Sunday, July 17, 2016

Prairies, Savannas, and Sandbars

"All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered."

― Kenneth Grahame

Spring Green Preserve

There are times when the desire to do nature photography creeps up on me. At first I'm content with the pace of simply putting one foot in front of the other as I traverse a path ― my eyes and ears effortlessly take in the grandeur of my surroundings. But usually, after some indeterminate number of steps through scenes of natural beauty, inspiration begins to simmer. Fortunately, my gear is lightweight enough that I generally take it with me no matter my original intention; there's always the possibility of changing one's mind.

Our plan was to return to Spring Green Preserve to see the Blue Grosbeak, and that ambition was achieved within the first hour. But where to next? The entire day was free of obligation. On such a day, with fair weather and kindred spirits, only the finest natural areas would do. Another visit to Pleasant Valley's oak-covered hills was the unanimous vote.

Pleasant Valley Conservancy

The Red-headed Woodpeckers were feeding youngsters. I watched one adult catch a large insect on the wing then fly to a branch and offered the morsel to an awaiting juvenile. Indigo Buntings and Field Sparrows were the main players in the late morning choir, but there were other voices with only a slightly lesser role to fill. I generally don't expect so much birdsong this time of year, but if my home was Pleasant Valley I'd probably sing every morning, too!

Punctured Tiger Beetle

Always on the alert for little critters near my feet, I was somewhat surprised to see a Punctured Tiger Beetle on a moss-covered rock. In the past I would often ponder why a such a dark colored insect would inhabit bright sandy areas, but this particular tiger beetle blended in splendidly with its organic surroundings ― they're very much a habitat generalist.

Purple Prairie Clover

The remainder of the Pleasant Valley tour was spent admiring plants, wildflowers, birds, and butterflies. There's so much more than what I've reproduced here and I have little doubt I could go back again and again and keep finding something new at this awesome state natural area.

Purple Prairie Clover

Black-eyed Susan

Culver's Root

Smooth Cliffbrake

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

A sandbar along the Wisconsin River yielded my first southbound migratory birds of the season. The little peeps were foraging at a small inlet with shallow water. Though I made a cursory check for tiger beetles, I spent more time photographing the shorebirds. I also found a freshly emerged Eastern Tiger Swallowtail extracting nutrients from moisture in the sand with its proboscis.


Semipalmated Sandpiper

Semipalmated Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

Monkey Flower

After dropping my friends off in Middleton, I went to the prairie parcel of Pheasant Branch Conservancy to measure its July progress. It appears to have reached its summer apex. While the grassland has been taken over by Common Yellowthroats, I also heard a few Sedge Wrens during my brief visit. It was a full day and I was beginning to feel drowsy ― the good kind of tired after a full day of hiking, appreciating, studying, and photographing. I photographed a few more wildflowers and headed home.

Pheasant Branch Conservancy

Compass Plant

Purple Coneflower

All images © 2016 Mike McDowell

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