Friday, October 31, 2008

Clubbing with the Dragons at Carpenter

Today was another beautiful day weather wise here is southeastern Minnesota. All of meteorologist had been predicting nice weather through out the week so I decided to take a half day off of work so that I could get out and enjoy it. My plan was to head over to Carpenter Nature Center to do some birding and check out the Friday banding. Unfortunately work held me up a lot longer then planned so by the time that I got to Carpenter the banding was pretty much over. Even more disappointing was that I found out they had also released an eagle at the nature center that morning which I had also missed. Disappointed, but nice weather helped to make things better, I did a little birding around the park. I photographed a lot of fall and winter species, which I guess may be an omen that winter will be here soon. But with lots of sun and temps in the mid sixties it did not feel like winter or even late fall yet. In fact while I was out I spotted a sulfur butterfly as well as numerous meadowhawk dragonfly.
Back on August 17th I was photographing dragonflies at Carpenter also but at that time of year there was a little bit mire variety. Like the meadowhawk above, which if I had to guess I would say it is a white-faced male.
This was about the beginning of the time when I started to see Autumn meadowhawks. The females, like the one above, are yellow and fit the male Autumn meadowhawk very well. The males are red, like many other types of meadowhawks, but are distinguishable because of the yellow legs that both male and female have.
As I was getting more interested in dragonflies over the summer I began to spend more time at Carpenter. Through research I found out that there were a number of uncommon and rare dragons that tended to live around the St Croix River and its tributaries. Since Carpenter is located on the St Croix I figured that it would be a good place to look for these more unusual dragons. I never did find any of the really rare ones that I was looking for, I will have to start looking earlier next year, but I did find a couple of interesting dragons that I had not photographed before, like this black-shouldered spinyleg. The black-shouldered spinylegs is in the clubtail family. This would be a male because the abdomen is fairly wide or clubbed at the tip. Females show little to no clubbing at the tip of the abdomen.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

IandtheBird 87 My Search for the Prefect Halloween Costume

Here we are at the end of October already which means that the scariest day of the year is just around the corner. A day when evil bloodsuckers and mindless zombies roam the streets. But I have already made a post about the upcoming election this week so instead the theme of this issue of IandtheBird will be the much more cheering date of All Hallows Eve.

Halloween, as we refer to it in my part of the world, is an unusual holiday. On one hand everything that you see on TV at this time of the year is blood and guts on the other hand a big part of Halloween is trick or treating. That was always my favorite part of Halloween, what a deal, people give you candy because you dress up in a costume. The only problem that I had when I was a kid was the fact that my family was not very well to do. We always had a roof over our head and food on the table but we did not have money for luxuries like a cool Halloween costume. So usually my parents would through something together from stuff that we had around the house and I would end up dressing as something lame like a ghost or bum or something.

Things have changed, now that I have grown up. I still do not consider myself, "well to do" but now days I can afford to spend a bit on the luxuries that I did not get as a kid, things like toys, look at all of my camera equipment, and a cool costume. My problem though is with Halloween just a day away I still have not decided what to dress up as to go trick or treating. Fortunately I have been reading a lot of great posts on fantastic blogs over the past week hoping that I can get some inspiration from the wonderful world of bird bloggers.

So I began by heading of to Iowa Voice to see if Moe could give me any ideas for a costume. Moe had a great post about goldfinch with some great pictures of an adult feeding an immature. Maybe I could dress up like a goldfinch for Halloween? The only problem with that is that gold prices are very high right now with all the economic turmoil so I decided to try some more sites looking for inspiration.

Next I headed over to Madras Ramblings where Ambika had a great post, complete with pics, about peacocks. They certainly were beautiful birds but I think that they were a bit too flamboyant for a costume for me so I continued my search.

Next I headed a little closer to home, over to SW WI Birder where Chris had a great post about bird migration. There was a lot of great information but instead of inspiring me to find a costume it made me want to head south where it is warm and there is a lot of food.

So I headed south to I am the Finch Wench where Sara the Finch Wench was Joshing around at Joshua Tree. It does not look like Sara found any finches at Joshua Tree but she did find a very cute mountain chickadee which might be a good costume for me.

My next stop was the Bird Ecology Study Group site. Over at BESGroup Y C has a great post of a chestnut-bellied malkoha feeding its young. The photos in the post are fabulous but they have also discouraged me from dressing up like a famous insurance company gecko.

So off to Eclectic Echoes where Eric has made a post entitled, "It all started with boobies". Now I am sure that all of you are no longer reading what I am writing because with a title like that you have already raced off to Eclectic Echoes to check it out, but don't worry parents Eric's post is about a good way to use resources like Flickr and the Internet to educate and inspire young people. I know that reading through all the great blog posts to do this IandtheBirds has educated and inspired me and I hope that Eric's post and all the others will do the same for you. However Eric's post gave me only bad, very very bad ideas for Halloween.

I decided that I had better move to something a bit less risque so I headed over to Earth, Wind, and Water, after all what can be more pure then earth, wind and water. Tai was very excited, and with good reason, he was able to check off a couple of coots from his island list. The coots were pretty cool but people are already starting to call me an old coot these days so I did not think that it would be a good Halloween costume for me.

My next trip was to Ben Cruachan where Duncan had a great post about oranges, ravens, pelicans, and baby birds, what variety. Ravens would be a cool idea for Halloween and maybe pelicans but oranges would not work because orange is not a good color for me. The best part of Duncan's post is the picture of the little baby bird chicks. They are so ugly that they are cute.

Speaking of bird chicks my next stop was to visit Sharon over at Sharon is very creative, she is a theatre person, so I figured that she could really help me pick out a great costume. Unfortunately for me Sharon was out of town enjoying common Cape May birds. What a great gig travelling to Cape May to work the Swarovski both and digiscoping mockingbirds, coops, black vultures and more. I guess that I will have to wait for the next Birds and Beers to get Sharon's Halloween ideas.

Since Sharon lives close by, relatively speaking, I decided that maybe I would check out a site from some one in another part of the world next. So I went over to Gallicissa to check out Amila's post on the cool things that he sees in his garden. The thing that I found very interesting was that a couple of the things that Amila photographed have different names but look very similar to things that I see in my neighborhood. Like his Indian Cupid looks a lot like my eastern tailed blue and his variegated flutterer looks a lot like my Halloween pennant.

Now Jeff over at the Jeffrey A Gordon blog posted some pics of hummers like nothing that I have seen before. They are truly spectacular. I am afraid I would need way too much face paint to dress up like one of them though. It would probably be easier for me to dress up like a brown-throated three-toed sloth like he photographed in this other post about the good deeds that they did rescuing animals, birds and insects while on his travels.

Next I headed over to 10,000 birds where I knew that I could get some good costume ideas. 10,00 birds always has a lot of great posts with lots of information and great pics. This time mike posted about his travels to California where he stalked the California gnatcatcher. Despite the hostile environments of business meetings and award dinners Mike still was able to brave the wilds of California to bring back a picture of the California gnatcathcer as well as several other birds. Maybe I should dress like a big time explorer.

Reading about all of that work that Mike was doing made me kind of tired so I headed over to It's Just Me where Liza had an interesting post about an amazing day of bird watching. Liza's birds were very pretty but I really wanted to curl up with them and take a nice comfy nap.

By this time it was getting dark so I headed off to the only place to go party in the dead of night, the Saw-whet Owl Research blog. Drew had a great post about their nightly adventures in which he saw no saw-whets but they did capture a really cool red eastern screech owl. Hmm an owl would be a really hot costume.

In the morning I headed over to the Cult of Ornothology where Jeff had posted pictures of mourning doves who watch television.

In the Halloween spirit Larry, over at The Birders Report, posted a horror story that should scare all of us. Reading his post sent shivers down my spine.

John, over at A DC Birding Blog, posted some recent hawk photos that he took out at Cape May. John's harrier and coop photos have got me thinking about a possible raptor costume. The Cape May morning pics are nice too I can't imagine why John would prefer to be at Cape May instead of DC at this time of year. Wait a minute wasn't Sharon at Cape May also? No one ever invites me to the good parties.

As I continued to search for the perfect Halloween costume my mail account kept filling up with political spam, making it harder for me to find IandtheBird e-mails. SO I decided to get away from all of the politics for a while and check out a site over the Pacific for some inspiration. Pergrine's Bird Blog was just the ticket. Craig had a great post there about his birding trip to Inishbofin, don't worry he has the phonetic spelling for people like myself who have a problem with English. It looks like he had a great trip and took a lot of great pics.

On my way back from Ireland I decided to change my radio dial to a new station, AcornRadio. Geoff, the DJ, was spinning the new smash hit by the swallows. This post was definitely going to the top of the charts.

Now it was time to get back to my costume search just as Wrenaissance woman over at Wrenaissance Reflections has gotten back to bird watching. Her post is making me consider something wild and dangerous like maybe a rattlesnake, I think that I was born to be wild.

Since I have decided that I should be something wild I think that I decided that it was time to check out The Drinking Bird. Nathan posted about his awesome beach party. His guests included everyone famous, a virtually who's who including mottled duck, moorhens, woodstorks, ibis, rails, dunlin, sanderling and more. the surprise guest was a young piping plover who I hear was getting close to Nathan.

After all of that party time I figured it was time to get serious so I decided to head over and check out Living the Scientific Life. Grrlscientist had an interesting post an endangered cockatoo species rediscovered in Indonesia. It was so interesting that I read another post about owls and woodpeckers. Check them both out. After reading the second article I thought about about perhaps dressing like a woodpecker but then dismissed that idea since many woodpeckers have red necks.

Time was running out inspiration was what I needed now so I turned to Carrie over at the Great Auk. Who could read Carries story of taking 3 birding trips in three days and finding 3 life birds. Now if Carrie was really in the Halloween spirit she would have doubled everything and had 6 trips in 6 days with 6 lifers.

I had reached the end of my list of websites for IandtheBird 87 and my search was still incomplete. I still did not have the perfect Halloween costume. Then out of e-mail ether 2 last submissions came in.

It was like serendipity. David, from Search and Serendipity, had posted about one of my favorite birds. His post merlins on wires and gulls in the sky has some very nice merlin shots. The time had come to make my decision and David's post was the key.

However one last post came in that gave me the key to the best Halloween costume that I could ever think of. Anonymous from the Unknown Birder sent this post of the most unusual bird that I have ever seen in my life so this is the costume that I decided on.

Skywatch Friday

Welcome to Skywatch Friday.
This is the view just before sunrise at the Bosque del Apache in New Mexico. The photo was taken on my visit there in February of 2007. Many people gather in the morning to wait for the sandhill cranes to take off, in large groups, and leave the pools that they roost in over night to venture out into the neighboring fields to forage.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Carpenter Dragonflies

Last weekend was sure a mixed bag as far as weather goes but then again what can you expect in Minnesota. Saturday was a beautiful day with a lot of sun and temps up to the mid 60s, which is pretty good for Minnesota in late October. The next day it was cloudy, with gusty winds, and we got our first snow of the season in the southern part of the state. The snow did not stay, fortunately the ground is still too warm but it is a good indication that winter will be here soon. Since the nights have gotten colder there have been a lot less insects around for me to photograph. Most the butterflies have been gone for a while, except for an occasional sulfur or cabbage white. A still see a few dragons around, at least on warmer days. They are mostly Autumn meadowhawks with an occasional darner still buzzing around.
However back on September 1st there were quite a few dragonflies and even some damselflies like the spreadwing above at the ponds at the Carpenter Nature Center. Unlike dragons most damselflies keep their wing together when they land. The exception to this are the spreadwings.
Autumn meadowhawks are easy to identify. They are the only type of the meadowhawks that have yellow legs. They were formally called yellow-legged meadowhawks.
Autumn meadowhawk are a late season dragon. We do not usually see them until the beginning of August and they are around into the beginning of November, unless we get really cold temps. According to Kurt Mead's book, Dragonflies of the North Woods, they can still fly and feed at temps slightly below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Most of the dragons that I am still seeing in late October are Autumn meadowhawks.
This next dragon is most likely a white-faced meadowhawk. I have included more pictures then usual but that was because I liked posting the same type perched on different plants.
Most of the red meadowhawks, other then the Autumn are much more difficult to distinguish between, this includes the white-faced, cherry-faced, and ruby meadowhawk in my part of the world. This one would appear to be a white-faced, because of the pearly white face but usually the only true way to tell is in hand under a magnifying lens.
It is so difficult to tell the difference between these 3 types of meadowhawks that often the dragons themselves are confused. Often a white-faced male may fly in tandem with a cherry-faced or ruby meadowhawk female. It is highly unlikely that they will mate, because the reproductive parts are different for each type.
You can tell that these two are the same type because they are in the wheel position. When two different types come together they may fly in tandem but it is rare that they will go into a wheel formation like this because of the incompatibility of the reproductive parts between the different types. This male, red, and female, yellow, are in the midst of mating. Soon they will divide and the female will lay eggs in the water or mud near vegetation on the shore line. The eggs will not hatch until the following spring. While the female lays eggs the male will usually hover guard to keep other males away from her until she is finished.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Environmental Change

There is just 1 week to go until one of the most important elections that we have had in the US that I can remember. There are a lot of issues driving the current election, the economy, scandals, jobs, education, immigration, defense, women's reproductive rights, civil rights and many more. All of these issues are important, however since this is predominantly a nature blog this post is going to focus on the environmental issues.

For 8 long years our environment has been under assault. The Bush Administration has been the worst administration in US history when it comes to their environmental record. This is not just my opinion there are quite a few other people who agree.

There are many more but if I listed them all I would probably use up all of my available space. Bush has always supported business to the detriment of the environment. This includes rolling back regulations that were intended to protect the environment, as well as our health, so that businesses could pollute with out consequence. He also appointed people from apposing industries to positions that were responsible for protecting the environment. Here are just a few examples of some of the things that the administration has done which have had a negative effect on our environment.

Now with just a few months left before he is out of office Bush is working to weaken another environmental protection law, the Endangered Species Act. Under the new changes government officials would be able to proceed with federal projects with out consulting their own biologists as to what impact that the project would have on the environment and any endangered species.
So government officials might decide to drain wetlands on the Texas coast in order to put in a new freeway and totally neglect scientific evidence that this might interfere with the wintering grounds of the endangered whooping crane.

Or they may allow farmers in the Great Lakes Region to use some new chemical herbicide with out checking into whether or not it would effect the wild lupine that the endangered Karner blue butterfly needs to survive. These are just possible examples of the danger of not having the input and advice of scientists when making decisions that may effect the fate of an entire species.

Fortunately the reign of King George is nearly at an end but how do the current presidential candidates rank on environmental issues? Well according to The League of Conservation Voters Barack Obama scored a 67% in 2007, due mainly to missed votes, with an 86% lifetime rating. John McCain scored a 0% in 2007, due mainly to missed votes, with a 26% lifetime rating. Add to this John McCain's running mate, Caribou Barbie, who supports aerial wolf hunting, sued to have the polar bear taken off of the endangered species list, and her biggest claim to fame is that she has killed moose. Now watch this video and tell me why anyone would ever brag about killing a moose?

To me the choice is clear. The planet that we live on needs a CHANGE. It is up to all of us, living in the US, to begin that change in one week on November 4th.

Monday, October 27, 2008

My World

Welcome to my submission for the second edition of that's My World and welcome to Wood Lake Nature Center.
Wood Lake is like a small oasis in the middle of a suburban metropolitan area. Located in Richfield, MN, which is a southern suburb of Minneapolis, the Wood Lake Nature Center sits on 150 acres of natural habitat.
At Wood Lake's Interpretive Center naturalist answer questions from the approximately 72,000 visitors that they get in a year. They also provide educational programs for both kids and adults.
Wood Lake also has many events through out the year. Many of these events are centered around a holiday or season. Outdoor events are often held at the small amphitheater that is located outside the Interpretive Center.
The main reason that I like to visit Wood Lake is because of the wildlife. I usually begin right outside the back of the Interpretive Center. This are is open and is filled with natural Minnesota plants and wild flowers.
This prairie type of habitat attracts many different types of insects such as grasshoppers and butterflies. This least skipper is drinking nectar from a wildflower.
It is also great habitat for dragonflies, like this common green darner. Dragonflies are predators and are always on the hunt for other insects.
All of the bugs that are around attract insect eating birds. Barn swallows, like the one above, frequently nest under the eves of the Interpretive Center. The vast number of insects around help them be more successful in raising their families. Tree swallows are also prevalent during the warm months but they prefer the larger open fields on the west side of the park.
The park is not all open field. There are wooded areas, with trails running through them, all around the Nature Center.
These wooded areas are good places to see warblers and other types of passerines that live in wooded habitat. Palm warblers, above, are usually found near the ground looking for insects.
Orange-crowned warblers find their prey higher up in the trees. I often see them scouring the branches for bugs living on them.
Yellow-rumped warblers are usually the most common warbler around. They frequently hunt by catching insects in the air.
Birds are not the only wildlife in the woods. I have seen squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, muskrat, fox and deer inside the park.
At the center of the Nature Center is Wood Lake. Wood Lake is a shallow lake that runs most of the length of the park. Several of the paths cross over the lake either by bridge or by boardwalk. This helps visitors to get a better look at this wetland habitat and all of the wildlife living in it.
Ducks are the most common wildlife on the lake. Wood duck boxes have been placed through out the park to promote nesting by these colorful ducks.
Hooded mergansers often compete with the wood ducks for the nesting boxes. Females are usually around through out the summer, often giving visitors a treat when they bring their young out on to the lake.
The male hoodies are usually only around during the breeding season. Once the females have legged the eggs the males head off and leave the females to incubate the eggs and care for the young.
There is also life living under the water, algae, and lilly pads. Fish swim in the lake as do many insects. Frogs and snakes live in the water and around the shore of the lake. Logs floating in the lake become islands where turtles go to sun themselves and increase their body temperature.
I hope that you enjoyed my virtual tour of Wood Lake Nature Center and that if you ever get the chance, you decide to pay them a visit. If you would like more information please check out their website.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

More Mystery Warbler Pics

Well I guess that I do not feel so bad now. I thought that this spring I was doing much better at identifying warblers but then I found this bird and it kind of threw me for a loop.
But this bird does not quite seem to fit any type exactly. So far we have it narrowed down to probably a Nashville, Orange-crowned, or female redstart. Here are a couple more pictures that might help.
The last photo sure does look like a female redstart but the breast sure has a lot more yellow then other female redstarts that I have seen. It also looks too yellow to be a orange-crowned warbler but the last picture also shows a broken eye ring and first picture shows a white throat. It looks more like the color of a Nashville but the eye ring and throat color don't appear to be correct for a Nashville. Hopefully with these two pictures it will be easier to ID. If you have an opinion please post it in the comments.
For the record the picture was shot at Park Point in Duluth, MN on September 20th at around 9:30 AM. The bird flew to this branch and was in the light for only about a minute before it flew back into the cover of the trees.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

I Could Use Some Help

I have been busy lately, when not working, sleeping, blogging or out taking pictures, putting together my 2009 calendar. Every year since 2000 I have put together a calendar that I give as a Christmas gift to family and some friends. All of the photos in the calendar are pictures that Michelle or I took during the previous year. The first couple I had done at a drug store chain and the quality was very disappointing. So for the six years that followed, 2002 through 2007, I printed them and put them together myself. I was very expensive and time consuming for to put them together so we did not do very many, despite requests from people to buy them. Last year I got smart and went through an Internet calendar publisher. They came out very nice, good quality, and the only time that I had to put into it was putting it together initially. Another bonus of having them printed was that other people who wanted a calendar were able to order them also, we put the orders all together to get a quantity discount which made it cheaper for us too. I am almost done with the 2009 calendar, which I am going through the Internet printing company again, but I have hit a small problem. I am contemplating using the following picture, that I recently took at Park Point in Duluth, in the calendar but I am not sure on my ID of the bird.
My guess is that it is an orange-crowned warbler but I have a problem distinguishing between orange-crowned and Nashville warblers when they are not in breeding plumage.

Here is another view. My reasoning is that it has a white throat and a broken eye ring which are characteristics of orange-crowned compared to the yellow throat and complete eye ring of the Nashville. However I need to be 100% certain before I can go to print and my time is running short. So please tell me what you think in the comment section. Please be honest if you think that I am wrong. Thanks.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Shorebird Workshop Solitary Sandpiper

At the beginning of August I traveled to South Dakota for a few days to participate in a shorebird workshop. The conditions for shorebirds was not as good as I had hoped, rain the week before made the water level of many of the locations that are usually considered prime shorebird spots to high, but we found a few good spots where we had 20 to 50 birds that we could get real good looks at. This was very helpful for the workshop, since it gave us enough birds to look at and compare but not so many that it would be difficult to find a particular bird in a crowd.
One of the birds that we saw in several locations was the solitary sandpiper. The distinguishing marks of the solitary sandpiper are the bold eye ring and the dark shoulder. These marking help to distinguish it from the similar looking lesser yellowlegs, which is only slightly larger but does not have the eye ring or dark shoulder. Both markings are very visible in the photos.
Another thing that you can frequently us distinguish a solitary sandpiper from similar shorebirds is to look at the habitat in which you find the bird. Solitary sandpipers are one of the few shorebirds that do not mind having vegetation in the mud around them, most other shorebirds look for mud that is clear of any and clutter.
Because it does not mind vegetation solitary sandpipers are often found wading in the shallows of small ponds while they migrate between summer breeding grounds in Canada and wintering grounds in Mexico, Central and South America. Unlike other shorebirds the solitary sandpipers do not migrate in large flocks like other shorebirds, which is perhaps why they are called solitary.
Solitary sandpipers are the only type of sandpiper in the Americas, and one of only two world wide, that nests in trees. They use the abandon nests of song birds such as robins, jays, waxwings and kingbirds.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Skywatch Friday

Welcome to Sky Watch Friday. This week I would like to share with you some pictures that I took during the last lunar eclipse that we were able to see here in Minnesota. The pictures were taken on February 20th of 2008. Fortunately we had clear skies that night, although being February it was very cold.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Wet and Wild Wednesday

No this is not a new meme, at least not yet, it is just a new idea that I have had to showcase birds or animals that live, hunt, or just spend time in the water on Wednesdays. This first Wet and Wild Wednesday features some waterfowl that I photographed on the Minnesota and South Dakota border on my way to a shorebird workshop back on August 8th.
As I was about to cross the border into South Dakota, I came across the headwaters of the Minnesota River as it runs out of Big Stone Lake. There in the river I spotted about a half a dozen American white pelicans.

We do not see American white pelicans in most of Minnesota except during migration. They spend their summers on interior lakes in the north central and western portions of North America. This would include areas from western Minnesota to northern California and up into Canada.
White pelicans eat mainly fish. They catch their prey by dipping their head under water and scooping fish up with the pouch that is connected to the lower mandible of their bill. This pouch can stretch about six inches allowing it to expand to hold approximately 3 gallons of water and fish.
White pelicans are fairly social birds. They are often found hunting together in small groups. These hunting groups will swim in a circle gathering the fish together and then will all dip their bills to scoop up the fish at the same time. American white pelicans nest in large colonies with the nests located on the ground. When they migrate south for the winter, to Southern California, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Mexico and Central America, the pelicans will also travel in large flocks, most often flying in a V formation.
Another bird that was mixed in with the pelicans was a double-crested cormorant. Although they spend a lot of time in the water, or under the water diving for fish, the cormorants feathers are not waterproof like those of other waterfowl. That is why you often see cormorants standing with their wings stretched out, typically exposed to the sun. They actually need to do this to dry their feathers so that they can fly.