Monday, August 29, 2011

Late Summer Song

American Redstart

Some southbound warblers continue to sing during late August. Depending on the species or individual, a warbler's song during fall migration isn't always recognizable. Most male American Redstarts I've encountered this month are singing pretty much the same song they do during spring, they're just less emphatic. Some warblers will sing familiar fragments, like Tennessee and Canada Warblers do, but others may produce jumbled or diminutive notes that are completely unrecognizable to even the best birders.

Black Swallowtail

Most warblers have given up on singing altogether. But all continue to vocalize call notes that can help reveal their identity, like the unique smacking note of a Magnolia Warbler or the loud alert of a waterthrush. Sometimes these single syllables can offer enough of a clue to help make the correct identification, or at least let you know there's something worth stopping for before continuing on down a trail. Though more challenging than spring migration, fall warbler watching (and listening) can be just as enjoyable.

Evening Primrose

Yesterday Dottie Johnson and I found nine warbler species along the Pheasant Branch Conservancy creek corridor: Northern Waterthrush, Black-and-white Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Magnolia Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, and Wilson's Warbler. They're on the move!

Great Blue Lobelia

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Aug 28, 2011 7:30 AM - 10:00 AM
52 species
Wood Duck
Great Blue Heron
Green Heron
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Swainson's Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Northern Waterthrush
Black-and-white Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Magnolia Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch
All images © 2011 Mike McDowell

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Field Trip!

"The migrants are starting their pilgrimage back through Wisconsin. Join MAS for a free field trip led by Mike McDowell at Pheasant Branch Conservancy on Thursday August 25th at 7:00 am to welcome the warblers, vireos, and other migrants!"

We will meet here.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Something to sing about!

"This is a record-setting year for Kirtland’s Warbler. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will soon announce officially that the 2011 census of singing males tallied 1,828 birds: 1,805 in Michigan, 21 in Wisconsin, and 2 in Ontario. This total edges past the previous record of 1,826 in 2009."

Link: Continue reading at the ABA Blog

Kirtland's Warbler © 2011 Mike McDowell

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Creek Corridor Beauty

The warbler waves are forming in the north. Ashland birder Ryan Brady found 13 warbler species this morning. With suitable tailwinds, these birds should begin arriving in Dane County in about a week or so. Apart from resident and summer birds, things are still pretty quiet here.

During the apex of migration when birds are plentiful, I'm so busy looking for the next feathered gem I sometimes forget to appreciate Pheasant Branch for its own natural beauty. It seems I get bird sightedness at times. I'm blind to the trees; rather than looking at them I'm looking in them for birds.

So, while the birding is comparatively slow, I've been taking some time to photograph the creek corridor during recent walks. It's a veritable jungle this time of year. When I'm here it's easy to forget that this mile-long narrow stretch of habitat is surrounded by homes, schools, gas stations, and mini-malls.

I've seen aerial photographs of the creek corridor and sense what birds must see as they approach. With all that's here it's really no wonder there are such high concentrations of migratory birds during spring and fall. It's an oasis in the middle of a city.

These images represent some of my favorite spots. Can you imagine birding here? Coming up on two decades of birding at the conservancy, the place has structure and form that's so familiar to me it feels like kind of home – it's very comfortable. I'm sure you must know what I mean if you bird the same location day after day. Maybe it's an aesthetic thing, but there are particular spots that just stand apart from others.

Other spots are extra special for the regulars one encounters!

All images © 2011 Mike McDowell

Monday, August 15, 2011

Summer Wanes

A visit to a southern Wisconsin woods during mid August is rich with sublimity and sensations of reminiscence. The vegetation remains green and lush, but changes are taking place. There's something unique about the fragrant air; a mix of late summer wildflowers and traces of moist decay. Freshly fallen cottonwood leaves are starting to gather along the trail. Even the sky seems bluer this time of year. All of this, plus the cooling temperatures, are some of the most enjoyable signs of the impending fall and still reminds me of going back to school. But now my classroom is outside and I enjoy teaching others the subtleties of confusing fall warbler identification.

Along with serenading crickets and cicadas, Eastern Wood-Pewees are the most visual and vocally obvious birds of the creek corridor. However, the cool weather from the north brought a few migrant songbirds with it. At Pheasant Branch Conservancy on Sunday I found a Canada Warbler and Black-and-white Warbler, neither of which had given up on singing just yet. Most other birds I encountered during my outing belonged to species found throughout summer at Pheasant Branch.

Coming around a corner, I found a gorgeous young Great Blue Heron regally perched in the morning sunlight. It remained motionless for two exposures before flying up the corridor for a more secluded spot. If I'd had more time I would have oriented the camera portrait-wise so not to clip off its feet, but I'm content with the photograph I got!

All images © 2011 Mike McDowell

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Middleton = Bird City!

The Bird City Wisconsin project announced today that it was recognizing nine additional communities in its unique statewide program to encourage urban bird conservation. The awards brought to 29 the number of cities, villages, towns and counties committed to making their communities a better place for people, birds and other wildlife. The newest Bird City communities range widely and include the cities of La Crosse, Manitowoc, Middleton and West Bend; the villages of Newburg, Elm Grove and Trempealeau, along with Taylor County and the Town of Grafton. Each will receive a special Bird City Wisconsin flag, plaque and street signs to be erected at their boundaries.

Link: Bird City Wisconsin Website

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Nine Springs Shorebirds

Spotted Sandpiper

The water levels are somewhat high at Nine Springs, but I found one suitable pond that had nice mudflats for shorebirds. Plus, there was a convenient window through the cattails to aim my spotting scope through. Peering in, I could see Least Sandpipers, Pectoral Sandpipers, Spotted Sandpipers, Solitary Sandpipers, one Stilt Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, and Killdeer.

Spotted Sandpiper

I wish I had gotten out earlier, but I neglected to charge my camera batteries overnight, so I didn't get going until 10:30AM. By the time I started scanning the lagoons the temperature was already in the low 80s. Sweat running off my forehead dripped on my camera as I digiscoped peeps and plovers.

Least Sandpiper

The Least and Spotted Sandpipers were pretty accommodating distance-wise, but they were pretty quick working the edges of the mudflat. It's a challenge keeping with them through the camera's viewfinder.

Least Sandpiper

The Stilt Sandpiper and some of the other larger shorebirds stayed at the far side of the pond, so I wasn't able to capture as much detail as I would have liked. The heat started getting to me after about an hour, so I called it a day. Winds are out of the north tonight, so I'm betting most of these birds are in flight as I type.

Stilt Sandpiper

All images © 2011 Mike McDowell

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Summer Project

I haven't been doing much birding or nature photography lately due to the exceedingly uncomfortable hot weather we've been having. Instead, I've been catching up on some reading as well as working on a new summer project, my family ancestry.

Grace and Allison Miller (great grandparents)

My dad helped by providing me with data on his side, but I knew next to nothing beyond my mom's parents. With the help of several online genealogy databases, county census records, historical societies, and other resources, I've been able to trace my relatives back to the 1600s to countries like Scotland, England, Netherlands, Germany, and France.

Clarence S. Darrow

It's interesting to know names, birth and death dates, and geographical locations for all 8 of my great grandparents, and 12 of my 16 great great grandparents. One of the most fascinating discoveries is finding I'm related to Clarence Seward Darrow, the famous lawyer who defended John Scopes during the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925. Clarence and my maternal grandmother (Edrie Louise Darrow b. 1908) are both decedents of Jedediah Darrow (b. 1721). I read Clarence Darrow's book Why I am an Agnostic and Other Essays several years ago, not knowing our shared ancestry.

William T. Sterling

On my paternal grandmother's side, I'm a decedent of William T. Sterling (b. 1808), who served in the Wisconsin State Assembly and platted what is now the village of Mount Sterling, WI. I have a few relatives who fought for the Union Army during the Civil War, and one relative who fought under George S. Patton at the Battle of the Bulge during World War II.

Mt. Sterling - 1915

At present I have around 200 individuals in my family tree, some going back 11 generations. Often times a particular lineage will stop cold, but I still have a lead on my Scottish ancestors that could go back to the thirteenth century. I recently found a 1st cousin (once removed) on Facebook who is going to provide me with additional information on my ancestors from Canada and France.

Hiram Allison Miller (great great grandfather)

© 2011 Mike McDowell