Sunday, June 03, 2018

Henslow's Sparrows!

"I myself have never made a dead set at studying Nature with a notebook and fieldglass in hand. I have rather visited with her. We have walked together or sat down together, and our intimacy grows with the seasons. What I have learned about her ways I have learned easily, almost unconsciously, while fishing or camping or idling about. My desultory habits have their disadvantages, no doubt, but they have their advantages also. A too-strenuous pursuit defeats itself. In the fields and woods more than anywhere else all things come to those who wait, because all things are on the move, and are sure sooner or later to come your way."

― John Burroughs

Henslow's Sparrow

Long overdue for Pheasant Branch Prairie! I've always said one day Pheasant Branch will host Henslow's Sparrows on account of the improved grassland habitat, and that day has finally arrived. Yesterday while birding with Gail Smith for her FOY Sedge Wren, I heard the diminutive see-lick song of the Henslow's on our way back down the drumlin. Upon investigation, I heard another ... and then another! Based on individual songs, I believe there are at least six males. I also saw at least one female, but I hope each male is paired up with a mate.

The lighting wasn't the best, but I think I did pretty well in capturing the essence of the sparrow. Skies were overcast the entire day, and we had a couple of afternoon rain showers. During the first downpour, I thought about how the sparrows might be handling the storm. My guess is they take cover under dense grasses, but probably still get a little wet.

As a Wisconsin State Threatened Species, I wonder if this will at all influence Dane County Parks in their decision making process (which seems to be taking forever) with regard to dogs at the prairie. Probably not. What's a big deal to me and other birders may simply be anecdotally interesting to the parks commission. Maybe one day Yellow-breasted Chats, Grasshopper Sparrows, Bell's Vireos, Clay-colored Sparrows, and other extirpated avian species will return to Pheasant Branch. And just maybe this can be a new place where Henslow's Sparrows can flourish. But for that to happen, someone will need to decide whether this is a nature conservancy or a glorified dog park for Northlake. As much as some seek a compromise, it can't be both. As I was watching the sparrows, across the prairie I spotted someone allowing their dog to run off its leash. So much for the new signs!

About the sparrows, the President of Friends of Pheasant Branch Conservancy said: "What a wonderful discovery Mike! The Friends will continue to work with Dane County Parks staff as they develop the next steps to dog policy at Pheasant Branch Conservancy. We need to work hard to educate people about how dogs and birds are not a good mix."

Good luck with that!

Spiderwort is in full bloom ...


And there were some fun creepy-crawlies to photograph ...

Pelegrina Jumping Spider 

Long-legged Fly

Long-horned Grasshopper nymph

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Jun 2, 2018 8:00 AM - 11:00 AM
42 species

Canada Goose
Ring-necked Pheasant
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Willow Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Warbling Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
House Wren
Sedge Wren
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Yellow Warbler
Henslow's Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Eastern Meadowlark
Orchard Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
Red-winged Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Common Grackle
House Finch
American Goldfinch

All images © 2018 Mike McDowell


  1. great news re Henslow's sparrows present! So went today- on east side of hill, heard, then saw (and took pic to document- but NOTHING close to yours, Mike!) Very exciting. Hope they can settle in! Thank you, Mike!