Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Spring Migration 2005 Data

(click on image for larger version)

This US map shows nocturnal bird migration via NexRad shortly after exodus on May 17th, 2005. Those swarms you see throughout the Ohio Valley, Midwest and clear down to south Texas are not storms…they’re birds!

John Idzikowski of Milwaukee keeps detailed records and monitors each night’s migration via NexRad during spring and fall. Often times he will email the Wisconsin Birding Network when migration is exceptional so birders have a “heads-up” for great birding the following morning. It's a great prognostication tool.

Here is a graph compiled by John showing NexRad for Milwaukee DBZ level by date for this spring:

(click on image for larger version)

John recently added a Spring Migration Summary to his website.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Hudsonian Godwits!

Jason and I made a quick lunchtime birding run to Nine Springs to observe a Whimbrel that had been reported on the Wisconsin Birding Network, as well as a pair of Hudsonian Godwits. Both of them would be life birds for Jason and whimbrel is rapidly becoming a nemesis bird for me. As per usual, the whimbrel could not be re-found but the godwits provided an opportunity for some digiscoping.





Link: All about the Hudsonian Godwit from Cornell Labs

Hudsonian Godwit images © 2005 Michael Allen McDowell

Birds have Specialized Night-vision

Being an amateur astronomer, I like the fact that birds use stars during migration to help navigate their way at night. Sometimes I let my imagination run wild with a mental image of thousands of birds flying against a starlit sky. Isn’t it fun to wonder what it’s like to be up there during the night with godwits and warblers?

“To migrate successfully over thousands of miles at night, night-migratory birds need to see where they fly, as well as navigate by stars and the earth's magnetic field. Surprisingly, Jarvis said, recent scientific evidence has suggested that birds have specialized molecules in their visual system that translate magnetic compass information into visual patterns. Thus, the researchers hypothesized that night migratory birds would need a specialized night-vision brain area.”

Link: Full Article

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Late May Birding and the Chats!

My co-worker Jason and I both had the day off from work and decided to do a mini “big day” of birding around Dane, Green, Iowa and Sauk Counties. We finished with 97 species but the highlight of the day began just after sunup at Brooklyn Wildlife Area while watching Yellow-breasted Chats - they are so darn cool! This was a life bird for Jason and he savored every chirp, chatter and gurgle of the chat’s complex song while watching through my Swarovski spotting scope.

A stop was made at Thompson Prairie, where I discovered one of my Dickcissel images prominently displayed on a Nature Conservancy sign! Woo-hoo! Other highlights of the day included Bobolinks, Dickcissels, Upland Sandpiper, Grasshopper Sparrows, White-eyed Vireo, Blue Grosbeak (WI State bird for me), Prothonotary Warbler, Lark Sparrows and Yellow-billed Cuckoo and more! Gorgeous weather to boot! Alas, another spring migration draws to a close with the arrival of the Dickcissels.

Link: All about the Yellow-breasted Chat from Cornell Labs

Yellow-breasted Chat image © 2005 Michael Allen McDowell

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Friends of Pheasant Branch Field Trip!

This morning’s Friends of Pheasant Branch birding field trip was perfect in every way! The weather was beautiful, great company of folks, and birds-a-plenty! We even found one of my all-time favorites – the rare and elusive Prothonotary Warbler! It was a thrill being able to share this gorgeous bird with people from all levels of experience – everyone was in awe of the golden bird.

Most of the warbler species were down low so that we got really nice looks at Blackburnian Warbler, Northern Parula (even it's olive-colored back!) and Black-throated Green Warbler. Another highlight was watching a Green Heron catch and eat mud minnows. Everyone had a great time – this year we nailed the date with a perfect combination of weather and birds. What luck! It was the best!

Link: All about the Prothonotary Warbler from Cornell Labs

Here are the species we saw for the 2.5 hour outing:

Green Heron
Cooper's Hawk
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Chimney Swift
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Least Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher
Tree swallow
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Swainson's Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Blue-headed Vireo
Yellow-throated Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue-winged Warbler
Golden-winged Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Northern Parula
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Palm Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Prothonotary Warbler
Northern Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Scarlet Tanager
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Chipping Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Prothonotary Warbler image © 2005 Michael Allen McDowell

Thursday, May 12, 2005


Each morning during spring migration I think to myself, "What’s it going to be today? Shorebirds or songbirds, shorebirds or songbirds?" It can be quite the dilemma. On one hand, you feel like you don’t want to miss any interesting shorebirds, but if you check that particular habitat you might miss a great warbler someplace else! So, at least once a week through May, I check Nine Springs for shorebirds, herons and other water birds. One day this week after work, my colleague Katie Fitzmier and I decided to study the shorebirds there.

Upon arrival, we could see the silhouettes in the back corner of the first pond, so we headed straight away to that side. There were nice side-by-side comparisons of Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, plenty of Least Sandpipers, Dunlin and White-rumped Sandpipers. I know many new birders find shorebirds extremely challenging to identify – and they are! However, there is simply no mistaking a female breeding plumage WILSON’S PHALAROPE and the one we got to see was spinning in the glow of the evening sunlight.

Beyond sparrows and warblers, shorebirds are next in line for my favorite birds to watch. Though an expert birder in her own right, Katie admits having slacked a little on shorebirds over the past few years, so I quizzed her a few times on which species we were looking at.

Here’s how we did:

Semipalmated Plover
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Pectoral Sandpiper
White-rumped Sandpiper
Spotted Sandpiper
Solitary Sandpiper
Stilt Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Long-billed Dowitcher
Wilson’s Phalarope

Link: Further information about the Wilson's Phalarope from USGS.

Wilson’s Phalarope image © 2005 Michael Allen McDowell

Monday, May 09, 2005

More Spring Arrivals!

The parade of migratory songbirds continues! This morning in Pheasant Branch a few more “first of spring” arrivals included OVENBIRD, MAGNOLIA WARBLER, also INDIGO BUNTING and EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE. It was a special treat to see several SCARLET TANAGERS glowing in the morning sunlight – wow, so spectacular! While myself and two other birders were listening to the chorus of birds, all of a sudden a COOPER’S HAWK zoomed into the woods. It was like someone flipped a switch – the birds scattered and the silence was almost deafening!

Link: All about the Yellow Warbler from Cornell Labs

Yellow Warbler image © 2005 Michael Allen McDowell

Friday, May 06, 2005

ALERT: Warblers!

For some it’s the arrival of American Robins, and for others the first Baltimore Oriole they observe in their backyard feeding on oranges or grape jelly. For me, spring migration is marked by the arrival of the warblers, vireos and flycatchers…but especially the warblers! With the cold weather finally clearing out of the state and impressive NexRad maps prognosticating hopeful fallouts, the birds did not disappoint this morning. A small thundershower was just moving out of the area leaving Pheasant Branch Conservancy with a tropical fragrance and appearance. Soon the first warbler is heard, ”beeee-buzzzzBLUE-WINGED WARBLER! Suddenly it's realized that the upper-story is swarming with the wee ones - Orange-crowned, Nashville, Blue-headed Vireo and more. The excitement came to an apex when I focused on a small flock of warblers foraging on a thick tree limb…one was an interesting shade of bright blue. I cautiously mention to my friend Jesse, “Hey, I think I’ve got a Cerulean here…” We followed the bird as best we could, but it kept flying further down the forest corridor. As we continued down the trail, a warbler song stopped me in my tracks “tzeedl tzeedl tzeedl ti ti ti tzeeee,” the CERULEAN WARBLER confirmed. By the end of the outing we tallied 13 warbler species for a very productive morning of birding and it’s just going to get better!

Here’s just a sampling of the morning...

Orange-crowned Warbler
Blue-winged Warbler
Golden-winged Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Cerulean Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Palm Warbler
Pine Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Northern Waterthrush
Blue-headed Vireo
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
White-throated Sparrows

American Redstart image © 2005 Michael Allen McDowell