Sunday, July 24, 2016

Fall Open Birding & Field Trips Dates!



Winter is coming...

I've decided to add a December field trip to look for Northern Shrikes at the prairie parcel. Beyond that, a typical December outing at Pheasant Branch Conservancy yields between 25 and 35 species depending how much territory is covered. Though southbound warblers begin to trickle into the creek corridor just after the first week of August, we're going to wait until things pickup toward the end of the month. By the end of September we'll focus on migratory sparrows at the prairie parcel. Let's hope for a Harris's!

08-28 @ 7:00AM PBC (CC) Warblers! [OB]
09-10 @ 7:00AM PBC (CC) Warblers! [OB]
09-16 @ 7:00AM PBC (CC) Warblers! [OB]
09-24 @ 7:30AM Fall Birding at Pope Farm Conservancy
09-25 @ 7:30AM PBC (PP) Sparrows! [OB]
10-02 @ 7:15AM PBC (PP) Sparrows! [OB]
10-23 @ 7:30AM PBC (PP) Sparrows! [OB]
12-04 @ 8:00AM PBC (PP) Shrike Hunting! [OB]

OB = Open Birding

Link: What is Open Birding?

All Creek Corridor (CC) walks meet at “Parking for Creek Corridor”
Prairie Parcel (PP) walks meet at “Parking for Prairie Parcel”

See: Google Map of Pheasant Branch Conservancy (PBC)

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Rainy day...

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Just Birding!



Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Jul 19, 2016 8:45 AM - 11:45 AM
59 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Mallard
Ring-necked Pheasant
Great Blue Heron
Green Heron
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
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
Purple Martin
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Sedge Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Yellow Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Savannah 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

Common Yellowthroat © 2016 Mike McDowell

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Prairies, Savannas, and Sandbars

"All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered."

― Kenneth Grahame


Spring Green Preserve

There are times when the desire to do nature photography creeps up on me. At first I'm content with the pace of simply putting one foot in front of the other as I traverse a path ― my eyes and ears effortlessly take in the grandeur of my surroundings. But usually, after some indeterminate number of steps through scenes of natural beauty, inspiration begins to simmer. Fortunately, my gear is lightweight enough that I generally take it with me no matter my original intention; there's always the possibility of changing one's mind.

Our plan was to return to Spring Green Preserve to see the Blue Grosbeak, and that ambition was achieved within the first hour. But where to next? The entire day was free of obligation. On such a day, with fair weather and kindred spirits, only the finest natural areas would do. Another visit to Pleasant Valley's oak-covered hills was the unanimous vote.


Pleasant Valley Conservancy

The Red-headed Woodpeckers were feeding youngsters. I watched one adult catch a large insect on the wing then fly to a branch and offered the morsel to an awaiting juvenile. Indigo Buntings and Field Sparrows were the main players in the late morning choir, but there were other voices with only a slightly lesser role to fill. I generally don't expect so much birdsong this time of year, but if my home was Pleasant Valley I'd probably sing every morning, too!


Punctured Tiger Beetle

Always on the alert for little critters near my feet, I was somewhat surprised to see a Punctured Tiger Beetle on a moss-covered rock. In the past I would often ponder why a such a dark colored insect would inhabit bright sandy areas, but this particular tiger beetle blended in splendidly with its organic surroundings ― they're very much a habitat generalist.


Purple Prairie Clover

The remainder of the Pleasant Valley tour was spent admiring plants, wildflowers, birds, and butterflies. There's so much more than what I've reproduced here and I have little doubt I could go back again and again and keep finding something new at this awesome state natural area.


Purple Prairie Clover


Black-eyed Susan


Culver's Root


Smooth Cliffbrake


Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

A sandbar along the Wisconsin River yielded my first southbound migratory birds of the season. The little peeps were foraging at a small inlet with shallow water. Though I made a cursory check for tiger beetles, I spent more time photographing the shorebirds. I also found a freshly emerged Eastern Tiger Swallowtail extracting nutrients from moisture in the sand with its proboscis.


Peeps!


Semipalmated Sandpiper


Semipalmated Sandpiper


Least Sandpiper


Least Sandpiper


Least Sandpiper


Least Sandpiper


Least Sandpiper


Least Sandpiper


Monkey Flower

After dropping my friends off in Middleton, I went to the prairie parcel of Pheasant Branch Conservancy to measure its July progress. It appears to have reached its summer apex. While the grassland has been taken over by Common Yellowthroats, I also heard a few Sedge Wrens during my brief visit. It was a full day and I was beginning to feel drowsy ― the good kind of tired after a full day of hiking, appreciating, studying, and photographing. I photographed a few more wildflowers and headed home.


Pheasant Branch Conservancy


Compass Plant


Purple Coneflower

All images © 2016 Mike McDowell

Thursday, July 14, 2016

A few sobering reads ...



"Natural history is an important science worthy of respect and research dollars. The scientific method and natural history are not mutually exclusive. Wilcove and Eisner believe that the abandonment of natural history by universities will prove to be one of the biggest scientific mistakes of our time."

Article: Natural History is Dying

"Land use and related pressures have reduced local terrestrial biodiversity, but it is unclear how the magnitude of change relates to the recently proposed planetary boundary (“safe limit”). We estimate that land use and related pressures have already reduced local biodiversity intactness—the average proportion of natural biodiversity remaining in local ecosystems—beyond its recently proposed planetary boundary across 58.1%of the world’s land surface, where 71.4% of the human population live. Biodiversity intactness within most biomes (especially grassland biomes), most biodiversity hotspots, and even some wilderness areas is inferred to be beyond the boundary. Such widespread transgression of safe limits suggests that biodiversity loss, if unchecked, will undermine efforts toward long-term sustainable development."

Study: Has land use pushed biodiversity beyond the boundary?

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Three Locations for Saturday!

"Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing. I have only begun to learn content and peace of mind since I have resolved at all risks to do this."

― Thomas Henry Huxley


Spring Green Preserve

Mark Johnson and I spent the entire day on Saturday exploring three different habitats for insects. Our first mission was to inspect the sand blows at Spring Green Preserve for Ghost Tiger Beetles Ellipsoptera lepida. Though extremely uncommon in Wisconsin and listed as "special concern," this species is peaking at other locations in the state right now. Unfortunately, we failed to find any despite what appeared to be excellent habitat. Apparently, they were once present at Spring Green as the species is listed in historical records for the site.

Note (from WI NHI): "Special concern species are those species about which some problem of abundance or distribution is suspected but not yet proved. The main purpose of this category is to focus attention on certain species before they become threatened or endangered."


Clustered Poppy-mallow

Naturally, there's still much more to see (and hear) at the desert prairie of Wisconsin. The Lark Sparrows were busy caring for their young and Grasshopper Sparrows were singing their lengthy insect-like trills throughout our hike. With these and other species like Chipping, Field, and Vesper, the place is a veritable sparrow factory. In the sparsely wooded area just before the forest there were singing Orchard Orioles, Indigo Buntings, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and Eastern Towhees. I also heard a single Dickcissel calling from the field just to our south. Note: On Sunday two birders found a pair of Blue Grosbeaks at this spot, but we didn't hear them on Saturday.


Lark Sparrow

In terms of numbers, the butterfly du jour was the American Copper ― they seemed to be perched on every flowering stalk of Hoary Vervain throughout the prairie. Other butterflies included Monarch, Silver-spotted Skipper, Peck's Skipper, Common Wood-nymph, and Mark saw just a single hairstreak, but wasn't able to identify the species.


American Copper

We found just two tiger beetle species: Big Sand C. formosa generosa and Punctured C. punctulata; only one of the former, and a mere handful of the latter. Spring Green Preserve is renown for having incredible tiger beetle diversity, but this particular day did not render a stellar sampling. Still, I love all tiger beetles and spent time photographing the punctulata.


Punctured Tiger Beetle







Perhaps the current tiger beetle population owed its sparseness to the monstrous Robber Fly Proctacanthus hinei. Though I've never observed one being attacked or consumed by this particular robber fly, I'm aware it does occur. There were no tiger beetles at the large sand blow at the corner just before the entrance to the woods, but there were several of these predaceous insects present.


Robber Fly Proctacanthus hinei

Spring Green Preserve--East, Sauk, Wisconsin, US
Jul 9, 2016 8:15 AM - 11:15 AM
35 species

Turkey Vulture
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Mourning Dove
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Downy Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Yellow-throated Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Eastern Bluebird
Wood Thrush
Grasshopper Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Eastern Towhee
Scarlet Tanager
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Dickcissel
Eastern Meadowlark
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
American Goldfinch


Pleasant Valley Conservancy SNA

Our next stop was Pleasant Valley Conservancy Sate Natural Area for a species of robber fly that would be new for both of us. Mark got a tip from Mike Reese, but we weren't really sure the precise location and thought the prairie would be the best place to start searching. It didn't take us long to notice small robber flies ovipositing on Purple Coneflowers.


Robber Fly Efferia aestuans





Aren't they just adorable?

The prairie was decorated with a multitude of vibrant wildflowers, but I didn't spend too much time photographing them. Pleasant Valley is also known as a great place for Red-headed Woodpeckers. They were calling during our entire hike around the valley, but I had left my digiscoping rig behind. In addition to the red-headeds, there was also Red-bellied, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Pileated, and Downy Woodpeckers. We found a few Six-spotted Tiger Beetles on a gravel trail that went through the oaks, but didn't obtain images worth sharing.


Bergamot


American Bellflower

Pleasant Valley Conservancy, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Jul 9, 2016 12:30 PM - 2:45 PM
23 species

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Blue Jay
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Cedar Waxwing
Common Yellowthroat
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Scarlet Tanager
Northern Cardinal
Indigo Bunting
Orchard Oriole
American Goldfinch


Dotted Horsemint

Our final destination for the day was the Sauk City Canoe Launch. Upon arrival, we were pleased to see the large sandbar present last year was no longer underwater, thus raising the prospect for higher numbers of Sandy Stream Tiger Beetles. I worried the few sunbathers present on the sandbar were a little creeped out by Mark and I walking around with our cameras, so I made a point of loudly announcing insect names as I was finding them. (Is that any less creepy?) Anyway, we found around 6 to 8 Sandy Stream, but they were incredibly fast and nearly impossible to photograph. Mark got the top-angle photograph he was hoping for. On the other hand, Big Sand Tiger Beetles were very abundant and a little more cooperative for quality insect portraiture.


Big Sand Tiger Beetle





Last year it was late July when the Sandy Stream Tiger Beetles reached peak population levels, so Mark and I will likely return to the canoe launch in a few weeks. The weather was absolutely gorgeous and the time appreciating Nature was well spent. For those readers hoping for more avian content, you'll just have to endure my proclivity for insects for now. Fall migration is well underway and songbirds will begin moving through southern Wisconsin next month!


Sandy Stream Tiger Beetle

All images © 2016 Mike McDowell

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Ellipsoptera lepida!

"Any foolish boy can stamp on a beetle, but all the professors in the world cannot make a beetle."

― Arthur Schopenhauer



I've been waiting for this day for nearly a year ... and so has Mark and Dottie Johnson. Last year they were birding in Peru when I saw the Ghost Tiger Beetles near Buena Vista Grasslands. Sadly, the beetles were gone (probably deceased) by the time they got back from their trip. I timed this trip near to the date Alex Harmon discovered them last June. At that time he reported around 50 individuals and we were optimistic for similar results today.



The spot is a large sand dune that's part of a cranberry operation adjacent to the grasslands. It's on private land, but we were able to get permission from the owner to explore it. The sand is used on the bogs to protect cranberry vines from winter's frigid temperatures. Fortunately for the beetles, they have an area on the north side of the dune that doesn't get used by the grower, so the tiger beetle larvae don't get scooped away.



As we walked along the base of a dune, Mark was the first to spot one of the Ghosts. A few minutes later I found three more and then Dottie spotted others with her binocular. Though there were a lot more of them this time around, they seemed much more skittish than I remembered. With effort and patience, Mark and I were able to obtain nice portraits of these amazing beetles.


Ghost Tiger Beetle Ellipsoptera lepida

















While Mark and I kept our attention focused on insects, Dottie was listening for birds. I heard birdsongs as well and between the two of us we managed to hear Eastern Kingbird, Field Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Orchard Oriole, Black-capped Chickadee, Common Yellowthroat, various swallows, Sandhill Cranes, Bald Eagle, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and a few other species.


Iron Ore, I think.

Content that I had enough quality images of the tiger beetles, I searched the dunes for other interesting subjects. There was quite an assortment of sand wasps and bees, but they were far too fast. We saw a few different kinds of robber flies as well, but they were also uncooperative photographic subjects. I settled for rocks!



Whoopsie...


Don't do this to your binoculars!


St. John's Wort


Met its end in the sand some time ago.


Seaside Grasshopper Trimerotropis maritima 

These Seaside Grasshoppers blended in almost perfectly with their surroundings.



It was a fun trip and I hope we can do it again next year!


Farewell ... until next year?

All images © 2016 Mike McDowell