Sunday, September 17, 2017

Transformation

"You don't make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved."

― Ansel Adams



It's less than a week until the Autumnal Equinox, but already the trees along the creek corridor are beginning to display a variety of brilliant fall colors. In some areas the transformation from green to golden has seemed rather abrupt. Though there are perhaps millions of songbirds yet to travel south across Wisconsin, I sense that peak warbler migration is behind us. Even so, I'm still finding Golden-winged, Black-and-white, Chestnut-sided, and many other wood warblers at the corridor. Soon, though, there will be more Palms and Yellow-rumps bringing up the rear of the warbler parade.


Pheasant Branch Creek Corridor

I feel I've been fortunate to find several Black-throated Blue Warblers this fall migration, with nearly an equal ratio of males to females. Typically, I encounter perhaps just one or two of this species each fall, but by plumage I can confidently state that there were three individual females and four different males. There are subtle differences in the size and shape of the white dash on the wing and feather wear for clues to determining uniqueness.


Black-throated Blue Warbler (female)

Young Common Yellowthroats are quite numerous around the confluence ponds west of Deming Way. I'm uncertain whether these are newly arrived migrants or dispersed birds that were raised this summer in the marsh adjacent to the ponds. There's really no way to know for certain, but it's fun to speculate and imagine. What a gorgeous little bird! It's my contention that the fall plumage of this male yellowthroat is more stunning than adults in breeding plumage.


Common Yellowthroat

For waterfowl the ponds held Mallards, Northern Shovelers, Wood Ducks, and Blue-winged Teal.


Blue-winged Teal


Wood Duck


Wood Duck

And Green Herons! Such adorable and gawky critters, they are.


Green Heron




Spring Green Preserve

On Saturday, and for the second year, I led a tiger beetle field trip at Spring Green Preserve for Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin and The Nature Conservancy. My mission was to have each participant see as many tiger beetle species as I could find. We were fortunate to see Big Sand, Festive, Oblique-lined, Punctured, Splendid, and Common Claybank. With the recent discovery of Northern Barrens Tiger Beetle at the preserve, six out of eleven is pretty good given the time of year. Virginia Metallic Tiger Beetle is primarily nocturnal, Ghost Tiger Beetle hasn't been seen there for several years, and Six-spotted are generally more plentiful during spring.

Link: Tiger Beetles of Wisconsin


Big Sand Tiger Beetle


Punctured Tiger Beetle


Splendid Tiger Beetle





Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Sep 17, 2017 8:02 AM - 10:15 AM
48 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
Mallard
Great Blue Heron
Green Heron
Bald Eagle
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
Yellow-throated Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Carolina Wren
Swainson's Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Northern Waterthrush
Golden-winged Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Magnolia Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
American Goldfinch

All images © 2017 Mike McDowell

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Eeesh!



That could have been bad!

© 2017 Mike McDowell

Monday, September 11, 2017

Good Migration!

"I have always been a anti-establishment artist. I once believed, and still do to some extent, that one could get a better education in a forest rather than a desk."

― Casey Carter


Early morning on the Creek Corridor Path.

It was another resplendent weekend of Nature observation and appreciation with birds, blooms, and bugs. Skies were cloudless with cool and crisp mornings both Saturday and Sunday. The drop in temperature meant fewer mosquitoes, which was truly a warm welcome. And now late summer's glowing asters and goldenrods adorn the prairie and creek corridor trails; it's such a lovely time of year to be a naturalist. Why anyone wouldn't go for a nature walk through woods right now is beyond my comprehension―the beauty is too astonishing to pass up.


New England Aster Symphyotrichum novae-angliae

The birding was just fantastic. My group of birders found 20 warbler species along the creek corridor on Saturday, and 18 on Sunday. We were especially thrilled to find Black-throated Blue, and some were fortunate to experience a brief glimpse of a Connecticut Warbler. There was also a rather drab grayish warbler we were having difficulty identifying when it eventually occurred to me it was a Pine Warbler, a species I seldom encounter during fall migration. Naturally, there were other birds like Belted Kingfisher, Yellow-throated Vireo, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and this Green Heron:


Green Heron Butorides virescens


Nashville Warbler Leiothlypis ruficapilla

Feather maintenance! Often times shortly after their post-migration frenetic foraging, warblers drop down to the shallow parts of the creek for a communal bath. Their distance from me was a bit too far for close-up portraiture, so I decided to take video clips instead. As it begins you'll first see a Nashville Warbler in the middle of the frame, with a Chestnut-sided Warbler on the right hopping around before it takes a dip. In the background you'll see a Tennessee Warbler come into view in the upper-right, and then a second Nashville Warbler decides to wet its feathers before they all fly back up to the trees. In the second part, a Bay-breasted Warbler really splashes it up, then an American Redstart makes a brief appearance. A final bird hovers over the water, which I believe is a second Bay-breasted Warbler.


Bathing warblers!

And there were insects ...


Locust Treehopper Thelia bimaculata

This was the first Locust Treehopper I've come across since 2014. Slightly larger than other treehoppers I find along the creek corridor, it's still only 12mm in length. There had been a dearth of hopper insects since 2014, but I'm finally finding better diversity.





From the Treehopper FAQ:

Treehoppers usually have one or more generations per year. Eggs are laid singly or in masses, either inserted directly into the living tissue of their host plant, or deposited on the surface of the plant. The females of some species coat their eggs with a frothy substance that hardens when dry. In temperate regions of North America, the eggs of most species remain in the plant through the winter and hatch in the spring at approximately the same time that the overwintering buds of the host plant break open and begin to grow. The young treehoppers feed by inserting their piercing/sucking mouthparts into the plant and sucking the phloem sap. In some species, the adult female guards her eggs and remains with the young, which stay together in groups called aggregations, throughout their development which may take a month or more. Many of these gregarious species are tended by ants. The ants collect a sweet secretion called honeydew from the treehoppers and, in return, protect the treehoppers from predators. The growing young, or nymphs, go through a series of five molts (shedding their exoskeletons) prior to reaching the adult stage. Adults locate a mate through the use of courtship calls, similar to those used by their relatives, the cicadas (but too faint to be heard by human ears without special amplifying equipment). Females usually deposit their eggs a few days after mating, but in some species oviposition (egg-laying) is delayed until the following spring, with the female hibernating through the winter.


Buffalo Treehopper Ceresa taurina

On the other hand, there haven't been many Two-marked Treehoppers. In fact, the one pictured below is only the second I've seen this year, all by itself on Nannyberry Viburnum. I did locate egg masses on the branches, so hopefully there will be more of them next year.


Two-marked Treehopper Enchenopa sp.


Red-banded Leafhopper Graphocephala Sp.


Painted Lady Vanessa cardui

Sylvia mentioned an impressive patch of Stiff Gentian near the Pond at Owen Conservation Park. The gentian was easy to find, and there was also Cream Gentian and several kinds of asters.


Stiff Gentian Gentianella quinquefolia


Cream Gentian Gentiana alba


Purple Coneflower Echinacea purpurea

While deciduous trees are still dark green, there are emerging yellow highlights. Winter is coming ... (I couldn't resist). Prairie grasses are beginning to turn brown with dashes of red from sumac. Wisconsin's fall foliage displays are some of the finest in the country. Though Pheasant Branch Conservancy has a dazzling foliar light show, take a trip to Devil's Lake State Park in October for a more panoramic fall vista!


Owen Convservation Park

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Sep 9, 2017 7:00 AM - 12:28 PM
58 species

Green Heron
Red-tailed Hawk
Mourning Dove
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher
Yellow-throated Vireo
Philadelphia Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Carolina Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Swainson's Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing
Ovenbird
Northern Waterthrush
Golden-winged Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Connecticut Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Northern Parula
Magnolia Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Pine Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Canada Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Common Grackle
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2017 Mike McDowell

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Stunning Wildflowers!

"Wildflowers don't grow haphazardly as we are led to believe. They grow in fantastic patterns which are different to each of us you see."

― Anthony T. Hincks


Palm Warbler Setophaga palmarum

In a phenological sense, finding a pair of Palm Warblers at the Grady Tract on Sunday was mildly surprising. Normally I don't begin to see this species until the second week of September or even later. More alarming would have been Yellow-rumped Warblers! Yes, it's too early for them and I don't want it to be over so soon. While noting changes in timing or numbers can be interesting in citizen science, watching the sprightly birds during migration remains a joyous and carefree pastime. On this particular outing, though, we weren't on the prowl for songbirds. Instead, Sylvia Marek gave us a private wildflower tour at UW-Madison Arboretum's Green Prairie.


White Turtlehead Chelone glabra


White Turtlehead Chelone glabra

Gentians were absolutely beautiful...


Bottle Gentian Gentiana andrewsii


Fringed Gentian Gentianopsis crinita


Downy Gentian Gentiana puberulent

There was Stiff Gentian Gentianella quinquefolia, too, but the flowers weren't open yet, so I didn't take time to photograph them. I know where there are some at Pheasant Branch Conservancy.

How about an orchid?


Great Plains lady's-tresses Spiranthes magnicamporum


Great Plains lady's-tresses Spiranthes magnicamporum

We did go birding earlier in the day at Pheasant Branch Conservancy's creek corridor and tallied 14 warbler species (checklist at the bottom of this post, as per usual). The best bird was a male Black-throated Blue Warbler and it gave us fantastic looks. Interestingly, the previous day I heard a series of chip notes I was fairly certain belonged to this species at the same spot, so I wasn't completely surprised to find one the following day.

I know it sounds crazy, but the longer I do this the better I get at identifying warblers via chip note. Case in point, a bit later during our hike I heard a series of scolding chips and announced to my birding companions "I believe it's two Ovenbirds having a disagreement." Upon scanning with our bins we found two agitated Ovenbirds in the dense understory. The fracas attracted other warblers that came down to see what all the fuss was about, giving us an opportunity to see them at eye level.

Warbler chip notes I know pretty well:

American Redstart
Black-and-white Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Magnolia Warbler
Mourning Warbler
Orange-crowned Warbler
Ovenbird
Palm Warbler
Prothonotary Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Waterthrush sp. (I can't tell NOWA from LOWA).
Wilson's Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler

So far this season there haven't been many opportunities to digiscope warblers on account of dense foliage and how high up in the tree canopy they've been. Perhaps later on in September, once sparrows begin to take over the prairie, I'll collect and post more bird portraiture. I do have to say that macro photography is tremendously enjoyable and something satisfies my proclivities. As I've said before, when it comes to appreciating Nature, I can get pretty fanatical just about anything. Birds typically hold my interest, but any critter, insect, or wildflower will suffice.


Fiery Skipper Hylephila phyleus

And, naturally, we keep finding tree frogs!


Eastern Gray Treefrog Hyla sp.

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Sep 4, 2017 7:46 AM - 11:21 AM
46 species

Canada Goose
Green Heron
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Carolina Wren
Swainson's Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing
Ovenbird
Northern Waterthrush
Golden-winged Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
American Redstart
Magnolia Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Northern Cardinal
Indigo Bunting
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2017 Mike McDowell

Monday, September 04, 2017

September!

"When summer gathers up her robes of glory, And, like a dream, glides away."

― Sarah Helen Whitman



Ah, September! For naturalists, it's the May of the fall season. Though at a casual glance the creek corridor still appears green and lush, conspicuous signs of Autumn are beginning to collect near our feet. Warbler migration has been a bit paltry since last Saturday, but we're still finding a few gems in the tree canopy. While birding with Sylvia a few days ago, we found our first-of-season Bay-breasted Warblers in a mixed-flock of other neotropical migratory birds.


The Creek Corridor


Olive-sided Flycatcher

After birding the creek corridor, I visited Deer Creek near my apartment and found Nashville and Tennessee Warblers foraging in an open patch of tall plants and wildflowers. I also spotted an Olive-sided Flycatcher on a branch of a nearby dead tree ― a much more cooperative avian subject compared to those zippy fall warblers!

Fantastic late summer colors ...


Stff Aster


Common Evening-primrose


Jack-in-the-Pulpit fruit


Sandhill Crane

In an open field near Deer Creek, I found a solitary Sandhill Crane basking in the late afternoon sunlight. It would walk a few steps, stop, preen, and then remain motionless for several minutes. I had to chuckle beneath my breath when the gawky crane tried to focus on a flying insect that was buzzing around its head. Perhaps it was trying to eat it, but the bug escaped death this time.





Invertebrates on the ground? Not so fortunate!




Eastern Gray Treefrog 

Again, it seems to be a banner summer for tree frogs. I don't know if I've gotten better at locating them and merely failed to see them in past, but even a casual inspection of large-leafed plants near water leads to their discovery. Having said that, other people are reporting tree frogs on the Wisconsin Naturalists Facebook page with increased regularity.


Buffalo Treehopper Ceresa taurina


Underwing Moth Catocala sp.

Ever since the solar eclipse, I've been facetiously pointing to the Moon in accusation saying "That's the one that did it ... that one, right there." As a longtime amateur astronomer, the Moon has been a favorite photographic subject of mine. I've recorded lunar eclipses, solar eclipses, earth glow, and every possible phase from hours old to full. Even an inexpensive beginner telescope will render crater and lunar maria in stunning detail.


The Moon

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Sep 2, 2017 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM
38 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Mourning Dove
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Carolina Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing
Black-and-white Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
American Redstart
Magnolia Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
House Finch
American Goldfinch

All images © 2017 Mike McDowell