Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Post mortem

less people
no talking heads
fill my ears with music
the rustle of leaves
the distant croak of the raven 

the wheezy call of a boreal chickadee
my deafening respirations in winter's silence
and isolation of disconnectedness

learn to pluck my instrument
fill my soul with song
drown out demons
take cover among the trees

feel the wind in my ears
heed the chatter of winged things
decorate my soul
with creature comforts
not found in the greed 
and poison will of man

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

October's Stolen Visit

October 2016 will be but a footnote in a year I'm ready to leave behind. I allowed my favorite month to pass by with but a few fleeting glances at its glory.

There will be no orange sparrows for me this year as I find myself greeting the senescence of October's end.

Nature's brilliant reds and orange are becoming muted by a palette of brown and ochre.

I missed the brilliance of this prairie this year, this place that has become less familiar. I leave pieces of me behind with every stolen visit. Buried. Soon to be forgotten.

I found hints of Nature's earlier majesty in the sparse lingering blooms of Guara biennis

...and another whose name escaped me even though the reflections of its leaves run deep within my memory.

The remains of coneflower pierced the golden grass, beckoning my attention. The sky was a dismal gray and the air blew a chill, foreshadowing colder months ahead.

The old mother's hand of this bare oak wisely pointed me toward the exit, suggesting it was time for me to leave.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Nessie makes the worst blog post ever


Late this afternoon I hit a local bird haunt in search of orange sparrows, Nelson's and Le Conte's were on my mind. I think Le Conte's may very well be my favorite of all sparrows. I suspect this year will go down as a fail in seeing one simply for lack of trying. C'est la vie. I have memories and photos from years past. But seeing another sure would be nice...

Le Conte's Sparrow,  Jefferson Co, WI 17Oct2012
(attempting to save this post with a remote photo)
It seems most places I venture in Jefferson county have shit for trails. Today was no exception. Annoying really. I haven't been out much as of late. It seems I'm getting soft on my tolerance for trekking around off trail. Today's adventure included tall grass and prickers, on uneven ground, unable to see above the vegetation to spot birds and wet feet. And going off trail for fall sparrows means sacrificing my clothes to maddening and persisting hitchhikers from hell. To make matters worse, even though I fancied myself prepared by applying bug spray before I left my vehicle, I still was mauled by mosquitoes! Swarms of mosquitoes on October 16 in Wisconsin! No thank you global warming. A mile and a half into this torture with no orange sparrows in sight, I proclaimed aloud, "Fuck this. I'm done." Crickets...yeah crickets and mosquitoes were the only ones to witness my outburst.

Back to the car it is. The walk there yielded a couple of Sedge Wrens as consolations. I blew the shot, but nice to see nonetheless.

Sedge Wren, Jefferson Co, WI 16Oct2016
Passing by one of the ponds en route to my car, I flushed a sizable number of waterfowl to the "back forty." With only binoculars I wasn't able to identify much to species other than the Mallards and some obvious Ruddy Ducks. Since I was planning to eBird my outing, I thought it best to do due diligence for once, get my scope and hoof it back to the pond. My usual modus operandi with fall ducks is one of the lazy birder where I throw 50 duck spuhs on my checklist and call it good. Fall ducks are so blasé!
"Nessie" with Ruddy Ducks
Scoping paid off. To my surprise I found an Eared Grebe within five minutes of scanning. Makes me wonder what I missed the last time I was at this place, when I opted to pass on scoping the water. So before me, at some considerable distance, was a rare for Wisconsin Eared Grebe. We seem to get a few each year. I believe this may be the second for Wisconsin for 2016. Of course I left my digiscoping gear back at the car. This was supposed to be a quick scan. Now a photo seemed obligatory...and panic set in. Would I achieve getting a photo worthy of the bird police? A half mile back to the car! Fading daylight! I can do this!

Yep, Eared Grebe, center, Jefferson Co, WI 16Oct2016

It may be a bit "nessie" but it's still an Eared Grebe. Not as sexy as the orange sparrows, but I'll take it. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Gentian and Spiranthes

A couple nights ago, my nature pal, Dale, enticed me to join him for an orchid quest in western Dane County, Wisconsin. I'm a whore for orchids and had not seen Dale in a few months, so it was a no-brainer to venture beyond my recently shrinking comfort zone for a nature rendezvous.

Downy Gentian, Walking Iron Park, Dane County, WI
With visions of spiranthes and gentian dancing in my head, I set off to meet Dale at Pleasant Valley Conservancy late Sunday morning. We quickly found a few Spiranthes species along the path in the burr oak savanna. However we were not certain if what we were seeing was the state Special Concern species, ovalis, that we had come seeking.

Spiranthes sp. ?magnicamporum, ?cernua Pleasant Valley Conservancy, Dane Co, WI
Spiranthes can be challenging to tell apart. I find some of the differences to be rather subtle in certain species. I am a bit unsure as to which species is pictured below. I suspect it is either Great Plains or Nodding Lady's-tresses. I am heavily leaning Great Plains, but am not entirely sure. I hope to narrow the ID. I found out afterward apparently one can tell the Great Plains Lady-tresses by their almond-like scent. We should have smelled them!!! Though tempted to go back for a sniff, I foresee no time in my near future to do so.

Spiranthes sp. ?magnicamporum, ?cernua Pleasant Valley Conservancy, Dane Co, WI

As far as Spiranthes ovalis goes, identification of this orchid at Pleasant Valley only happened very recently after some orchid aficionados toured the natural area. You can read more about its discovery at Tom Brock's blog.

Spiranthes ovalis. Pleasant Valley Conservancy, Dane Co, WI
As we toured the savanna we found more specimens that we knew with certainty were Spiranthes ovalis. I won't lie, the Spiranthes group of orchids lacks the intoxicating appeal I find with other orchids. However I have to give the genus credit for its intricately spiraled inflorescences.

Spiranthes ovalis, Pleasant Valley Conservancy, Dane Co, WI

With the ovalis under our belts it was time to turn our attention to the various gentian species blooming.

Fringed Gentian, Pleasant Valley Conservancy, Dane Co, WI
Stiff Gentian (Gentianella quinquefolia) were blooming abundantly throughout the drier areas of conservancy.

Stiff Gentian, Pleasant Valley Conservancy, Dane Co, WI
The moisture-loving Fringed and Bottle Gentian (Gentianopis crinita and Gentiana andrewsii) were found in the lower prairie along the wetland trail. Both were still blooming though past peak according to Dale.
Fringed Gentian, Pleasant Valley Conservancy, Dane Co, WI
Along the way Common Buckeye were encountered. They have been prevalent at most natural areas I have visited in recent weeks.

Common Buckeye, Pleasant Valley Conservancy, Dane Co, WI
Tis the season for asters! I believe the asters I photographed along the wetland trail were New England Aster. However I'm certain we looked at 3-4 additional aster species. This is where I tell myself I should have been paying closer attention to things like the leaves, colors, structure etc. Alas sometimes I just want to enjoy my surroundings without getting caught up in the categorization and nomenclature of everything before me.

New England Aster, Pleasant Valley Conservancy, Dane Co, WI
I spied a bloom in the wetlands I thought to be the invasive Spotted Knapweed. For a minute I was surprised an invasive would escape the impeccable management of this conservancy. However I quickly realized the bloom was some sort of thistle. My conclusion on ID: Swamp Thistle. My identification is further confirmed by this species being included on Pleasant Valley Conservancy's checklist of wetland plants.

Swamp Thistle, Pleasant Valley Conservancy, Dane Co, WI
A whimsical bug photo-bombed my time with this bloom. I did not mind.

Not a fan of yellow, but I will still take time to admire certain yellow flowers on occasion. I am not certain if I've seen Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale) before or if I simply overlooked it because it's my least favorite color. I wonder if it makes one sneeze?  I pondered this as I admired the plant, but lacked the motivation to carry out a sniff test to find my answer. Perhaps another time.

Sneezeweed, Pleasant Valley Conservancy, Dane Co, WI
Wrapping up at Pleasant Valley, we moved to Rettemund Prairie in search of more Spiranthes orchids. We found a number of Great Plains Lady's-tresses (Spiranthes magnicamporum) blooming as expected. This is a far easier place to see this species than Spring Green Preserve where I have hiked nearly 3 miles round trip to view a single plant! These were a mere 50 feet or less up the trail.

Spiranthes magnicamporum, Rettenmund Prairie, Dane Co, WI

Spiranthes magnicamporum, Rettenmund Prairie, Dane Co, WI
Last stop was Walking Iron Park for our fourth, and my favorite, gentian species of the day, Downy Gentian (Gentiana puberulenta). This is the truest blue of the gentians. The bluest of blooms, alluring and brilliant.

Downy Gentian, Walking Iron Park, Dane County, WI

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Changing of the Guard

Sunday morning marked the last moments I spent in the yard with Righty, the rambunctious hatch year male ruby-throated hummingbird that had been present since September 10th.

Morning in the backyard started off with three hummingbirds present, presumably the same three I had been seeing the past week. Among them was female "V" who survived her beatings by Righty. The day following his brutal attack, she was demonstrating agile flight maneuvering, successfully thwarting further aggression.

"V" the HY female being terrorized by Righty
Later that day, likely mid-morning, Righty and "V" departed my yard. This daytime exodus is consistent with hummingbirds being diurnal migrants. Not to worry though! The day brought replacements! In fact the early evening yielded my all-time highest total of ruby-throated hummingbirds, a whopping six!

Ruby-throated Hummingbird, hatch year male
It is difficult to say if all those were new birds. I didn't seem to recognize the habits of any of the birds present. They were assuming different perches. No single bird seemed to dominate. The scene struck me as a different dynamic than the early morning.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird, hatch year female

Monday marked the beginning of my weekend. I slept in until 8 o'clock. Upon waking I was eager to see what birds were around the yard after such an impressive showing the night before. I quickly assumed my perch outside with coffee and camera in hand, and waited...and waited. The yard was quiet.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird, hatch year female
Finally after about 25 minutes a hatch year female quietly arrived to feed. No contact calls. No charging by another hummingbird. My heart sank as I felt Fall upon me, the season of goodbyes. Soon my yard will hold little entertainment...Then what? Venture away from home? endeavor surely laden with risk. Where will I find inspiration without baggage when winter is upon me?

Ruby-throated Hummingbird, hatch year female
But wait! Another bird! Another hummingbird! At least for the time being I had the entertainment of watching two hummingbirds for the next two hours...

And the red-eyed vireo who was still hanging out feeding on the dogwood berries as it has for weeks...

Red-eyed Vireo enjoying its favorite treats
And some new visitors not seen in the yard before in the form of dragonflies and butterflies...

Black Saddlebags
Common Green Darner
Incoming! A third hummingbird! A hatch year male. With three in the yard that made for an easier time capturing birds nectaring at flowers. Usually while two are feuding, a third bird seizes the moment to feed uninterrupted. So all seems well for now and I am content with new batch of birds to entertain my morning and evenings for at least the next week or so.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird, hatch year male
And whaddaya know, I did find the will to venture out a short distance...only to have the gorgeous sunny day devoured by a severe thunderstorm. I couldn't help but feel like Charlie Brown. The storm cloud had found me, menacing, hijacking my afternoon plans.

Silverwood County Park, far SE Dane County, WI

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Hummingbird Madness

Meet Righty. He first showed up in my yard September 10th. He is one of at least three ruby-throated hummingbirds currently visiting.

By far, Righty rules the roost!

He seems to have replaced Patch on the dominant perch in the yard. 

Patch with his hint of "soul patch" gorget feathers center throat. Seen on his perch before his disappearance.
After what I witnessed tonight, for all I know Righty killed Patch.

Patch was my delightful male who hovered and posed for me on a wide variety of flowers. I named him for his central patch of gorget feathers.

Righty on the other hand sports his red gorget feathers on his right lateral throat. Here he is keeping a watchful eye on the feeders and blooms throughout the yard.

Tonight I was watching for him to come down from his perch to nectar on the flowers when I witnessed this! 

Hatch year male ruby-throated hummingbird pummels a hatch year female.
To my surprise he literally pummel this defenseless female. While it may look like mating, it was anything but.

Backing up before attacking again...
The violent back-stabbing

I walked toward the action to scare Righty away. He quickly left while the female remained perched, disheveled, preening, and panting.

After the attack....
It didn't take long for me to realize she was allowing quite close approach. I suspected she was more compromised from the attack than I originally thought. So I retrieved my small nectar feeder and offered her a drink. Surprisingly she accepted my offering. I captured some of the event on video with my iPhone:

After a short period she moved to a higher perch among the cup plants. Her flight was precariously weak. Out of nowhere Righty was on the attack again! Aggressively on her back. On impulse I darted the direction of the hummingbirds, scolding aloud, "Stop it!" I believe I may have officially crossed the line into absurd middle-aged lunacy scolding my neighborhood hummingbirds. However, I simply could not remain silent while the torture ensued. 

Righty hardly missed a beat before he was back at "his" flowers enjoying their bounty.

Righty the Terror nectaring at Black and  Blue Salvia
Within the next hour or so, I saw V, let's call her "V" for victim, nectaring at a couple of the feeders and perching nearby. She still appeared worn down, allowing me to feed her once more before she moved into denser cover. I have to wonder how she will fare overnight. Her flight was concerningly docile when she last relocated to a higher perch. She certainly has a rough road ahead if she tries to persist in my yard for much longer. A part of me hopes Righty will migrate soon and leave V to recuperate in peace before her demanding journey south.