Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Peacock Fly: Callopistromyia annulipes



I think these tiny picture-winged flies are pretty darn cool. And by tiny, I'm talking 4 to 6 millimeters in length. I first photographed a Peacock Fly a couple months ago. Stumbling upon them today at Pheasant Branch Conservancy, I learned two things: One, their wings reflect blue iridescence at a certain angle of light. Two, there's virtually no information about these amazing insects on the Internet!



They raise and flick their wings in courtship display to attract a mate.



Um, so, yeah, right. I'm not really sure what this one is doing.



They can look a little menacing...



But they're also kind of endearing.





Hey! Where's this one going?



Ah! Another Peacock Fly!



Hello! Wings up!



Well, well, well!



Only they know.



The Peacock Fly!


Green Sweat Bee Augochloropsis metallica


Laphria Robber Fly (possibly Laphria canid)



All images © 2014 Mike McDowell

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Birds, Buds, and Bugs

I know it is one thing to go forth as a nature-lover, and quite another to go forth in a spirit of cold, calculating, exact science. I call myself a nature-lover and not a scientific naturalist. All that science has to tell me is welcome, is, indeed eagerly sought for. I must know as well as feel. I am not merely contented, like Wordsworth's poet, to enjoy what others understand. I must also; but above all things, I must enjoy.

~ John Burroughs


Solitary Sandpiper

Fall migration is underway. The two retention ponds at the prairie parcel of Pheasant Branch Conservancy are attracting Solitary Sandpipers, one of the first migrants to pass through southern Wisconsin (map). I saw six of them this morning. In their company was a single Spotted Sandpiper and Killdeer. A young Great Blue Heron also stopped by to catch a few small fish.


Solitary Sandpiper


Solitary Sandpiper


Great Blue Heron

The Sedge Wrens have settled in and I saw my first fledged Common Yellowthroats of the summer breeding season. Though I've been spending many hours birding and conducting nature photography at Pheasant Branch Conservancy, I haven't heard a peep out of the chats in a couple of weeks—perhaps they have left after all. There are fewer Orchard Orioles, Baltimore Orioles, and Yellow Warblers, too—birds are dispersing. A couple days ago saw a large flock of Cliff Swallows perched in the tall grass trying to keep out of the wind, but they were gone the following day. The yellowthroats and Indigo Buntings will still be with us for a while yet, but soon the prairie will begin to fade in sound and change in color.


Common Yellowthroat


Indigo Bunting


Bergamot

If you're in the Madison area, you really ought to check out Pope Farm Conservancy right now—it's as awesome and beautiful as I've ever witnessed it. Pope Farm is known locally for its large sunflower field, but they aren't open yet! Most of these wildflower photographs were taken there yesterday. Should you visit, consider becoming a member of the friends group!


Culver's Root


Mountain Mint


Blue Lobelia


Starry Campion


Nodding Onion


Red-legged Spittlebug

I've been pretty busy during the summer birding season. I may have an opportunity for one more July blog post. If not, my first August entry will include my fall field trip schedule. It looks like I'll be leading five field trips at Pheasant Branch Conservancy from August to October. I might take a brief break from blogging in preparation for fall migration. Naturally, if I find something really cool I will always post it here. However, if you're on Facebook, you might want to check out Wisconsin Birding and Wisconsin Naturalists.


Black Swallowtail caterpillar


Goldenrod Crab Spider


Viceroy


Robber Fly


Jumping Spider Phidippus clarus

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Jul 27, 2014 6:15 AM - 10:00 AM
53 species

Mallard
Ring-necked Pheasant
Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Spotted Sandpiper
Solitary Sandpiper
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
American Kestrel
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Willow Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Warbling Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Sedge Wren
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2014 Mike McDowell

Sunday, July 20, 2014

More Sedge Wrens!


Early morning at Pheasant Branch Conservancy

It was slightly hazy for a while this morning, but I appreciated the soft light. Mosquitoes were out but I escaped with only a few bites. Bird-wise, it was a fairly routine outing. Once again I did not detect the Yellow-breasted Chats or Dickcissels. However, one thing is becoming apparent: with each subsequent visit to the prairie the number of Sedge Wrens is increasing.


Yellow Goat's Beard

So, where did all these Sedge Wrens come from? Why now? Did they already nest elsewhere this year? If so, was it to the north or south? Did they stage? They're predictably unpredictable. They almost seem to be waiting nearby for the structure of the vegetation to appeal to their nesting senses ... or were they here all along? Some have proposed that birds arriving in May delay nesting until appropriate conditions are available. This Sedge Wren study states: "Warm-season grasses do not provide enough cover until late June in Illinois. Once the necessary height of about 1 meter has been reached the sedge wrens show up." They just show up, I guess! Assuming a second brood, I suspect these wrens disperse after their first brood in search for habitat that's just on the cusp of becoming suitable for breeding.


Sedge Wren

The dark background of this next image is actually the shady part of an oak tree about 100 yards away. I like the sharp contrast. Pausing for a brief moment, this Sedge Wren was exchanging songs with another male not too far away. I tallied 8 singing wrens, but there are likely more.


Sedge Wren

A few interesting macro subjects from the morning...


American Bellflower


Sphinx Caterpillar Paonias 


Crab Spider


Treehopper Telamona decorata


Leafhopper unidentified

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Jul 20, 2014 6:30 AM - 10:00 AM
52 species

Wood Duck
Mallard
Ring-necked Pheasant
Great Blue Heron
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Spotted Sandpiper
Mourning Dove
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Willow Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Warbling Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Sedge Wren
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Common Yellowthroat
Yellow Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2014 Mike McDowell

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Prairie Morning


Purple Coneflower

I had the day off yesterday and decided an early visit to Pheasant Branch Conservancy would be a great way to spend the first part of my day. With temperatures between the upper 40s and lower 50s the past few mornings, it's been feeling a little more like early fall rather than mid-July. If you look carefully at the Sedge Wren below, you can even see its breath!


Sedge Wren

All the usual suspects were accounted for, except for the Yellow-breasted Chats. From my experiences with them, it's about the time of summer when they become silent and extremely difficult to detect. In fact, I don't think I've ever observed a chat during the month of August. They're probably still there, but just next to impossible to find when not vocalizing, which is pretty much the only way I know when they're around. At the other extreme, Common Yellowthroats were as vocal as their initial spring storm on the prairie.


Common Yellowthroat


Common Yellowthroat (female)

Like nearly all birds, yellowthroats are excellent parents with protecting and caring for their young. When an intruder arrives on the scene (like me), they immediately go on the alert by sounding off their alarm calls. It's usually the sentry male who voices the first warning notes. Occasionally the female will make a brief appearance to see what the male is chattering on about, but she typically returns to the nest if the threat level is deemed minimal. Portraits like these shouldn't be confused with a cooperative subject—these birds are on the alert. I only stay as long as it takes to get a couple of shots and quickly leave so they can get back to the business of taking care of their young.


Common Yellowthroat (female)


Common Yellowthroat

I don't know that there's a harder working warbler. One wonders how this male Common Yellowthroat was able to cache so many flying insects in his mouth! Naturally, he waited until I left before returning to the nest with these morsels. If sufficiently agitated or threatened, males perform a distraction display or feigned injury flight in a direction away of the nest to keep predators from finding their young.


Common Yellowthroat

Several Cedar Waxwings were circling over the retention ponds catching insects along with Tree Swallows, Cliff Swallows, and Barn Swallows. It must be a banner breeding season for waxwings; I've been hearing their high-pitched calls whenever I'm running errands around town. This particular bird perched on a bare twig between flights just long enough for me to snap a few photographs of it.


Cedar Waxwing

And there were many others birds...


Indigo Bunting


Song Sparrow


Willow Flycatcher


Gray Catbird


Sedge Wren


Thimbleweed

Once I finished my hike around the prairie and savanna, I decided to check the creek corridor for little monsters as macro photography subjects. It didn't require too much effort to find some!


Jumping Spider Phidippus clarus


Jumping Spider Phidippus clarus


Two-horned Treehopper Ceresa diceros


Widefooted Treehopper Campylenchia latipes


Leafhopper Osbornellus scalaris


Red-banded Leafhopper Graphocephala coccinea


Hunchback Bee Fly Lepidophora lutea


Cardinal Flower

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Jul 16, 2014 6:30 AM - 10:30 AM
63 species

Wood Duck
Mallard
Blue-winged Teal
Ring-necked Pheasant
Great Blue Heron
Green Heron
Turkey Vulture
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Spotted Sandpiper
Solitary Sandpiper
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
American Kestrel
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Willow Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Tree Swallow
Bank Swallow
Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Sedge Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Eastern Bluebird
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Common Yellowthroat
Yellow Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Field 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

All images © 2014 Mike McDowell