Saturday, July 30, 2005

Bird News from around the World

Latest Bird News...

Robins, not crows, may spread West Nile

HARTFORD, Connecticut (AP) -- The beloved American robin, not the annoying, raucous crow, may be the more potent source for West Nile virus, according to new research.

Link: Full Story from CNN

Courting bird sings like a cricket

A bird that lives in the Ecuadorian rain forest attracts mates by striking its wing feathers together behind its back, researchers say.

Link: Full Story from Nature

Praying Mantis Makes Meal of a Hummer

Check out these photographs of a Praying Mantis capturing and eating a hummingbird!

Link: Full Story from Birdwatchers Digest

'Penguins' march defies summer box office trend

At summer film box offices plagued by slow ticket sales, the hottest documentary this year is about a very cold topic: Emperor Penguins in Antarctica.

Link: Full Story from Yahoo News

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Digiscoped Tiger long last!

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You never know when or where Nature’s next panoply of color will bring about an opportunity to photographically capture a rare moment. I try not to force the issue and this summer’s sizzling heat all but evaporated my motivation for fieldwork, but today’s cooler weather brought back a little inspiration in the form of a yellow butterfly in our backyard.

Enjoying a relaxing afternoon on the deck, I noticed a TIGER SWALLOWTAIL fluttering about the yard. It eventually lit on the spruce tree just a few feet off the ground and I admired it from a distance through our binoculars. But then it just stayed there…and stayed there…and then the moment transformed to that familiar feeling when the event ceases pure admiration and the drill is contemplated. Would it stay? Where is the digiscoping equipment? It was in my car…a mere 50 feet away, but seemingly as distant as the Andromeda Galaxy when at any moment chaotic forces of nature could cause the butterfly to stir. It might be a slight breeze, a cloud moving in front of the sun, or maybe one of the several skittish Mourning Doves disturbing the very branch suspending my quarry.

Skeptical it would stay, I still got up from my chair to fetch the gear and recounted the many digiscoping opportunities that rendered only the drill. You think birds are tough? Try butterflies.

Tiger Swallowtail image © 2005 Michael Allen McDowell

Monday, July 25, 2005

Please keep your bird feeders clean!

It seems so inherently unfair that people who choose to feed birds may be creating problems for finches. With a little periodic effort, you can safely provide food for them but please keep your bird feeders clean! In the past few weeks I've noticed a substantial increase in the number of House Finches coming to my backyard bird feeders. So here's a reminder on why we need to be diligent in keeping the feeders clean for our hungry feathered friends.

Brief History: Since January 1994, when House Finches with red, swollen eyes were first observed at feeders in the Washington, D.C. area, including parts of Maryland and Virginia, House Finch disease has spread rapidly through the eastern House Finch population. Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis, as the disease is commonly called, is caused by a unique strain of Mycoplasma gallisepticum, a parasitic bacterium previously known to infect only poultry.

Bird Feeding Guidelines to prevent Disease:
  1. Space your feeders widely to discourage crowding.
  2. Clean your feeders on a regular basis with a 10% bleach solution solution (1 part bleach and 9 parts water) and be sure to remove any build-ups of dirt around the food openings. Allow your feeders to dry completely before rehanging them.
  3. Rake the area underneath your feeder to remove droppings and old, moldy seed.
  4. If you see one or two diseased birds, take your feeder down immediately and clean it with a 10% bleach solution.
Link: House Finch Disease Survey

Link: FAQ about House Finch Disease

Link: All about the House Finch from Cornell Labs

I've since discarded the tube feeder that you see in the above image and went with a larger mesh-style one as pictured below with the Rose-breasted Grosbeak. There is less crowding and the birds don't have to stick their heads into the dispenser holes, plus it's a lot easier to clean.

House Finch image © 2005 Michael Allen McDowell

Albatrosses in Peril

"Supersize" mice are eating seabird chicks alive on Gough Island, one of the most important seabird colonies in the world, UK conservationists report. The rodents are taking out one million petrels, shearwaters and albatrosses each year on the UK Overseas Territory, in the South Atlantic.

Link: Full Article from BBC News

Albatross image courtesy of US Fish & Wildlife Service

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Backyard Rose-breasted Grosbeak

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Much needed rain is moving through Wisconsin today, but I did get a chance to get some birding in this morning at Nine Springs. There were 8 shorebird species, low in numbers though. New "south-bound" bird was SEMIPALMATED PLOVER. Sadly, there was a dead GREAT BLUE HERON at the back pond...I immediately suspect West Nile Virus, but who knows. For an hour's walk I finished the morning with 49 species around the settling ponds. When I got home from work last evening, I finally digiscoped the ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK [female] that has been raiding my safflower feeder all summer. Check out the beak on that bird!

Link: All about the Rose-breasted Grosbeak from Cornell Labs

Rose-breasted Grosbeak image © 2005 Michael Allen McDowell

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Red-cockaded woodpecker on the rebound!

Hey, how about some GREAT news!

"We have turned the corner," said Ralph Costa, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's red-cockaded woodpecker recovery coordinator in Clemson, South Carolina.

Link: Full Article

Red-cockaded Woodpecker image courtesy of US Fish & Wildlife Service

Monday, July 18, 2005

The First Migrants of Fall

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Yesterday the heat index reached over 100F here in southern Wisconsin - too hot for doing much of anything outside. The summer solstice has passed and the days are getting shorter once again - we are definitely reaching the zenith of summer's dog days, and so buzz the cicadas.

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For many shorebirds, the shorter photo-period is innately sensed as a signal for the beginning of their great trek back to their wintering grounds - fall migration has arrived. Indeed, having had a look around at some of my favorite Dane County shorebird haunts in the past week already revealed SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHERS, SOLITARY SANDPIPERS, LESSER-YELLOWLEGS and LEAST SANDPIPERS. Many more species are on their way.

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The drought here has brought down some of the larger ponds north of Waunakee and I'm optimistic that this fall we'll once again be graced with BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPERS at the V-Pond. This shorebird species nearly became extinct around 1920, but they've made somewhat of a comeback. So far the habitat at the V-Pond looks excellent, I just hope it doesn't dry up completely before the influxes of shorebirds arrive.

Quote of the Day: "There is nothing in which the birds differ more from man than the way in which they can build and yet leave a landscape as it was before." - Robert Lynd

Link: All about the Short-billed Dowitcher from Cornell Labs

Link: All about the Buff-breasted Sandpiper from Cornell Labs

Link: Help Manomet and help shorebirds.

All images © 2005 Michael Allen McDowell

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Arctic lakes can be polluted by bird droppings

"Pollution is swept to pristine areas of the Arctic by wind and sea. But now researchers have pinned down an important mode of transport that creates local toxic hotspots: sea birds. Canadian researchers have found that lakes in the Arctic that are frequented by northern fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis) can harbour 10-60 times more pollutants than neighbouring, birdless lakes. These pollutants include persistent, toxic compounds such as mercury, DDT and hexachlorobenzene (HCB), which were once common ingredients in pesticides and fungicides."

Link: Full Article from

Link: All about the Northern Fulmar from Cornell Labs

Fulmar colony image courtesy of US Fish & Wildlife Service

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Officials probe young pelican deaths

Some rather unfortunate news coming out of North Dakota...

BISMARCK, North Dakota (AP) -- The Fish and Wildlife Service is investigating the deaths of thousands of young white pelicans at a wildlife refuge in central North Dakota, a year after thousands of adult birds abruptly left the same location.

Link: Full Article from CNN.COM

Link: All about the American White Pelican from Cornell Labs

Quote of the Day: "It is inconceivable to me that an ethical relation to land can exist without love, respect, and admiration for land, and a high regard for its value. By value, I of course mean something far broader than mere economic value; I mean value in the philosophical sense." - Aldo Leopold

Pelican image courtesy of US Fish & Wildlife Service

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Midwest Birding Symposium - 2005

It’s time to Register for the Midwest Birding Symposium!

The Quad Cities is looking forward to hosting the 2005 Midwest Birding Symposium on October 13-16th. The headquarters for the 2005 Midwest Birding Symposium is the River Center in downtown Davenport, Iowa. Attendees will have the opportunity to attend sessions on raptors & river ecology with nationally-recognized speakers; walk through the trade show with all kinds of birding merchandise, such as binoculars, books and feeders; enjoy guided birding field trips, exhibits, family programs, and silent auction; and a cruise on the Mississippi River on the Celebrations Belle riverboat.

Famed digiscoper Kent Nickell of is presenting a digiscoping workshop but space is limited so sign up soon!

Link: Quad Cities MWBS Main Website (registration information)

Link: MWBS Field Trips

Link: MWBS Presentation Schedule

Eagle Optics is a proud sponsor of the 2005/2007 Midwest Birding Symposium.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Digiscoping Dragonflies

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Speaking of dragonflies, they are sometimes considered one of nature's most neglected beauties. When I'm out bird digiscoping and happen upon a perched dragonfly, I seldom pass up the opportunity to capture an image of it. I don't usually share the dragonfly images, but I thought I would at least let my blog readers know that digiscoping is an excellent way of photographing them. This dragonfly above is called a Halloween Pennant.

Back in the days of my SLR, I used a macro lens, but I would have to get within a foot in order to capture dragonflies in detail. Early in the morning when dragonflies are still inactive, this is much easier. However, digiscoping allows me to be as far as 30 feet away and record great detail. Here's a Widow Skimmer I recently digiscoped at Pheasant Branch Conservancy:

(click on image for larger version)

Like birds and some butterflies, dragonflies also migrate, but very little is understood about it. For current discussion, there is an on-line listserv on Odonata. Also, I like to keep a copy of Karl Legler's "Dragonflies of Wisconsin" field guide in my backpack just in case I happen upon a species I can't identify on sight. Though it may never replace birding, watching and/or digiscoping dragonflies will help round out the naturalist in you. All the equipment you own for birding can be used for studying these colorful insects!

Quote of the day: "Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain." - Henry David Thoreau

All images © 2005 Michael Allen McDowell

Saturday, July 09, 2005

An evening at Spring Green Reserve

A favorite Sauk County grassland bird haunt of mine is Spring Green Reserve, which is owned by The Nature Conservancy. It’s the most desert-like habitat I know of in Wisconsin; you can even find prickly pear cactus growing! If invertebrates are your thing, eight different tiger beetle species (those super-fast iridescent beetles) can be found in the sand prairie, as well as many butterfly and dragonfly species.

As much as I enjoy taking in the unique flora and fauna, I mostly visit the reserve for the great birding. A few days ago I spent an evening hiking the trail system and found gems such as PILEATED WOODPECKER, ORCHARD ORIOLE, DICKCISSEL and GRASSHOPPER SPARROW. However, extremely plentiful were LARK SPARROWS that seemed to be perched on nearly every oak tree, as in the digiscoped image above.

In addition to these species, the prairie hosted FIELD SPARROWS, EASTERN MEADOWLARKS, EASTERN BLUEBIRDS and EASTERN KINGBIRDS. But the surprise of the evening came as I was just about to my car and heard the distinct call of a NORTHERN BOBWHITE. From where I was parked, the sneaky bird managed to get into my scope's view for just a second...I barely got off this shot:

The bobwhite scampered off and I could hear rustling in the leaves and grass to my left. There was a brief pause, then all of a sudden, it sprinted across the gravel driveway way faster than I could ever hope to capture in an image. And here I thought warblers were tricky to digiscope -- this bird had my strategy all figured out…super sneaky! It eventually perched about 3 feet up in the tangle on the right of the path near the gate, but...I just let it be and headed home as it was getting late. Plus, 1/8th of a second shutter speed is pretty worthless in late evening lighting.

Wait until next time!

Link: All about the Lark Sparrow from Cornell Labs

Link: All about the Northern Bobwhite from Cornell Labs

Quote of the Day: "Nature is painting for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty." - John Ruskin

All images © 2005 Michael Allen McDowell

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Bird travels tracked by fluorescent droppings

A forest in South Carolina has been peppered with fluorescent bird droppings, all in the name of conservation. The unusual technique was used to track the movement of birds between patches of their preferred habitat after it has been broken up, in this case by stretches of pine trees. The scientists sprayed wax myrtle seeds, a favourite food of eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis), with fluorescent powder and then tracked the brightly coloured results.

Link: Full Article

Link: All about the Eastern Bluebird from Cornell Labs

Eastern Bluebird image © 2005 Michael Allen McDowell