Monday, July 17, 2017

Along a River

"Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time? That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past nor the shadow of the future."

― Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha


Wisconsin River near Sauk City

I set out for the Sauk City Canoe Launch on the Wisconsin River early Saturday morning hoping to find Sandy Stream Tiger Beetles (Ellipsoptera macra). I first discovered this species at this location on July 26th, 2015, almost exactly two years ago. A fellow tiger beetle aficionado found them a few days ago, which is a phenological testament to the predicability of this sort of thing. We naturalists just love the subtleties of patterns and variance.

Upon arrival, I was a little concerned about a heavy layer of fog blanketing the river and blocking out the sunlight, but it soon lifted revealing stunning scenes of natural beauty. Armed with my macro lens, my ears tuned to birdsong and my eyes turned to the ground, each step I took was a micro exploration. I so cherish my little adventures in Nature and enjoy writing about them.



Given our above-average summer rainfall, I wasn't at all surprised to find a dearth of sandbars along the river. The tiger beetles hadn't yet emerged; they were still embedded in their nocturnal burrows waiting for the sun to warm the sand and air. With time to spare, I did what any good nature photographer would and began looking for other subjects: scenery, plants, wildflowers, and even gull feathers covered with sparkling dew droplets held my interest.


Ring-billed Gull feather


Spiderwort



After a cursory inspection of the area, I leisurely made my way back to the beach to check on the tiger beetle situation. Alas, my wait would continue for the moment. However, by this time other invertebrates were beginning to patrol the beach for sources of nutrition. Though this particular microhabitat hosts an array of fascinating predatory insects, a Painted Lady Butterfly paused to extract nutrients from the damp sand.


Painted Lady

An extraordinarily camouflaged Shoreline Wolf Spider readied itself for attack. Their patterns and colors closely match the substrate to avoid being predated. Eat, or be eaten, be quick, or be unseen―this is the law of the sandy shore.


Shoreline Wolf Spider Arctosa littoralis  

Robber flies! Some kill and eat tiger beetles, but not this smaller species:


Robber Fly Stichopogon trifasciatus


Robber Fly Stichopogon trifasciatus

But proctacanthus robber flies can, though I've never actually witnessed one take a tiger beetle.


Robber Fly Proctacanthus sp.

After an hour of searching, I finally spotted a few tiger beetles on the shoreline. I noted the time: 8:30AM. The first few were inadvertently flushed without identifying them. I reminded myself to slow down. On account of the cool night, I was hoping the typically aggressive beetles would be a little lethargic, making them easier to photograph. But they were emerging from their burrows active and ready for flight.


Hairy-necked Tiger Beetle

I identified two Bronzed Tiger Beetles scurrying over the sand. The next species I encountered was a gorgeous Hairy-necked Tiger Beetle. They're larger than bronzed with thicker maculations and tend to patrol the wet areas of sand several inches from the water. It took me a huge effort to get a decent portrait of this species a few years ago.

Here are a few portraits of Bronzed Tiger Beetles:


Bronzed Tiger Beetle


Bronzed Tiger Beetle

And a Big Sand Tiger Beetle, but this one was observed and photographed several yards away from the shoreline, as they prefer drier habitat.


Big Sand Tiger Beetle

And then the primary reason for the trip! Most of the Sandy Stream Tiger Beetles were extremely skittish, but patience and persistence rendered an opportunity to collect some nice portraits of this species.


Sandy Stream Tiger Beetle


Sandy Stream Tiger Beetle


Sandy Stream Tiger Beetle

Have I mentioned I just adore tiger beetles? My time along the river was worthwhile, though hours seemed to pass like minutes. I suppose it's one of life's mysterious ways of letting us know when we're spending our time wisely. Certainly, the time I spend observing, enjoying, and documenting Nature isn't going to change the world, but I sincerely hope a bit of my enthusiasm rubs off on you!


Sandy Stream Tiger Beetle


Indigo Bunting

And for the birds? Here's what I heard:

Sauk City Canoe Launch, Sauk, Wisconsin, US
Jul 15, 2017 8:00 AM - 10:30 AM
40 species

Canada Goose
Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture
Red-tailed Hawk
Killdeer
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Chimney Swift
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Warbling Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Purple Martin
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
Cedar Waxwing
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Eastern Towhee
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Common Grackle
Baltimore Oriole
American Goldfinch

All images © 2017 Mike McDowell

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Good signs!

But you won't find any like them at Pheasant Branch Conservancy.





All images © 2017 Mike McDowell

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Lightning!







All © 2017 Mike McDowell

Monday, July 10, 2017

Back to Spring Green!

"People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us."

― Iris Murdoch


Spring Green Preserve (East Unit)

I spent nearly the entire day Saturday and portion of the evening on Sunday exploring the prairies and bluffs of Spring Green Preserve in Sauk County. As longtime readers know, this natural area is one of my favorite summer haunts for discovery and nature photography ― there is so much to observe, study, and document. Uncommon is the day I fail to find something new to appreciate.


Lark Sparrow

By now nearly all songbirds of the prairie are caring for fledged young. Although the forests are a little quieter, the grassland birds continue to put everything they have into their songs. In the same sense that I selfishly wish accipiters would only consume house sparrows and starlings, I prefer Lark Sparrows and Grasshopper Sparrows make meals only out of grasshoppers, crickets, and moths and ignore the tiger beetles. Actually, as agile as these insectivorous birds are, I think they would have a tough time catching healthy tiger beetles. Plus, there are scads of grasshoppers right now; it seems like a dozen or more hop away into every direction with each step.


Grasshopper Sparrow


Grasshopper Sparrow

Speaking of tiger beetles, I feel very fortunate I was able to sneak up on a Big Sand Tiger Beetle and obtain one of the best profile portraits I've ever made of this species. After a grasshopper crawled over top of it, and then a small fly landed on it, I thought there might be something wrong with the stoic insect. But with a wave of my hand, the always-alert beetle instantly took off and landed several yards further down the trail. I didn't pursue it, for I knew I had nailed the shot.


Big Sand Tiger Beetle


Leadplant (tiny weevil sp., too!)

Though it's continuously in flux, dominant wildflowers were Evening Primrose, Flea Bane, and Flowering Spurge, rendering a snow-covered appearance at parts of the prairie. There were also stunning favorites, like Leadplant, Clustered Poppy-mallow, Hoary Vervain, and the tiny flowers of Prairie Tick-treefoil. But the wildflower I was most excited about seeing during my outing was Prairie Fame Flower. I've only ever observed their blooms twice before at the preserve and I knew I would have to stick around until late afternoon to witness them open up.


Clustered Poppy-mallow


Prairie Tick-treefoil


American Copper

In preparing for my photography mission, I checked the time/date stamp on previous successful attempts which indicated the fame flowers were open by 3:40PM. Alas, 4:00PM went by and they were still closed. I located some fame flowers at the east unit of the preserve, but they were still closed. I decided to check on a patch at the west unit, but discovered they were also closed. I was determined to see them, so I patiently waited to see what they would do.


Spring Green Preserve (West Unit)


Sand Milkwort

While scanning around for more fame flowers, I came upon Sand Milkwort, which is another favorite wildflower of mine. The flowers are so tiny that it's an extremely difficult focal depth to work with. I plodded around a bit, photographing prickly pear and other plants, and eventually took a seat in the sand. Nearly an hour later, I spotted a fame flower that began to show promise and hope!


Prairie Fame-flower

They were opening! Yippie!

Over the next half an hour, I watched as several fame flowers slowly opened. The plant is so diminutive and inconspicuous, I didn't realize just how many were near to where I was sitting. Though I didn't think of it at the time, I should have made an HD time-lapse video of the transition.









When it comes to appreciating Nature, I can get pretty fanatical just about anything. Birds typically hold the peak of my nature proclivities, but any critter, insect, or wildflower will suffice. Having said that, I'm a little embarrassed to admit I took over 200 photographs of the fame flowers.



And with the blooms came the bees. It didn't take long for the busy hymenopterids to get to work on collecting pollen from a fresh source.



Spring Green Preserve--East, Sauk, Wisconsin, US
Jul 8, 2017 9:30 AM - 6:00 PM
49 species

Turkey Vulture
Mourning Dove
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Black-billed Cuckoo
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Hairy Woodpecker
American Kestrel
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Eastern Kingbird
Yellow-throated Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Purple Martin
Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Eastern Bluebird
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
Cedar Waxwing
Grasshopper Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Eastern Towhee
Scarlet Tanager
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Blue Grosbeak ← Ha!
Indigo Bunting
Dickcissel
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
American Goldfinch

All images © 2017 Mike McDowell

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Pleasant Valley SNA

"Photography saved my life by opening my eyes to the beauty that surrounds me each and everyday. Life looks much richer from behind the lens."

― Donna Kasubeck

"The earth is art; the photographer is only a witness."

― Yann Arthus-Bertrand


Pleasant Valley State Natural Area

A recent visit to Pleasant Valley State Natural Area revealed a splendid variety of birds on breeding territory. With dazzling green ridges adorned with oak trees, Red-headed Woodpeckers are fairly common at this resplendent savanna. Throughout a birding year, it's possible to observe over 100 bird species at Pleasant Valley, so 43 species is a decent summer sampling. During the two-hour hike I heard avian voices belonging to Orchard Orioles, Indigo Buntings, Yellow-throated Vireos, Eastern Towhees, Field Sparrows, Common Yellowthroats, and both cuckoo species.


Punctured Tiger Beetle

When birding, I'm always on the lookout for whatever insects I can find, especially tiger beetles. Both Punctured and Six-spotted Tiger Beetles can be found along the dirt and graveled trail sections. The above tiger beetle proved to be a costly challenge by leaving me with a minor muscle injury. A friend offered solid advice: Stretch before partaking in insect photography!


Eastern-tailed Blue

While it was an exceptional day for July butterflies, I only managed to find one photographically cooperative Eastern-tailed Blue. Summer's light and warmth brought the winged insects out in force, but nearly all fluttered circuitously beyond the reach of my camera lens. Other butterflies included Monarch, Black Swallowtail, Tiger Swallowtail, Painted Lady, Coral Hairstreak, Common Wood-Nymph, Cabbage White, Clouded Sulphur, Silver-spotted Skipper, Aphrodite Fritillary, Red-spotted Purple, Red Admiral, and Common Buckeye.


Thimbleweed

This time of year Pleasant Valley's hills are adorned with spectacular wildflowers, but I probably didn't spend as much time photographing them as I should have. On the other hand, sometimes it's best to simply behold natural beauty without fussing over light, composition, and camera settings.


Harebell


Red-headed Woodpecker

It was exceedingly cool watching a pair of adult Red-headed Woodpeckers catch and carry insects over to recently fledged juveniles. I'd like to get better photographs of this species, but it's not a bird I often encounter at Pheasant Branch Conservancy. Hearing an adult's nervous chatter was a good reminder not to spend too much time around birds caring for youngsters. I've heard that the woodpeckers occasionally overwinter at Pleasant Valley, so perhaps early spring would be a better time for obtaining breathtaking digiscoped portraits.


Adult and immature Red-headed Woodpeckers



By early afternoon the heat and humidity was becoming a bit much to endure. Though normally I would have stayed longer, my water bottle was dry and my muscle injury was a nagging nuisance with each step. I think I'll return to Pleasant Valley before August rolls around. August! Summer is passing by far too quickly ― warblers of the boreal return next month.



Pleasant Valley Conservancy, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Jul 4, 2017 10:15 AM - 1:00 PM
43 species

Ring-necked Pheasant
Turkey Vulture
Mourning Dove
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Black-billed Cuckoo
Belted Kingfisher
Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Hairy Woodpecker
American Kestrel
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Eastern Kingbird
Yellow-throated Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Sedge Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Eastern Bluebird
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing
Common Yellowthroat
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Eastern Towhee
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
American Goldfinch

All images © 2017 Mike McDowell