Monday, September 07, 2015

Early September Sights

"I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see."

― John Burroughs

Like the peak of spring bird migration at the middle of May, often times I want to be in several places simultaneously on any given day during the month of September. Fall warbler migration reaches its apex, insects and wildflowers begin their farewell tour, and the late summer woods renders dazzling combinations of color appealing to our visual perceptions. But it isn't only what can be seen, there is a feast to be enjoyed by our olfactory and auditory senses as well. To be in one place means potentially missing something elsewhere, but Nature always delivers something to be grateful for no matter where you choose to visit.

Each step taken along the Pheasant Branch creek corridor path opens new possibilities for discovery. Nature presents herself to the mindful and curious; regardless of one's level of attentiveness, there is something for everyone. Perhaps it's merely the restless creek itself, surrounded by and meandering through the tropical-like woods, murmuring all the way to Lake Mendota.

Pheasant Branch Conservancy creek corridor

For some visitors it's all about the wood warblers, now moving north to south as they make their way to their wintering grounds over a thousand miles away. Some have already been on the move for a few weeks, while others are just getting under way. A distinct chip-note manages to break through the creek's burbling ― it's from a Northern Waterthrush. The wary warbler carefully probes the rocky crevices along the creek bank in search of juicy morsels to eat. It knows it isn't alone, but determines the threat is of little concern; fattening up for the next leg of migration is more critical to its survival.

Northern Waterthrush

My birding group has observed 19 warbler species since August 1st. New arrivals this past weekend included Northern Parula, Bay-breasted Warbler, and Black-throated Blue Warbler. The most abundant species are American Redstart, Chestnut-sided Warbler, and Tennessee Warbler. Here's a Tennessee Warbler briefly pausing before moving on to the next branch in search of the perfect green caterpillar. Though primarily carnivorous, they're opportunistic fruit eaters during migration and also on their wintering grounds.

Tennessee Warbler

And, naturally, there are a myriad other things to catch your eye along the creek corridor, but here are just two dazzling examples:

Blue Lobelia 

Marbled Orbweaver Araneus marmoreus 

Meanwhile Mark Johnson is on the prowl for jumping spiders and tiger beetles. Today he found Virginia Big-headed Tiger Beetles at Spring Green Preserve, but early Saturday morning we went to my tiger beetle spot along the Wisconsin River near Sauk City. We arrived a little too early; the tiny terrors hadn't yet emerged from their burrows in the sand, but there were other fascinating critters in the sandy habitat, like this awesome Arctosa sp. Wolf Spider:

Arctosa Wolf Spider

About a half an hour later we found a Hairy-necked Tiger Beetle (Cicindela hirticollis), our first of the morning. Since discovering their presence at this location earlier in the summer, I've been trying to get front-angle images of this species without luck. Having photographed 11 different kinds of tiger beetles, I can tell you with complete confidence that this is the most uncooperative species I've ever worked with.

This particular beetle showed promise, but it quickly flew off before I could take another exposure:

Hairy-necked Tiger beetle Cicindela hirticollis

Yeah, this is how I'm used to be treated by Hairy-necked Tiger Beetles:

I move right, they turn left. I maneuver back, they shift right. Argh! Fortunately for us, there were many more of this species present than on our previous visits ― the odds were finally in our favor! Eventually, after an hour of frustration, I crept up on a somewhat cooperative Hairy-necked:

Camera steady, I was in place and only had to press the shutter button and wait. Still wary, the tiger beetle did the rest by rotating (see the pebble in the front-middle for a reference point):

Hooray! What a ferocious beast!

How about a closer look?

Just look at those mandibles!

In additional to Hairy-necked, other tiger beetles on the beach and sandbar included Big Sands, Festive, Oblique-lined, Punctured, and Bronzed. Six tiger beetle species at one location! Even on my best days at Spring Green Preserve I can find about that many, but they're way more spread out and in far lower numbers. Having such an impressive number and variety of tiger beetles in a comparatively small area is a real treasure.

Big Sand Tiger Beetle Cicindela formosa generosa

Tiger beetle country! Slender Cottonweed

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Sep 7, 2015 7:00 AM - 10:00 AM
48 species

Canada Goose
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Barred Owl
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Great Crested Flycatcher
Yellow-throated Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Swainson's Thrush
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing
Northern Waterthrush
Golden-winged Warbler
Blue-winged Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
American Redstart
Magnolia Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Al images © 2015 Mike McDowell

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