Monday, September 15, 2014

Eat or be Eaten

Furrow Orbweaver Captures a Whiteface Dragonfly
While dragonflies are fierce predators of the insect world they are often also prey. Many are eaten by larger predators such as birds, but other predators are not any larger than the dragonfly. This furrow orbweaver spider has captured a whiteface dragonfly that will feed it well for quite a while. Since orbweaver spiders do not have very good vision they use a web to ensnare prey. Other spiders with better vision, such as wolf spiders, do not use webs for hunting.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Hoary Redpoll

Hoary Redpoll
 Redpolls are small northern finches that breed in the arctic and tundra regions. They are circumpolar, meaning that they are found in northern portions of North America, Europe and Asia. During the winter they head south down to southern Canada and the northern United States. They are primarily seed eaters.
Common Redpoll
The hoary redpoll is related to the common redpoll. Both species inhabit a similar breeding range, although the hoary redpolls range extends further north. Often during the winter hoary redpolls will mix in to flocks of common redpolls. As you can tell by the pictures above, the hoary is the first pic and the common is the lower, both species look very similar. The hoary usually appear more white than their common cousins. 




Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ferruginous Hawk

Ferruginous Hawk
 The ferruginous hawk is a large hawk that lives in the central plains of the United States. They are the largest species of buteo, soaring hawks, living in North America. They are fairly easy to identify because of their size, large mouth, and their rusty red color. The color is where they get the common name ferruginous from. It is a variation on the Latin word ferrgin which means iron rust.
Ferruginous Hawk
The ferruginous hawk is one of only three diurnal raptors in North America that have feathers that reach all the way to their feet. The other two species, the rough-legged hawk and the golden eagle, have ranges that are further north or in higher elevations than the ferruginous. The breeding range of the ferruginous only extends into southern Canada with many of the birds breeding in the northern half of the range migrating to the southwestern U.S. and Mexico for the winter.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Eastern Towhee


Eastern Towhee
The eastern towhee is a passerine found in the eastern half of North America. They nest from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic Coast and as far north as southern portions of Canada. Birds in the northern portion of the range migrate to the southern United States for the winter while birds in the southern portion of the range stay on territory year round.
Eastern Towhee
At one time the spotted towhee, from the western United States, and the eastern towhee were considered the same species and were called the rufous-sided towhee. It was decided that there were enough differences between the two to break them into two different species. There ranges do still over lap in central North America and the species will still interbreed with each other. This is the female eastern Towhee.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Rose-breasted Grosebeak

Rose-breasted Grosebeak



Dainty Sulphur

 Dainty Sulphur
The dainty sulphur is a small member of the sulphur butterflies. Sulphur butterflies are easy to identify because they are typically mostly yellow in color. The only other primarily yellow butterflies in North America are swallowtails but they are much larger and have "tails" on their hindwings.
Dainty Sulphur
 The dainty sulphur is typically found in the southern United States and Mexico, however on some year they invade northward out of their normal range and can be seen as far north as Canada. In 2012 it was an invasion year and I was able to photograph dainty sulphurs around home. Males are often found on the ground in sand or dirt where they are looking for salt which they can present to a female.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warbler
The chestnut-sided warbler is a colorful passerine that is easy to identify. They nest in the southeastern half of Canada and in the north eastern and north central United States.They spend winters in Central America, Northern portions of South America and the Caribbean. each inter they often go to the same territory where they mix with tropical warblers and other birds in foraging flocks. Most of their diet is made up of insects.
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Chest-nut sided warblers typically nest in deciduous forests. They make a cup shaped nest made of bark, grasses, and other plant material usually located in a bush or small tree within 6 feet of the ground. Immature birds do not have the maroon streak of their parents. I photographed this immature in northeast Minnesota where they bread. The top shot was taken during migration when they pass through southern Minnesota on their way to the breeding grounds.  


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.