Sunday, April 23, 2017

April's Progression

"It is spring again. The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart."

― Rainer Maria Rilke


White-throated Sparrow

Early this morning I walked the entire length of the creek corridor but only found a few warblers. There were a few Yellow-rumped Warblers and just a single Orange-crowned Warbler that's been foraging around the first bridge east of Park Lawn for the past few days. Not much is coming in on account of continuing northwest winds, but White-throated Sparrows have been one exception. The past several days we've been graced with their charming whistling songs emanating from dense thicket.

White-throated Sparrow song:




Purple Violet

More spring wildflowers are beginning to decorate the verdant forest floor. "White-throated Sparrows return with the blossoming violets," Sylvia often reminds me. However, this year the violets were a little ahead of the sparrows. It's fun to ponder Nature's seasonal cycles (phenology). There's always a general order to the overall transition, but subtle differences can be noteworthy and surprising. Every bit of new information adds to the appreciation of a given plant or animal.


Wild Geranium


Dutchman's breeches


Dutchman's breeches


Field Sparrow

I observed my first Six-spotted Tiger Beetle of season at Deer Creek Pond, which is just across the street from where I live. It's a fun little oasis I've written about in the past and one never knows what might show up at this small patch of habitat surrounded by streets and bulidings. Today there were Wood Ducks, a Belted Kingfisher, some Black-capped Chickadees, singing House Wrens, White-throated Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Blue Jay, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, and even a Brown Thrasher.


Six-spotted Tiger Beetle

The shiny green tiger beetle was fast and uncooperative, but I eventually managed to get a few portraits of it with my macro lens.



Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Apr 22, 2017 6:30 AM - 10:15 AM
48 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Mallard
Common Merganser
Pied-billed Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Egret
Green Heron
Broad-winged Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
American Kestrel
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Carolina Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Orange-crowned Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
White-throated Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch

All images © 2017 Mike McDowell

Saturday, April 22, 2017

A Festive Earth Day!


Festive Tiger Beetle (Cicindela scutellaris)

Arriving migratory birds at Pheasant Branch Conservancy today included Orange-crowned Warbler, Green Heron, and Great Egret. While there was respectable avian diversity, there were not very many individuals (northwest winds are to blame). A group of us went to Prairie Cafe for breakfast, and then later on in the afternoon I returned to the Sauk City canoe launch to photograph tiger beetles. There were scads of Festive and Bronzed Tiger Beetles, but only a few Oblique-lined and Big Sand. The vicious little predators were scurrying about all over the beach along the Wisconsin River.







As you can see from this series of photographs, Festive Tiger Beetles can show a variety of maculation patterns on their elytra (hardened forewings).









And a few Bronzed Tiger Beetles:


Bronzed Tiger Beetle (Cicindela repanda)



All images © 2017 Mike McDowell

Sunday, April 16, 2017

A little bit of everything!

"Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine to the mind."

― Luther Burbank


Yellow-rumped Warbler

At this stage of spring migration it's possible to get at least 50 bird species per outing at Pheasant Branch Conservancy, even with modest effort. It's nice to witness an abundance of Yellow-rumped Warblers once again; it's been a few years since I've observed so many. When I first began birding over a couple decades ago, the creek corridor would be decorated from one end to the other with this early spring warbler. Purple Finch songs are being heard each morning near the second bridge east from Park Street. They regularly choose perches high up in the treetops, so they're not always easy to find unless you're familiar with their song.


Purple Finch

While photographing an Eastern Phoebe foraging along the rocky bank of the creek, I happened upon a groundhog sitting perfectly still. What awesome camouflage! Even as I walked away, the stoic marmot maintained an unmoving posture from its clever hideout.


Groundhog

Though Saturday began with overcast skies, I decided to take a trip to Baxter's Hollow to look for spring ephemeral wildflowers. Otter Creek was roaring after a night of storms; I could just make out a Winter Wren song over the crushing current. As I suspected, several Louisiana Waterthrushes were already present and defending territories. I wonder how early they're getting back to Baxter's Hollow.


Otter Creek at Baxter's Hollow

For wildflowers, I found ample Skunk Cabbage, Bloodroot, Round-lobed Hepatica, and Marsh Marigolds.


Bloodroot



Eventually, the sun emerged from behind the clouds and lit up the hepatica.


Round-lobed Hepatica




Bronzed Tiger Beetle

On the way home from Baxter's Hollow, I stopped at the Sauk City canoe launch to check out the tiger beetle situation. Sure enough, they were scurrying around on the sand in good numbers. Three species were present: Bronzed, Big Sand, and Festive.


Draba reptans


Pheasant Branch Conservancy

Having birded the entire morning, Sunday evening I walked the west corridor because it was just too nice to be inside. There must have been a hatching of Red Admiral butterflies early in the day, as they were fluttering around the entire length of the trail. After a dozen or so attempts, I was finally able to sneak up on one with my macro lens in hand. They seem acutely aware of encroaching shadows, but patience almost always pays off.


Red Admiral

Three Norther Flickers were calling from the aspens. As you can see in the image below, this woodpecker has been busy poking its bill into dirt looking for a morsel to eat.


Northern Flicker

To end my weekend with Nature, I walked out to the confluence ponds and found a lovely Great Blue Heron in beautiful light. I used a conifer to hide behind while it began preening its feathers. Content with the images, I slowly backed away so as not to cause any disturbance. It's nighttime as I write and I imagine the heron is still there right now sound to sleep with its head tucked into its feathers.


Great Blue Heron



Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Apr 16, 2017 7:00 AM - 10:30 AM
53 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Mallard
Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture
Cooper's Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
American Kestrel
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Tree Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
House Wren
Winter Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
Pine Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
White-throated Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Eastern Towhee
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Rusty Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
Purple Finch
American Goldfinch

© 2017 Mike McDowell

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Evening Birding



Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Apr 11, 2017 5:01 PM - 6:55 PM
33 species

Wood Duck
Mallard
Bufflehead
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Eastern Phoebe
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
European Starling
Louisiana Waterthrush
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
Purple Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Hermit Thrush © 2017 Mike McDowell

Sunday, April 09, 2017

South Winds!

"I was born on the prairies where the wind blew free and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no enclosures."

― Geronimo



We've been fortunate to have south winds the past few days, which has warmed the air, the ground, and brought millions of migratory birds into Wisconsin. Flowers are beginning to bloom, too. My first wildflower of the year was these lovely Pasque Flowers at the prairie remnant of Pheasant Branch Conservancy. Other citizen naturalists in our state have found Bloodroot, Round-lobed Hepatica, Prairie Smoke, and others. Yes, some tiger beetles have emerged, but I'll save that for late May and the summer months.


Pasque Flower

There wasn't a prescribed burn at the prairie this spring. Incidentally, this is one of the finest displays of Pasque Flowers I've seen in the past several years. When I take time to photograph wildflowers (or anything for that matter) I try to make them as good as I possibly can. I want them to be good enough so that whenever I refer back to them, they evoke nearly the same emotion as being there. Of course, it's never exactly the same, but there is a sense of joie de vivre the images keep giving to me, and hopefully to you.









A little closer...



I love using my macro lens.

A serenading sparrow kept me company while I photographed the flowers. As near as I could tell, this was the only Field Sparrow at the drumlin. Well, there may have been others, but I didn't hear any other singers. If he is the first, he has the pick of the patch in selecting a territory to defend. He and his future mate will have a lot of work to do over the course of spring and summer.


Field Sparrow



Beautiful wispy clouds...



Meanwhile, mornings are being spent birding along the creek corridor in search of returning warblers. The NEXRAD image below shows nocturnal migration Saturday night. On account of this, our expectations were high for Sunday morning.



We expected new arrivals, and new arrivals are what we got! I estimate there was at least a threefold increase in Yellow-rumped Warblers. After much searching I found a single Pine Warbler. My birding companions were thrilled to have Winter Wren, Carolina Wren, Purple Finch, Pileated Woodpecker, and the Pine Warbler just minutes apart. It was just after this moment Dottie exclaimed: "I'm so glad I'm not a Muggle!"


Yellow-rumped Warbler


Pine Warbler

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Apr 9, 2017 7:00 AM - 10:15 AM
55 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Mallard
Blue-winged Teal
Bufflehead
Hooded Merganser
Pied-billed Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Cooper's Hawk
Killdeer
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
American Kestrel
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Winter Wren
Carolina Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Pine Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
White-throated Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
Purple Finch
American Goldfinch

All images © 2017 Mike McDowell

Monday, April 03, 2017

It's April!

“April hath put a spirit of youth in everything."

― William Shakespeare


Cooper's Hawk

New bird species will be arriving almost daily from now until the end of the third week of May. For southern Wisconsin, April is a transitional month as some winter birds are still present while the first Neotropical migratory birds begin to return. For those who have learned from elders in the birding community, we acknowledge that spring migration isn't what it once was, but it's still one of Nature's most spectacular events.



Meanwhile, resident songbirds of the creek corridor will be contending with a Cooper's Hawk family once again. Black-capped Chickadees, Blue Jays, and Northern Cardinals are typically the first birds to sound the alert when an accipiter is spotted. The ferocious Cooper's Hawk scans the habitat for movement, but many songbirds instinctively know to sit perfectly still to avoid detection. To the benefit of the songbird community, such sentinel birds will keep sounding alarm calls until the threat has moved on.


Northern Cardinal


Eastern Phoebe


Wood Fungus (Coriolus hirsutus


Bufflehead (female)


Bufflehead (male)

Tree Swallows have returned to the confluence ponds along the North Fork. During the next two months I'll be spending most of my birding time hiking the creek corridor of Pheasant Branch Conservancy looking for warblers, flycatchers, vireos, and more. A huge wave of Golden-crowned Kinglets moved through about a week ago and we're just beginning to see other migrants like Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Eastern Phoebes, and Yellow-rumped Warblers.


Tree Swallow




Goose Pond

Dottie Johnson and I went to Goose Pond to see the Brant that's been hanging out there for the past several days. The last time I observed this species in Wisconsin was 2004 in Manitowoc with Jesse Peterson. The goose was preening and sleeping among other geese on the far side of the east pond, so I wasn't able to get photographs of it. This was a unique opportunity to observe Canada, Cackling, Greater White-fronted, Snow, and Ross's Geese in the same area.



Once back in Middleton, I went to the prairie parcel simply to enjoy the beautiful weather. I sat at the wooden platform next to the parking lot. Without much effort, I digiscoped a few sparrows that were curious about my presence.


Song Sparrow


American Tree Sparrow

And look who has young! There are two owlets, but the second is snoozing behind the adult.


Great Horned Owl nest

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Apr 1, 2017 8:00 AM - 11:00 AM
51 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Mallard
Northern Shoveler
Green-winged Teal
Bufflehead
Ring-necked Pheasant
Turkey Vulture
Cooper's Hawk
Bald Eagle
Red-tailed Hawk
American Coot
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
American Kestrel
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
European Starling
Yellow-rumped Warbler
American Tree Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2017 Mike McDowell