Wednesday, June 21, 2017

It's Summer!

"In the garden, birds sing, bees hum and the flowers and butterflies bewitch me. Every bug and beetle, petal and leaf grants peace to me in the present moment. As I tread upon emerald blades that gently sway below crystal skies, the garden unveils to me the philosophy of life."

― Amelia Dashwood


Pheasant Branch Conservancy

Happy Summer Solstice!


Common Yellowthroat

A few more tiger beetles ...


Big Sand Tiger Beetle


Punctured Tiger Beetle


Oblique-lined Tiger Beetle





All images © 2017 Mike McDowell

Monday, June 19, 2017

Weekend Birding at Pope Farm Conservancy!

"I am extremely happy walking on the downs ... I like to have space to spread my mind out in."

― Virginia Woolf


Pope Farm Conservancy

I made two trips to Pope Farm Conservancy in the Town of Middleton over the weekend. Saturday morning's visit was a birding field trip sponsored by the Friends group. I returned on Sunday to photograph the beautiful scenery, flowers, and birds.


Eastern Bluebird

As I previously mentioned, it's an exceptionally good year for finding and observing Dickcissels. During the field trip I spotted a few singing males that were sure to make excellent photography subjects for Sunday. All of the necessary elements came together and I'm pleased with the results.


Dickcissel



The above male Dickcissel was courting a mate and countersinging with another male from across the lower prairie. I observed just one physical interaction between the two when they chased each other around a shrub. The melee lasted only a few seconds. Both birds eventually returned to their perches and resumed singing from atop various tall prairie plants. They were so focused on defending their territories that they paid no concern over the primate with the lens.











A spectacularly beautiful morning ...


Pope Farm Conservancy

There were numerous Clay-colored Sparrows on the south side of the oak-covered moraine. One might not guess from looking at photographs of this sparrow in full song that is voice consists of insect-like buzz buzz buzz calls. It's actually quite comical watching them sing through a spotting scope, but for them the buzzy notes are serious business.




Clay-colored Sparrow






Oak Savanna and Spiderwort

During the field trip I stated it was odd not to hear even a single Orchard Oriole. On Sunday I heard at least one singing from the cluster of burr oaks on the moraine. As I mentioned to the participants, a higher concentration of Orchard Orioles can be found at the prairie parcel of Pheasant Branch Conservancy and Governor Nelson State Park.


Spiderwort

Later in the morning I went to Sylvia's house to photograph a large jumping spider she found in her backyard garden. Though one might think it difficult to track down a single spider, we were able to relocate it within minutes. While scanning her plants and flowers for other subjects, we found a Snowberry Clearwing and a Laphria Robber Fly consuming its prey. Wow! There isn't anything like this on my patio garden. To be fair, Sylvia's backyard is right on the edge of Owen Conservation Park, so she's fortunate to have an astounding variety of critters visit her garden.


Jumping Spider Phidippus audax




Snowberry Clearwing Hemaris diffinis


Robber Fly Laphria thoracica

Pope Farm Conservancy, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Jun 17 & 18, 2017 
55 species

Wild Turkey
Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture
Cooper's Hawk *
Red-tailed Hawk *
Killdeer
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher *
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
American Kestrel
Eastern Wood-Pewee *
Eastern Phoebe *
Great Crested Flycatcher *
Eastern Kingbird
Yellow-throated Vireo *
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Eastern Bluebird
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher *
European Starling
Chipping Sparrow
Clay-colored Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow *
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Indigo Bunting
Dickcissel
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole *
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch

* Sunday's additions.

All images © 2017 Mike McDowell

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Dickcissels!


Dickcissel

I birded Pheasant Branch Conservancy by bicycle early this morning before work and tallied 66 species. I identified most of them by ear, but it's hard to miss the brilliance of a Great Egret foraging along the shore surrounded by bright green vegetation.

It appears we're having a great year for Dickcissels. We saw and heard over a dozen of them during the field trip at the airport a few days ago. They're also present at Pope Farm Conservancy, Governor Nelson State Park, and most other prairies and grasslands around the Middleton area.

Just look at the sightings in and around Wisconsin for June!


Generated by eBird

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Jun 14, 2017 6:00 AM - 7:30 AM
66 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Mallard
Ring-necked Pheasant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Green Heron
Cooper's Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
American Kestrel
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Willow Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Sedge Wren
Marsh Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Yellow Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Dickcissel
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Dickcissel © 2017 Mike McDowell

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Open Birding / Field Trip Update!

Hello!

With the Pope Farm Conservancy field trip and other birding events I'll be attending this weekend, I've decided to cancel Sunday's Open Birding walk at Pheasant Branch Conservancy.

6-18 @ 7:00AM PBC (PP) Grassland Birds! [OB] *** CANCELED ***

I'll post my fall schedule sometime in August!

Mike

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Not Telepathy!

"What can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence."

― Christopher Hitchens


Just when you think you've heard it all, someone on the Middleton Airport grassland birds field trip this morning said to our group that birds maintain flock cohesion via telepathy. At first I laughed because I thought she was joking. Alas, she wasn't. And she didn't accept my explanation that complex flocking behavior in birds is based on simple rules of interaction. Sadly, further woo was injected into her argument. Despite my pleas for her to drop the subject, she persisted so I went into full scientific smackdown mode. For her part, standard logical fallacies were deployed, especially appealing to ignorance.

We don't know everything, so...

Which then expands into:

We don't know how something works, therefore we do (so, telepathy). 

No.

If we don't know how something works, then we don't know how something works. We don't arbitrarily make up something, appeal to mystical or supernatural explanations, or propose other pseudoscientific nonsense. At one point I think she was starting to tell me that she has a science degree. I don't, but I still know birds don't use telepathy for the reason that it isn't real; there is absolutely zero scientific evidence that the power exists.

I think it may have been ornithologist Edmund Selous (1857-1934) who first postulated thought-transference in birds because he believed flock movements were too synchronized and rapid to be any type of natural coordinated behavior. Today we know better. Flocking dynamics and coordinated behavior can be explained with a few simple rules of interaction.

From The Smart Swarm, Peter Miller offers this about "adaptive mimicking":
"By adaptive mimicking I mean the way that individuals in a group pay close attention to one another, picking up signals about where they're going and what they know. How they respond to such signals shapes the behavior of the group as a whole, which, in turn, informs the actions of individuals."
Though this was a Madison Audubon field trip, for at least Open Birding dates I'm going to add an additional rule for participants:

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Operation Patruela (No. 14)

"The wild is where you find it, not in some distant world relegated to a nostalgic past or an idealized future; its presence is not black or white, bad or good, corrupted or innocent ... we are of that nature, not apart from it. We survive because of it, not instead of it."

― Renee Askins


Necedah National Wildlife Refuge

Owing to a tip originating from entomologist Mathew Brust, Mark Johnson and I set out early Friday morning for our "lifer" tiger beetle species #14: Northern Barrens Cicindela patruela. Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Juneau County is probably better known as the summer home of Wisconsin's Whooping Crane population as well as excellent habitat for Red-headed Woodpeckers. Truth be told, my last visit to the refuge was nearly a decade ago. In returning to its oak-pine barrens as a slightly more seasoned amateur naturalist, I was awed by its stunning flora and fauna and the smell of the pinewoods was intoxicating.


Pink Lady’s-slipper  Cypripedium acaule

Our target tiger beetle search area was a sandy refuge road approximately 500 yards in length. Though we failed to find even a single tiger beetle during our first pass along the stretch of road, I was thrilled to find a small patch of Pink Lady's-slipper orchids. Not concerned about the dearth of beetles, I surmised we must have arrived before the they had emerged from their burrows.



Numerous dragonflies took to the air as we walked. Though my mind was focused on finding tiger beetles, I paused to photograph a Chalk-fronted Corporal and a few other dragonflies. Friends of ours also reported numerous Six-spotted Tiger Beetles at this particular location the previous weekend. Color-wise, they closely resemble the green form of Northern Barrens Tiger Beetle. We needed to be cautious and certain about identifying any green beetle observed on the path ― a quick glimpse wouldn't likely count.


Chalk-fronted Corporal Ladona julia

And then it happened. I spotted a green beetle a few yards ahead of me. Viewing it through my binocular, I could clearly see from its maculations (elytra patterns) that it was the insect we were looking for. I carefully approached and managed to snap a documentation photograph of my first-ever Northern Barrens Tiger Beetle. How exciting! Now there are only 2 remaining species for Mark and I to find in Wisconsin: Cow Path and Boreal long-lipped Tiger Beetle. I know of a few spots to find the later, but the former may prove to be a bit more difficult.

Link: The 16 Tiger Beetles of Wisconsin


Northern Barrens Tiger Beetle Cicindela patruela

Having recently emerged for the morning hunt, several more of began foraging along the path. For the next two hours Mark and I did our best to obtain quality portraits. But like most tiger beetles, they were alert, fast, and largely uncooperative subjects. Many times my systematic and careful approach resulted in practice and not a picture.











The brown form of the species was also present. According to Pearson, the green form occurs throughout the majority of the species' range, but a small proportion have the green replaced with muddy green, brown, or black. These have been described as the subspecies huberi, but recent research suggests they're a local color variant.







In a reminder of Nature's pitiless indifference and survival of species, a grasshopper became food for a colony of ants. They made quick work out of the barely alive insect. When I came back to this scene about a half an hour later, the ants had largely disassembled the grasshopper, carrying pieces of it back to their formicary.



The temperature began to climb as we moved into late morning, but it wasn't expected to be much warmer than 80 degrees Fahrenheit. This was the main reason we both took Friday off work to do this trip; Saturday's forecast called for temperatures 10 to 15 degrees hotter. In such conditions, tiger beetles will take to shady areas under vegetation so that they don't overheat, making them even more difficult to find.



There was an abundance of Orange Hawkweed in the area where we were photographing tiger beetles. It's an exotic invasive plant species, but it's rather striking nonetheless. And that's precisely why there's so much of it here today.


Orange Hawkweed Hieracium aurantiacum

There were native wildflowers, however...


Blue Toadflax Nuttallanthus canadensis 

Long-leaved Bluet Houstonia longifolia 




Starflower Lysimachia borealis


Wild Lupine Lupinus perennis

Once we were content with our tiger beetle photographs, we decided to try to find Karner Blue Butterflies. The Karner Blue is endangered and would be a new species for both Mark and I. For the best chance of seeing one, we headed over to Lupine Loop Trail on the north end of the refuge.



We eventually found dozens of the little blue butterflies, but they proved to be even more difficult to photograph than tiger beetles. With patience and persistence, I was eventually successful in obtaining a few decent quality portraits from the trail.


Karner Blue Butterfly Lycaeides melissa samuelis

Link: Karner Blue Fact Sheet from USF&W





As far as birds went, I didn't do any digiscoping. However, while focusing my macro lens on tiny critters and plants I heard Red-headed Woodpecker, Scarlet Tanager, Gray Catbird, Red-eyed Vireo, Yellow-throated Vireo, Veery, Wood Thrush, Least Flycatcher, Alder Flycatcher, Dickcissel, Baltimore Oriole, Orchard Oriole, Red-winged Blackbird, Field Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Eastern Towhee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Indigo Bunting, Blue Jay, Common Raven, Sedge Wren, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Yellow Warbler, Ovenbird, and Golden-winged Warbler.

All images © 2017 Mike McDowell