color is where dogs are prohibited in order to help protect sensitive grassland bird species.

Madison CBC - Area 21
December 16th, 2017
53 species

Canada Goose  412
Tundra Swan 36
Wood Duck  2
Gadwall 4
Mallard  105
Canvasback 2
Lesser Scaup 24
Bufflehead 12
Common Goldeneye 59
Hooded Merganser 7
Common Merganser 38
Green-winged Teal  12
Common Loon 1
Pied-billed Grebe 1
Ring-necked Pheasant  3
Northern Harrier  1
Sharp-shinned Hawk  1
Cooper's Hawk  2
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Sandhill Crane  154
Ring-billed Gull  12
Herring Gull  3
Rock Pigeon 2
Mourning Dove  6
Belted Kingfisher 1
Eastern Screech-Owl  1
Great Horned Owl  2
Barred Owl  1
Red-bellied Woodpecker  6
Downy Woodpecker  6
Hairy Woodpecker  7
Northern Flicker  1
Northern Shrike  1
Blue Jay  6
American Crow  7
Horned Lark  24
Black-capped Chickadee  24
Tufted Titmouse  5
White-breasted Nuthatch  7
Winter Wren  1
American Robin  3
European Starling  48
Lapland Longspur  1
American Tree Sparrow  26
Dark-eyed Junco  32
White-throated Sparrow  13
Song Sparrow  1
Swamp Sparrow  3
Northern Cardinal  18
House Finch  16
Pine Siskin  9
American Goldfinch  10
House Sparrow  57

All images © 2017 Mike McDowell

No comments:

Post a Comment