Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Life Changes

"Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change."

― Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley


Pheasant Branch Creek Corridor pre-flood

The above photograph was the last one I took of the Pheasant Branch Creek Corridor prior to the Great Flood of 2018. Contract workers continue to cleanup the fallen trees and sand, but it's still going to take a long time before we recognize it again. Sometimes I wonder if it'll ever look anything like it did during my lifetime.





Dottie Johnson and I got permission from Middleton to conduct a bird survey along the closed creek corridor trail on Sunday. It required us to sign a volunteer liability waiver. We tallied 45 species, but failed to find our target bird. After an hour or so, we decided to hit Frautschi Point in Madison once again for a chance at a Black-throated Blue Warbler. Hiking the circuitous trail system, we came to a low and dark bowl of habitat that piqued my birding senses. I said to Dottie: "This is exactly the kind of habitat one would expect to find a Black-throated Blue." And just a few seconds later, one popped right out into the open about a dozen feet from us. Not encountering one in the spring, we were elated that we didn't get skunked by the male of this species. You may recall that I did find a female a few weeks ago at the creek corridor. Anyway, success! Dottie did the birding happy dance.


Black-throated Blue Warbler

UW Lakeshore Nature Preserve--Frautschi Point, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Sep 16, 2018 9:00 AM - 11:30 AM
44 species

Wild Turkey
Mourning Dove
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Ring-billed Gull
Great Blue Heron
Cooper's Hawk
Great Horned Owl
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Eastern Phoebe
Blue-headed Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Swainson's Thrush
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
House Finch
American Goldfinch
Song Sparrow
Ovenbird
Black-and-white Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Northern Parula
Magnolia Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler  (male) Yay!
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak


Splendid Tiger Beetle

On Saturday I led a tiger beetle and birding field trip at Spring Green Preserve for the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin. Again, because of where we're at in the migratory season, and also on account of southwest winds, birds were rather scarce. This field trip is pitched as more of an insect excursion, anyway. To that end, we found 4 tiger beetle species: Big Sand, Festive, Oblique-lined, and Splendid. I was hoping for Virginia Metallic, but none were found. The Splendid Tiger Beetles were at the top of the bluff, which meant an arduous hike through the forested parcel of the property, and that meant mosquitoes. They were so awful that four people turned around and went back down to the prairie. However, twenty or so participants made it all the way to the top and were rewarded by witnessing the shiny and scurrying little predators at work!


Practicing at Winnequah Gun Club

At long last, I'm going to write about something some of you have already seen on my Facebook newsfeed. Most of you probably know that Eagle Optics is gone. I helped close down the business last December along with Laura, Parker, Katie, and Adrian. It really was a tough thing to do, but it was necessary and time to let it go. Though I remain very much the birder and naturalist, I opted to join the Consumer Sales Team of Vortex Optics. After 17 years of selling optics to birders, I was ready for change and wanted to learn and do something new. Seemingly a lifetime ago, the high school I attended offered marksmanship courses; I took them for a year and also earned my Hunter's Safety Certificate. Though I've never actually hunted, I do enjoy precision rifle shooting with riflescopes. Thus, a new vocation and avocation with a bit of history behind the challenge.

This is my setup at our 100 indoor range at Vortex Optics:



It's a Bergara B14 HMR in 6.5 Creedmoor with a Vortex Razor HD Gen II 4.5-27x56 (MRAD) riflescope. From amateur astronomy and astorophotography to birding and digiscoping, knowing how gear works has been an essential part of my job. This new challenge is really no different. Today, the overwhelming majority of people I help with optical gear are hunters, law enforcement officers, and members of the military. I do help out with the majority of digiscoping questions, but it's still a small percentage of what I do at work now.


Tight grouping at 100 yards

To become more proficient at my job, a few weeks ago I attended a Precision Rifle course at The Site in Illinois along with two of my colleagues. Our instructor was the legendary Jim Kauber, former US Navy SEAL Master Chief and all-around interesting guy. The course was tons of fun and highly educational. I challenge anyone not to smile when hitting a steel target the size of a shoebox from 600 yards away. OK, so maybe that's really not you.

All I intend to shoot is paper and steel targets at the range. A hunter? I suppose it's a possibility. Say what you will, but without hunting there would be a profound deficit in conservation dollars in the United States. Through hunting fees and licenses, nearly $800 million a year goes to conservation programs, habitat, research, and wildlife law enforcement―paid for by hunters. And a decline in hunters might threaten how we pay for conservation in the future. But this shouldn't be thought of justification, for I really do enjoy target shooting.


Done!

Sticking with Vortex Optics was the best choice for me. There's no other game in town that deals with sport optics, and I am never going back to computer programming or information technology. Plus, I'm still working with many of the same people I have for the past two decades. Starting over at age 52 with another company would have been a foolish career move. For the near future, I'll continue this blog with its usual bird, bugs, and blooms material. I might throw in something about precision rifle here and there, but expect little to change overall.



All images © 2018 Mike McDowell

Sunday, September 09, 2018

A Splendid Weekend!

"Every one of us is losing something precious to us. Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back again. That’s part of what it means to be alive."

― Haruki Murakami


Eastern Bluebird Sialia sialis

Dottie Johnson and I birded Lakeshore Nature Preserve yesterday afternoon and came up with 14 warbler species. Best birds were Ovenbird, Blackburnian Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, Northern Parula, and Black-throated Green Warbler. We also got great binocular views of a Black-and-white Warbler. Naturally, we'd rather be birding the creek corridor of Pheasant Branch, but now Middleton has it completely closed off by order of the Police. Violators risk getting a ticket for trespassing. I've heard that the cost for restoring just the corridor will be somewhere between 2.5 and 3 million dollars, and might not even be reopened by next spring. Ugh.

If you haven't yet given to my GoFundMe campaign, I sincerely wish that you would. A tremendous portion of the content on this blog is created there. Anyway, these particular funds will be given to Middleton for the sole purpose of purchasing native plants, shrubs, and trees to help replenish the creek corridor's lost vegetation from the flood damage.

This morning I led a field trip at Pope Farm Conservancy. While there may have been more mosquitoes than birds, we managed to come up with a pretty respectable checklist:

Pope Farm Conservancy, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Sep 9, 2018 7:00 AM - 8:30 AM
42 species

Canada Goose
Mourning Dove
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Killdeer
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Eastern Phoebe
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
House Finch
American Goldfinch
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Eastern Meadowlark
Red-winged Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Common Grackle
Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
American Redstart
Magnolia Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Palm Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Northern Cardinal


Spring Green Preserve

After the field trip, Kate Jordan and I headed for Spring Green Preserve with the specific goal of photographing Splendid Tiger Beetles. Other tiger beetles present included Virginia Metallic, Oblique-lined, Festive, and Punctured. Bird-wise, the place was pretty quiet. In the forested part leading up to the bluff, I found a few Swainson's Thrushes and a Chestnut-sided Warbler. There were also Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and a lone Eastern Towhee still calling. Alas, no Lark Sparrows, Grasshopper Sparrows, Orchard Orioles, or Eastern Kingbirds―they're on their way to their wintering grounds!


Splendid Tiger Beetle Cicindela splendida


















Rough Blazing Star Liatris aspera

All images © 2018 Mike McDowell

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Early September Birding!


Black-throated Blue Warbler (F)

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Sep 3, 2018 6:00 AM - 8:00 AM
48 species

Mourning Dove
Common Nighthawk
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Great Blue Heron
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Great Horned Owl
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Great Crested Flycatcher
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Carolina Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Swainson's Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
House Finch
American Goldfinch
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Baltimore Oriole
Common Grackle
Black-and-white Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
American Redstart
Cape May Warbler
Northern Parula
Magnolia Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Canada Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
House Sparrow

© 2018 Mike McDowell

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

And they're off!



Too bad I won't be able to go birding until Monday!

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Post-flood Birding!


Solitary Sandpiper

I birded the creek corridor yesterday with a few friends and found a nice flock of southbound warblers. There was a stunning male Golden-winged Warbler, Canada Warbler, several Black-and-white Warblers, and more. Since the main trail is closed on account of the recent flood damage, I did the best I could via secondary trails. There's a nice view of a large section of the east corridor trail from Parisi Park. A partial section of the west corridor can be observed from behind Kromery Middle School. There's another secondary trail to the west of the school, but it's somewhat fragmented from damage done to the corridor pond. In any case, hungry birds didn't appear inconvenienced by the damage in the slightest. It's difficult to say, but some even seemed to appreciate the absence of people, like a Solitary Sandpiper foraging in what was left of the corridor pond. Since getting from one fragmented section to another was best done by car, I probably won't be visiting the creek corridor during weekday mornings before work―there just isn't enough time to cover all of the areas. Perhaps after work when there's at least a few hours to work with.

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Aug 25, 2018 7:30 AM - 10:30 AM
45 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Mourning Dove
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Solitary Sandpiper
Cooper's Hawk
Great Horned Owl
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
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
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing
House Finch
American Goldfinch
Song Sparrow
Baltimore Oriole
Ovenbird
Northern Waterthrush
Golden-winged Warbler
Blue-winged Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
American Redstart
Magnolia Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Canada Warbler
Northern Cardinal

© 2018 Mike McDowell

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Help Restore the Creek Corridor!



Have you enjoyed this blog? Please help restore the creek corridor!

Naturally, there won't be any open birding outings at the corridor this fall. That decision has been made for me, courtesy of Mother Nature.

UPDATE:

You may be aware of this email from Middleton:

"You may have seen fundraising for flood assistance posted on social media. None of those to date have coordinated with the City of Middleton. If you are willing to donate to the City of Middleton's work to restore the Pheasant Branch Conservancy, including the creek corridor and trails, please send a check (with a note to Flood Relief PBC Work) to City of Middleton c/o City Administrator at 7426 Hubbard Avenue, Middleton, WI 53562. Thank you!"

In truth, I reached out to Middleton twice by phone and once by email about fund raising and haven't yet heard back from them. In any case, the money raised here will be a fund for purchasing native trees, plants, wildflower seed, etc., to help return the creek corridor to its former natural splendor. Feel free to donate here, or to the fund Middleton mentioned above.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

It's on.



Northwest winds wil do that!

Rearrangment!

"Man is not, by nature, deserving of all that he wants. When we think that we are automatically entitled to something, that is when we start walking all over others to get it."

― Criss Jami



Addendum: I created a GoFundMe campaign to help restore the creek corridor.

Last year I got to see a total solar eclipse on my birthday, and this year I got to see the destruction of my beloved creek corridor. Though I probably wasn't supposed to enter, I went there after work to see it and take photographs. I didn't feel sadness or anger, but just awe at Nature's power. In a way it didn't seem like destruction, but more of a rearrangement. It was almost as if it was a protest against paved paths and bridges. I do recall a time the corridor was a diminutive dirt path with stone creek crossings. Perhaps the biggest tragedy of all, Middleton had just recently repainted the annoying yellow dashed lines―such a tremendous waste of time, and they are truly ugly. But who knew, right? How will the bicycle commuters get to work now? I guess they'll have to use sidewalks and streets like everyone else.





As I photographed, I spotted a pair of Belted Kingfishers zooming down the corridor, just as they have for the three decades I've walked these trails. Peewees were singing, cardinals were chipping, and chickadees foraged in the wooded parts as if nothing had changed. Even a Baltimore Oriole called out with no detectable variation of its song. And then I realized all would be fine. The migrating warblers will soon pass through, but I may not be allowed to enter the corridor to bid them farewell until spring.







What will Middleton do?





Who is going to pay the cost?

Shall we start a GOFUNDME campaign?







Now that the City of Middleton has an opportunity to rebuild this trail, perhaps they'll take to heart the notion that this section of the conservancy is much more than a commuter trail; that there is a richness, character, and inherent value all to its own in the simple pleasure just to walk, listen, and observe its flora and fauna. Maybe Middleton will wake up and see the creek corridor for the natural gem it has always been and always will be. That would be a dream come true!



All images © 2018 Mike McDowell

Sunday, August 19, 2018

August Observations

"This morning, the sun endures past dawn. I realize that it is August: the summer's last stand."

― Sara Baume


Common Yellowthroat Geothlypis trichas

Summer is moving right along, but it looks magnificent right now. I biked Pheasant Branch Saturday morning, mostly birding by ear. I had a pair of compact binoculars with me just in case I needed magnification. The woods and prairies are quieter now that there's only a month of summer remaining, so some species likely avoided detection. My pace was quick. There were numerous swallows, cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches, pewees, orioles, and woodpeckers. In the woods north of Century Avenue I enjoyed the ethereal songs of Wood Thrushes. Further east came the loud call of a Pileated Woodpecker. I found no sign of the prairie's Henslow's Sparrows, but some might still be around―it isn't yet their time to leave. Apart from resident warblers like American Redstart and Common Yellowthroat, the only southbound migrant I encountered was a Northern Waterthrush along the creek. I suspect the next cold front will bring the first wave of neotropical migrants to southern Wisconsin.


Obedient Plant Physostegia virginiana

I returned late afternoon to one of my favorite spots for macro photography. The combination of the creek, a small pond, and dense vegetation simplifies the process of discovery, but one still has to keep a sharp eye for little bits of magic rendered from the Earth. Deptford Pink is non-native, but I still find it to be a fun little flower to photograph.


Deptford Pink Dianthus armeria


Great Blue Lobelia Lobelia siphilitica

The aggressive Wild Cucumber is having a banner summer. You'll find it covering vegetation along just about any road in southern Wisconsin right now. It is a native species, but doesn't do as much damage to other plants as much as its reputation otherwise indicates. I do know that tree frogs seem to like sleeping on its leaves, but I didn't come across any during my outing.


Wild Cucumber Echinocystis lobata

There were some interesting spiders ...


Running Crab Spider Philodromus sp.


Shamrock Orbweaver Araneus trifolium


Shamrock Orbweaver Araneus trifolium

And lots of insects! Especially hoppers, of course ...


Buffalo Treehopper Ceresa taurina


Buffalo Treehopper Ceresa taurina


Red-banded Leafhopper Graphocephala coccinea


Two-striped Planthopper Acanalonia bivittata

Aphids!


Red Goldenrod Aphid Uroleucon nigrotuberculatum


Oleander aphid Aphis nerii

Though extremely abundant right now, I rarely take time to photograph damselflies and dragonflies. I joke that if I ever get tired of photographing tiger beetles, there's always grasshoppers. To be sure, though, one could spend a lifetime photographing Odonata.




Azure Bluet Enallagma aspersum


Eastern Forktail Ischnura verticalis


Peacock Fly Callopistromyia annulipes


Large Lace-border Scopula limboundata 

For Saturday's finale, I hauled out my Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope for some lunar and planetary observation. Right now after sunset you can see Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars (going west to east). Using my Nikon V1 and a TeleVue Nagler 9mm eyepiece, I managed to get a somewhat decent photograph of Saturn via eyepiece projection. Technically this is digiscoping, but with an astronomical telescope instead of a spotting scope. Though I earned my chops with astrophotography in the days of film cameras, it's still only marginally easier with digital. Focusing is tough!


Looking south, part of our solar system.


The Moon

I remember showing a Dane County deputy sheriff Saturn with my C8 at Indian Lake Park many years ago. He thought for sure it was fake and that I was somehow projecting Saturn's image into the telescope. I assured him it was the real thing and even pointed it out to him in the sky, but he remained skeptical nonetheless!  So, Saturn:


Saturn

All images © 2018 Mike McDowell