Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Birds, Butterflies and Turtles atWood Lake

My last stop on April 20th was the Wood Lake Nature Center.

At Wood Lake I found another mourning cloak butterfly to photograph.
American robins are pretty common now so I am not as excited to see them as I was when they were first returning back in March. This robin gave me a nice pose though so I figured that he wanted to have his picture taken.
The hoodies are still around. On this trip they were in one of the ponds on the outer trail near to the freeway so the pics were not as good as I got last time.
There were also a lot of turtles sunning themselves on rocks or logs that were sticking out of the water. This guy slid into the water when I came by but decided to take a peek and check me out as I was checking him out and taking a pic.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Kingfisher, Bufflehead, Egret, Pelicans

After doing some birding at Fort Snelling State Park on April 20th I headed down the Minnesota River a bit to the Minnesota Valley NWR to see what wildlife that I could find.
At the marsh across from Black Dog Lake, which technically is still part of Fort Snelling, I found the female belted kingfisher that I have photographed on a few occasions lately. She was perched on her favorite snag but she did not stay very long this time.
In one of the small ponds near Black Dog I found a pair of bufflehead ducks.
Across the river a the old Cedar Avenue Bridge I found an egret who was pretty intent on its fishing.
There was not a lot to photograph from the boardwalk at Old Cedar Ave. Quite a few ducks and geese around but most were not with in good photographic range. As I was leaving, to head over to Wood Lake Nature Center to check things out there, a kettle of white pelicans flew over, following the river north.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Redhead, Scaup, Grebes, Flickers and Mergansers

I did also find some birds at Fort Snelling State Park on April 20th.
I have seen quite a few northern flickers around lately. Since they are pretty migratory it is possible that many of the birds that I have been seeing are on their way up to summer nesting grounds up in Canada. All of the flickers that I have seen are yellow-shafted northern flickers. The red-shafted northern flicker has a more westerly range. Perhaps I will get some pictures of a red-shafted when we travel to Yellowstone later this year.
Male redhead ducks are aptly named and easily identified, especially in breeding plumage. After the mating season is complete the males fly to large lakes, typically further north, where they group together. At that point they go through a molt which leaves them flightless for about a month. After the molt they appear pretty much brown all over but still maintain a red tinge on their heads.
Unlike its cousin, the greater scaup, the lesser scaup can only be found in North America. It is difficult to tell the two apart unless you have them right next to each other for comparison. However since the lesser scaup prefers fresh water, while the greater prefers saltwater, most of the scaups that we see here are lessers. From what I have read the best trait to use to identify whether you are looking at a greater or lesser scaup is the shape of the head. Lesser scaups have a thinner more rounded head then the greater do. My guess is that this was a lesser.
The horned grebes have been out in full force lately. Maybe it is just me, but it seems as though there are more horned grebes around this spring then normal.A group of grebes, like the one pictured above, is not called a flock or a kettle it would be called " a water dance of grebes"
Another grebe that I spotted for the first time this year is the pied-billed grebe. Typically I have seen more pied grebes, around home, then any of the other types, but this year I have seen a lot more horned then I have pied.
Another bird that seems to be more numerous this year, at least where I live, are the red-breasted mergansers.
These birds are coming from winter grounds on the east or west coast of North America, as far south as Mexico, and are heading to their breeding grounds in the Arctic and Subarctic regions of Alaska and Canada.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Butterflies Before the Snow

Minnesota is known as the land of 10,000 lakes but what most people, who do not live in this area, do not know is that Minnesota is also the land of 10,000 weather changes. For instance last weekend started off cloudy, then it cleared up and by mid week the temps were getting close to 80 degrees, and then by Friday our temps were down in the 30s and 40s and we got snow over night. This not only screws up nature enthusiast, like myself, I imagine it does a pretty good job of screwing up the flora and fauna also. Like last Sunday when the sun finally came out I made a trip to Fort Snelling State Park to do a bit of birding. While I was birding I was excited to see another eastern comma butterfly.
This is the second eastern comma that I have photographed this year, however I have not seen many butterflies since I saw the first one a couple weeks before at the North Mississippi Regional Park. There were a couple of nice high 60s days back then and I spotted a couple of butterflies but then the weather changed and got a bit colder and the butterflies became scarce again.
When it warmed up again last weekend the butterflies came back out, I photographed this mourning cloak at Fort Snelling last Sunday also, but I am afraid that now that the weather has changed again, that I probably wont see butterflies again until it warms up.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Birding the North Mississippi Regional Park

I did see, and photograph, a few other birds besides the horned grebes and great blue herons when I visited the North Mississippi Regional Park on April 14th.
I spotted a couple of American black ducks. I don't see black ducks all that often. That may be because Minnesota is pretty much on the western edge of there range.
There is some hybridization and interbreeding between American black ducks and mallards.
Not all of the action was down on the river. In the wooded area of the park I found an American robin.There were still American tree sparrows around.
As well as song sparrows.
I also spotted a group of 4 northern flickers. They would fly down to the open field land for a few minutes and then would fly back to the trees. I am guessing that they were hunting for insects. Unlike other members of the woodpecker family northern flickers prefer to find insects on the ground, ants are their favorite prey.
Another difference between northern flickers and their woodpecker cousins is that northern flickers are more migratory. Many northern flickers from Alaska, Canada and the northern US migrate down to Texas, California, or Mexico for the winter.
That is probably the reason why we don't see many flickers during the winter time, these were the first ones that I spotted in 2008, here in Minnesota. while the downy, hairy and red-breasted woodpeckers are knocking on trees in the snow and freezing temps the northern flickers are down in the sun slurping up ants.

Friday, April 25, 2008

My First Pics of Horned Grebe in Breeding Plumage

While I was out photographing the heron rookery at the North Mississippi Regional Park, at the beginning of last week, I noticed a small brown and black bird surface in the river near the shore where I was standing. I was excited because at first glance I thought that it was an eared grebe in breeding plumage. Last year on our Yellowstone vacation we swung a couple hundred miles out of our way to stop at Medicine Lake NWR, in Montana, just to photograph eared grebes in breeding plumage. Here is a photograph of an eared grebe in breeding plumage from last years trip.
Since I did not get a real good look at it before it dived back under the water I went down stream a bit and looked for it to surface. When I located the bird again I realized that it was not an eared grebe that I had spotted but I was close. It was a horned grebe in breeding plumage.
This was still pretty exciting because it was the first horned grebe that I had photographed in its breeding plumage. All of my past horned grebe pics, like this one below taken at Park Point in Duluth, MN last October, where of the birds in their non-breeding plumage.I've got to say they look a lot cooler in the breeding plumage. Unlike a lot of ducks both sexes of horned grebes look the same so both male and female change plumage during the breeding season.An interesting fact that I found out about horned grebes when I was reading up on them is that they eat their own feathers. These feathers form a plug or filter in the stomach that may fish bones until they can be digested. They even feed their feathers to their chicks so that they can start forming a plug.
My next goal is going to be to photograph both horned and eared grebe with their chicks. Like loons the young grebe chicks frequently ride on the backs of the adults. I would really like to get some pics of that. I will need to start working on researching good locations and times where I might find grebes with their chicks so that in the future I can bring you that shot.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Heron Rookery

At the beginning of last week I made another trip to see the heron rookery at the North Mississippi Regional Park. It is not very far from work so after I got off I headed across the river to Minneapolis. When I arrived there were a couple of people already there photographing the heron. One of them turned out to be Ivar from Ivar's Birds, you should check out his blog he has some very good pics.
Even though it was a beautiful day things were a lot less busy then the last time that I visited a week or so earlier.
On my first trip to the rookery there was a lot of courting going on. Males where continuously flying out and returning with branches that they handed off to the awaiting females. The females would stay at the nest arranging the new branch as the male would take off to find another.
There was also quite a bit of copulation going on with at least 4 pairs going through the act of mating.
On this visit only a few pairs were still in the courting stage, most of the pictures in this post are of a couple of pairs.
Most of the herons had already completed their mating and were bedded down in their nest probably incubating a clutch of eggs.
Herons typically have 2-6 eggs which they incubate for 25-30 days.
Maybe on my next visit there will be some chicks in the nest for me to photograph. Both parents take care of the chicks, and feed them by regurgitate food. After about 2 months the young herons fledge, but they continue to come to the nest and accept food from their parents for a few more weeks.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

An Earth Day and Anniversary Celebration

Today is Earth Day 2008. It is a day for people who care about the environment to celebrate the natural world. It is also a day that marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement. Earth day began back in 1970 and was a way to get attention for environmental issues. Earth Day has a special meaning for me because it was one year ago today that I began this blog with this post.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Welcome to my new Ecobirder Blog
In honor of Earth Day 2007 I have started my first blog. The purpose of this blog will be to share my love of the environment, wildlife, and birding with others who share these interests.

It has been my honor to share my thoughts, photos, love of the environment, and my blog with you over the past year. To celebrate this years Earth Day and my 1 year anniversary I have gone back through my pics of the last year and put together some of what I think were the best pics of my first year.
This first pic was taken at Como Park back in September of 2007. This was a black-swallowtail that my friend and coworker Mary had raised. Mary grows parsley plants which are a favorite species of the black-swallowtail larva. In the early summer Mary collected the caterpillars and raised them inside where they were safe from predators, pesticides and other dangers. When the black-swallowtails completed their metamorphosis then Mary would release the newly hatched butterflies. Mary was gracious enough to allow me to release a couple including this one that I released at the butterfly garden at Como Park.
This tiger swallowtail pic was taken back in August at the Bass Ponds. I found a beautiful spot at the Bass Ponds last year that was like a small garden of native plants and wild flowers. This attracted a lot of dragonflies, goldfinch, and butterflies.
This Halloween pennant dragonfly was photographed in July at Fort Snelling State Park. Originally I was not photographing butterflies and dragonflies but while I was out birding they peaked my interest and became a big part of the blog.
When I photographed this lance-tipped darner, at the Old cedar Ave Bridge in October, I was not aware that it was feasting on a recently caught lady bug. Since I had never photographed this type of dragonfly before I thought that lady bug shell was just a strange mandible on this different type of dragonfly. It was not until I was looking closely at the pics later that it was a picture of the dragonfly eating its prey.
This shot, taken at Dodge Nature Center last August, was not included because of the subject matter. Pink lady beetles are not rare or particularly difficult to shoot. I included this shot because I love the composition and the contrasting colors.
As one might assume from the title of the blog the main subject of Ecobirder are the birds. So I have included a lot of my favorite bird pics also. This first one was taken this past March at a feeding station up in the Sax Zim Bog area. I thought that I was lucky when I spotted an elusive boreal chickadee but then I really got really lucky when this one let me take its pic while it was drinking snow.
I chose this photo of a bohemian waxwing, that I shot in November up at Two Harbors, MN, because of the color and composition. I made several trips up to the Duluth and Two harbors area last fall. There are some great birding locations in Duluth, Superior, and Two Harbors like Park Point, Wisconsin Point and Hawk Ridge, just to name a few. I took this picture of a pine grosbeak while at the Sax Zim Bog Birding Festival in February of this year. I found that Sax Zim Birding Festival was the most productive birding festival or conference that I participated in over the year.
I get excited when I am able to take a picture of a bird engaged in its day to day activities, other then just perched. That is why this picture of an American redstart emerging from a bush with its prey, that I took in July at the Old cedar Ave Bridge, was included.
The American goldfinch may be a common bird in many parts of North America but it is also a favorite of many people. The bright yellow color of the male, during the breeding season matches, reminds us of happy sunny summer days. I spent quite a few of those summer days photographing goldfinch at the Bass Ponds.
On our way back from Yellowstone, in May of 2007, Michelle and I made a quick side trip to Medicine Lake NWR in Montana. Our objective was to get pictures of eared grebe in breeding plumage and as you can probably tell by the photo above we were successful.
The common loon is the Minnesota state bird but we do not see them that often, except during migration, in the southern pat of the state. That is why we had to travel to Crex Meadows, in Wisconsin, last June to get this loon pic.
Crex Meadows has more then just loons. We also shot this trumpeter swan with cygnets at Crex last June. Crex had at least 8 breeding pair that produced cygnets last summer.
Sax Zim Bog is known for its winter bird species but it can be a great place to bird other times of the year too. Last September on our way home from the Vince Schute Bear Sanctuary we swung through Sax Zim and found one of the most cooperative American kestrels that I have ever witnessed.
With gas prices rising, not to mention pollution levels, I tried to do a lot more birding around home. During the winter it was tough since there are quite a few less birds, as well as no insects, to photograph. Fortunately I was lucky that there was a sharp-shinned hawk that was visiting the feeder station at the Minnesota Valley NWR frequently over the winter months.
I try and carry my camera with me every where that I can because you never know when you will get an opportunity to take some fabulous pics. That was the case one Wednesday in November when I was volunteering at The Raptor Center. Someone had spotted a wild peregrine falcon in the area so I grabbed my camera and went to take a look. I found the bird on top of a fresh kill and stayed to take 8gb worth of pics.
The red-tailed hawk is the most common raptor that we see around where I live. If you were playing a drinking game where you took a drink every time that you saw a red-tail on a post, sign, tree or light pole as you were heading down a road you would be in trouble in no time. This red-tail actually flew over my truck and perched almost right above me down by the Hok-Si-La Park in November.
While the red-tailed hawk is the day shift raptor around here the great horned owl is the night shift. Technically great horns are mostly crepuscular, meaning that they are the dusk and dawn shift. In January, thanks to help from the MOU list server I was able to locate a great horned owl nest and photograph both adults and a chick several times over a month.
Great horned owls are cool but no owl draws as much attention as a snowy owl. In November a snowy owl decided to perch out in a tree in front of the visitors center at Tamarack Nature Center. It was only there for one day, a cloudy day with poor light, but I still managed to get a couple of good pics.
Minnesota is home to more bald eagles then any other state in the US other then Alaska. During the winter these eagles migrate south to places where they can find open water. A large number of them congregate on the Mississippi River where the water does not freeze. Colville Park in Red Wing, MN, which is just down river from a power plant, is one of the best spots to photograph wintering eagles.
Another spot where you can find open water, and thus find eagles, in January is at Prescott Wisconsin. This year in Prescott there were not only eagles, like the one above, but there was also visiting harlequin duck which wintered there.
Reeds Landing farther down river as well as Wabasha, home of the National Eagle Center, are other good locations to view wintering eagles between late November and March.
Ecobirder is mo0re then just birds and bugs. Michelle and i like to get away when we can and when we do we go to locations where we can photograph interesting birds, bugs and animals. If February of 2007 we took a trip to Monterey Bay, CA. We took a lot of great pics but one of our favorite where these sea otter pics.
Our usual vacation destination is Yellowstone National Park. We have visited Yellowstone every year for the past eight years. Sometimes we go in the fall and stay mostly in the Tetons to photograph moose. Other times, like last year, we go in mid may so that we can catch all the new babies around the park. The hit of last years trip was photographing an active coyote den.

Well there you have it, the pictures that I felt were the best ones that I took for the first year of I hope that you have enjoyed the blog and have taken away something positive from your visits here. Please help me to make year two even better by posting some comments after this post. Please tell me what you like about the blog and/or what could be improved. Or if you would prefer, just let me know which one of the pics in this post, or any other pic from the blog, that you think is the best and why you like it.
Thank you all, for you continued support.
Jeff Fischer
AKA Ecobirder