Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Save our Boreal Birds



Some of you may have already signed this petition, as I've blogged about it before. Dave emailed this appeal to try and obtain more signatures in order to reach 70,000 by May 12th.

Hi Mike,

I wanted to know if I could ask a favor of you. The Boreal Songbird Initiative, along with other environmental groups like Bird Studies Canada, Nature Canada, the David Suzuki Foundation, among others created a petition called "Save our Boreal Birds" a little over a year ago. This petition will be sent to the Prime Minister of Canada and many provincial leaders, and asks that vital bird habitat be kept intact despite the fact that over 30% of the Boreal Forest has already been designated for development. As you may know, many migratory birds that travel through the US and other countries breed in the Boreal Forest to the north.

We're launching the petition on May 12th, and are currently at about 60,000 signatures. We're trying to get up to 70,000 before the launch. Is there any way you could post a link to the petition on your blog? If this isn't something you would normally post, could you sign the petition and send it to your friends? There is a page following the sign page where you can upload your email contacts and check the ones you want to invite.

http://saveourborealbirds.org/sign.html

We're so close to 70,000! Anything you can do to help get a few more signatures would be greatly appreciated. Also, feel free to email or call if you have questions (info below).

Thank you for your time,

David

David Childs
Boreal Songbird Initiative &
The International Boreal Conservation Campaign
1904 Third Avenue, Suite 305
Seattle, Washington 98101
http://www.borealbirds.org/
http://www.interboreal.org/

Palm Warbler © 2009 Mike McDowell

Monday, April 27, 2009

Geek Bird



Our group of birders has been enjoying the return of Green Herons for the past few days. You know, call'm whatever you want, Green Heron, Green-backed Heron, or Little Green Heron, I like to refer to them as Geek Bird. I mean, what's up with this bird? It's green and copper, it has orange legs and feet, and its head and bill seem just a bit oversized for its body. I think the dang bird looks like some kind of alien from an early Warner Brother's cartoon or something. Green Herons are known to use bait to help them catch prey in the water, which may be an example of actual tool use for a bird – they really look like they know exactly what they're doing and I find this a little disconcerting for some reason. Most of the time they're pretty shy, but can occasionally surprise you with rather gregarious behavior. Sincerely, I do really mean “geek bird” most affectionately. They really are a spectacular looking and behaving bird.

© 2009 Mike McDowell

Friday, April 24, 2009

More New Arrivals

Palm Warbler

Last night's migration was pretty intense and brought many new arrivals to Pheasant Branch Conservancy. I had FOS (first of spring) SPOTTED SANDPIPER, YELLOW WARBLER, LOUSISANA WATERTHRUSH, ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER, PALM WARBLER, GRAY CATBIRD, HOUSE WRENS, and OSPREY. There was a substantial influx of WHITE-THROATED SPARROWS, and presently a WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW is foraging at our feeders at Eagle Optics. Other birds at Pheasant Branch included BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER, EASTERN TOWHEE, BROWN THRASHER, PINE WARBLER, and lots of YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS.

Location: Pheasant Branch
Observation date: 4/24/09
Number of species: 51

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Mallard
Blue-winged Teal
Great Blue Heron
Osprey
Cooper's Hawk
Killdeer
Spotted Sandpiper
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Orange-crowned Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Pine Warbler
Palm Warbler
Louisiana Waterthrush
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch

© 2009 Mike McDowell

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Lucky!



Of all the songbirds I've ever digiscoped, I think kinglets rank among the most difficult. They're hardly ever still for more than 1/10th of a second. The only way I've ever successfully digiscoped them has been through the practice of trying to anticipate what perch they're going to fly to next. Well, most of the time it doesn't work, but occasionally I get lucky, as I did yesterday with this Ruby-crowned Kinglet.



On the other hand, Yellow-rumped Warblers may be one of the easiest warblers to photograph because they frequently pause on a perch between sorties. Though serious business for the warbler, it's quite entertaining watching them grab several flying insects from a swarm in a single pass.



Yesterday's biggest surprise was finding this Black-crowned Night Heron just before the entrance to the retention ponds. I've only ever seen this species one other time before at Pheasant Branch Conservancy.

Location: Pheasant Branch
Observation date: 4/22/09
Number of species: 37

Mallard
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Broad-winged Hawk
Killdeer
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
European Starling
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Southerly winds tonight – tomorrow should bring great things!

© 2009 Mike McDowell

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Panasonic Lumix G1



Discussion and sample digiscoped images regarding the Panasonic Lumix G1 have been posted to the Yahoo tech group for digiscoping lately. Is this the next great camera for digiscoping? After obtaining his first results, digiscoping extraordinaire Neil Fifer of Hong Kong said it's a worthy successor to the Nikon Coolpix 8400. The kit zoom lens is internally focusing and has a 52mm thread, so it will connect to Swarovski's DCA and Kowa's DA1 and DA10 digiscoping adapters. I'm not sure I'm going to get one just yet, as I remain pretty happy with my 8400. However, if you're in the market for a digital camera for digiscoping, this may be one of the best options available at the present time.

Link: Digiscopingbirds on Yahoo

Link: Review of the Panasonic Lumix G1

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Yellow-rumps Arrive!



Today was a beautiful day spent appreciating rewards nature delivers early spring in southern Wisconsin. Two days of southerly winds held promises with feathers and I was thankful the integral elements of a great birding day came together on my day off! Making it even better was to share it with kindred spirits like Dottie, Bill, and George.



Yellow-rumped Warblers finally arrived en masse, donning fresh suits and singing their sweet spring songs. There were also a few Pine Warblers; great binocular views, but no realistic opportunity to digiscope them. However, I did manage to get a very nice portrait of an American Robin - perhaps my best ever!



Yet the biggest surprise of the morning wasn't even a bird! I was rather shocked to discover a River Otter - the first I've ever observed at the conservancy.



After breakfast, Dottie and I went to the prairie to look at Pasque Flowers and listen to Field Sparrow songs. The ethic of a conservancy, to my way of thinking, is a type of promise we make with nature. When there's a trail on such lands, it marks a boundary best idealized as trust between us and the wild critters that inhabit them. There are good reasons signs are posted throughout the conservancy asking people to stay on the trails.



Location: Pheasant Branch
Observation date: 4/18/09
Number of species: 46

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Mallard
Ring-necked Pheasant
Great Blue Heron
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Pine Warbler
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Purple Finch
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2009 Mike McDowell

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Sights from the Morning









© 2009 Mike McDowell

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Pheasant Branch at Night







And at that very moment, millions of birds were already in the skies:



© 2009 Mike McDowell

Clever little birds...



This morning at the Pheasant Branch stream corridor, two members of JFNew relocated the log that a pair of Black-capped Chickadees has been excavating for the past few weeks. As you can see from my previous post, the loose log was propped up against a gabion wall that's scheduled to be replaced with rootwad next month due to serious erosion problems. Additionally, the log was out in the open and offered too much temptation for the overly curious. After emailing Middleton Public Lands, a decision was made to relocate the log before eggs were laid in the cavity.

The log was moved approximately 30 feet up the bank from its original location, then wedged between the ground and a tree for stability. It's definitely an improved and more inconspicuous location, but would the chickadee pair be able to find it? Three other birders were present as we watched some rather amazing bird behavior.

At first, the chickadee pair were quite panicked. From nearby branches, the two birds kept flying down to where the log used to be, uttering an array of distress calls. This went on for a few minutes, but then the two began expanding the range of flights to and from the original location, choosing higher branches after each pass. Eventually, one of the chickadees spotted the relocated log, inspected the cavity, came back out and gave out a sharp "twip-it" call. Immediately, the other chickadee flew right to the log and the two birds resumed excavating the cavity.

Success!

Black-capped Chickadee © 2009 Mike McDowell

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Denial of Reality



"On March 5, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a scientific petition with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to place the Kittlitz's murrelet on the state list of endangered species. Today the commissioner of the Department of Fish and Game rejected the petition, claiming that there is 'insufficient information' to determine that numbers of Kittlitz's murrelets have decreased to a level that threatens the survival of the species. However, scientific studies clearly show that the species is threatened with extinction."

Kittlitz's Murrelet population numbers have plummeted by 80 to 90 percent in the past 20 years.

Link: Full article from the Center for Biological Diversity

I recall a bumper sticker that read: "If you ignore the environment, it will go away."

Kittlitz's Murrelet image USFWS DLS Library

Saturday, April 11, 2009

21 Murdered Birds Need Justice



"This February 21 federally protected wading birds, including herons, egrets and ibises, were shot for fun by recent graduates of the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md who were enrolled in the Naval Aviation Command in Pensacola, Fla. Seven people were arrested after the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) responded to shots and saw birds falling from the sky. The charges? Three got felony trespassing and the rest received misdemeanor trespassing, while state and federal charges are still pending."

Link: Full article from Care2.com

Great Egret © 2009 Mike McDowell

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Wait for it...







Ya just gotta love Black-capped Chickadees! It was pretty neat watching the pair take turns during this intensely important excavation process. After exiting the cavity, the other bird would enter immediately, just as the above video shows. Demonstrating systematic teamwork, each chickadee released its bits of wood from its bill into the stream from a perch above the water, then patiently wait for the other to exit the cavity.

Unfortunately, this is a rootless log section someone propped against the rock wall. The chickadees claimed it over two weeks ago. However, a few days ago, I caught 3 kids attempting to pick up and toss the log into the stream. Thankfully, I was able to stop them in time. I also emailed Middleton Public Lands because they're planning various bank stabilization projects along the stream corridor. I tagged the log and used a black magic marker to write a note on it not to disturb the chickadees. Now I wonder why I felt obligated to do this at a nature conservancy. Perhaps I shouldn't have done anything and just left the chickadees to their chances.


I also digiscoped this Northern Flicker this morning.

© 2009 Mike McDowell

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Frozen Junco



Walking the trail at Pheasant Branch one recent morning, I came across a Dark-eyed Junco apparently frozen out of fear. It was hunkered on a branch, holding its plumage very tightly to its body. The junco's gaze was fixed and unblinking - it didn't move a muscle. At first I thought how unusual for a junco to be so frightened of a human, but then I began to suspect it must be from some nearby predator. I wasn't more than two feet away from the junco. I spoke aloud, "What has you so terrified, little bird?" Scanning the trees, I soon found the answer. A Sharp-shinned Hawk was perched through a clearing in the branches about 30 feet away from where I was standing with the junco.

I immediately sensed a birding ethical dilemma. Thoughts raced through my mind. Has the sharpie been on this bird for a while? Am I interfering with its ability to catch prey? Should I spare the junco's life? Should I flush the sharpie or the junco? What if I flush the junco and the sharpie goes after it and nails it? I paused for a few moments. There the three of us were, human, hawk, and songbird. I wasn't sure what to do, but obviously there was an outcome.

My question for my blog readers is what would you do in this situation? Would you flush the sharpie? The junco? Would you stand there next to the junco until the sharpie flew off, or would you just quietly and quickly back away from the scene and allow nature take its course? Directly or indirectly, I was involved due to my presence between predator and prey.

Once there are a few comments to this birding ethical dilemma, I'll share the actual outcome.

© 2009 Mike McDowell

Monday, April 06, 2009

Spring Field Trip Schedule - 2009



I saw my first Yellow-rumped Warbler of spring last Friday, which reminded me that it's time to post my spring field trip schedule. The corridor field trips are meeting at 6:00 a.m. at the dead-end near the entrance to Parisi Park where Park Lawn Street meets Park Street (Middleton, WI). The field trip on the 28th of May will meet in the evening at the Dane County parcel of the conservancy about a mile north on Pheasant Branch Road. You can visit the links below for times and additional information. Please contact me if you have any questions about the field trips.

April 30th, 2009 – Pheasant Branch Creek Corridor
May 9th, 2009 – Horicon Marsh Birding Festival
May 10th, 2009 – Horicon Marsh Birding Festival
May 12th, 2009 – Pheasant Branch Creek Corridor
May 14th, 2009 – Pheasant Branch Creek Corridor
May 28th, 2009 – Pheasant Branch Prairie

Link: Madison Audubon Field Trip Information

Link: Horicon Marsh Birding Festival Events

© 2009 Mike McDowell

Friday, April 03, 2009

Waiting and Drinking













Location: Pheasant Branch
Observation date: 4/3/09
Number of species: 29

Wood Duck
Mallard
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
American Robin
Cedar Waxwing
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Common Grackle
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch

© 2009 Mike McDowell

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Waxwing Flock



One flies, and then a few agree.
Several soon follow,
and so goes the flock.

It weaves and flows on the wind.
Gathering, again, in dark branches,
under grey morning skies.



In days I brushed away snow,
as my feet immersed puddles;
spying with a raised umbrella.

In a way, they’ve been my friend.
But I didn’t take their picture,
until, at last, the very end.

© 2009 Mike McDowell