Sunday, July 20, 2014

More Sedge Wrens!


Early morning at Pheasant Branch Conservancy

It was slightly hazy for a while this morning, but I appreciated the soft light. Mosquitoes were out but I escaped with only a few bites. Bird-wise, it was a fairly routine outing. Once again I did not detect the Yellow-breasted Chats or Dickcissels. However, one thing is becoming apparent: with each subsequent visit to the prairie the number of Sedge Wrens is increasing.


Yellow Goat's Beard

So, where did all these Sedge Wrens come from? Why now? Did they already nest elsewhere this year? If so, was it to the north or south? Did they stage? They're predictably unpredictable. They almost seem to be waiting nearby for the structure of the vegetation to appeal to their nesting senses ... or were they here all along? Some have proposed that birds arriving in May delay nesting until appropriate conditions are available. This Sedge Wren study states: "Warm-season grasses do not provide enough cover until late June in Illinois. Once the necessary height of about 1 meter has been reached the sedge wrens show up." They just show up, I guess! Assuming a second brood, I suspect these wrens disperse after their first brood in search for habitat that's just on the cusp of becoming suitable for breeding.


Sedge Wren

The dark background of this next image is actually the shady part of an oak tree about 100 yards away. I like the sharp contrast. Pausing for a brief moment, this Sedge Wren was exchanging songs with another male not too far away. I tallied 8 singing wrens, but there are likely more.


Sedge Wren

A few interesting macro subjects from the morning...


American Bellflower


Sphinx Caterpillar Paonias 


Crab Spider


Treehopper Telamona decorata


Leafhopper unidentified

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Jul 20, 2014 6:30 AM - 10:00 AM
52 species

Wood Duck
Mallard
Ring-necked Pheasant
Great Blue Heron
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Spotted Sandpiper
Mourning Dove
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Willow Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Warbling Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Sedge Wren
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Common Yellowthroat
Yellow Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2014 Mike McDowell

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Prairie Morning


Purple Coneflower

I had the day off yesterday and decided an early visit to Pheasant Branch Conservancy would be a great way to spend the first part of my day. With temperatures between the upper 40s and lower 50s the past few mornings, it's been feeling a little more like early fall rather than mid-July. If you look carefully at the Sedge Wren below, you can even see its breath!


Sedge Wren

All the usual suspects were accounted for, except for the Yellow-breasted Chats. From my experiences with them, it's about the time of summer when they become silent and extremely difficult to detect. In fact, I don't think I've ever observed a chat during the month of August. They're probably still there, but just next to impossible to find when not vocalizing, which is pretty much the only way I know when they're around. At the other extreme, Common Yellowthroats were as vocal as their initial spring storm on the prairie.


Common Yellowthroat


Common Yellowthroat (female)

Like nearly all birds, yellowthroats are excellent parents with protecting and caring for their young. When an intruder arrives on the scene (like me), they immediately go on the alert by sounding off their alarm calls. It's usually the sentry male who voices the first warning notes. Occasionally the female will make a brief appearance to see what the male is chattering on about, but she typically returns to the nest if the threat level is deemed minimal. Portraits like these shouldn't be confused with a cooperative subject—these birds are on the alert. I only stay as long as it takes to get a couple of shots and quickly leave so they can get back to the business of taking care of their young.


Common Yellowthroat (female)


Common Yellowthroat

I don't know that there's a harder working warbler. One wonders how this male Common Yellowthroat was able to cache so many flying insects in his mouth! Naturally, he waited until I left before returning to the nest with these morsels. If sufficiently agitated or threatened, males perform a distraction display or feigned injury flight in a direction away of the nest to keep predators from finding their young.


Common Yellowthroat

Several Cedar Waxwings were circling over the retention ponds catching insects along with Tree Swallows, Cliff Swallows, and Barn Swallows. It must be a banner breeding season for waxwings; I've been hearing their high-pitched calls whenever I'm running errands around town. This particular bird perched on a bare twig between flights just long enough for me to snap a few photographs of it.


Cedar Waxwing

And there were many others birds...


Indigo Bunting


Song Sparrow


Willow Flycatcher


Gray Catbird


Sedge Wren


Thimbleweed

Once I finished my hike around the prairie and savanna, I decided to check the creek corridor for little monsters as macro photography subjects. It didn't require too much effort to find some!


Jumping Spider Phidippus clarus


Jumping Spider Phidippus clarus


Two-horned Treehopper Ceresa diceros


Widefooted Treehopper Campylenchia latipes


Leafhopper Osbornellus scalaris


Red-banded Leafhopper Graphocephala coccinea


Hunchback Bee Fly Lepidophora lutea


Cardinal Flower

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Jul 16, 2014 6:30 AM - 10:30 AM
63 species

Wood Duck
Mallard
Blue-winged Teal
Ring-necked Pheasant
Great Blue Heron
Green Heron
Turkey Vulture
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Spotted Sandpiper
Solitary Sandpiper
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
American Kestrel
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Willow Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Tree Swallow
Bank Swallow
Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Sedge Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Eastern Bluebird
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Common Yellowthroat
Yellow Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2014 Mike McDowell

Monday, July 14, 2014

1937


I thought this was kind of interesting. I came across a link to Wisconsin Historic Aerial Image Finder this evening and used it to download an aerial image of Pheasant Branch Conservancy from 1937.

Image: Pheasant Branch Conservancy, Middleton (WI) 1937
Image: Pheasant Branch Conservancy, Middleton (WI) 2010

It's neat to compare the two images for differences and similarities. For area and location context, you can use this Google Map I created and maintain for birding at Pheasant Branch Conservancy.

I wonder what the birding was like back then, or if anyone was actually even birding there. I'll bet the warbler action during spring migration along the creek corridor was even more intense then compared to what it is today.

Another day at the desert prairie!


Spring Green Preserve (east)

Though windy, the weather was nice enough to return to Spring Green Preserve on Sunday for wildflower and insect macro photography. I met Mark Johnson there mid-morning. He had already found a Variegated Meadowhawk and got an identifiable photograph of it. We wondered what other new insects or spiders would be discovered during our excursion at the desert prairie. I was hoping for a new species of tiger beetle, treehopper, or jumping spider. There's always something new to see at the preserve.


Prickly Pear Cactus

Though I carried my digiscoping rig along, I didn't take any photographs of birds. There were plenty of singing Field Sparrows, Grasshopper Sparrows, Eastern Meadowlarks, Indigo Buntings, and Lark Sparrows, but it was too windy for the birds to perch out in the open. Instead, I kept my eyes focused on the ground for tiny monsters and colorful flowers. Near the kiosk I found Clustered Poppy-mallow, which is one of my favorites of the preserve. Some Prickly Pear Cactuses were still flowering, but they were definitely past peak.


Clustered Poppy-mallow

Tiger Beetles! Punctured were extremely numerous and seemed to be present wherever there was open sand or stretches of soft dirt. There were also a few Big Sands and just one Six-spotted Tiger Beetle, but I've done so well with them this summer I only stopped to photograph one of the punctured. I've observed six of the eight tiger beetle species found at the preserve. I'm not sure what the other two remaining species are or when they're present, perhaps Bronzed and Cow Path.


Punctured Tiger Beetle

American Copper butterflies were also very abundant. They were perching on Fleabane and Hoary Vervain throughout the preserve. They don't often open their wings perfectly flat, so focal depth is an issue when photographing this particular species. There were also quite a few skippers, especially Silver-spotted, but I didn't get any photographs of them.


American Copper

Treehoppers! I love these insects. We found them by checking the oak saplings where we discovered concentrations of treehoppers during our previous visit, but this time they were more scarce. Telamona decorata was new, but there was only one individual.


Treehopper Archasia auriculata


Treehopper Glossonotus univittatus 


Treehopper Telamona decorata


Russula Mushroom

We decided to explore further down the trail that enters the woods. There was a lot of Poison Ivy right along the trail, so I was extra cautious before leaning into the vegetation when photographing. It turned out to be a productive effort because we found a Striped Hairstreak and an awesome Phidippus Jumping Spider. The hairstreak was new for me, but I think I've observed this particular jumping spider species before, but not this particular variation.


Striped Hairstreak


Jumping Spider Phidippus whitmani?


Spring Green Preserve (west)

Late afternoon we checked the west unit at the end of Pearl Road. Mark couldn't stay long because he had to get back to Madison for a work related obligation. I spent some time exploring the crude trail system to places I had never visited before. Actually, this was where I found the Telamona treehopper clinging to a blade of grass. Mark missed it, but there's always the next visit!




American Copper

The colors at Spring Green Preserve are absolutely breathtaking. Though it looks solid green from the road, it's brilliantly multicolored on a smaller scale. A macro lens can render detail and perspective that is easily missed during a casual hike; the careful observer is rewarded. It will be interesting to see how the preserve changes a couple weeks from now.


Dotted Horsemint


British Soldiers Cladonia cristatella


British Soldiers Cladonia cristatella


Leadplant


Goat's Rue

© 2014 Mike McDowell