Sunday, June 04, 2017

Suddenly Summer

"These people have learned not from books, but in the fields, in the wood, on the river bank. Their teachers have been the birds themselves, when they sang to them, the sun when it left a glow of crimson behind it at setting, the very trees, and wild herbs."

― Anton Chekhov

Pheasant Branch Conservancy Prairie

We got slugged with summery weather over the weekend; temperatures soared into the upper eighties and low nineties. Nature photography simply isn't as much fun during sweltering weather (as if anything is). Nevertheless, an experienced naturalist can almost always find interesting things to photograph despite challenges and obstacles. But I suppose I wasn't yet ready for the mugginess of summer-like weather. I was further ill-prepared for combating biting black flies that left red welts around my ears.

Common Yellowthroat

Apart from Nature's minor annoyances, I found respectable avian diversity along the trails of Pheasant Branch Conservancy (53 species). Though northbound migrants have vacated the creek corridor, I will return throughout summer for interesting insects. Now the prairie is the best place to go birding during June and July for an assortment of grassland and savanna species. But don't get too comfortable ... fall migration begins next month!

I'm often asked which warbler species nest at Pheasant Branch. There are mainly three: Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, and Yellow Warbler. In the past there have been Blue-winged and Chestnut-sided Warblers. And I suppose one could add Yellow-breasted Chat to the list, but it's really unlike a wood warbler despite the DNA evidence.


Spiderwort is in bloom once again at the prairie. Though it's common to the point of being weedy, it remains one of my favorite wildflowers of late spring and early summer. For me it signals a turning point in where I concentrate my field efforts.

Peck's Skipper

Long-legged Fly

In addition to tiger beetles, long-legged flies are one of my favorite summer macro photography subjects. These tiny flies belong to the family Dolichopodidae, which has over 7,000 described species in around 230 genera. They're abundant along the creek corridor on plant leaves near water, but you can find them just about anywhere, even in your backyard. Believe it or not, this insect family is well represented in amber deposits dating back to the Cretaceous period (145 to 65 million years ago).

Six-spotted Tiger Beetles seem to be fairly abundant this spring. Look for them on any woodland path. This particular individual has excellent markings (maculations) on its elytra (wing cases).

Six-spotted Tiger Beetle

I kept things relatively low key on Sunday and went to visit the Prothonotary Warblers at Lakeshore Nature Preserve with Sylvia and Dottie. A male and female were observed performing maintenance on a tree cavity. It seemed like the female was doing most of the work, but whenever an intruding songbird got within several yards of the nest site, the male would take off after it like a golden dart. Returning from a successful chase, the swamp warbler would perch to either rest or sing. I could see him breathing when viewing the energetic warbler through my spotting scope.

Prothonotary Warbler

Though it was the first subject I ever photographed with my Yashica FX Super 2000 and Celestron C8, here's the moon once again as it looked just a moment ago. However, this photograph was taken with my Nikon 1 V1 and Swarovski ATX 85 spotting scope.

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Jun 3, 2017 7:00 AM - 9:30 AM
53 species

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

All images © 2017 Mike McDowell

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