Thursday, August 17, 2017

Don't wait until the last minute!

For those still looking for optical solar filters or solar eyeglasses for Monday's total solar eclipse, there's another one coming up in the US on April 8th, 2024 ― just 7 years away!

Plan now! Purchase early!

Link: April 8th, 2024 Total Solar Eclipse Information

Note: There will be no birding or nature blog post this weekend. I'll be traveling to Nebraska to view the total solar eclipse. So far the weather forecast is calling for mostly sunny skies where I'll be.

Keeping my fingers crossed!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Observation and Adoration

"There is pleasure in the pathless woods. There is rapture on the lonely shore. There is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea and music in its roar. I love not man the less, but Nature more."

― Lord Byron

Wood Duck and Spotted Sandpiper

A small mudflat formed at the confluence ponds where I was hoping to find a few shorebirds, but not many migrants came down from the north over the weekend. With my digiscoping gear ready, I watched as an immature (spotless) Spotted Sandpiper scooted past a young Wood Duck. The sandpiper made its way out to a point on the flat and then began to preen.

Spotted Sandpiper

Several minutes elapsed with the bird systematically checking its feathers, but eventually it returned to foraging from one end of the mudflat to the other. The morning was cool and there weren't as many mosquitos, but the calm was interrupted by a stream of people participating in some kind of running event. First the sandpiper flew, and then the Wood Duck. Apparently, Lord Byron's sentiment was to be found elsewhere. Exploring the rest of the North Fork and ponds, I found Green Herons, Great Blue Herons, Swamp Sparrows, Eastern Kingbirds, Yellow Warblers, Willow Flycatchers, and many Barn Swallows.

Spotted Sandpiper

Cup Plant Silphium perfoliatum

My next stop was the prairie parcel of Pheasant Branch Conservancy. As you can tell from these photographs, the skies were clear and the weather was beautiful. As per usual, the main gravel path was being used for physical fitness activities, so I headed into the prairie on one of the intersecting grassy paths. It takes a few minutes to get away from the sounds of joggers on gravel, their heavy breathing, and utterly banal conversations which are necessarily shouted.

Pheasant Branch Conservancy

There was a better conversation taking place, anyway.

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinches are quite vocal right now on account of it being their breeding time―their's was the dominant avian voice throughout my morning hike. I came upon one particularly vociferous male perched atop a tall Compass Plant. And, no, I'm not too proud a nature photographer to pass up on such an opportunity. Sure, they're common ... but that's a good thing.

American Goldfinch

While spending time photographing August's wildflowers, I noticed flight calls of Purple Martins overhead. When I arrived at the big springs I found all five expected swallow species perched on the utility wire that passes over the stream. Most were Northern Rough-winged and Barn, but there were also Bank, Cliff, and a single Tree Swallow.

Sneezeweed Helenium autumnale

Hoary Vervain Verbena stricta

Prairie Ironweed Vernonia fasciculata

Chicory Cichorium intybus

And then it was time to move further south into the woods and creek corridor for insects. But first, one final wildflower. Deptford Pink is an introduced species, but I don't often encounter it and took time to obtain a nice portrait. Actually, I find them quite visually stunning, but so are many non-native wildflowers I suppose.

Deptford Pink Dianthus armeria

Like last year, there continues to be a dearth of hopper insects this summer. Throughout five miles of hiking I found only a few Buffalo Treehoppers on Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum). Where once I used to find dozens of Two-marked Treehoppers (Enchenopa binotata), I found only one, but it hopped away before I could get a photograph of it. I suspect there would be more enchenopa if pruning along the cul-de-sac leading to Parisi Park wasn't done so aggressively. But it's difficult convincing some that such insects are anything but pests. In truth, they probably don't even know they're there.

Buffalo Treehopper Ceresa taurina

Red-banded Leafhopper Graphocephala coccinea 

Planthopper Acanalonia conica

Finally, I seem to be frog-lucky this summer. After not seeing a tree frog for several years, I found another one while scanning plants for insects. Such adorable little creatures!

Eastern Gray Treefrog Hyla sp.

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
August 12th- 13th 
63 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Wild Turkey
Ring-necked Pheasant
Great Blue Heron
Green Heron
Turkey Vulture
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Spotted Sandpiper
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Willow Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Warbling Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Purple Martin
Tree Swallow
Bank Swallow
Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Carolina Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Tennessee Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Yellow Warbler
Field Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Common Grackle
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2017 Mike McDowell

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Another Great Sign!

Another great sign I'd like to see at Pheasant Branch Conservancy!

Monday, August 07, 2017

Tonight's Moon

Swarovski ATX 85 @ 25X
Swarovski TLS-APO 30mm
Nikon 1 V1 & FT-1
80A Blue Filter
ISO 100, 1/80th Second Exposure

The next time I see the moon's full disc I hope to be in Nebraska under clear skies!

© 2017 Mike McDowell

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Summer Signs

"And there, next to me, as the east wind blows in early fall, a season open to great migrations, are those lives, threading the air and waters of the sea, that come out of an incomparable darkness, which is also my own."

― John Hay, The Way to the Salt Marsh

Least Sandpiper Calidris minutilla

Though it's still astronomical and meteorological summer, subtle phenological cues of seasonal change are beginning to occur. As is often the case, a Least Sandpiper was my first southbound bird species of the migration that's underway. Amazingly, the little peep may have already flown a thousand miles or more, making its way to Texas, Mexico, or perhaps South America. They stopover at appropriate habitat for a day or two, allowing us a brief opportunity into their lives. I have also started to notice the dispersal of swallows; they're presently forming large flocks in preparation for their journey south.

Pheasant Branch Conservancy

Precipitation levels have been unusually high this summer, so the woods and prairies are lush and bursting with wildflowers. Naturally, there's a downside to all the water. Although the prairie appears rather inviting in these photographs, it's absolutely loaded with mosquitos. Thus, insect and wildflower photography just isn't quite as enjoyable as it normally is. I don't like to use insect repellant, but my ThermaCELL unit just wasn't cutting it.

Purple Coneflower Echinacea purpurea

Swamp Milkweed Asclepias incarnata

Cardinal Flower Lobelia cardinalis

Eastern Gray Treefrog Hyla sp.

While photographing wildflowers, I found this adorable Eastern Gray Treefrog nestled below a milkweed seed pod. Such fantastic camouflage ― I'm not sure how I didn't miss it! I often hear them while birding along the creek corridor, but so seldom get to see them. What a treat! To capture a photograph of it, I slowly and carefully leaned in with my camera, doing my best not to disturb it. The stealthy treefrog remained completely motionless while I snapped a few pictures.

And now for this week's insects!

Viceroy Limenitis archippus

This beautiful Viceroy kept returning to the same perch, but that's where any notion of cooperativeness ended. It took quite a bit of effort to get this shot, as the butterfly was fairly skittish whenever I approached. Persistence and patience won the match!

Northern Flatid Planthopper Flatormenis proxima

Turning my macro lens to the jungle of vegetation below my knees, I was pleased to find an interesting variety of hopper insects. Both planthoppers and leafhoppers are in the order Hemiptera. The infraorder Cicadomorpha (planthoppers) has over 20,000 described species while Fulgoromorpha (leafhoppers) exceeds 12,500 species worldwide. The Northern Flatid and Two-stripped Planthoppers were both new species for me. I also saw a few Buffalo Treehoppers, but they were too quick today.

Two-stripped Planthopper Acanalonia bivittata

Sharpshooter Leafhopper Draeculacephala zeae

Leafhopper Gyponana sp.

Leafhopper Gyponana sp.

In addition to the hoppers, there were other fascinating creepy-crawlies...

Ambush Bug Phymata sp.

Crab Spider Misumessus oblongus

Damselfly Ischnura verticalis

Robber Fly Holcocephala abdominalis

I came across the Gnat Ogres once again. This time I tried to get photographs that highlight their freakishly cool compound eyes. Like my last encounter with this species, I did not see any of them catch and eat any prey items. One day I hope to see one take a gnat!

All images © 2017 Mike McDowell

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Fall Field Trips & Open Birding Dates!

Happy August!

These are my field trips and open birding dates for the fall season:

08-27 @ 7:00AM PBC (CC) Warblers! [OB] 
09-10 @ 7:00AM PBC (CC) Warblers! [OB] 
09-16 @ 8:00AM Spring Green Tiger Beetles! [NRF] *
09-24 @ 7:30AM PBC (CC) Warblers! [OB] 
10-08 @ 7:00AM PBC (PP) Sparrows! [NRF] *
10-22 @ 7:30AM PBC (PP) Sparrows! [OB] 
12-09 @ 8:00AM PBC (PP) Shrike Hunting! [OB] 

NRF = Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin
OB = Open Birding
* = Registration Required ($)

Please note: The tiger beetle field trip at Spring Green Preserve is full, but I believe there are still openings for the NRF sparrow field trip at Pheasant Branch Conservancy on October 8th.

Link: What is Open Birding?

All Creek Corridor (CC) walks meet at “Parking for Creek Corridor”
Prairie Parcel (PP) walks meet at “Parking for Prairie Parcel”

See: Google Map of Pheasant Branch Conservancy (PBC)

Monday, July 31, 2017


Pheasant Branch Conservancy

I finally felt well enough to get back into the field on Sunday. Still below full strength, I kept it simple and easy, sticking to a few places near home. It had been over a month since my last birding excursion at Pheasant Branch conservancy, but I wasn't very thorough during this late July outing and didn't even bother to eBird my observations. While the prairie parcel had more noticeable avian activity, the creek corridor was a better place for insect photography; sitting, kneeling, and leaning was more my pace for the day, anyway.

Gray Catbird

While scanning cup plant stalks, I came across my first Buffalo Treehopper of the summer season. I didn't have a clear angle on it, but managed to find a small window below a leaf for a portrait. I also searched for Red-banded Leafhopper, but found only Citrus flatid Planthoppers, which were fairly numerous throughout the creek corridor. I found just one Peacock Fly at the first bridge crossing.

Buffalo Treehopper

Citrus flatid Planthopper

Citrus flatid Planthopper

Zebra Spider Salticus scenicus

A highlight of the day was discovering a tiny robber fly species I've never encountered before. At only 8mm in length, I could have easily overlooked these little gnat ogres, as they are sometimes called. There were probably half a dozen of them, but I didn't see any holding prey. Still, what an awesome little monster!

Robber Fly Holcocephala abdominalis

Robber Fly Holcocephala abdominalis

Sylvia knew of a spot not far from Middleton where we might find Juniper Hairstreak butterflies. Having never seen the species, I thought they would make stunning blog subjects. Nectaring on Queen Anne's Lace Daucus carota, the little green and orange butterflies were very cooperative insect subjects.

Juniper Hairstreak Callophrys gryneus

And a couple more tiger beetle portraits from earlier in July ...

Punctured Tiger Beetle

Big Sand Tiger Beetle

Bring on August!

All images © 2017 Mike McDowell