Saturday, July 04, 2015

"Fireworks" in the Prairie!

"The earth laughs in flowers."

― Ralph Waldo Emerson


Bergamot

It's July! How about a little breathtaking color courtesy of Mother Nature for Independence Day? Although I generally show the whole flower in my photography, using my macro lens at its highest magnification can render a whole new level of appreciation. I think it's particularly true in Nature that the common and extraordinary can come down to a matter of scale; a sense familiarity is lost and something altogether new is observed. Even so, in the progression from quarks to the enormity of the Universe, we've not traveled very far along that scale. But of forms and color, Nature's palette and power to create is unbounded.

In The Wizard of Oz Dorothy said: "If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own backyard." This has become something of a mantra for my visits to Pheasant Branch Conservancy. It's not that I ever thought the travel I have done hasn't been worthwhile, it's just that there is so much we can be mindful of and discover within a few feet of where we are. I find truth and fascination in the smallest of things.

No matter where we stand, the Universe essentially displays the same window to us all. With a telescope, ageless photons of light from galaxies millions of light years away have entered my eyes. It's rumored that eye-witnesses said Beethoven shook his first at the heavens right before his death. How much time do we each get to peer through that window? I will try to make my peace with the stars flower by flower, critter by critter, and bird by bird.


Prairie Rose


Great St. John's-wort


Common Milkweed


Spiny Plumeless Thistle


Purple Coneflower


Black-eyed Susan


Thimbleweed


Rattlesnake Master


Indigo Bunting

Same perch same bird? Perhaps, but there were two other Indigo Buntings countersinging in the vicinity. I positioned my spotting scope on this favored perch predicting one of them would eventually move to it. I waited them out by surveying for macro photography subjects along the trail. It didn't take very long, though. The background is a brighter green and the sun angle slightly changed from the images I took late May, but the song was the same.


Indigo Bunting


Cedar Waxwing


Common Yellowthroat

The prairie is full of insects and that's good for the birds. Several Cedar Waxwings were foraging through the grasses and plants and a Common Yellowthroat looked pretty proud of his catch. In truth, however, he wasn't going to deliver the meal to his nestlings while I was watching. I kept my visit brief and moved further back to the north edge of the prairie where I found several butterflies.


Viceroy


Banded Hairstreak


Scudderia Katydid (nymph)

There's an entirely different cast of insect characters along the creek corridor. Various flies perch on plants, logs, and even the bridge railings. Sneaking up on them can be tricky, but when you train with tiger beetles, other insects and creepy-crawlies are comparatively easy to photograph!


Ebony Jewelwing


Long-legged Fly


Picture-winged Fly (Delphinia picta)


Laphria Robber Fly


Peacock Fly


Thin-legged Wolf Spider

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Jul 3, 2015 9:00 AM - 1:00 PM
61 species

Mallard
Ring-necked Pheasant
Great Blue Heron
Green Heron
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Spotted Sandpiper
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Willow Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
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
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Eastern Bluebird
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Yellow Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Dickcissel
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2015 Mike McDowell

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Celebrate Nature!

"There's no advantage to hurrying through life."

― Masashi Kishimoto

"It is looking at things for a long time that ripens you and gives you a deeper meaning."

― Vincent van Gogh


Dickcissel

On Saturday I led a field trip for The Friends of Pheasant Branch Conservancy as part of their 20th anniversary celebration. It's hard to believe it's been twenty years since the formation of the group. And it's been almost thirty years since the first time I set foot on the conservancy's trails. In those early visits I had no idea of its impressive avian diversity and I wouldn't have even regarded myself as a birder. But years of observations would change all of that, and thanks to habitat restoration efforts the place is only getting better.


Orchard Oriole (female)

As I mentioned to the participants yesterday, not too long ago if I wanted to see or photograph Orchard Orioles I would need to visit Governor Nelson State Park, which is only a few miles from Pheasant Branch. I remember how excited I was the first time I saw one of the orioles at the conservancy. Today they're regular nesters at the oak savanna and their numbers are steadily increasing; the same can be said for many of the conservancy's other bird species.


Eastern Kingbird

Though I occasionally visit other natural areas, I spend most of my free time at Pheasant Branch; my blog and eBird records are evidence of that fact. Discovery is education and there have been many wonderful moments in Nature over the past three decades along the conservancy's trails. I feel enormously fortunate for Pheasant Branch and all I've witnessed and learned there.


Common Yellowthroat


Red Milkweed Beetle


Dogbane Leaf Beetle


Red Admiral


Chicory


Coreopsis


Butterfly Milkweed



Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Jun 27, 2015 7:00 AM - 10:00 AM
41 species

Mallard
Ring-necked Pheasant
Great Blue Heron
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Willow Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Warbling Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
Cedar Waxwing
Common Yellowthroat
Yellow Warbler
Field Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Indigo Bunting
Dickcissel
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2015 Mike McDowell

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Summer Solstice!

"Summer afternoon ― summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language."

― Henry James


Pheasant Branch Conservancy - Prairie Parcel

I couldn't have asked for a better way to ring in the Summer Solstice. After celebrating Father's Day brunch with family at Craftsman, I spent most of the afternoon at Pheasant Branch Conservancy enjoying the splendor of wildflowers and songbirds. Though birdsong at this time isn't quite as exuberant as the morning chorus, Dickcissels, Common Yellowthroats, Orchard Orioles, and Song Sparrows provided the musical arrangement during my jaunt around the prairie.


Dickcissel

After the Pope Farm Conservancy field trip on Saturday morning, it occurred to one participant to ask me what it's like to be able to hear so many bird vocalizations at once. The way that she meant it, though, was that it must be difficult to concentrate if one's hearing is always attuned to so many different sounds. And what's it like when I'm not birding.

First, if you've been birding by ear for a long time, you're always ready to receive a bird's voice; songs and calls seem to cut through everything else. Maybe it's just a matter of getting older, but it has become more difficult for me to tolerate loud music, traffic and city sounds, and noisy crowds. I spend so much time in Nature's tranquility that it has become my default and preferred state.


Purple Coneflower

I've longed considered birding in solitude a form of mindfulness meditation. I realize it doesn't need to be that way for everyone who appreciates birds, but there are moments in Nature that arrive to my consciousness in layers, waves, and narratives as my footsteps draw scenery closer and birdsong clearer. Even just after a few minutes at a woods or prairie, I begin to form a mental map of where various species of birds are located. Most of the time I'm content merely knowing that they're present. If it's something unusual or a species I want to include on my blog, I will try to seek it out. During a field trip it's different because I want all the participants to see or hear the birds that are present, so there's a lot of talking on my behalf in an attempt to get them on it.


Hoary Vervain 

I thought it was an interesting question because it's something I don't really think about. In the way I described it to her it sort of reminded me of Daredevil, the Marvel superhero who is blinded by an accident as a child but has his remaining senses heightened, especially his sonar-like hearing. Not only do I know the location of the birds from their voices, but also what they're doing.


Queen Anne's Lace

Though we can try to imagine, it's impossible for us to know the cognitive interiority of a bird, but watching them as they vocalize can provide some clues. You can tell when a raptor is near from songbird alarm calls. These vocalizations differ from those that are used when one bird is chasing another off its territory. Their songs seem to serve their preferences, interests, and desires. Perhaps their entire vocal production is solely based on testosterone levels producing a physiological response in the quality of their songs.

But it was Voltaire who wrote:
"People must have renounced, it seems to me, all natural intelligence to dare to advance that animals are but animated machines. It appears to me, besides, that [such people] can never have observed with attention the character of animals, not to have distinguished among them the different voices of need, of suffering, of joy, of pain, of love, of anger, and of all their affections. It would be very strange that they should express so well what they could not feel." 
This may not be a ridigly scientific way to approach our avian friends, but it's certainly one I like to ponder.


Common Yellowthroat



All images © 2015 Mike McDowell

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Bobolinks!


Bobolink

Curt Caslavka and I led a Madison Audubon field trip through Morey Field this morning in search of grassland birds, especially Bobolinks. We've been doing this particular field trip for 4 or 5 years now and it's a real crowd pleaser on account of how many Bobolinks are present. However, the biggest surprise of our outing came when we were near the back edge and I picked up the song of a Bell's Vireo. Checking my records, the last time I found this species in the Middleton area was during the breeding season of 2008 at Pheasant Branch Conservancy.


Bobolink (female)


Pope Farm Conservancy

Curt mentioned he found Dickcissels at Pope Farm Conservancy, so I headed over that way after lunch. I didn't see or hear any until I got to the prairie on the north side of picnic area. There were at least two. One was singing away perched at the top of a small oak tree and was acting aggressively at other songbirds. Any Field Sparrow or Clay-colored Sparrow that ventured too close and the Dickcissel would swoop down from his perch and chase it away. The other Dickcissel was in the northeast corner of the prairie, perched on a skinny branch and appeared unruffled by other birds.
  

Dickcissel


Dickcissel

It's hard to believe we're already halfway through June.


White Penstemon

Middleton Municipal Airport, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Jun 14, 2015 8:15 AM - 10:00 AM
33 species

Canada Goose
Mallard
Blue-winged Teal
Great Blue Heron
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
American Kestrel
Willow Flycatcher
Bell's Vireo
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Common Yellowthroat
Yellow Warbler
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Dickcissel
Bobolink
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch

All images © 2015 Mike McDowell

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Friday, June 12, 2015

June's Birds

"In June as many as a dozen species may burst their buds on a single day. No man can heed all of these anniversaries; no man can ignore all of them."

― Aldo Leopold

"What is one to say about June, the time of perfect young summer, the fulfillment of the promise of the earlier months, and with as yet no sign to remind one that its fresh young beauty will ever fade."

―  Gertrude Jekyll



I had the day off on Tuesday and covered the entire trail system of Pheasant Branch Conservancy. I came up with 75 bird species, which is pretty good for the breeding season. Thus far it seems that we won't have Yellow-breasted Chats this year, but a there were a couple of birds I wasn't expecting. I found an Acadian Flycatcher near the two bridges north of Century Avenue and a Yellow-throated Vireo was singing away at the creek corridor. I discovered my first Sedge Wrens of the year at the marsh just southeast of the prairie and there has been only a single Dickcissel, but more may yet arrive on the scene.


Penstemon grandiflorus

Now we're down to only three warbler species, but they're quite abundant. Common Yellowthroats dominate the prairie and American Redstarts are singing throughout the woods. Yellow Warblers prefer the savanna and some of the more open areas along woodland edges. In the past we've had summering Chestnut-sided and Blue-winged Warblers, but they're fairly uncommon nesters at the conservancy. 



Common Yellowthroat

More of a habitat generalist, curious catbirds can be found throughout the conservancy's diverse landscape. I'm impressed at the number of Willow Flycatchers this year. There are dozens of them at the confluence ponds and also in places where they don't typically nest because the willows tend to get cut back along the bike trail. When the city allows the willows to grow, the little flycatchers are quick to take advantage of the habitat opportunity.



Gray Catbird


Willow Flycatcher

There are a few field trips remaining this season. The Middleton Airport outing to see Bobolinks is on the 14th and I'm leading a field trip at the prairie on the morning of the 17th. On the 20th I'll be at Pope Farm Conservancy and the final June field trip is on the 27th for the 20th anniversary celebration of the Friends of Pheasant Branch Conservancy. 


The Summer Solstice approaches...


American Redstart

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Jun 10, 2015 5:00 AM - 6:45 AM
75 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Mallard
Blue-winged Teal
Hooded Merganser
Ring-necked Pheasant
Wild Turkey
Great Blue Heron
Green Heron
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Spotted Sandpiper
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Barred Owl
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
American Kestrel
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Acadian Flycatcher
Willow 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
Cliff Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Sedge Wren
Marsh Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Eastern Bluebird
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Yellow Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Dickcissel
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow


All images © 2015 Mike McDowell