Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Open Birding May 20th: Canceled

Warbler migration seems to be winding down already. Therefore, I'm going to do something else with my time this weekend. Thus, Open Birding on May 20th is canceled.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Never Knowing

"Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance."

— Theodore Roosevelt



Where did their sense of wonderment go? I didn't take it. I think it must have been taken from them long ago, though. Or perhaps it was replaced?



Yes, that's it. Over time it was replaced with cell phones, mortgages, earnings, returns, HDTVs, Nike, E*Trade, and Gucci.



And then all of that, and so much more, was then covered with cynicism, narcissism, denialism, and entitlement ― a hardened saccharin frosting; growing intellectually diabetic from sweet blindness.



They do not know the things that creep through and grow from the forest floor. They do not know their voices and needs.



It's especially frustrating when it's right before their eyes and under their noses.



They run, ride, or walk past it almost every day. And the day passes, and then the days pass. Never knowing their presence, never knowing their history.

Never knowing ...



All images © 2018 Mike McDowell

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 North Lake, 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
Mallard
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
Ovenbird
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

Sunday, May 06, 2018

The Warbler Parade!

"A procession is a participants' journey, while a parade is a performance with an audience."

― Rebecca Solnit


Palm Warbler

The Warbler Parade continues!

Here are the warbler species I've encountered at the Pheasant Branch creek corridor so far this spring:

Ovenbird
Louisiana Waterthrush
Northern Waterthrush
Golden-winged Warbler
Blue-winged Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Prothonotary Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Orange-crowned Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Northern Parula
Magnolia Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Palm Warbler
Pine Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Wilson's Warbler

A few birders have had Black-throated Blue Warbler, but I have yet to find one this May. It's still early, so perhaps there's still time to see one. Thus far I'm not impressed with the overall number of warblers. Only Palm Warbler is being observed in abundance. Curiously, there aren't as many Yellow-rumped Warblers as I used to see along the creek corridor. Perhaps they overflew southern Wisconsin this spring.


Magnolia Warbler

While migration seemed to be stalled, all of a sudden we started getting warblers that I normally don't expect to see so early in May. The Blackpoll Warbler was my earliest, and the Wilson's and American Redstart seemed a tad early as well. Three nights of strong southerly winds opened the floodgates!


Prothonotary Warbler

And it's been a good spring to see Gray-cheeked and Swainson's Thrushes ...


Gray-cheeked Thrush


Gray-cheeked Thrush


Swainson's Thrush


Feather check!





The forest floor is beginning to fill-in with a variety of wildflowers ...


Mayapple Podophyllum peltatum


Prairie Trillium Trillium recurvatum


Dutchman's Breeches Dicentra cucullaria


White Trillium Trillium grandiflorum


Common Blue Violet Viola sororia

Lest we forget, the boreal sparrows are moving through southern Wisconsin as well ...


White-throated Sparrow


White-crowned Sparrow


Lincoln's Sparrow

And my first tiger beetle of the year ...


Six-spotted Tiger Beetle Cicindela sexguttata

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
May 5, 2018 5:57 AM - 10:22 AM
71 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Mallard
Great Blue Heron
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Coot
Sandhill Crane
Solitary Sandpiper
Bonaparte's Gull
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
American Kestrel
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Blue-headed Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Carolina Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Swainson's Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Ovenbird
Louisiana Waterthrush
Northern Waterthrush
Black-and-white Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Orange-crowned Warbler
Nashville Warbler
American Redstart
Northern Parula
Magnolia Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Palm Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Eastern Towhee
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

© 2018 Mike McDowell

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Creek Corridor Gold!


Prothonotary Warbler

Just a quick update ...

We went from 2 or 3 warbler species per outing to a dozen or more overnight! Strong south winds rendered an odd mix of warblers running somewhat counter to what I consider a normal phenological ordering of arrivals. An April 30th Blackpoll Warbler? Today I saw my earliest-ever Bay-breasted Warbler. They're moving through quickly!

As I was driving to work after birding this morning, Ellen Hansen called me from the creek corridor to let me know she found a Prothonotary Warbler at the second bridge east of Park Street. I knew my birding crew had already walked past that spot, so I called Dottie to give her the heads-up. They all ran back to the middle bridge and got the bird! Fortunately, it was still there after work. It took a bit of searching, but my birding group was able to relocate the gorgeous Golden Swamp Warbler.


South winds!

Look!



© 2018 Mike McDowell

Sunday, April 29, 2018

It's Safe!

"Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can offer with the cumulative force of a whole life's cultivation, but of the adopted talent of another, you have only an extemporaneous, half possession."

― Ralph Waldo Emerson


Palm Warbler

My late April warbler report is rather mediocre, but the birding is always good. In addition to a dozen Myrtle Warblers, yesterday my crew found a Pine Warbler and a Palm Warbler along the creek corridor of Pheasant Branch. By this time in past years I've observed around a dozen warbler species, so migration continues to be stalled on account of north winds. But that's going to change tonight! Winds are finally shifting and I expect to find orioles, tanagers, thrushes, and many more warblers in the next few days. However, as a case of direct evidence against uniqueness, I diverted my attention to other nature endeavors in the form of spring ephemeral wildflowers given the dearth of wood warblers.


Pheasant Branch Prairie

The prairie remnant at Pheasant Branch wasn't burned this spring, but there were still blooming Pasque Flowers to be found. While photographing the flowers, I heard my FOY (first of year) Brown Thrasher singing from the north side of the drumlin. On my way up the hill I found a gorgeous adult White-crowned Sparrow, which was also my first of the year. We've been blessed the past several days with clear skies and gorgeous weather, though mornings are still quite cool.


Pasque Flowers





And others ...


Bloodroot






Wild Ginger


Round-lobed Hepatica

Me, Sylvia Marek, and Dottie Johnson wanted more nature after our creek corridor hike, so we decided to head to Baxter's Hollow in the Baraboo Hills to see what wildflowers were open. Within minutes of our arrival we found blooming Bloodroot and Round-lobed Hepatica, but Trout Lilies were still closed. Bird-wise, it was pretty quiet. We heard a Louisiana Waterthrush, but that was the only warbler present. Two Broad-winged Hawks flew over, and there was a Turkey Vulture. There were two other species, but I can't think of them at the moment. It was very quiet. In fact, about the only sound was wind blowing through tall pines and the gurgling of Otter Creek.



Nowadays, any notion of secret or under-explored natural areas seems naive the moment you find a beer can or plastic bottle on the ground. Undoubtedly, someone has been there before. Anyway, finding gold beneath the noses of the masses is more fun. Metaphorically, anyone can find treasure at the end of a rainbow. Don't get me wrong, though, I do like quiet patches of habitat where one can decompress and enjoy one's solitude, but to laud over it and brag about finding so-called "secret places" on social media seems rather childish. Finding a nice warbler haunt or good tiger beetle spot near my apartment? Now that's pure gold.


Baxter's Hollow


Wood Frog

Whenever we visit Baxter's Hollow there's always what we call "the coolest thing." One time it was hundreds of puddling Tiger Swallowtails, and another it was a singing Hooded Warbler at close range. On this occasion it was a small ephemeral pond full of Wood Frogs. What a riot they were! It was impossible not to laugh at their crazy chorus and amorous behavior.







But all good outings in Nature come to a end ...



And the Moon helps see to the next day ...



And that's April. See you in May!

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Apr 28, 2018 6:00 AM - 10:50 AM
54 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
Mallard
Lesser Scaup
Bufflehead
Hooded Merganser
Wild Turkey
Common Loon
Turkey Vulture
Bald Eagle
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Lesser Yellowlegs
Bonaparte's Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Carolina Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Palm Warbler
Pine Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Clay-colored Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Common Grackle
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2018 Mike McDowell