Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween

This year I decided to do something a little different for Halloween. This is Nero. He is a turkey vulture and one of the education birds at The Raptor Center. I decided that I would give him a treat this year for Halloween.
Turkey vultures are very intelligent birds, perhaps as intelligent as some members of the corvid family, and because of this we try and give Nero enrichment whenever we can. Usually his food is placed inside of something, such as mush style dog balls or egg cartons, where he has to work his mind to get the food out.
I was told that pumpkins were very good for enrichment for vultures, the stringing texture of the pumpkin simulate what vultures would experience when eating carrion out in the wild, so I purchased a pumpkin, carved it up a bit and brought it for him earlier this week.
At first he was curious but cautious. I have been told that he has had pumpkins in the past but that it has been a while, Nero has been around a while he hatched back in 1974. We placed his food inside the pumpkin and had pieces sticking out for him to find. He managed to get all of his food out and then began to pick slowly at the pumpkin himself. I did check in the following day and found that much of the pumpkin was still intact but you could see where he had been picking at parts of the pumpkin.

Friday, October 30, 2009


I photographed this butterfly at the Como Zoo butterfly garden this summer. As with most of the butterflies in the display it is an exotic that is not native to Minnesota.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sky Watch Friday: Yellowstone

One thing that I found interesting on my first trip to Yellowstone was the fact that they do not remove trees that are destroyed during forest fires. This is actually a good thing, as everything in nature has a purpose and it is not always good when we decide to interfere, but this is not the policy at many parks. The dead trees make for a nice picture when contrasted against the blue sky. These pictures where taken on our way out to the east entrance but burned out trees can be found in many areas through out the park. .
Currently there is another fire in Yellowstone which occupies about 10,700 acres on the east side of the park and has forced the closure of the Main Loop road between the West Thumb Geyser Basin and the Fishing Bridge. The fire began with a lightning strike on September 13 and has been spreading since. Snow fall in the area yesterday has help and firefighters anticipate having the fire contained by tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Watery Wednesday: Yellowstone

Most of Yellowstone Lake is still frozen over in May when we visit. The exception to this is usually the shoreline by the West Thumb Geyser Basin where thermally heated water flows into the lake melting some of the ice near the shore.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Split Rock Lighthouse

A few weeks back I had a day off so I decided to head north to take some pictures of the fall color. I ended up on the north shore of Lake Superior so I decided to head over to the Split Rock Lighthouse to take some pics. Now I know that many of you come to this blog because you love nature, like I do, but I have always had a fascination with lighthouses so when ever I get a chance I like to stop up at Split Rock.
These two pics where shot from different angles. The first pic was taken from below, down by the lake. The shot above was taken from one of the neighboring bluffs. Imagine what life was like for the lighthouse crew back before there were roads in the area. People as well as supplies traveled to the lighthouse via boat across the lake and then had to be hoisted up the cliff face. With my fear of heights I probably would not have made any visits back then.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Common Green Darner

Once in a while you get lucky and find one of the larger dragonflies shortly afer it has emerged. At this point in their life cycle they usually have to spend time perched, so that their wings can get into shape, which gives you an opportunity to get some real close close ups. I photographed this common green darner in Como Park.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Today's Flowers: Red Clover

Red clover is a non-native perennial from the pea family. Red clover is sometimes used as an herbal remedy to help illnesses such as a cough or other respiratory congestion. This flower was photographed at Purgatory Creek.

Friday, October 23, 2009


The pronghorn is the fastest land mammal in the Americas. They have been known to reach speeds in excess of 55 MPH, which is the second fastest land mammal in the world next to the cheetahs of Africa. The pronghorn is often called an antelope but even though they resemble some of the antelope from the plains of Africa they are actually the only member of the Antilocaprideae family that still exists.
These animals are true plains animals with several adaptations that help them exist in the dry plains of western North America. Looking at them you will notice that they have large eyes which sit very high on their head. Pronghorn have excellent long distance vision which helps them to see predators like wolves, coyotes and grizzly bears from a considerable distance. Usually pronghorn travel in herds which gives them more eyes to watch for predators. When a predator is spotted the pronghorn will use its great speed to try and out run the predator.
The Pronghorn is named for its unusual split horn. The horn is made of bone which extends out from the skull. The bone is covered by a sheath made of a hair like substance or keratin. Each year this sheath is shed and then needs to be regrown. Males typically have larger, well developed horns, where females have smaller horns or no horns at all. This male was a part of a small bachelor group which I was photographing as it was traveling across the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sky Watch Friday: Yellowstone

Often when we visit Yellowstone, at the end of May, there are still many areas that have snow on the ground. This can make for some really nice scenery pics, with the contrast between the white snow and the blue skies.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Swan Lake

As we headed across the border from Montana to Idaho near West Yellowstone we came across a small lake on the side of the road.
We were not sure what lake that it was but then we found a sign stating that it was Swan Lake so we decided to stop and take some pics.
We looked around and did not see any ballerinas or any swans. There were a number of ducks on the lake though including some American wigeon.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Hawk Ridge

Fall is my favorite time of the year. I love the weather, with cool nights and comfortably warm days, I love the changing colors of the leaves, and I love watching the migrating birds. Usually during the fall is when I get to see and photograph a lot of raptors and this year has been even better then most. A lot of that has to do with all of the volunteer work that I have been doing lately. This weekend I spent Saturday up at Hawk Ridge in Duluth helping out. Some of the color is already gone, due to our early snow, but the view from up on the bluffs is still magnificent.
While I was up at Hawk Ridge I took the opportunity this time to adopt some birds. Adoption is one of the ways that the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory supports all of the education and outreach programs that they do, not only during migration but year round in Duluth and the surrounding area. As part of the adoption you get the extreme privilege of holding your adopted bird and returning it back to the wild. At the times that I had volunteered earlier in the fall I held back on adopting birds to let other people get the opportunity to experience this rare privilege but with fall coming to an end, the education programs at the ridge end at the end of October, I decided that it was my turn. So I ended up adopting two northern goshawks.
Part of the reason that I decided to go up on Saturday was because it was the last time this year that they would be holding an owl program in the evening. I have really wanted to go to one of the owl programs but because of logistical reasons, like I live three hours away, I had not had the chance. So this time I reserved a hotel room and I was able to make it to the owl program. This was fortunate because it turned out to be a great night for owls. There were several owls that had been sent over from the banding stations and were ready for adoption when I arrived. Most of the owls that were adopted were northern saw-whet owls. These diminutive owls are one of the owls that I was really hoping to see and be able to photograph, since I did not yet have any saw-whet pics. There were five of them that were adopted and when they were released many of them were not in a hurry to leave.
Another owl that I did not have pictures of before Saturday was the long-eared owl. There were two of them that were up for adoption and so I decided that I would adopt one of them.
The final owl that was adopted that night was a barred owl. I have seen barred owls up close before, we have one as an education bird at The Raptor Center, and I have photographed one in the wild in Florida but I still have not photographed one in the wild in Minnesota. I have seen them quite a few times but usually they are gone before I get a chance to get a pic. Maybe I can change that this winter. If you want more info on Hawk Ridge or adopted birds at Hawk Ridge then check out their website here. They do take pics of the release but it will be a while before I get a copy of those, they have a lot of pictures to go through. Once I receive those pics I will make sure that I share them here.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


As summer fades and fall begins many of the large types of dragonfly disappear. Many of the clubtails, cruisers, emeralds and even many of the skimmers are gone by the end of August. So if you plan to go out looking for dragons in September and October you should plan on seeing mainly darners and meadowhawks, at least that is how it is in my neck of the woods.
Meadowhawks are smaller dragonflies, usually one to one and a half inches long, that can be found around open water or in open fields. There are numerous types of meadowhawks with several types looking so similar that it is hard to identify them unless you have them under a magnifying glass or microscope. In most cases the male meadowhawk is red with black triangles running across the side of the abdomen.
Females range in color from yellow to red to brown and are even more difficult to identify. The exceptions to the rules are the black meadowhawk, which the male is black and female yellow, the variegated meadowhawk, which the male is red and silver and the female is usually yellow and white, and the autumn meadowhawk, which can sometimes be seen into November and can be identified by its yellow legs. The males in these pictures are autumn meadowhawk and the female in the last picture could be one of several types.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Georgia Peach

I photographed this hardy water lily, Nymphaea Georgia Peach, at the Como Zoo water garden over the summer

Friday, October 16, 2009


A week ago today was a pretty lucky day for me. I had decided to take the day off of work to go out an see if I could take some pics. The weather reports were predicting that it would be a nice day but that night we would get our first snow fall of the winter. My plan was to head up to Crex Meadows but as I headed north I found that it was cloudy near where I had to turn off for Crex. So I decided that I would continue on up to the North Shore of Lake Superior to photograph some fall color, as this would probably be my best chance with the snow moving in. On my way through I decided to stop up at Hawk Ridge to pick up the volunteer jacket that I had ordered. That is when I heard the news. One of the banding stations had trapped a gyrfalcon. Here is a picture of it being released.
The gyrfalcon is the largest member of the falcon family, with a wingspan of approximately four feet and a weight of over three pounds. This makes it bigger then most of the large hawks that we see in North America such as the red-tailed and rough-legged hawks. You can see from the picture above how large it is compared to a person. The wing shape looks more like that of a buteo, they are broader and blunter then the wings of the other falcons.
The reason why the gyrfalcon is so special is because it is completely an arctic species. These birds are circumpolar which means that they can be found in the tundra and taiga regions of North America, Greenland, Iceland, Europe, and Asia. Like the snowy owl, who shares a much of the same habitat, they do not migrate south during the winter unless there is a shortage of prey. Up at Hawk Ridge the last gyrfalcon counted before this one was back in 2001 and this is the first one that they have banded in 18 years, which should suggest just how significant a moment that this was.
Gyrfalcon mainly prey on ptarmigan, grouse, waterfowl, rough legged hawks, short-eared owls, lemmings, and ground squirrels. They are a strong fliers and typically hunt by chasing their prey, pursuing them in a fast low flight. Often they will finish the chase by flying up and then stooping, diving, down on top of their prey and forcing them to fly into the ground, frequently after they have worn them out with the chase.
They nest on the ledges of cliff faces usually in the borrowed stick nest of a golden eagle or other large bird, often protected from the weather by a depression or overhang. Eggs are laid in March or April, when the temperature is rarely above freezing. The female will often cache food near the nest during the breeding season so that she will have food to sustain her for the 34 to 36 day incubation period. This bird was a hatch year female. It is common to find that birds that do head south are typically young birds who have not yet found a territory of their own.