Friday, July 20, 2018

Quick Update!

Blue Grosbeak

I had a work obligation last weekend and then I came down with a nasty virus this week, so I haven't been out and about since the trip to Horicon NWR. I had a sustained body temperature of 102.5 for two days, so I was pretty uncomfortable. I'm mostly recovered, but I might stick close to home this weekend to rest up. Perhaps I'll photograph insects and wildflowers along Deer Creek in my neighborhood. The forecast is calling for rain on Saturday, but Sunday's weather looks decent. I have to say, I'd really like to get out somewhere because I'm rather tired of my apartment!

In local birding news, Jim Frank found a Blue Grosbeak at Spring Green Preserve on July 4th. Since then several other birders have relocated the bird, most recently reported on the 15th. Apparently, there are two! (Where were they during the TNC field trip!?) The photograph above was taken at the preserve several years ago, which I think perfectly captures is essence. I got good spotting scope views of this species last year at the preserve, but it was a bit too far to digiscope.

That's all for now!

Blue Grosbeak © 2018 Mike McDowell

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Horicon NWR!

"Every person needs to take one day away. A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future. Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence. Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us."

― Maya Angelou

Horicon National Wildlife Refuge

And with my one day away, a trip to Horicon National Wildlife Refuge was an ideal destination! It had been a few years since my last visit to the ginormous marsh―I'm not even sure when it was. Fortunately, not much has changed unlike many other natural areas I visit. Though water levels were a little on the low side, it was all very green and lush. Fortunately, there lots of birds and not many biting insects.

Despite staggering numbers of Marsh Wrens singing throughout the morning and afternoon, not one of them perched out in the open. Well, not that I noticed. Ah well. I wasn't all that eager to digiscope difficult birds. For the moment I concentrated on photographing scenery and water plants. The weather was perfect for a long hike, but I ran out of water along Old Marsh Road and that's about the time it began to feel a bit warmer. Once back to my car, a quick break at nearby Waupun for lunch and water was in order!

Common Duckweed Lemna gibba

Broad-leaf Arrowhead Sagittaria latifolia 

Common Bladderwort Utricularia macrorhiza

And frogs ...

Northern Leopard Frog Lithobates pipiens

However, a handsomely perched Great Egret prompted me to mount my camera to my spotting scope for a few digiscoped images.

Great Egret Ardea alba

American White Pelicans flew in formation throughout the day. They made no sound as they graced the blue skies; simply feathered perfection watching them bank, glide, and flap almost always in unison.

American White Pelicans Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

And when it comes to feeding, they're pretty synchronized with that, too!

There were swallows and Purple Martins everywhere. The only one missing was Cliff Swallow, but I didn't bird every bird when it came to the adroit aerialists and it could have been easily missed.

Tree Swallows Tachycineta bicolor

One mudflat was filled with foraging shorebirds. In addition to two families of Black-necked Stilts, there were Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Pectoral Sandpipers, over a hundred Least Sandpipers, a few Spotted Sandpipers, and a single Stilt Sandpiper. Many of these species were my first fall southbound avian migrants, with the exception of a Tennessee Warbler I spotted in my yard over the weekend.

Black-necked Stilts Himantopus mexicanus

Least Sandpiper Calidris minutilla

Though cliché, all good things must come to an end, but it was an especially memorable outing at the big marsh. It's been a long time since I've seen a Least Bittern. Though this one was observed flying over the trail, it was still an exciting moment. Curiously, no Black-crowned Night Herons were detected, which I don't think I've ever missed on any previous July excursions to Horicon.

Swamp Milkweed Asclepias incarnata

Comical to me was this huge Woolly Mammoth sculpture at one of the visitor centers. Apparently, it was installed in 2015, which is an indication how infrequently I visit this amazing natural area. I used to lead annual spring field trips for the Horicon Marsh Birding Club at nearby Indermuhle Island. Anyone out there remember that?

Woolly Mammoth!

Horicon NWR Dodge, Wisconsin, US
Jul 10, 2018 8:00 AM - 12:00 PM
76 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Pintail
Ruddy Duck
Pied-billed Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
American White Pelican
American Bittern
Least Bittern
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Turkey Vulture
Virginia Rail
Common Gallinule
American Coot
Sandhill Crane
Black-necked Stilt
Stilt Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Pectoral Sandpiper
Wilson's Phalarope
Spotted Sandpiper
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Ring-billed Gull
Black Tern
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Kingbird
Yellow-throated Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Purple Martin
Tree Swallow
Bank Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Sedge Wren
Marsh Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Henslow's Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Eastern Towhee
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Orchard Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
Red-winged Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Common Grackle
American Goldfinch

All images © 2018 Mike McDowell

Sunday, July 08, 2018

The Sandbar and the Prairie

"The remarkable thing about the world of insects, however, is precisely that there is no veil cast over these horrors. These are mysteries performed in broad daylight before our very eyes; we can see every detail, and yet they are still mysteries."

― Annie Dillard

Wisconsin River near Sauk City

With the recent lack of rain I predicted the sandbars might be accessible along the Wisconsin River near Sauk City, and I was right. I further prognosticated that there would be an abundance of tiger beetles on the sandbar, but I didn't expect to see so many Sandy Stream Tiger Beetles (Ellipsoptera macra). I think this was the most of this particular species I've ever encountered. As the sand warmed up, the tiger beetles didn't waste any time getting down to the business of procreation.

Feather of a Ring-billed Gull

Sandy Stream Tiger Beetle Ellipsoptera macra

In addition to tiger beetles, robber flies were patrolling areas of the same habitat. There were four different species, but S. trifasciatus was the most numerous. I observed a Proctacanthus hinei making off with a beetle, but I was unable to identify its mangled prey.

Robber Fly Stichopogon trifasciatus

Oh, I couldn't resist! I paid another visit to the sandlot.

Ghost Tiger Beetle Ellipsoptera lepida

Coreopsis sp.

Common Yellowthroat Geothlypis trichas

The prairies of southern Wisconsin are reaching an apex of color and living things. Here as well as the sand one can find an interesting variety of six and eight-legged subjects to study and photograph. I always make a mental note of the birdsong I hear as I search for insects and wildflowers. However, it's a time of caring for young, so I tend to leave birds alone during the month of July. Plus, as you know, I'm just so preoccupied with creepy crawlies!

But how about a pretty butterfly?

Tawny Emperor Asterocampa clyton

Enough of that! More creepiness ahead ...

Chalcosyrphus chalybeus

Common Whitetail Plathemis lydia

Orb-weaver Leucauge venusta

A macro lens has been one of the greatest gifts I've ever given to myself. One is truly teleported to another realm that is almost experienced as traveling to another world. Just a centimeter or so in length, a tiny nymph grasshopper rests upon a blade of grass. Does it notice me? Does it have sentience? I'll never know, but I so enjoy peering through my camera's viewfinder at the amazing little wonders that exist on our planet.

Grasshopper sp. nymph

All images © 2018 Mike McDowell

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Happy 4th of July!

Fireworks from Nature!

© 2018 Mike McDowell

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Sauk Ghosts II

"It is amazing what a lot of insect life goes on under your nose when you have got it an inch from the earth. I suppose it goes on in any case, but if you are proceeding on your stomach, dragging your body along by your fingernails, entomology presents itself very forcibly as a thoroughly justified science."

 ―Beryl Markham

Dickcissel Spiza americana

It's July! The past few days have been sweltering with almost unbearable high heat and humidity. Whatever outdoor activity I decided upon for the weekend, I wanted to be done by 11:00AM. With better lighting, I decided to have another round with the Ghost Tiger Beetles at the sandlot near the Sauk City Canoe Launch. The beetles were still present, but either there weren't as many or they were a little harder to find. In any case, they were certainly much faster, probably on account of the bright sunlight.

Butterfly Milkweed Asclepias tuberosa

The sandy realm of tiger beetles must also contain prey―note the little anthills. As I scanned for the zippy beetles, I heard songs of Vesper Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, Horned Larks, and Dickcissels. Though this was a bug hunt, I couldn't resist photographing a cooperative Dickcissel before heading home (top photograph). But back to the tigers!

Ghost Tiger Beetle Ellipsoptera lepida

Ah yes! These portraits will do nicely!

I also checked the beach at the Sauk City Canoe Launch and found two somewhat uncommon and difficult-to-photograph tiger beetles: Sandy Stream and Hairy-necked!

Sandy Stream Tiger Beetle Ellipsoptera macra

Hairy-necked Tiger Beetle Cicindela hirticollis 

Hey! Where do you think you're going?


Farewell most interesting sandlot. Perhaps I'll visit you again late July!

Closer to home ...

Butterfly Milkweed Asclepias tuberosa

And at the opposite end of beetle behavior is the docile Dogbane Leaf Beetle:

Dogbane Leaf Beetle Chrysochus auratus

Hoary Vervain Verbena stricta

All images © 2018 Mike McDowell