Sunday, April 27, 2008

Purple and Green, Black and White



Loath to surrender to the pestilent "man cold" foundering my motivation this weekend, the sunrise beckoned me. I could hear flight calls overhead as I filled our backyard feeders and imagined birds perched in the good light - I wouldn't be there to photograph them. The rising golden rays glimmered through the spruces and helped me summon the strength to go birding. I fired off a missive to Jesse and Dottie, letting them know I would be at Pheasant Branch by 7:30 a.m.

Along the trail, purple violets punctuated unconquerable garlic mustard – it is prolific and all past efforts to eradicate it seem futile. Though fairly quiet along the stream corridor, there were some conspicuous birds – notably several Black-and-white Warblers foraging on tree trunks and branches. The lighting was exceptionally good and all I needed was a little patience, carefully following one of the warblers for a few minutes...



Got it! Well worth the effort.

Location: Pheasant Branch
Observation date: 4/27/08
Number of species: 40

Wood Duck
Mallard
Cooper's Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk
Killdeer
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
House Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Orange-crowned Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Palm Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch

All images © 2008 Mike McDowell

Saturday, April 26, 2008

First Hummingbird



Being sick during spring bites big time – my entire weekend is shot. We did have a visitor at our nectar feeder late this evening – a first of spring Ruby-throated Hummingbird. I've also been enjoying a beautiful White-crowned Sparrow foraging around on the ground near our patio. Hopefully I'll be well enough to get back out in the field by Tuesday or Wednesday.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird © 2008 Mike McDowell

Nasty Weather



Turbulent weather moved across southern Wisconsin last evening, including a tornado near Portage. Nobody was injured, but a few houses were significantly damaged in the Wyocena area. I was on my way home after birding with Dottie when I captured the above shot looking southwest from near Waunakee. The wind was incredible and I was beginning to think I might observe a funnel cloud, but the more severe weather that produced the tornado was about 30 miles to the north. There's been significant rainfall in the past few days and the stream crossings at Pheasant Branch are flooded once again, rendering parts of the conservancy inaccessible. The flooding is so bad in the southeast part of the state that Saturday's Madison Audubon field trip to Wyalusing State Park was canceled. The lows will be in the 30's the next few days and I've come down with a spring cold. Perhaps I'll spend the weekend indoors and wait for more seasonable weather to return.

Storm image © 2008 Mike McDowell

Friday, April 25, 2008

More Warblers!


Northern Waterthrush

Location: Pheasant Branch
Observation date: 4/25/08
Number of species: 42

Wood Duck
Mallard
Green Heron
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Eastern Phoebe
Yellow-throated Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
American Robin
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Orange-crowned Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Pine Warbler
Palm Warbler
Northern Waterthrush
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Northern Waterthrush © 2008 Mike McDowell

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Wood Ducks!





Wood Ducks © 2008 Mike McDowell

Monday, April 21, 2008

Departure



It's interesting how a single night of suitable migration weather can so drastically change the birding for the next morning. Yellow-rumped Warblers were extremely numerous along the Pheasant Branch corridor over the weekend, but southerly winds Sunday night were more than they could resist – onward to the boreal forest! This morning the "butter-butts" were very scarce - our group found only around a half dozen. Along with the Myrtles, so too went the bulk of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets. But, as one birder aptly remarked this morning, "It's still only April!." Indeed, there's a lot more migration to come.

Yellow-rumped Warbler © 2008 Mike McDowell

Sunday, April 20, 2008

More Spring Arrivals


Pasque Flowers


Bloodroot

The passage of spring is an event taking days, weeks and even months. One by one, the harbingers please us with their awesome natural beauty; there is a unique feeling or reminiscence as we experience each type. Witnessing spring's winged and blossoming arrivals on a given day, we are inclined to mark nature's march toward summer one living organism at a time. We'll see an American Robin and proclaim spring has arrived, but we know it's merely a prelude to what lies ahead and it's going to get even better in the forthcoming days. Such progressions were captured in transit this weekend, in a few forms I include here.


Palm Warbler

Surrounded by dozens of Yellow-rumped Warblers, a lone Palm Warbler was a new arrival this morning at Pheasant Branch Conservancy. Around southern Wisconsin, birders are starting to report feathered gems like Wilson's Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Pine Warbler and Orange-crowned Warbler. It was a splendid weekend to enjoy the warmer weather with friends of all ages at a favorite natural area.


Bloodroot

All images © 2008 Mike McDowell

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

First Short-eared Owl for PBC



On Monday after work, I stopped at the Pheasant Branch prairie and found a Short-eared Owl hunting over the fields - the first time I've ever observed this species at the conservancy. Because the bird was zooming and gliding non-stop, I realized the only chance to digiscope it would be via video capture:



Last evening I met up with Dottie, Sylvia, Lisa and Jesse to see if the owl might return, but no such luck for us. It was so windy; perhaps the owl waited until later to come out to hunt. While we waited, I snapped a few photographs of the scenery. On our way back to the parking lot, we heard the peenting calls of American Woodcock.





All media © 2008 Mike McDowell

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Levels of Challenge


American Robin

However common or rare, every bird represents an opportunity to hone your photographic skill. Because many first-time digiscopers struggle to obtain sharply focused images, my advice for them is to practice on birds more easily approached, like American Robins or other common birds. Even seasoned photographers will seize the occasion to work with unusual lighting angles - the ordinary can become more aesthetically pleasing in a new way. Every bird and lighting situation is unique and a successful exposure is earned experience, even if it takes you a couple of shots to get it to your liking. Over time, mastery over your gear and technique will translate to a higher frequency of "keepers" out in the field.


Yellow-rumped Warbler

All images © 2008 Mike McDowell

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sunny Sunday


Red-bellied Woodpecker


Red-bellied Woodpecker


American Robin


American Robin


Ruby-crowned Kinglet


Northern Cardinal

A chilly morning brought warblers and kinglets to the ground to forage, but at least the sun would soon start to warm things up. I was the only birder walking the stream corridor trails of Pheasant Branch Conservancy for the first hour - ah, very relaxing! For this interlude, it was me, the sound of my footsteps on the gravel path, the cool air, a calmer stream and many busy birds. Songs of hidden Winter Wrens kept me alert for opportunities during my stroll, but it was other birds, placed by chance, that appeared before my camera lens. I doubt I would be so lucky with a Ruby-crowned Kinglet on a warm day. The tiny insectivores were a bit sluggish and a Cooper's Hawk clearly held the advantage. Watching it hit the ground and take a kinglet was an alarming sight, but that's the red, tooth and claw of nature at work. Eventually, I was joined by several other birders and so it was time to put the camera away and get down to some serious birding.

Pheasant Branch (stream corridor) - 4/13/08:

Wood Duck
Mallard
Common Loon
Osprey
Cooper's Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Barred Owl
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Winter Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
European Starling
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch

All images © 2008 Mike McDowell

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Pace



Since it doesn't look like we're going to see the sun again until Monday, I thought I'd post the last photograph I took when there was sunlight, even though it isn't of a bird. It rained all day today, but I still stopped by the Pheasant Branch stream corridor on my way home from work today - the crossings were completely flooded. Birding in the rain can be fun in May, but not when there's still ample chill to the air. These days I enjoy nature photography at a more relaxed pace. Still, when the weather is lousy for several days on end, I feel a slight sense of lost opportunity mixed with an impending time crunch. Most songbirds will be on territory by June, which presently leaves me with about a month and a half of digiscoping birds during migration. Whatever photographs I come away with will be proportional to the effort I give it. I know what that takes and thinking about it already makes me tired! Perhaps this helps explain why I haven't been doing as much digiscoping the past few years.

© 2008 Mike McDowell

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Spring Birding Field Trips!



It's spring field trip season! Here's my schedule for May. Exact times can be found by visiting the respective date links below. I see that the Madison Audubon May schedule hasn't been posted yet (you may want to check again late April), but I'm pretty certain the 1st and 13th are both morning field trips and the 29th is an evening one at the prairie on Pheasant Branch Road. It's typical for us to find between 15 and 20 different warbler species during the early May outings. All of my field trips are free and open to the public. Hope to see you there!

May 1st - Madison Audubon / Pheasant Branch Conservancy (map)

May 3rd - Holy Wisdom Monastery (map)

May 10th - Horicon Marsh Birding Festival (map)

May 11th - Horicon Marsh Birding Festival (map)

May 13th - Madison Audubon / Pheasant Branch Conservancy (map)

May 29th - Madison Audubon / Pheasant Branch Conservancy (map)

Chestnut-sided Warbler © 2008 Mike McDowell

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Chippie in the Rain



I saw my first-of-spring Chipping Sparrow eating from a window feeder at Eagle Optics this afternoon. The above photograph was taken via holding my Nikon Coolpix 8400 up to the window. I replaced the original image to this post with one taken today (Wednesday) so you can see a chippie super close-up!

Image © 2008 Mike McDowell

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Black-capped Chickadees


Last night's migration brought more Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Golden-crowned Kinglets and Yellow-rumped Warblers into the stream corridor of Pheasant Branch Conservancy. Tree buds are starting to become noticeable as spring continues to awaken in southern Wisconsin. Often times before meeting my birding friends, I'll wait near the trail entrance and watch the sunrise through the trees. As the darkness dwindles, the woods begin to come alive with the song of birds. Among the first I hear are cheerful "fee-bee" songs of Black-capped Chickadees.


As I mentioned in an earlier post, I located a pair of chickadees diligently excavating a nesting cavity along the corridor trail. Nearly every time I walk by the spot with the sloped tree they've selected, one or both of them are engaged in the effort. Even so, it may not be the only cavity they're working on! Often times, one is busily excavating while the other seems less enthusiastic about the project, watching the hard work of its mate from a nearby branch.


I haven't observed them long enough to discern if the distribution of work has been equal. But I did notice that the chickadees would pause for a few seconds once they've released the bits of wood from their bills into the stream below – a perfect digiscoping opportunity! And that's what I did this morning.


I admire Black-capped Chickadees. From their endurance over the winter months to their energetic behavior - they really are magnificent and beautiful little songbirds. Also amazing are their extraordinary complex warning vocalizations:

"Researchers found that the chickadees responded differently to predators of different sizes. Small raptors such as pygmy owls, for example, elicited the most frenzied chickadee danger calls. The alarms were punctuated with several extra 'dees' at the end of the 'chick-a-dee' call."

Sure, the flashy migratory birds are awesome, but I’m compelled to pay tribute and give respect to the frisky little birds that stay with us all year as well!

All images © 2008 Mike McDowell

Friday, April 04, 2008

Two Birds for Friday



I birded the Pheasant Branch stream corridor with Dottie this morning for about an hour. We found more Yellow-rumped Warblers as well as the Louisiana Waterthrush. Other birds included Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Fox Sparrows, Wood Ducks and many of the other usual suspects. Dottie had to head to work around 8am, so I went to the prairie on the north side of the conservancy and digiscoped an Eastern Bluebird and Song Sparrow. These images were taken with a Swarovski AT80HD and Nikon Coolpix 8400.



All images © 2008 Mike McDowell

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Early Bird for the Early Birder!


NexRad frame from 04/03/2008

I can't recall ever having anything other than a Yellow-rumped Warbler as my first warbler of spring migration, but today proved the exception. I checked a few weather maps before going to bed last night. I noticed that wind changed to a southerly direction, and NexRad indicated detectable levels of bird migration coming out of Illinois. When I woke up this morning, I rushed to the computer and animated several hours of NexRad, indicating steady migration throughout the night. From this data, I predicted there would be many new arrivals at Pheasant Branch Conservancy.

Arriving at 7:00 a.m., my first new arrival was a Hermit Thrush foraging right along the trail, and then a Winter Wren's voice grabbed my attention. A little further down the trail I came upon a group of Wood Ducks perched high up in the trees. Fox Sparrows were present in good numbers, foraging on the ground alongside of Song Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos. A few Eastern Phoebes were singing, too.

As I stood along the stream, I prepared to digiscope a Black-capped Chickadee that was busy working on clearing out a cavity in the side of a decaying tree. All of a sudden I was alerted to a loud chip-note. As the bird responsible for the call flew past me, I instantly knew it was one of two species. I was all set with my digiscoping gear and snapped away once the bird finally came to rest on a partially submerged log near the stream bank. After I getting a few ID-worthy shots, I studied the bird through my spotting scope: very pink legs, clear white throat and a bold supercillium. Then it sang and ended the ID challenge.

Louisiana Waterthrush!


Louisiana Waterthrush - Pheasant Branch: 4/03/2008

Fast-forward to work: I checked the record early arrivals for this species on WSO's website. There are three records before April 7th:

1. March 30, 1988 – Manitowoc, Charles R. Sontag
2. April 3, 1998 – Waushara, Mark S. Peterson
3. April 4, 1948 – Milwaukee, Gordon H. Orians

Rewind back to Pheasant Branch: Just moments after successfully digiscoping the waterthrush, I heard a Yellow-rumped Warbler and then watched it fly across the corridor trail and perch in willow tree. Warblers! The excitement has begun, but was over for me. I checked my watch and had to get to work. Time flies when you're seeing great birds!

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Mallard
Cooper's Hawk
Killdeer
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Barred Owl
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Winter Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Louisiana Waterthrush
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch

Louisiana Waterthrush © 2008 Mike McDowell

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Hello April!



I haven't birded since Saturday and have no updates, news or photographs to share for this first day of April. Plus, it's been overcast and rainy – very unsatisfactory for my type of photography. Still, because this has been such a hard winter, I wanted to post something to celebrate the passing of March. In that spirit, here's a series re-posted from my digiscoping gallery of a Yellow-rumped Warbler bathing in the stream at Pheasant Branch Conservancy / April 2004. These spritely birds will soon return to the stream corridor – by the hundreds and thousands – and that's something worthy of celebration.



There are multiple reasons I photograph birds, and near the top is a notion of reliving certain experiences and memories. That's so obvious, though, and no doubt why photography of any kind is such a popular pastime. This Yellow-rumped Warlber series is one such memory I recall with great fondness and awe. Surrounded by warblers, their cheery songs emanated from the treetops and the understory. Then, as if on que, bunches of warblers descended onto the stream to bathe. I sat there on the edge of the bank, as warbler after warbler perched on branches directly in front of me before heading down to the water.









All images © 2008 Mike McDowell