Sunday, June 26, 2016

Muggy Morning!

"If you stay close to nature, to its simplicity, to the small things hardly noticeable, those things can unexpectedly become great and immeasurable."

― Rainer Maria Rilke


Prairie parcel of Pheasant Branch Conservancy

Rain during the night rendered an extremely muggy morning at the prairie parcel of Pheasant Branch Conservancy; I was completely drenched in sweat after an hour of hiking. Though I always try to keep it light, hauling all my gear around was drudgery. Sure, conditions were a little uncomfortable, but it was still time spent wisely with Nature ... as is always the case.


Dickcissel 

I was pleased that a Dickcissel finally arrived at the prairie. I also heard a single Sedge Wren near the second retention pond. It will be interesting to observe these two species during the month of July. Though I'm less certain about the Dickcissel population this summer, I suspect more Sedge Wrens will occupy the prairie very soon.


Orchard Oriole

A female Orchard Oriole was carrying food to young atop the drumlin trail; I took a quick portrait of her and moved on. There was quite a bit of birdsong throughout the oaks. The mid-morning choir consisted of Indigo Buntings, Field Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Yellow Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, Eastern Wood-Pewees, Willow Flycatchers, and both orioles.


Song Sparrow

After completing my birding route, I took out my macro lens and decided to make Common Milkweed flowers my primary subject. Testament to Rilke's sentiment, closer inspection of the small can genuinely reveal unfamiliar and exciting shapes and colors.


Common Milkweed with ants.







Naturally, when you're closely inspecting particular plants and wildflowers, you'll eventually come across the insects that use them. Though I found lots of Red Milkweed Beetles, I didn't find a single Monarch Butterfly caterpillar or egg. There were sulphurs, hairstreaks, fritillaries, and swallowtails today, but no Monarchs.

Hey ... what's happening to the Monarchs?


Red Milkweed Beetle

I also found a few Dogbane Leaf Beetles. Last year I caught them actively feeding, but these particular ones were relatively motionless. A beetle here or there would come up to another one, but nothing came of it. One might change leaves, but then remain still for long time. Fortunately for me, this made photographing them a lot easier. Of course, just about any insect is a snap compared to tiger beetles and robber flies.


Dogbane Leaf Beetle




Deptford Pink

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Jun 26, 2016 9:00 AM - 11:00 AM
46 species

Mallard
Ring-necked Pheasant
Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Downy Woodpecker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Willow Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Warbling Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Sedge Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Common Yellowthroat
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 © 2016 Mike McDowell

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Endangered Species Act works!



Every now and then you'll encounter harsh criticism over the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and how it's failing in its mission regarding imperiled species. The figure cited to support this view of the ESA's lack of success is given by anti-environmental politicians in the oft parroted soundbite that only 2% of species placed on the ESA's list are ever removed from it. But what they won't (or can't) tell you is while it's true that few species have recovered once added to the list thus far, they are in fact improving, dramatically so in many cases.

For your perusal, here's a brand new Systematic Review of Bird Recovery under the Endangered Species Act compiled by the Center for Biological Diversity. According to their analysis, 85% of continental United States birds protected under the ESA increased or stabilized their population size since being placed on the list.

Well, that seems like an awesome success story to me! Who could possibly be against it? Who stands to benefit from dismantling the ESA? Oh, the usual crowd: big oil and gas, miners, timber industry, real estate developers, etc. And who's looking out for their interests? When it comes to undermining critical habitat for wildlife, it invariably plays out the predictable way.

With a third of avian species in danger of extinction without action, it's no time for birders to blink this fall when it comes to selecting the next POTUS.

Link: A Wild Success

Sunday, June 19, 2016

There Will Be Bugs II

"To a good approximation, all species are insects."

― Robert May


Rose-breasted Grosbeak

I spent the morning at Pheasant Branch Conservancy listening to birds and photographing insects. I ran into Vicki Pierce near the Century Avenue entrance and introduced her to some of the creek corridor's creepy-crawlies. On our way to the Park Street entrance, we heard a Rose-breasted Grosbeak's song punch through the avian choir. Other singers included Eastern Wood-Pewees, Eastern Phoebes, a single Great Crested Flycatcher, Gray Catbirds, Baltimore Orioles, Northern Cardinals, Song Sparrows, and more!


Hackberry Butterfly

I missed Long-tailed Dance Flies last spring, but found around a dozen of them today. I gave Mark Johnson a call because he's been wanting to see one since I discovered them a couple of years ago. While waiting for him, Vicky and I walked out to the confluence pond along Deming Way and put together a pretty respectable bird list. Unfortunately, by the Mark arrived the dance flies were gone. Since the dew droplets evaporated off the leaves, the red-eyed black dragons retreated elsewhere.


Long-tailed Dance Fly

But there were still plenty of other subjects!


Ebony Jewelwing


Orb-weaver Mangora spiculata


Peacock Fly

After the creek corridor hike, Mark and I took a trip to the Sauk City Canoe Launch to see what tiger beetle species were present. The sandbar is still underwater, but there were Bronzed and at least a couple Sandy Stream Tiger Beetles along the beach just east of the launch. We also found Big Sand, Festive, and a few Punctured Tiger Beetles, the latter a few blocks from the launch at an empty sandlot. Though the tiger beetles and robber flies were super fast, we managed to get some nice portraits of them.


Sandy Stream Tiger Beetle


Sandy Stream Tiger Beetle


Bronzed Tiger Beetle


Punctured Tiger Beetle


Robber Fly Stichopagon trifasciatus


Robber Fly Efferia albibarbis


Purple Coneflower

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Jun 19, 2016 6:15 AM - 9:15 AM
58 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Mallard
Great Blue Heron
Green Heron
Cooper's Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
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
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
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Yellow Warbler
Chipping 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 © 2016 Mike McDowell

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Finding Yourself Through Your Passion

If you didn't catch Neil Hayward on the Joy Cardin Show last week, you can listen to it at this link.

I really enjoyed Neil's take on birding as doorway to a type of mindfulness and his comments on the amount of energy birds put into their lives. It's worth a listen!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Just ... June!

"Rest, nature, books, music ... such is my idea of happiness."

― Leo Tolstoy


Pheasant Branch Conservancy

No matter the season, the prairie is always a beautiful place to visit, even during winter. But with June the prairie retains a freshness while reaching for an apex of living things, rendering some of the conservancy's finest scenes of natural beauty.


Eastern Cottontail

And so I show you a rabbit!

Dickcissels and Sedge Wrens have yet to arrive, but there are plenty of Common Yellowthroats, Yellow Warblers, Field Sparrows, Orchard Orioles, and many other grassland birds. It looks like this may be the second year in a row without Yellow-breasted Chats, though the habitat appears to be perfect for them. The Sedge Wrens of Pheasant Branch possess one of my favorite bird mysteries: why do they suddenly appear in July ... and where do they spend May and June?


Common Yellowthroat


Field Sparrow


A beautiful day at the prairie.


Eastern Kingbird

While overall birdsong begins to diminish around this time of year, the Common Yellowthroat's voice is as big and bold as ever and will continue to be so through much of July. The summer solstice is only a week away and some birds far to our north will soon begin their southward journey. The prairie matures as we roll into summer and the asters will put on the final floral act ... but there is a whole half of June left! I'm getting ahead of myself.


Common Yellowthroat

Here's wildflower I don't see very often at the conservancy. Deptford Pink (Dianthus armeria) isn't native to North America, but it isn't a dominant plant like the scourge of Leafy Spurge. The flower is so small they're pretty easy to miss. Though I tend not to photograph non-native plants, I will make a few exceptions here and there. They sort of remind me of Fame Flower.


Deptford Pink

Long-legged flies are one of my favorite insect subjects. These tiny flies are another example of a small organism that's very easy to miss while being ubiquitous at the conservancy. Only through macro photography can these beautiful little insects be fully appreciated. There are over 7,000 described species of long-legged flies in the world. Most of the ones I see are chrome-green in color, but there are shiny yellow, orange, red, and blue ones, too.


Long-legged Fly


Long-legged Fly

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Jun 11, 2016 7:00 AM - 9:20 AM
39 species

Mallard
Ring-necked Pheasant
Great Blue Heron
Sandhill Crane
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Willow Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Warbling Vireo
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing
Common Yellowthroat
Yellow Warbler
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
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2016 Mike McDowell

Saturday, June 04, 2016

There Will Be Bugs!

"We don't give a damn to the insects on our Earth, but if we could find even a single insect on Mars, the whole world would cherish it like crazy!"

― Mehmet Murat ildan


What lurks in the burrow?

I made a short trip to the Sauk City Canoe Launch this morning to see what tiger beetles I could find. For photographic purposes, the trick is to arrive just as the beetles emerge from their burrows before they're ready to hunt.

Tiger beetles are ectothermic, meaning they're largely dependent on external temperature sources for thermoregulation. A high internal body temperature (102 degrees Fahrenheit) helps them run and fly at maximum speed for hunting or evading. Being too cold can make a tiger beetle sluggish and become susceptible to predation. On the other hand, an overheated tiger beetle can experience problems with metabolism, water balance issues, and gamete production. This is why on hot days you might observe a tiger beetle moving back-and-forth from shade to sun-baked sand ― this is called shuttling. Tiger beetles will also reduce body surface area exposed to sunlight by standing up high on their legs facing the sun in behavior called stilting.


Bronzed Tiger Beetle

There were four species detected: Bronzed, Festive, Hairy-necked, and Big Sand. This location has produced eight tiger beetle species during past summer seasons, but so far this year the sandbar remains under water. That's where Sandy Stream Tiger Beetles were found last summer, so we might not have any of that species this year. I remain optimistic, though.


Festive Tiger Beetle emerging.


Festive Tiger Beetle on the prowl.

After about an hour, all of the tiger beetles became super fast and extremely difficult to approach. They're easier to spot in the open sand, but even then I was inadvertently flushing them every few steps. I did find at least one cooperative Festive Tiger Beetle that tolerated my macro lens for a few minutes.


Festive Tiger Beetle


Festive Tiger Beetle


Hairy-necked Tiger Beetle

I think the Hairy-necked is the fastest of all the tiger beetles I've encountered. Though I eventually got really nice portraits of this species last summer, it wasn't without immense effort.


Along the Wisconsin River

As I photographed my subjects, I was making a mental list of various bird songs and calls. So, it wasn't all about the tiger beetles ― I was birding, too! See the checklist at the bottom of this post.


Blue Toadflax


Big Sand Tiger Beetle

Big Sand Tiger Beetles where everywhere. At times I could see a half dozen or more scurrying ahead of me as I walked the sandy path. At times it was a little frustrating not noticing the camouflaged ones until they flushed a foot or two away from my shoes.


Big Sand Tiger Beetle

There seems to be a specific bearable working distance with these particular insects. If you can manage to get at least two or three feet away without flushing them, then you slowly drop to your knees, place your elbows in the sand, camera in hand, and move in. If you can get that close, they'll generally hold their position up to a minute or so while you photograph them. But make just one unacceptable move and they take to the air in an instant.


Big Sand Tiger Beetle


Big Sand Tiger Beetles preparing to mate.


All along this path!

It has all the appearance of a diminutive path in the sand along a river, but keen inspection reveals a thriving and astonishing plant and insect community. Though I didn't take time to photograph them, there were also various dragonflies, robber flies, spiders, butterflies, and wildflowers. I had a blast and look forward to returning in a few weeks to see how things change.

Sauk Prairie Canoe Landing, Sauk, Wisconsin, US
Jun 4, 2016 10:00 AM - 12:30 PM
36 species

Turkey Vulture
Killdeer
Spotted Sandpiper
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Yellow-throated Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Blue Jay
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Purple Martin
Barn Swallow
House Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Eastern Bluebird
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Yellow Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Orchard Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
American Goldfinch

All images © 2016 Mike McDowell