Sunday, June 20, 2010

Spring Ends

Death Camas

The Summer Solstice is tomorrow morning at 6:28 AM. July unleashes the Dog Days and the first southbound migratory birds (mainly shorebirds) will begin their big journey. Yeah, the days will start getting shorter again, but don't despair just yet! In Madison the sun will set tonight at 8:28 PM, but even by the end of July it will set only a mere 18 minutes earlier. Unfortunately, things start to speed up in August with a 7:27 PM sunset by the 31st. From there we go into a bit of a sharp dive so that by the end of October the sun sets at 5:47 PM. We fall back and hour the first Sunday in November, but we know what happens by early December; our morning and evening commutes are in the dark. This is when to experience despair! Take the summer songbirds away, throw a little snow on top, and you have all the ingredients for a case of winter blues. However, I still have a lot of summer photography to get in before the leaves begin to turn.

I spent several hours over the weekend exploring various natural areas around the Madison area. I didn't have to travel any further than the front of my apartment building to get these cool photographs of Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels. Perched on top of a rock, the mother ground squirrel (above) attentively gauged the situation for threats as I digiscoped her pups (below). The little ones seemed innately curious but already have a keen sense of fear and vanished the moment I stepped on any part of sidewalk adjacent to the rock wall where their burrows are.

Butterfly Milkweed

Wood Lily

Meanwhile at nearby prairies, Butterfly Milkweed is nearing peak while Wood Lilies are beginning to fade away. Wildflowers were adorned with Black Swallowtails, Aphrodite Fritillaries, and Monarch Butterflies. A Hackberry Emperor was using its proboscis to gather moisture from the damp dirt trail:

Hackberry Emperor

Hackberry Emperor

For all the incredible beauty I witnessed this spring, this one will be remembered for our exceptional views of Prothonotary Warblers. Once again, Sylvia, Dottie, and I enjoyed a pair of these fantastic birds at a nest cavity on Saturday afternoon.

It was difficult to ascertain what stage they were at, but only the male seemed to be bringing food to the cavity for the female. She spent most of her time on the nest, most likely incubating eggs. Still, this seems sort of late so I wonder if it's a second brood or attempt following a failure.

"Limit the use of recordings and other methods of attracting birds, and never use such methods in heavily birded areas, or for attracting any species that is Threatened, Endangered, or of Special Concern, or is rare in your local area."

-- Principles of Birding Ethics, American Birding Association

I was somewhat dismayed that a birder played a Prothonotary Warbler song to get a better view of the male. There was no legitimate reason to do this around nesting birds and was completely unnecessary as they were giving plenty of good views if one merely stood still for a while. Viewing, capturing stills, and shooting video through my spotting scope was a very rewarding way to document these beautiful warblers without causing much of an imposition on them.

© 2010 Mike McDowell


  1. Longtime fan and follower of your blog -- posting anonymously, because this turns out to be a more contentious issue than I thought.

    It's been less than a year since I made the switch from casual, mostly solitary birdwatcher to happily obsessed birder and Audubon member, and the new-fangled (to me) "bring 'em in with your iPod" approach to birding is freaking me out a bit.

    1) It seems like cheating. Minimal skillz are involved: just follow directions to location X and fire up the iPod.

    2) This can't be good for the birds.

    I was with a local Audubon group for a day trip recently, and the leaders and others played bird calls at every stop. Sometimes they wanted to bring a 'common' species closer for photos. But in one case the bird everyone hoped to see was a rare visitor from out of state, and for several days in a row birders had been posting to forums about "calling it in." Dozens (maybe hundreds) of birders a day, for the better part of a week, had been playing taped calls to draw this poor thing in for a better look. We didn't see it, and who could blame it for leaving the area? That's assuming it didn't drop dead from exhaustion.

    One member of our group was planning to lead a birding trip for another club, and at one point he launched a brief (unprovoked) rant against people who DON'T use taped calls to bring in birds. Rant ended with a loud, "I mean, seriously, what harm can it do?!" Seems to me that it could do a fair amount of harm, especially in the case of so many birders trying to "call in" a bird like the one I mentioned above.

    To be fair, I've been on local Audubon trips where the leaders didn't have apps and didn't encourage their use (though they didn't discourage it, either). These trip leaders have forgotten more about birds than I'll ever know, and honestly, they and some of the most gung-ho iPod app users I've met are people who've done so much for local conservation that I should hang my head for being holier-than-thou. Still...

    Years ago I went on a number of organized birding trips and never saw fewer than a hundred species each day, and that was long before iPods and apps were invented. I like the old-fashioned, iPod-free approach. It seems, I dunno, purer. And better for wildlife, which is supposed to be the major concern, after all.

    I do know of one fantastic local birder who thinks using apps to call birds in is just wrong. I'm with him. I had no idea how common the iPod approach has become, and I'm glad you're speaking out against its abuse.

  2. I agree with the anonymous poster above. What happened to the good ole days when a birder went out and stopped, looked and listened. I look at using iPods to bring in birds the same way as someone baiting a bird to get a photo. It's not right and it's not NATURAL!

    Excellent post and photos!