Thursday, May 10, 2018

Mere Observations

"No thief, however skillful, can rob one of knowledge, and that is why knowledge is the best and safest treasure to acquire."

― L. Frank Baum

Indigo Bunting

We've reached the peak of spring migration at the creek corridor of Pheasant Branch. Though I've never attempted a veritable Big Day, it's possible to see over 100 bird species at the conservancy at the present time. I had my first 20+ warbler species day of the season on Tuesday, and the same for yesterday. In the pattern of past migrations, we'll have this feathered treasure for about a week and then migration begins to wane. Though many birds will continue to be on the move into early June, by the end of May warbler diversity drops to the 3 species that nest at the conservancy: American Redstart, Yellow Warbler, and Common Yellowthroat.

Black-and-white Warbler

Though Black-throated Blue Warblers are being reported in parts of Dane County, I've still yet to see one this spring. However, I've had many good views of Prothonotary Warblers, Cape May Warblers, and I even got a glimpse of a Kentucky Warbler as it foraged along the ground. Even if I don't see a Black-throated Blue this spring, it would be difficult to be disappointed with this particular migration season. My latest record for this species during spring is May 18th, so there's still time. Plus, if I do miss it this May, there's always fall migration to catch a southbound bird.

Blackpoll Warbler

Wood Anemone Anemone nemorosa

Gail and I took a day trip to Indian Lake Park, which is just a few miles north of Middleton. We found a good selection of warblers on the trail that runs along the south side of the lake. From a distance, we saw a gorgeous Red-headed Woodpecker, but it was too far away to get photographs of it. Some expected nesters at this location were not yet present. I heard no Orchard Orioles, Ovenbirds, or Acadian Flycatchers. Cerulean Warblers once nested at this site, but I haven't seen or heard one in several years there. This is a bird in rapid population decline. Without adequate conservation targeted for this species, there's a chance they'll become extinct before the end of this century.

Wild Geranium Geranium maculatum

After hanging out at the Blue Spoon for beverages, we made a stop at the Sauk City Canoe Launch to check water levels and tiger beetles. There were several Bronzed and Festive Tiger Beetles, but I found only one Big Sand Tiger Beetle. Since mid-afternoon on a sunny day, the ferocious little predatory beetles were extremely difficult to photograph. I managed to score a nice series of just one Bronzed.

Bronzed Tiger Beetle Cicindela repanda

The final stop of the day took us to the flooded field near Ashton. Scoping the water we found several shorebird species, including Semipalmated Plovers, Lesser Yellowlegs, Pectoral Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, and even a pair of Marbled Godwits.

Semipalmated Plover

Marbled Godwit

The last event of the day was a public hearing by Dane County Parks regarding the proposal by the Friends of Pheasant Branch Conservancy to ban dogs from the prairie parcel of the conservancy. It was a rather frustrating and disappointing experience. Cognitive dissonance prevailed. Though I am not a scientist by profession, my observations regarding declining and extirpated grassland birds at the prairie were not taken seriously by the residents of Northlake, a housing subdivision adjacent to the east side of the prairie.

Many comments were hilariously ludicrous: "I have lived next to the conservancy for over 20 years, and I have never seen a dog off its leash there." Hmm! Fascinating. Another said that perhaps clearing Honeysuckle off the drumlin has caused a decline of grassland bird species. Yeah, I don't quite get that. The standard persecuted carnivorous mammals received blame like foxes, coyotes, raccoons, and other native critters that have coexisted for thousands of years alongside birds. At least one individual suggested conducting a six-month study on the impact dogs might be having on migratory grassland songbird populations. I wonder which six months we should choose? Anyway, it quickly became evident it was a hostile and uninformed crowd, and didn't want to be informed, so I left.

The data is the data and it doesn't lack merit just because it wasn't collected by a professional scientist. The fact is, pet dogs, leashed or off leash, create pressure and impact native wildlife. One wouldn't think science denialism would be so rampant in an enlightened community like North Lake, but I've been wrong before and I'll be wrong again. If I am wrong about the impact dogs are having, I'll just go to Pope Farm Conservancy (dogs banned) where these particular birds appear to be thriving, especially Clay-colored and Vesper Sparrows. Perhaps it's the case the birds are eating something at Pope Farm that makes them unpalatable to foxes and coyotes.

I do treasure the ornithological knowledge I've acquired regarding the avifauna of Pheasant Branch. My education began in 1987 when I first stepped foot into the conservancy and spotted my first-ever warbler, an American Redstart. After thousands of outings and over a hundred books on ornithology, dozens upon dozens of field trips and talks I've given to the public, I'm always eager to share this knowledge to those who are willing to listen. North Lake? Not so much.

A rare photograph of the author.

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
May 8, 2018 5:35 AM - 10:37 AM
83 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Green Heron
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Chimney Swift
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
American Kestrel
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Yellow-throated Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Carolina Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Swainson's Thrush
Hermit Thrush
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Northern Waterthrush
Golden-winged Warbler
Blue-winged Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Prothonotary Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Orange-crowned Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Kentucky Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Cape May Warbler
Northern Parula
Magnolia Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Palm Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Eastern Towhee
Scarlet Tanager
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Baltimore Oriole
Red-winged Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Common Grackle
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2018 Mike McDowell

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