Monday, November 30, 2009

Hayden Valley

In the middle of Yellowstone National Park sits Hayden Valley, located along the Yellowstone River between Yellowstone Lake and Yellowstone Falls. Hayden Valley is a great place to view wildlife including bison herds, coyote, river otter, grizzly bear and more.

Hayden Valley was once under water, part of a much larger Yellowstone Lake. As the lake receded, over the years, it left behind this large valley filled with rolling green hills. The valley is also home to several small geothermal features including Mud Geyser, Mud Volcano, Black Dragon Caldron, Sulphur Caldron and Sulphur Spring.
Hayden Valley was discovered back in 1870 by the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition, although Native Americans and fur traders had visited the valley prior to that. The expedition looked down on the valley as they reached the summit of Mount Washburn to the north. The valley was later named, back in 1880, in honor of Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden who surveyed much of what is Yellowstone back in 1871. His surveys later helped in the forming of the worlds first National Park.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Variegated Meadowhawk

Many of the smaller sized skimmers are members of the Sympetrum or meadowhawks. Meadowhawks typically range in size from 1.2 to 1.5 inches. Several of the different types of meadowhawks are indistinguishable from each other except under a microscope or magnifying glass.
One type of meadowhawk that does not look very much like any other type and thus is pretty easy to identify is the variegated meadowhawk. We can tell that the variegated meadowhawk in the photos above is a female because the males are red and silver in color. Variegated meadowhawks can be seen as early as May and as late as mid September, possibly earlier and later in warmer climates. In the spring they are usually travelling north and in fall they typically travel east or southeast as the temps begin to drop in the north. I photographed this meadowhawk near the Old Cedar Ave Bridge in late September.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Today's Flowers: Thistle

I photographed this thistle flower at Wild River back in August.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Cedar Waxwings at Carpenter Nature Center

Each Friday morning they band song birds at Carpenter Nature Center so whenever I have some time off on a Friday I try to stop over and check out what kind of birds that they are banding. Since today was a paid holiday at work I headed on over to Carpenter.
It just so happened that today was the forth Friday in November and on the forth Friday of each month the public is invited to come in and watch the banding and learn a little about the process. Since many other people had the day off because of the holiday it was a pretty busy morning. So instead of taking pictures I spent most of my time helping out doing interpretation on the nature center raptors for new visitors. Even so I do have these pictures of cedar waxwings that I took back at the end of October.
Often in the fall wherever you find fruit that is still on the trees you know that the cedar waxwing are probably not too far away. They are one of only a few birds in North America that can survive by eating only fruit for months at a time. They do have to be a bit careful though because sometimes the fruit will begin to ferment later in the year and they can become intoxicated from the alcohol. This last photo is an immature waxwing. You can tell by the streaking on the breast.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Today I give thanks for all of the beauty that is in the world around us.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Webster defines reflection as, "an instance of reflecting; especially: the return of light or sound waves from a surface". I do not think that Websters definition does the picture above justice. I think that the main reason that most people like to photograph water is because we are fascinated with the reflections that play across the surface. It is kind of like magic, the magic of nature.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Gooseberry Falls

Up in north east Minnesota the Gooseberry River flows through a gorge forming a series of three scenic waterfalls on its way to Lake Superior. These waterfalls and the area around them have been set aside as Gooseberry Falls State Park.
This area of the North Shore has long attracted visitors. Several different tribes of Native American people settled for a time on the North Shore, including Cree, Dakotah and Ojibwe. In the late 1800's logging was the big draw but by the early 1900's tourism was taking over. In 1933 the land around the falls was set aside by the state and it was officially made a state park in 1937.
The park consists of 1675 acres of forested woodlands on the shore of Lake Superior. Nearly 600,000 people visit the park each year. Most come to see the falls but there is also plenty of wildlife around.
There are 225 species of birds that live or visit the park. From raptors, like bald eagles that fish the waters of the river and lake, to waterfowl and gulls, herring gulls often establish nesting colonies on the lake shore, and passerines, like the yellow-rump warbler above and the white throated sparrow above that pic, all can be found in the park.
There are also 46 species of mammals including wolves, black bear and white-tailed deer. Unfortunately most of those mammals are skittish around people. So the only mammals that I spotted were the little chipmunks who did not mind the people as long as it meant that he got to fill up his cheeks.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Macro Pics from Crex Meadows

Here is a series of macro shots that I took out at Crex Meadows during September. The first is a bumble bee drinking nectar from a wild flower. Bees and butterflies are the main way that most plants are pollenized. With out these insects the world would be much less hospitable.
The yellow jacket is also a member of the bee and wasp family. During the fall they go into a type of hyperphagia, looking to store as much food as possible for the winter. This is why you often see these around your pop can in the fall.
The last picture is a tree frog. Evidently he could not read the sign from his perch in the trees so he came down to get a closer look.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

White Iris

I photographed this iris in the gardens at Purgatory Creek.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Gray Jays in the Sax Zim Bog

Well it is almost that time of year again. Back in October it looked like we were going to have a long cold snowy winter, with several early days of snow, but in November things have turned around. We have had a good string of mild weather and no snow.
The nice weather can not last forever though. Sooner or later the air will get colder and the snow will come. It is November after all and in Minnesota that usually means the beginning of winter. Even though it can some times get quite unpleasant here in Minnesota in the winter time, unless you enjoy temps below zero and wind chills that can almost freeze the air inside your lungs, it is actually a great place to do some winter birding.One of the premiere winter birding location in Minnesota is the Sax Zim Bog. The bog is an area located around the very small towns of Sax and Zim. This area is a magnet for species that come down from Canada in search of food. One species that is usually pretty easy to find in the bog during the winter is the gray jay.
Gray jays are not commonly found in the lower 48 states except in northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan's Upper Peninsula, the north east coastal states and in the Rocky Mountains. We usually only see them during the winter time in the northern part of the state especially in Sax Zim. One reason for this may be because these birds often cache food the in nooks and crannies of trees using their saliva to help it stick. They are omnivores so caching food in colder climates help to preserve food that might go bad.
Gray jays are members of the Corvidae family which includes jays, crows and ravens. Birds in this family typically have a higher intelligence then many other types of birds. The gray jay is no exception, they are very curious and are often referred to as a camp robber because of their habit of relieving campers of excess food and other items. Sometimes you find a cousin or two hanging around trying to look cool, like this blue jay.

If you are interested in seeing gray jays then you should consider the Sax Zim Bog Winter Birding Festival which will be held in February. I have been to the festival for the past two years, it is only two years old, and have come away with some marvelous pics. You can see some in the current slide show located in the side bar. You can also find a link to more information on the festival right below the slide show in the side bar.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Leopard Frog

A common site at many of the lakes, ponds, streams and other wetlands that you find here in Minnesota is the northern leopard frog. The leopard frog is a large, typically two to four inches long, grass frog. Besides wetlands they can also often be found foraging in fields. Leopard frogs are also beneficial to man. Their diet consists mainly of insect several of which are considered pests, such as flies and mosquitoes.
Leopard frogs are more tolerant of the cold then many other amphibians. This has allowed them to survive in colder climates and claim a more northerly range, up into the middle of Canada. However since the 1970 their population has been on a steep decline. Most people believe that this is probably due to pollution and the chemicals that can be found in many waterways. Collection of leopard frogs for school dissection projects as well as consumption, some people consider frogs legs a delicacy, has also added to their decline.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Waterfowl Observation Day

On Saturday November 14th the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge sponsored their annual Waterfowl Observation Day at the overlook just south of Brownsville Minnesota. I had planned to go down for the event however the weather was not very cooperative, its hard to justify driving 3 hours each way when I probably would not get very good pictures with an over cast sky. I did head down on Sunday though which was my third trip to the area in the past couple of weeks.
The overlook, which sits on the edge of the Mississippi River near the Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa border, was opened back in 2007 and offers visitors an excellent view of migrating waterfowl. This part of the river has also been under construction. Several groups, including the Army Corps of Engineers, Minnesota DNR and others, have been working at reestablishing many of the small islands that have been eroded away by the river.
These islands are important to the health of the river and the flora and fauna that depend on it. The islands help protect the aquatic vegetation from the strong river currents. This vegetation is an important food source to many different waterfowl. The vegetation also provides habitat for fish and invertebrates which are a food source for diving waterfowl. So the Army Corps of Engineers has dredged sediment from the main river channel and used it to build these man made islands.
The main reason why many people visit the overlook is the large number of tundra swans that use the river as a staging area for their fall migration. Each year most of the eastern population of tundra swans, currently they estimate 12 to 15 thousand swans in the Brownsville area with another 5000 or more yet to arrive, leave their nesting grounds up in the arctic circle and head south, stopping here to fuel up for the long trip.
They stop here for the tubers, enlarged roots that store food for the plants so that they can survive the winter and grow again the next year, which each swans eats approximately 6 pounds of each day for several weeks. They will stay in the area eating until the river freezes up and then they will continue their migration to the east coast, where they spend the winter.