Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Progress!



After almost two decades, Dane County Parks has finally acknowledged that there are breeding birds at Pheasant Branch! Hooray! Naturally, no decision has yet been made on banning dogs from the prairie because the DCP director would rather keep talking about a conservation problem when there's a glaringly obvious solution.

Here's a hint, Mr. Marsh!

Speaking of glaringly obvious ... I didn't notice until recently looking at a map of Northlake (where streets are named after birds that once lived there), there's a great spot for a community dog park right smack in the center of the subdivision:



© 2018 Mike McDowell

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Baxter's by Ear













Baxter's Hollow SNA, Sauk, Wisconsin, US
May 20, 2018 12:00 PM - 2:45 PM
40 species

Mourning Dove 
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 
Hairy Woodpecker 
Pileated Woodpecker 
Olive-sided Flycatcher 
Eastern Wood-Pewee 
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher 
Least Flycatcher 
Great Crested Flycatcher 
Yellow-throated Vireo 
Blue-headed Vireo 
Red-eyed Vireo 
Blue Jay 
American Crow 
Black-capped Chickadee 
House Wren 
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 
Veery 
Swainson's Thrush 
American Robin 
Gray Catbird 
Brown Thrasher 
Ovenbird 
Louisiana Waterthrush 
Blue-winged Warbler 
Tennessee Warbler 
Common Yellowthroat 
American Redstart 
Cerulean Warbler 
Magnolia Warbler 
Yellow Warbler 
Chipping Sparrow 
White-throated Sparrow 
Song Sparrow 
Eastern Towhee 
Scarlet Tanager 
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 
Indigo Bunting 
Baltimore Oriole 
American Goldfinch 

All images © 2018 Mike McDowell

Sand along the Water

"Happiness in this world, when it comes, comes incidentally. Make it the object of pursuit, and it leads us a wild-goose chase, and is never attained. Follow some other object, and very possibly we may find that we have caught happiness without dreaming of it."

― Nathaniel Hawthorne


Wisconsin River near Sauk City

Wood warbler migration has diminished significantly since the 15th of May, which seems early as southern Wisconsin bird migrations tend to go. I blame the weather, especially the three days of sustained south winds during the first week of May. Oh, there may still be a few gems flocking with the redstarts, but I've elected to move on and go with my entomological pursuits for the remainder of the green season. I'm sure there will be some birds, too.

I recently discovered a previously unexplored woodlot near my apartment that may be worth checking for Diptera (flies) and Coleoptera (beetles). Given recent muggle cluelessness at Pheasant Branch, I may not return there for a very long time. If I need a long walk through a prairie, Pope Farm Conservancy will be my destination. However, there are nearby spectacular natural areas worth driving to, especially Baxter's Hollow, Spring Green Preserve, and the Sauk City Canoe Launch where one can find an astonishing assortment of creepy crawlies.


Big Sand Tiger Beetle

Overcast skies ruled the morning, but I saw a break in the clouds on visible satellite imagery. Typically, tiger beetles don't emerge from their burrows until a specific temperature is reached. Arriving just ahead of the cloud break, I found only a single tiger beetle. But as sunlight began warming the sand, soon there were dozens upon dozens of them scurrying about in search of food or a mate. Naturally, there was no time to waste!


Big Sand Tiger Beetles preparing to mate.


Rar!

The Big Sand Tiger Beetle is one of my favorite insects. I don't know what it is about them, but they give me the impression of being built like an armored tank. Can you imagine if these things were the size of trucks? (Starship Troopers, right?) In addition to Big Sand, there were also Bronzed, a single Hairy-necked, and lots of Festive Tiger Beetles.


Festive Tiger Beetle





The Hairy-necked Tiger Beetle pictured below, which I presume to be C. hirticollis hirticollis on account of geographical location, has maculations resembling C. hirticollis rhodensis. Perhaps there is significant maculation variation in both subspecies, but the former is often described with having thick "almost always complete white" maculations, and the latter with thin and often broken markings. Perhaps this warrants further investigation. Entomologist Mathew Brust makes a good point with a comment given the Tiger Beetle FB Group: "I have found more lightly marked ones than this along the Wisconsin River, as well as far more heavily marked ones along Lake Michigan. One cannot base anything on a single individual as there is a great deal of variation among individuals within most populations."


Hairy-necked Tiger Beetle

And there were a few other subjects of photographic interest ...


Arctosa Wolf Spider

What awesome camouflage!


Ant nest


Draba reptans


Blue Toadflax



At one location along the river I had a companion in the form of an extremely vocal Vesper Sparrow. I didn't get too close, as I feared stepping on a possible ground nest with eggs. Heat shimmering off the sand made it challenging to get good image clarity, but some of the sparrow's portraits turned out nicely. In the distance I heard another Vesper Sparrow song, so it's likely these two birds were counter-singing.


Vesper Sparrow

Other birds during my sandy sojourn included Orchard Oriole, Baltimore Oriole, Field Sparrow, Indigo Bunting, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Northern Waterthrush (along the water's edge), Warbling Vireo, Purple Martin, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Eastern Bluebird, Eastern Kingbird, Gray Catbird, Great Crested Flycatcher, and more. The gorgeous weather held for the remainder of the day and I stayed out until dinnertime. Getting away from the nonsense of muggle subdivision pressure on Pheasant Branch was the perfect antidote for enjoying Nature's gifts.





All images © 2018 Mike McDowell

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Open Birding May 20th: Canceled

Warbler migration seems to be winding down already. Therefore, I'm going to do something else with my time this weekend. Thus, Open Birding on May 20th is canceled.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Never Knowing

"Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance."

— Theodore Roosevelt



Where did their sense of wonderment go? I didn't take it. I think it must have been taken from them long ago, though. Or perhaps it was replaced?



Yes, that's it. Over time it was replaced with cell phones, mortgages, earnings, returns, HDTVs, Nike, E*Trade, and Gucci.



And then all of that, and so much more, was then covered with cynicism, narcissism, denialism, and entitlement ― a hardened saccharin frosting; growing intellectually diabetic from sweet blindness.



They do not know the things that creep through and grow from the forest floor. They do not know their voices and needs.



It's especially frustrating when it's right before their eyes and under their noses.



They run, ride, or walk past it almost every day. And the day passes, and then the days pass. Never knowing their presence, never knowing their history.

Never knowing ...



All images © 2018 Mike McDowell

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Mere Observations

"No thief, however skillful, can rob one of knowledge, and that is why knowledge is the best and safest treasure to acquire."

― L. Frank Baum


Indigo Bunting

We've reached the peak of spring migration at the creek corridor of Pheasant Branch. Though I've never attempted a veritable Big Day, it's possible to see over 100 bird species at the conservancy at the present time. I had my first 20+ warbler species day of the season on Tuesday, and the same for yesterday. In the pattern of past migrations, we'll have this feathered treasure for about a week and then migration begins to wane. Though many birds will continue to be on the move into early June, by the end of May warbler diversity drops to the 3 species that nest at the conservancy: American Redstart, Yellow Warbler, and Common Yellowthroat.


Black-and-white Warbler

Though Black-throated Blue Warblers are being reported in parts of Dane County, I've still yet to see one this spring. However, I've had many good views of Prothonotary Warblers, Cape May Warblers, and I even got a glimpse of a Kentucky Warbler as it foraged along the ground. Even if I don't see a Black-throated Blue this spring, it would be difficult to be disappointed with this particular migration season. My latest record for this species during spring is May 18th, so there's still time. Plus, if I do miss it this May, there's always fall migration to catch a southbound bird.


Blackpoll Warbler


Wood Anemone Anemone nemorosa

Gail and I took a day trip to Indian Lake Park, which is just a few miles north of Middleton. We found a good selection of warblers on the trail that runs along the south side of the lake. From a distance, we saw a gorgeous Red-headed Woodpecker, but it was too far away to get photographs of it. Some expected nesters at this location were not yet present. I heard no Orchard Orioles, Ovenbirds, or Acadian Flycatchers. Cerulean Warblers once nested at this site, but I haven't seen or heard one in several years there. This is a bird in rapid population decline. Without adequate conservation targeted for this species, there's a chance they'll become extinct before the end of this century.


Wild Geranium Geranium maculatum

After hanging out at the Blue Spoon for beverages, we made a stop at the Sauk City Canoe Launch to check water levels and tiger beetles. There were several Bronzed and Festive Tiger Beetles, but I found only one Big Sand Tiger Beetle. Since mid-afternoon on a sunny day, the ferocious little predatory beetles were extremely difficult to photograph. I managed to score a nice series of just one Bronzed.


Bronzed Tiger Beetle Cicindela repanda





The final stop of the day took us to the flooded field near Ashton. Scoping the water we found several shorebird species, including Semipalmated Plovers, Lesser Yellowlegs, Pectoral Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, and even a pair of Marbled Godwits.


Semipalmated Plover


Marbled Godwit

The last event of the day was a public hearing by Dane County Parks regarding the proposal by the Friends of Pheasant Branch Conservancy to ban dogs from the prairie parcel of the conservancy. It was a rather frustrating and disappointing experience. Cognitive dissonance prevailed. Though I am not a scientist by profession, my observations regarding declining and extirpated grassland birds at the prairie were not taken seriously by the residents of Northlake, a housing subdivision adjacent to the east side of the prairie.

Many comments were hilariously ludicrous: "I have lived next to the conservancy for over 20 years, and I have never seen a dog off its leash there." Hmm! Fascinating. Another said that perhaps clearing Honeysuckle off the drumlin has caused a decline of grassland bird species. Yeah, I don't quite get that. The standard persecuted carnivorous mammals received blame like foxes, coyotes, raccoons, and other native critters that have coexisted for thousands of years alongside birds. At least one individual suggested conducting a six-month study on the impact dogs might be having on migratory grassland songbird populations. I wonder which six months we should choose? Anyway, it quickly became evident it was a hostile and uninformed crowd, and didn't want to be informed, so I left.

The data is the data and it doesn't lack merit just because it wasn't collected by a professional scientist. The fact is, pet dogs, leashed or off leash, create pressure and impact native wildlife. One wouldn't think science denialism would be so rampant in an enlightened community like North Lake, but I've been wrong before and I'll be wrong again. If I am wrong about the impact dogs are having, I'll just go to Pope Farm Conservancy (dogs banned) where these particular birds appear to be thriving, especially Clay-colored and Vesper Sparrows. Perhaps it's the case the birds are eating something at Pope Farm that makes them unpalatable to foxes and coyotes.

I do treasure the ornithological knowledge I've acquired regarding the avifauna of Pheasant Branch. My education began in 1987 when I first stepped foot into the conservancy and spotted my first-ever warbler, an American Redstart. After thousands of outings and over a hundred books on ornithology, dozens upon dozens of field trips and talks I've given to the public, I'm always eager to share this knowledge to those who are willing to listen. North Lake? Not so much.


A rare photograph of the author.

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
May 8, 2018 5:35 AM - 10:37 AM
83 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Mallard
Green Heron
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Chimney Swift
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
American Kestrel
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Yellow-throated Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Carolina Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Swainson's Thrush
Hermit Thrush
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Ovenbird
Northern Waterthrush
Golden-winged Warbler
Blue-winged Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Prothonotary Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Orange-crowned Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Kentucky Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Cape May Warbler
Northern Parula
Magnolia Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Palm Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Eastern Towhee
Scarlet Tanager
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Baltimore Oriole
Red-winged Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Common Grackle
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2018 Mike McDowell

Sunday, May 06, 2018

The Warbler Parade!

"A procession is a participants' journey, while a parade is a performance with an audience."

― Rebecca Solnit


Palm Warbler

The Warbler Parade continues!

Here are the warbler species I've encountered at the Pheasant Branch creek corridor so far this spring:

Ovenbird
Louisiana Waterthrush
Northern Waterthrush
Golden-winged Warbler
Blue-winged Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Prothonotary Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Orange-crowned Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Northern Parula
Magnolia Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Palm Warbler
Pine Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Wilson's Warbler

A few birders have had Black-throated Blue Warbler, but I have yet to find one this May. It's still early, so perhaps there's still time to see one. Thus far I'm not impressed with the overall number of warblers. Only Palm Warbler is being observed in abundance. Curiously, there aren't as many Yellow-rumped Warblers as I used to see along the creek corridor. Perhaps they overflew southern Wisconsin this spring.


Magnolia Warbler

While migration seemed to be stalled, all of a sudden we started getting warblers that I normally don't expect to see so early in May. The Blackpoll Warbler was my earliest, and the Wilson's and American Redstart seemed a tad early as well. Three nights of strong southerly winds opened the floodgates!


Prothonotary Warbler

And it's been a good spring to see Gray-cheeked and Swainson's Thrushes ...


Gray-cheeked Thrush


Gray-cheeked Thrush


Swainson's Thrush


Feather check!





The forest floor is beginning to fill-in with a variety of wildflowers ...


Mayapple Podophyllum peltatum


Prairie Trillium Trillium recurvatum


Dutchman's Breeches Dicentra cucullaria


White Trillium Trillium grandiflorum


Common Blue Violet Viola sororia

Lest we forget, the boreal sparrows are moving through southern Wisconsin as well ...


White-throated Sparrow


White-crowned Sparrow


Lincoln's Sparrow

And my first tiger beetle of the year ...


Six-spotted Tiger Beetle Cicindela sexguttata

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
May 5, 2018 5:57 AM - 10:22 AM
71 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Mallard
Great Blue Heron
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Coot
Sandhill Crane
Solitary Sandpiper
Bonaparte's Gull
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
American Kestrel
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Blue-headed Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Carolina Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Swainson's Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Ovenbird
Louisiana Waterthrush
Northern Waterthrush
Black-and-white Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Orange-crowned Warbler
Nashville Warbler
American Redstart
Northern Parula
Magnolia Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Palm Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Eastern Towhee
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Baltimore Oriole
Red-winged Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Common Grackle
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

© 2018 Mike McDowell