Saturday, September 27, 2014

Sparrow Portraits!


New England Aster

I'm on the prowl for Harris's Sparrow. I birded the prairie parcel for over five hours this morning and found 58 species, but no HASP yet. I think I'll need another blast of cold weather to bring down more zonothricia sparrows to improve my chances. The best time to look is when White-crowned Sparrows appear in high numbers and I've only seen a couple so far. For the moment I'm perfectly content with the variety of birds at the prairie and savanna.


White-throated Sparrow


White-throated Sparrow


Swamp Sparrow


Swamp Sparrow

Superficially similar at a distance, these close-up photographs of Swamp and Lincoln's Sparrows reveal just how different they are in plumage color. As sparrows go, they're both rather small and skulky. The Lincoln's Sparrow was ruffling its feathers in the warming sunlight. Though we had a high temperature today of 82°, the morning began cooler with temps in the upper 40s. The best time to capture portraits is between an hour after sunrise and 9:30am as the birds forage and preen. By 10:00am sparrows are less active. Plus, I like the low sunlight angle for photography.


Lincoln's Sparrow


Lincoln's Sparrow

At the north end of the oak savanna there's a dense tree line that attracts a wide variety of birds. This morning I found dozens of Cedar Waxwings, Brown Thrasher, a few American Redstarts, a Magnolia Warbler, and this Swainson's Thrush there. For the thrush, I had to change my Nikon 1 V1 to ISO 800 to get a fast enough shutter speed in the low light, but the quality didn't turn out too bad. There wasn't anything I could do about the obstructing branch, but that's authentic nature photography for you!


Swainson's Thrush


American Goldfinch

Chuck, Pam, and I found 28 bird species standing right from the platform at the springs! It seemed like we would find a new bird every minute. First a Nashville Warbler came in, then a Yellow-rumped Warbler, and even my first-of-fall Orange-crowned Warbler popped into view from seemingly out of nowhere. While American Goldfinches and House Finches remained close to the springs after drinking or bathing, many of the other birds left after wetting their whistle or conducting feather maintenance.


Watching birds at the springs.


The glorious prairie.

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Sep 27, 2014 6:45 AM - 12:00 PM
58 species

Canada Goose
Mallard
Ring-necked Pheasant
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Sedge Wren
Eastern Bluebird
Swainson's Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Tennessee Warbler
Orange-crowned Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Magnolia Warbler
Palm Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Clay-colored Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2014 Mike McDowell

Thursday, September 25, 2014

September wanes ...



I'll probably go birding at the creek corridor tomorrow morning, but the last couple of times I've been out I went to the prairie parcel of Pheasant Branch Conservancy. To my delight, sparrow migration is well underway. There are many Lincoln's Sparrows and White-throated Sparrows, but I was slightly surprised to find my first Dark-eyed Junco and White-crowned Sparrows of the fall season.


Lincoln's Sparrow

September sure went by quickly. Weather-wise, it's been very mild and still feels like late summer. October begins next week and that means the possibility for Harris's Sparrows, though I usually associate them with much cooler weather.


Song Sparrow


Gray Catbird



Beautiful place, isn't it? I'd write more, but I'm too tired and plan to hit the field early!


Palm Warbler


Common Yellowthroat

Gaura

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Sep 25, 2014 6:45 AM - 8:45 AM
48 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Mallard
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Sedge Wren
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
American Pipit
Cedar Waxwing
Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Palm Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Clay-colored Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2014 Mike McDowell

Saturday, September 20, 2014

White-throats Return!



Yellow and red highlights in the green foliage are becoming more apparent. I hope it's a long fall. Lincoln's and White-throated Sparrows are beginning to arrive at the conservancy and we're still experiencing double-digit warbler counts. It's a great time of year to be a birder.


White-throated Sparrow

Field trips at the creek corridor are finished for the year, but I still have two remaining ones at the prairie. The next one is October 4th and by that time there should be an impressive diversity of sparrows present. Perhaps we'll be fortunate to have Nelson's, Le Conte's, or maybe Harris's. It's the uncommon or rare bird that tends to stir excitement in birders and, from a twisted perspective, birding will undoubtedly become even more exciting in the future. Though I'll be spending more of my birding time at the prairie, last year we found a Black-throated Blue Warbler on October 12th at the creek corridor. There's only so much time in the morning and I wish I could be at both places at the same time.


Silky Aster

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Sep 19, 2014 7:00 AM - 9:00 AM
44 species

Canada Goose
Killdeer
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Blue-headed Vireo
Philadelphia Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Swainson's Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing
Black-and-white Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Northern Parula
Magnolia Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2014 Mike McDowell

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Cool Weather & Warblers!


Early morning Moon

I'm really enjoying this cooler weather. I like having my windows open during the night and waking up to a bedroom filled with cool air so I feel justified putting on my robe and slippers when I get out of bed. Next, make coffee, catch up on the news, check email, Facebook, and look at the night's migration on NEXRAD. Then it's Kuhl sweaters, SmartWool socks, and Keen hiking shoes. Often times I shower the night before, so a morning ritual can take as little as 15 minutes if I suspect the birding will be good. Saturday was such a day. I tallied 18 warbler species, which is about the best we can expect during fall migration in southern Wisconsin. I'm pretty sure I've had 20+ warbler species days mid-September in past years, but I can't remember any specific instances.


Creek corridor path

I like to get to the creek corridor early in order to avoid the swarms of joggers and bicyclists. It isn't so bad during the weekdays, but on Saturday and Sunday the trail can get pretty busy by mid-morning. Do others know what I'm looking for? Some are curious, but I can't tell you how many times non-birders have asked "Hey, what are you looking at? Are you looking for the owl?" When engaging them, they're usually referring to the Great Gray Owl that visited Capital Brewery during March of 2013. Some even claim to have seen the owl recently!


Wilson's Warbler

When answering honestly, most have no idea what birds I mean when I say their names: Blue-headed Vireo? Swainson's Thrush? Wilson's Warbler? They really have no idea. This is why I sometimes answer sarcastically by saying "Birds. We're looking for birds." I generally elaborate, though. Last week someone wanted to know the specific ones. I said I could run through their names (around 30 species) in about 20 seconds, so I did via John Moschitta style. I do like to try and convey to non-birders how delighted we birders are to have a place like Pheasant Branch Conservancy where such an incredible diversity of birds can be observed. Still, I think most trail users see the creek corridor as an exercise resource facility adorned with trees and flowers.


New England Aster & Northern Corn Rootworm Beetle

I love the pre-fall colors of late summer. The asters and goldenrods render dramatic highlights along the trail. There is still a lot of birding to be done, but after Saturday I can't help but feel we've moved beyond the peek of warbler migration. There are still Orange-crowned, Palm, and Yellow-rumped Warblers coming, but right now I sense the diversity is going to decline from here on out. Perhaps I'm wrong. Soon, though, the sparrows will begin to return. I even thought I heard a White-throated Sparrow's beep this morning, but it was only one call-note and I wasn't positive on the vocalization I heard. They should be here any day.


Smooth Aster


False Solomon's Seal


Palm Warbler


Fall is just around the corner!

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Sep 13, 2014 7:00 AM - 10:30 AM
57 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Yellow-throated Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Swainson's Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Ovenbird
Northern Waterthrush
Blue-winged Warbler
Golden-winged Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Mourning Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Northern Parula
Magnolia Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Canada Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2014 Mike McDowell

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Field Trip Results!


Black-throated Blue Warbler (female)

Around twenty birders joined me at Pheasant Branch Conservancy this morning for a Madison Audubon warbler walk along the creek corridor. The highlight was finding another female Black-throated Blue Warbler east of Park Street between the first two bridges. So far there have been no males, but I suspect there will be one or two in the next week. A total of 14 warbler species were found today, plus another birder found an Ovenbird and Blackpoll Warbler after I left to go to work. It's very difficult to hit twenty warbler species days during fall migration. There are several warblers we typically do not see this time of year because their range only extends into the southern regions of Wisconsin and they've already left the state by the end of August. Still, you never know what might show up during migration, so you always have to be prepared for the unexpected!

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Sep 11, 2014 6:55 AM - 9:15 AM
40 species

Canada Goose
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Philadelphia Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Swainson's Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing
Northern Waterthrush
Golden-winged Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Magnolia Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
House Finch
American Goldfinch

Black-throated Blue Warbler © 2014 Mike McDowell

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

1,000!

Pheasant Branch Conservancy's Top eBirders

I started entering my Pheasant Branch Conservancy birding checklists into eBird on January 1st, 2007. Last evening I completed my 1,000th eBird checklist for the conservancy. Naturally, this doesn't encompass all the times I've birded there. I started exploring the conservancy in the late 1980s and began documenting its avifauna in the early 1990s. Sadly, most of those records were lost during a move. Still, a dataset for a location spanning seven years and a thousand checklists is pretty impressive and in the process I've learned a lot about birds, bird identification, birding techniques, and people.

Link: eBird "Hot Spot" PBC (233 species)

Monday, September 08, 2014

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Evening Birding!


Black-throated Blue Warbler (female)

Dottie Johnson and I decided to bird the creek corridor yesterday after work and were rewarded with 10 warbler species. We were especially thrilled to find a female Black-throated Blue Warbler just before the second bridge east of Park Street. We also got great looks at a Mourning Warbler near the first creek crossing.

The morning foraging peak is generally better than the evening one, but we did remarkably well over the course of an hour and a half. This morning we found 13 warbler species and were hoping for a repeat after work, but only found a couple warblers in the evening. The winds are stronger out of the southeast, so that probably has something to do with the absence of birds.

And tomorrow morning? One will have to go to know!

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Sep 2, 2014 6:00 PM - 7:30 PM
40 species

Mallard
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Barred Owl
Common Nighthawk
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Yellow-throated Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Swainson's Thrush
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing
Northern Waterthrush
Golden-winged Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Mourning Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Baltimore Oriole
American Goldfinch

Black-throated Blue Warbler © 2014 Mike McDowell

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

September!


Pheasant Branch Conservancy - Creek Corridor

Thus far I've tallied 16 warbler species at Pheasant Branch Conservancy since August 1st. I confess I'm feeling a little spoiled by the spectacular views and photo opportunities we experienced during May. Right now the warblers are foraging high in the canopy making it practically impossible to get digiscoped images of them. However, my digiscoping efforts during fall migration are typically reserved for sparrows, which are far more accommodating photography subjects. I think my 2014 efforts will go down as some of my best work, so I feel I've earned a bit of a break and haven't been carrying my digiscoping gear most mornings.


Pheasant Branch Conservancy - Creek Corridor

Early Monday morning at the creek corridor I found two Black-and-white Warblers, a Magnolia Warbler, and a single Tennessee Warbler. The pace of migration has been a little slow. After an hour of birding, I decided to call Mark Johnson and see if he wanted to go to Spring Green Preserve for non-avian critter photography.


Spring Green Preserve


Virginia Big-headed Tiger Beetle Tetracha virginica

We were only a short distance from the kiosk near the entrance when I spotted a large beetle on the trail. I knew immediately from its shape it was a tiger beetle, and an extremely large one. Not only is the Virginia Big-headed Tiger Beetle the largest in its genus, it's also nocturnal so we were very surprised to find one on the trail around noon. A "lifer" insect, it's the seventh tiger beetle species I've observed at Spring Green Preserve, the others being Big Sands, Oblique-lined, Punctured, Splendid, Festive, and Six-spotted. Some sources say there are eight different tiger beetle species at the preserve, while others say seven.


Virginia Big-headed Tiger Beetle Tetracha virginica


Virginia Big-headed Tiger Beetle Tetracha virginica


Virginia Big-headed Tiger Beetle Tetracha virginica


Robber Fly Proctacanthus milbertii

Another awesome find was this Eastern Hognose Snake. It formed a defensive coil when it saw me, so Mark and I spent only the briefest amount of time taking photographs of it. I've been visiting Spring Green Preserve for over a decade and this was only the second time I've seen this species there. There's always something cool to see at this incredible natural area!


Eastern Hognose Snake


Flowering Spurge


Pearly Everlasting


Blazing Star


Leaf-cutter Bee


Eastern Tailed-Blue


Phidippus Jumping Spider


Walking Stick

All images © 2014 Mike McDowell

Tuesday, August 26, 2014