Tuesday, April 14, 2015

More!

More Bloodroot!



More Yellow-rumps!



Most of the Yellow-rumped Warblers I've been seeing are not quite finished molting into their breeding plumage. Note the brown highlights here and there. In another week most of the males will look like this.









More sparrows!


Chipping Sparrow


Savannah Sparrow


Vesper Sparrow

And ... and ... I guess maybe this is why the Great Horned Owls moved?



Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Apr 14, 2015 7:00 AM - 9:00 AM
63 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Mallard
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Duck
Lesser Scaup
Bufflehead
Common Loon
Pied-billed Grebe
Great Blue Heron
Red-tailed Hawk
Sora
American Coot
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Wilson's Snipe
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
American Kestrel
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Pine Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
American Tree Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Rusty Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2015 Mike McDowell

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Early Spring Colors


Yellow-rumped Warbler

The first Yellow-rumped Warblers have been moving into southern Wisconsin (and beyond) over the past week. At Pheasant Branch Conservancy we've not yet seen large numbers of them, but around a dozen were present today, plus a Pine Warbler. I wonder what the next warbler species will be ... perhaps Black-and-white or maybe Louisiana Waterthrush. More warblers are on the way.


Wood Duck (female)

Wood Ducks originally arrived at the confluence ponds a few weeks ago, but some have now made their way into the creek corridor; a few will likely nest there. Wood Ducks are generally wary of people, so it can take a bit of planning to get nice portraits of them.


Wood Duck (male)

Bloodroot became my first spring ephemeral.


Bloodroot


Interesting bark lichens.


American Robin

The confluence ponds along Deming Way have been attracting geese, ducks, grebes, and coots. This is also a good spot for swallows. So far I've seen Tree, Barn, Northern Rough-winged, Cliff, and Purple Martin. This Pied-billed Grebe was fairly close to the shore, so I decided to get a few photographs of it.


Pied-billed Grebe


Tree Swallow


Savannah Sparrow


At the prairie & savanna

From the parking lot along Pheasant Branch Road, I used my spotting scope to see if I could detect any open Pasque Flowers. Sure enough, I was able to see some from over 500 yards away. On my way up the hill I came across a breeding ball of Garter Snakes. What a sight! In addition to the ball, there were dozens of others slithering all around me. The sound of them moving through the dry leaves and grass rendered a constant hiss. Lucky for me I'm not ophidiophobic.


Breeding ball of Garter Snakes!

And the Pasque Flowers...


Pasque Flower







Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Apr 12, 2015 6:45 AM - 12:15 PM
67 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Mallard
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Duck
Lesser Scaup
Bufflehead
Ring-necked Pheasant
Pied-billed Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture
Osprey
Red-tailed Hawk
American Coot
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Pine Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Eastern Towhee
American Tree Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
Purple Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2015 Mike McDowell

Thursday, April 09, 2015

The Amazing Blackpoll Warbler!

http://www.birddigiscoper.com/blog518141a.jpg

Sometime during my early years of birding, my mind was blown when I first learned how far birds can fly during migration. Some terns and shorebirds fly thousands of miles to get from one part of the globe to the other, or that Ruby-throated Hummingbirds can fly non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico. Long-distance migration was one of the alluring facts about birds that added to their mystique, appreciation, and respect.

For several decades the fall migration route of the Blackpoll Warbler was hypothesized to cover a substantial portion over the Atlantic Ocean during their journey to northeastern South America. By using miniaturized geolocators, we now have irrefutable evidence that the Blackpoll Warbler is one of the songbird champions of long-distance migration, making a 1,700 non-stop flight. An amazing feat especially when considering this warbler weighs a mere 12 grams!

Link: Biology Letters (PDF)

Link: Article from Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center

Blackpoll Warbler © 2015 Mike McDowell

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Excavators at work!



Black-capped Chickadees are busy excavating nest cavities; they're not putting anything inside yet, but using their beaks to remove rotted wood. Both the male and female participate in removing substrate from the prospective cavity, and they may work on more than one site. Only the female works on building the nest and she usually selects the final site.

Chickadee cavity excavation is a great photographic opportunity to get nice portraits. The process is easy to follow. Each chickadee (male and female) takes a turn inside the cavity and fills its bill with tiny wood chips. When one leaves, its mate is quick to enter the cavity and take over the excavation. The bird with the full beak often keeps returning to the same branch to deposit the chips.

Upon landing...



Lean over...



And drop!



Just after the deposit, the chickadee will face the cavity before returning, but it will wait on its perch if its mate is still digging inside. Usually you'll only have a few seconds to take a few exposures of the perched chickadee as they are extremely efficient and hard workers!





About 100 yards away another chickadee pair were busily excavating a cavity. You can see from the two sites the type of cavity the creek corridor chickadees seem prefer. There are rotted stumps and logs all along the bank which make perfect sites to incubate eggs and raise their young. It's been my observation that the chickadees only select logs that are well above the highest potential waterline when the creek floods after a big storm.



While photographing the chickadees, a Winter Wren stopped by to see what the chickadees were up to. Though I missed photographing it, the wren tried to enter the cavity pictured in the above photograph, but one of the chickadees quickly chased the wren away. The wren popped up again on a nearby branch and I was able to take a quick shot before it sped off into the dense tangle of sticks and logs on the other side of the trail.



Another interesting bit of chickadee behavior I observed today was watching a pair of chickadees inspect a nest-in-progress of a Northern Cardinal. The female was bringing in nesting material and this caught the attention of the chickadees. With the female cardinal present, one of the chickadees sat in the nest and remained there for a few seconds. Eventually, the female cardinal chased it out and the two chickadees returned to their excavation efforts. Perhaps eye-balling the cardinal's nest for future material to stuff into their cavity?

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Apr 5, 2015 7:15 AM - 10:45 AM
57 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Mallard
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
Green-winged Teal
Lesser Scaup
Bufflehead
Hooded Merganser
Pied-billed Grebe
Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Coot
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
American Kestrel
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Winter Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
European Starling
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Field Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2015 Mike McDowell

Saturday, April 04, 2015

It's April!


Eastern Phoebe

South winds earlier this week helped bring new songbirds to Pheasant Branch Conservancy. Eastern Phoebes have taken up residence at nearly all of the bridges along the creek corridor. There have been a few Hermit Thrushes, but more are on the way. Golden-crowned Kinglets are moving through in good numbers, but so far only a couple Ruby-crowned Kinglets.


Hermit Thrush


Yellow-bellied Sapsucker


Tree Swallows

Tree Swallows aren't wasting any time. Nearly every bird box along the North Fork trail has been claimed. Sometimes Tree Swallows show a green iridesence, and other times blue.


Tree Swallow


Red-winged Blackbird


Wood Ducks


Cool fungus

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Apr 4, 2015 7:15 AM - 10:45 AM
60 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Mallard
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
Green-winged Teal
Lesser Scaup
Bufflehead
Hooded Merganser
Ring-necked Pheasant
Pied-billed Grebe
Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture
Northern Harrier
Cooper's Hawk
Bald Eagle
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
American Kestrel
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Winter Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
European Starling
American Pipit
American Tree Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2015 Mike McDowell

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Nature Photography Workout!

"Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you."

― Frank Lloyd Wright


Song Sparrow

I am perpetually grateful for Pheasant Branch Conservancy. As the crow flies, the trailhead to the North Fork marsh is only a mile away from my apartment. On a weekend day, I like to bird most sections of the conservancy, including the North Fork, the creek corridor, the overlook, the woods north of Century Avenue, and the prairie parcel along Pheasant Branch Road. This morning I had my first Eastern Phoebe of the year at the creek corridor. From this point on that's where I'll focus my birding efforts on weekdays before heading into work. The warblers, vireos, flycatchers, thrushes, orioles, and other neotropical songbirds are on their way and the creek corridor is the best place to see and hear them.


Song Sparrow

For the moment, I'm content to watch and photograph spring's early arrivals. Song Sparrows have taken up residence at just about every piece of suitable habitat for their nesting needs. They sing throughout the morning and are one of the last birds to close out the evening's choir. Between singing they'll survey their surroundings for a few seconds and then drop to forage in the thick prairie grasses below.


American Willow

With warming temperatures, insects and flowers will soon begin to emerge. Time to warm up the macro lens! I had a great deal of fun and a lot of success last year with macro photography. This is one of the benefits of using a small mirror-less compact camera like the Nikon 1 V1—it's extremely versatile compared to the point-and-shoot cameras I used to use for for digiscoping. I recently purchased a 10mm lens for better landscape portraiture. It's much sharper to the edge compared to the 10-30mm kit lens.







Puffballs!


The Moon!



If you would like to get good photographs of Red-winged Blackbirds, the North Fork trail is an excellent location, especially late afternoon or evening. The trail runs right along the marsh and spring is the perfect time to get excellent portraits of them singing and showing their epaulets. After all these years of digiscoping, I still consider early spring a time of opportunity to hone my field craft before the massive songbird flocks arrive. Cooperative birds help me reestablish muscle memory and work out any camera nuances. To document Nature well with photography, I like my actions to be fluid and natural. Plus, there's always room for improvement!


Red-winged Blackbird

After birding all the areas I wanted to cover, I returned to the confluence ponds to see if I could sneak up on the Hooded Mergansers I saw earlier during my hike. It wasn't nearly as difficult as I thought it was going to be. The males were so  preoccupied with their crest-raising and head-throwing courtship displays that they paid little attention to me as I setup my scope and tripod. Once I settled in and became motionless, the mergansers slowly returned to the corner of the pond where I was waiting.


Hooded Merganser (male)


Hooded Merganser (female)









Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Mar 28, 2015 9:00 AM - 1:30 PM
47 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Mallard
Hooded Merganser
Ring-necked Pheasant
Pied-billed Grebe
Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture
Cooper's Hawk
Bald Eagle
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Barred Owl
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
American Kestrel
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
American Robin
European Starling
American Tree Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2015 Mike McDowell