What turned out to be probably our favorite location during our Texas trip, and probably the most productive, was a small private refuge near Mission Texas called the Javelina. The Javelina is about 300 acres of native Texas scrub habitat. It is owned by the Martin family and is the original home of private nature photography in the Rio Grande Valley.
Seven photo blinds are positioned through out the property with a dirt road winding between them. Three of the blinds are set up to get morning sun, three are more for the afternoon and one is all purpose. We started out in the raptor blind, pictured above in the morning.
As we got settled into the blind Patty Raney, photographer and our Certified Interpretive Guide for the day deposited chunks of meat and body parts that she had obtained from some of the local taxidermists. Soon after Patty left us the raptors started to come in to feast.
Northern caracara made up the bulk of the raptors that visited the area to feed. We did see and photograph caracara at other parks that we visited but none were as close up and personal as at the Javelina. Most were adults like the one two photos up but there were also some juveniles, like the one pictured above, mixed in.
Although the caracara had numbers the obvious bosses of the area were the Harris hawks. When they flew in to feed the caracara were quick to get out of their way. Harris hawks often nest and hunt in social units consisting of multiple birds. There was one unit consisting of 3 adults and one juvenile that appeared to rule this territory. When a group of about 8 turkey vultures begin to circle over head it was probably the presence of the Harris hawks that deterred them from coming in to feed.
After lunch we moved to an afternoon blind to photograph song birds and Texas specialties. These blinds are built sunken into the ground so that you can photograph the smaller birds at eye level. With a watering hole located near each blind and seed and meal worms supplied by Patty we were ready to get some good shots of some of the Texas specialty birds.
It did not take long before the birds came to check out the food. The first birds in were northern cardinals. Even though we snapped a few pics we were not all that excited because cardinals are pretty common in Minnesota. However the next bird that came into view where a species that has never, at least to my knowledge, been seen in Minnesota. Green jays are not known for being inhibited and as such they took over a lot of the feed for most of the time that we were there.
At our first afternoon blind the northern cardinals kept chasing away the smaller pyrrhuloxia from where the food was located in front of the blind. Since I was a lot more interested in getting pictures of pyrrhuloxia, a life bird for me, then of northern cardinals we decided to try a different afternoon blind. The second blind worked much better.
That afternoon we photographed great kiskadee, long-billed thrasher, white-tipped doves, common ground dove, plain chacalaca, pyrruloxia, green jays and olive sparrows, pictured above, all of which were life birds on that trip.
The Ichneumonidae family consists of a wide variety of parasitic wasps. These wasps are mostly solitary and come in many different forms. These wasps procreate by placing their eggs inside the larvae or pupae of other insects or spiders. Most ichneumonid wasps lay their eggs inside their host, called endoparasitic, while others are ectoparasitic, laying their eggs close to the host so that the larvae can feed on them externally.
I originally misidentified this insect as a Thyreodon atricolor, endoparaticichneumonid wasp. Thanks to one of my readers, who's blog is Don't Bug Me, I now know that this is incorrect. This insect only has a single pair of wings where wasps have two pairs of wings. This is probably actually a type of crane fly but which specific type I am not certain. This is a true Ichneumonid wasp, notice it has 4 wings. I believe it is a form of giant ichneumon. These use their long ovipositor to lay their eggs inside of hortail wasp larvae which bore inside of hardwood trees. I took this pic in St Croix State Park.
Smooth oxeye is a native member of the aster family that blooms here all summer long. It is usually found in moist soil, I photographed this one at Dodge Nature Center where there are numerous lakes and ponds, and can reach heights of over five feet tall. The flowers are found at the top of bare stalks that rise up out of the plant.
Most of the time when you see a large hawk perched in a tree near the edge of the woods in Minnesota it is a red-tailed hawk, but every now and again if you look a little closer you might find something a little bit different. Such was the case when I spotted this red-shouldered hawk perched in a dead tree in Rice Lake NWR.
Red-shouldered hawks are slightly smaller then red-tails, with a length of around 17" and a wing span of around 40" compared to 19' and 49' respectively for the red-tail. They are found through out the eastern portions of the US, except for one subspecies that lives in California. Minnesota is on the north west border of their range so they are not that numerous here. Mostly we see them in the summer with the majority of the population in this area migrating south to the south eastern states or Mexico, although I have seen them here on occasion during milder winters. Like the red-tail, they are ambush hunters. They often sit on a favorite perch watching for unsuspecting rodents, lizards, amphibians, small mammals, or birds to come by and then they drop down on them.
The ring-necked duck is named for the chestnut colored ring that it has around the base of its neck. Unfortunately the ring is not a very good field mark for identifying the bird, since it usually is not visible when the duck is swimming or in flight. This duck, like many birds, was named back in the days when most of the people looking at birds were hunters. Hunters looking at a dead bird in hand would easily see the collar around the birds neck and that is probably how this duck got its name. Birders looking at this bird from a distance through scope would have probably named it a ring-billed duck.
On our way to the airport on the final day of our Texas trip we passed by the Carl Gayman Bahia Grande Restoration Channel. The Bahia Grande was once a large salt water lagoon located at the south east tip of Texas. This lagoon consisted of numerous habitats, such as tidal flats, mangrove marshes and sea grass shallows, that formed a type of tidal nursery where young fish, shrimp and crabs, and other marine life could find protection while they grew. In the 1930's the Brownsville Ship Channel was created. This 15 mile long channel connects the port of Brownsville to the ocean. Because the port is inland it is better protected from hurricanes and tropical storms. Unfortunately when they were dredging the channel they piled most of the dredged materials, mostly rock, mud and sand, on the side of the channel. This acted as a sort of damn cutting off the Bahia Grande from the waters of the LagunaMadre.
With any regenerating supply of water, the only water coming from occasional rain storms, the land dried up. As the remaining water evaporated it left the salt behind which killed off the vegetation. Over the decades the area became a baron dust bowl, with dust blowing into the neighboring communities.
The Bahia Grande eventually came under the domain of the US Fish and Wildlife Service and it is now a part of the LagunaAtascosa National Wildlife Refuge. The Fish and Wildlife Service along with other state, local and private groups have begun a plan to try and restore the Bahia Grande. Channels like this one have been dug from the ship channel out into the Bahia Grande. This is the pilot channel and it is 60 feet wide by 2,300 feet long. It is named for the Carl "Joe" Gayman who was a Brownsville Navigational District commissioner who dug a small channel in 1983 in an attempt to flood the Bahia, but was forced by court order to close the channel a few weeks after it had been dug.
Since much of the the Bahia Grande's 10,000 acres is below sea level the hope is that the channels will provide enough fresh sea water to revive it and return it back to its original form. Already marine life has begun to take hold again which has brought many birds back to the area. Dusty arid soil has been renewed and native vegetation has begun to grow in areas that are not flooded.
We stopped mostly because I spotted brown and white pelicans together in the water. I have seen both types of pelicans but I had never seen them together like this so I found it interesting. However I was really surprised when I found a pair of American oystercatcher near the shore on my way back to the car. From a distance I at first thought that they were just another pair of laughing gulls but when I saw that bright orange bill I knew that I was looking at another lifer.
While walking through the fields at Rice Lake NWR I noticed these metallic green beetles. When I took a closer look they seemed to turn blue or red or golden. These are dogbane beetles. They are named this because they feed on dogbane, as you see in these pics, or milkweed. Adult beetles lay their eggs on the underside of the host plants leaves, they will spend the winter as an egg. The following year, before the first frost, the eggs will hatch and the larva will drop from the leaves to the base of the plant. From there it will dig underground where it will begin to feed on the roots of the dogbane or milkweed plant.
When the larva matures into its adult beetle form it will climb the host plant and begin to eat the leaves, usually there are not enough dogbane beetles on an individual plant to kill it. So how do they get their brilliant iridescent color? The body of the dogbane beetle is covered with tiny slanted plates. Since light is a wave, with different colors at different wave lengths, some light is reflected off of these plates, bouncing back to our eyes as a particular color. Other light, at a different wave length, passes through the plates and reflects back off of the pigments beneath which is interpreted by our eyes as a different color.
There are several types of asters that are native to this area. We have New England, silky, aromatic, purple-stemmed, sky-blue, heath, and smooth blue, which I believe is the one pictured above. All of the asters have similar looking blooms, the only difference between most seems to be the specific size and shape of the petals, and all of them are a blue to purple color except for the heath with is a white aster.
This weekend I will be participating in the St Paul Audubon Societies Annual Butterfly Census. Each summer members of the St Audubon chapter come together in this exercise in citizen science. The information that is collected is passed on to the North American Butterfly Association to help identify butterfly distribution and understand how issues such as habitat loss and climate change affect butterflies.
This will be the first time that I will be participating in the census. The census is taken at the Arden Hills Army Army Training Site so the number of participants is limited. The plan is two capture and identify butterflies in three different habitats, a native prairie, a restored Prairie and a bog. Once the butterflies have been identified and recorded they will be released. I will also bring one of my cameras so that I can hopefully get some butterfly pics. Though most of the 59 species that have been identified over the years are fairly common, such as the monarchs in the photos above, each year they find new species so perhaps I could get lucky and get some pics of a new butterfly.