Friday, September 30, 2011

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Smartweed Sparrow

Nelson's Sparrow perched in smartweed.

Personally, I preferred the name "Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow" (Ammodramus nelsoni) for the elegant bird pictured above. I was fortunate to see a couple of them perched in smartweed earlier this morning at Lake Barney; it's been a few years since I last saw one at Nine Springs. The best chance to see Nelson's Sparrows in southern Wisconsin is during fall migration (from late September to mid October) when this species can be found at wetlands with large patches of smartweed. Now that the habitat at Nine Springs has become somewhat less favorable for Nelson's Sparrows, I was pleased when Steve Theissen reported finding several of these birds at Lake Barney a few days ago. I didn't hesitate on my day off today for a chance to get a glimpse of them. The beautiful arrangement of pumpkin-orange plus warm brown tones, punctuated with flashes of white on the belly and back make it one of the most spectacular of all little brown jobs!

Nelson's Sparrow © 2011 Mike McDowell

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sparrows Return!

White-throated Sparrow

The first White-throated Sparrows of fall migration have reached Pheasant Branch Conservancy. Some of these beautiful sparrows will remain at the conservancy throughout winter, but most will continue traveling south. By mid-October, the prairie will be teeming with migratory sparrows that have come to our neighborhoods from the northernmost parts of the boreal forest of Canada.

Clay-colored Sparrow

Most likely a summer resident, I adore the buffy coloration of Clay-colored Sparrows in basic plumage. Though they belong to the genus spizella, in this particular molt I find them nearly as striking as members of ammodrammus, such as Nelson's or Le Conte's Sparrow. They're a fairly curious bird and make excellent photography subjects. On the other hand, you have to be pretty quick to get a picture of the far less gregarious Lincoln's Sparrow.

Lincoln's Sparrow

Right now the prairie is filled with various goldenrods, asters, and many other late summer wildflowers. It's a beautiful time of year; not just for the nature photographer, but for anyone who desires a walk in Nature's exquisite parade of colors. It's worth our while to get outside and enjoy this temporal scenery. Not only does time spent in nature help improve our overall wellness, it also helps boost our cognition. Really! Check out Richard Louv's reasons why children and adults need Nature.

Showy Goldenrod

Katydid on Showy Goldenrod

Smooth Aster

Smooth Aster

"I am not always in sympathy with nature-study as pursued in the schools, as if this kingdom could be carried by assault. Such study is too cold, too special, too mechanical; it is likely to rub the bloom off Nature. It lacks soul and emotion; it misses the accessories of the open air and its exhilarations, the sky, the clouds, the landscape, and the currents of life that pulse everywhere."

John BurroughsThe Gospel of Nature

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Sep 20, 2011 7:00 AM - 12:00 PM
55 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Great Blue Heron
Green Heron
Turkey Vulture
Cooper's Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Eastern Phoebe
Yellow-throated Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
House Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
Swainson's Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing
Golden-winged Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Northern Parula
Magnolia Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Clay-colored Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Red-winged Blackbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch

All images © 2011 Mike McDowell

Friday, September 16, 2011

On the other hand...

Blackpoll Warbler

From WISBIRDN (9/15):

From the lack of reports the past 2 days of any major fall outs I assume I'm not the only one who was disappointed on morning walks looking for migrants. The radar may be lit up but the birds must keep right on going. Maybe our neighbors to the south are experiencing all those "radar birds"? Oh wait, Chris West had a RB Nuthatch in his yard. That's a fall out for him! Wayne Rohde can't even get a Indigo Bunting in a corn field these days. What disappointment. 

Patrick Ready 
Not very birdy Stoughton 
Dane Co. 

What difference does eyeballing NexRad every night and morning make in my birding behavior and field observations? Regardless of what radar shows, I still go birding. I compiled some of my recent PBC creek corridor eBird data (first two weeks of September) and created two graphs. This first shows the total number of individuals by outing (red line) and the number of species for that same outing (blue line):

The second graph has the same criteria, but only warbler species:

Weather-wise, the past two weeks have been fair with strong and weak nights of migration, that is, according to NexRad. Considering the graphs and data, there really hasn't been a morning that didn't live up to its NexRad promise. Though there were some dips in warbler numbers by total individuals, each morning produced similar results. Disappointing? Not at all!

2011 seems about average for Sept. 1st - 15th:

Link: Weather: Fall Birding Basics at eBird

Blackpoll Warbler by USF&WS

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Warbler Migration and Nexrad!

Nashville Warbler

What's been going on? Lots of birding, of course! Though it seems to me like overall numbers of birds are down, so far this month I've encountered 18 warbler species at Pheasant Branch Conservancy:

Northern Waterthrush
Golden-winged Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Mourning Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Cape May Warbler
Northern Parula
Magnolia Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Canada Warbler
Wilson's Warbler

At present I think migration is running a little behind on account of the warmer weather we experienced last week. Weather plays an important role in migratory behavior. Nocturnal migrants favor a tailwind which allows them to virtually double their flight speed as well as preserve their fat stores. Some songbirds will migrate during unfavorable winds, but they'll do so at lower altitudes, thereby increasing the chance of colliding with man-made structures.

I use two meteorological websites to make birding predictions: Weather Underground's Wind direction/speed and Nexrad (Next-generation Radar). Many birders have heard how Nexrad can be used to view and track the movements of birds during the night. It serves as somewhat of an indicator of how "good" the birding may be the following day. However, lack of Nexrad activity during nighttime doesn't necessarily translate to slow birding in the morning. For example, inclement weather may have kept birds from migrating, so the woods might still be filled with migrants that travelled from previous days.

The above image shows highly suitable winds over the central US for bird migration the evening of September 4th. Later that night, about an hour after sunset, you can see how migration patterns after the wind direction and system fronts:

Professional ornithologists also use Nexrad to track migratory birds. Density estimations give ornithologists the ability to count the number of birds involved in migratory movements, specific direction routes, timing, speed, elevation, and correlation with weather patterns. Birds can detect storms by sight, smell, sound, humidity, and pressure. They'll attempt to fly around the storm cell, reverse direction, and possibly be forced to land. All of this can be detected and viewed live on Nexrad (check out the link to the primer below).

My favorite online Nexrad website is the National Center for Atmospheric Research/Research Applications Program - Real-time Weather Data or NCAR/RAP. To see live Nexrad maps, change the "Product" to "Regional Reflectivity" and leave the "Background" set to the default "black" option. For a quick snapshot, leave the "Loop Duration" set to "Single image." At this point you can either click on an individual radar station (three-letter codes across the states), or to see an entire map of US Nexrad data, select "Contiguous U.S." at the top.

Link: NCAR/RAP Nexrad

Link: Weather Underground Wind speed/direction

Link: Nexrad Ornithology Primer

Nashville Warbler © 2011 Mike McDowell