Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Remains of the Day

Yesterday I greeted the day apologizing to the birds for my having missed their finest hours, those first few in first light. These buoyant colorful creatures made another fine showing while I remained roosting under comforters and within the comforts of my mind.

My nocturnal habits and dress are clearly much more suited to the owls and nightjars. However darkness is hardly conducive to capturing any worthwhile images.

I intentionally scheduled work for the afternoon to allow bird time in the prime morning hours. Yet when that alarm sounded, the back of the my eyelids felt more magnetic than the lure of neotropical migrants.

Cerulean Warbler, male. Carlin Trl, Jefferson Co

With what little bird time remained of my day, I did manage to sneak in a quick stop along Carlin Trail in the Southern Kettle Moraine where Cerulean and Hooded Warblers, and Acadian Flycatchers breed. By late morning, no Hooded Warblers were observed. However both Acadian Flycatcher and Cerulean Warbler were present and quite vocal.

Cerulean Warbler (female) playing peek-a-boo
The Cerulean Warblers were numerous and traveling in pairs, singing and getting on with the business of procreating. They left me longing for more... and perhaps with some regret for not rising enthusiastically to the greet them at the beginning of this day.

Peek-a-boo female Cerulean Warbler, S. Kettle Moraine 18May2016

Sunday, May 15, 2016


Today I found myself on the downside of what I've dubbed spring migration dwindles. It's essentially the parallel of dwindles in geriatric patients but applied to my experience with birding.

Harris's Sparrow, Lake Farm Park, Dane Co 15May2016
I went back to try and photograph a nice male Harris's Sparrow being seen at Lake Farm Park in Dane County. I should have been elated. The bird perched in nice sunlight, singing at periodic intervals. I felt crushed and crushing on all fronts. Yet the exuberance of seeing my first breeding male in Wisconsin quickly dissipated into the birding dwindles that had taken hold of me earlier in the day, perhaps even last eve.

Harris's Sparrow, no photo awards here. But I like this view of him!
 Lake Farm Park, Dane Co, 14May2016
I couldn't spend much time with the bird this day (long story of bad directions).
Hence my return May 15th for more photos
Great-crested Flycatcher, Pheasant Branch Conservancy, Dane Co 15May2016
It all began May 11th. Well maybe before... Anyway I'm starting with May 11th... After a lackluster showing of migrants earlier in May, the winds shifted out of the south Tuesday evening (May 10) into Wednesday (May 11). The floodgates opened and we experienced a mini bird fallout here in southern Wisconsin. I was utterly and blissfully lost in birding the entire day, unable to get enough of seeing the warblers and other neotropical migrants. I hit it hard that day. Photos were hard to come by as the day was mostly misty with poor lighting and there was simply too much activity to pause for photos.

3:48 AM radar 11May2016

Prothonotary Warbler, UW Aboretum, Dane Co, 11May2016

That's not a bird! Pheasant Branch Conservancy, Dane Co, 11May2016

Red-tailed Hawk devouring a small mammal, UW Arboretum, 11May2016
Continued good birding persisted the following day, though not on the dripping level of the prior day. Hung over from the previous day, like a good addict nursing a bloody mary the day after binge drinking, I eased into birding from my measly .2 acre backyard where I was treated to migrants working their way through my little green oasis of mostly native plants and trees. The highlight of my visitors were three Cape May Warblers who remained in my backyard for the hour I nursed myself back into birding.

Cape May Warbler, my backyard, Jefferson Co, WI 12May2016
Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, nest building, Bark River Park, Jefferson Co 12May2016
Every day since the mini fallout, I debate with myself as to whether it will be a birding-worthy day. I negotiate the value of sleep versus birding versus work. I follow the birding groups on Facebook checking to see what's around. I go through phases of bird envy and self-loathing for even caring what others might be seeing. I check the radars around 11:00 pm and then again around 4:30 a.m. factoring them into my "to bird or not" decision. But bird I do, pretty much every day.

Barred Owl, Jefferson Co, WI 14May2016
The migrants have continued in spurts, some days better than others. Birds have seemed held up again by the past few days of north winds including a freeze warning last night. The culmination of the obsessive planning, looking, wondering, walking, hiking, driving and other personal trials is taking a toll on my enthusiasm for birding. And the darn wind the past two days, have I mentioned how much I loathe birding in blustery conditions? ANNOYING!

Marbled Godwits (foreground), Jefferson Co, 8May2016
I continue to see new year birds daily. In the past week I've found Marble Godwits, a Willet, and Short-billed Dowitchers in the flooded ag fields in my podunk town in southern Wisconsin. Just yesterday I saw two Whooping Cranes in my home county of Jefferson. I've seen a White-faced Ibis in Dane county, a rare but annually regular bird in the state. I've seen Barred Owls both close and far on several days. My eyes have witnessed colorful warblers at eye level as well as those unfortunate distances high in the canopy (booo warbler neck).

White-faced Ibis with American Coot, Nine Springs, Dane Co, 13May2016
I should be happy. I should be in a state of continued birding bliss. However plain and simple I've hit a brick wall. Maybe it's time for a break. (In the middle of spring migration! WTF?!)

Blackburnian Warbler, comes down for a bath, Pheasant Branch Conservancy, 15May2016
I began this conversation with myself while out today about how I've amassed a shit ton of photos over the past week. I started stressing about processing them, began to question the purpose of taking photos and sharing photos. I went as far as to put the brakes on visiting a state natural area today because it would only mean more photos to process. Ugh.

Northern Waterthrush, Lake Farm Park, Dane Co, 15May2016
The dwindles. I'm telling you I've got a bad case. Birding and birder exhaustion. As fun as it can sometimes be, there is definitely the fatigue of coping with birder dynamics. The increased socialization (if you want to call it that) with birders during this time of year is equally if not more draining than the birding. But I would be lying if I said I didn't enjoy seeing birding friends as opposed to the isolation I experienced this past winter.

Palm Warbler, Lake Farm Park, Dane Co, 15May2016
So I ask myself, do I even want to do this anymore? The photos, gobs of photos. Does posting them make me appear more interesting? Does that matter? Nature photos are PROLIFIC everywhere on the internet. I'd like to say I'm doing it better or different, but I'm not. Average. It's all just average. There are some who do this, the blog thing, who are great at it. The whimsy and philosophy of their experiences, their stories, are worth the clouds they float in. To them I say, keep on keeping on. Do what you love. Love what you do. For me, perhaps I should learn how to play an instrument or get back into my art. That might be more compelling. Hmm. Would it?

Veery looking like an antpitta, Lake Farm Park, Dane Co, 15May2016
Dwindles, I'm on a roll dwindling. I cannot deny the greatness of the ups. But they do always come with the downs. Birding after all can be an addiction. As such, highs and lows are an inherent risk. BEWARE.
Chestnut-sided Warbler, Pheasant Branch Conservancy, Dane Co 15May2016

Saturday, May 7, 2016


Birding Accidents Blog...maybe that's what I should call this. I managed to squeeze self-injury into what little birding I was afforded today after work. This happens more than I want to admit and is probably a good reason to bird alone. I decided to shortcut-it through some bramble down a steep slope to get to where I was hearing warblers. Despite carefully cutting at a diagonal down the incline, the earth gave out from beneath feet. Ungracefully, with a twist of my ankle and knee, I crashed down the incline onto the trail. I was still standing but in too much pain to bear weight on my left leg. Standing in place so as not to appear in excruciating pain in front of the trail walkers, I waited for their passing before cussing aloud and limping off my injury. Looking down at my hands I noticed blood coming from cuts across my fingers. Grabbing the thorny shit to brace me on my graceful descent decorated my hand and arm with some lovely cuts and scratches. I AM GRACE.

I worked all day (work is not conducive to birding). A case of bird-envy was facilitated by peeking at birding reports around Wisconsin throughout the day. Warblers had reportedly moved in as I predicted. However no dripping scenarios have graced Wisconsin yet this year. 

I keep encouraging myself to turn it all off...the emails and glances at the Facebook birding groups. I tell myself to simply get my ass out birding and see what I will see. Who gives a (f-beep) about what everyone else is seeing? Bird envy is bad news. Birdlust is bad too. Birding toward a number is the worst. Yet most of us fall victim to it. These targets we set for ourselves impart a competitive spirit onto birding whether it be with others or ourselves. Migration is often qualified by numbers, be it warbler species, FOYs or total species. We summarize our birding accomplishments with  statements such as"I found X species of warblers of today." The worth of our birding seems defined by how many warblers species or shorebird species we can find. Summarize. Compartmentalize. Categorize. 

American Redstart, CamRock County Park, Dane Co: 1 point
But there's also a quality factor. Certain bird species appear to be "worth more." If Wisconsin warblers were assigned a value based on a 3 point scale, it might go something like this:

1 point: Ovenbird, Northern Waterthrush, Black-and-White Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Magnolia Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Palm Warbler, Pine Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Tennessee Warbler
2 points:Louisiana Waterthrush, Blue-winged Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Northern Parula, Blackburnian Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, Canada Warbler, Wilson's Warbler
3 points:Kentucky Warbler, Connecticut Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, Kirtland's Warbler, Prairie Warbler,

Yellow Warber, CamRock County Park: 1 point 

When I finally got out to bird this evening I was initially afflicted with both birdlust and bird-envy. CamRock County Park in western Dane County felt like a warbler void as opposed to the "warbler heaven" a birder friend of mine texted me about earlier.

I gave myself the pep talk. "Chill the (f-beep) out...Stop it with the FML shit."  Really I care little about how many warbler species I see. But it's a bitter pill to swallow when I feel I'm getting skunked in the migrant department. What's in a number anyway? Does it define the caliber of birder I am? Perhaps so.

After my brief negative moment, like clockwork, about two to two and a half hours before sunset. the bird activity picked up. I eked out (drum roll) thirteen warbler species in "onesies and fewsies" as I tripped through the woods this evening. The onslaught is yet to come. Until then we birders will muse about whether we'll experience any "dripping"days or will the birds just pass us by for better skies to the north...

Friday, May 6, 2016

Bird, Bird, BAT!

I wouldn't say any of the warblers put on a face-melting show today at Pheasant Branch Conservancy in Dane County. However, seeing a Black-throated Blue Warbler any day in southern Wisconsin is dang good. And so today was dang good... and by mid day, dang hot, topping out in the mid 80s.

I entered the creek corridor of Pheasant Branch Conservancy from the northeast today. Rather quickly, it was quite clear this would be no migrant fallout day. Far from it. In fact bird activity was rather low.  I managed to find a couple small warbler flocks of Yellow-rumped, Palm, Nashville and Black-and White Warblers before coming upon a group of birders who tipped me off to a nearby Black-throated Blue Warbler. The bird seemed to have vanished after their brief encounter with him. However later morning when bird activity picked up, the Black-throated Blue warbler was heard and seen repeatedly. A Prothonotary Warbler had also been seen, but I dipped on that with effort. Golden-winged Warbler was a nice FOY, but like most birds today, lighting was less than desirable and looks were "meh." Finding a male Scarlet Tanager was a nice way to close out my visit.

While the Black-throated Blue Warbler should have been the show stopper. For me it was this bat. This is the second bat species I've photographed on trees in broad daylight this season! Which species? I'm not certain. Though I do know it is not a Northern Long-eared Bat. I bagged that species a few weeks at Baxter's Hollow! I believe it's probably a Little Brown Bat, but I'm not expert. My brief research on bats of Wisconsin turned up this nice pdf on the subject.

No birding adventure in Dane County is complete without a stop at my favorite watering hole, the Craftsman Table and Tap. For lunch I tried Uinta Brewing Company's Hop Nosh Tangerine IPA. I give it 4 out of 5 stars on my personal rating scale. It's no Dubhe Imperial Black (one of my current favorites) or Detour Double IPA but it's still quite good.

After burning off my buzz with birding pal, Dale, back at Pheasant Branch, I headed home by way of the northern Dane County shorebird ponds. The most productive ponds were in the far western part of the county where I found my FOY American Pipit, Least Sandpiper, and Semi-palmated Plover.

Meanwhile back at the ranch in Fort Atkinson, the two Marble Godwits continue (my sexy shorebirds for the day).

All in all I was hoping for big bird action today, but had to settle for small, but sweet encounters and another all out cool bat...who by the way almost got taken out as lunch by the Red-bellied Woodpecker!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Dear Bird Fairies...

...make it a good one tomorrow. Sprinkle my sight with glorious warblers, throw in a sexy shorebird or two and may I rise to the day without the migraine that has plagued me since I blasted the car door into my forehead 9 days ago. Tomorrow belongs to me and the birds. Thanks in advance!



Around Town and in the Game

I've been feeling at odds with birding as of late, opting to sleep in, do chores, etc. However that hasn't stopped some notable feathered friends from tugging at my heart strings to keep me in this game we call birding.

Impromptu suet placed out to entice my visiting Summer Tanager to stay

On May 3rd during a day of chores and gardening around the house, a Summer Tanager showed up at my feeders in my small urban backyard. I spotted this yellow bird feeding on safflower on the ground. Curious, I took a closer look with binoculars, "Holy crap! It's a Summer Tanager!"

Yesterday, I checked my local shorebird spot in Fort Atkinson as I often do en route from work or other banal daily activities. "Holy crap, there's a Marbled Godwit!"

Neither species are ├╝ber rarities in Wisconsin. Both appear annually, but are considered difficult to get. Yet seemingly both were much too easy for me this year. They sort of just snuck up on me and were right there with very little effort on my part other than my being aware and keeping my eyes open!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Highlights to April's End

I skipped birding this weekend. The cold damp weather was less than inviting especially considering the morning radars all week looked very much the same as this screenshot from Tuesday. Birds stacked up below a horizontal just south of Wisconsin.

While some new species eeked through the unfavorable north winds, numbers were fairly lackluster.

Looking ahead, I'm in full on fear that I'm going to be losing the bird migration lottery in the next 7-10 days. I suspect the migration gates will really open up next weekend while I am working (what the hell I was thinking when I scheduled work??!). Last I checked Tuesday morning also looks to hold some potential, but once again I will be working. I've resorted to several conversations with myself already trying to pacify my angst over missing key migration days in southern Wisconsin. I'm not quite buying into my reasoning which I won't bore anyone with here. I'll just have to wait and see how the week plays out. Hopefully I will be able to keep my bird envy in check. They're just birds after all, right? And if I miss them on spring migration I have another chance in fall. BORING. As if a fall Bay-breasted Warbler compares at all to a male in the spring. Not a chance.

The final week of April was highlighted by following:

A confiding Northern Parula at Pheasant Branch Conservancy in Dane County.

My first of the year Blue-headed Vireo also at Pheasant Branch Conservancy.

Confiding Palm Warblers at CamRock County Park in Dane County.

More Yellow-rumped Warblers.

High numbers of White-throated Sparrows moving through the woods.

An early Cape May Warbler sighting (not the most sensational photo by any means).

My discovery of a new state natural area which I'm keeping under wraps for now (I think it holds some great potential for a number of goodies in the plant, reptile and bug department). On this first visit it had a few migrating warblers and a horking Red-headed Woodpecker.

During the hork...

After the hork

And FINALLY on Friday I located a Louisiana Waterthrush at Pheasant Branch Conservancy after trying to see/hear this species at this location for at least the past two+ years. It was a new lifer for me at this site and my official eBird lifer for Dane County (though I believe I had this species in Dane many years ago at Blue Mounds State Park).

I celebrated my achievement with an overindulgence of Lagunita's Waldo Special Ale at the Craftsman Table and Tap which added to the reasons why I skipped birding the rest of weekend.

Bring on May!

Spring Ephemerals and Birds, April 21, Dane County, WI

With this weekend being a rather dismal chilly rainy day here in southern Wisconsin, I finally found a little time to chip away at my backlog of images. I've hardly made a dent when I consider I have two weeks of Columbia pictures, a week of south Texas photos and a new onslaught of Wisconsin spring migration photos to yet deal with. I figure I just need to jump in where my interest sparks.
That brings me to the recent past, April 21, 2016. This was my first sincere Wisconsin birding effort to see some spring migrants following my return from the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

I began my day late morning with some birding at Pheasant Branch Conservancy in Dane County where I saw my several first of the year birds for Wisconsin including Pine, Palm and Orange-crowned Warblers, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Chipping and Field Sparrows. Though earlier morning birders had no difficulty finding several Pine Warblers, I had to scrounge for mine, finally locating this bird feeding on seed in a feeder on the conservancy boundary.

I was just as engrossed with the spring ephemerals as I was the birds...

Virginia Bluebells
Prairie Trillium
Following lunch, I headed west for my second spring visit to Walking Iron County Park in western Dane County, Wisconsin. I was checking once again to see if the Red-shouldered Hawks returned to nest again this year. To my disappointment I found no evidence of this species in the area other than a Blue Jay doing a spot on imitation of a Red-shouldered Hawk call. Booo.

However this park has such a remarkable diversity of habitats and interesting flora that I can always find something to captivate my attention.

The Dutchman's Breeches were in full bloom blanketing the hill side. Upon my descent into the creek valley I stopped to admire the scene and capture some images.

During the stillness of observation I was taken aback when I heard a Ruffed-Grouse drumming across the creek. I listened through 11 renditions spaced apart by several minutes each. Though I frequently see Ruffed Grouse in northern Wisconsin and the eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan this was my first observation in Dane County. Experiencing the drumming is eerily quite cool the way one feels the thumping wingbeats in your chest.

The woods adjacent to the stream held other interesting spring ephemerals and fungi...

Rue Anemone

I didn't capture many bird images on this visit even though I certainly encountered new species for the year including Vesper Sparrow, Eastern Towhee and Brown Thrasher. Most amusing was this Yellow-bellied Sapsucker that captured my attention by its drumming on one of the metal trail marker signs. When it noticed my approach it flew to another section of park resuming its amplified drumming on another metal sign.

In the sand prairie, the Pasque Flowers were at or approaching peak. As they senesce they will turn more brilliant purple with red centers.

Prairie smoke was still in bud. This location abounds with this species. At the time of this writing it likely now in full bloom.

Lyre-leaved Rock Cress was also flowering in small numbers. This is the host plant of Olympia Marble butterflies though I've not encountered this species at this location.