Sunday, May 27, 2018

2018's 1st Spring Green Preserve Visit!

"In every outthrust headland, in every curving beach, in every grain of sand there is the story of the earth."

― Rachel Carson

Dickcissel Spiza americana

Dickcissels are back! So, that's it. Spring Migration 2018 is officially OVER. Well, just in the sense that I don't expect to add any other newly arrived species for the remainder of spring. On a larger scale, many birds are still moving northward. It will be interesting to see whether Dickcissels skip over Pheasant Brach like they did last spring and summer. And yet, during the same time, they were abundant at so many other responsibly managed prairies. Speaking of well-managed prairies, I made my first visit of the year to Spring Green Preserve on Saturday. As I turned onto Jones Road, which is about a half mile from the preserve's parking lot, I found a dozen Dickcissels perched on telephone wires and fence lines. They acted like new arrivals. Don't ask me how I know, I just ... know! Sharing the fence line, a few Savannah Sparrows added their voices to the morning choir.

Savannah Sparrow Passerculus sandwichensis

Spring Green Preserve

The sandy trail that leads to the main prairie seems so full of potential and possibilities. Though I'm always listening to background birdsong, I made sure to keep alert for Blue Grosbeak, Northern Mockingbird, and Yellow-breasted Chat. But dominating the soundscape were sparrows: Field, Song, Chipping, Grasshopper, Vesper, and Lark. It was challenging to hear much of anything else.

Grasshopper Sparrow Ammodramus savannarum

Grasshopper Sparrows were very numerous at the part of the prairie where the trail curves east and runs parallel to the bluff. It seemed like every cedar hosted one of these diminutive singers. The preserve was cleared of most of its cedars long ago, but some remain and they make perfect lookouts for sparrows and other songbirds.

Lark Sparrow Chondestes grammacus

Lark Sparrows seemed more numerous than ever. Excellent! To my eye they're one of the most striking birds of the sand prairie. This particular female seemed to be combing through the vegetation looking for the perfect spot to build a nest while her mate was serenading her from a nearby oak tree. Earlier during my hike I came across another Lark Sparrow with her beak full of nesting material, primarily various dead grasses. I tried to get photographs, but the bird was moving too quickly depth-wise through ground vegetation for me to nail the focus. The one pictured here, though, was utterly accommodating.

Oblique-lined Tiger Beetle Cicindela tranquebarica

Naturally, no visit to Spring Green Preserve is complete without identifying and photographing its tiger beetles. I found just three species, though: Oblique-lined, Festive, and Big Sand. I'm sure there were probably Six-spotted along the woodland trial up to the top of the bluff, but I spent all my time on the prairie. Mosquitoes and black flies were pretty thick in the wooded parts of the property and the breeze when out in the open kept temperatures bearable.

Festive Tiger Beetle Cicindela scutellaris

Big Sand Tiger Beetles Cicindela formosa generosa

Birdsfoot Violet Viola pedata

The Birdsfoot Violets were a little past peak, but there were still pristine ones to admire and photograph. I didn't spend as much time looking for wildflowers and feel as though I may have missed some gems. That's the beauty of the preserve―there's so much to observe it can leave one feeling a little bit like a one-eyed cat in a fish market!

Hoary Puccoon Lithospermum canescens

Violet Wood-sorrel Oxalis violacea

Dung Beetle Melanocanthon bispinatus

One has to be careful when planting a foot anywhere on the sandy trail. Whether ants, bees, beetles, grasshoppers, or snakes, there's much that's easy to overlook that could be inadvertently stepped on. A cool insect that's easily missed is the Dung Beetle. It's especially interesting if you find a couple of them battling over their quarry (yep, dung). I spotted a melee, but the two beetles settled the matter before I was able to document it with my camera. I wish I had gotten a video of it. I'll try to do that some other time.

After exploring the preserve's east unit for three hours, I checked the west unit for Blue Grosbeak before heading to the General Store for lunch. Alas, I heard none. However, it won't surprise me if one or more were to be discovered by myself or other birders in the near future. Since I'm still feeling a bit of disappointment over Dane County's lack of progress regarding Pheasant Branch, I'll probably return to Spring Green next weekend to see how things have changed. While there were none during this outing, aggressive robber flies should be emerging soon. I didn't see very many butterflies, either. I recall a few Monarchs and maybe a Tiger Swallowtail or two. 

As with all previous mini-adventures at Spring Green Preserve, it's a wonderful experience to have so much amazing wildness accessible to the citizen scientist and nature photographer. During my outing there was only one other couple hiking the trail, and they were also non-muggle nature-y types. Though the preserve isn't far from the village of Spring Green, it seems to hold far more respect than Middleton's natural areas. But then again, this preserve is owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy and not a parks commission. They take nature a bit more seriously.

Spring Green Preserve--East, Sauk, Wisconsin, US
May 26, 2018 7:00 AM - 10:00 AM
43 species

Canada Goose
Turkey Vulture
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Black-billed Cuckoo
Chimney Swift
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
American Kestrel
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
Horned Lark
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Barn Swallow
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Blue-winged Warbler
Grasshopper Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Clay-colored Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Eastern Towhee
Scarlet Tanager
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Eastern Meadowlark
Orchard Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
Brown-headed Cowbird

All images © 2018 Mike McDowell

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