Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Bird Camp turned Mosquito Camp, Wisconsin River, Sauk County

Peter, Lisa, Kyle and Lindsey. Lindsey is happily making her way through clouds of mosquitoes.
On July 20-21, 2013,  a small group of Madison area birders met at a friend's Wisconsin River property southwest of Sauk City for what was dubbed Bird Camp.  The intent was to gather for some leisurely birding, camping and food and drink around a campfire.  Arriving mid-afternoon, one thing became apparent, the mosquitoes were going to be insane! While there was some relief in the sun, even during the hot afternoon, any time spent in the shade was met with swarms of mosquitoes.

I took the opportunity before other friends arrived to investigate the bug life on the banks of the Wisconsin River.  I was specifically interested in what tiger beetles I might find.  Several Bronzed Tiger Beetles were scurrying across the sand in the afternoon sun. This was the only species I observed.

Bronzed Tiger Beetle

A well-caumouflaged Wolf Spider(Arctosa sp.) occupied my interest for several minutes.

Wolf Spider, Arctosa sp.

I also observed several Blue-fronted Dancer damselflies and a Midland Clubtail dragonfly.

Midland Clubtail Dragonfly
Blue-fronted Dancer

As the sun was setting the mosquitoes became exponentially worse by the minute. Refusing Deet and opting for my natural bug spray, I paid the price with any exposed skin, mostly my hands and face, getting mutilated repeatedly by mosquitoes. Our friends, Kyle and Lisa, who only came out for the afternoon and early eve, were finally driven away by the massing blood thirsty mosquitoes as dusk came upon us.  The remaining four of us, Lindsey, Corey, Peter and myself braved the swarms for several additional hours into the late evening. Corey, who also abstained from Deet, demonstrated his mosquito thwarting method (pictured below).  However, I imagine burying one's face against the ground can only be endured for so long.

Corey in his mosquito thwarting position.

Moon rising over the Wisconsin River
As the moon rose above the river and dark came upon us, the mosquitoes lessened some and we were able to distract ourselves with moon gazing via my spotting scope. Wondering if any planets could be seen, I pulled out my handy Night Sky app and discovered Saturn was visible to the west.  We were able to see Saturn's rings and one of its moons. I attempted to digiscope Saturn, but could not stabilize my mount long enough for a clear image. Hopefully once I get my back-ordered Swarovski Spotting Scope Rail II this problem should be remedied.

Moonrise at civil twilight

Around the 10 o'clock hour, we were treated to a calling Eastern Whip-Poor-Will across the river in neighboring Dane county.  A Dane county lifer for me and year bird for Lindsey.

In the morning we woke to the continued fierce swarm of mosquitoes. My mosquito ravaged skin felt some relief during a brief swim in the Wisconsin River. Following our morning swim, we hurriedly broke down camp and retreated to our mosquito free cars to head toward home, but not before we took some time to admire a millipede that Lindsey found.

After the whole mosquito ordeal, I decided I needed to stop in Middleton at the Craftsman Table and Tap for a soul-soothing Bloody Mary over brunch.

Brunch of champions!
39 Bird species were encountered during this brief two day visit to the banks of Wisconsin River in Sauk Co. They are as follows:

Canada Geese
Great Blue Heron
Sandhill Crane
Spotted Sandpiper
Solitary Sandpiper (seen by others)
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Eastern Whip-poor-will
Belted Kingfisher
Red-headed Woodpecker (seen by others)
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Eastern Bluebird
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Cedar Waxwings
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
American Goldfinch

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Prairie Fame-flower!

Prairie Fame-flower

Determined to see the rare Prairie Fame-flower in bloom, I once again returned to Spring Green Preserve early this evening and was delighted to find several ephemeral blooms of this rare succulent! After having cased out a small patch of this species a few days ago, I was surprised at the number of plants actually growing in the prairie that seem to only become evident when the blooms draw attention.  Early evening seems to be an optimal time to catch this ephemeral bloom. Fear not the heat. Just bring plenty of water.

Prairie Fame-flower with hoverfly

My visit this evening was relatively brief, just over an hour or so in the 90+ degree heat.  

Here's a few notes from the field....

Punctured Tiger Beetles continue along the sandy path in good numbers.

Punctured Tiger Beetle

More Dotted  Horsemint is blooming.

Dotted Horsemint

The Hoary Vervain continues to bloom along the entrance path, but is less numerous.  I was able to find an anomalous nearly all white bloom of this species.

Hoary Vervain
Hoary Vervain

Clustered Poppy Mallow
The Clustered Poppy Mallow I discovered a few days ago already seems on its way out.  The Prairie Tick-trefoil I found on the east side of the prairie, which seemed to have just started blooming a few days ago, had no blooms to be found.  While the majority of these plants are adapted to the dry desert environment, several appeared more wilted on this particularly hot day.

Clustered Poppy Mallow

There weren't as many robberflies around this evening, but I managed to spot a few along the path.


I detected either a racerunner or skink, but never had a sufficient look to make an ID.

The Lark Sparrows were numerous and singing and the Grasshopper Sparrows were few. Bluebirds, Dickcissels and Field Sparrows continue to sing as well.

Each visit, I wonder about that second year male Blue Grosbeak seen earlier this spring.  It hasn't been detected in over a month.  I assume perhaps he moved on.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Bearing Witness to Spring Green Preserve

Thus far this spring and summer I've made a rewarding effort to spend more time at Spring Green Preserve.  It's been a on my bucket list for several years to witness the changing flora of this place.  Therefore, on July 12, 2013, I returned to Spring Green Preserve to continue to bear witness to the changing flora at Wisconsin's desert prairie. My primary goal this trip was to reach the top of bluff.  This is something that has eluded me for many years.  Most visits, I find my time constrained by the hours I spend admiring the birds, insects and flowers along the first half mile or so of the trail.  I also came to the prairie with the hope of seeing the rare Fame-flower or adding a new species of tiger beetle to my growing life list.  

When I arrived shortly after 10 a.m., the temperature was still relatively mild by Spring Green standards, hovering around the mid 70s and sunny.  Complimentary sprays of purple Hoary Vervain and yellow Sand Evening-Primrose greeted me along the path into the preserve. The temperature remained pleasant throughout my 5 1/2 hour visit, although I still felt I was baking as I traveled along the exposed desert prairie landscape.

Near the entrance kiosk, I spotted an unfamiliar brilliant reddish flower mixed in among the vervain and evening-primrose.

I deduced later this was Clustered Poppy Mallow which is listed as a  "special concern" species for Wisconsin per Black and Judziewicz's Wildflowers of Wisconsin.

Clustered Poppy Mallow
I noted as I gazed across the prairie landscape, once again the predominant palate was yellow and green.  However the yellows of the Hoary Puccoon and St. John's Wort of earlier visits were now replaced by Sand Evening-Primrose.

Punctured Tiger Beetle
Punctured Tiger Beetles were easily spotted and actually quite common along the path leading across the prairie to the base of the bluff.  In the sand blowouts, Big Sand Tiger Beetles were present as well.  Although easily encountered, the Punctured Tiger Beetles along with the robberflies, proved a continual challenge to photograph.  Most attempts to get a photo of the tiger beetles were thwarted by their quick scurrying further down the path or a stealth move into a photographically less desirable shady spot.
Punctured Tiger Beetle

As for the robberflies, they appear to be even more skittish, flying away at even the most subtle approach toward them.  Fortunately, I lucked out when one was preoccupied long enough with its prey to allow me to get close for some decent photos.

Efferia albibaris robberfly

Sand Wasp, Bembix americana sp
Early in my visit to the preserve, I acquired a rather annoying companion.  I initially thought it was a hoverfly of sorts, but came to learn this creature is a Sand Wasp (Bembix americana sp). This wasp literally stayed with me for the first TWO PLUS HOURS of my hike. While I generally felt content on this day, I'll admit this insect was slowly driving me toward insanity by its constant buzzing about my person.  I will also admit to having audible words with this creature, but my cuss words were lost on its lower order brain.  This fly predominated such a large chunk of my time in the prairie, I began wishing it would land so I could take its picture and give it proper acknowledgement as the pervasive creature of the day.  To my disappointment, it did not oblige with any photo op on my trek up the bluff trail.  I eventually lost its tail when I entered the shady woods where wasp buzzing was quickly replaced by the din of a dense population of mosquitoes.  As luck would have it though, an hour or so later, when I returned from the woods, my persistent buzzing friend awaited me in one of the sand blowouts on the east side of the prairie. At this point, he was less interested in annoying me and was fiercely digging away in the sand, kicking up sand like only this maniacal wasp could do.  I have to say, seeing it grounded was quite a stunning sight and this bug-of-a-wasp quickly became the star of my day.

Kicking sand

As I mentioned, I did achieve my goal of getting to the top of the bluff with the side benefit of getting my heart rate up.  While I was hoping for a snake encounter, none were seen.  If you obey the sign indicating the "Bluff Trail Ends Here," this is your view... 

View from Bluff

I did encounter I few butterflies along the steep wooded trail that ascends to the bluff. Common Wood-nymph, Red-spotted Purple and Great Spangled Fritillary were among the species seen. Also in the shadier woods, I found the first Six-spotted Tiger Beetles I've seen at Spring Green Preserve.  These were a particularly randy pair having a good time as only tiger beetles know how to do.

Common Wood Nymph

Six-spotted Tiger Beetles
(in a compromising position)

Great-spangled Fritillary

The insect orgy continued in the prairie where I spotted these copulating Eastern Tailed-Blue.

American Copper on Lead-plant
In contrast, the American Coppers were resigned to less risqué activities such as gathering nectar. These were the most numerous butterfly species encountered this visit.

As for the birds, they too appear to have moved on from nature's drive toward copulation. The Grasshopper, Field and Lark Sparrows continue to be busy carrying mouthfuls of insects to nests at undisclosed locations.  Despite our nearing mid July, all three of these sparrow species were singing throughout the late morning and early afternoon.  In addition, Dickcissels seem more prevalent than prior visits and were quite vocal as well.

I was glad I decided to take the entire bluff trail because this took me farther east in the prairie where I typically don't venture.  It was here I was pleased to find a small patch of the rare Fame-flower.  Unfortunately no blooms were open in the early afternoon when I happened upon these plants. Being truly ephemeral, the flowers of this succulent only bloom for one day and only for a few hours in the late afternoon sun...quite an alluring little fact that makes me wish to return and observe this fleeting bloom on another more fortunately timed day.

Fame-flower's succulent foliage
Fame-flower bud

Goingfurther to the east I also found Dotted Horsemint and Prairie Tick-trefoil.  The latter is a new plant species I've not observed before.

Dotted Horsemint
Prairie Tick-trefoil
So with that, while I didn't add any lifer tiger beetles nor see any reptiles or amphibians, I achieved my goals of reaching the bluff top and seeing the rare Fame-flower.  Also par for course were the unexpected discoveries of a few plants, robberfly species and other insects that made for another spectacular visit to this magical place.  Witnessing the succession of plants, insects and reptiles has been nothing short of amazing. I am impressed by the diversity and rapidly changing palate of flowers and insects seen in a relatively short span of time.  I can't wait to see what other unexpected discoveries await me on my next visit.