Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Rising Up to the Silver-lining

Beyond oppression and the feeling of defeat is the rising up. And in the rising, one finds silver-linings and the world reveals itself as it should be at that moment.

White lady slipper orchid, Dane Co, WI 15May2017
Within days of the that first rush, I was ready to sit this one out, hang up the binoculars, stow away the camera and redirect my energy to new and renewed interests. But the birds, as they often do, were enticing me to come witness their spectacle.

Beauty in the common, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Elmer & Edna Culver Wetlands, Dane Co, WI 15May2017
Last week finally brought a decent push of warblers, but none in dripping fallout proportions. I suspect this will not be one of those years of multi face-melting warbler encounters. In fact, photographing warblers has been mostly met with mediocre results as far as my efforts are concerned. I'm not complaining. The inherent joy of birding is not in the frozen image. Instead, it is being witness to the interplay of behavior, movement and the environment that compels me to seek nature at every opportunity.

Hey Wilson! Cute little buggers, aren't they?

Wilson's Warbler Elmer & Edna Culver Wetlands, Dane Co, WI 15May2017
The resident and often ubiquitous breeders can be just as magical as the migrants.

Yellow Warbler, UW Arboretum, Dane County, WI 9May2017
Yellow-throated Vireo, Bark River Park, Jefferson County, WI 14May2017
Late last week a couple of vagrants in the form of an Eared Grebe and Snowy Egret arrived in Dane county in addition to the influx of migrants and residents. Both species are considered rare but regular visitors to Wisconsin. Both were Dane county lifers for me. Nothing like a little jolt of vagrancy to cure the blues.

Eared Grebe, Brazee Lake, Dane Co, 11May2017
Snowy Egret, Dane County, WI  12May2017
Thursday brought a decent push of Prothonotary Warblers into southern Wisconsin. I encountered several on territory along the Bark River in Jefferson County. Other birders reported seeing them at several migrant traps around Dane county.

Prothonotary Warbler, Jefferson County, WI 11May2017 
Friday saw a big push of White-crowned Sparrows. Those fortunate to be out birding that morning reported it was one of the better warbler days as well. I squeezed in some evening birding at the Elmer and Edna Wetlands Conservancy where I found few warblers, but an ample supply of White-crowned sparrows. I was hoping for a Harris's mixed in. Not this time.

White-crowned Sparrow, Elmer and Edna Wetlands Conservancy, 12May2017
By week's end I was becoming consumed with Bay-breasted Warbler angst. I had missed seeing this species despite others reporting them from all over southern Wisconsin. This migration has been strange with small fits and spurts of birds. Bird numbers seem to be down. Some birds seem to be leap-frogging southern Wisconsin right to their breeding grounds. So the fears set in. Might I miss Bay-breasted warbler in breeding plumage? Say it isn't so! With how far north they breed, the possibility loomed large. Bay-breasted warblers mostly breed in the boreal forests of Canada. Thus I can't just make an easy trip to northern Wisconsin or Michigan to see them if they are missed in migration. Fortunately I remedied my angst on Monday with mid to upper canopy looks at a pair of males in Dane County (photos were too horrible to share).

And when finding birds in the canopy becomes frustrating, shifting my attention toward the woodland blooms is a fine means for re-calibrating my mood. In slowing down to the speed of a plant, serenity reveals itself. The macro world's grounding wisdom shifts my focus from frenetic chasing, from wishful birding, from "The Need" to a slower beauty.

Prairie Trillium, Prince's Point, Jefferson County, WI 14May2017
Nature offers so much to lose yourself within.

Wild Ginger, Prince's Point, Jefferson County, WI 14May2017
...and just when I was feeling sentenced to solitary birding, isolated from my birding companions, Nature revealed herself most beautifully, adorning my mood with a silver lining...The discovery of these white lady slipper orchids was most splendid and surprising!

White-lady Slipper Orchids, I counted over 50 blooms in the area. Dane Co, WI 15May2017



Somewhere in the outskirts of Dane County (WI), in the brilliant green forest with flowing springs, it was just me and a serenading Mourning warbler...and orchids.

Mourning Warbler, Dane Co, WI 15May2017
These moments allow me to let go of the animosity I've been feeling toward situations I cannot control. I become lost in birding where my value (or lack thereof) as defined by others  melts to insignificance. Nature's grandness provides the perfect catalyst for amnesia and a re-ordering of priorities.

Northern Waterthrush, Elmer &Edna Wetlands, Dane Co, WI 17May2017
However, at the risk of the losing their shine, sometimes the most magical encounters are best relegated to the moment rather than shared in words and images. Bliss is like that, tenuous and fleeting. All things that sparkle eventually fade to black.

The same goes for the glory of spring migration. For southern Wisconsin, we are certainly in its twilight.

Monday, May 8, 2017

First Rush

After seeing the recent image of all the dead Blackburnian Warblers in Galveston, TX,  I wasn't expecting to find one this morning and actually fearful I would go without seeing one this season. To my delight, I stumbled upon one in my best feeding flock of the day at Pheasant Branch Conservancy (Dane Co, WI).



I arrived to the creek corridor late morning when birdsong was rather subdued. My intent was to rendezvous with my birding pal, Dale over some good birding. But my timing was a bit off . As the sun emerged from the clouds and temps warmed, the forest became alive with insects. Just before 11:30 bird activity increased and a mid-day chorus broke out, lead by a Northern Parula with supporting roles by Black-throated Green, Nashville, Yellow-rumped, Black-and-White and Blackburnian Warblers.


Bird photography was a challenge today. Many of the birds were high in the canopy frenetically foraging on insects. In addition, my photography effort was minimal. I was more focused on seeing the birds than getting photos.

 A rare moment when a Northern Waterthrush is not obscured in shady tangle of branches and roots.
This Northern Waterthrush kindly obliged my friend Trudy and me with an eye- level private concert
The parula was the bird who alerted me to the flock that gave me my first rush of the season. I climbed a small hill to get a visual on the bird and a whirlwind of birds unfolded. As I glassed the canopy, I found bird after bird and heard a swell of various songs. It felt as if the birds were dropping from the sky, appearing out of nowhere. Where there had been no movement, suddenly I found three Orange-crowned Warblers, two Nashville Warblers, followed by a Ruby-crowned Kinglet flitting by...Scan right, there's the Blackburnian again. Movement to the left...Oh cool! Magnolia Warbler... He quickly snuck in, eyed me up and disappeared just as quickly.

Magnolia Warbler, Pheasant Branch Conservancy, Dane Co, WI 8May2017 

And just like that within a matter of 5-10 minutes it was over. The birds had dispersed along the corridor and I was reminded of the addiction that is spring migration.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

El Nuevo Muelle Silencioso

Thus far it's been a tough spring to find any sort of concentration or diversity of warblers. Songbirds in general seem rather sparse. While the situation may change in coming days, this has been the most lackluster spring migration I've experienced since becoming a birder in 1993.  Surely unfavorable winds and weather have impacted migrant turnout so far. However consider the following...

Nearly 400 Birds Migrate Hundreds Of Miles Only To Fatally Crash Into Texas Building



Or this...

Vikings Stadium: Reflector of Light, Murderer of Birds

Or those neonicotinoids that are causing colony collapse in the honeybees...They are most likely killing our insectivorous birds as well.

"Popular Pesticides Linked to Drops in Bird Populations"

And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Birds, enjoy them while you can.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Sauk County Solace and More...

It didn't take long this morning to realize it would not be the warbler day I was hoping for. The radar showed birds leaving last night with few replacements detected on radar in the wee hours of zero-dark-thirty. Yet I forced myself out in the morning. I've been burned too many times when the radar appeared meh and the warblers and other songbirds made a good showing. But that was not the case with birding today. My morning outings to Lake Farm Park and the Ho-nee-um in Dane county (WI) yielded eight warbler species mostly in singles except for a few more Yellow-rumps than the rest of the pack. American Redstart was my only new warbler species (WTF?! that means migration is over!). Nonetheless I found a few species to photograph.

Gray Catbird, Lake Farm Park, Dane Co, WI 4May2017
It seemed the few new arrivals overnight consisted of sparrows (White-crowned, Lincoln's and Vesper), more House Wrens and Baltimore Orioles.

Vesper Sparrow, Lake Farm Park, Dane Co, 4May2017

Therefore after lunch I made the decision to go to warmest place I could think of, soak up some sun and find some butterflies and beetles. Where else but Spring Green Preserve in Sauk Co (WI). After a night of restlessness with reports of me repeatedly kicking and yelling out in my sleep, I was badly in need of Nature's re-calibration.

Bird's Foot Violet, Spring Green Preserve, Sauk Co, WI 4May2017
Blue-eyed Grass, Spring Green Preserve, Sauk Co, WI 4May2017

Over in the desert prairie it was t-shirt weather. The sun felt glorious. The display of Bird's Foot Violet, Blue-eyed Grass and Rock Cress was spectacular. I found several species of butterflies including the sought after Olympia Marble. They were flying in small numbers.

Olympia Marble, Spring Green Preserve, Sauk Co, WI 4May2017
I noticed they were not quite as stunning to photograph in full sun as compared to a couple years ago when I achieved crushing images of them during a cold spell on an overcast day.

Olympia Marble, Spring Green Preserve, Sauk Co, WI 22April2015

I tallied seven species of butterflies during my foray: Clouded Sulphur, Eastern Tailed-Blue, Duskywing sp., American Lady, Olympia Marble, and American Copper.

Clouded Sulphur, Spring Green Preserve, Sauk Co, WI 4May2017
Since I stayed down in the desert, I only tallied two tiger beetle species: Oblique and Festive.

(Fucking) Festive Tiger Beetles, Spring Green Preserve, Sauk Co, WI 4May2017

Oblique Tiger Beetle, Spring Green Preserve, Sauk Co, WI 4May2017
And came upon this cryptic Bumble Flower Beetle.



Lark, Field and Grasshopper Sparrows were all back on territory singing.

Lark Sparrow, Spring Green Preserve, Sauk Co, WI 4May2017
(such a stiff image of this bird...oh well)
Hoping to see a few more butterfly species and woodland ephemerals, I headed to nearby Baxter's Hollow after I had my fill of Spring Green Preserve. The sun was starting to set, so many of the blooms were shaded by the time I arrived in the gorge.

I feared I had missed the Trout Lilies this year. To my delight some were still blooming. The manner in which these flowers hang their blooms, pointing their beauty to the ground resonates with me, especially today. Beautifully poignant.

Yellow Trout Lily, Baxter's Hollow, Sauk Co, WI 4May2017

Nodding trillium were just beginning to bloom.

Nodding Trillium, Baxter's Hollow, Sauk Co, WI 4May2017

And one of my favorites of spring, Bishop's Cap were already up! These blooms are but an eighth of an inch.

Bishop's Cap, Baxter's Hollow, Sauk Co, WI 4May2017

But the best observation of the day was this Common Watersnake!


I startled it from the rocky bank, sending it into Otter Creek. It startled me into yelping "Oh my god, snake!" even though there was no one around to hear me. Heh. Nothing like a sexy snake to get the adrenaline flowing. I watched it abscond into the water and relocated it beneath the surface. With only my macro lens handy, I approached the water's edge to get some closer views and photos. I was hunched over close to the water, being still when the snake raised its head to surface! There we were, face to face, checking each other out. How cool. But the smallest of my movements caused him to retreat once again under the water's surface.


And with that the nature adventures of spring begin! While I really should be responsibly packing my house to move, the time I splurged today on the outdoors was both needed and worth the price I may pay at the beginning of June. C'est la vie. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Back in the Saddle

I want to claim I'm back in the saddle with birding...beyond the damn pneumonia. For the most part that's the case. However the last time I was out for any substantial amount of time which was nearly three hours at the onset of this cold front enveloping Wisconsin, I paid for it with increasing coughing and congestion.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Pheasant Branch Conservancy, 26April2017
I am determined to persevere and not allow some silly pneumonia to interfere with spring migration. As it is, moving out of my house during spring migration is throwing a huge wrench in the works. The moments I find myself out in nature are more precious than ever right now. Every incidental observation is even more golden...

Prairie Trillium, Aldo Leopold Center, Monona, Dane Co.
Columbine, Rock Lake, Jefferson Co, 25April2017

As mentioned a cold front moved into southern Wisconsin last week Wednesday. Temperatures have been tanking with frost projected for tonight. Winds have mostly been from the north and the radar has been looking fairly bleak over the past week...

April 29, Zero-dark-thirty radar. NO BIRDS!


April 30, Zero-dark-thirty radars
Despite the grim outlook, a nice assortment of new arrivals have been found in Wisconsin. While warblers and other songbirds have been sparse, a few new species seem to be reported daily in small numbers including Blackburnian Warbler, Northern Parula, Wood and Swainson's Thrush. None of which I've seen yet this year in Wisconsin...

Palm Warbler, Lake Mills, Jefferson Co, WI 25April2017



For now I have to settle for continued crushing looks at Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers.

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Pheasant Branch Conservancy, Dane Co, 1May2017

My favorite species seen in recent days are the Smith's Longspurs found by a local intrepid birder, Steve Theissen. I've dubbed him the "Sparrow Walker." This guy seems to locate interesting longspur and sparrow species on an annual basis. He has this passion for walking random weedy fields and turning up goodies for the rest of us to chase.

Smith's Longspur, Stoughton, Dane Co, WI 28April2017
This most recent goldmine of Smith's Longspurs (up to 7 were reported) was found in some random dandelion field in an industrial park in Stoughton. Friday after work I made the trip in the rain to see these birds. I spotted three of them trying to blend in like spent corn cobs. Other birders also found LeConte's sparrow which my less than Jedi birding skills did not detect.

Smith's Longspur, Stoughton, Dane Co, WI 28April2017
During this dreary weather spell, shorebirds seem to be all the rage. Sexy large beasts such as Willet, Godwits and Avocets have been found along Lake Michigan in impressive numbers. Inland, dowitcher's have been plenty, along with a recent influx of a few Wilson's Phalarope.


My own little patch of flooded shorebird and waterbird habitat has been hosting a Cinnamon Teal and five Black-necked Stilts along with a variety of other shorebirds.


It's that time of year when it's becoming more and more challenging to keep up with all the change. Each day brings more excitement in the form of new arrivals or more stunning looks of some favorites that have been here for a few weeks.

Marsh Wren, Aldo Leopold Center, Dane Co, 30April2017
1was grateful that this curious FOY Marsh Wren struck a pose for me.

So it's here and the best is coming. This is what we anticipate every year. The high season for birding. I look forward to the wonderment of all of it. Time to sleep so I can make time for the birds!