Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle
 The bald eagle is one of the largest raptors in North America. They are one of two species of eagles found on the continent but they are the only eagle that is unique to North America. This is one reason that it is fitting that the bald eagle is the symbol of the United States. The bald portion of the name bald eagle comes from the old English word balde which meant white. When the word balde fell out of use it was shortened to bald eagle.
Bald Eagle
 The bald eagle is a type of sea or fish eagle. The feathers on the legs of sea eagles stops at the top of their legs and the lower portion of the legs and feet are covered with scales. Sea eagles are designed to pluck fish from the water, which is why bald eagles are typically found around water. Although fish are a main part of the bald eagles diet, they are opportunistic feeders and will eat whatever prey is easiest to obtain. This often leads to a lot of scavenging.
Bald Eagle
Immature bald eagles do not look very much like their parents. They start out life with dark feathers on their heads and tails, black beaks and brown eyes. When they get to about five years old they begin to change. As they molt over the next 2 or 3 years some of the dark feathers that are lost from the head and tail will be replaced with white feathers. The beak will begin to change from black to gray to pale yellow. Finally after a few years it will end up the bright yellow. The eyes also gradually change from brown to bright yellow. The three birds in this post represent the three different stages. The bottom photo is an immature bird probably around 3 or 4 years old. It has not yet begun to change. The middle picture is a bird in transition between immature and adult. It is probably about 5 to 7 years old. The top photo is a mature bird that could be anywhere from around 8 or older. In the wild a bald eagle does well if it makes it to 25 years old.



Wednesday, July 16, 2014

American Gold Finch

 American Gold Finch
 The American goldfinch is a common, brightly colored, visitor to backyards across North America. Because of their diet, which consist almost entirely of seeds and vegetation, they are fairly easily attracted to feeders, especially during the winter. They are often found hanging off of tube feeders filled with thistle seed, which is one of their favorites.
American Gold Finch
American goldfinch breed through out the central and northern United States and southern Canada. They tend to breed later than most other birds, waiting for the thistle and milkweed seed. They often use the little parachute fibers from these seeds to line their nests. The abundance of seeds help to feed the chicks. Their typical habitat is open fields where plenty of weeds are growing.
American Gold Finch
During the winter birds that breed in the northern portions of their range migrate to the southern US and Mexico. Prior to migrating the gold finch will molt into its winter plumage. This is one of two molts per year. The first molt occurs at the end of winter when the goldfinch changes to its bright yellow breeding plumage. 




Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
 The yellow-bellied sapsucker is a small to medium woodpecker that nests in northeastern United States and Canada. Unlike most other species of woodpeckers most yellow-bellied sapsuckers migrate south each winter into the southeastern United States, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. On their breeding grounds they prefer a habitat with new growth and younger trees but during the winter they are not as picky.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
 As their name implies the yellow-belied sapsucker's primary food source is tree sap. In the spring they drill holes deep into the tree to get to the sap that is traveling up to the tree branches. Later, after the trees leaf out, they drill shallow holes into the tree to get to the sap that is carried down from the leaves. They usually choose a sick or wounded tree from a species with a high sugar content, up to about 10% sugar. They must continually maintain the holes to keep the sap running, using their log tongues to lick it up. Besides eating sap yellow-bellied sapsuckers also eat the cambium, or core of the tree, fruit and insects which they glean from the trees.



Wednesday, June 18, 2014

White-eyed Vireo

White-eyed Vireo
The white-eyed vireo is a small passerine that breeds in the south eastern United States. They are typically found in scrub where they can often be seen hopping between branches gleaning insects from the bushes. They will also some times eat fruit. During the winter they migrate to their southern wintering grounds in Mexico, Central America or the Caribbean. I photographed this bird on South padre island. The South Padre Convention Center had a small garden with a man made stream running through which attracted many birds who had just made a long flight over the Gulf of Mexico. 



Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Unusual Sighting

Whooping Cranes
A few years back I took a trip out to the Necedah NWR in central Wisconsin. I began to travel to Necedah the year before because it is known for being one of the best places in the world to photograph endangered Karner Blue butterflies. On this particular trip it was early October, which is a bit late in the season for Karners, but I had a free weekend day and wanted to go photograph some place that I had not photographed so often. The day was going well, photographing primarily red-headed woodpeckers, when as I was walking along a dirt road I spotted a pair of large white birds flying my way. As the got closer I was excited to see that it was a pair of whooping cranes.
Whooping Cranes
The whooping crane is one of the largest birds in North America and it is highly endangered. They stand about 5 feet tall and have over a seven foot wingspan. Because of habitat loss and unregulated hunting the population of the whooping crane dropped to just 15 birds by 1941. They were added to the endangered species list in 1967.  Since this time their population has been increased slowly to about 400 - 500 birds today. 
Whooping Cranes
Most of the cranes, around 300 or so, are a part of a flock that breeds in Wood Buffalo Park in Canada and winters in Aransas National Wildlife refuge in Texas. This flock are the decedents of the remaining 15. However there is concern about the population since they breed and winter together in the same location. A disease, natural disaster, or man made disaster could easily wipe out the entire flock in one shot. In order to avoid potential disaster the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership began to release birds into central Wisconsin. Young birds where then trained to fly to wintering grounds in Florida using ultra light aircraft. This project was based out of Necedah NWR. These birds are a part of the eastern flock, easy to tell because of the tracking bracelet on one of the legs, which now numbers over 100.      

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow
 The tree swallow is a North American swallow. They nest through out Canada and the northern United states and migrate down to the extreme southern US, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean for the winter. They typically do not migrate as far south as other swallows because they eat more seeds and plant material than other swallows so they can survive in cooler climates where there are fewer insects.
Tree Swallow
 The tree swallow gets its name because it is a cavity nester and it is often found nesting in tree cavities. Tree swallows will also nest in nesting boxes that are placed in the right type of habitat. They prefer open habitats, such as fields and marshes, where they can catch their prey in flight. They also like to nest close to water because more flying insects are found around the water, due to the fact that the larva of many flying insects are aquatic.
Tree Swallow
 Like most swallows the primary diet of the tree swallow consists of insects. They hunt from dusk to dawn, typically flying close to the ground and catching their prey in flight. This bird was hunting for nesting materials when I photographed it.



Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl
 The snowy owl is a raptor of the northern tundra. They are circumpolar, nesting in northern portions of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Europe and Asia. During the winter many of the adult snowy owls will stay on their nesting territory however many young birds may head south to southern Canada, the northern US, and central portions of Europe and Asia. They are the largest owl species, by weight, in North America and one of the largest in Europe and Asia.
Snowy Owl Female
Young birds can be identified by their black barring. The barring is usually darker on the females then on the males. As they age the barring fades until adult males are almost pure white. Hedwig, from harry Potter fame is actually a series of male snowy owls. Females often retain some of the barring even as adults. Since some males are darker then normal and some female lighter it is best to use the size of the bib under the head to determine between the sexes. This bird has a small bib so it is most likely female. The other owl  in these photos has a bib that extends half way down its chest so it is probably a male.
Snowy Owl in Flight
Snowy owls are more diurnal then most owls.It makes sense that they would have to be active during daytime hours during the nesting season, which runs from may through September. During the summer daylight can stretch to over 20 hours per day. Birds that stay on the nesting territory during the winter would have to switch to nocturnal hunting because of lack of daylight during the winter. The primary prey of the snowy owl are lemmings. They will also eat other small mammals as well as ptarmigan and water fowl. 
Snowy Owl Landing
Occasionally there are mass eruptions of snowy owls down into Europe, Asia, or the United States. These typically occur because of a lack of food in their tundra territories. this lack of food can be caused by a bad year for the prey species, such as a decline in the lemming population due to disease, or it can be caused by a particularly good breeding season. as a ground nesting bird snowy owls can lay up to 11 eggs in a clutch. most years a snowy pair can not support that many chicks and some do not make it. On a good year where there is plenty of prey during the breeding season more chicks survive and when it comes time for them to go out on their own in the winter many head south to find food. This past winter was a huge snowy eruption in the US. Snowies were seen all the way down in Florida. Most of the snowies that I spotted were immature birds which suggests that it was a good breeding year for snowies. Unfortunately many of the snowies that came south will never make it back.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Rowe Sanctuary

 Crane Blind
At the beginning of April I decided to take a short trip down to Nebraska to see the sandhill cranes. I had already been offered a job but since it took a while for the background check, drug test and all of the paper work to go through I decided it was the perfect time to head down to the Rowe Sanctuary. It had been many years since I last visited the sanctuary, I was still shooting film at the time, and typically the timing never seemed to work out. Either we were vacationing down south in late winter or we were heading to Yellowstone in May, either way it would be difficult to get away so close to another vacation. Since I was not starting work for another week I decided it would be a perfect time to go. 
Sandhill Cranes Dancing
The Rowe Sanctuary is an Audubon sanctuary located in central Nebraska. It consists of 1900 acres of river channel, wet meadows and agricultural land along the Platte River. It is named for Lillian Annette Rowe who financed teh initial purchase of 782 acres back in 1974 to help protect the habitat for migrating cranes.
Whooping Cranes in Flight
 It is necessary to protect this part of the Platte River because it is the main resting spot for cranes migrating back north across the central flyway. Each year approximately 600,000 or more cranes stop at the Platte between mid February and mid April. This includes about 80% of the worlds population of lesser sandhill cranes. It also includes a good number of greater sandhill cranes and many other birds. The weekend I was there we saw a pair of endangered whooping cranes mixed in with the sandhills.
Cranes At Sunset
The reason why they stop at this location is because the Platte is a shallow river with many sandbars. During the day the cranes venture through the bordering fields eating any left over grains. Since cranes do not have feet that allow them to perch in trees they spend the night standing in the shallow water of the Platte. The shallow waters act as an alarm to let them know if an terrestrial predators may be around. Each morning the cranes rise up from the river giving visitors a spectacular show only to return each night for an encore.


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Quick

 Peregrine Falcon
The peregrine falcon is the quickest animal in the world. Although they typically fly at speeds around around 40 - 55 MPH, which is slower then many birds and several mammals, they can hit speeds in excess of 200 MPH when hunting. Peregrines are bird eaters that frequently hunt by flying higher then other birds, over .6 miles and then dropping down on their prey in a dive called a stoop. In their stoop they can hit speed over 200 MPH with the fastest speed ever measured hitting 242 MPH. The peregrine has special adaptations that help it to fly at high speeds. The pointed shape of their wings makes them very aerodynamic. The also have posts in their nostrils, called nare baffles, that help to equalize the extreme air pressure associated with diving at these high speeds.    
Peregrine Falcon
 Peregrines are a world wide species that is found on every continent except Antarctica. The word peregrine means "wanderer" and they have earned this name because peregrines that nest in the tundra will often migrate over 7,500 miles to winter in South America or southern Asia. Peregrines living in more temperate climates typically stay on territory all year long, particularly the males. Their preferred habitat is areas around rocky cliffs where they nest. The nest is a depression called a scrape. The scrape is made by the female, who uses her talon to cut a depression on a cliff ledge about 2 " deep.
Peregrine Falcon
In the 1950's and 60's the Peregrine falcons population fell to disastrous levels. Peregrines, along with numerous other species had suffered from DDT poisoning. DDT was a widely used insecticide that was passed up to the peregrine through insect eating prey birds. DDT did not affect the adult bird but it made their egg shells very thin, so that most eggs broke during incubation. Very few peregrines hatched and as the adults died through more natural means the population began to plummet. By the time that DDT was banned in the US, in 1972 peregrines had been extirpated from most of the eastern half of North America and were placed on the Endangered Species List. In the 1980's several groups, including the Peregrine Fund in the Eastern US, and the Midwest Peregrine Foundation in the middle of the US, began releasing young peregrines back into the wild. The eggs from these birds came from falconers and the young were placed in hack boxes until they fledged. Many hack boxes were located on tall building in cities and as the peregrine population began to rebound many were replaced with nest boxes. These additional nest boxes were placed on Buildings, bridges, smoke stacks and other man made structures and it provided the peregrines more nesting habitat in areas where their are not a lot of cliffs. The pigeon population in the cities also helped, provided the peregrines with abundant prey. The peregrine was taken off the Endangered Species List in 1999 and today they are thriving in many areas.



Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler
 Late every spring warblers invade Minnesota. Starting typically in late April and running through the first few week of May warblers stop by on their way migrating north. How long that they stay depends n the weather. In years where we have an early spring they hardly stop at all but in years where winter lingers we can see them for a week or two. Last winter was a great year for photographing warblers. Winter lasted very late and when the warblers came through in May they stayed for a while because their were no insects to eat further up north. The late winter also meant that the trees had not leafed out yet which makes the warblers much easier to see. This year has the possibility of being another good year for warblers watching. We have had some warm days lately which has some of the trees budding but a cold snap this week with a possibility of a little snow might help slow things down just enough for us to et a good warbler showing this year.
Palm Warbler
One of the earlier species to come back through are the palm warblers. The reason that they are one of the first back is because they do not winter as far south as most warblers. They typically winter in the southern U.S and Caribbean, while most species of warblers head down to Central and South America for the winter. Palms breed in northern Canada. They are found mostly in the eastern half of North America. I often hear palm warblers before I see them. Instead of flitting around in the trees like most warblers they are usually foraging through the leaf litter, like a fox sparrow, looking for insects and seeds.