Saturday, May 31, 2008

Prairie Therapy


A morning excursion to the prairie at Governor Nelson State Park produced one of my favorite birds – the Grasshopper Sparrow. Clear blue skies gave way to clouds and the sparrow seemed to be more prone to posing when light was obscured. Still, it's hard to complain. It's uncommon for this species to offer such a close-up inspection of the intricate detail of its plumage:


Bobolinks, Eastern Kingbirds and Eastern Meadowlarks complimented the sparrow's insect-like song to form a veritable grassland bird chorus. Content with what I could get for photos, I spent the remainder of the morning exploring the woods and oak savannah. But before leaving, I paid a final visit to the Grasshopper Sparrow and admired it through my spotting scope for a while. The bird's business of flying from one perch to another to belt out its song provides the kind of enjoyment and entertainment no movie or book can capture - it's just you and the bird amid a sea of waving prairie.



Governor Nelson State Park - May 31st, 2008:

Canada Goose
Turkey Vulture
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Belted Kingfisher
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
Willow Flycatcher
Least Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Sedge Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Eastern Bluebird
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
American Redstart
Mourning Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Field Sparrow
Grasshopper Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Bobolink
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
American Goldfinch

All images © 2008 Mike McDowell

Monday, May 26, 2008

Birdy Backyard


Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

There were some enjoyable feathered surprises in our backyard today. After finishing a few important projects in my office that required the computer, I spent the rest of the day on our deck listening (and sometimes watching) for birds while reading Bridget Stutchbury's book, “Silence of the Songbirds” (recommended reading, by the way). A Magnolia Warbler first heard very early this morning was present. I never did get to see it, but judging by the direction of its songs, the warbler was pretty busy doing laps around our yard most of the day. The only other warbler present was an American Redstart. Then another song caught my attention and I recognized its peeup peeup notes almost immediately - it was a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. If my recollection is correct, this is the first time we've ever had one in our backyard. Hours passed before I finally decided to document the flycatcher and hauled out the digiscoping gear, capturing it in late afternoon light.


Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

Backyard Birds – 05/26/2008:

Turkey Vulture
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Mourning Dove
Common Nighthawk
Chimney Swift
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
Warbling Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Bank Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
House Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing
Magnolia Warbler
American Redstart
Chipping Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2008 Mike McDowell

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Beautiful Places


Baxter's Hollow

I spent most of Saturday and Sunday birding with Sylvia, Dottie and Mark at natural areas in Dane, Sauk, Iowa and Rock Counties. Though I do the majority of my birding at Pheasant Branch Conservancy, there are places in Wisconsin within an hour's drive of Waunakee that are simply too beautiful to miss this time of year. Though we found 100 bird species, the only digiscoping I did was a video of a Hooded Warbler at Baxter's Hollow - it was a real treat to watch. With so many birds, wildflowers, insects, scenic vistas, creeks and waterfalls; it's difficult to know what to write and I'm too tired to put much energy into this rather diminutive post.


Spring Green Prairie


Governor Dodge State Park


Hooded Warbler

Images and video © 2008 Mike McDowell

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Short Break


Blue-winged Warbler

The "problem" with enjoying spring migration so completely (birding mornings and evenings) is that there's little time left for blogging (or much of anything else, for that matter). So, as Jeff Bouton would say, this is an official "blogligated" post. Well, there are a few things I can mention. First, after a slow start, we ended up with 19 warbler species on the Madison Audubon field trip yesterday. This morning I decided to take a break from birding. Yes. You read that right. May 14th, peak of spring migration, and I took the morning off. Ever since the cold virus I had a few weeks ago my lungs have been giving me a little grief, but I'm feeling a bit better today after sleeping in this morning. I'll be substituting for Jesse Peterson on tomorrow's Audubon warbler walk at Pheasant Branch with Aaron Stutz. This time I promise we won't cross Century Avenue.

Do you manage your time well during spring migration?

Bird too much? Not enough?

Blue-winged Warbler © 2008 Mike McDowell

Monday, May 12, 2008

Sunday Evening Birding

Scarlet Tanager (male)

Arriving home from the Horicon Marsh Birding Festival yesterday, I read a report on the Wisconsin Birding Network that several Black-throated Blue Warblers were found at Pheasant Branch Conservancy. This is probably the warbler I covet the most. I called Dottie and Sylvia, but had to leave each of them a message about the birds at the stream corridor. Off I went!

Within minutes of arriving, I was able to find a beautiful singing male Black-throated Blue, but the bird disappeared before I could get my digiscoping gear setup. About 20 minutes later Dottie’s husband Mark showed up and we continued to bird the east section of the corridor trail hoping to relocate the elusive warbler. Eventually Dottie, Sylvia and a few other birders joined in the search, but it was beginning to look like the others wouldn’t get a glimpse of the bird.

Scarlet Tanager (female)

Birding the west trail, we found a pair of Scarlet Tanagers that made very cooperative photographic subjects. We also found a Magnolia Warbler, a few American Redstarts and a gorgeous Bay-breasted Warbler. After a while, it seemed like we were finding the same birds over and over, so we went back to the east trail. I was getting tired of lugging my spotting scope and tripod around, so I stashed it in my car before giving the Black-throated Blue a final search effort.

I explored the upper trail while the rest of the group was just below on the main trail. Within minutes, I could hear excited birders celebrating. I made a mad dash across the stream, hopping over a line of partially submerged rocks. Sure enough, the Black-throated Blue Warbler reappeared for the group. I followed it up to a side trail where we enjoyed watching it forage from only 20 feet away in great light. It would have been an outstanding digiscoping opportunity, but I’ll settle for the tanager images this time!

Location: Pheasant Branch
Observation date: 5/11/08
Number of species: 54

Wood Duck
Mallard
Turkey Vulture
Cooper's Hawk
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Barred Owl
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Least Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
House Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Veery
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
Golden-winged Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Northern Parula
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Palm Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Ovenbird
Northern Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Scarlet Tanager
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
American Goldfinch

Scarlet Tanager images © 2008 Mike McDowell

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Which is correct?



Harris's Sparrow, Harris' Sparrow, or Harris Sparrow?

"We are as often injured as benefited by our systems, for, to speak the truth, no human system is a true one, and a name is at most a mere convenience and carries no information with it. As soon as I begin to be aware of the life of any creature, I at once forget its name. To know the names of creatures is only a convenience to us at first, but so soon as we have learned to distinguish them, the sooner we forget their names the better, so far as any true appreciation of them is concerned."

- Henry David Thoreau

Do you agree with Thoreau?

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Scarlet Tanagers Return!



Ahhh! There's nothing quite like a Scarlet Tanager in the sunlight!

Location: Pheasant Branch
Observation date: 5/6/08
Notes: Stream Corridor
Number of species: 67

Wood Duck
Mallard
Double-crested Cormorant
Turkey Vulture
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Barred Owl
Chimney Swift
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Least Flycatcher
Yellow-throated Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
House Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Swainson's Thrush
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Blue-winged Warbler
Golden-winged Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Northern Parula
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Cape May Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Palm Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Ovenbird
Northern Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Scarlet Tanager
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
Purple Finch
House Finch
American Goldfinch

Scarlet Tanager © 2008 Mike McDowell

Monday, May 05, 2008

Garlic Mustard


Garlic Mustard

Every spring I observe birders with good intentions pull Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) at Pheasant Branch Conservancy, but then leave piles of the invasive plant along the trail. This is a particularly nasty and resilient plant and to say that garlic mustard is prolific along the corridor trail is an understatement. If you're going to pull the plants, please bag and remove them from the conservancy – do not simply leave them lying on the ground. Plants that are pulled and left behind may still set seed and by doing so you may be unwittingly contributing to the garlic mustard infestation along the stream corridor.


One of the many Garlic Mustard Gardens at Pheasant Branch

When it rains, running water may wash the pulled plants (or seeds) off the gravel trail back to the soil. Also, not everybody who walks the trail knows what these piles of plants are and may kick them off the trail. With hundreds of thousands (probably millions) of garlic mustard plants, pulling a few dozen of them isn't going to dent the problem. But those who are pulling the plants out by the hundreds should plan on bringing bags and carrying them out of the corridor.


These plants might wash into the stream next rainfall.

Link: Invasive Plants Association of Wisconsin

All images © 2008 Mike McDowell

A few weekend Photos...


Yellow-rumped Warbler


Palm Warbler


American Pipit


Wilson's Phalarope

All images © 2008 Mike McDowell

Friday, May 02, 2008

No Border Wall



As many other birder bloggers are doing, I'm posting about the completely asinine Texas Border Wall our federal government plans to install along the Rio Grande River. In the process, they're going to severely compromise and destroy sensitive habitat, and literally hand Sabal Palm Sanctuary over to Mexico. Many other natural areas and wildlife in the region will be adversely impacted and you can read about the whole awful mess at No Border Wall website and blog. It may be too late to do anything about it, but there is now an on-line petition you can sign to express disapproval of the planned destruction.

Link: Sign the Audubon Action Petition

Link: Sabal Palm Sanctuary

Link: No Texas Border Wall

Thursday, May 01, 2008

May 1st Field Trip Results!


Participants of this morning's Madison Audubon field trip at Pheasant Branch were thrilled to see a beautiful male Cerulean Warbler foraging low. We had 9 other warbler species this morning, including Blue-winged Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler (sang later), and both waterthrush species. Thanks to all who attended and helped make it a special day!

Here's a frame/screen capture last night's bird migration on NexRad:


Link: NexRad (radar) Ornithology Tutorial

Location: Pheasant Branch
Observation date: 5/1/08
Notes: Madison Audubon Field Trip
Number of species: 55

Wood Duck
Mallard
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Killdeer
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Barred Owl
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Carolina Wren
House Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Veery
Gray-cheeked Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Blue-winged Warbler
Golden-winged Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Palm Warbler
Cerulean Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Northern Waterthrush
Louisiana Waterthrush
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Red-winged Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
Purple Finch
House Finch
American Goldfinch

Cerulean Warbler © Robin Street-Morris