Sunday, November 11, 2018

Behold! Sunlight!

"The leaves fall, the wind blows, and the farm country slowly changes from the summer cottons into its winter wools."

― Henry Beston

November's nip and winds have rendered leafless tress and golden fields. Spring and summer are gone, but each season has a sense of its own perfection that makes a nature walk something more than traveling from point A to point B. Sparrow migration is well past peak and American Tree Sparrows have taken up residence in various prairies near my home. There are a few lingering Fox Sparrows and Song Sparrows, but most have journeyed on to wintering grounds further south. This weekend's weather was pretty chilly, but the sun came out for part of the day on Sunday. As I write, the clouds have moved in once again.

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

All the prairies players are hungry and tree sparrows need to be alert for Northern Shrikes! I've spotted a few shrikes so far this fall. My first I heard calling from the prairie adjacent to Vortex Optics as I was out showing rangefinders to a customer. I haven't looked for them at Pheasant Branch dog park, but Gail Smith found one at Governor Nelson State Park a week or so ago. There are also shrike reports from Dorn Creek, but I've never explored that particular tract of habitat. They'll be with us through most of March, so there's plenty of time for portrait attempts.

Northern Shrike

Song Sparrow

Sparrow migration seemed a bit down this fall and I confirmed this by looking at eBird graphs of eight different species. In terms of frequency, Song Sparrows were about normal, but there was fewer of everything else. I don't think there are fewer birds; I believe they took advantage of strong northwest winds in early October and got as far south as they could.

Fox Sparrow

Hints from turbulent water in the form of fascinating ice structures ...

Sort of look like feet!

Naturally layered oak leaves ...

A large flock of Cedar Waxwings have been present around the Deer Creek area for the past few weeks. It was a flock like this one that included a couple of Bohemian Waxwings several years back, so I was inspecting the birds carefully. No such luck today, but I'll be checking in on them throughout the winter season.

Cedar Waxwing

Looking at an airplane.

That's a full crop!

A junco pauses ...

Dark-eyed Junco

It's been a busy month at work and I'm not sure how much time I'll have for birding, photography, and blogging. Poor weekend weather has further dampened my nature pursuits, but I'll seize opportunities as they present themselves. As everyone who reads this blog knows, I have an innate urge to be a witness to phenological changes; whether it's birds, plants, or bugs, carrying a camera is simply a part of my nature.

All images © 2018 Mike McDowell

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Tiger Beetles: 2018 Season

"We know that this interest in tiger beetles is not mystical, but if you talk to tiger beetle aficionados about their hobby or study, many of them will not be able to explain the source of what the uninitiated may see as mania."

― A Field Guide to the Tiger Beetles of US & Canada

Six-spotted (May)

As October draws to a close, so too does 2018's Tiger Beetle Season. I found 11 species in just 2 counties, Sauk and Dane. A total of 16 tiger beetle species can be found in Wisconsin, but some require driving to the northern part of the state. My most productive locations were the Sauk City Canoe Launch along the Wisconsin River and Spring Green Preserve's desert prairie. As is almost always the case, Six-spotted was my first tiger beetle of the year, found in May along the creek corridor. And the finale was photographing Splendid Tiger Beetles at Spring Green's rocky outcroppings at the top of the bluff. The greatest seasonal discovery was finding Ghost Tiger Beetles at a vacant sandlot near the canoe launch, but I suspect it's slated for future housing development. Even if that happens, I'm hopeful they'll continue to be found in the Sauk area. My personal favorite 2018 tiger beetle portrait is the Hairy-necked you'll find below. Not that they're capable of showing expression, I think the beetle may have been a little annoyed with me pursuing it.

Anyway, here they are!

Bronzed (May)

Festive (June)

Big Sand (June)

Oblique-lined (July)

Punctured (July)

Ghost (July)

Sandy Stream (July)

Hairy-necked (July)

Virginia Metallic (August)

Splendid (September)

All images © 2018 Mike McDowell

Saturday, October 27, 2018

One Million Served!

Though this blog has been running since 2005, the above page view ticker has been recording hits since May of 2010. To be sure, it's already gotten a million page views. Now it's official!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Hunter's Moon

"You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.'"

― Edgar Mitchell

All images © 2018 Mike McDowell

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Common Conservancy

"No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace as I have seen in one autumnal face."

― John Donne

Pope Farm Conservancy

Shifting my attention away from Pheasant Branch, I thought I'd conduct some crisp fall photography at Pope Farm Conservancy this morning. The temperature was 23 degrees at sunrise, pressing me to go with the winter coat, hat, and gloves for a chilly hike. There's much about Pope Farm that reminds me of the way Pheasant Branch used to be before it was transformed into a dog park―the birds seem less skittish and the scenery isn't as trampled; almost no litter, and no dog shit on the trails. Sometimes I feel that place (Pheasant Branch) is being loved to death. Comparatively speaking, Pope Farm is pristine and silent.

Finally, some spectacular fall colors ...

Addendum: A few folks asked how/why the sky is so blue in the above two photographs. There are two reasons: first, I use a polarizing filter, and secondly I like having my Nikon 1 V1 set to PICTURE CONTROL = VIVID. Using the two together really "pops" the sky. Yeah, it may be a bit much sometimes, but I've gotten used to the effect and prefer it to standard color settings. I often wear polarized sunglasses in the field and they also make landscape features pop-out. Interestingly, it doesn't look as saturated on my iPad or Apple Thunderbolt monitor, but on my Samsung the color effect is much more pronounced.

Hermit Thrush

There was a respectable assortment of fall sparrows, which included White-throated, White-crowned, Song, Lincoln's, Savannah, American Tree (FOF), lots of juncos, and several Field Sparrows. Perhaps it was from a sense of elation that the sun would soon be warming them, but I was a little surprised to find some of the birds singing their spring songs.

Field Sparrow

Dark-eyed Junco

After my hike at Pope Farm Conservancy, I headed over to Deer Creek to see what else I might find. It's a short distance from my apartment, so it was on the way home. Last night's chilly temperatures caused trees to shed their leaves, creating a layer of green on the water and carpet on the trails. Bird-wise, there were Black-capped Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches, Blue Jays, Northern Cardinals, Dark-eyed Juncos. It's a smaller parcel of habitat, but I've found some gems here in the past.

Not far away I could hear the high-pitched calls of Cedar Waxwings. I found them nicely perched in a crabapple tree, so I spent some time observing and photographing the sleek songbirds. Most of them were busy preening their feathers instead of eating.

Cedar Waxwing

What could be the final insect of the year was also my first ...

Woollybear caterpillar Pyrrharctia isabella

October sparrow chasing is nearly over for another year...we'll see what next weekend brings!

All images © 2018 Mike McDowell