The daylight hours are already perceptibly shorter and we begin our farewells to summer. I love this time of year for all its exquisite sensory gifts from nature. An Ovenbird at Pheasant Branch Conservancy became my 20th warbler species for this fall migration. Labor Day weekend saw an impressive movement of American Redstarts through southern Wisconsin. On Saturday morning nearly every tree at the conservancy seemed to have at least one or two redstarts flitting through leaves for insects and many of the males were singing. Winds picked up late morning and brought most warblers closer to the ground to forage. My birding companions and I were spellbound with close-up views of Magnolia Warblers, Chestnut-sided Warblers, Black-and White Warblers, Northern Parula, and a gorgeous Golden-winged Warbler still in breeding plumage.
Jack in the Pulpit (fruit)
As we enjoyed the birds, three non-birders approached and asked what we were watching. I quickly pointed out the Golden-winged because it was close, at eye level, and out in the open. Even without binoculars they were stunned by its beauty. A Blue-gray Gnatcatcher appeared, then a Black-and-white Warbler, followed by a Magnolia Warbler and American Redstart. “The woods are full of birds!” I said. As if her eyes were suddenly opened, one woman responded in astonishment, “Gosh, we would have just walked on by not even noticing them!” The three seemed sincerely interested in birds, so I gave a brief version of the story of migration. I won't be surprised if the next time I see them on the trail they'll be aiming binoculars into the woods.
After breakfast at the Prairie Cafe, I visited the prairie parcel for the first time in over a month. The kingbirds and orioles have left, only a few yellowthroats and sedge wrens remain. The fields were teeming with butterflies, especially Monarchs, which appear to be having a good summer season.
Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar
The disparate coloration between caterpillar and butterfly gave me pause to drift in thought how forces of natural selection must work independently on each of them. I sat on a bench overlooking the prairie and listened to goldfinch chatter for a long time.
"It's difficult to believe one would not see more by extending the journey, but, in fact, experience proves that the longer a single locality is studied the more is found in it."
-- Richard Jefferies
Location: Pheasant Branch
Observation date: 9/4/10
Number of species: 46
Great Horned Owl
Black-throated Green Warbler
All images © 2010 Mike McDowell