Thursday, May 31, 2007

May Ends



The Dickcissel is the bird I generally identify as marking the end of spring migration. While they are already present at some areas of southern Wisconsin, they have yet to arrive at Pheasant Branch Conservancy. The anticipation of spring migration is a powerful force and feeling for me, but the month of May quickly passes because I'm usually so busy birding, leading field trips, digiscoping, etc. In order to appreciate it fully, I feel like I need to pause and reflect back at all the amazing moments of watching the birds.

One of my goals for this spring was to build a data record of migratory birds Pheasant Branch Conservancy using eBird. Checking February 2007 through May 2007 this morning, I logged 146 bird species over the course of 52 outings at the conservancy. (Nearly all were stops in the morning or evening on my way to and from work). When including all Pheasant Branch reports by other eBird observers, a total of 165 species were recorded for the same time period. Looking through the complete list I noticed shorebird species I didn't find because I seldom check the ponds and springs on the north side of the conservancy during spring. Also reported at the conservancy but missed by me were Acadian Flycatcher and Connecticut Warbler. One birder even found Willets (yet to be entered into eBird) at a pond on the north side, a first for Pheasant Branch as far as I know.

This spring was very reminiscent of my birding habits before the Wisconsin Big Year I did in 2004. Pheasant Branch Conservancy has always been my primary birding location, and it continues to be relieving not having to feel like I need to zip around all over the state to see great birds. Because they are such beautiful natural areas and located in neighboring counties to Dane, other stops this spring included Goose Pond Sanctuary, Baxter's Hollow, Cook Arboretum, Spring Green Prairie, Marbleseed Prairie and Brooklyn Wildlife Area. Plus, I led a few field trips at Horicon Marsh for the birding festival there. I visited Nine Springs only once - yet another reason my shorebird observations for 2007 are pretty sparse. However, this was a small sacrifice in exchange for a detailed summary of spring migratory birds for Pheasant Branch.

Dickcissel image © 2007 Mike McDowell

Sunday, May 27, 2007

More birds than ever face extinction


Black-browed Albatross (courtesy of BirdLife International)

"The latest evaluation of the world's birds has revealed that more species than ever are threatened with extinction, and that additional conservation action is critical to reversing current declines. BirdLife International's annual Red List update –which takes into account population size, population trends and range size for all 10,000 bird species worldwide- states that 1,221 species are considered threatened with extinction and are to be listed as such on the 2007 IUCN Red List. "

Link: Full Article from BirdLife International

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Colors of May

Cape May Warbler

Ya just gotta love May! I've been birding like crazy, but haven't been taking many pictures of birds. Yesterday was excellent for warbler diversity, but the warm and mild weather have them preferring to forage way up in the canopy which is really beginning to leaf out (ouch, warbler neck). Yesterday morning our group of birders had 20 warbler species at Pheasant Branch Conservancy, including gorgeous looks at a Cape May Warbler singing away atop a tree in the sunlight. For most warblers, Pheasant Branch is merely pit stop; a great stop-over point to refuel for their next leg of migration. Camera in hand, there are other colorful and delightful subjects for the nature photographer to capture right on the woodland floor. Here are some recent additions to my wildflower library:

Wild Geranium

Wood Anemone

Spring Beauty

Leisure

What is this life, if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?

No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

W. H. Davies
(selected passages)

All images © 2007 Mike McDowell

Saturday, May 05, 2007

A Great Spring Morning!



I'm sure there are many things worse than having a common cold in May, but the drowsiness, sniffles and scratchy throat didn't keep me from joining a group of birders this morning at Pheasant Branch Conservancy. The moment I got out of my car, I heard a pair of Black-throated Green Warblers singing "zee-zee-zee-zoo-zee," closely followed by the upward "zzzzzzzhhht" of a Northern Parula. Before I even got 20 feet away from my car I was already up to 10 warbler species, and the morning was still young.

Though I birded the first several minutes alone, I was soon joined by a birder friend and we watched a Black-throated Green warbler sing and forage at eye-level. We were both amazed when it made an impressive acrobatic flip and secured itself to a perch with a green caterpillar in its bill (munch, munch, munch!)

Soon we were joined by more birders, including a group of kids with their Mom. It's sure great to see them enjoying and appreciating nature instead of watching Saturday morning cartoons or playing video games. Most among us couldn't remember seeing so many Rose-breasted Grosbeaks in one place. Remarking last fall on the number of Blue-headed Vireos that went through the conservancy, their numbers seem to be holding pretty well on the journey home.

So many colorful sprites and songs filled the stream corridor canopy this morning – what would come next, we wondered? There! Did you hear that? Chestnut-sided Warbler! Look there…it's a Blackburnian Warbler! Ovenbirds sang out. A Wood Thrush could be heard further down the trail. Naturally, I had forgotten all about my annoying cold. Then one of the most dramatic spring migrants you can see appeared against the fresh foliage - a gorgeous male Scarlet Tanager. There we were, birders from all age groups gazing up into the trees with our binoculars, fixed upon a single bright red and black bird rewarding our sense of awe. I think one of the kids said it best, “Wow, that Scarlet Tanager is so awesome!

Wood Duck
Mallard
Cooper's Hawk
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Yellow-throated Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo
Blue Jay
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
House Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Swainson's Thrush
Wood Thrush
European Starling
Golden-winged Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Orange-crowned Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Northern Parula
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Palm Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Ovenbird
Northern Waterthrush
Louisiana Waterthrush
Scarlet Tanager
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
American Goldfinch

Scarlet Tanager image © 2007 Mike McDowell

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Zono Invasion! Wave II begins...

For some reason, I totally forgot about the White-crowned Sparrows in my backyard after work yesterday and instead went birding at Pheasant Branch Conservancy (perhaps because of the thrill from seeing all the warblers the previous day?) Anyway, by the time I got home the shadows were too long to capture the sparrows in good light. Though it was painful not to stop at Pheasant Branch this evening, I remembered just how good those sparrows were going to look and headed straight home. So without further delay, I give you Zonotrichia leucophrys, the White-crowned Sparrow, and the way they were meant to be captured in images. I've waited so long for this moment...











White-crowned Sparrow images © 2007 Mike McDowell

May!

Blue-winged Warbler

Yesterday was the first Madison Audubon Warbler Walk led by Jesse Peterson. Though things started quiet, it really picked up and we ended the field trip with 13 warbler species. While participants were viewing a few birds across the stream, I noticed a brilliant flash of orange above us in a leafless tree. I calmly announced, "There's a Blackburnian Warbler directly above us!" Everyone got great looks at it - such a great way to end the spring outing!

Virginia Bluebells

Wood Duck
Mallard
Cooper's Hawk
Killdeer
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Barred Owl
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Blue-headed Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Carolina Wren
House Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
Blue-winged Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Orange-crowned Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Northern Parula
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Palm Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Ovenbird
Northern Waterthrush
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch

Blue-winged Warbler image © 2007 Mike McDowell

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Some Sad News...

Sole survivor Class of 2006 Whooper #615 was found dead. Cause of death is unknown with no apparent signs of predation, so it's being sent to necropsy for analysis. And then this morning I found a story on BBC News about spring bird hunting in Malta. Truly their motto must be "if it flies it dies." Fair warning – this is a very despicable and depressing story that includes some very sad photographs of protected migratory birds that were shot.