Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Madison Christmas Bird Count Week

Talk about flat-lining this blog. Here's to some resuscitation... Even though I've been out using my old lug-of-a-camera, the Canon DSLR with its heavy ass lens and also playing with my new camera, the much more portable Nikon 1 V3, I can't seem to find the interest to sit at the computer to process images these days.

However since the pouring rain has thwarted my plans to gull at the dump today, I find myself with time to pull together some recent images from the Madison Christmas Bird Count.

Count week for the Madison Christmas Bird Count ended yesterday. The week was good to me. I added three species to my Dane County list for the year, Common Redpoll, Northern Saw-whet Owl and Northern Mockingbird.

I caught up with a flock of Common Redpolls feeding on catkins in Stoughton on Friday. This group had been previously reported by Steve Theissen.

On count day, the Golden-crowned Kinglets were rather confiding or perhaps just too busy foraging after our sub-freezing temps overnight to care about my close presence.



One of the young birders who joined us for the count also found a Ruby-crowned Kinglet which is a decent bird for any Wisconsin CBC. No photos were had.

I was amazed how close I was able to approach these Cedar Waxwings who were also busily gulping down calories to combat the cold weather.




Funny how an American Robin sighting can fire-up the team. Everyone was unusually eager to get on this bird, a phenom reserved only for count day.


Multiple Northern Saw-whet Owls were found roosting on count day. I was fortunate to observe this one with some appreciated intel from my birding friends. This is only my second daylight sighting of this species and my first in Wisconsin. While it wasn't the most satisfying look, an owl is an owl and I was pleased to see it.

A Northern Mockingbird was likely the most notable bird seen during the Madison CBC. It has continued to remain in the Eagle Heights Community Gardens since being reported by Daniel Schneider on count day. I easily refound this bird yesterday.


A few White-crowned Sparrows were also enjoying the gardens along with the many American Tree Sparrows.


I scoured the garden area for a Merlin reported earlier in the day, but alas was not successful in finding it. Merlin would be a year bird for Dane County for me. With a little time still remaining in 2015 I hope to add a few more species to both my Dane and Jefferson County lists. I could have done better this year. But does it really matter and to whom? My interest has definitely waxed and waned as to the importance of achieving some high total on any county list. Chasing a number can feel so empty and it causes birders to behave in unappealing ways. Keeping it simple (a LOADED statement in my mind) definitely has its merits...and seeking accolades has never been my thing.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Ruby Rules the Roost

Tonight I visited Koshkonong State Wildlife for an evening walk with the birds. The setting sun lit the trees for some splendid views of Myrtle Warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets along with smattering of other songbirds.


This Ruby-crowned Kinglet was joyfully going about his foraging oblivious to my presence or calls for attention (pishing).



He kept his ruby crown well hidden.


Then suddenly became attentive. "Hark who goes there?!"


"An imposter!"



And in a proverbial Ruby-crowned Kinglet style of opening up a can of whip-ass, he flared this crown and belted into song.


"Take that!"



While the Myrtle Warblers looked on, "what the hell is all the racket down there?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Splendidly Festive Part I!

Sunday, September 13th, Spring Green Preserve was calling me for a visit. A perfect day of abundant sunshine and glorious insects was just the panacea I needed after enduring another one of life’s beatings during the prior week. The power of Nature can be incredible where even the most sadistic monsters melt away into nothingness. Nature: grounding, curative, exhilarating…and Sunday it was absolutely splendid, brilliant magenta and green Splendid!

Splendid Tiger Beetle

I arrived mid-morning on a relatively mild weather day. With the temperature in the low to mid 60s, the tiger beetles seemed less agile. I was feeling pretty Jedi with my tiger beetle stalking skills. I headed down the path, immediately eyeing a Big Sand tiger beetle running toward me. Freeze frame, captured!

Big Sand Tiger Beetle eating an ant

Big Sand Tiger Beetle eating an ant

Big Sand Tiger Beetle eating an ant (close up)

Next up was one of at least a dozen Festive tiger beetles I saw during my hike in the sand prairie.




In fact, the Festive tiger beetles slightly outnumbered Punctured on this day.







Since the Punctured Tiger Beetles were also seemingly more obliging, I seized the opportunity to add to my collection of photos of this species.



This summer I’ve become enamored with bee flies. They can be quite prolific during peak blooming season at Spring Green though only a few were seen on this day.
Anastoechus barbatus


Further up the path, in the main sand blow transected by the bluff trail, I found several more Festive, Punctured and a couple more Big Sand tiger beetles. I also encountered tiger beetle species number four for the outing, Oblique-lined, feasting on ants.



The robber flies were less cooperative. However I managed to sneak up on this Proctacanthus milbertii snacking on a sand wasp. Many others eluded my camera.

Proctacanthus milbertii with sand wasp

By the time I reached the woods ascending to the bluff, the temperature had risen into the low 70s. I was glad to find myself in the shade of the forest as I'd begun to feel a little cooked in the desert sun. A small migrant bird flock was moving through the woods mid-way up the ascending trail. Species included Palm, Black-throated Green, Nashville, Tennessee, Bay-breasted, Chestnut-sided and Magnolia warblers, American Redstart and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. This hike to the bluff top was my 5th or 6th in the past year in search of Splendid Tiger Beetles. Upon reaching the main rock outcroppings, I scanned the surface without success. However in what was but a few minutes of absorbing the vista and being lulled by the breeze high above the desert, the most splendid of the tiger beetles came into view! Admiring this brilliant specimen within inches was nothing short of amazing.


Over the rock ledge, I sighted a second Splendid tiger beetle. Eventually my presence disturbed them and they scurried into hiding. Shortly after, I spotted the third of this species also taking in the views of the desert prairie below…


Though I had intended to make the longer trek west along the ridge to look for the prairie Spiranthes orchid found last year, my energy was low and stomach empty. Thus I opted to head back toward the valley. Spiranthes would have to wait.

I did spend some time on the bluff admiring the moths and butterflies nectaring on the goldenrod before finally heading back down to the valley.

Black and Yellow Lichen Moth
American Copper
Wild Indigo Duskywing (not 100% certain)
En route down the bluff trail, I met fellow nature enthusiast, Mark Johnson, making the climb for something “Splendid.” He excitedly reported success with the four species of tiger beetle I had seen earlier. In addition, his Jedi naturalist skills also led him to find a family of racerunners which were a species I had not seen this year. Before parting ways, I wished him well on his quest for the Splendid tiger beetles.

Given I didn’t hike as far as I wanted, my intention was to return in a few days which I did. I still had Spiranthes to see and was hoping for a better view in daylight of Virginia Big-headed Tiger Beetle…Stay tuned for Part II!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Inspiring Art

I've been rather busy the past few days between exploring natural areas new to me and returning to the familiar for some excellent tiger-beetling. With three blog posts kicking around in my head and online this was not the one I intended to write, but the one that compelled me this eve.


Today I visited Silverwood County Park in far eastern Dane County close to my residence. I visited twice, once mid day and then later this afternoon to explore a new section of the park along Rice Lake in search of migrants.

I encountered small flocks of migrants and a paucity of warbler species, five to be exact. However the views were close, so I was delighted regardless of the limited bird species.

Bay-breasted Warbler, Silverwood Park, Dane County

But the entity which transcended me this eve was exploring the art installations of ten silos at the main park entrance. Though I noted them in passing as I headed toward the woods in search of birds, they sparked my interest when I returned to find them illuminated by the setting sun. From what I gathered the installations were intended to be future visions of what this newly established Dane County park might be.



I presume much of the material used within each installation came from the old stone farmhouse on the property that appears to be in the process of restoration...found objects of lace, other fabrics, tools, old dolls, appliances, accessories, dishes and so on...





There was one installation in particular with it's juxtaposing vertical lines against spiral cross sections of an old tree and an incredible interplay with the setting sunlight that spoke to me above the rest. These are the peaceful distractions that inspire living and creativity...






Saturday, September 12, 2015

Aurora Borealis September 7, 2015

It has been well over 20 years since I last saw the Aurora Borealis. I can only recall seeing them twice in my lifetime, once in splendid colors from the tip of Door County and the other in a dancing array of brilliant white lights against the remote skies of the eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan.



With promising forecasts for a spectacular Aurora on September 7, 2015, I ventured to the mouth of Two-hearted River in Luce County Michigan shortly after nightfall .

Mouth of the Two-Hearted River

I arrived on the southern shore of Lake Superior to find the Northern Lights staring to display. I made my first attempts to capture Aurora images with less than ideal equipment for night time photography. Although my results pale in comparison to Aurora images I've seen, I was still pleased with my first attempt.

Aurora Borealis above Lake Superior

The scene was serene and incredible all the same. Sitting on the shore of the revered Big Lake under balmy temperatures with a light breeze to my face while the lapping waves of Lake Superior lulled me into transcendence. I watched the lights swell and fade, dancing above the lake until they gradually diminished.

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As difficult as it was, I eventually left the lakeshore heading south toward my family's Pike Lake property. My intention was to check the sky one last time on the open crest of the north-south road leading away from the Two-hearted River Campground. Upon stopping I found the lights had resumed in intense splendor. I set up my camera and began photographing and studying the patterns of photon arcs and dancing lights to the northeast. Mesmerized with the backdrop behind the burnt pines of the Duck Lake fire it occurred to me I should scan the entire northern sky.


What I discovered was beyond breath-taking. I felt humbled and awestruck as the lights crescendoed and danced in beautiful fluid brilliance unlike anything I had seen before. Nothing I could orchestrate with my camera comes remotely close to capturing the experience of that night. The perfection of that solitary eve, in the remoteness of a place dearest to my heart, will be forever etched in mind's eye.