The BMP pathway patterns the dorsal region of the Drosophila embryo. Using an antibody recognizing phosphorylated Mad (pMad), we followed signaling directly. In wild-type embryos, a biphasic activation pattern is observed. At the cellular blastoderm stage high pMad levels are detected only in the dorsal-most cell rows that give rise to amnioserosa. This accumulation of pMad requires the ligand Screw (Scw), the Short gastrulation (Sog) protein, and cleavage of their complex by Tolloid (Tld). When the inhibitory activity of Sog is removed, Mad phosphorylation is expanded. In spite of the uniform expression of Scw, pMad expansion is restricted to the dorsal domain of the embryo where Dpp is expressed. This demonstrates that Mad phosphorylation requires simultaneous activation by Scw and Dpp. Indeed, the early pMad pattern is abolished when either the Scw receptor Saxophone (Sax), the Dpp receptor Thickveins (Tkv), or Dpp are removed. After germ band extension, a uniform accumulation of pMad is observed in the entire dorsal domain of the embryo, with a sharp border at the junction with the neuroectoderm. From this stage onward, activation by Scw is no longer required, and Dpp suffices to induce high levels of pMad. In these subsequent phases pMad accumulates normally in the presence of ectopic Sog, in contrast to the early phase, indicating that Sog is only capable of blocking activation by Scw and not by Dpp.