Tuesday, September 12, 2017

September Sightings

It always amazes me how quickly the spring and summer flies by in the midwest.  Everyone I know packs as much as possible into the three months of "nice" weather; including me.  Here we are in the month of September and my first extended time to do some local bird watching.  So after work on Monday, I drove to the small parking lot which is accessed by driving under the Harmonee Avenue bridge in downtown Wauwatosa, WI.

The first thing I noticed on my walk was that the foliage I encountered in May had grown incredibly tall and thick along the sides of the trail. Entire sections of the foot/bike path were almost overgrown.  I also saw that the generally brimming and fast moving Menomonee River (Underwood Creek) was very low with much of its bed showing vast stretches of exposed rock and boulders.  Cedar waxwings were plentiful high in the trees along the riverbank.  They took turns alternating between the branches taking acrobatic short flights back and forth to catch afternoon insects, as American robins ate the juicy dark blue berries of the invasive Common Buckthorn tree.

I spotted a Black and white warbler and an American redstart above my
head with a trio of Black-capped chickadees chattering away. White-breasted nuthatches climbed trees behind me and the chattering call of the Red-bellied woodpecker from across the water caused me to get out my binoculars for a look.  New England asters and goldenrod grew in large patches along the trail and many varieties of tall grains and grasses filled the detention pond basin. Cabbage white butterflies flitted here and there in search of the aforementioned asters or cruciferous vegetables it would not find here as the occasional Monarch drifted by on its own secret mission.

Milkweed pods were in abundance along the top ridge of the basin on either side of the trail.  Monarch butterflies aren't the only insect to favor them.  The large milkweed bug, Oncopeltus fasciatus, is colored orange-red and black. It has a long proboscis and is a piercing sucking insect. It feeds on the seeds, leaves and stems of milkweed (Asclepias). It is found in small groups on milkweed often on the stems, leaves and on the seed pods. The bodies of milkweed bugs contain toxic compounds derived from the sap which they suck from milkweed. They feed on the seeds by piercing the seed pod and can be found in all stages of growth on the plants in mid to late summer. Milkweed bugs are more of a nuisance than a threat to milkweed plants. In the course of feeding these bugs accumulate toxins from the milkweed, which can potentially sicken any predators foolish enough to ignore the bright colors which warn of their toxicity.

Eggs are a light lemon yellow changing to a reddish color. Incubation period is about four to five days. Each molt lasts five to six days. An adult will live for about one month. The insect overwinters as an adult.Eggs are laid in milkweed seed pods or in crevices between pods. About 30 eggs are laid a day, and about 2,000 over a female's lifespan, which lasts about a month during the summer. One or more generations per year.
They overwinter as adults. They can't survive cold winters, so they migrate south in the fall. They overwinter in the southern Atlantic and Gulf coast states where they feed and breed and gradually migrate north again in the spring and summer.

Cicadas could still be heard in the trees as the temperature was warm despite the afternoon waning sunshine.  Men on mountain bicycles in search of exercise and adventure came up from behind me on the trail shouting, "on your left" as I dodged into the brush to avoid being struck.  Others walking dogs both on and off leash strolled by me as I stood from time to time staring into the trees after a quick movement was noticed.  Getting out into the woods is very refreshing and regenerating after a long day in the office.

The Menomonee River was low

Cabbage white butterfly

Beautiful grains and goldenrod

If I stay still...no one will see me.

Here is the list of birds I saw on this 2-hour walk:
  1. American robin
  2. Bluejay
  3. American crow
  4. Common grackle
  5. Song sparrow
  6. White-breasted nuthatch
  7. Black-capped chickadee
  8. Cedar waxwing
  9. Red-eyed vireo
  10. Belted kingfisher
  11. Great blue heron
  12. Mallard
  13. Mourning dove
  14. Red-bellied woodpecker
  15. Black and white warbler
  16. American redstart
  17. Hermit thrush
  18. Cooper's hawk
  19. Hairy woodpecker
  20. Chimney swift
  21. American goldfinch