Sunday, December 03, 2017

The most amazing thing ...

"December, being the last month of the year, cannot help but make us think of what is to come."

― Fennel Hudson

"I heard a bird sing in the dark of December. A magical thing. And sweet to remember. We are nearer to Spring than we were in September. I heard a bird sing in the dark of December."

― Oliver Herford

Pheasant Branch Conservancy

There was quite a lot to do and see this weekend, but the most amazing thing was a sunset the likes I have never seen before. More on that in a bit. I began Saturday by shrike-searching the prairie parcel of Pheasant Branch Conservancy. Being shadowless, as of late, I surmised chase-worthy birds must be elsewhere. How refreshing! About an hour into my walk I bumped into Lisa Mettel. She thought she heard a shrike shrieking near the centrally located stand of oaks by the kiosk. A good chance at that, I advised her, but she thought perhaps it was a Blue Jay.

I was hoping to photograph the shrike, but forgot to pack my camera. Can you believe that? I just didn't feel like going back home to get it, so I hiked the prairie trails and birded sans cam. Seriously, sometimes it's nice just to walk, look, and listen without the added pressure or fuss of gathering blog content.

So all of the above photographs were taken about a week ago, but the weather on Saturday was similar so things looked pretty much the same ... although, it's never exactly the same. The next two photographs, shrike and sparrow, were taken a few years back, but are previously unpublished.

Northern Shrike

And so it just figured that on my way back down the drumlin I spotted the shrike elegantly perched at the top of an oak tree, right where Lisa said she heard it calling. I walked a bit closer and the bird remained. Closer still, I setup my scope and got great views of the ferocious killer. Oh, the sweet photograph I could have taken had I not forgotten my camera! Anyway, there will be future opportunities, I'm sure. It isn't even winter yet.

American Tree Sparrow

With Dottie and Sylvia recently back from their trip to Australia, I decided to take them to Goose Pond Sanctuary Saturday afternoon so they could see the large gathering of Tundra Swans. This time I had my camera. On the way up we got a tip from Gail saying Lester Doyle found two Snowy Owls in the vicinity of the sanctuary. Upon arrival, it only took me a few minutes to find one of the owls sitting in the middle of a cut cornfield to the southeast. Alas, it was too far away to photograph. Still, it looked pretty cool through my spotting scope. As I was scanning the pond for other geese and ducks, Dottie saw the second Snowy Owl fly into view through her bins. After we got a few more scope looks, I let other nearby birders have a glimpse of the arctic travelers. A young man named Josh was absolutely overjoyed at seeing the snowies.

And then this happened ...

Goose Pond Sanctuary

There may have been more beautiful sunsets, but I haven't seen them. For those of us who were there, the photograph doesn't capture how it felt like we were inside of a fiery nebula or something. Other photographers agreed that it was the finest sunset they'd ever witnessed. A few onlookers were so enraptured that they cried over the grandeur all around us. You see, on top of this astonishing sunset there were swans, geese, and ducks calling for the night to come. There was a Snowy Owl to the west, and another in the east. And from all directions waterfowl flew in and landed on the far side of the pond. Truly one of the finest scenes of natural beauty I've ever encountered.

And then this!

Snowy Owl

And finally nighttime came. Y'all know how I just scoff at this whole Supermoon thing, so I photographed it last night instead. What a rebel! It's a good thing, too, because it's overcast this evening. No Supermoon for Wisconsinites! Anyway, here it is ... just as it looks most other full moons and only mere arcseconds smaller than the proverbial Supermoon itself.

The "almost" Supermoon

I was going to blog about this before, but forgot until now. The pocket telescope pictured below belonged to my grandfather, Edwin William Kellerman. It was recently given to me by my mom when I went to visit her in Wausau on Thanksgiving Day. When I was a boy I used this telescope to look at the moon and once even found the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) with it. I also used it to look at cardinals in our backyard, the first bird I became somewhat obsessed with.

A telescope from France

Edwin died in 1970 when I was 4 years old and my memories of him are just flashes of when he was sick in bed. I also recall the indignities of a dying man. His grandfather, John Kellerman, came to the states from Württemberg, Germany sometime during the early 1840s. From a biography of Wood County, I found this little piece of family history concerning my grandfather:
"He received his education in Wood County and subsequently worked at carpentering for a short time, but practically his whole life has been devoted to agriculture. He spent some time on ranches in Nebraska and the Dakotas, giving him a broad experience which he has usefully applied to the operation of his Wood County property; this farm, which he and his father built up from cutover land in Wood and Hansen Townships, was deeded to him by the father in 1915, and he has since carried on its operation. He has added two frame barns and a silo to its equipment, and has otherwise improved it, bringing it to a fine point of development." 

Edwin W. Kellerman (front-left)

I don't know the maker of the telescope, but it indicates "Made in France" on the objective lens cover. I found similar telescopes online, but none that exactly match this particular model. Amazingly, the telescope's optics are intact and it's in perfect working condition. What a great gift!

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Dec 2, 2017 8:30 AM - 10:30 AM
24 species

Canada Goose
Northern Shoveler
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Pheasant
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Northern Shrike
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
White-breasted Nuthatch
European Starling
American Tree Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2017 Mike McDowell


  1. Happy you got to see the shrike and share that amazing sunset experience at Goose Pond.

  2. Wow great sunset and love seeing the owl photo. I saw something unexpected today. 3 gobblers have been hanging around my yard for going on 2 years now and today I saw one running towards an arbor vitae with another turkey running behind him and a Cooper's Hawk flew out of the tree and up into my oak and eventually to across the street. The turkey was definitely chasing it off. It's always amazing watching these animals!