Monday, April 24, 2017

Pneumonia FML

Yep, the diagnosis is in, I've managed to contract pneumonia just in time for spring migration. After suffering with fevers and coughing since last Monday, I finally submitted myself to blood tests, chest x-rays and examination as of Friday to determine the extent of my illness. Ugh.

I'm supposed to rest and stay hydrated, but I have always trended toward being a risk-taker. Therefore despite my malaise and generalized weakness, I've managed to chase a few birds over my week of decline.
Black-necked Stilts, Co V &C ponds, Dane Co, WI 19April2017
And despite the quite seriously prescribed rest, I could not resist some small excursions between house hunting to look for spring migrants. None of this, the house hunting or walking trails looking for birds, is what the nurse practitioner envisioned in the care plan prescribed for me.

Anyway, being dealt pneumonia just in time for spring migration BLOWS. While it takes little energy to drive to find shorebirds or ducks. The warblers are the pinnacle, the crème de la crème of the season as are the spring ephemerals and insects. This is the time of year I want to walk the trails for hours lingering with the warblers and kneel down in the earth to appreciate Nature's treasures. Alas I will have to swallow the bitter pill that this year will be different. My endurance is not what it needs to be to fulfill my aspirations for the season.

American Lady, Parisi Park, MIddleton, WI 22April2017

I've pretty much missed the Pasqueflowers. It is unlikely I will have the time or energy to visit the myriad of areas where I could admire this exquisite ephemeral. I am working on taking heart in the simple delights I can afford, things that may have become banal to those hitting the trails daily. My days are highlighted by sightings such as the first Chipping Sparrow in my yard.

Chipping Sparrow, my yard (for now(, Jefferson Co, WI 23April2017

And brief roadside stops to admire my first of season Palm Warblers.

Palm Warbler, Jefferson Co, WI 22April2017
And occasionally I steal a short visit to various birding hotspots at low key times of the day for both birds and birders. I'm keeping low, on key, peaceful, grateful for the small collection of winged beauties and blooms I see along the way.

Orange-crowned Warbler, Pheasant Branch Conservancy, Dane Co, 22April2017

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Testing the Lens

With the near future calling for work through the weekend, I used my "free" day today for birding and troubleshooting some difficulties I've been having with my Canon 100-400mm II zoom lens. Since acquiring this lens in December, my results with it have been frustrating. It feels rare that I can capture the crisp images I would expect from a new lens. Considering I have rolled the lens off the car seat on the floor of my vehicle at least twice, I believe some functions might be compromised. However, before I pull the plug on sending the lens to Canon for repairs, I decided to take it for a spin at Pheasant Branch Conservancy in Dane County this morning.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Pheasant Branch Conservancy, Dane Co, WI 12April2017
I discovered with greater mindfulness focusing on steady hands and stiff postures, I can achieve sharper results with close subjects.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Pheasant Branch Conservancy, Dane Co, WI 12April2017
But at any sort of distance, especially with birds in flight, the lens appears to struggle with auto-focus more than I expect. Thus I am likely to send the lens for inspection and repair while I am still covered for free repairs.

Northern Harrier at a brief stop at Goose Lake Drumlins SNA en route home, 12April2017
Much of the same birds that have been present in recent days were also present today at Pheasant Branch. High numbers of Yellow-rumped Warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets have been migrating through southern Wisconsin. I've been delighting in watching the male Yellow-rumped Warblers wondering when the novelty of their presence will dissipate to that familiar attitude of "it's just another Yellow-rumped..." As spring migration waxes and wanes, the old jaded attitude toward the likes of Yellow-rumped Warbler and American Redstart seems inevitable for even the best-intentioned of birders. We thirst for novelty setting the bar higher and more grander with visions of more colorful jewels of the forest. I vow not to allow my mind to succumb to such blasphemy this remember the joy of seeing my first male Yellow-rumped this year and the sheer awe I felt the first time I laid sight on an American Redstart at eye level.
Yellow-rumped Warbler (male), Pheasant Branch Conservancy, Dane Co, WI 12April2017 
The current brisk temps of early spring means many of the passerines are foraging low for insects. This affords crushing photography ops that are more difficult to come by in mid-May when the birds move higher up in the leafed-out canopy. Though Pheasant Branch Creek can lure these jewels down to the water to bathe when the temperature heats up later in migration. So the opportunities are still possible for some outstanding warbler views and photos.

I get pretty excited when I "freeze frame" any warbler singing (that's my shout out to J. Geils, RIP). There was plenty of singing happening among the Yellow-rumps and kinglets during my mid-morning birding stroll despite my having missed the dawn chorus.

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Pheasant Branch Conservancy, Dane Co, WI 12April2017
Though much drabber than their male counterpart, a female Yellow-rumped Warbler is still photo-worthy.

Yellow-rumped Warbler (female), Pheasant Branch Conservancy, Dane Co, WI 12April2017
Golden-crowned kinglet numbers have dropped off considerably, seeming to coincide with the recent uptick in the Ruby-crowns.

Golden-crowned Kinglet, Pheasant Branch Conservancy, Dane Co, WI 12April2017
Blue-jays are often considered a "junk bird" in Wisconsin. However I could not resist the morning light illuminating this striking corvid while it collected nesting material from the creek.

I saw my first of the season Hermit Thrushes today. Per usual with this species, none cooperated for photos.

Hermit Thrush, obstructed, Pheasant Branch Conservancy, Dane Co, WI 12April2017

It was late morning by the time I found the bird I was seeking for the day, Louisiana Waterthrush. I had just resigned to thinking I would not find this warbler when it flew in and announced itself with a few loud "chinks" while I was stalking a Brown Creeper.

Louisiana Waterthrush, Pheasant Branch Conservancy, Dane Co, WI 12April2017
As is often the case, my excitement with finding the bird translated into tremors through my upper extremities which prevented any sort of quality image of this difficult-to-photograph species. Once again, in low light, among the tangle, my results were "meh." But that's just fine. Observing the bird is where it's at anyway. Bird photographs are a dime a dozen these days. A photo is merely the icing and I've always preferred my cake plain anyway!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

On the Cusp...

Apparently March was the unmentionable month this year, a blog-free month shadowed by three weeks of illness. March seemed nearly lost except for my last exquisite visit with the Northern Shrike of Goose Lake Drumlins SNA.

Northern Shrike, Goose Lake Drumlins SNA, 21March2017

Once again, and for the last time of the winter, I witnessed this bird's delightful serenade...

But that was March 21st and we are now in the thick of April, eagerly awaiting the promise of more spring migrants. This past Friday, a four day spell of warm weather commenced. Taking advantage of a day off from work, I spent much of Friday outside visiting various locations mostly in western Dane County. The mix of birds I encountered felt like a peculiar clash of winter and spring species.

My first-of-the-year birds for the day, Field Sparrows, Eastern Towhee and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers were consistent with my early spring expectations. These species along with the kinglets are some of the traditional earlier arriving passerines in Wisconsin.

Field Sparrow, Perry-Primrose BCA, Dane Co, WI 

Blooming ephemerals were further evidence of spring...

Hepatica, Blue Mounds SP, Dane Co, WI 
And all the snow was long gone from the southern Wisconsin landscape.

Perry-Primrose BCA, Dane Co, WI
Yet oddly enough, at one of my last stops of the day, the Perry-Primrose Bird Conservation Area, I spied a shrike perched in the prairie. Here in southern Wisconsin, we are in a window where Northern or Loggerhead Shrike is possible. My heart skipped a beat with visions of Loggerhead Shrikes dancing in my head. Without my scope, I would need to approach the bird with stealth to get a satisfactory look to be certain of species. Loggerhead Shrike is rare but regular in Wisconsin and would be a golden year bird for Dane county. However, Loggerhead, this bird was not. I had found yet another Northern Shrike, a revered species to find on any bird outing.

Northern Shrike, Perry-Primrose BCA, Dane Co, WI
This bird marks the fourth Northern Shrike I've found in southern Wisconsin this year. The others were encountered at the previously mentioned Goose Lake (10 times! between 1/24-3/21/17) as well as Jefferson Marsh (1/6/17) and Shovelers Sink (2/19/17). April 7 marks the latest date I have seen a Northern Shrike in southern Wisconsin. I associate this species with the tundra-like conditions of mid-winter. So it seemed rather strange to encounter one on such a balmy spring day. Yet there before me, another Northern Shrike perched on my fictitious non-existent soul...

Reflections of winter were further intensified by a Rough-legged Hawk hovering above. The presence of these two species gave me pause. Perhaps winter is not done with us? Surely it must be.

Rough-legged Hawk, Perry-Primrose BCA, Dane Co, WI 

More northerly climates are beckoning these birds for breeding. And while I'm certainly eager to get on with the thrill of spring, these reminders of the few graces of winter 2017 are a fitting finale to the passing season.

Transitions indeed...Spring is upon us and soon, with bittersweet emotion, I will be moving from the home I've known since 2005. The paperwork has been signed. The process is set in motion...and I have yet to figure out where I'm going...

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Global Warming Weekend Part 2: Bats

I meant to get part two of my global warming birding weekend posted much sooner, but life and exhaustion have a way of getting in the way.

The unseasonably warm temperatures in the 60s continued through the weekend into the first half of this week. As of today that spring prelude has ceased. Temperatures fell throughout the day landing in the 30s with snow starting to fall as I write.

My primary motivation to complete this entry is really just about this bat.

I get almost as excited about bats as I do snakes. It's crazy to think I was seeing bats in February in Wisconsin. It appears the unseasonably warm weather not only brought an onslaught of waterfowl and few early bird species into the state, it also enticed several bats out of hibernation. Several birders reported encountering bats flying near the Wisconsin River over the weekend. I was among those observers. I found bats at two stops in the Mazomanie area along the Wisconsin River. I have learned the bats I observed are likely Big Brown Bats which are known to fly during warm spells in late winter/early spring. Being one of four of Wisconsin's cave-hibernating bat species they are susceptible to white-nose syndrome and therefore have the designation of being a threatened species. Unfortunately being woke so early from hibernation puts these already threatened bats at risk for starvation.

Other than the highlight of seeing the bats, my Global Warming Birding Weekend included many Greater White-fronted Goose,

FOY Cackling Goose,

Cackling Goose far left with Canada Geese, Dane County, WI

....and an influx of Sandhill Cranes, Red-winged Blackbirds and Killdeer along with more ducks.

Sandhill Crane, Dane Co, WI 
I also engaged in what I call "renegade birding," hiking to a "forbidden" beach in the Mazomanie Unit of the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway. Let's just say I visited what I gather was a historically nude beach that was closed to ALL activity last year in a classic uptight midwestern over-reach of state government.

Mazomanie Beach, Dane County
I had never been to this beach, am entirely opposed to the extreme measure of closing it and wanted to satisfy my curiosity in regards to its birding potential. My clandestine hike to this location yielded my first of the year encounters with Purple Finch and Pileated Woodpecker. No nudists though! In fact no people whatsoever.

Purple Finch, Mazomanie, Dane County, WI
Also for the record, at no point during my walk did I breach any sign indicating "Closed Area" and really only learned of the details of just how forbidden this place is after having visited. Those "Closed Area" signs do exist at the historic access point for the beach which is not the route I used to enter the area.

Mazomanie Beach, Dane County
The serenity of my hike was exquisite. Being alone has its merits some days and is something I've grown more and more accustom to. I shall return to explore this area further. Though next time I plan to focus my exploration on the area further south of the "forbidden beach" where I suspect habitat may be more suitable for finding the rare for Wisconsin, Kentucky Warbler. Stay tuned...

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Global Warming Weekend Part 1: Charmed Again

My Wisconsin Global Warming Weekend began Friday afternoon with another trip to Goose Lake Drumlins State Natural Area in search of sunshine, warmth and another encounter with my friend, the Northern Shrike.

Goose Lake Drumlins State Natural Area, Dane Co, WI
The afternoon did not disappoint. Temperatures reached a balmy 61 °F.  The warm weather ushered in my first observations of Red-winged Blackbird and Sandhill Crane. The marsh was otherwise rather quiet. It is only mid February after all. Initially the shrike was nowhere in sight. I contemplated whether the changing weather would signal the departure of my savior to winter's scorn.

I came across this Star-nosed Mole wondering if it was Northern Shrike prey inadvertently left behind.
Star-nosed Mole 
The shrike was MIA for the first hour of  my hike, furthering my fear that indeed its time had come to pass. But as I rambled around exploring more new terrain in the marsh and bog, it appeared as if out of nowhere, conspicuously perched. Hello friend! This time the bird was hunting the interior of the property near the tamarack bog of Goose Lake. I admired my kindred spirit for about a half hour before peeling myself away. Perhaps this day would be the last of my time with this bird.

To my delight the bird had followed me toward the parking area where he perched in a favorite tree and serenaded me while the sun set on the marsh.


Thursday, February 9, 2017

Charming first

On Tuesday I finished work early and headed back to Goose Lake Drumlins State Natural Area for some exercise and to hopefully catch up with the Northern Shrike. I was unable to spot the shrike initially when I peered out over the landscape. However as I descended the trail into the marsh, the bird suddenly appeared.

Northern Shrike, Goose Lake Drumlins SNA, Dane Co, WI 2/7/2016

Per usual it did not fly when I approached closer beneath the tall tree where it perched. It was difficult to get a good angle on the bird given how high it was. Lighting was low on this balmy and considerably foggy day. I collected a few photos then proceeded on my arduous hike on the ice and slush trails leaving the bird to focus on the ever important task of survival.

After I slogged along another 300 or so feet, I stopped to listen. I picked up some unfamiliar truncated warbling-whistled notes coming from the direction where I left the Northern Shrike. Looking back, the bird was still on the same perch and it was singing! This is a first for me and quite a charming one at that! I referenced my Sibley app which only has call notes available. Nope that was not the sound coming from the bird. Checking Xeno-canto I found a recording of its song. The first notes of this recording are a perfect match for the song I heard.

I wondered if singing confirmed this bird to be a male. Checking Birds of North America Online, I learned it does not. "Both sexes are commonly heard singing in late winter (Feb-Mar), especially on sunny days." The behavior I observed certainly fits with this description other than the sunny part.

The shrike was too distant to obtain a recording of its vocalizations. I am hoping on a return trip to witness this charming behavior again and perhaps obtain a recording at much closer proximity.

On my way back to the car I spotted a round creature delicately balanced in a thin tree. Its shape was reminiscent of a porcupine. However, Dane county is too far south for porcupine, thus leaving raccoon as the likely culprit. Sure enough. I suspect the dog I passed on my way out likely flushed it up the tree. Cute in some regards. Though I could not help but wish for this critter to become the meal of a nearby owl or hawk.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Saving Shrike

In a sudden turn of events the sun won the war for the day and indeed, Mother Nature and a certain feathered friend enticed me outdoors after a serious "Debbie Downer" start to the day..

Back to Goose Lake Drumlins State Natural Area I went looking for that endearing Northern Shrike.

Northern Shrike, Goose Lake Drumlins SNA, Dane Co (WI), 5Feb2017
As soon as I rounded the hill I spotted the shrike atop one of its favorite perches. I quickly scrambled back to the car to fetch my digiscoping gear since this would afford me greater reach than my 400mm lens. Ugh, not sure if turbulence or my failing vision was a factor, but once again I failed to get sharp images. Another day...

Similar to last time, the bird hunted in a loose circular territory around the parking area drumlin. I found it rather fascinating to observe its various flight styles. Sometimes it torpedoed deliberately toward prey, other times it glided to another prominent perch and twice I observed it glide and almost free fall like a leaf, gracefully down into some dense shrubs.

The hunting must be productive near the parking area considering the marsh is quite vast and yet the bird seems to favor the area near this particular drumlin. Lucky for me since access to this show is quite convenient! The bird was successful in capturing prey today. However, I was not quick enough nor keen enough to discern where it hunkered down for its meal. Once it flew out of sight with its prey, I figured the shrike show was over for the day. I searched for about fifteen minutes when low and behold the bird reappeared atop one of its favorite perches. For its encore, the shrike flew from tree to tree finally perching for a considerable period while it surveyed its territory during the last bit of sunlight. I shot some video hoping to capture it horking up a pellet. Almost, but not quite.

(click the gear to change to HD for best viewing)

This bird owns my heart. Once again it saved me from myself and my spiraling despair about the current state of our union. For greater than ninety minutes today, the world felt pretty darn magical. I'll take it!