Wednesday, May 25, 2016

An Orchid Thief in Middleton



I hope you're happy with yourself, whoever you are. I should like to think you might be ashamed of what you've done, but someone as selfish and thoughtless as you are is undoubtedly incapable of experiencing shame. If you're reading this, I want you to know that my friend who was with me when we saw this Showy Orchis was absolutely heartbroken to learn of its demise. And I mean demise because it won't survive wherever you've replanted it. Thus, whatever enjoyment you hoped to gain from your selfish act will be short lived. My friend was especially saddened, as she expressed to me at the scene, because the orchid reminded her of a mutual friend who also loved orchids; he lost his life to cancer a few years ago.



To be sure, you broke the law by stealing this orchid from a nature conservancy, but you also broke someone's heart. It's difficult for me to even comprehend such opportunistic immaturity, greed, and selfishness. How many people walked that path each day and appreciated the orchid? How many knew of its value as part of the conservancy and were content with admiring its beauty and leaving it be for others to enjoy? And then you came along and destroyed such sentiments with your imbecilic and egotistical act. I can just imagine how childish you probably looked on your knees as you frantically dug around the base of the orchid; you were obviously in a hurry for fear of getting caught given the plant remnants and broken stalks. You knew it was wrong and yet you did it anyway out of pure obsessiveness and selfishness.

Shame on you!

Showy Orchis © 2016 Mike McDowell

Monday, May 23, 2016

Yellow and Black in Green

"Always there has been an adventure just around the corner ― and the world is still full of corners."

― Roy Chapman Andrews


Kentucky Warbler

Dottie battled a tough case of pneumonia during the first part of May and missed an entire week's worth of birding. How unfair! She recovered with rest, but ended up with a gap on her spring warbler list and wasn't sure if she would be able to catch up to Sylvia and I. Fortunately, she returned to the Pheasant Branch creek corridor just before the 17th when we found 24 warbler species. However, she still missed Prothonotary Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, plus a few others.

To help make up for her warbler deficit, I suggested a road trip to Wyalusing State Park on Saturday to get warblers on territory like Cerulean, Kentucky, Prothonotary, and Yellow-throated. And then Sunday we could visit Madison's Lost City at the UW Arboretum for Hooded Warbler.

Our plan was an amazing success.


Mourning Warbler

Not only did we get all of our target birds, we also found a singing Mourning Warbler perched on a tree branch. Mourning Warblers at the creek corridor seldom appear in the open or sing continuously from an unobstructed perch. This one, presumably on breeding territory, sang for several minutes before dropping back down to the understory to resume foraging for insects.


Wood Phlox

Long Valley Road, which runs from a campground to the boat landing on Glenn Lake, was decorated with stunning patches of Wood Phlox. Throughout our hike, singing Cerulean Warblers were nearly as common as American Redstarts. It's fortunate they're at least common somewhere as they are one of the fastest declining songbirds in the United States. When we arrived at the boat landing we immediately heard the song of a Prothonotary Warbler. We eventually spotted the bird as it resourcefully inspected parked car bumpers and grills for freshly killed insects.


Hooded Warbler

It only took us a few minutes to locate a Hooded Warbler at the Lost City on Sunday. The dapper songster looked great through my spotting scope, but he wasn't close enough for decent portraiture. We ended up with 23 bird species during our brief visit, but it included a pair of Yellow-billed Cuckoos calling in the distance.


Wild Hyacinth


Canada Violet


Pheasant Branch Creek Corridor

Sylvia had a field trip to lead around lunchtime, so Dottie and I returned to the creek corridor to find a very quiet scene. We walked the east leg, but only found a few wood warblers. I assured Dottie it wasn't too late for Blackpoll Warbler and she finally got to see one Monday morning.


Maidenhair Fern


Mayapple

Near the end of our Sunday outing, I discovered a pair of Six-spotted Tiger Beetles hunting on a log. Most other tiger beetle species prefer sandy habitats, but this particular one will patrol just about any flat surface along a woodland trail.


Six-spotted Tiger Beetle







Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
May 23, 2016 6:00 AM - 9:00 AM
70 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Mallard
Blue-winged Teal
Hooded Merganser
Great Blue Heron
Green Heron
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Willow Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing
Tennessee Warbler
Mourning Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Blackburnian Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Scarlet Tanager
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2016 Mike McDowell

Thursday, May 19, 2016

State of North America's Birds (2016)



"This report is based on the first-ever conservation vulnerability assessment for all 1,154 native bird species that occur in Canada, the continental United States, and Mexico. The assessment was compiled by a team of experts from all three countries. Of these 1,154 species, 432 qualified for the Watch List, indicating species of highest conservation concern based on high vulnerability scores across multiple factors."

Yes, extinction is natural. But the reason the background extinction rate is at least 1,000 times above normal is because of what we're doing to the planet.

Link: The Report (.PDF)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Date with the Bobolinks!



6-05 @ 8:30AM Middleton Airport Grasslands [OB] 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Good Birding!


Scarlet Tanager

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
May 17, 2016 5:45 AM - 9:15 AM
75 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Mallard
Green Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Bald Eagle
Caspian Tern
Great Horned Owl
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Yellow-throated Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Philadelphia Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Tree Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
House Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Veery
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Swainson's Thrush
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing
Ovenbird
Northern Waterthrush
Golden-winged Warbler
Blue-winged Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Mourning Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Hooded Warbler
American Redstart
Cape May Warbler
Northern Parula
Magnolia Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Palm Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Scarlet Tanager
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Scarlet Tanager © 2016 Mike McDowell

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Days of May

"Nothing in the world is permanent, and we’re foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we’re still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it."

― W. Somerset Maugham


Gray-cheeked Thrush

The month birders endure all winter for passes far too quickly; we're already halfway through May! The birding at Pheasant Branch Conservancy has been very good, but I kind of wish we could have a repeat of what happened in 2014. Conditions were somewhat similar this May, but lacked the sustained rainy weather along with cold temperatures. Having said that, what's good for bird photography isn't necessarily good for birds.



The forests are filled with verdant green leaves and the dense layers conceal many of the small songbirds birders wish to see. The fresh spring colors glow in the afternoon sunlight and a hike in the woods listening to birdsong is relaxing by just those simple merits. You wouldn't think an owl would be out and about at such a time, but they do have young to feed. Look carefully at the beak of this Barred Owl as it appears to have recently dispatched prey.


Barred Owl

May is a time for flowers ...


Wood Anemone 


Jacob's Ladder


Wood Phlox

And butterflies ...


Pearl Crescent

And tiger beetles!

My first tiger beetle of 2016 was this Six-spotted Tiger Beetle found at Pope Farm Conservancy one day last week. Later that same day, Mark Johnson and I checked out the action at the Sauk City Canoe Launch and found a few other species. In addition to Big Sand Tiger Beetle, there was Oblique-lined, Festive, and Bronzed.


Six-spotted Tiger Beetle


Six-spotted Tiger Beetle


Big Sand Tiger Beetle


Big Sand Tiger Beetle

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
May 15, 2016 5:45 AM - 9:45 AM
78 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Mallard
Blue-winged Teal
Great Blue Heron
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Spotted Sandpiper
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Yellow-throated Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Veery
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Swainson's Thrush
Wood Thrush
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
Ovenbird
Northern Waterthrush
Golden-winged Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Orange-crowned Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Mourning Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Northern Parula
Magnolia Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Palm Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Canada Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Eastern Towhee
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2016 Mike McDowell

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Gangbusters!


Magnolia Warbler

Wow! Southeast winds and a misty morning produced near fallout conditions in southern Wisconsin today. We had our first +20 warbler species outing at Pheasant Branch Conservancy for the year. Counting the Prothonotary Warbler seen this evening and a Mourning Warbler observed by a few other birders, today's warbler total was 24 species. This is about as good as it gets, but I once had a 27 species warbler outing several years ago.

More, please!

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
May 11, 2016 6:15 AM - 9:30 AM
62 species

Wood Duck  2
Mallard  3
Barred Owl  1
Red-bellied Woodpecker  2
Downy Woodpecker  1
Hairy Woodpecker  1
Least Flycatcher  4
Eastern Phoebe  3
Great Crested Flycatcher  1
Yellow-throated Vireo  2
Blue-headed Vireo  3
Warbling Vireo  2
Red-eyed Vireo  2
Blue Jay  4
American Crow  2
Northern Rough-winged Swallow  6
Barn Swallow  1
Black-capped Chickadee  10
Tufted Titmouse  2
White-breasted Nuthatch  2
House Wren  4
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  6
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  3
Veery  2
Gray-cheeked Thrush  1
Swainson's Thrush  1
Wood Thrush  2
American Robin  5
Gray Catbird  6
Ovenbird  10
Northern Waterthrush  8
Golden-winged Warbler  5
Blue-winged Warbler  2
Black-and-white Warbler  6
Tennessee Warbler  4
Orange-crowned Warbler  1
Nashville Warbler  5
Common Yellowthroat  2
American Redstart  3
Cape May Warbler  1
Northern Parula  2
Magnolia Warbler  4
Bay-breasted Warbler  1
Blackburnian Warbler  3
Yellow Warbler  2
Chestnut-sided Warbler  6
Blackpoll Warbler  1
Palm Warbler  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler  6
Black-throated Green Warbler  3
Wilson's Warbler  1
Chipping Sparrow  1
White-throated Sparrow  12
Song Sparrow  2
Scarlet Tanager  4
Northern Cardinal  8
Rose-breasted Grosbeak  5
Indigo Bunting  2
Red-winged Blackbird  2
Baltimore Oriole  8
Pine Siskin  2
American Goldfinch  1

Magnolia Warbler © 2016 Mike McDowell

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Deer Creek Pond

"The earth has music for those who listen."

― George Santayana



In the middle of a business park on the far west side of Madison, there's a little oasis a block away from my apartment along Deer Creek. I don't know if it has a name, but but I can't recall a time I've been there when it's been anything other than tranquil and quiet. Remarkably, it all begins as a narrow path behind an office building.

Deer Creek meets Pheasant Branch Creek at the confluence pond along Deming Way in Middleton. Until I discover if it has a name, I'll simply refer to to it as Deer Creek Pond. Visiting this spot is a nice break from the creek corridor of Pheasant Branch Conservancy, which is often full of joggers, bicyclists, dogs (mostly on leash), and other sources of distraction from the tranquility of the woods and its critters.


Deer Creek

Though it's a small patch of habitat (~10 acres) compared to Pheasant Branch Conservancy's 500, I've observed an impressive variety of birds here over the years: hawks, owls, waterfowl, a variety of warblers, sparrows and other songbirds, even a Northern Shrike a few years back. I don't visit the spot nearly as often as I probably should, especially during spring and fall migration.


White-crowned Sparrow

I spent an evening there a few days ago and found a small flock of White-crowned Sparrows singing and foraging along a line of shrubbery. They were a little curious about me, but went about their business after I sat down in the grass about 30 feet away. While photographing the sparrows, I heard the songs of a Northern Waterthrush, Black-throated Green Warbler, Nashville Warbler, and Black-and-white Warbler. There were Wood Ducks on the pond and a Belted Kingfisher rattled through a couple of times.






Seeee zree chidli chidli chi-chi-chi teew!


Wild Geranium


Gray Catbird

The surprise of my evening outing was finding a Great Horned Owl. Actually, an American Crow found it first and alerted me to the possibility of a nearby hawk or owl by its antagonistic cawing. However, the crow's heart must not have been in it; the corvid flew off after only several seconds of harassment. The owl was now alert with its eyes glowing toward me in the golden evening light.


Great Horned Owl

Meanwhile, the warbler parade at the creek corridor is underway. On Saturday morning my group of birders found 16 warbler species including Golden-winged, Blue-winged, American Redstart, Ovenbird, and a single Tennessee Warbler. While species diversity has increased, the number of individuals is still somewhat unimpressive. When are they coming? This week should be revealing. Will spring migration 2016 be a bit of a dud, or have the masses of neotropical songbirds been waiting to come north from forests to our south? Either way, the tree canopy is quickly filling in with leaves ― it's going to be tough seeing birds let alone get photographs of them.

We will have to bird by ear!


Dottie Johnson and Sylvia Marek


Yellow Warbler


Wood Poppy


Mushroom sp.

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
May 7, 2016 6:15 AM - 10:45 AM
70 species

Wood Duck
Mallard
Pied-billed Grebe
Great Blue Heron
Cooper's Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Spotted Sandpiper
Solitary Sandpiper
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Barred Owl
Chimney Swift
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Yellow-throated Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Swainson's Thrush
Wood Thrush
Gray Catbird
Ovenbird
Northern Waterthrush
Golden-winged Warbler
Blue-winged Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Orange-crowned Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Northern Parula
Blackburnian Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Palm Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Clay-colored Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Eastern Towhee
Scarlet Tanager
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
Purple Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2016 Mike McDowell

Friday, May 06, 2016

Gone Birding!



I have new blog material, but haven't had time to put it together.

Soon!

Here's how warbler migration is shaping up at Pheasant Branch Conservancy:


Tuesday, May 03, 2016

The Evening



I returned to the creek corridor after work late yesterday to find a serene and calming setting ― a great evening for a walk in the woods. There was barely a breeze and much of Nature's subtler sounds could be heard. The tree canopy is beginning to fill in, reflecting every possible shade of green. This is truly the best time of year to be a naturalist.

As I came upon the first creek crossing, I found a lone bat flying around the bridge. Observing further, I could see it was flying through swarms of small flying insects. The bat eventually came to rest on the side of a nearby tree.


Little Brown Bat

Further down the trail I found a patch of blossoming White Trillium. Low in the sky, the sun's rays were becoming obstructed by trees on the ridge across the creek, so I opted to use my flash to bring out detail and color.


White Trillium 





A beam of sunlight moved to an opening between trees, illuminating a patch of nearby Prairie Trillium. This particular spot is how I wish the entire creek corridor's forest floor looked, but so much of it is covered with garlic mustard and would require a herculean effort to clear it out for good.


Prairie Trillium

Using the last light of the day, a solitary Yelllow-rumped Warbler foraged for insects near the bridge before Branch Street. Between sallies over the creek, most perches it landed on were in the shade. There were a few sunny spots I hoped it would use, but anticipating a warbler's movements is a challenging endeavor.


Yellow-rumped Warbler

The warbler also gleaned for insects on branches and leaves. Fortunately for the corridor's migratory birds (and resident bats!), warmer weather has facilitated an abundance of insect hatchings.



The little bird eventually rested on a perch directly across from me, painted by light streaming into the creek corridor from 93 million miles way.



All images © 2016 Mike McDowell