MMM: The Owl Tree of Pheasant Branch Park
Mostly Madison Mondays – a howdoyoudo from my hometown of Madison, Wisconsin
Saturday I went to my second favorite local park, Pheasant Branch, to just be alone. Pheasant Branch is second to Owen Park only because Owen is in my backyard and I enjoy lazy the most. I did hope to spot a bird or two so I brought my camera. It was a lovely morning because 1) it was above freezing and 2) the sun was shining. I think that was the sun. Everyone in Middleton must have thought so too because the park was packed with people like me only each with his own large, pure-bred, perfectly groomed dog. Dogs are to birding what kids are to birding so I settled on just being content in the fresh air, snap-less. Right after entering though, a man (with dog) noticed my camera and asked if I was an astronomer – I kid you not – to which I chuckled and before I knew what was happening replied, “Nope. A birder.”
Just like that. I said it.
There is something about my camera and birds. I used to think of birding as a hobby of the retired, but now I see it more like snorting a line off a hooker’s ass – something you just can’t do with kids around, and goddamnit, that’s appealing. So now if I have an opportunity to disappear for a while that usually means I’m off birding. This is also a function of blooming where I am planted; if I had a child-free hour and was still living in New York I would not be heading to the wilds of Central Park (though I understand hookers are there too).
This kind stranger with dog directed me to “The Owl Tree” and sure enough when I arrived there was a Great Horned Owl perched in the broken pine.
Someone else told me there is an owl (this owl?) in that tree 75% of the time. His/her nest is right by the pine but I did not spy any babes. Possibly too early in the season.
I desperately wanted to get closer but felt with so many eyes upon me this was not the time to go off-trail. I feared a birder’s banishment. Just then I heard and saw three cranes overhead and watched them start to land further afield. I decided to come back to the owl. Maybe everyone would go home to feed their dogs by then.
I fully expected to find the cranes on a pond but was amused to find them instead on the Middleton High School Athletic fields.
The cranes, which I believe are Sandhill Cranes, had had enough of my chase. I should mention that there’s nothing “birder” about my outerwear – the only environment in which I’d blend is a 1980s Bangles music video.
The cranes were done with this garish human pursuing them. They departed and it was lovely to see them go.
Back to the owl and unfortunately more people than before. I did what I could with my most beloved Tamron 70-300mm lens, fully zoomed. Here’s my best, cropped and with slight edits:
And here’s the original:
Like Owen’s Hawk and most certainly Prairie du Sauk’s Bald Eagle, I am over the moo-hoo-hoo-hoo-oon at seeing this wild thing in its wild environment. A true thrill practically – but not quite – in my backyard. I will strive to capture it again, closer and clearer, probably on a work day when the park will be less busy but most certainly with Farrah Star attached. I’m up to the challenge though. I am after all, a birder.