― Frank Lloyd Wright
I am perpetually grateful for Pheasant Branch Conservancy. As the crow flies, the trailhead to the North Fork marsh is only a mile away from my apartment. On a weekend day, I like to bird most sections of the conservancy, including the North Fork, the creek corridor, the overlook, the woods north of Century Avenue, and the prairie parcel along Pheasant Branch Road. This morning I had my first Eastern Phoebe of the year at the creek corridor. From this point on that's where I'll focus my birding efforts on weekdays before heading into work. The warblers, vireos, flycatchers, thrushes, orioles, and other neotropical songbirds are on their way and the creek corridor is the best place to see and hear them.
For the moment, I'm content to watch and photograph spring's early arrivals. Song Sparrows have taken up residence at just about every piece of suitable habitat for their nesting needs. They sing throughout the morning and are one of the last birds to close out the evening's choir. Between singing they'll survey their surroundings for a few seconds and then drop to forage in the thick prairie grasses below.
With warming temperatures, insects and flowers will soon begin to emerge. Time to warm up the macro lens! I had a great deal of fun and a lot of success last year with macro photography. This is one of the benefits of using a small mirror-less compact camera like the Nikon 1 V1—it's extremely versatile compared to the point-and-shoot cameras I used to use for for digiscoping. I recently purchased a 10mm lens for better landscape portraiture. It's much sharper to the edge compared to the 10-30mm kit lens.
If you would like to get good photographs of Red-winged Blackbirds, the North Fork trail is an excellent location, especially late afternoon or evening. The trail runs right along the marsh and spring is the perfect time to get excellent portraits of them singing and showing their epaulets. After all these years of digiscoping, I still consider early spring a time of opportunity to hone my field craft before the massive songbird flocks arrive. Cooperative birds help me reestablish muscle memory and work out any camera nuances. To document Nature well with photography, I like my actions to be fluid and natural. Plus, there's always room for improvement!
After birding all the areas I wanted to cover, I returned to the confluence ponds to see if I could sneak up on the Hooded Mergansers I saw earlier during my hike. It wasn't nearly as difficult as I thought it was going to be. The males were so preoccupied with their crest-raising and head-throwing courtship displays that they paid little attention to me as I setup my scope and tripod. Once I settled in and became motionless, the mergansers slowly returned to the corner of the pond where I was waiting.
Hooded Merganser (male)
Hooded Merganser (female)
Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Mar 28, 2015 9:00 AM - 1:30 PM
Great Blue Heron
Great Horned Owl
American Tree Sparrow
All images © 2015 Mike McDowell