Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The last stop in my Duluth adventure

My last stop on my Duluth tour, on Thursday, was Two Harbors. By the time I arrived it was after 4:00pm so I did not have much time. It would be dark soon and I still had to drive for about 3 hours to get home. In the harbor I spotted two ducks. The first one was a bufflehead.
Buffleheads are very colorful when the light hits them just right. The only buffleheads that I have photographed in the past were a pair at the Bosque del Apache last winter, so it was kind of cool to see one in northern Minnesota.
The other duck in the harbor was a scaup. I think that it was a greater scaup because it was much larger then the bufflehead and it had a very thick beak.
On the shore a pair of snow bunting were foraging in the grass.
Then I decided to take a few minutes to check out the woods by the light house. I saw a few dark-eyed juncos, white tailed dear, and a downy woodpecker, who appeared to be molting or at least he had a few feathers out of place.I wish I would have had more time to check out the north shore but the sun was setting so I knew that I would have to plan another trip if I wanted to do more north shore birding. So I packed up my equipment, stopped for gas on the way out of town and began the trip home.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Duluth trip part 2: Park Point

After I left Wisconsin Point last Thursday I moved on to Park Point. At park point there were a lot of Canadian geese, mallards, and dark eyed junco. In the sports fields I spotted about 10 American golden-plover scavenging through the grass.
Next I went down to the beach at Minnesota point but the only thing that I saw was a ringed-billed gull.

On my way back out I stopped at the marsh to check out some ducks that I saw near shore. They were only mallards but while I was out I spotted a few dragon flies.Like this variegated meadowhawk that landed on some drift wood.This pair of ruby meadowhawks were mating. Hopefully they were not to late.This pair was not mating but the male still had a hold of the females head.

This was on October 25th in Duluth, MN, which is not that far from the Canadian border. When I was a kid, growing up in the Twin Cities, I remember often having snow on the ground when I went trick or treating on Halloween. Now here it is less then a week before Halloween with temps in Duluth in the 60s. More proof that global warming is a serious issue.

Monday, October 29, 2007

A trip to Duluth starting at Wisconsin Point

Thursday's weather was as nice as promised. I took a half day off of work so that I could go back up to Duluth and spend most of the day birding. I started my day across the border at Wisconsin point. As I was driving into the point I saw this hawk on a small tree in the marshy area along the road.
At first I thought that I might have a juvenile ferruginous hawk, since it did not have a defined belly band and when it took off I could not see any red in the tail.However when I got home and examined the pictures on my PC it was plain that the feathers on the leg do not extend down all the way to the feet, which means it could not be a ferruginous hawk. It is red-tailed hawk, prolly a juvenile, which would explain the lack of red in the tail and the indistinct belly spotting. Down on the beach things were pretty quiet. There were a few gull out by the light house, I decided that I did not want to crawl across the rock wall with my new camera to get any pictures of them, and an American crow working on his tan. Next I decided to go check out the wooded areas around the beach.There I saw some chickadees and a couple of white-breasted nuthatch. Since things were pretty quiet I decided to move on and check out the Minnesota side. On my way back to the bridge I swung through a few areas down by the water where I saw a lot of Canadian geese, gulls and this common grackle. I will post more on my Duluth trip tomorrow.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Lunch date with an eagle

Wednesday was another beautiful day. Unfortunately I could not go out and shoot after work because I have been helping out at the Raptor Center on Wednesdays after work. So I decided to run over to Lake Como over my lunch period and enjoy the weather rather then eat in front of my PC like I typically do. I started out by shooting some house sparrows that were foraging in the grass around the lake.Then I moved to the lake where I was trying to get some shots of a few American coots. Unfortunately the coots were right in front of the sun making it very difficult to get any thing more then a silhouette. While I was waiting for the coots to move to a better angle I saw a large figure fly in low over the road and turn towards the gulf course. A tree was partially blocking y view but it looked like it was a bald eagle. It went low on to the golf course where I lost sight of it but since I did not see it fly back out I figured that it may still be close.

I left the coots and headed across the street to the golf course. There was a large group of Canadian geese, with a few mallards mixed in, making noise at a water hazard near to the road. I looked up and there was the eagle. I moved to the other side of the tree and got a couple of shots.
After a while the eagle got bored or annoyed by all of the geese below and he flew off across the golf course. While I was there I took a couple of shots of the male mallards, their heads almost glowing in the bright sunlight.
I did not get much of a chance to eat during lunch that day but it was by far the best lunch time that I have had at work in a while.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Wigeons at Black Dog Lake

After the pretty nice day on Saturday, the weather on Sunday went back to the rain like we had the whole last week. Fortunately it did not last long. Monday the weather was clear and sunny. I was not expecting the weather to be so nice so I did not bring my equipment with to work. After I got off I ran home, took care of some errands, and then grabbed my camera and headed out. I decided to drive down and check out Black Dog Lake. There was not a lot of activity on the lake itself, other then about 20 or so gulls who were pretty far out, but on one of the small side ponds across the street from the lake, which was actually in the Fort Snelling State Park, I found a large flock of mallards with about 20 or so American wigeon mixed in.
This is the first time this fall that I have seen any wigeon but I have read account of them passing through on the MOU list server.

The wigeon is a dabbling duck that feeds primarily on vegetation that it find on the bottom of ponds or pools.Although their population declined in the 1980s due to droughts in prairie areas they have recently been recovering their numbers.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Swans, coots, red-tailed hawks, and an immature eagle on my way home

On my way back home from Duluth, last Saturday, I made a quick stop by Crex Meadows. It was already late afternoon so I did not have much time before the sun set. I started out down by Phantom Lake where I found some trumpeter swans with a pair of cygnets.
The cygnets, which were prolly hatched in June, are almost the size of the adults. Their beaks are changing from the juvenile pink color to the black that they will have as adults and their feathers are changing from gray to white.The cygnets will stay with the parents and migrate south. They will return with the parents next spring and then will be on their own when the adults begin to nest again.
I also spotted a few American coots at Phantom Lake. Many people think that coots are a type of duck but they are actually a member of the Railidae family. One of the main differences between coots and ducks is that coots have lobed toes instead of webbed feet like ducks.

As I continued my tour around crex I spotted quite a few more trumpeter swans, they certainly are doing well breeding at Crex, as well as a large number of Canadian geese and mallards. Because Crex is pretty large most people tour it by car which makes it a bit more difficult to get pictures of passerines. I did get an American tree sparrow to come out and pose for me though.
The fall migration of raptors is in full swing. Many of the red-tailed hawks that have passed through Hawk Ridge recently stop at places like Crex to find food before continuing their migration. I saw quite a few re-tails that afternoon including this one who was perched in a tree right on the side of the road. Using my car as a blind I was able to get a few shots before he decided he did not like the car and he flew off. I also spotted an immature eagle who was perched in a tree a little ways off. Crex usually has a few pairs of breeding eagles in the spring. It is likely, as the weather gets colder and the water freezes, that this eagle will migrate south to the Wabasha, MN area. Typically in the winter 200 or more eagles migrate to the area between RedWing, MN and Wabasha in areas where the Mississippi River does not freeze. They do not migrate because they are directly affected by the cold they migrate because they require open water so that they can hunt fish.
Crex Meadows is the same location where Michelle and I rescued a different immature eagle in August. I contacted the Raptor center about the eagle again, last week, and they are still working with him trying to get his wing into flying shape so that he can be released.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Sharp-shinned and other raptors at Hawk Ridge

After spending a bit of time down at Park Point I headed up to Hawk Ridge. The weather was still pretty cloudy but every once and a while the sun would peak through. There were still plenty of raptors flying through though. Most of them were either sharp-shinned hawks or red-tailed hawks.

Every once and a while a different type of raptor would fly by like a harrier, eagle or turkey vulture.

But they were rare compared to the sharpies and red-tails which was obvious by what they where trapping down at the banding station. Shortly after I arrived a boy who adopted a sharpie got to release his bird.How cool it is to hold a bird like this in your hands? I wish I would have had an opportunity like this when I was a boy. The smile on his face says it all. I did not need any more persuading. It is easy to adopt a bird at Hawk Ridge all that it takes is a donation, which is used to support banding and educational programs at the ridge. Adoptions start at $20 for sharpies and go up to $200 for eagles and gyrfalcons. I gave them $100 and asked for the next bird that they had no matter what the type, although if they got an eagle I would have had to add another $100.

The next raptor that they caught and banded was a female first year sharpie.

She was a feisty one. She let the handlers and everyone else know that this treatment was not acceptable.She was trash talking and even went after the handlers fingers while she was doing a short educational talk about sharpies.I loved her spirit and even though I had donated more then the $20 required for a sharpie I was happy to adopt this bird.So I released her and as soon as I receive the picture that they took of the release I will post it. Meanwhile they took the banding number and will give me information on the bird and if it is ever captured in the future they will update me. They also have a program to adopt a passerine. While I was there they released a ruby-crowned kinglet and a dark-eyed junco.If you are ever in the area in the fall I would recommend a trip to Hawk Ridge. With great raptor viewing, during migration, and their wonderful activities and educational programs it is a one of a kind experience. But even if you can't make the trip to Hawk Ridge you can still help support their work through the adoption program. You wont get to personally release the bird, if you adopt one online, but you will still get to adopt a specific bird with it's own individual banding number and at the same time help the good work that they do at Hawk Ridge.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Snow buntings and horned grebes at Minnesota Point in Duluth

After a week of days filled with either rain or gray skies or both, the weather reports said that we would have a clear and sunny Saturday on October 20th. I wanted to make another trip up to Duluth, MN before winter came so I decided that I would drive up that Saturday morning. I left at around 7am, the sun was just starting to light up the sky, and I arrived in Duluth around 9:30am. The drive was very nice. The weather was perfect, with deep blue skies and crisp fall air, and the scenery was a tapestry of fall colors.

Unfortunately as I approached Duluth I could see clouds moving in from the west and as I crossed the bridge onto Park Point a wall of clouds blocked out the sun. Since I had already made the trip, and there was not much that I could do about mother nature, I continued with my plans. I drove out park point spotting mallards, Canadian geese, several different types of sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, and several types of gulls as I drove. When I reached the end of the road I parked by the airport and hiked up to the beach of Minnesota Point. When I approached the lake I spotted 2 birds in the water near the shore. As I moved in to get some pics the birds dove under the water and swam out into the lake. I could see them well enough to identify them as horned grebes but they were not too far to get any descent pics. So I moved on to the east following the Lake. A ways down the shore I spotted a couple of snow bunting.

I almost did not see them, their winter, non-breeding, plumage blended so well into the sand.When I got close though they flew a little ways down the beach so I followed and got some shots. I did not see much more except quite a few people and dogs so I started back to the car. On the way back I saw that the grebes where back in close to shore again. This time I took a different approach to try and get some better grebe pics. When the birds were up I would stay still and when they dove under the water, after some breakfast, I moved closer to their location.This strategy worked well. I was able to get pretty close to the wary birds.Once I got close I continued to follow them using this strategy. Every time they would go under I would move to where I thought that they would surface. Several times one of the birds would come up within a few feet from where I was standing.You know when you get detail in the eyes that you have gotten some good shots. It is just too bad that they are not in breeding plumage because they look much cooler when they are in breeding plumage. After a hiker with a dog kind of spooked them back out into the deeper water I decided to leave and make my way up to Hawk Ridge.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

My first assignment on the transport crew at The Raptor Center

Last Wednesday I got my first assignment as part of the transport crew for the Raptor Center. Michelle and I have been long time supporters of the Raptor Center. We have participated in their open houses and raptor releases and donated a pretty good sum of money to help with their cause. After rescuing the eagle from Crex Meadows in August I wanted to get more personally involved, so I looked into how I could volunteer with my current work schedule.

After some research I figured that the transport crew might work with my schedule so I contact their volunteer coordinator Vivian who gave me information on the next training session. So I went to the training session to get more info and ended up leaving as a member of the Wednesday transport crew. I spent the next few days getting my cages cleaned, we bought a medium animal carrier for the eagle and I had a small one from back when I had rabbits for my act, buying some gloves, filling out paperwork and getting a tetanus shot.

When the Raptor Center receives a call from someone reporting an injured bird they call a member of the transport crew to go pick up the bird and bring it in to the center. The transport crew also sometimes transports raptors to or from the airport. Crew members are on call for four hours shifts. Since I wanted to be a bit more involved then sitting and waiting for a call at home I have been helping out in the lobby on Wednesday afternoons. Last Wednesday at around 4:30pm I overheard Alana , the vet working that evening, talking to Emma, who works up front, about an injured bird that needed to be picked up. I asked Emma about it and since the bird was in Eagan, which is near where I live, I volunteered to go make the pick up.

I called Justin, the person who had the bird, and arranged to meet him at the Eagan Best Buy. I arrived 45 minutes later, the rush hour traffic was pretty bad, and found Justin waiting with a small box in hand. I peaked in, to make sure it was a raptor, and saw an American kestrel staring back. I thanked Justin and gave him the information packet that we give to people who assist us in rescuing injured raptors and then I took the bird to my vehicle. I though about leaving the bird in the box that Justin had it in, the less they are handled the better it is for the bird, but the top of the box did not seem very secure and I did not want to chance the bird getting loose while I was driving so I transferred it to my small cage. When I first saw the bird in the box I believed it was a female, I only got a quick view of the chest and the face, but when I took him out of the box and moved him to the cage it was obvious that he was a male. He was pretty feisty when I moved him which is a good sign. Justin had said that he had found him on the ground by railroad tracks.

About 45 minutes later I had the kestrel back to the Raptor Center and Alana was doing an initial investigation. I stuck around for a short while but did not want to get in the way so I left knowing that the bird was in great hands. Since my main concern was to get the bird back to the Raptor Center quickly and safely I did not get any pictures however if you are not familiar with the American kestrel here is a picture of a male kestrel that I shot earlier this year at the Sax Zim Bogs.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Lance-tipped darner dragonfly eating at the Bass Ponds

While I was at the Bass Ponds on October 13th I was lucky enough to photograph a lance-tipped darner dragon fly that had just captured a lady bug, or Japanese beetle it is hard to tell which when it is being eaten.
While I was taking the pics I did not even know that the dragonfly was feeding.
I watched it flying around and was just hoping that it would land, since I have not had the opportunity to photo this type in the past.
It did land and I began to shoot. I moved around a bit to change angles but it did not seem to pay much attention to me.
When I put the pictures on the PC and began working on them I discovered that the reason the dragon had landed was because it had caught some prey. Here are some close ups.In the end the dragon discards the beetles elytron, the hard forwing of some insects that protects the hindwings, which are typically used for flight.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Butterflies and dragonflies at the Bass Ponds

While I was out playing hooky from my conference and birding at the Bass Ponds of the Minnesota Valley NWR I took advantage of what may be the last chance this year that I may have to photograph insects in Minnesota. With it all ready being mid October there are less butterflies and dragonflies around, because the temperatures have dropped, and soon we will begin to get hard frost which will pretty much eliminate the remaining populations. However this Saturday was a beautiful day and I had some pretty good luck with the bugs. The first thing that I came across was a pair of orange sulfurs.
I believe that there was a male and female, the male is the one with more black around the edges of the wings
They were playing tag through the fields on the side of the path. One would land and I would set up a shot and while I was shooting the other one would often come flying into frame.
Finally they both landed on the same flower and shared a drink.

I also spotted several autumn meadowhawks.
Autumn meadowhawks are easy to ID because they have yellow legs instead of black legs like most meadowhawks.
I also found an eastern tailed blue who was quite photogenic.
The eastern tailed blue is named for the two small hairs (tails) at the bottom of the hind wings.
I also found this moth flying around amongst the flowers. My butterfly field guide does not list moths and after checking around a bit on the Internet I am still not sure what it is. If anyone knows what type of moths that this is I would appreciate it if you could leave a message in the comments.