Tuesday, June 06, 2006

More Grassland Stuff...

Cream Wild Indigo

Recently I explored a place I've never been to before - Marbleseed Prairie in neighboring Green County. Teeming with birds, butterflies and wildflowers, it's a remarkable tract of habitat containing a rich diversity of native species. Best of all, it's a little closer to home than Thousand's Rock Prairie, so it may become my new location for studying and photographing grassland plants and critters.

Grasshopper Sparrow

At one point I had a Henslow's Sparrow and Grasshopper Sparrow in the same scope field-of-view, and then a moment later a Grasshopper Sparrow and Clay-colored Sparrow. There were also Field Sparrows, Bobolink, Eastern Meadowlark, Upland Sandpipers, Yellow Warblers, Indigo Buntings and more. Other birders have reported Bell's Vireo and Yellow-breasted Chats at this spot, but I didn't hear or see either the short time I was there.

Speaking of grassland species, there is what I call a "ditto-thread" on the Wisconsin Birding Network about an apparent increase in the number of Dickcissels being seen around the state this year. Their numbers seem to be typical at places I've checked this spring (remarkably, even the Deming Way birds). I guess this doesn't really have anything to do with the context of this post, but I digress.

Dickcissel population trend (1966-1999) © Cornell BNA on-line

If there is an increase in the Dickcissels population in southern Wisconsin, it could mean a couple of different things. Perhaps it suggests they experienced a very productive breeding season last year, but it may also be a sign that a population was extirpated from nearby habitat lost to development. Or maybe far fewer were killed on their wintering grounds where they form huge flocks and are considered pests by some crop farmers. In Venezuela Dickcissels are eaten. In addition to being shot and clubbed, a particularly nasty collecting practice is to run cars over roosting flocks at night.

Grasshopper Sparrow/Cream Wild Indigo images © 2006 Mike McDowell

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