Sunday, February 11, 2018

Along the Winter Roads

"I love to soar in the boundless sky. In the vast emptiness of the blue, my soul rejoices listening to the soundless music of the wind."

― Banani Ray

A heavy snowfall is an opportunity for the birder. In fact, right after a big snowstorm is the best time to search for Horned Larks, Lapland Longspurs, and Snow Buntings. These three species tend to flock together during winter months in search of food. Though it may sound a bit unappetizing to us, they find undigested seeds where manure is spread. Sometimes the only place food is accessible is where snowplows have exposed soil along roadsides near agricultural fields.

The winter sky is where the larks sing and fly. The nearest place to find these birds in my area is just north of Pheasant Branch Conservancy along Balzer Road. But one can encounter larger flocks by traveling a little further north. In the Goose Pond area, sometimes there are mixed-species flocks with hundreds of individual birds. And now some nifty Horned Lark portraits...

Horned Lark

It's all seeds for now. But during spring and fall, Horned Larks eat beetles, grasshoppers, a variety moth caterpillars and other arthropods. Interestingly, they revert to a diet of mostly seeds during the breeding season and feed insects to their young. A good time for a feather-check is right after a meal!


Beautiful skies, but cold.

Where plants are still exposed, Horned Larks will often perched on them to get at food. However, they seem to be better at knocking seeds onto the ground than eating them off twigs. I've also observed the larks pull down small seed-covered twigs with their feet, or bring down part of a plant with their body weight.


Hence, the name!

Singing away on a cold winter day.

Lapland Longspurs

I found several Lapland Longspur flocks, but they were far more skittish than the Horned Larks. Of the thousands of birds I observed during my outing, there were only a half dozen Snow Buntings mixed in with the lark and longspur flocks. Alas, no photograph. However, there have been times in the past I've found huge Snow Bunting flocks near Goose Pond.

Lapland Longspur

And always remember to take a moment to scan the fields...

Snowy Owl

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Feb 11, 2018 1:30 PM - 3:15 PM
27 species

Canada Goose
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
American Robin
European Starling
American Tree Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
White-throated Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
House Finch
Common Redpoll
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2018 Mike McDowell


  1. Very nice blog entry. Question:
    Foosh? and then "horns" or are the "horns" always visible - just not from every angle?

  2. Thanks! That particular lark was just taking off for flight. The wings probably generate a sound if very near to the bird, but I was ~30 feet away. I guess it would probably be more of a fluttering sound and not really a "foosh." The "horns" are occipital feather tufts, which can be raised or lowered, but are usually raised in males.

  3. Super nice post and photos of 2, oops 3, great birds.