Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Drainage Pond



Early this morning I carried my digiscoping rig a few blocks from my apartment to the Market Street drainage pond I mentioned yesterday. A single Solitary Sandpiper remained. There were also a few Spotted Sandpipers and Least Sandpipers. The Lesser Yellowlegs must have moved on after last night's storm, but I'm sure there will be more. In addition to shorebirds, a pleasant surprise was watching this magnificent looking Green Heron forage along the pond bank.







Here's a Least Sandpiper:









Some key elements comprising a good digiscoping outdoor studio for shorebirds and other waders: This is a morning location because there's no trail access on the west side of the pond, but the angle on the east side is terrific. A nice mix of mudflats, water, and shoreline for colorful composition and reflections. There's natural cover just a few feet from the trail with several openings to photograph through, allowing you to get close to birds without disturbing them.

All images © 2009 Mike McDowell

Monday, July 27, 2009

Mammatus over Middleton

Severe thunderstorms and a couple tornadoes rolled through southern Wisconsin this evening. Most of Dane County was spared, but we sure could have used the rain. Just after sunset, the sky transformed into a stunning light show as the system moved through our area. These spectacular mammatus clouds often follow severe weather and make cool photographic subjects:







© 2009 Mike McDowell

The Highs and the Lows

Solitary Sandpiper

I saw my first "fall" migrants while biking to work this morning, foraging at a drainage pond with suitable mudflats near Market Street. After reports of shorebirds arriving in Wisconsin at Horicon, I figured it would be only a matter of days until a few southbound birds would discover the relatively isolated oasis. I found Solitary Sandpipers and Lesser Yellowlegs, but there were also Great Blue Herons, Killdeer, Ring-billed Gulls, Canada Geese, and a variety of songbirds around the pond's edge.

The bike route I take when commuting to work consists of side streets, bike trails, dirt trails, and part highway. I was extremely elated to see these shorebirds this morning, knowing it will make a great spot for digiscoping that's very close to my apartment. However, my elation was temporary. I came upon a freshly killed Song Sparrow at the short section of Highway 14 I traverse before turning into the business park. Last week I found a dead Northern Cardinal and Barn Swallow at this same spot.

Yesterday I did a 20-mile bike ride over country roads north of Middleton. I found dead Savannah Sparrows, Barn Swallows, and American Robins (mostly juveniles). But I also observed many living birds, including Great Blue Heron, Red-tailed Hawk, Sandhill Crane, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Eastern Kingbird, Warbling Vireo, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Field Sparrow, and Dickcissel. Happy, sad, happy, sad, happy, sad.

Birding and trying to be environmentally green can be mutually exclusive, but I am finding it increasingly difficult to personally justify driving my car when visiting natural area for the purpose of viewing and photographing birds - the carnage along our roads is really quite disturbing and stifles any sense of enjoyment I might otherwise derive. But I'm not there yet. It's an ideal I will likely fall short of for the rest of my life. Lest we forget, generally what's bad for birds can be bad for other animals as well. Though I blog primarily about the plight of birds, there are high numbers of mammal road kills, too.

When relocating out of necessity, I intentionally chose an apartment close to where I work and bird (Pheasant Branch Conservancy). One practical benefit from biking to work is that it was mid-June when last I filled the gas tank of my Toyota Corolla. I realize my personal situation is the exception and the overwhelming majority of people have to commute via automobile because biking to work just isn't practical. Come winter, though, I will be far less inclined to give up the convenience of being warm, but I may try snow biking! I'll likely snowshoe to work a few times, too.

In the struggle for existence, it's birds that keep losing. Does a loser necessarily imply a winner? And if so, is it us? What are we really winning? I confess an inclination to photograph dead birds I find along roads and post the pictures to my blog, but I also feel it would be somewhat disrespectful. But if I ever were to do so, I would likely have the bird out of focus in the foreground, very low profile angle to get cars in the photo, and the setting sun in the background. Can you visualize it? But what would I write to accompany this image? Perhaps nothing. Just let the picture tell it.


Sixty million birds die via collision with automobiles each year. This is a difficult number to visualize, but if we placed one dead bird every square foot, the total space covered would be 2 square miles. When I saw the dead Song Sparrow this morning, I pondered and speculated about its life. From where did it migrate? How many seasons did it have? Was it a parent? It probably began its day like most others; waking before sunrise, singing from a perch as stars slowly faded into the dawn sky. In what would be its last, it asserted itself to take wing, perhaps to get something to eat or claim territory on the other side of the highway. The sparrow had a story. But now, like the cardinal, it's story isn't actually over. I will see it transform daily from what first appeared as an intact sleeping bird to become a flattened pile of brown feathers. As for the cardinal, its bright red is still detectable, but stained by dirt and dried blood.

© 2009 Mike McDowell

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Late July Birding



It was a perfect morning to admire an azure summer sky, cottony clouds, and the comfort of a cool breeze. Now Bergamot, Queen Anne's-lace, and various coneflowers decorate the landscape at Pheasant Branch Conservancy's prairies and savanna, complimented by an assortment of butterflies; Monarchs, Black Swallowtails, skippers, and fritillaries.



Late July birding can be an enjoyable exercise in detecting what's present as well as what's absent. Yellow Warblers, so numerous only last month, seem to have already left their summer home. Clay-colored Sparrows were notably silent. Common Yellowthroats remain plentiful with adult males given to singing and young birds sounding alarm calls around every bend and thicket.



Sedge Wrens are still singing (do they ever stop?). Gray Catbirds are mewing. The lively songs of Indigo Buntings and Field Sparrows are punctuated with Eastern Kingbird and Willow Flycatcher calls; sounds that roll beautifully over the fields.



Two juvenile Red-tailed Hawks chased as an adult circled above on the lookout for a meal. One young hawk opted to take a loop around the prairie while its sibling demonstrated a preference to perch. I couldn't guess why they split up, but it wasn't long before the three raptors reunited, hovering in the wind above the western slope of the drumlin.



Location: Pheasant Branch
Observation date: 7/25/09
Number of species: 40

Mallard
Turkey Vulture
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Willow Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Sedge Wren
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Common Yellowthroat
Field Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2009 Mike McDowell

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Solitary Places



Touch the earth, love the earth,
her plains, her valleys, her hills,
and her seas;
rest your spirit in her solitary places.
For the gifts of life are the earth's
and they are given to all...

- Henry Beston

Wildflowers © 2009 Mike McDowell

Friday, July 17, 2009

Nikon Coolpix P6000



You just can't argue with Kevin Bolton's digiscoping results. Based on the fantastic images he's been able to capture over the past year, I think the Nikon Coolpix P6000 is the digital camera of choice if you own a Kowa or Swarovski spotting scope and you want to start digiscoping in style.

Kevin uses a Kowa 88 Prominar scope and the DA10 digiscoping adapter, which connects via Nikon's UR-E21 accessory adapter and a 43mm Kowa adapter ring. If you’re using a Swarovski spotting scope and want to use the P6000, you'll use their DCA, but the BOW-A4652N6 accessory adapter instead of the Nikon UR-E21. This is because the 43mm adapter ring included with the DCA isn't quite wide enough for the P6000's lens to fit through.



Have a great weekend!

Prairie Warbler © 2009 Kevin Bolton

Resistance is Futile!



Are you on Facebook? Now you an become a fan of Eagle Optics!

Even if you're not on Facebook, you can still view our fan page. We're going to use the page as a way of keeping in touch with customers. In the future, look for birding news, sales specials, upcoming birding festivals, product reviews, and general Q&A on binocualrs, spotting scopes, tripods, digiscoping, etc.

Mike M.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Senate Committee Passes Bill to Conserve Rapidly Disappearing Migratory Birds



A step in the right direction...

"The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has passed S. 690, which reauthorizes the existing Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act (NMBCA) at significantly higher levels to meet the growing needs of our migrant birds, many of which are in rapid decline. Senate Environment and Public Works Ranking Member, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), a frequent critic of providing more government funding for conservation programs raised an objection to the higher authorization levels in the bill. The bipartisan bill, sponsored by Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Michael Crapo (R-ID), now moves to debate in the full Senate. Representative Ron Kind (D-WI) has introduced similar legislation in the House of Representatives."

Link: Full Article from the American Bird Conservancy

Kentucky Warbler © 2009 Mike McDowell

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Legislation to Ensure Bird Killers Become Jailbirds



"It was one of the most shocking and sickening scourges of bird-related crime since Congress passed the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918. A 14-month undercover investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's law enforcement division revealed that thousands of peregrine falcons, Cooper's hawks, and red-tailed hawks were deliberately killed in California, Oregon, and Washington. The culprits were members of 'roller pigeon clubs' -- enthusiasts of domestic pigeons specially bred for their seizure-like ability to do rapid backward somersaults while flying. To protect their aerial acrobats from any chance encounter with a predator, these callous club members killed the protected birds of prey by shooting, trapping, poisoning, clubbing, baiting birds into glass panels, and even baiting birds with pigeons rigged with fishing hooks."

Link: Full Article from The Huffingtonpost.com

Past blogs about Rollers:

Link: "Winged Thugs"

Link: Birds of Prey and Rollers

Link: Rollers back in the News

Cooper's Hawk © Mike McDowell

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Swarovski UCA



Swarovski Optik has come out with new digiscoping adapter that supports point-and-shoot digital cameras and DSLRs. The Swarovski Universal Camera Adapter (UCA) represents a huge improvement over the Digital Camera Base (DCB) in terms of compactness and ease of use. Also, it will support more point-and-shoot digital camera models than the Digital Camera Adapter (DCA). Fortunately for AT/ST series spotting scope owners, the UCA will work provided you use Swarovski's adapter sleeve.



Monday, July 06, 2009

eBird Tip

Let's say you want to find out if a certain species of bird has been reported in a particular area, perhaps all the locations within a county. There's a way in eBird to do just exactly that. For this example we'll search for Savannah Sparrow in Dane County, Wisconsin.

Once you're on eBird, follow these steps:

1. View and Explore Data.
2. Maps.
3. Select Species and Continue (type 'savannah sparrow').
4. Change Location.
5. Select a region (Wisconsin).
6. Select a sub-region (Counties in Wisconsin).
7. Select "Dane" and Continue.
8. Wait for markers to load...


Presto! Now you can zoom in or out on the map and find out where other eBirders have reported Savannah Sparrow.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Then July



Spring was full of bounty!
So much grandeur for the eyes.
Some mysteries were answered,
others remain in Nature's keep.

Nature's secrets and clues.
I believe they're limitless.
With each answer, another layer,
pealed back, another puzzle.

Beneath the leaves,
or kneeling in the grass.
Admiring fresh wings in the skies.
This perpetual conversation.

Can you hear Nature's whisper?
Does it beckon you?
Sometimes, though, I hear her cry.
Are we hearing? Are we listening?

There is, I believe, great peace,
but also sadness in Nature's embrace.
Through all the seasons,
she still manages to carry me.

Link: Overturned

© 2009 Mike McDowell