Sunday, January 31, 2010

Darner Dragonflies

Dragonflies are fierce predators through out their life. Most of a dragonflies life is spent under water in their larval form. This typically take one to three years. Even at this early stage in their development they are already on the hunt. Almost anything that moves in the water is potential prey, including mosquito larva, aquatic insects, other dragonfly larva, tadpoles and small fish.
The larva eat with a voracious appetite. As they grow they go through a series of molts until they are ready to emerge. At this point they go into a rest state for a day or two, called diapause, when the finally changes between aquatic and flight form take place. These photos are of a type of blue darner dragon. Unfortunately I was unable to get a good shot of the side stripes on the thorax and so I can not identify it. It was taken in the Minnesota Valley NWR in October.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Hardy Waterlily: Inner Light

From the Como Zoo water garden.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Saffron-winged Meadowhawk

This is a female saffron-winged meadowhawk. The identifying characteristic is the gold or saffron color of the veins on the leading edge of each wing. If you look carefully, especially on the photo below, you can see that some of the other wing veins are also gold colored.
Other things to look for when identifying saffron-winged dragons are a solid colored stigma and yellow and black striped legs. Females and immature males are a golden color, like those pictured here, while mature males are primarily red, including their stigma. I photographed this dragon near the Old Cedar Ave Bridge in the Minnesota Valley NWR in October.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

American Coot

If you asked people what type of bird is in the photo above most people would probably tell you that it was a duck of some type. This would be incorrect. The American coot is actually a member of the rail family. So why is it that a bird that looks like a duck and acts like a duck is classified with a bunch of birds that you would usually find running around in the tall marsh grasses? Well it's all in the feet. Ducks, as most people know, have webbed feet which helps them to swim. Rails, like the American coot, have separate toes, each of which is lobed at the end. You can see the separate toes in the photo above, which I took back in 2007 at Lake Vadnais.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Black Dog Lake

Winter in Minnesota can be both frustrating and rewarding if you are into wildlife photography. It is frustrating because over all there is a lack of wildlife activity. Plant and insect life is nonexistent outside, a lot of animals hibernate or survive under the snow, and many birds fly south for the winter. However the wildlife that remains seems to concentrate in specific areas so if you can find some good spots chances are good that you will find something to photograph.
Black Dog Lake is one of these spots. Black Dog Lake is a small lake that is adjacent to the Minnesota River and part of the Minnesota Valley NWR. An Excel Energy plant located here pumps warm water out keeping part of the river and lake open during the winter.
Open water is usually a big key to finding suitable winter wildlife habitat. Most waterfowl have layers of down feathers that help insulate their bodies while they swim in the icy waters, like this common merganser in the photo above.
Many different types of ducks are found in the open water, such as mallards, common goldeneye, plus common and hooded mergansers. Larger birds like Canada geese and trumpeter swans can also be found dabbling in the frigid water looking for plants and roots to eat.
In the large trees lining the river you will often see bald eagles perched using their acute vision to see fish in the icy waters. During the winter the mortality rate of fish goes up. This helps the eagles survive at this difficult time of the year since it is much easier to catch a dead fish floating in the river.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Green-Striped Darner

Aeshna Verticalis, more commonly known as the green-striped darner is a large common dragonfly in north eastern North America. Their range stretches from Nova Scotia to North Carolina in the east and Manitoba to Iowa in the west.
The range of the green-striped darner over laps with the range of the Canada darner, which is found mostly in the northwest portion of North America, in the middle of the continent. Because of that we see both species here. This can be difficult since both of these two species look very similar. The best way to identify which species that you have, when not under a microscope, is to look at the notch on the front side stripe of the thorax. If the notch is shallow, as you can see in the top picture, then it is probably a green-striped. If the notch is deep then it is probably a Canada darner.
Like all darners the green-striped darner is a strong flier, often catching and eating its prey i flight. This makes it difficult to photograph darners. Fortunately they seen to land much more often in the fall. Usually when they land they have something to eat. These pictures where taken by the Old Cedar Avenue Bridge in the Minnesota Valley NWR at the beginning of October.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


Not only are were loads of wildflowers to photograph at Purgatory Creek over the summer they also had several nice flower gardens full of beautiful flowers to photograph. I am not very good yet on flower identification, especially cultivated ones since we do not have much room for a garden at our townhouse, but I believe that this is a carnation. Carnations are very popular flowers because they last a long time even after they are cut.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Green Heron

Minnesota is nicknamed The Land of 10,000 Lakes but that does not take into account all of the rivers, streams, ponds, and marshes that you can find here. All of these wetlands make this good habitat for birds like the green heron.
If you are looking for green herons the best place to look is habitat with shallow water. They wade through the water in search of fish, frogs, insects and invertebrates, such as the crayfish in the pictures above and below. While stalking their prey they move very slowly through the water until they get close then they swiftly dart their head forward snatching the prey with their beak.
Sometimes, when hunting, the green heron will take a page out of mankind's book and use bait to lure prey in close. To do this they drop a worm, small stick or feather onto the surface of the water and then wait for a fish to come and check out the bait. Before the fish realizes anything it is caught in the heron's long thin beak. These pictures where taken at the Maplewood Nature Center in September of 2008. Last year because of the dry conditions in the area that I live I did not see very many green herons.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Northern Goshawk Release

While as a rule I do not usually like to post pictures that I did not take on the blog there are exceptions to every rule. This is a picture of me releasing a northern goshawk, one of three birds that I adopted up at Hawk Ridge this fall. The northern goshawk is kind of a special bird up at Hawk Ridge because they see more migrating goshawks then any other hawk watch site in the world, they counted 5,819 in just one season back in 1982. Peak migration for northern goshawks at the ridge is October 10th through November 15th. So if you have ever dreamt of seeing a northern goshawk live and in person you should plan a trip up to Hawk Ridge in the fall. Your chances are good that you will see one and maybe even get to adopt one and release it back into the wild like I did.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

American Wigeon

The American wigeon is a duck that we typically only see in the spring or fall here in Minnesota. They breed up in the tall grasses of Canada as well as parts of the western United States. In the fall the begin to head south, often stopping on lakes and ponds around here to feed before continuing on south. They end up wintering on the East or West coast, the southern US, Mexico, Central America and may even go as far south as the northern portions of South America. The American wigeon has a shorter bill then most other ducks. Their short bill allows them to exert more torque and dig up vegetation that other dabblers are not able to get. Because of this efficiency at feeding the American wigeon has a higher percentage of vegetation in their diet then most other ducks do.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Rice Lake NWR

During this past summer I decided that I wanted to get out and explore some new places so one Saturday in July I headed up to the Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is located about a 2 hour drive from home so I got up early and headed up I35 on my way north.
Rice Lake NWR consists of 18,300 acres of wetland and forest habitat. It was established back in 1935 to preserve valuable wetland habitat for migrating waterfowl. Rice Lake itself, shown above is a shallow wetland and an excellent source of wild rice, which is a valuable food source for many different types of wildlife.
There are plenty of information signs and observation decks to help visitors experience the wildlife habitat. The largest observation deck over looks Rice Lake.
Over 150,000 ducks stop over at Rice Lake during their fall migration. Since I was there during the middle of summer there were not a lot of waterfowl but there were a few resident ducks on most of the lakes and ponds.
Rice Lake constitutes 4500 acres of the 18,300 acres refuge, the rest consists of a few other small lakes and ponds, the Rice River, plus field and forest habitat.
I saw numerous bird species in the wooded areas of the refuge, these included several raptors and passerines like the eastern kingbirds, that were hunting for bugs above the tall grass and wildflowers, and cedar waxwings who were scouring the woods for berries.
Besides birds there were also plenty of mammals, reptiles amphibians and insects for me to photograph. Butterflies like this Aphrodite fritillary fluttered between the many fields of wildflowers.
With all of the water around there were also plenty of dragonflies and damselflies to photograph. It is hard to identify most of the damsels with out having them under a microscope but I still enjoy photographing them. I definitely will have to pay Rice Lake NWR a couple of visits this year.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Darner Dragonfly

There are six different families of dragonflies that we see here in Minnesota. They are the Libellulidae, or skimmers, Gomphidae, or clubtail, Cordulegastridae, or spiketail, Corduliidae, or emeralds, Macromiidae, or cruisers, and the Aeshnidae, or the darners. The skimmers are probably the most common around here but we also see a lot of darners too.
Darners are big dragonflies with a large thorax, thin abdomen and large eyes that meet each other across the top of the head. There are 39 different types of darners in North America and we see 19 different types around where I live. Some of the darners are easy to identify, like the common green darner, but many of the blue darners look very similar. Typically the only way to identify most of the blue darners is by the pattern of side stripes on the thorax. Unfortunately this darner, that I photographed at Park Point in Duluth in September, did not give me an opportunity to get a very good picture of the side of its thorax and so I can not tell which type of darner that it is.