Thursday, July 31, 2008

Big Ol' Snapper at Old Cedar

It was not only birds and bugs that I found at Old Cedar in June. On my way out of the park I spotted a couple of guys tormenting this poor snapping turtle on the road. The turtle had its back to a high curb, the curb was taller then the turtle, and was facing the guys striking at a stick that one of them kept placing in front of it.
Since I did not want to leave the turtle there to be tormented or worse yet hit by a car and since I was not sure it could make it up the high curb all by itself I waited until the turtle turned to face the guy with the stick and then I picked it up and placed it in the grass on the side of the road. With the no curb to block its way the turtle moved into the brush towards the nearby pond.

After I moved the turtle I read a post on about female turtle holding water to soften soil when they lay their eggs. I do not know if this was a male or female but since males rarely leave the water I am guessing that it was a female, although when I picked it up it did not spill any water. Perhaps it had already laid its eggs and was trying to return to the water, I am not sure. I tried to find more info about female carrying water to moisten the soil but I could not find anything. Sharon had gotten this information from a biologist. Are there any other biologists or turtle experts out there that can shed some more light on this?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Birding Old Cedar Ave Bridge

I also found some other birds near the Old cedar Ave Bridge in June besides the yellow warblers, American redstart and Baltimore oriole.
Redwinged blackbirds are very common. They are so common that i do not usually stop to photograph them after the first couple of the season. This bird was being very cooperative though and I decided to make his dreams come true by posting his picture on the Internet.
The common yellowthroat is another warbler that stays in the area during the summer. Even though they are fairly common, it is usually difficult to catch more then a quick glimpse of these small secretive birds, because they spend most of their time in the tall reeds that line wetlands.
On the other hand the great blue heron is usually pretty easy to spot. The largest member of the heron family that can be found in North America, the great blue heron can often be seen standing in the shallow waters of ponds, creeks, rivers, lakes or almost any body of water.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Baltimore Oriole at Old Cedar

Another colorful bird that I found near the Old Cedar Ave Bridge in the Minnesota Valley NWR is the Baltimore oriole. There are nine different types of orioles typically found in North America.
All the North American orioles are colorful, with some combination of orange and black or yellow and black feathers. These orioles where named for similar looking birds from Europe however they are actually part of the Icteridae family which includes blackbirds, grackles, and meadowlarks.
When researching Baltimore orioles I found that they are supposed to prefer open areas with many tall trees for habitat. However I found this oriole in the same area as where the redstarts were nesting. The area is not very open and has a lot of brush beneath the trees. I also have seen quite a few at Wood Lake Nature Center in heavily wooded areas. So I am not sure how much open area that they actually need or prefer. It has been my observation that they do like to spend a good bit of their time at the tops of the trees, which makes them more difficult to photograph.

Monday, July 28, 2008

American Redstart Nesting at Old Cedar

Another warbler that we often see during the summer here in southern Minnesota is the American redstart. The American redstart is easily recognized by its orange and black wings and tail, which it frequently flashes to help flush insects.

In June I found several redstarts nesting by the Old Cedar Avenue Bridge in the Minnesota Valley NWR. The female redstarts are less colorful then the males which makes them a bit harder to find. This female was carrying feathers probably for nesting material.

The nest is cup shaped and usually made of grass, bark,leaves, sticks, moss, feathers, and spider webs. The nest is fitted between the branches of a tree or large bush located in a wet deciduous forest with plenty of bushes for hunting insects.
During the winter these birds migrate south, most ending up in southern Mexico or South America, although there is a small percentage that will winter in southern California or Florida

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Yellow Warbler

As I go out birding this weekend, the scorching sun and almost corporeal humidity causing the sweat on my body to mix with fragrant smelling insect spray that I doused myself with before I left home to prevent the killer mosquitoes from sucking out all of my blood while somehow attracting every commakazi deer fly on the planet to fly into my ear all in the pursuit of photographing the same four species of birds which I have photographed every one of the last 37 birding trips, I long for those wonderful days of the spring migration.
This spring was a magical time were warblers could be spotted on almost every branch and behind every leaf like a page out of a fairy tail. Most of the warblers continued north in the spring but a few types spend their summer in the area. Like this yellow warbler that I photographed at the Old cedar Ave Bridge back in the middle of June.
So as I lug 25 pounds of photographic equipment through swamps rampant with disease ridden ticks to try and get a bigfoot photo of a bird that is not the same as the past 2501 that I have photographed. It could be worse. It could be -30 below with a -75 below wind chill and ten feet of snow. It is important to enjoy the moment at hand because, with reports of warblers beginning to migrate back south, winter will be here soon.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Insects from Old Cedar Ave Bridge.

One of the dragonflies that I saw a lot of back in mid June was the common whitetail.
As you can see by many of the pictures in this post the common whitetail prefers to perch low to or on the ground.
Males have a white abdomen which they flash to intimidate other males while protecting their territory.
The females are usually brown with yellow spots on the sides of her abdomen. The females also have three black patches on each of their wings. The female will typically mate with a male who's territory she would like to lay eggs in, although if the male does not keep a close eye on his territory another male may sneak in and mate with a female in his territory, even one that he has already mated with. It is the last male to mate with the female that will father the eggs.
Female white tails are sometimes confused with female twelve-spotted skimmers. They look very similar except that the yellow spots on the side of the whitetails abdomen form a jagged line while the spots on the side of the twelve-spotted skimmer form a straight line.
Another interesting bug that I found was a crane fly. Crane flies appear to look like large mosquitoes, or normal size ones if you live in Minnesota, but they are not. They do not sting and do not drink blood. In fact the adult crane fly does not feed at all. They spend a large part of their lives as larvae where they can often be found under layers dead wet leaves feeding on decomposing vegetation and plant roots. During the summer they begin to emerge as adults with the mission to reproduce.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Hoodies Gone Wild at Wood Lake

There are three types of mergansers that can typically be found in North America. The smallest of the three is the hooded merganser. The hooded merganser is also the only one of the three that can be only be found in North America.
I typically see hoodies around home during spring or fall migration. I sometimes even see them during the winter, in the few spots where the water stays open. Even though we are considered part of their breeding range, most hoodies seem to continue on past the cities up to Northern Minnesota, North Dakota, or Canada. That is why I was kind of surprised to see a small group of females when I visited Wood Lake Nature Center in mid June.
It should not surprise me to find them at Wood Lake because it would seem to be the right breeding habitat. According to what I have read, thanks Cornell Lab for all the great info, the breeding habitat is forested wetlands, which is a good description for Wood Lake.
Wood Lake is a fairly shallow lake, hoodies prefer shallower waters then other mergansers.
The north and south sides of the lake are lined with woods. There are quite a few older trees which are quite large and which provide cavities for the hoodies to nest in.
If there are no tree cavities available for them to nest in, then there are several wood duck boxes placed around the park that can act as a substitute.
Although the lake is shallow, it is deep enough for the hoodies to dive under water to hunt the fish, and aquatic insects living there.
As you can see in the pics it is also deep enough for the hoodies to splash around and get a little rowdy.

Must of been one of those girls gone wild things because I did not see any males around.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Tribute

Rock and Hawk

Here is a symbol in which
Many high tragic thoughts
Watch their own eyes.

This gray rock, standing tall
On the headland, where the seawind
Lets no tree grow,

Earthquake-proved, and signatured
By ages of storms: on its peak
A falcon has perched.I think, here is your emblem
To hang in the future sky;
Not the cross, not the hive,

But this; bright power, dark peace;
Fierce consciousness joined with final

Life with calm death; the falcon’s
Realists eyes and act
Married to the massive

Mysticism of stone,
Which failure cannot cast down
Nor success make proud.
I offer this poem by Robinson Jeffers as a tribute to the late Harrison "Bud" Tordoff who passed away. I did not know Bud personally, although we did communicate via e-mail about the peregrine that I photographed on the University of Minnesota St Paul Campus last fall, but I was familiar, and very grateful for all of the work that he put in to help bring the peregrine falcon back from extinction.

He was an environmentalist, a bird lover, a visionary, an inspiration and a great man.

He will be missed.

Wood Lake Surprise

I finally found a way that nature photography could be lucrative.
While out at Wood Lake Nature Center last month I found a couple of bucks.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Swallows at Wood Lake Nature Center

There always seems to be a healthy population of swallows at Wood Lake Nature Center during the warmer months of the year.
Barn swallows, like the one pictured above, can often be seen circling around the visitors center. They build their nests in the eaves and other nooks and crannies of the building.
Tree swallows, like this one, are more often found on the other end of the park. They prefer to nest in the bluebird boxes which are placed in the open fields on the west side of the park.
Both types of swallows will often perch on the cables, which serve as a railing for the boardwalk which runs across the lake in the middle of the park. From their perch, over the water, they can easily take off and catch flying insects as they pass by, which is their main source of food.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Birding Wood Lake Nature Center

I also spent a bit of time at Wood Lake Nature Center in the middle of June. Wood Lake is usually a good place to see waterfowl, especially during migration, and dragonflies. Wood Lake is fairly shallow and there is a good series of trails that run around the lake and a boardwalk trail that crosses the lake. The trails allow people to get good views of much of the lake and the wildlife which lives there.
While most ducks move on further to the north we usually get a population of mallards and wood ducks that hang around the area through out the summer. This pair of wood ducks was still in full breeding plumage in the middle of June. By the end of June they will have reverted back to their non-breeding plumage.
We typically get several members of the heron family around the Twin Cities area during the summer time. They include great blue heron, great egrets, black-crowned night herons and green herons, pictured above.

Monday, July 21, 2008

White Tail Fawn Dodge

While I was photographing the dragonflies, butterflies, and bees out in the flowering lupine of Dodge Nature Center, in mid June, I got a plesant surprise, I looked up to see a young fawn heading across the field. I don't think that it noticed me until it was about 10 to 15 feet away. When it did notice me it stopped and checked me out curiously while I took the opportunity to snap some great pics.

Eventually he left the field and dissappered off into the woods.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Butterflies at Dodge Nature Center

Even though I appears to me like we have less butterflies around this year then we did last year I did find a couple on my visit to Dodge Nature Center in mid June.
The first is a common ringlet. These butterflies are common in the northern and western part of the US as well as southern Canada and Alaska. They are a member of the satyr (Satyrinae) subfamily and are commonly found flying close to the ground.
This second butterfly is an eastern tailed blue. I was really excited when I first saw it fluttering around the blooming lupine. I had hoped that it might be a Karner blue. The Karner blue is a sub-population of the Melissa blue which lives in the great lakes area and is currently listed on the endangered species list. The caterpillar of the Karner blue only eats lupine so any blue that is sighted around lupine in this area could potentially be a Karner blue. Since this one had a small tail poking off the bottom of the wing, it is a bit tough to see at this angle, then it could not be a Karner but was either and eastern or western tailed blue. The western-tailed blue only has one orange dot on the lower wing so since this one had more then one it must be an eastern-tailed blue.

Turtle Symmetry

Although predators themselves dragonflies have many things that they need to be wary of. At Dodge Nature Center the dragons have to keep an eye on the sky, where birds and other dragons are a potential threat, and the other on the water, where larger fish, frogs and turtles, like the one below, are a danger.
When they are young painted turtles are mostly carnivorous, eating mainly beetles, maggots, and larvae, including dragonfly larvae. As they get older they become more omnivorous, at this point they mainly eat fish, insects, fruit, plants, and carrion. I took this pic because I loved the symmetry between the turtle and the log.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Midland Clubtail a Lifer Dragonfly

Not all of the dragonflies and damselflies that I found at Dodge Nature Center in mid June were common ones that I often see. That day was the day that I spotted my first clubtail. Clubtails are named such because of the enlarged, club looking, segments at the end of their abdomen. Clubtails are also one of the few types of dragonflies where there eyes do not meet at the top of their head, they are set more like damselfly eyes.
Although this species of clubtail, the midland clubtail, is not listed by the Minnesota Odonata Survey Project as a species of interest, species which are listed as special concern or rarely seen in Minnesota, several others are, such as the zebra clubtail, splendid clubtail, skillet clubtail and the least clubtail. Still this was the first one of this type that I have seen or in birding
world terms it was a lifer. One of the interesting things that I found out about the midland clubtail is that they are large, around 2.2 inches long, and are strong fliers. This allows them to prey on other dragonflies, not only the small species but also dragons as large as eastern pondhawks and twelve-spotted skimmers.

Familiar Bluet Damselfly at Dodge Nature Center

Although damselflies are quite common many people are not aware what a damselfly is. Many people mistake them for dragonflies. Although they are related to, and similar in appearance to dragonflies, there are a few distinct differences between them.

Damselflies are usually smaller and weaker fliers then dragonflies.
The eyes of the damselfly are separated and on the sides of the head while those of the dragonfly are closer together and more on the front of the face.
All four wings on the damselfly are the same size while the hindwing of dragonflies are larger at the base.
While at rest damselflies hold their wings up over their backs parallel to their body, except for the spreadwing damselflies, while dragonflies hold their wings out perpendicular to their body.
The familiar bluet are a fairly common damselfly that inhabit ponds and other marshy areas. The male familiar bluets, pictured above, have more blue then black on their abdomens with the eighth and ninth segments being entirely blue.
The female familiar bluet, the left most damselfly in the picture above, can be blue, tan or greenish with more black on the abdomen then the male, including black on the eighth and ninth segments.
Damselflies mate the same way that dragonflies do. The male begins by transferring sperm from his testes, under the ninth segment, to his hamulus, under the second segment. He then initiates the mating by grabbing the female by her thorax and head.
The male then begin to arch his abdomen downward while the female brings her abdomen up to the male's hamulus. This is called a wheel position and it is how copulation takes places. The pair will usually fly to a safe location or some dragonfly and damselfly copulate while in flight. This pair may have been attempting to get into the wheel position or they may have already been laying eggs with the male guarding the female. This type of guarding, where the male holds on to the female, is called contact guarding.

Most of this information came from the Minnesota Odonata Survey Project.