Saturday, May 29, 2010

May Finale


Adult male Orchard Oriole

Orchard Orioles have taken up residence at the oak savanna on the prairie parcel of Pheasant Branch Conservancy. I led a group for Madison Audubon there on Thursday evening and found 46 bird species for the participants. Though I located a single Sedge Wren earlier in the morning during a pre-field trip scouting mission, there were none heard or seen during our evening outing. Normally there are over a dozen singing males by this time. The wrens are probably sparser due to the extensive prairie burn conducted by The Nature Conservancy and US Fish and Wildlife Service earlier this spring.


Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroats were super abundant, boldly proclaiming their presence with witchity-witchity-witchity songs. A few of them performed their flight song/aerial display, which I find enormously entertaining. With its body fluttering and tail bobbing, the yellowthroat does a straight-line vertical flight to a height of about 20 to 30 feet. At the apex, it belts out its song followed by an intense snappy trill, and then quivers its wings during its floating decent back to the grass. The one in this photograph, however, is simply checking me out and assessing my threat level.


Spiderwort

The prairie is rather green and plain at the moment, but in another month it ought to resemble an extravagant oil painting possessing all the colors of a rainbow. I did find a few patches of Spiderwort, one of my favorite native wildflowers.

So, another memorable May is nearly over, but has been preserved in experiences, photographs, and stories. During June I will once again concentrate on spending more time at local prairies, photographing grassland bird species, wildflowers, insects, and other scenes of natural beauty.

"Natural influences work indirectly as well as directly; they work upon the subconscious, as well upon the conscious, self. That I am a saner, healthier, more contented man, with true standards of life for all my loiterings in the fields and woods, I am fully convinced."

- John Burroughs, The Gospel of Nature
Location: Pheasant Branch
Observation date: 5/27/10
Number of species: 46

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Mallard
Ring-necked Pheasant
Green Heron
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Alder Flycatcher
Willow Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Kingbird
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
House Wren
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Clay-colored Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2010 Michael Allen McDowell

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Warbler, Swallow, Flycatcher, Sparrow


Common Yellowthroat

The incredible natural spectacle of spring bird migration is nearly over, but another is upon us – the summer breeding season. Anyone with a few hours to spare can open the daily invitation, delivered by the sunrise, to a nearby prairie, savanna, or woods and visit birds on breeding territory to witness their magic. Around eighty bird species will be present throughout the summer at Pheasant Branch Conservancy.

This chapter of their annual story is far more challenging and dangerous than it ought to be (just consider current events). As habitats are fragmented, degraded, or destroyed, limited carrying capacities of natural areas virtually ensure a continuation of bird population declines. This is an ongoing problem for what were once even considered common birds.


Tree Swallow


Eastern Kingbird

Their choir of songs will continue to fill the skies above the landscape through much of June as they build nests, defend their turf, and raise a family. Not an iota of their time will be wasted while nature tests them throughout the summer months. Even when paused and perched, they are on constant alert and monitor their surroundings for threats without missing an opportunity for a morsel to eat.


Field Sparrow

It's one of those magical places wise people
like to talk about.
One of the things they say about it, that is true,
is that once you've been there,
you're there forever.
Listen, everyone has a chance.
Is it spring this morning?

- Mary Oliver, Such Singing in the Wild Branches

All images © 2010 Mike McDowell

Friday, May 21, 2010

Friday Flowers

Here are some additional wildflower images from my recent visit to Baxter's Hollow...


Yellow Lady's Slipper


Columbine


Jacob's Ladder


Ragwort


Sarsaparilla

"Beauty without purpose is beauty without virtue. But all beautiful things, inherently, have this function - to excite the viewers toward sublime thought. Glory to the world, that good teacher."

- Mary Oliver, Evidence

All images © 2010 Mike McDowell

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Golden Swamp Warbler



It's essential for me to get away from the city from time to time. The charm and solace of an urbanized natural area can quickly vanish, especially on weekends. Those who visit such a place with an interest in a passive nature activity like birding must contend with sounds emanating from the woods that clamor "multi-use, multi-use!" Oh, birding isn't impossible, but one's enjoyment of it becomes diminished by competing noise. Sadly, this wasn't always the case at Pheasant Branch Conservancy, but I'm sure the overwhelming majority of Middleton's residents see the paved trail as an improvement. It isn't.


May Apple

I don't want to have to step out of someone's way or keep looking over my shoulder for approaching bicyclists. I don't want to hear "passing on your left" or have someone's dog stick its snout in my crotch. I simply want to hike a trail adorned with wildflowers, where I can occasionally sit, be idle, and not have to move for anything. In tolerating change, I recommend (to myself) balancing Pheasant Branch with places that have just one road in and promise that the only sounds heard will be wild things. If I neglect to do this, sometimes I begin to feel my cynicism and temperament simmer for what's been lost.


Nodding Trillium


Woodland Phlox

The purity of nature unbridled and her vast rewards are decidedly priceless. Walking at such a place is like stepping into a kind of time machine. I'm transported to a state that probably resembles Wisconsin before we Europeans arrived. It's a locale like this where I can patiently wait for something to absorb and photograph things that interest me in complete tranquility. I can gain a sense of what it must have been like for 19th century naturalists and explorers. Sometimes good fortune smiles upon the secluded with an opportunity to bear witnesses to something previously unseen.



The Prothonotary Warbler's song is unmistakable to the birder and nature enthusiast. A glimpse by the uninitiated might casually suggest an unusual looking goldfinch. The golden swamp warbler can be pretty elusive, even for birders, but his voice gives him away. I know he's near, but where? Wait - there! Directly above me in a maple tree!



To my utter astonishment, the warbler dropped to a lower perch, then cautiously and deliberately made his way to a particular moss-covered log near where I was sitting. Singing as he worked, he began pealing off the moss, cramming as much as he could in his beak. To my fortune, once wasn't enough! The sprightly warbler continued to make return visits to the log for additional nesting material.



It was immediately obvious that the moss was material he was collecting for a nearby nest he was busily constructing in a cavity of a dead tree. I wondered if his mate was present yet. Oh, there's such great treasure out there, my friends. It can be challenging to find, but if one knows where to look and what to listen for, a sweet golden bird can render undiluted joy and exhilaration!



Man changes the conditions to suit the things.
Nature changes the things to suit the conditions.

- John Burroughs

All images © 2010 Mike McDowell

Friday, May 14, 2010

Mid-May Migration


Black-throated Blue Warbler

We've arrived at the time in May when contemplative nature blogging is replaced with watching chaos in the canopy – the peak of spring migration is upon us! This morning at Pheasant Branch Conservancy we had fabulous views of a cooperative male Black-throated Blue Warbler, my first-ever creek corridor Bell's Vireo and Pileated Woodpecker (where did he come from?), and a Summer Tanager! There were over 20 warbler species, including Prothonotary Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, and Golden-winged Warbler. Too bad I wasn't carrying my digiscoping rig along - I might have been able to capture a pretty decent photograph of the Black-throated Blue. In it's place, though, the above image was digiscoped by Kevin Bolton a few weeks ago at Garrett Mountain in New Jersey. Check out some of Kevin's spring digiscoping at his blog!

Location: Pheasant Branch
Observation date: 5/14/10
Number of species: 71

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Mallard
Green Heron
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Bell's Vireo
Yellow-throated Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Veery
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Blue-winged Warbler
Golden-winged Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Orange-crowned Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Northern Parula
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Palm Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Prothonotary Warbler
Ovenbird
Northern Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Wilson's Warbler
Summer Tanager
Scarlet Tanager
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch

Black-throated Blue Warbler © 2010 Kevin Bolton

Monday, May 10, 2010

Hooded Warbler!



Dottie Johnson's keen hearing picked up on a Hooded Warbler's alternate song amidst the layers of morning songsters at Pheasant Branch Conservancy today. So close to the trail, I was hopeful to finally have a decent opportunity to photograph a bird species I've sought for many years. Unfortunately, annoying disturbances would test my patience. I had the right bird and the right light - what could go possibly wrong? After jockeying around with my spotting scope for a clear view of the warbler through dense vegetation, I was able to get a good angle on it through my camera's viewfinder. However, just as I began to press down on the shutter button, an airplane spraying for gypsy moths zoomed overhead – barely above the trees – sending the startled warbler to the understory. Once the spraying was over, a noisy riding lawnmower on Middleton High School's athletic fields kept the warbler quiet for several more minutes. Calm eventually returned to the woods and the bird began singing once again. He still kept low in the understory, so I wasn't able to get a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the action of his quivering body as he sang. Though not my best work, I think there's enough in these photographs to show just how beautiful a bird the Hooded Warbler truly is.



Hooded Warbler © Mike McDowell

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

With the 'help' of a Cold Front


Scarlet Tanager

One look at NexRad last night and I knew birding this morning was going to be hot! About an hour after sunset, migrating birds took advantage of southerly winds throughout the eastern half of the US. However, birds heading up through southern Wisconsin faced a line of storms associated with a cold front which put a damper on their northbound progress:



Today, songbird "fallouts" are being reported at Lake Park in Milwaukee, Bay Beach Sanctuary in Green Bay, and other birding hot-spots throughout Wisconsin. At Pheasant Branch Conservancy we found 16 warbler species including Blackburnian Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler, and Orange-crowned Warbler. A beautiful sunlit male Scarlet Tanager was one of the first birds I saw this morning. Other new arrivals included Wood Thrush, Yellow-throated Verio, and Least Flycatcher. My birding group finished with 65 bird species during our 2 hour walk along the creek corridor trail.


Location: Pheasant Branch
Observation date: 5/5/10
Number of species: 65

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Mallard
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Solitary Sandpiper
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Barred Owl
Chimney Swift
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Yellow-throated Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
Blue-winged Warbler
Golden-winged Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Orange-crowned Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Northern Parula
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Palm Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Ovenbird
Northern Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Scarlet Tanager
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
American Goldfinch

Scarlet Tanager © 2010 Mike McDowell

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Horicon Marsh Field Trips!



On May 8th and 9th at 7:00am I'll be leading field trips around Indermuehle Island during the 2010 Horicon Marsh Bird Festival. They're free, open to the public, and meet at the Horicon Marsh International Education Center off HWY 28 between Mayville and Horicon. We generally find between 75 and 90 bird species around the island. Expected birds include Black Tern, Black-crowned Night Heron, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Marsh Wren, Common Moorhen, Sora, many warblers, and dozens of other migratory songbirds. We've also had surprises like Least Bittern and Bell's Vireo in the past, so you never know what might be discovered! Rain or shine!

Link: Horicon Marsh Birding Festival 2010

Monday, May 03, 2010

Songbird Influx!


Rose-breasted Grosbeak at Pheasant Branch

After a solid week of stifling northerly winds, more favorable weather for migratory birds prevailed last Thursday. Millions of warblers, verios, sparrows, and other songbirds poured into southern Wisconsin during the night; birders from all around the state reported their arrival the following morning. We were rewarded with a few days of great birding until thunderstorms moved through the Ohio valley, which kept the next wave of songbirds to our south. While bird activity at Pheasant Branch was a little less intense this morning, I still managed to find 10 warbler species including my first Golden-winged Warbler of spring. As some of you may have guessed, the early leaf-out has significantly hampered my digiscoping efforts, thus I've been doing more birding than photography the past few weeks. The dense cover also means visually locating birds is far more challenging this spring; I'm having to rely on identifying them by song rather than sight. Other spring arrivals this weekend included Green Heron, Blue-headed Vireo, Black-and-white Warbler, Baltimore Orioles, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks.

My second Madison Audubon Warbler Walk at Pheasant Branch will be held this Thursday, May 6th at 6:00am, rain or shine!

Sunday's birds at Pheasant Branch:

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Mallard
Pied-billed Grebe
Green Heron
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Killdeer
Solitary Sandpiper
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Barred Owl
Belted Kingfisher
Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Warbling Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Marsh Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Blue-winged Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Northern Parula
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Palm Warbler
Ovenbird
Northern Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
Purple Finch
House Finch
American Goldfinch

Rose-breasted Grosbeak © 2010 Mike McDowell