Monday, August 22, 2016

Turning Fifty

"There is a certain part of all of us that lives outside of time. Perhaps we become aware of our age only at exceptional moments and most of the time we are ageless."

― Milan Kundera

"Whether you live in a rural area, town, or city, nature is all around us. Harness the power of nature to live your life and slowly accomplish your dreams."

― Alexis Evans

Pheasant Branch Conservancy creek corridor

On Sunday I celebrated my fiftieth birthday among friends and Nature. Under beautiful skies and gorgeous weather, Sylvia, Dottie, and I explored the creek corridor of Pheasant Branch Conservancy for a few hours in search of southbound wood warblers. Saturday night's northwest winds ushered in fresh migrants: Northern Waterthrush, Canada Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, several Chestnut-sided Warblers, American Redstarts, and Common Yellowthroats. There also appeared to be an increase in the number of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds zipping around.

Pandora Sphinx Moth caterpillar

Unfortunately, there weren't any opportunities to photograph the frenetic warblers on account of the dense jungle-like woods; it was simply impossible to frame them as they foraged for insects high up in the canopy. We did get a nice look at a brilliant male Canada Warbler still in breeding plumage, but it was too far away to photograph. Instead, I opted for insects once again. The best find of the day was a Pandora Sphinx Moth caterpillar. I've observed this species just twice in my life and only in caterpillar form, and each time it was Sylvia who made the discovery.

Peacock Fly

Peacock Flies! I just adore these little insects ― they're fun to watch, but not so easy to photograph on account of their tiny size and erratic method of locomotion. They tend to move around in semicircles, pausing only for a fraction of a second. If you get them at just the right angle they'll show blue iridescence on their wings. I posted the above photograph on Facebook and was humored by one commenter on Wisconsin Naturalists who wrote "Get out! That is a thing?"

Besides warblers there were other creek corridor birds, mostly residents like Black-capped Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches, Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, House Finches, and American Goldfinches. It won't be much longer and the male goldfinches will molt out of their brilliant yellow suits. There were fewer Red-eyed Vireos, Baltimore Orioles, and Eastern Wood-Pewees. Missing were Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Phoebe, and Wood Thrush. Along with new arrivals we have final departures; we won't see them or hear their songs until next spring. Late summer and fall birding is the ceremonial farewell.

American Goldfinch

We came up empty on treehoppers once again. Their absence is a complete mystery to me. Two years ago we found ample treehoppers all along the creek corridor. Last year they were present but scarce. Sadly, not even one so far this year. I don't know enough about their ecology to explain their disappearance (are they cyclical over years?), but they are sorely missed ― you can't even take tiny insects for granted.

Evening Primrose

After parting ways with Sylvia and Dottie, I went to the prairie to admire the sky and the drumlin. Most of the Common Yellowthroats have moved on, but a few holdouts still remain. As I watched the clouds roll by and listened for birds, I thought about my history with Pheasant Branch. Curious about a dilapidated sign at a trail entrance along Century Avenue, I discovered the conservancy around thirty years ago and a computer programmer's life was changed forever.

The prairie parcel

The conservancy has undergone significant changes in terms of habitat restoration, new trails, boardwalks, and popularity with the public. I wonder how much have I changed over the years. Back then I knew the place was special, but for different reasons ― I really had no idea. So, perhaps I have changed. But through all that time one thing that hasn't changed is the peace and happiness Pheasant Branch Conservancy brings me. I'm immensely grateful for everything the land has taught me about the ecology of Nature's flora and fauna.

Nothing is trivial.

Common Yellowthroat

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Aug 21, 2016 8:00 AM - 11:00 AM
40 species

Great Blue Heron
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Least Flycatcher
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing
Northern Waterthrush
Tennessee Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Canada Warbler
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2016 Mike McDowell

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