Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret
 One nice thing about traveling to warm places during the winter is getting to see birds that you never get to see back home. In Minnesota the only egret that we usually see is the great egret.I still remember how excited that I got when I saw my first great egret as a kid. Down in Texas they have a few other species of egrets that are only rare visitors to Minnesota. One example is the snowy egret.
Snowy Egret Feeding
Snowy egrets look very similar to great egret except that they are smaller. Sometimes size is tough to gauge, especially from a distance, so there are other a couple other field markings that you can look for to help determine whether a bird is a snowy or great egret. First of all snowy egrets have bright yellow feet where great egrets have black feet. Unfortunately their feet are often not visible in the water. Snowy egrets also have lacy plumes on the back of their head and tail. Great egrets have no plumes on their head and long plumes on their tail. Finally snowy egrets have a black beak with yellow lores, the area around the beak and eyes. Great egrets have a yellow bill with yellow lores.
Snowy Egret in Flight
Most species of egrets were hunted almost to extinction in the late 1800's and early 1900's. feathers were in fashion at the time and hunters killed millions of birds in order to adorn hats and other articles of clothing with lacy feathers. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 put a stop to the legal feather trade by protecting feathers, body parts, nests, eggs and the birds themselves for all native species of birds other than game birds like ducks and such. The illegal feather trade continued but eventually feathers went out of fashion. Even though most of the hunted species made a comeback and are not endangered today they are still protected.

I apologize for my neglect of the blog over the past couple months. Between work, volunteering, building two websites and several other projects my time has been limited. Summer usually is a busy time also, but I will try and post more often again

Friday, April 22, 2016

Hey, hey, it's our B-Earthday

That's right! Nine years ago, Earthday 2007, the Ecobirder blog began. So to celebrate I give you a 2015 Year in Review.  

Barred Owl
I photographed this barred owl at the Minnehaha Falls dog park early in the year.

Cedar Waxwing
While photographing the barred owl at the dog park I ran into a small flock of cedar waxwings.

Bald eagle
 In the fall I often travel to the southeast corner of Minnesota, near Brownsville, to photograph migrating tundra swans and bald eagles.

Eastern Bluebird
 While photographing great horned owls early in spring bluebirds migated back into the area.

White Pelican
 I got this white pelican taking off while I was photographing swans and eagles near Brownsville.

Pileated Woodpecker
 There is a lot of old growth near where the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers converge. This is perfect habitat for the pileated woodpecker.

Trumpeter Swans
 During the summer I usually spend a good deal of time at Crex Meadows in Wisconsin. They usually have several pairs of nesting trumpeter swans which are fun to photograph when they have cygnets.

Yellow Ladyslipper
 While photographing dragonflies at the Ridges Sanctuary in Door County Wisconsin I found this yellow lady slipper. This is the only lady slipper that I have found in the wild.

Big Horn Ram
Our big trip of the year in 2015 was to Yellowstone in May. We photographed this big horn ram near the North Entrance 

Black Bear COY
We like to go to Yellowstone in May because it gives us the opportunity to photograph a lot of babies. In 2015 we saw a lot of black bear cubs of the year, which had only recently come out of the den. 

 Spotted this coyote moving parallel to the road on our way north in the park one morning.  

Red Fox Pouncing
In years past we have had the opportunity to photograph red fox at their den with pups. This year we did not get to photograph a den but we did get to watch this spectacular beauty hunt. 

Yellow Bellied Marmot
Marmots are very common in Yellowstone and will often pose for you. 

Pronghorn Antelope
On our way home from Yellowstone we stopped at Bowdoin NWR and Medicine Lake NWR. These are great places to photograph prairie birds and waterfowl. Every now and again you find something a bit larger to photograph. Such as this pronghorn antelope.

I hope you enjoyed some of my best pics from 2015. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Northern Jacana

Northern Jacana
Another life bird that we photographed on our trip to Texas earlier this year is the northern jacana. The pictures are not the best. The bird was a good ways away on the other side of a pond. However south Texas is the only place in the US to see this species, and even there it is a rarity, so even though I could not get great pics I was excited. The typical range of the northern Jacana is from Mexico down to Panama.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron
 This February we decided to take a trip down to south Texas for a week. This is about the fifth time we have made this trip. It is a great place to go in the winter. Michelle likes getting away from the Minnesota winter and enjoying the sun. I go for the wildlife. The Rio Grande in south Texas is probably the best birding location in the United States. There are many species of birds there that cannot be found any where else in the US. There are also many different species of butterflies and dragonflies. Unfortunately we went a little earlier this year so there were not as many insects as we have seen on past trips.
Little Blue Heron
 This year we were able to photograph quite a few new life birds. This however was not one of them. The little blue heron is fairly common around the gulf coast. But just because it is common in Texas does not mean that it is not something special for us to photograph. This is a species that we do not see here in the cold waters of Minnesota.It was fun to watch this one hunting around the vegetation. Several different times he caught what appeared to be crustaceans of some sort.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Gray Hawk

 I spent last week photographing in south Texas' Rio Grande Valley. The weather was near perfect with mostly sunny skies and temps getting up into the 80's. We made the most of a lot of great photographic opportunities including about 10 new lifers and 11 different species of raptors. This bird was one of our lifers. It is an immature gray hawk. I photographed it in Bentsen State Park. South Texas and southern Arizona are the only places in the US that you can find gray hawks. There range extends south through coastal Mexico, Central America, and the northern half of South America. Although they are a member of the Buteo genus, or soaring hawk, they are built more like an Accipiter with a long tail and shorter wings. Because of this they used to have their own genus. Adult gray hawks are gray in color with barring across the chest. We believe that we may have spotted an adult at the Laguna Atascosa but unfortunately it took off before we could get a good look, or a picture. I will have to add an adult to my target species for our next trip to Texas.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Bordered Patch Butterfly

Bordered Patch Butterfly
 The bordered patch is a butterfly found in the southwestern United States, Mexico, Central and South America. They are usually food in habitat such as desert hills, pinyon or oak woodlands, thorn and mesquite scrub, road edges and agricultural fields.
Bordered Patch Butterfly Chrysalis Shell
 This is what is left of the chrysalis once the bordered patch emerges. In south Texas, where I took these photographs the adults can be seen flying through out the year. Adults feed primarily on nectar from flowers while the larva (caterpillar) feed on members of the sunflower family.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Cassin's Finch

 On one of our trips to Yellowstone I had the opportunity to photograph a few Cassin's finch. I almost missed out because at first I thought they were house finch. House finch are pretty common through out most of the United States. But house finch have more streaking on the belly which this bird obviously does not have. Next I was thinking purple finch but Yellowstone would be a bit out of their range. It also has that distinctive red crown, a by product of the carotenoid pigments that are found in the colorful berries that they like to eat. The purple finch has a more uniform red color on the head. I finally identified the birds as a Cassin's finch, which were named after famous ornithologist John Cassin, who first recorded them in the 1850's while part of the Pacific Railroad Survey. Cassin's finch breed in the western third of the US and winter in the Pacific southwest and Mexico.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Black-billed Cuckoo

Black-billed Cuckoo
Black-billed cuckoos breed through out much of the eastern half of the United States and southeastern Canada.  They prefer woody areas, typically building their nest in deciduous trees or shrubs usually fairly close to the ground. Black-billed cuckoos migrate down to northwestern parts of South America for the winter.
Black-billed Cuckoo
 Black-billed cuckoos are insect eaters. They eat a variety of larger insects which they glean from trees and shrubs. They particularly prefer large caterpillars. They will often knock caterpillars against branches to dislodge their spines before they eat them. They are not always successful and end up with spines lodged in their stomach. To counter this they will shed their stomach lining to get rid of excess spines.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

American Avocet

American Avocet
 Every couple of years or so we make a trip out to Yellowstone National Park to photograph the wildlife. Since most of what we photograph at Yellowstone are mammals we usually stop at one or two Montana wildlife refuges on our way home. The two that we usually go to are Bowdoin NWR and Medicine Lake NWR. Both of these refuges are located around wetland areas in the Prairie Pothole region of North America. Both are typically a haven for waterfowl, waders, shorebirds and prairie species.
American Avocet
On last years Yellowstone trip we stopped at both refuges. At Bowdoin I snapped these images of an American avocet. The red coloration that you can see on the head and neck is breeding plumage. When it is not the breeding season these areas would be white. These birds typically winter in coastal water of southern California, Mexico, Florida, the Caribbean, and along the Gulf of Mexico.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Zebra Clubtail

Zebra Clubtail Male
 The zebra clubtail is a member of the Gomphidae or clubtail family. Cubtails are named for the wide or clubbed end of their abdomen that many species have. This is not a requirement though. Gomphidae are identified because they are the only clubtails that have eyes that are separated, like damselflies. The zebra clubtail is a Stylurus or hanging clubtail. They are often often hanging from vegetation.
Zebra Clubtail Female
 Zebra clubtail are found around forest streams or sandy bottomed rivers. They usually emerge later in the summer, primarily late in the summer. The first photo is an example of a male while the second is a female. As you can see the female can be distinguished easily from the male because she has very little clubbing at the tip of the abdomen in comparison to the male..

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Yellow-headed Blackbird
 Yellow-headed blackbirds are members of the Icteridae family which consists of their smaller cousin the red-winged black bird as well as bobolinks, cowbirds, grackles, meadowlarks, and orioles. They usually breed in the central and western plains region and migrate into the south western United States and Mexico for the winter. During their winter migration they often travel as part of large mixed species flocks.
Yellow-headed Blackbird
 The prefered breeding habitat of the yellow-headed blackbird are cattail marshes. They often share this habitat with red-winged blackbirds. Since the yellow-heads are larger they often dominate the smaller red-winged blackbirds and take the prime nesting locations for themselves. Males will fiercely defend their breeding territory and may mate with up to eight females nesting within his territory.Nests are built by the female out of vegetation and connected to four our five stalks of cattail, reeds or other marshland vegetation.