Sunday, August 30, 2015

Warbler Update!


Black-and-white Warbler

Time flies when the warbler watching is good! I'm extremley grateful that the muscle injury that kept me inside most of July seems to have completely healed. I've been walking the creek corridor at Pheasant Branch Conservancy almost daily for the past few weeks without any difficulty. Though warbler numbers have been somewhat low, the diversity has been a little better than average. So far 16 warbler species have been found during my walks along the corridor:



Unfortunately, we're looking at an extremely warm week with south winds, which will definitely have an impact bird migration. There will continue to be small numbers of new arrivals, but we'll have to wait until the next cold front moves in before we see substantial mixed species flocks once again. This morning the situation was very quiet until 9:30AM when we spotted a single Golden-winged Warbler. Within a few minutes we found Wilson's Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, several Chestnut-sided Warblers, Black-and-White Warblers, and more (see the checklist at the bottom). It's interesting how it can be so quiet for a few hours and then the activity just suddenly erupts. I noticed the rush appeared to correlate to a slight dip in temperature, but at the same time the chickadees and titmice began foraging with more intensity.


Water droplets

During the slow periods I photographed wildflowers and other interesting subjects along the creek corridor, keeping my ears on alert for chip-notes and flight calls. This will likely be my last blog post for August, which brings up September. Warbler migration should be pretty solid through much of next month, but near the end I'll be switching gears to sparrow migration at the prairie parcel. Will there be a Harris's Sparrow once again? Or maybe some ammodramus species like Le Conte's or Nelson's? It's fun to think about, but right now it's time to enjoy the warblers. Once they've moved on, we won't see them again until April.


Yellow Jewelweed


Garden Phlox


Groundnut


Jack-in-the-pulpit





Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Aug 30, 2015 7:00 AM - 10:30 AM
46 species 

Wood Duck
Mallard
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Great Crested Flycatcher
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Swainson's Thrush
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Northern Waterthrush
Golden-winged Warbler
Blue-winged Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
American Redstart
Magnolia Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Common Grackle
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2015 Mike McDowell

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The First Warbler Waves!


American Redstart

The northern wood warblers are moving in! Along the creek corridor of Pheasant Branch Conservancy over the weekend, I found a single Blue-winged Warbler, several Golden-winged Warblers, many Chestnut-sided Warblers, heard a chip-note of a Blackburnian Warbler, a few Tennessee Warblers, one Northern Waterthrush, and a dozen or so American Redstarts.

But this is only the beginning. By mid-September we'll have outings with over a dozen warbler species. It's less common to have 20-plus warbler days during fall migration because some species that are at the edge of their northernmost range in southern Wisconsin have already left – we will not see them again until next April or May. Also, fall migration is more spread out over time compared to spring. Some species are still in alternate (breeding) plumage, but others, like the Chestnut-sided Warbler, are donning fall suits that appear entirely different.

Though not always true during spring migration, to find warblers in the fall it's best to locate a flock of foraging Black-capped Chickadees. Both Saturday and Sunday the warblers were mixed in with the chickadees. This time of year most warblers only vocalize by chip-notes and chickadee chatter is much easier to locate. Listen for the chickadees!


Porcelain Gray

When birds become scarce as flocks come and go, I pull out the macro gear to photograph other interesting critters along the corridor. This cooperative Silver-spotted Skipper was quite content on a bridge railing. Here's an example of how much macro power I can get from my Nikon 1 V1 and Tamron 60mm f2 1:1 with a 2.7x crop factor:


Silver-spotted Skipper

And closer...



And closer still (click on it)...



Nice compound eye, eh?

With a thorough search, cool mornings provide an opportunity to locate cicadas still warming themselves in the sunlight. An insect more commonly heard than seen during summer, they look every bit like aliens from planet Zorka.


Cicada Neotibicen sp.





Though still fewer in number compared to last summer, a couple treehopper species were present. Tiger beetles are my favorite insects to photograph, but the hoppers are a very close second and are exceedingly easier to get portraits of. You still have to be somewhat careful in your approach or else they'll take to the wing.


Wide-footed Treehopper


Buffalo Treehopper

This fierce jumping spider wasn't about to take any grief from me. I think this is a member of the genus Phidippus, but I haven't been able to pinpoint the species yet. Update: Mark Johnson believes this jumper is Salticus scenicus, or Zebra Spider. I think he might be right!


Zebra Spider Salticus scenicus



And finally, a small selection of vibrant plant colors from a waning summer season...


Obedient Plant


Blue Lobelia


False Solomon's Seal fruit

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Aug 23, 2015 10:30 AM - 1:30 PM
34 species

Mallard
Great Blue Heron
Mourning Dove
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Least Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing
Northern Waterthrush
Golden-winged Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
American Redstart
Blackburnian Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Song Sparrow
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2015 Mike McDowell

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Green is the Color

"Green and living jewels drip into my eyes."

– Jay Woodman


Partridge Pea

It was sweltering this morning along the creek corridor of Pheasant Branch Conservancy, but I hiked the trail for four hours. I found a Tennessee Warbler and Blue-winged Warbler near the second bridge going east from Park Street. The Tennessee is definitely a fall migrant, but Blue-winged nest at Indian Lake Park just a few miles to the north. There were also a few American Redstarts, but they're probably conservancy nesters. Insect-wise there wasn't an abundance of subjects to photograph. Interestingly, there doesn't seem to be as many hoppers around this summer compared to the past couple of years; the only one I found today was a Red-banded Leafhopper. Butterflies included Tiger Swallowtail, Red-spotted Purple, and Silver-spotted Skipper.


Red-banded Leafhopper

It's still very green along the creek corridor despite the abnormally dry conditions. Green seemed to be kind of a theme today. I found a cool green orb-weaver spider, but haven't taken the time to identify the species just yet.


Orb-weaver Mangora spiculata

And then there were the motionless Green Frogs...


Green Frog







While Green Herons look sort of gawky, they're one of the most graceful birds along the creek corridor. Their stealth movements and fancy footwork are worthy of admiration and respect. Fortunately for the frogs I was photographing, this heron was hunting at the opposite end of the creek near the first confluence pond.


Green Heron

Perhaps there's something over here to eat...



Wait a second ... what's that over there?



Actually, this approach is not unlike how I move when sneaking up on tiger beetles.



Getting ready...



Captured and down the hatch in the blink of an eye! Its meal was a small fish.



Time to preen...



The Green Heron!



Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Aug 15, 2015 7:00 AM - 11:00 AM
50 species

Wood Duck
Mallard
Great Blue Heron
Green Heron
Turkey Vulture
Red-tailed Hawk
Killdeer
Spotted Sandpiper
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Blue-winged Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
American Redstart
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2015 Mike McDowell

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

They're on their way!


Magnolia Warbler

I spent a little time birding at the creek corridor of Pheasant Branch Conservancy yesterday after work. The only southbound migrant I could confirm was a Solitary Sandpiper foraging along the creek bank. However, this morning Chuck Henrikson found a Black-and-White Warbler and Magnolia Warbler at the UW Arboretum. In review, the warbler species that nest at Pheasant Branch are Common Yellowthroat, Yellow, American Redstart, and occasionally Chestnut-sided. A Black-and-white Warbler could be a nearby dispersed bird (they nest in Sauk County), but Magnolia Warblers nest in the upper northern quarter of Wisconsin. I can't go birding tomorrow or Friday morning, but I plan to start hitting it hard on Saturday.

Bring on the wood warblers!

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Aug 11, 2015 5:15 PM - 6:30 PM
33 species

Mallard
Solitary Sandpiper
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
American Redstart
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Common Grackle
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Magnolia Warbler © 2015 Mike McDowell

Sunday, August 09, 2015

5,000!



The Wisconsin Birding Facebook group delivers!

  • Now over 5,000 members strong!
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  • Discussion on Bird ID with the best birding experts in Wisconsin.
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  • Camera and sport optics professionals.
  • Professional ornithologists and other scientists.
  • Regular updates from ornithology groups.

Join today!

Here are some other worthwhile Wisconsin Birding pages on Facebook:


Who is Mike McDowell, really?

Who I think I am at work:


Who my co-workers think I am:


Who I think I am when birding:


Who I really am in the field:


Saturday, August 08, 2015

With a Capital N!


Purple Coneflower

A question was recently put to me: What could I never do without? From life's lessons, we all experience challenging times when it may become necessary to rediscover ourselves because something we thought we could never do without disappears from our lives. It could be our health, a loved one, or perhaps even a coveted possession – I have lost each of these at one time or another and endured. Apart from basic needs, my answer would have to be my time visiting Nature. As I recently quoted John Burroughs: “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” I really don't think I could do without it.


Sedge Wren


Indigo Bunting

A close birding friend of mine that stopped going to her church years ago recently ran into a parishioner from her old congregation who asked where she's been worshipping of late. I found my friend's diminutive and humble reply somewhat amusing: “I worship outside now.”  Readers may notice I tend to capitalize words like Nature, Universe, Earth, Sun, Moon, etc. Researching the Internet you can find justifications for and against capitalizing Nature. There are some who blame pious clerics or the Industrial Revolution for present day popular lower-case usage, but I honestly don't know if it was ever widely accepted one way or the other.


Black-eyed Susan

As someone who embraces naturalism in the scientific and philosophical sense, I believe Nature is all that there is. Because of where we are we have a tendency to think of Nature as strictly Earthly. I contend it goes all the way out; the Universe as Nature's vessel, if you will. As an amateur astronomer, I've spent many nights gazing through my telescope at distant galaxies and star clusters wondering in awe and mystery about the possibilities – is it just us? Is it only Earth? I think not. I believe Nature is at work in every nook and cranny of the Universe.


Common Yellowthroat


Common Yellowthroat

At this point some may accuse me of paganism or pantheism, and perhaps justly so. But in truth, even those notions don't encapsulate the transcendence and humility I feel from my experiences in Nature. Nature has not only given us life (and will take it away), but can also give us reasons for living positively: Curiosity, wonderment, imagination, and knowledge are just a few of the ways Nature can beckon us. And sharing Nature with others is the 'extra credit' that's fun to do. In return, I think all who visit Nature feel more connected to something greater, whether its natural or supernatural.


Leafhopper Coelidia olitoria


Bergamot

Like my birding friend mentioned above, Pheasant Branch Conservancy is our church and its flora and fauna are members of the congregation. Rarely is there a visit when we fail to either encounter something new or find continued astonishment in the ordinary. I know the Sedge Wren's song and behavior quite well, but nothing about what it's like to be him. I ponder and revere in Nature's mysteries. I capitalize Nature out of a sense of respect because there is so much I do not know, and yet so much that can be known.


Gaura

So much to know, so little time...


Sedge Wren

All images © 2015 Mike McDowell