This past Sunday the weather was really nice so I decided to take a day trip and head down the Mississippi in search of eagles to photograph. Since bald eagles eat primarily fish many head south during the winter in search of open water. Now that most of the ice has melted off of the lakes the eagles are heading back north again which makes it a good time for photographing eagles.
I was also curious about all of the flooding that has been going on. We typically see some flooding each spring as the snow melts but his year we have seen more then usual flooding on the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. The reason is the unseasonably warm weather that we have had lately. With temps in March reaching up into the 60s and 70s, tomorrows high is forcasted to be 78, the snow has melted very rapidly. The average high at this time of year is 49 degrees.
Since the ground has not fully thawed yet the snow melt can not be absorbed and so it runs off into the rivers which are now swelling over their banks. In Red Wing Colville Park, which is located on the bank of the Mississippi was closed due to the high water. I decided to walk in to the park to take some pics. As you can see from the pic above the water stretched all the way back to the picnic area.
Further down river the Lake City rest stop was now a part of Lake Pepin. The rails in the back ground of the above picture are the top of the stairs that lead down to a small beach.
The Mississippi River is not the only river that has over run its banks. The Vermillion River, which runs down through Hastings, MN was also flooded out. The picture above is where there would typically be a parking lot for the boat launch. Now you need a boat just to get to the parking. Fortunately it appears that most of the rivers have crested and have begun to go back down to normal.
We spent our first couple of nights in Texas on South Padre Island. South Padre Island is a small tourist town located at the southern tip of the South Padre barrier island. South Padre Islands was first discovered by the Spanish explorer Alonso AlverezdePineda in 1519, although there is evidence that Native Americans inhabited the island as early as 2700BC. Pineda named the island Isla Blanca which means White Island.
In the early 1800s Padre Jose Nicolas Ballireceived portions of the island in a land grant from Mexico and began to raise cattle, horses, and mules at his settlement which he named Rancho Santa Cruz. In the early 1900 most of the island was under the control of the National Park Service and was closed to the public. In 1962 new access to the island was opened up and the city of South Padre began to grow. Today the beaches are lined with condos and hotels, like the Best Western that we stayed in.
People come from all around the country, and sometimes even further, to enjoy the beaches of South Padre. Many retired people spend the entire winters in the area living in trailers and mobile homes while young people invade the beaches for spring break.
Fortunately we were there the week before spring break so the beaches were calm and peaceful. I spent my mornings walking up and down the beach looking at shells and anything else that was washed ashore during high tide. On a couple of occasions I found starfish on the beach. I was worried that they would not survive marooned out on the sand but a local woman told me that they would probably survive and would wash back out to see when the tide came back in that night.
Stranded jellyfish are not so lucky. Each night new jellyfish would wash up on the shore and each morning the gulls would eat their favorite parts for breakfast, leaving the dead gelatinous bodies to litter the sand.
On the inward side of the island, the side that does not face the gulf, the habitat is somewhat different. There is still plenty of sand and beach but there is also streches of vegetation which provides food and shelter for many birds, fish and other wildlife.
The pink-edged sulphur is one of the members of the sulphur family of butterflies that we can find in my neck of the woods. They look very similar to the other two varieties of sulphurs that are found in the area, especially the clouded sulphur.
From above the pink-edged and clouded sulphurs can easily be mistaken for one and other, especially the males. Both have yellow wings with a black marginal band. On the underside, which is typically how you view sulphurs, both have wings that are lined with pink but the the pink-edged sulphur only has a single central spot on the underside of the hindwing while the clouded usually has two central spots. The third type, the orange sulphur also has a double central spot on the underside of the hindwing and both wings are orange-yellow in color. I photographed this sulphur at Necedah NWR in Wisconsin in June of 2009.
Red Columbine ( Aquilegiacanadensis) is a perennial wildflower that is native to this area. It is a member of the buttercup family. These pics where taken at NecedahNWR in Wisconsin but it is quite common in parts of both Wisconsin and Minnesota.
The red columbine begins to flower fairly early in the summer, beginning in April in some of the warmer climates, and can last until July, these pics were taken in mid June. The flower consists of 5 red tubular petals which hang down in a bell type of shape. The stamen is bright yellow and pokes out of the end of the bell. They can often be found on hill sides and in rocky areas.
The most common member of the wren family in North America is the house wren. These birds nest in a variety of different habitats and range from Canada to the southern tips of South America. Because they are a cavity nester they often have to compete for nesting sites with larger birds such as tree swallows and bluebirds. Although they can often be found nesting in natural tree cavities and woodpecker holes they will also nest in man made objects such as nesting boxes and the eaves of buildings. Inside the cavity the wrens will pile up sticks, often blocking the entrance thus protecting the nest from predators and the elements. On top of the sticks they will build a small cup nest, made up of feathers, vegetation, hair, fur, string or other soft materials, for the eggs will rest on. They will typically lay a clutch of 2 to 10 eggs that will hatch after around 10 to 15 days. I photographed this wren near the old Cedar Avenue Bridge last September.
The state bird of Minnesota is the common loon. This is a fitting choice because the preferred habitat of the common loon are large northern lakes, except in winter of course, which Minnesota has quite a few of.
These birds are built for life in the water. Their legs are set near the back end of there body which helps to make them efficient swimmers. This also makes them rather awkward when they come a shore, typically only for mating and nesting, and is the reason for the name loon.
Because they spend much of their time diving for fish under the water loons do not have hollow bones like many other birds do. Hollow bones would give them too much buoyancy making it hard to dive under water in search of fish. This also makes it difficult for loons to get up into the air quickly. They usually require a good stretch of water, like a run way, to take off. Because of this they are much more likely to dive under the water to avoid danger then to try and fly away.
Each year Michelle and I spend our vacation running around taking pictures, I am not sure that this is what Michelle considers a "good time", but each year she continues to let me plan the vacations. Typically we like to head to Yellowstone each spring but every two or three years we decide to take a winter vacation and head some where warm. This year we decided to visit south Texas. We had been to south Texas once before but it was way back in 2004, back when we were shooting with film, so we decided that it was about time for another visit. We arrived in Brownsville, TX at around 1:00pm on Saturday. Since the Brownsville airport is so small, it only has 2 gates, it did not take long for us to get our luggage and rental car and be on our way. Since we still had a couple hours of light we decided to make a stop at the Resaca De La Palma State Park.
The Resaca De La Palma is located north of Brownsville and was some what on the way to South Padre Island, where we stayed for the first couple of days. It is also one of many locations in south Texas that has ties with the World Birding Center.
The first thing that we noticed was how green things were. Texas is not usually known for being lush and green but southeast Texas is not as arid as most of the rest of the state. Since they had had a lot of precipitation in December and January it was even more green then normal. There is also the fact that we had flown in from Minnesota where every thing was, at that time, still covered with snow so I am guessing that almost anything would have seemed lush and green to us.
I saw three life birds while we were at the Resaca De La Palma all of which are fairly common in south Texas. The great kiskadee, pictured above, Couch's kingbird, pictured above the kiskadee and a least grebe, which I saw but did not get pictures of at this location.
The park is built around a resaca, which is a former channel of the Rio Grande River that got cut off when the river changed its path. This oxbow style lake supplies moisture to the area and is the life source of much of the surrounding habitat. The resaca is also home to different types of waterfowl like grebe, coots, kingfishers and blue-winged teal, pictured above.
Most of the parks 1,200 acres are undeveloped. Texas ebony and unacua trees dominate the wooded areas providing critical habitat for birds, mammals, reptiles, and insects.
Unfortunately leaving the trails was not recommended, so I was not able to get into some areas to get a closer look at some of the birds and insects. With only a couple of hours to play, the park closed at 5:00pm, I probably would not have had enough time any way. As it was I had to grab a ride on the 4:30 tram to get back to the visitors center before closing.
A new subject that I photographed quite a bit of last year were bees. Although I really dislike things buzzing near my ears bees seem to be quite mellow as long as you do not provoke them. Over the past few years I have only been stung twice and both times it was in my car while I was leaving work. I have never been stung while out shooting despite the fact that I often walk through fields of wild flowers, like those in NecedahNWR where I took this picture.
While we were in Texas we had the pleasure to photograph green jays, south Texas is about the only place in the US that you can find them, but earlier this year I was photographing a different type of jay. While it is not nearly as colorful as its southern cousin the gray jay has several interesting characteristics of its own.
One of the smallest jays in the world, the gray jay makes its home in the boreal forests of Canada. Most gray jays stay in their northern home year round surviving the harsh winters by caching food during the warmer months. The gray jay will use its saliva to stick food, which includes insects, seeds, berries, small mammals, and carrion, in many different hiding places through out its territory. Some gray jays, especially young ones that may not have cached enough food, will head south and end up in northern Minnesota. I photographed these jays in the Sax Zim Bog in January.
We spent the first two nights of our Texas vacation in a hotel on South Padre Island. Normally I do not worry too much about the hotels that we stay in when we travel other then they are clean. Since we usually do not spend much time at the motel we usually go with something that is not very expensive. Staying in a place like South Padre is an exception however, even though our hotel was still very affordable. I like to stay in places like South Padre when possible because I am a morning person, and as such I am usually up well before Michelle. In most places it is tough for me to find things to occupy myself that wont wake up Michelle, I usually try and let her sleep until about 7:00am, but it places like South Padre it is not a problem. Each morning I woke and headed down to the beach, camera in hand, to watch the sun rise over the gulf. As you can see the sunrises were spectacular.