Monday, April 30, 2012

Prepare for May!

"Oh pretty bird! Oh, fluff and feathers, beak and bright eye, alliterative name in my throat!"

~ Juliana Gray, Rose-breasted Grosbeak



One of the most stunning spring birds you're likely to encounter in your own backyard is the male Rose-breasted Grosbeak; black-and-white with a vivid red chest perched in the verdant canopy of leaves with a joyous song to boot. I saw my first of spring grosbeak on Sunday. There were many other returning migratory birds over the weekend and more continue northbound on their incredible journey. At Pheasant Branch yesterday, my group was fortunate to find several warbler species including a male Cerulean Warbler singing away from the treetops. It was a beautiful day for an extended walk along the conservancy trails with fellow birders and kindred spirits. Tomorrow brings May – the month of a billion promises kept. Go out to the woods and cheer them on!

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Apr 29, 2012 7:00 AM - 1:00 PM
67 species

Canada Goose 
Wood Duck 
Mallard 
Blue-winged Teal 
Green-winged Teal 
Pied-billed Grebe 
Great Blue Heron 
Green Heron 
Cooper's Hawk 
Broad-winged Hawk 
Red-tailed Hawk 
American Kestrel 
Sandhill Crane 
Killdeer 
Spotted Sandpiper 
Bonaparte's Gull 
Ring-billed Gull 
Mourning Dove 
Great Horned Owl 
Belted Kingfisher 
Red-headed Woodpecker 
Red-bellied Woodpecker 
Downy Woodpecker 
Hairy Woodpecker 
Northern Flicker 
Eastern Phoebe 
Warbling Vireo 
Blue Jay 
American Crow 
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 
Tree Swallow 
Barn Swallow 
Cliff Swallow 
Black-capped Chickadee 
Tufted Titmouse 
White-breasted Nuthatch 
Brown Creeper 
House Wren 
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 
Eastern Bluebird 
Hermit Thrush 
American Robin 
European Starling 
Northern Waterthrush 
Orange-crowned Warbler 
Nashville Warbler 
Cerulean Warbler
Yellow Warbler 
Pine Warbler 
Yellow-rumped Warbler 
Black-throated Green Warbler 
Eastern Towhee 
Chipping Sparrow 
Song Sparrow 
White-throated Sparrow 
Northern Cardinal 
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 
Red-winged Blackbird 
Eastern Meadowlark 
Common Grackle 
Brown-headed Cowbird 
Orchard Oriole 
House Finch 
Pine Siskin 
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow 

Rose-breasted Grosbeak © 2012 Mike McDowell

Friday, April 27, 2012

Marsh Birds


Swamp Sparrow

Several Sora, dozens of Swamp Sparrows, and a few Marsh Wrens have recently taken up residence at the cattail marsh on the far west side of the confluence ponds along Deming Way in Middleton. Since this small marsh has been getting increasingly interesting over the past few years, I’ve added it to my daily birding route. I went there last evening after work with my digiscoping rig to try and photograph these three species and managed to get a few nice shots.


Sora

However, the Marsh Wrens had other plans. They were busy constructing nests in the dense vegetation and would only pop into view long enough to see them grab pieces of cattail fluff and flutter back down into the stalks and grass. I can’t help but smile when I hear a Sora. As I walked along the trail about a dozen or more made their whinnie and kerwee calls, but they were very difficult to get a glimpse of. Well, with the exception of one cooperative bird pictured above. Amazingly, this particular Sora was standing motionless on the partially submerged tree branch.


Red-winged Blackbird

All images © 2012 Mike McDowell

Thursday, April 26, 2012

MAS Field Trip Results!


Pheasant Branch Yellow-rumped Warbler

The Madison Audubon field trip at Pheasant Branch Conservancy this morning found 51 bird species along the creek corridor and ponds. New this spring for me was a beautiful Black-throated Green Warbler singing near the "V" east of Park Street and a Warbling Vireo just west of Parmenter Street. We also had a few Yellow-rumped Warblers, Nashville Warbler, and Palm Warbler. At the first confluence pond we found several Spotted Sandpipers, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Barn Swallow, and Tree Swallows, Green Heron, Great Blue Heron, Belted Kingfisher, and an American Kestrel. We split into two groups; some wanted to go further west to find the Sora I previously reported while others wanted to return to the creek corridor for songbirds. On the way back from the ponds I found a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and a very skittish Winter Wren. Other birds included Ruby-crowned Kinglets, White-throated Sparrows, Chipping Sparrow, Purple Finch, Pine Siskin, Wood Ducks, Tufted Titmouse, and adorable Great Horned Olwets. A great time was had by all participants!

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Apr 26, 2012 6:00 AM - 9:00 AM
52 species

Canada Goose 
Wood Duck 
Mallard 
Blue-winged Teal 
Pied-billed Grebe 
Great Blue Heron 
Green Heron 
Red-tailed Hawk 
American Kestrel 
American Coot 
Killdeer 
Spotted Sandpiper 
Mourning Dove 
Great Horned Owl 
Belted Kingfisher 
Red-bellied Woodpecker 
Downy Woodpecker 
Hairy Woodpecker 
Northern Flicker 
Eastern Phoebe
Warbling Verio
Blue Jay 
American Crow 
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 
Tree Swallow 
Barn Swallow 
Black-capped Chickadee 
Tufted Titmouse 
White-breasted Nuthatch 
House Wren 
Winter Wren 
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 
American Robin 
European Starling 
Nashville Warbler 
Palm Warbler 
Yellow-rumped Warbler 
Black-throated Green Warbler 
Chipping Sparrow 
Song Sparrow 
White-throated Sparrow 
Northern Cardinal 
Red-winged Blackbird 
Eastern Meadowlark 
Common Grackle 
Brown-headed Cowbird
Purple Finch 
House Finch 
Pine Siskin 
American Goldfinch 
House Sparrow  

Yellow-rumped Warbler © 2012 Mike McDowell

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Another whooper shot...


Whooping Crane image courtesy of USF&WS

Date: April 24, 2012
Reporter: Heather Ray
Subject: REWARD OFFERED
Location: Main Office

A reward has been offered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for the shooting of a whooping crane located along 354th Avenue, approximately 17 miles southwest of Miller, SD.Law enforcement officers from the Service and the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks are investigating the shooting, which took place on the afternoon of Friday, April 20, 2012.

The migrating adult whooping crane was traveling with two additional whooping cranes before being shot with a high-power rifle as it was standing in a corn field.Anyone with information should call either the 24-hour Turn in a Poacher Hotline at 1-888-OVERBAG (683-7224) or the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at (605) 224-9045 to report any information which will aid officers in the apprehension of the shooter. Callers can remain anonymous.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Gift for Earth Day!


Barred Owl

It was early in the morning when it happened. Winds were out of the north during the night so I didn't expect much activity in the way of new migrant songbirds. Nevertheless, I decided to carry my scope and camera with me as I counted the birds of Pheasant Branch Conservancy. Walking east toward the rising sun, there wasn't a lot of birdsong yet, but something caught my eye as I came around a bend in the creek. No doubt it had noticed me first. The two of us made eye contact, but only for a split second as I quickly looked away and continued walking down the trail pretending to be unaware. But I knew.

As I passed I couldn't have been more than a dozen or so feet away from the dark-eyed being I was sharing the same breathing space with; perhaps it sensed it was safe on the opposite side of the narrow creek. When I guessed I was at a sufficient distance for taking a photograph, I stopped, carefully opened my tripod, and then slowly swung my scope around. The Barred Owl never took its eyes off me as I captured several portraits. As I said, it was early and the sun hadn't yet poured its rays into the corridor, but it was still bright enough for a cooperative bird, which is what I was given.

When I was satisfied with the images I captured, the two of us continued sharing a mutual gaze for a few additional moments; the same forest and space, but completely alien to one another. Well, the owl knows enough to be leery, and me enough to be grateful. Finally, it was time for the owl to go to roost in the conifers and for me to carry on with hopes of encounters with other woodland denizens. My decision to haul my digiscoping rig along the corridor trail turned out to be a very good one, indeed!


White Trillium 

All images © 2012 Mike McDowell

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Have you seen this butterfly?



No doubt you have if you've been outside during the past week or so. There’s a Red Admiral explosion / invasion presently underway across most of the country. Why? Some say climate change. The Red Admiral is a potential indicator species for phenological changes; as the climate warms adults will probably overwinter farther north than they can now. However, one entomologist and current president of Ohio Lepidopterists, Dave Horn, said:
"The red admiral has periodically appeared in large numbers since the early 19th century. While there is no universally accepted explanation for these increases it seems most likely that they are related to high overwintering survivorship in the southern USA followed by favorable conditions for northward movement. This year we have had both a very mild winter (in Ohio and southward) and an early spring and I suspect the large numbers we are seeing reflect those weather conditions."
Red Admiral © 2012 Mike McDowell

Monday, April 16, 2012

Mid-April Warbler Report!


Yellow-rumped Warbler

Maybe it's because the weather was so uncharacteristically warm during March, but to me it feels like it’s taking warblers forever to get to southern Wisconsin this spring. Well, there are Louisiana Waterthrushes at Baxter’s Hollow (to the north) and Yellow-throated Warblers at Wyalusing (to the west), but so far all I have seen are Yellow-rumped Warblers and just a single Pine Warbler. When looking back at mid-April in eBird for warbler species seen up to April 15th, here’s how previous years have compared:

Returning Warblers up to April 15th at Pheasant Branch:

2012: Pine Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler

2011: Louisiana Waterthrush, Northern Waterthrush, Black-and-white Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Northern Parula, Pine Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler

2010: Tennessee Warbler, Pine Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler

2009: Pine Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warber

2008: Louisiana Waterthrush, Yellow-rumped Warbler

2007: Yellow-rumped Warbler

Considering this data, it appears 2011 was a warbler anomaly and that maybe my present thoughts of 2012 are biased from my memory of last spring. In comparison, 2012 appears to be pretty normal. This type of seasonal bias has happened to me before with White-throated Sparrows when the previous year got me used to seeing high numbers of them. When numbers returned to normal the following year, my initial impression was that something bad must have happened to the sparrows because they had significantly decreased in numbers. But the truth was that there was an unusually high number of them the previous year at Pheasant Branch Conservancy.


Lots of Violets along the creek corridor path!

Tom Prestby recently wrote an excellent summary of the early returning migratory birds during March and how the weather played a role. Bird species that winter in the southern United States were able to take advantage of the warmer weather patterns, but neotropical migratory birds had no idea what was going up here weather-wise and are pretty much right on schedule.

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Apr 15, 2012 7:15 AM - 9:15 AM
53 species

Canada Goose 
Wood Duck 
Mallard 
Blue-winged Teal 
Green-winged Teal 
Horned Grebe 
Double-crested Cormorant 
Great Blue Heron 
Red-tailed Hawk 
American Kestrel 
American Coot 
Killdeer 
Spotted Sandpiper 
Ring-billed Gull 
Mourning Dove 
Great Horned Owl 
Belted Kingfisher 
Red-bellied Woodpecker 
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 
Downy Woodpecker 
Hairy Woodpecker 
Northern Flicker 
Eastern Phoebe 
Blue Jay 
American Crow 
Tree Swallow 
Barn Swallow 
Black-capped Chickadee 
Tufted Titmouse 
White-breasted Nuthatch 
Brown Creeper 
House Wren 
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 
Hermit Thrush 
American Robin 
Brown Thrasher 
European Starling 
Yellow-rumped Warbler 
Chipping Sparrow 
Savannah Sparrow 
Song Sparrow 
Swamp Sparrow 
White-throated Sparrow 
Dark-eyed Junco 
Northern Cardinal 
Red-winged Blackbird 
Eastern Meadowlark 
Common Grackle 
Brown-headed Cowbird 
Purple Finch 
House Finch 
American Goldfinch 
House Sparrow 

All images © 2012 Mike McDowell

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Strategy



Whenever I'm out birding I tend to notice a bird on territory that sings from the same perches day after day. I usually don't carry my digiscoping rig when I go birding, but eventually such a bird becomes too inviting to pass up. I've been watching a particular Eastern Meadowlark for the past few weeks along Deming Way near the confluence ponds. After studying bird's routine, I became familiar with its singing schedule and perch selection. He spends much of his time walking and foraging through the grassy field, occasionally breaking for a brief song. After several minutes of this, he'll fly up to a nearby post or tree and sing with more enthusiasm and longer duration. He'll then move to a few other high perches, sing, and then return to the grass again. This goes on all morning long. At the same time the bird is doing his thing, I check for natural blinds to hide behind and how the angles will be for lighting. So, one sunny morning, when the light was just right and winds were calm, I went after a portrait of my meadowlark.



All images © 2012 Mike McDowell

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Whistling while they work!



Nest construction along the Pheasant Branch creek corridor is well underway. Black-capped Chickadees are busy excavating nest cavities in dead stumps and logs. Both the male and female take turns working away at the rotten wood, carrying beak full after beak full of tiny woodchips from the cavity. They'll find a high perch several feet away from the site and drop the bits, sometimes watching them as they fall to the ground or into the water.



Just as one chickadee exits the unfinished cavity, its mate quickly enters it. They'll do this for hours each day until the excavation is complete, whereupon the female begins to build the nest. If one chickadee spends more time inside the cavity, the other will patiently wait perched on a nearby branch until its turn to load up. For a bird photographer, this fascinating behavior is a great opportunity to get close-up shots of chickadees. They're so preoccupied with their task they'll tolerate fairly close approach.



All images © 2012 Mike McDowell

Saturday, April 07, 2012

A visit to Baxter's Hollow


Otter Creek at Baxter's Hollow

After birding a few hours at Pheasant Branch Conservancy yesterday morning, I made a stop at Barrqiues for some coffee and to eBird my observations before heading up Baxter's Hollow. I spent the remainder of my day exploring the flora and fauna along Otter Creek. I was hoping to hear the piercing songs of Louisiana Waterthrushes, but no luck. Bird-wise, it was fairly quiet. In fact, I saw only three individual birds the entire time I was there: an American Robin, a fly-over Turkey Vulture, and a fairly cooperative Winter Wren.


A lovely Winter Wren

My primary objective for visiting Baxter's was to photograph spring wildflowers. There are some real treasures right along Otter Creek. I found Round-lobed Hepatica, Marsh Marigolds, Spring Beauty, and Bloodroot.


Round-lobed Hepatica


Marsh Marigold


Spring Beauty


Bloodroot

It's been my experience that Winter Wrens are one of the most difficult birds to photograph. In one way digiscoping places the photographer at a greater disadvantage due to ultra-high magnification and trying to zero-in on such a small rapidly moving subject that blends in with the background. This little guy was pretty accommodating, though. He only briefly sang but spent most of his time foraging through a large pile of logs, occasionally popping up on a higher perch to survey his domain. This time I was in the right place at the right time!



All images © 2012 Mike McDowell

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Back to Basics



Both of my regular birding companions had other obligations this morning, so I was able to make it to Pheasant Branch Conservancy earlier than our usual starting time. Year-round resident birds of the creek corridor were quieter than they've been the past few days. Perhaps it was just because I was there earlier and not all birds were awake yet. Still, American Robins had already dismissed themselves from the choir even by this time. The relative quiet gave me an opportunity to hear–without interference–the perfect and complex songs of a Winter Wren and Hermit Thrush. My eyes searched through the understory for the two singers, but I was content with just listening to their beautiful woodland voices. Once the sun warmed up the highest tree branches, Yellow-rumped Warblers began seeking emerging insects, singing as they fed. It was a beautiful morning and I'm glad to have spent a few hours of the day sharing the sun with those beautiful feathered creatures once again.

"Life is rebellious and anarchical, always testing the supposed immutability of the rules which the nonliving changeless accepts."

~ Joseph Wood Krutch

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Apr 4, 2012 7:15 AM - 8:45 AM
49 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Mallard
Blue-winged Teal
Green-winged Teal
Lesser Scaup
Hooded Merganser
Pied-billed Grebe
Great Blue Heron
American Kestrel
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Winter Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Yellow-rumped Warbler © 2012 Mike McDowell