Monday, May 18, 2015

Peak? Past!

"It has always been my understanding that truth and freedom can only exist in wild places."

― Daniel J. Rice, This Side of a Wilderness


Pheasant Branch Creek Corridor

After finding 21 warbler species Saturday morning, I barely found a dozen the following day. This morning was about the same as Sunday. With an influx of Blackpoll Warblers this morning, it would appear the peak of warbler migration has come and gone rather quickly. While beautiful, the foliage density hasn't made things easy for birders this spring. I feel fortunate that I can at least identify most songbirds from their vocalizations. Naturally, only hearing them doesn't do much for collecting images for my blog!


Scarlet Tanager

When birding during spring migration, there's nothing quite like spotting a Scarlet Tanager's flaming red colors against green leaves and blue sky. The contrast is intense. The experience can be exhilarating. About a week ago, the sight of a low-foraging Scarlet Tanager caused a friend of mine tear up. These experiences in the woods with the feathered ones can be that powerful.


Columbine


Wilson's Warbler


Mayapple

Yesterday late afternoon I visited Pope Farm Conservancy to observe the prairie's progress. It was especially windy, which made any type of photography somewhat challenging. I settled for a few shots of the prairie and some Shooting Stars that were close to the trail. I blocked the wind using my backpack, which was just enough to settle the shaking flowers.


Pope Farm Conservancy


Shooting Stars

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
May 16, 2015 5:45 AM - 9:10 AM
68 species

Wood Duck
Mallard
Solitary Sandpiper
Mourning Dove
Common Nighthawk
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Yellow-throated Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Veery
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Swainson's Thrush
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing
Ovenbird
Louisiana Waterthrush
Northern Waterthrush
Golden-winged Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Prothonotary Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Mourning Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Northern Parula
Magnolia Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Canada Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Scarlet Tanager
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2015 Mike McDowell

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Secret No More

"What makes a river so restful to people is that it doesn't have any doubt―it is sure to get where it is going, and it doesn't want to go anywhere else."

― Hal Boyle



Actually, it's surrounded by city. As shown here, there's often a little bit of photographer's subjective framing that makes the Pheasant Branch creek corridor appear to be a remote stream in the middle of some faraway exotic jungle. Though no hint can be seen in these photographs, one of Middleton's busiest streets is just a few dozen yards downstream. To the right is an apartment building and restaurant, which is now somewhat obstructed by a growing wall of green foliage.

Perhaps in a future blog post I'll show just how much city there is surrounding the corridor. With a couple new buildings west of Park Street, the view hasn't exactly been improving over the years. Fortunately, the property backing up to the creek going east is older housing with lots of mature trees.



The songbirds that visit our little 1.5 miles of “tropical” stream during a few weeks in May are from real jungles in Central and South America. While an important stopover for birds, the time they spend in our neck of the woods is brief. Some of them will fly on to the Baraboo Hills or Chequamegon National Forest in Wisconsin. Most will continue north, beyond Wisconsin, to the boreal forest of Canada to nest and raise their young.


Summer Tanager

The most exciting discovery today was a beautiful male Summer Tanager at the first bridge crossing east of Park Street. Our group was walking toward Park Street on our way back from birding the east trail when a few of us simultaneously noticed the large red songbird perched a dozen or so feet from us just above eye-level. I had heard one singing the previous morning but wasn't able to locate it. I finally broke our stunned silence when calling out “Summer Tanager!”


Chestnut-sided Warbler

The month of May just doesn't last long enough!


Magnolia Warbler


Magnolia Warbler


Virginia Waterleaf


Dryad's Saddle

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
May 12, 2015 5:50 AM - 8:50 AM
59 species

Wood Duck
Mallard
Cooper's Hawk
Mourning Dove
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Yellow-throated Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Veery
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Swainson's Thrush
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Ovenbird
Northern Waterthrush
Golden-winged Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Mourning Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Northern Parula
Magnolia Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Palm Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Scarlet Tanager
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2015 Mike McDowell

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Not like last year!

"To learn something new, take the path that you took yesterday."

"I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order."

― John Burroughs


Pheasant Branch Creek Corridor

Fueled by ample rain and sunshine, the accelerated leaf cover has made warbler viewing and photography extremely difficult this May. Though I tallied 16 warbler species this morning, I only saw a few of them; the others had to be identified by song. Though the creek corridor brims with non-native plants and shrubs, the songbirds love it for its cover, water, and abundant insects. This spring the wood warblers are mostly foraging in the canopy, but some are coming down at eye-level or lower to look for morsels to eat. Bird, beast, bug, or flower, there's still plenty that's accessible to the naturalist in satisfying one's thirst for Nature's limitless beauty.


Chestnut-sided Warbler


Black-and-white Warbler

I'm surprised we haven't had any Canada Warblers yet. I also find it curious that American Redstarts are already moving through in fairly large numbers. Every spring is different, but one often hears from veteran birders how strange and weird the current one is. Last May's cold-snap was the anomaly. I have to go all the way back to 2002 to recall anything similar occurring at the creek corridor. Do we really want a cold-snap, though? Having Northern Parulas, Blackburnian, and Cape May Warblers foraging on the ground isn't exactly an uplifting experience knowing that the birds are struggling to find food, but they sure are amazing to look at when so close.


Scarlet Tanager


Least Flycatcher


Swainson's Thrush

A very cooperative Gray-cheeked Thrush has been hanging out near the first bridge crossing going east from Park Street for the past few days. Several birders enjoyed excellent diagnostic views of the bird from fairly close range this morning. Yesterday it was singing, but was silent today. North of Century Avenue, I heard Swanson's Thrush, Wood Thrush, and Veery singing simultaneously. Their song themes are similar enough that it can get a little confusing trying to pick out the individual voices.


Gray-cheeked Thrush

Despite overgrowth of non-native plants, there are still some gems to be found along the creek corridor. When birdsong diminished toward late morning, I photographed as many wildflowers I could find. I haven't made any trips to Spring Green Preserve yet this year, but I'm ready with my macro gear. However, May is best spent along at the corridor. We're still waiting for Black-throated Blue, Prothonotary, and Connecticut Warblers. It will be interesting to learn what birds have been lingering and which ones have already been through. It's been a strange spring!


Jack-in-the-pulpit


Wild Geranium


Prairie Trillium


Prairie Trillium


Starry False Solomon's Seal


Wood Poppy


Blue-eyed Grass


Eastern Kingbird

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
May 9, 2015 5:45 AM - 11:15 AM
74 species

Wood Duck
Mallard
Wild Turkey
Green Heron
Turkey Vulture
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Mourning Dove
Barred Owl
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
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
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Veery
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Swainson's Thrush
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Ovenbird
Northern Waterthrush
Golden-winged Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Northern Parula
Magnolia Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Palm Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Scarlet Tanager
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2015 Mike McDowell

Sunday, May 03, 2015

The Warblers Return!


Chestnut-sided Warbler

South winds! One look at Nexrad last night and I knew we were in store for a great day of birding on Sunday. I tallied 15 warbler and 4 vireo species along the creek corridor of Pheasant Branch Conservancy today. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Baltimore Orioles, and Indigo Buntings have also returned.

Initially I didn't carry my scope with me because sometimes it's more enjoyable just to have a binocular without all the extra gear. However, the activity at the first bridge east of Park Street was so good that I eventually brought out my digiscoping rig to get a few photographs of the remaining wood warblers.

I spent most of the day at the creek corridor and never made it out to the confluence ponds or the North Fork marsh, but Charles Naeseth called me this evening to let me know the Marsh Wrens are back. I'll probably listen for them tomorrow morning before returning to the creek corridor.

South winds have launched the migration machine once again, but we presently have a line of storms approaching from the west. If stormy weather keeps the birds from making forward progress, the conservancy might be full of birds tomorrow morning.


Black-and-white Warbler


Yellow-rumped Warbler


Palm Warbler


Wood Anemone


White Trillium


Yellow Violet


Spring Azure


Gorgeous weather!

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
May 3, 2015 5:40 AM - 12:10 PM
59 species

Wood Duck
Mallard
Great Blue Heron
Green Heron
Red-tailed Hawk
Killdeer
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Barred Owl
Chimney Swift
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Yellow-throated Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing
Northern Waterthrush
Blue-winged Warbler
Golden-winged Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Cape May Warbler
Northern Parula
Magnolia Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Palm Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2015 Mike McDowell

Thursday, April 30, 2015

April Ends


Gray Catbird

This is the way April ends
This is the way April ends
This is the way April ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

(apologies to T.S. Eliot)

As far as warbler migration goes, April 2015 turned out a lot like April 2014. Looking back at my May 2nd post from last spring Where are all the warblers?, only six species were recorded at Pheasant Branch Conservancy. It's six again and quite similar in terms of species:

  • Northern Waterthrush
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Northern Parula 
  • Palm Warbler
  • Pine Warbler
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler

Naturally, this has Wisconsin birders wondering when the floodgates are going to open. Around midnight tonight the winds are supposed to shift to southerly. At present, though, they remain out of the northeast. Any day now...

Meanwhile, there is evidence all around us that spring's promise is being fulfilled.


Virginia Bluebell


Great Blue Heron


Northern Rough-winged Swallow


Eastern Painted Turtle


White-throated Sparrow


Morel

All images © 2015 Mike McDowell

Monday, April 27, 2015

Quiet



I wasn't even going to carry my camera. It was pretty quiet in the morning and it carried over into the evening. I saw Jim O'Brien coming from the opposite direction and we agreed ... it was quiet. There wasn't even a single Yellow-rumped Warbler. However, other subjects soon began to appear out of light and reflections of light—translucent leaves, thousands of tiny flies. Then the Barred Owl called and a Belted Kingfisher rattled over to its perch above the creek, breaking the silence for a short time. The quiet was utterly enjoyable and even a Wood Duck was quiet for a change. The soundless sun sank into the west and in hushed tones the critters under the moon told me to return in the morning.

Naturally, I will.

















All images © 2015 Mike McDowell