Monday, June 26, 2017

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Spring Green & Rettenmund Prairie

"Hidden in the glorious wildness like unmined gold."

― John Muir

Spring Green Preserve


Nature exploration renders a complete and inexpressible experience that begins with a simple plan and ends with the publication of a blog post. In the middle are the critters themselves; on their land, their time, and their ways. For me it's as close to appreciating the numinous as I can get. Thus, the living treasures I encounter in Nature are valued beyond measure; they keep me tethered to reality and sanity in this crazy and ersatz world humankind has created.

First, a few of the insects I just absolutely adore...

Tiger Beetles!

Big Sand Tiger Beetle Cicindela formosa generosa

Big Sand Tiger Beetle Cicindela formosa generosa

Oblique-lined Tiger Beetle Cicindela tranquebarica 

Festive Tiger Beetle Cicindela scutellaris lecontei

Festive Tiger Beetle Cicindela scutellaris lecontei

Punctured Tiger Beetle Cicindela punctulata

And other interesting entomological subjects...

Robber Fly Efferia albibarbis

Midland Clubtail Dragonfly Gomphurus fraternus

Common Buckeye Junonia coenia

Once I completed my insect mission, I hiked back over to a spot where earlier I observed a family of foraging Lark Sparrows. The adults were leading their young along the trail in search of grasshoppers, crickets, katydids, and whatever other juicy prey items they could find. There was a lot of birdsong in the area ― the ensemble included Grasshopper Sparrows, Field Sparrows, Dickcissels, Eastern Meadowlarks, and Eastern Kingbirds. The gusty winds made photography of perched songbirds a very changeling endeavor.

A windy day!

Grasshopper Sparrow Ammodramus savannarum

Lark Sparrow Chondestes grammacus

At one point a young Lark Sparrow struggled with a grasshopper one of its parents had given it. When the adult bird looked back and observed this difficulty, it ran over to it, took the insect away, crunched it up, and crammed it back into the young bird's mouth.

Lark Sparrow (immature)

Prickly-pear Cactus Opuntia humifusa

Prickly-pear flowers seemed to be at peak. New visitors to Spring Green Preserve are always astounded to see the cacti. A man visiting the preserve from out of town for Spring Green's annual art fair told me that the scenery looked more like something one would see in western Kansas.


Black Earth Rettenmund Prairie

I wanted to stop at Black Earth Rettenmund Prairie on my way home from Spring Green, but a rapidly approaching storm required a delay until Sunday morning. The prairie was magnificent. Maintained by the Prairie Enthusiasts, this State Natural Area hosts an incredible diversity of plants and wildflowers, a few of my favorites being Death Camas, Pale-spiked Lobelia, and Wood Lilies. Sadly, I was informed by a volunteer at the entrance that the lilies reached peak around the middle of June and only a few intact flowers remained. Like so many other prairies in southern Wisconsin, there were Dickcissels singing away throughout the morning.

Death Camas Zigadenus elegans

Pale-spiked Lobelia Lobelia spicata

Monarch Butterfly caterpillar Danaus plexippus

Butterfly Weed Asclepias tuberosa

Two-horned Treehopper Ceresa diceros

Dogbane Leaf Beetle Chrysochus auratus

All images © 2017 Mike McDowell

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

It's Summer!

"In the garden, birds sing, bees hum and the flowers and butterflies bewitch me. Every bug and beetle, petal and leaf grants peace to me in the present moment. As I tread upon emerald blades that gently sway below crystal skies, the garden unveils to me the philosophy of life."

― Amelia Dashwood

Pheasant Branch Conservancy

Happy Summer Solstice!

Common Yellowthroat

A few more tiger beetles ...

Big Sand Tiger Beetle

Punctured Tiger Beetle

Oblique-lined Tiger Beetle

All images © 2017 Mike McDowell

Monday, June 19, 2017

Weekend Birding at Pope Farm Conservancy!

"I am extremely happy walking on the downs ... I like to have space to spread my mind out in."

― Virginia Woolf

Pope Farm Conservancy

I made two trips to Pope Farm Conservancy in the Town of Middleton over the weekend. Saturday morning's visit was a birding field trip sponsored by the Friends group. I returned on Sunday to photograph the beautiful scenery, flowers, and birds.

Eastern Bluebird

As I previously mentioned, it's an exceptionally good year for finding and observing Dickcissels. During the field trip I spotted a few singing males that were sure to make excellent photography subjects for Sunday. All of the necessary elements came together and I'm pleased with the results.


The above male Dickcissel was courting a mate and countersinging with another male from across the lower prairie. I observed just one physical interaction between the two when they chased each other around a shrub. The melee lasted only a few seconds. Both birds eventually returned to their perches and resumed singing from atop various tall prairie plants. They were so focused on defending their territories that they paid no concern over the primate with the lens.

A spectacularly beautiful morning ...

Pope Farm Conservancy

There were numerous Clay-colored Sparrows on the south side of the oak-covered moraine. One might not guess from looking at photographs of this sparrow in full song that is voice consists of insect-like buzz buzz buzz calls. It's actually quite comical watching them sing through a spotting scope, but for them the buzzy notes are serious business.

Clay-colored Sparrow

Oak Savanna and Spiderwort

During the field trip I stated it was odd not to hear even a single Orchard Oriole. On Sunday I heard at least one singing from the cluster of burr oaks on the moraine. As I mentioned to the participants, a higher concentration of Orchard Orioles can be found at the prairie parcel of Pheasant Branch Conservancy and Governor Nelson State Park.


Later in the morning I went to Sylvia's house to photograph a large jumping spider she found in her backyard garden. Though one might think it difficult to track down a single spider, we were able to relocate it within minutes. While scanning her plants and flowers for other subjects, we found a Snowberry Clearwing and a Laphria Robber Fly consuming its prey. Wow! There isn't anything like this on my patio garden. To be fair, Sylvia's backyard is right on the edge of Owen Conservation Park, so she's fortunate to have an astounding variety of critters visit her garden.

Jumping Spider Phidippus audax

Snowberry Clearwing Hemaris diffinis

Robber Fly Laphria thoracica

Pope Farm Conservancy, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Jun 17 & 18, 2017 
55 species

Wild Turkey
Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture
Cooper's Hawk *
Red-tailed Hawk *
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher *
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
American Kestrel
Eastern Wood-Pewee *
Eastern Phoebe *
Great Crested Flycatcher *
Eastern Kingbird
Yellow-throated Vireo *
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed 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
Eastern Bluebird
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher *
European Starling
Chipping Sparrow
Clay-colored Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow *
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole *
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch

* Sunday's additions.

All images © 2017 Mike McDowell