Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Birds of Two Worlds

Warblers of the Flambeau                 18 June 2012
I don’t know who coined the term “Birds of Two Worlds”, but it has been an important rally cry in international conservation since the early 1990s, as I recall.  Wood Warblers and other “Neotrops”, long distance migrants moving between the North American continent and the tropical Americas, cross numerous political borders in completing their life cycles.  Many of these birds hatch from the egg in Canada and overwinter in northern South America, even within the Amazon basin.  They are truly tropical wonders, romantic and poetic travelers, miniature, charismatic, colorful and determined.  At less than five inches long, they risk it all every year to accomplish through muscle and verve what humans would, at the very least, find impossibly frightening. 
                                  Blackburnian Warbler
                            Northern Parula
It is June.  Wood Warblers of many species have reached the vast and wild lands of the Flambeau River in Northern Wisconsin.  They sing to proclaim territories, and they eagerly seek out habitats that provide food for nestlings and the right blend of structure for nesting.  Each habitat has its own spectacular assemblage of bird species, and each habitat must remain, here and there, for these assemblages to continue into the future.  Today, I spent the afternoon afield in search of images that would paint a picture of boreal beauty.  I found Northern Parula and Blackburnian Warblers, eagerly defending territories.

The Northern Parula and the Blackburnian Warbler are two species that, in their color, song, and habitat choice, beckon me to the great North woods.  In their colors and songs, they have etched into my mind a stoic image of balsam fir, spruce, hemlock and northern lakes.  I see old, bare branches of some swamp-killed conifer, and I see long, old-man’s beard lichen hanging from black spruce boughs.  Gray lichen encrusts the low branches of a balsam fir.  The crowns of spruce and balsam fir are perfect points, dark, and strongly contrasting with the baby greens of sugar maple, aspen, and paper birch.  This is the land of black bears and wolves, a cool chill to the morning air, and cobalt blue June skies that promise strawberry snacks and northern pike fighting on the end of a fishing line. 

But most months of the year, my favorite embassadors of the North woods are truly tropical birds.  They need our vacationlands to do their most important life’s work, reproducing the next generation, but they spend most of their lives foraging and even declaring foraging territories in the varied habitats of Belize, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Jamaica, Puerto Rico… They are birds that see coffee, Brahma bulls, primary cloud forest, cohune palms, and mangrove swamps.   The colors in their feathers are the very molecules sequestered through diets of tropical foods.  My boreal gems are tropical.  They bring the rainforest home to Wisconsin.  The chilly boreal forest would be so much less without the abundant tropical life high in the canopy.

All images were taken with a Canon 40D and 300mm f4 IS Canon lens.  All wonderful moments afield today were shared with someone with a special appreciation for the birds...My Mom! Thanks Mom!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Joy of Not Knowing

Biodiversity = Being a Kid Forever!                             15 June 2012

I'm forty-two years old, a lifelong naturalist, and I have lived so close to the wild rivers of Wisconsin and Minnesota my whole life.  You'd think, with all of my deep woods and river explorations, that I'd have seen it all by now.  Or at least you'd think I would have had the opportunity to study well so that the wondrous diversity of life would not leave me with questions.  Surely I'd always be the prepared naturalist with no surprises in my own "back yard."  Right?  Wonderfully Wrong!  I’m stumped…for now.

A pile of gear...My bird survey field season is in full swing!

Great news is that we live in a world so biologically rich, so diverse, that there is a new beauty and another great mystery around every bend, even at home.  Even among high profile groups of animals, there is always going to be the unexpected.  In the last five years, I have logged data along more than 200 miles of Wisconsin's scenic and wild country, and I have hiked another 400 miles collecting all of that data.  Six hundred miles of Wisconsin’s wild and soggy lands have passed beneath my feet since May 31, 2008, and the field season is in full swing.  My bird surveying is a passion, and every day brings something new.  Every new mystery brings me the joy of an ever-learning child.  Indeed, those of us who embrace biological diversity are granted the privilege of forever being young at heart and mind.  This year, I am enjoying the beauty of the Flambeau River and its mysterious Hemlock forests.  They are rare and valuable forests, impossibly different from parcel to parcel, land of Eastern Hemlock, Yellow Birch, Sugar Maple, American Basswood, Red Maple, patches of swamp conifer, all along a river so wild as to be celebrated and mourned by Aldo Leopold himself.  In my own tribute, this is the "land of no cell phones."

            Hemlock Forests of the Flambeau River State Forest, a world of mysterious beauty...

Today, I met a new dragonfly.  I could go through the rigors of my education, and I could classify it for the most part… It is indeed an animal (Kingdom Animalia), and it is indeed an exoskeleton-clad, joined legged invertebrate (Phylum Arthropoda), and it is indeed an insect, though an ancient one (Class Insecta).  It is also a dragonfly (Order Odonata).  Now, there is a big club at the end of its tail and its eyes are distant from one another…a truly ancient dragonfly too (Family Gomphidae).  But…What genus? What species? What marvels of nature! Could this be the fabled skillet-tailed gomphid, the skillet clubtail? Is it possible I have now made its acquaintance?  Not sure, and, as I write this, I still don’t actually know.  And that is pure joy!  I am a kid, and I’ll never stop learning.   Now where is that dragonfly guide?  Ah…Here it is…Perhaps I'll get back to you on that I.D.

 All images were taken with the Canon Powershot SX230HS, a powerful point-and-shoot camera that fits in my pocket during my field work days.  I carry a Canon Rebel with 300mm F4 in my backpack, but I keep a swift pace and rarely have time to use it when I’m on bird survey protocol time.  The Powershot SX230HS is a great camera with a 14X optical zoom, exceptional photo quality, and Canon’s state-of-the-art 1080HD video.  It is heavy for a point and shoot, but it’s performance is heavy-hitting!  A small gorilla-pod nestled in my pack gives me a full dose of 2012’s technology in the palm of my hand!  A quick shout out to the excellent staff at WI DNR's Natural Heritage Inventory! You are the best!