Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Strong NW Winds!



But not much to show for it over Wisconsin. Probably emberizids and other late migrants heading down to Texas.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Ducking Out!


Northern Shrike

Except for a few brief patches of blue, our skies have been overcast for the past several days. I birded Goose Pond and a few spots on Lake Mendota on Saturday, and then Governor Nelson State Park on Sunday. Birders in the area are reporting Northern Shrikes at various locations, including Pheasant Branch Conservancy. While photographing Tundra Swans at Goose Pond, I heard (then spotted) a shrike calling toward the west end of the pond near the railroad tracks.


Tundra Swan

There must have been over 300 Tundra Swans on the partially frozen pond, which is always a treat to see and hear. The waterfowl diversity was down compared to the previous weekend, but there were large numbers of Canada Geese and Mallards. Other birds included Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Gadwall, Greater White-fronted Geese, and a single Snow Goose.






Peregrine Falcon (back-left)

While scanning across the pond with my spotting scope at 25x, a bright red object caught my attention. Zooming in I discovered that it was a duck carcass being consumed by a Peregrine Falcon! Though the distance was substantial, I recorded a short video clip of the predator and its meal:



Goose Pond, Columbia, Wisconsin, US
Nov 11, 2017 1:30 PM - 2:20 PM
17 species

Snow Goose
Greater White-fronted Goose
Canada Goose
Tundra Swan
Gadwall
Mallard
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
American Coot
Sandhill Crane
Ring-billed Gull
Peregrine Falcon
Northern Shrike
American Crow
Lapland Longspur
American Tree Sparrow
Common Grackle


Sandhill Crane

A pair of Sandhill Cranes near the entrance of Governor Nelson State Park.




Common Loon

The following day I went to Governor Nelson State Park to see what I could find on the North Bay section of Lake Mendota. I figured strong south winds might push waterfowl in that direction and I wasn’t disappointed. A quick binocular scan revealed a large raft of American Coots and several Common Loons, but a slower spotting scope scan through the coots yielded a Surf Scoter, Black Scoter, and Horned Grebe. Further out I spotted a Long-tailed Duck, the first I’ve seen on Lake Mendota in several years.


Black Scoter and Surf Scoter


Long-tailed Duck

Governor Nelson SP, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Nov 12, 2017 11:00 AM - 12:38 PM
38 species

Canada Goose
Tundra Swan
Northern Shoveler
Mallard
Canvasback
Redhead
Lesser Scaup
Surf Scoter
Black Scoter
Long-tailed Duck
Bufflehead
Common Goldeneye
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Common Loon
Pied-billed Grebe
Horned Grebe
Bald Eagle
American Coot
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Bonaparte's Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Winter Wren
American Tree Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Common Grackle
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch

All images © 2017 Mike McDowell

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Yikes!

TONIGHT:

Mostly clear and unseasonably cold.
Low: 9; record low temperature for Madison is 10 set in 1979
Wind: N 8-15 MPH; Wind Chills: +5 to -5 by morning

Monday, November 06, 2017

Early November Update!


Fox Sparrow

Weekend weather was rainy, gray, and gloomy, but I did go hiking at Pheasant Branch Conservancy for over an hour to check out the avian situation. Taking my usual route, I didn't find a single Lincoln's or White-crowned Sparrow. There were only a few Fox Sparrows, Field Sparrows, and White-throated Sparrows, but large numbers of American Tree Sparrows.

I didn't see the Northern Shrike that Lisa reported last week, but I'm sure there's probably one or two hanging around by now. No wood warblers were observed, and there probably won't be any from now until the end of March when the first Myrtle Warblers return.

A Sunday trip to Goose Pond yielded Canvasback, Redhead, Ruddy Duck, Mallard, Northern Pintail, American Black Duck, Ring-necked Duck, Green-winged Teal, Bufflehead, Canada Goose, Greater White-fronted Goose, Tundra Swan, and a few Dunlin.

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Nov 5, 2017 10:30 AM - 12:00 PM
30 species

Canada Goose
Tundra Swan
Mallard
Ring-necked Pheasant
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
White-breasted Nuthatch
European Starling
American Pipit
Cedar Waxwing
American Tree Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
White-throated Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch

Fox Sparrow © 2017 Mike McDowell

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Good fall for LeConte's!


LeConte's Sparrow

Why do certain bird species show up in higher abundances some years versus others? We know of irruptions and why they occur for owls, finches, waxwings, etc., but there are also superflights when several northern species fly deep into the central and southern United States. But then there are other cases, like this fall's LeConte's Sparrow migration, which seems atypical to me.

When looking at recent LCSP eBird charts for the month of October, 2017 has been better than past years. Why? I suppose it could be that there are more eBirders than ever. Or maybe birders are getting better at finding these sneaky sparrows by looking for them in appropriate habitat. Perhaps how they're reported on social media forums increased their popularity.

Did they have an exceptional breeding season? Has habitat restoration played a role? Though I've been scouring Pheasant Branch Conservancy's prairies for nearly two decades, I only detected this species for the first time in 2012, then 2016, and even more individuals this fall. So, perhaps restoration efforts are making the prairie more attractive to these birds.

But there were also very strong west winds this fall, which may have pushed more of these sparrows our direction into higher concentrations. Naturally, the best explanation could be that all of the above reasons factor into this particular little migration mystery.

What ever the case may be, I'm just pleased to have LeConte's Sparrows at the prairie!

October 2017:


October 2015:


October 2013:


LeConte's Sparrow © 2017 Mike McDowell

Monday, October 30, 2017

Shrike!



I received a text this morning from Lisa Mettel reporting a Northern Shrike at the prairie parcel of Pheasant Branch Conservancy. Though I scoured the prairie yesterday, I didn't come up with a shrike, so perhaps this bird moved in overnight with northwest winds.



My past PBC Northern Shrike arrival dates:

2016-10-23 1 Mike McDowell Checklist
2014-10-28 1 Mike McDowell Checklist
2013-11-10 1 Mike McDowell Checklist
2012-11-01 1 Mike McDowell Checklist
2011-10-22 1 Mike McDowell Checklist
2010-10-21 1 Mike McDowell Checklist
2009-12-19 1 Mike McDowell Checklist
2008-11-03 1 Mike McDowell Checklist
2007-11-30 1 Mike McDowell Checklist

Northern Shrike © 2017 Mike McDowell

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Time

"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
Mallard
Ring-necked Pheasant
Great Blue Heron
Cooper's Hawk
Bald Eagle
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
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

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Dang! Close!





But my shadow went there!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Open Birding: Canceled 10/22!

Sparrows will be hunkered down during the rain, so I'm canceling Open Birding for this morning. I'll consider scheduling another sparrow walk next weekend, either the 28th or 29th.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Simply Orange

"There's a sunrise and a sunset every single day, and they're absolutely free. Don't miss so many of them."

― Jo Walton


Pheasant Branch Conservancy 

Here in southern Wisconsin, we've been fortunate to have a string of days with beautiful weather. South winds have brought back warmer temperatures, but that also tends to temporarily suspend migration. I've been going to the conservancy most mornings looking for that elusive Harris's Sparrow, but there just isn't enough time to explore all the under-birded areas before work. With White-crowned Sparrow numbers beginning to taper off, the window of opportunity for HASP seems to be closing. However, there are still many other fascinating birds to enjoy throughout the remainder of October.


Venus and the Moon

You'll probably recall that I mentioned Venus and the Moon in my previous blog post, but I didn't publish the photograph. Not that it really fits the theme of this particular post, I decided to include it this time. I think it goes well with the sunrise photo. Anyway, I used my Nikon 1 V1 and Tamron 60mm lens tripod mounted to get the shot. You can just barely make out of hint of earthshine on the dark side of the moon.



Whether it's fall foliage, pumpkins, or mushrooms, the color orange is dominant in the nature-scape during the final few weeks of October. Some of the most coveted sparrows birders seek during fall migration just happen to be orange, but those are species I seldom find at the conservancy. Of course, I'm referring to LeConte's Sparrow and Nelson's Sparrow.




White-throated Sparrow

The standard and common sparrow species were present this morning, but I don't take them for granted. Handsome Fox Sparrows are starting to arrive in higher numbers, while White-throated Sparrows seem to be moving on, though some will overwinter. I'm seeing an uptick in Dark-eyed Juncos, so American Tree Sparrows can't be far behind.


Dark-eyed Junco


Fox Sparrow

For only the third time in all the years I've been exploring the conservancy, I found a LeConte's Sparrow (Ammodramus leconteii) this morning while birding with friends. We were all totally thrilled! While these LCSP photographs aren't too shabby, I still don't think they top the ones I got back in 2012. Interestingly, that discovery was also on the same day, October 21st, and nearly at the same patch of habitat. For me, sharing such a sighting with friends always adds something special to the experience.


LeConte's Sparrow



Most birders in the Madison area travel to Lake Barney for this and other ammodramus sparrow species. I could have gone, but I'd rather find them in my birding patch. Having the LeConte's Sparrow eye-balling us while doing the splits was adorable. Concerned with our presence, I almost wish I could have somehow conveyed to the bird that it had nothing to worry about, but that isn't true. Danger is omnipresent for songbirds.



Did you know that LeConte's Sparrow was recently renamed? Well, only the space between "Le" and "Conte's" was dropped. Apparently, historical evidence suggests that 19th-century entomologist John Lawrence LeConte, after whom the sparrow is named, usually wrote his name without the space. Having said that, I am not going to go back and change my old website files!



And who says sparrows aren't colorful?



The LeConte's Sparrow was our excitement for the outing. The only way to top or match it would have been to find either a Nelson's Sparrow, Harris's, or some other phenomenally rare or vagrant bird. We checked a few other under-birded areas and then decided to get breakfast at The Prairie Cafe in Middleton. We were carefully observed by a trio of Sandhill Cranes on our way back to the parking lot.




Sandhill Crane



Back on the gravel trail, we came across a baby Snapping Turtle. Around 30 or more of these little turtles recently hatched from a nest right on trail. With all the joggers and bicycle traffic, I'm astonished we haven't come across any tiny turtle corpses.


Snapping Turtle

And there it is ... another wonderful morning outing at Pheasant Branch Conservancy! Though there are many other fine natural areas in Dane County, there's no place else I'd rather go birding. Having walked its trails for so many years, it doesn't seem to have aged a bit. I wonder if anyone will ever follow in my footsteps, and see all that I've seen here, document the things I have, once I'm gone.



Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Oct 21, 2017 7:00 AM - 11:26 AM
51 species (+1 other taxa)

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
Mallard
American Black Duck
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Pheasant
Pied-billed Grebe
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
European Starling
American Pipit
Cedar Waxwing
Lapland Longspur
Orange-crowned Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
LeConte's Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
White-crowned Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Eastern Towhee
Northern Cardinal
Western/Eastern Meadowlark
Red-winged Blackbird
Rusty Blackbird
Common Grackle
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2017 Mike McDowell