I had Friday off work and went on a mid-morning bike ride along the Pheasant Branch Conservancy creek corridor trail. Though I wasn't expecting much in the way of migrant birds because of a weak NexRad migration reading the previous night, I brought along my binoculars just in case.
A precursor to how the birding might be further down the corridor was when I happened upon a beautiful Golden-winged Warbler near Parmenter Street. A little further down the trail and I came upon a Swainson's Thrush. Then, just after Park Street, the warblers were everywhere, "dripping from the trees" as they say. Most numerous were American Restarts and Chestnut-sided Warblers, but at one point I had 3 Canada Warblers in the field of view of my binocular. Golden-winged Warblers were poking their bills into clumps of dangling dead leaves, hopeful of a concealed spider or caterpillar inside. Several Blackburnian Warblers, some still showing their fiery orange, were higher up in the canopy. A Mourning Warbler was skulking in the thicket below. It's fascinating to observe the specialized foraging behavior and habitat preference of each species.
Fortunately for me, the flock was stationary and remained near the first stream crossing for over an hour, giving me plenty of time to ensure I didn't miss identifying a bird. Also part of the flock were Red-eyed Vireos, Black-capped Chickadees (of course), and even a Scarlet Tanager. As I told my field trip participants on Thursday, "Find the chickadees and you'll find the warblers." I'm not entirely sure why they associate, perhaps it's because the chickadees are so vocal when foraging and warblers pick up on this.
Location: Pheasant Branch Observation date: 8/28/09 Number of species: 50
Several days ago at Pheasant Branch Conservancy, Dottie Johnson and I were watching an agitated Ovenbird scolding something we weren't able to see in the dense canopy. But then suddenly a young Barred Owl flew into plain view from a concealed perch. Obviously the source of its ire, the Ovenbird remained dissatisfied even with the owl's new locale. The warbler followed the ambivalent owl and continued harassing it with berating calls. A few moments later, the Barred Owl leapt up (above video), swooped down, flying directly over our heads, and landing on the creek shoreline just behind us. It casually walked into the water and began drinking! How cool is that? Having no other way to record this unusual observation, these video clips were taken via my Nikon Coolpix 8400 hand-held to my Swarovski 8x32 binocular. I didn't have my spotting scope or tripod with me, so they're a tad shaky.
Sylvia Marek recalled last summer I was searching for crab spiders to photograph, so she gave me a call when discovering several of them on some goldenrod at the UW Arboretum this weekend. While all arachnids fascinate me, jumping spiders and crab spiders are my favorite.
Many spiders, especially orb weavers, really don't seem to do much until something becomes entangled in their web. But crab spiders hunt and ambush their prey, rendering a certain style to their movement that makes me feel like they know something as I observe them. Also, crab spiders seem to behave more deliberately with age. The young ones are often so fast and flighty that photographing them is next to impossible. But adults only move when necessary and can be very cooperative subjects. Even when they encounter danger, instead of retreating they seem predisposed to holding their ground and rewarding observers with a menacing threat display by holding their front legs outstretched.
What's not to love about them?
On my way home from the arboretum, I found a family of Sandhill Cranes foraging in the field across the street from my apartment. They were lovely digiscoping subjects and my final outdoor activity for what was a truly beautiful weekend. I watched the cranes until they decided to move to some habitat near Esser Pond.
Well, they're not really my robins, but I've been listening and watching them all spring and summer, casually, most of the time, but more intently on occasion. I observed them when they arrived and when they began building nests throughout the courtyard. I was fortunate to have a nest in the arborvitae right outside my bedroom window. However, I remember one June morning I left my window open and was awoken at 3:30 a.m. by a very enthusiastic singer. I love my robins, really, but this was a bit early even for me.
Another robin took habit of perching on my balcony railing post. He'd sing from it while I made myself breakfast and freshly brewed coffee. Occasionally he flew down to take a sip of rainwater that collected in my boot tray on my balcony. I heard the begging calls of their young; they must have had at least two broods, perhaps even a third. Now I wish I had paid attention more closely, but I was still ever mindful of their presence. In recent late evenings I would notice several robins perched atop the roofs of nearby apartment buildings. Presumably there were some perched on my building as well. Watching them through my spotting scope, it seemed like they were keeping their gaze fixed on the setting sun. Was it time, yet? No. Not yet.
Then one morning, just a few days ago, I opened my patio door and took a seat at balcony table. I immediately noticed the robins. From all around my neighborhood, robins were flying quick and nimble, all bound in the same direction. Over a dozen adult robins were calling from rooftop lookouts. They kept coming. More and more showed up and then I realized what I was witnessing - my robins and their kin were preparing for departure.
Calls layered upon calls. And then one by one, but sometimes a few or more at a time, they took flight in a southeasterly direction. They were leaving. It's been a few days and I've only seen one robin in the courtyard since that morning. My singer no longer perches on the balcony post. I can only imagine that by now they're part of a larger flock, perhaps still in some Wisconsin woodland, maybe even Illinois. I have no idea, really. All I know is that the songs have stopped; I hear no more begging calls of young robins, no more morning songs. That which I was mindful of all summer long has abruptly vanished. Now, virtual silence. Well, almost. Gentle sprinkles of fresh rain are beginning to fill the boot tray on my balcony, but it's their brethren to the north who will be next to drink.
"There is one thing that we all must do. If we do everything else but that one thing, we will be lost. And if we do nothing else but that one thing, we will have lived a glorious life."
I hadn't even heard of Pope Farm Park just a few weeks ago, but it's already turning out to be a favorite spot for digiscoping birds and other critters. A stone wall interspersed with wooden stumps that runs north to south helps to make it productive under both morning and evening light. The wall attracts an assortment of insects, so birds are naturally inclined to keep a watchful eye from nearby perches, ready to swoop to the rocks and catch a meal. I haven't come anywhere close to exhausting the potential opportunities and suspect it will become even better as fall songbird migration reaches its apex. Given its proximity to the prairie, gardens, and agricultural fields, it's bound to be a terrific location for sparrows in September and October.
I walked the Pheasant Branch creek corridor for a few hours this morning looking for early migrant songbirds (southbound warblers). Though I didn't even find a single Common Yellowthroat, most of the other typical summer resident birds were present. Notably absent were the Carolina Wrens. They do this to me all the time. Just when I begin to worry they've abandoned the creek corridor, one will perch in the open on a nearby branch, singing its heart out. It shouldn't be much longer and the warbler storm will be underway!
Location: Pheasant Branch Observation date: 8/11/09 Number of species: 27
Last evening I went for a peaceful walk at Pope Farm Park to decompress. Resting at one of the picnic tables overlooking a field of sunflowers, my naturalist's instincts took over as I ran through the names of all I was observing. It's what naturalists do, I suppose. But there are many ways I enjoy such scenery. In one context, it's like taking a quiz; how many things can I identify? There were the various plants, wildflowers, and trees, butterflies, bumblebees and other insects, birds by sight and song, and small mammals like ground squirrels and rabbits. How about the clouds? But there's another context in which to enjoy things: watching as if we humans hadn't yet labeled the wild and the wilderness with names we've given to them. I imagine I'm an early pioneer or explorer stumbling upon nature's bounty in this region for the first time in our history. Hey! How did that stone wall get here? Finally, as my thought experiment progresses, I'll try to ponder how such a scene would be experienced if this were my first visit to Earth, where no human conventions influence my thoughts. It's difficult to do, perhaps even impossible, but it's a mental exercise I enjoy partaking in. Lost in blissful contemplation, I was startled when a dozen Ring-necked Pheasants took wing and gliding from atop the hill into the sunflower patch below.
There's nothing quite like observing huge Thunderhead (cumulonimbus) clouds roiling against a deep blue sky. From miles away, the intense atmospheric instability is beautiful and calming. Well, I suppose that depends whether it's approaching or leaving. I almost always experience a sense of nervousness whenever a thunderstorm looms on the horizon, yet it's not altogether an unpleasant feeling. I love storms. Yet, I'm aware directly beneath it people, birds, and other critters are probably getting pummeled with high winds, heavy rain, lightning, and perhaps hail. Perhaps some will even perish. That's how it is with nature. From a safe distance, potentially dangerous things (because we've learned them to be as such) have won our respect; the powerful force of a tornado, the spectacular energy of lightning. Similar sensations can be experienced throughout nature’s realm, whether a bear in the wilderness or spotting a shark in the depths below while snorkeling.
Madison Audubon Society Fall Warbler Walk at Pheasant Branch Thursday, Aug. 27th, 2009
Walk at Pheasant Branch Conservancy with Mike McDowell at the beginning of fall bird migration. Expect to see warblers, vireos, flycatchers and other migrants. Bring comfortable shoes for a 2-hour walk. Meet at 7:00 a.m. in Middleton at the dead-end street by Parisi Park (where Park Lawn St. and Park St. meet.) Rain or shine.
Early this morning I returned to the Market Street drainage pond and found it bustling with shorebirds. There were Least Sandpipers, Pectoral Sandpipers, Spotted Sandpipers, Solitary Sandpipers, Lesser Yellowlegs, Killdeer, and a single Semipalmated Plover. I carefully reclaimed my digiscoping spot along the willow edge and went to work.
With a sense of urgency, several of the birds stayed only long enough to refuel and then took flight in a southeastern direction. Calling as they flew above me, a small flock of Solitary Sandpipers were followed closely by some of the Lesser Yellowlegs. However, much to my delight, fresh arrivals from the north replenished their numbers. It's fascinating to watch a piece of migration in progress.
As I was photographing, I heard songs and calls of other birds; Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Song Sparrow, and Eastern Kingbird. There were lots of swallows, too, including Barn Swallow, Tree, Swallow, and Cliff Swallow. I can’t wait to see what shows up next at this diminutive pond!