Sunday, August 31, 2008

More Bear Cubs at Vince Shute

We saw more then one mom with cubs at the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary. The cubs spent much of their time in the trees, where they are a bit safer because they can climb out on small branches where larger bears can not go.

This was one of three cubs that belonged to a mother that was feeding near the deck in the sanctuary. She was bigger and seemed more confident then the other mother bear that stayed at the edge with her cubs. I am guessing that she was an older more experienced mother.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Bear Cubs at the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary

One of the most exciting things to see at the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary is when mother bears bring in their new cubs. In past years Michelle and I have visited at the beginning of the season, near to Memorial Day, or at the end of the season, Labor Day weekend. This year was the first year that we went pretty much in the middle, July 4th weekend, and it certainly payed off.

When we have gone early in the season the mothers have typically treed their young cubs back in the woods and come in to eat on their own. When we have come later in the season we have seen more of the cubs come in to feed with their mothers but by that time they have already grown quite a bit. By going in the middle of the summer this year we got to see a good selection of cubs who were all still fairly small and very cute.

At one point during the evening this mother with her three cubs came to the outskirts of the clearing. Mom was cautious and stayed at the edge of the meadow far from the other bears. While mom was trying to decide whether or not it would be safe to move in closer the cubs would run around her playing and peering curiously at this strange place.

Eventually mom decided against coming in to eat so she turned around and lead her brood back into the woods.

Friday, August 29, 2008

A trip to Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary.

On the Fourth of July weekend Michelle and I decided to go on a short road trip since we had and extra day off. We decided to head north up the the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary near Orr, MN. I wanted to go up on the fourth, which was a Friday, unfortunately the only hotel in Orr was all booked up for that night. So we went up on Saturday instead. We left Saturday morning and headed to Duluth, MN first. In Duluth there was not much time for me to do any birding. Michelle wanted to stop at the zoo, since we had not visited it in a few years, and then we ate lunch at our favorite restaurant in Duluth, Black Woods, by the time we had finished all of that, plus the couple of hours it took to drive to Duluth, it was time to head out to Orr so that we would get there early enough to get some pics before we lost the sun. We arrived at the sanctuary shortly before 5:00pm, which is when it opens, and there was already a line up of cars waiting. Fortunately it did not take us to long to get parked, into a bus and on our way down to the sanctuary.

The Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary is the home base for the American Bear Association. During the summer it is also a rest stop and feeding grounds for numerous black bears. The Sanctuary began as a logging camp back in the 1940s. Vince Shute, and his loggers, would frequently have problems with bears breaking into their buildings looking for food. Like most people who lived in the north woods they resolved the problem by shooting the bears but this did not sit well with Vince. In the early 1950s, after a decade of killing, Vince decided to try something different. He knew that the bears were breaking in because they were hungry, and not out of malice, so he decided to start putting food for the bears out in a meadow away from his camp. His idea worked, the bears began to eat the free food and quit breaking into the camps buildings. At first this was just a means for the loggers to coexist with the bears but as time went on Vince fell in love with the bears who visited each summer.

Even after he retired from the logging business Vince continued to feed his bears until 1993. At 80 years old the bear man, as he was often referred to by the locals, was worried what would happen to his friends when he was gone, so he approached some human friends, who shared his love of the bears, and in 1995 they started the American Bear Association. Vince donated his land to the association and it was transformed into the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary.

In 2000 Vince Shute passed on but his love of the bears still lives on in the ABA who continue to feed the bears each summer in the same meadow that Vince began in over 50 years before.Even though they discourage the idea of feeding bears and any other wild animal the association knows that this is a special case, where people can come to view wild bears in a situation that is safe for both people and bears. Here is the first set of pictures that I took of the bears.
When we arrived down at the deck the first bear that we saw was this young bear who had enjoyed a fine feast of nuts and berries and had now sacked out on the old entrance to the deck.
He did not seem to mind all of the people on the deck peering over the railing to watch him as he took a nap. He just slept there for a while, occasionally sitting up to take a cautious glance around, then laying his head back to to continue his rest.
As the evening picked up many bears would roll in eat their fill and then head back out.
Many of the larger bears had been visiting this location each summer for many years and so they were recognised by some of the volunteers who had also spent many of their summers there.
One of the bears that the volunteers recognized had only 3 paws. According to the volunteers, this bear was missing its paw back when it first visited as a yearling. They were not sure how the bear had lost the paw or how long he would live with the injury, they do not give any medical attention to the bears. That was back in 1999 and each year since he has come back.
Despite the fact that there were quite a few large bears around there was no quarrelling or fighting between them. The smaller bears did make sure to give the larger bears lots of space but with plenty of food around all of the bears seemed not to mind their fellow bears or the curious humans on the deck.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Woodlake Turtles

One of the big threats to dragonfly and damselfly comes from the turtles that live in the shallow waters of Wood Lake.
Fossil records indicate that the earliest know turtles existed around 215 million years, making turtles one of the oldest existing species on earth. Today there are about 300 different species of turtles in the world and they range in size from the spekled padloper tortoise, 3 inches long and weighing 5 oz, to the leatherback sea turtle, 80 inches long and weighing 2000lbs. Of the 300 different species of turtles in the world there are approximately 60 or so different types of turtles in North America. In Minnesota we only have around 10 types. The turtles in these pictures are the most common type that we see in Minnesota, the painted turtle.
The painted turtle, sometimes called a "mud Turtle" in my neck of the woods, is named for the bright colored pattern on the belly, otherwise called a plastron, of the turtle. They are semi-aquatic, spending most of their time in the waters of ponds, lakes, or slow moving rivers with muddy bottoms, although they can frequently be seen sitting on floating logs or rocks in the sun. This behavior is called basking and it is a way for the turtles to generate heat because they are cold blooded and can not regulate their own body temperatures internally. Turtles are omnivores and will eat almost anything that they can get into their mouths. This includes insects like our friends the dragonflies.

Woodlake Dragonflies

Well I am finally almost finished with pictures that I took in June. Since August is almost over that means that I am only about 2 months behind. I am fortunate though, to be so far behind, because that means that it has been a great summer. I have spent a lot of quality time outside photographing nature. Four months from now I will be happy to be photographing anything that is not snow or ice. So here are some more dragons that I photographed at Wood Lake Nature Center the last weekend in June.
This first picture is of a female meadowhawk. I am not sure specifically which kind. At the dragonfly workshop that I attended last weekend, we talked a little bit about identifying meadowhawks. There are a couple of types that can be identified by field markings, like the whiteface and the autumn, however most of the others can only be identified if you have them in hand and are looking at them through a magnifying lens. Even then only the males are usually identifiable this way. So its best just to identify females as meadowhawks and leave it at that.
This is also a female but the type is a twelve-spotted skimmer. Twelve-spotted skimmers are very common and easily recognisable, although it is sometimes easy to confuse the female twelve-spotted and the similar looking female common white tail.
The dot-tailed white face is one of the earliest dragons that we see in the year. They usually begin to fly in May.
This picture demonstrates pretty well where the dot-tailed whiteface got its name. This is much more obvious on the males, like the one above, then the females, who typically have more then a single spot on the top of their abdomen.
It is a little difficult to see all the differences between male and female in this shot of a pair in the wheel mating formation but you can still tell that they do look different.
Damselflies also mate in the wheel formation. They are even more difficult to distinguish the type, with out close examination with a magnifying lens, then dragons are. Since I did not want to disturb their reproduction I will just ID them as damselflies.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Woodlake Butterflies

The next morning I decided to check out Woodlake Nature Center to see what wildlife I could photograph. I found some more early morning butterflies to shoot.
This least skipper was unusually cooperative which is good because I was photographing it with a 400mm lens. This means that I had to be about 4 to 5 feet away and had to use manual focus.
In this picture it is easy to see the proboscis inserted into the flower which the butterfly uses like a straw to drink nectar.
I also found a mourning cloak butterfly. Mourning cloaks have the longest life span of any butterfly in North America.
The mourning cloak is one of only a hand full of butterflies that overwinters in its adult butterfly form. When winter comes the mourning cloak will find a sheltered spot, somewhere like a crevice of a tree or building, where it will spend most of the winter in a state of suspended animation to conserve energy. To prevent their bodies from freezing the produce chemicals, such as sorbitol, which act as a natural antifreeze. When the weather begins to warm up the mourning cloaks come to life, as early as March some years in my area of the world. Shortly after, dependent on the weather, they will mate, lay eggs and then their life cycle will be complete after 10 to 11 months of life.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Bass Ponds Butterflies

After my scolding by the angry catbird at the Bass Ponds, I decided to go find something that was a little less noisy to photograph. Fortunately I was able to find some butterflies around the ponds that I was able to photograph in peace and quiet.
This first photo, I believe, is of a least skipper. I still have a very difficult time identifying the different skippers. Most of them are very small and there are little differences distinguishing several types.
I think that this small one is an European skipper. According to my Kaufman Guide to Butterflies of North America, the European skipper was accidentally introduced into North America at Ontario, Canada back in 1910. Since its introduction its range has spread to include most of the North Eastern and North Central US as well as much of Eastern Canada.
The cabbage white is one of the most common butterflies seen in North America. It ranges through most of the US and Canada. Last year there were a lot of white cabbage butterflies around and so it was not that big of a deal to get a pic. This year though I have not seen nearly as many so I was a bit more excited about getting a pic.
Butterflies have 4 different stages of life. Life for the monarch butterfly begins as a tiny white egg which is typically laid on the underside of a milkweed leaf. The egg hatches 3 to 6 days from the day which is laid and a tiny Caterpillar emerges. The caterpillar will feed on nothing but milkweed leaves for 9 to 14 days. As it feeds it grows pretty quickly. To accommodate their rapid growth the caterpillar will shed its skin 5 times, each time the older smaller skin will peal away with a new larger skin waiting underneath. When it reaches its mature size, about 2 inches long, it will leave the milkweed and look for a safe place to form is pupae or chrysalis.
Many people know that monarchs fly south for the winter like birds do, either to the mountains of Central Mexico or the Southern California coast, but many people may not be aware that unlike birds it is not the same monarchs that return the following spring. During the summer monarch butterflies live about 2 to 5 weeks before they die. The last generation of the summer gather together and, as the temps get colder, they begin the long migration to traditional wintering grounds that they have never seen before. On their wintering grounds they cluster together in colonies in a hibernated state to preserve their energy. As the temps begin to warm up with spring the monarchs come to life and begin the migration to the north. They do not go very far however. At this point they are 7 to 8 months old and near to expiring. So they mate and lay eggs. This new generation follows through the life cycle and then as butterflies continue to move north. After their 2 to 5 weeks of life this generation dies, but not before laying the eggs for the next generation, which will continue to move north. This continues with each successive generation moving further north until the end of summer then the cycle begins again with the last generation migrating south.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Birding at the Bass Ponds

Over near the Bass Ponds the shallow waters of the flood plain of the Minnesota River have attracted a good number of great blue heron and great egret.
Their tall legs and long necks are perfect for wading through the shallow water and picking off fish, frogs, snakes and other appetising delights.
Up near the path I think that I got to close to a gray catbirds nest or at least its territory, because this catbird was not shy about reading me the riot act. It was so noisy that I was afraid that it was going to have a melt down.
Usually I only get fleeting glimpse of catbirds as they move through the dense foliage. It is easy to know when they are around though, since they have one of the easiest calls to recognize. I am not very good with bird calls yet. I did several Christmas Bird Counts last year, and I was partnered with Jim Ryan on one, Steve Weston on one, and Mike Hendricks on a couple, and these guys were all very easily able to ID birds by song. I am still at the stage where I am trying to ID them by sight, however even I know a catbird when I here it. This catbird was not satisfied with scolding me from inside the bushes though it had to come out in plain sight to let me have it. I snapped a few pictures and then moved on unfortunately all the ruckus spooked the other birds around and so I was not able to get any more bird pics. So I decided to turn to butterflies.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Bass Ponds Racing

Down by the river a mother duck was heading out for a stroll with her brood.
I thought that it was funny watching them getting ready. It reminded me of a group of runners at the starting line of a marathon getting ready. A couple of them are stretching while one is ready to go and another is checking out the competition.
Then they are off. Like little Nascars jockeying for position behind mom the pace car.

It is kind of funny that I thought of these two analogies when I saw these ducks since I am not a runner, though I do spend a bit of time hiking around parks, and I am not a big Nascar fan.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Bass Ponds Dragonfly Mating

The Bass Ponds is always a good place to look for dragonflies. BP consists of trails around a series of small ponds, these ponds where once used for producing fish to stock lakes in the area. Between the tails and the ponds there is a good deal of grass, weeds, milkweed and other pond vegetation. On one pond there is a small boardwalk that goes out to a viewing platform in the pond and the Minnesota River runs along the eastern border of the park.
The dot-tailed whiteface is one of the dragons that I photographed a lot early in the summer.
I caught this pair in the wheel position. This is how dragonflies and damselflies mate. So I guess you could call this dragon fornification.
Another dragon that was fairly common that day was the four-spotted skimmer. These larger dragons are named for the four spots on each pair of wings.
Four-spotted skimmers are found in many places around the world. Besides most of North America they can also be found in Europe, Northern Africa and even Japan. They like to perch on twigs or other taller vegetation and wait to ambush prey, which even includes mid-sized dragons like meadowhawks.
The widow skimmer is another larger dragon that prefers to perch on twigs or reeds waiting for prey. They are usually found in established ponds, rivers and lakes and shy away from seasonal ponds.
According to Kurt Mead, in his book Dragonflies of the North Woods, widow skimmers spend the night hanging beneath overarching leaves. Dragonflies of the North Woods is a great book if you want to go dragon hunting in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, or parts of southern Canada. It is specifically meant for the northern part of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, however I have only found one dragonfly in southern Minnesota that I did not find in the book, so I certainly recommend the book and use it all the time myself for identification and research.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Redstarts on the Way to the Bass Ponds

After I finished checking out the boardwalk over near the Old Cedar Bridge in the Minnseota Valley NWR I decided to head north on the path that leads under the new Cedar Ave Bridge and over to the Bass Ponds.
The small trees that line the trail make for good habitat to search for warblers during the spring and fall migrations. During the summer you can still find a few warblers hanging around, usually yellow warbler or common redstart, as in this case.
You may expect a bird that is called a redstart to have some red coloration to it. This is true with the male of the species, which has reddish feathers on its wings, back and tail, but the female redstart, pictured here, has yellow color instead of red.
They use these colored feathers on the wings and tail by flashing them to startle insects. When the insects flush the redstart is there to reap the rewards.