Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Countersingers

"The trees were friendly, they gave me rest and shadowed refuge. Slipping through them, I felt safe and competent. My whole body was occupied. I had little energy to think or worry."

― Aspen Matis

Pheasant Branch Conservancy Creek Corridor

Bird migration continues to wind down. My last visit to the creek corridor yielded only a handful of wood warblers and few non-resident migratory birds. The Sun moves higher each day and the tree canopy has filled in. Though it remains astronomical spring by the position of the Earth relative to the Sun, in appearance and color the woods have taken on a more summery veneer. Thus, I decided to visit the prairie to see what grassland birds were present.

Lupines at Pheasant Branch Prairie

Arriving at the prairie I discovered an impressive population of Common Yellowthroats. Other voices of the grassland choir included Orchard Orioles, Eastern Meadowlarks, Willow Flycatchers, Field Sparrows, and Eastern Kingbirds. The stoic kingbird is an insect-catching marvel to behold, flashing its white outer tail feathers while in pursuit of prey.

Eastern Kingbird

Later in the morning a few of us decided to visit Cherokee Marsh Conservation Park to search for a pair of Yellow-breasted Chats which were recently reported. While we did get to see one of them through my spotting scope, more entertaining was watching two male Indigo Buntings engaged in territorial countersinging.

Indigo Bunting

The battleground was centered on a fence line and two particular trees. The buntings would initiate a melee by perching within a few feet of one another in what I could only describe as an intense stare down. Then without warning, a chase would ensue; one bird with the other flying closely in pursuit would dive into a tree on the far end of the fence line.

And then the countersinging began!

As I've written before, countersinging presents a great opportunity for the nature photographer to get incredible bird portraiture. Late May presents the perfect time to seek out these territorial interactions as birds settle into their summer homes.

Curiously, there was a third male Indigo Bunting that did not get involved with the territorial battle, but seemed to have an interest in its outcome. I recall reading somewhere that other nearby conspecifics will listen in on countersinging males in order to gain information about their neighbors, assessing their competitive strength. Perhaps this particular individual was gathering intel for a future duel.

The remainder of the long weekend was spent at other nearby natural areas like Baxter's Hollow, Indian Lake Park, and Spring Green Preserve. I took far too many photographs for a single blog post, but below are a few of the highlights.

Spring Green Preserve

The usual avian subjects were present at Spring Green Preserve, such as Lark Sparrows, Grasshopper Sparrows, Field Sparrows, Eastern Towhees, Orchard Orioles, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. I was hoping to hear or see Blue Grosbeaks, which had been reported earlier this spring. Unfortunately, even after spending four hours hiking the trails, there was no sign of them. Naturally, there were plenty of Tiger Beetles and other critters on the sandy path to enjoy.

Jumping Spider - Phidippus audax

Oblique-lined Tiger Beetle - Cicindela tranquebarica 

Sand Milkwort - Polygala polygama

Yellow Lady's Slipper - Cypripedium parviflorum

Showy Orchis - Galearis spectabilis

And so another May comes to an end. This one will go down as one of my most memorable with great birds, beautiful natural areas, and wonderful friends, both new and old. With June just around the corner comes a reminder: daylight hours will reach their apex and then slowly taper as the this beautiful planet continues its journey around an unregarded star in the western spiral arm of our galaxy.

Enjoy the spectacle of Nature's gifts!

Stalked Scarlet Cup - Sarcoscypha occidentalis 

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
May 27, 2017 6:18 AM - 7:48 AM
53 species

Canada Goose
Ring-necked Pheasant
Great Blue Heron
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
Willow Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Tennessee Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Magnolia Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Canada Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch

All images © 2017 Mike McDowell

1 comment:

  1. So interesting about the buntings!! Thanks for the post and gorgeous photos.