There are 17 different species of snakes found in Minnesota. That is a pretty small sample of the over 3000 snakes that are found around the world, however considering the cold climate that we have here in Minnesota I think that it is a respectable number. I think that most people living in Minnesota would be surprised by that number. Many have probably not seen many of the different types living here but most have probably seen the common garter snake.
Garter snakes are named for the yellow stripes that run down their body which resemble the stripes on garter belts. The common garter is usually small to mid sized, although they can grow to lengths of over three feet long, and can be found in a variety of different habitats. The common garter eats small mammals, slugs, worms, insects, reptiles and amphibians, which it finds by following their scent. The snake will use its tongue to sample and collect trace chemicals in the air and the environment around it. It transfers these chemicals to the Jacobson's organ, located on the roof of the mouth, which transfers the information to the snakes brain. So even though they have nostrils these snakes, in effect smell, using their tongue.
The spotted sandpiper is one of the most wide spread sandpipers found in North America. They breed through out most of the northern two thirds of the continent and winter in the Southern United States, Mexico, Central America and the northern half of South America.
Unlike many other types of birds it is the female spotted sandpiper who arrives in the breeding grounds first, before the male, establishing and defending a territory. When the males arrive she may mate with more then one, leaving the male to tend the clutch while she lays eggs with up to three other males. The males will incubate and the eggs and care for the chicks once they hatch.
Sometimes a male will even end up caring for chicks that were fathered by an earlier male because females can store sperm packets for up to a month. This bird, which I photographed on the shore of the St Croix River in Wild River State Park was probably a male because I did find a chick running around.
This week the Split Rock Light House, located on the North Shore of Lake Superior, turns 100 years old. Even though I have posted about the light house on several occasions in the past I think that this famous landmark deserves as much recognition as possible. So I have compiled some of the pictures that I have taken over the past three years for a special birthday post.
The Split Rock Light House was commissioned after the Mataafa Storm which occurred on November 28th 1905. Winter storms on the big lake made boat travel treacherous, especially near the rocky cliffs of the North Shore, but the Mataafa Storm was so bad that it finally brought about action. In the Mataafa Storm, which is named for one of the ships that was destroyed, 29 ships were either damaged or destroyed and 36 men were killed. In 1907 Congress approved $75,000 for the construction of a lighthouse and fog horn in the area. The lighthouse was built on an 130 foot cliff over looking Lake Superior southwest of Silver Bay. It was complete in 1910 and the kerosene lamp was lit for the first time on July 31st, 1910. The lighthouse was run by the US Lighthouse service until 1939. In 1939 the US Lighthouse Service became a part of the US Coast Guard, which took over the care of the lighthouse. The following year the lighthouse received electrical service and the kerosene lamp was replaced with a 1000 watt bulb. The lighthouse was retired in 1969 because it was no longer needed with today's modern navigational equipment. The lighthouse was acquired by the State of Minnesota in 1971 and was transferred to the care of the Minnesota Historical Society in 1976. Because of the beautiful scenery that surround Split Rock it has become on of the most visited and photographed lighthouses in the United States.
This summer I have been spending a lot of time participating in events sponsored by the Minnesota Odonato Survey Project. MOSP is a small group that is working on surveying and recording all of the different species of Odonates that are present in each county of Minnesota. Very little data has been collected over the years on what Odonates, dragonflies and damselflies, can be found in Minnesota and where. The MOSP is working to resolve this issue by teaching people about odonates, so that there will be more people collecting data on them through out the state. Last week I drove about 5 hours each way to participate in the MOSP event up at Voyager National Park. Even though it was a long drive I specifically wanted to participate in the event at Voyager because it is very different habitat from where I live. I was rewarded by photographing several species that I did not have pictures of before.
Green darners, as seen in this series of photos are common through out much of North America. Each year the last brood of the green darners that emerge head south to avoid the on coming Minnesota winter. When they reach their warmer destination they mate and lay eggs, egg laying is pictured in the two photos above, and then they die. The eggs hatch and the larva spend a few months in the warm waters before they emerge as green darner dragonflies and begin to fly north. That is why the green darner s one of the first dragonflies that we see each spring. This weekend I will be heading out again to Dragonfly Weekend where I hope to have the opportunity to photograph a few now dragons.
This unique looking wildflower is blue vervain a native perennial that is usually found in damp habitats, such as ditches or near the shore of rives and streams. I photographed this vervain on the shore of Snake River. There is another form of vervain in this area called hoary vervain which has a larger flower and is usually found in dryer habitats.
The sandhill crane is one of the oldest bird species in North America. Fossil records suggest that ancestors of the sandhill crane were probably walking the marshes of North America around 9 million years ago, well before man showed up on the continent. When man arrived in North America they honored and revered these large and beautiful birds. Cranes played a part in many Native American stories and legends and their image was often included in Native American art. When the Europeans came to North America things changed. Cranes were hunted for their feathers and meat and by the 1940s there were probably fewer then 1000 greater sandhill cranes.
Fortunately the sandhill crane has fared better then the other 14 species of cranes in the world. Through careful conservation they have bounced back and now the greater sandhill crane population numbers over 100,000 with the lesser sandhill crane population numbering over 500,000. Most of this population is migratory through the central portion of the continent, although there are several non-migrant subspecies which are still endangered. In some parts of North America where sandhill cranes originally existed they are still threatened or endangered, such as Washington and Ohio. In Minnesota we have a healthy resident population but we see much larger numbers in the spring and fall when the birds migrate. This fall the Minnesota DNR has arranged for a hunting season for sandhill cranes for the first time in the modern era. For only $3.50 you can kill these birds that many people, most of them not hunters, gave their blood, sweat, tears and coins to save and help protect. Did they ask any of these people for their input on the idea of hunting these birds? No they did not ask for any one's input the DNR just went off and made a unilateral decision with out public hearing or any published studies into the affect that hunting in Minnesota might have on the crane population.
To please the hunters, real men hunt with a camera and not a gun, they snubbed the non-hunting community, which is a very poor decision since birders spend a lot more money in Minnesota, on cameras, scopes, feeders, bird seed, travel and other things, then the dwindling hunting population does. Plus there is also the fact that the federally endangered whooping crane, the only other crane species in North America, often fly with sandhill cranes making them a target for hunters who may not know the difference or care.
When people look at water lilies they are frequently amazed by the beauty of the flower but there is much more to water lilies then just the bloom. Water lilies have an amazing means of reproduction. What we often do not see is a system of rhizomes creeping under the water. These rhizomes can grow very large, getting air from the hollow leaf stems and sprouting new plants.
Water lilies can also spread by pollination. When the lily flower blossoms it fills with fluid. Insects that come to the blossom in search of pollen or nectar are forced into the liquid by the special design of the petals. Any pollen that is on the insect is dissolved in the liquid and used to fertilize the plant. Once the flower is pollinated it will release its pollen and then sink down under the water. Underwater the flower will develop into a spongy berry that contains many seeds. When the fruit ripens it releases up to about 2000 seeds which float away on the current or are eaten by birds or animals. Eventually the seeds absorb enough water that they sink down into the muddy bottom where they germinate and begin a new life.
On my way back home from the Detroit Lakes Festival of Birds I decided to make a stop at the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center located near Fergus Falls, MN. I had the option to visit the center on one of the festival field trips but I choose Itasca and Tamarac instead because the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center was an easy stop on my way home.
The Prairie Wetlands Learning Center is the first residential environmental center operated by the U.S. fish and wildlife service. It began as a grass roots effort back in the 1970's to establish a public use facility focusing on prairies and wetlands. A local group calling themselves "The Friends of the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center," formed in 1989 and through private donations and grants they were able to open the center in 1994. The facility was expanded to include a dormitory and visitors center in 1998 and an education wing in 2008.
The Prairie Wetlands Learning Center is located on the Townsend Waterfowl Production Area, a 330 acre tract of land consisting of native and restored prairie, 28 wetlands and an oak savanna. There have been over 180 different species of birds that have been identified on the center grounds. With the abundance of prairie habitat it is no surprise that many different types of sparrows can be found there.
I have to confess that I have a difficult time identifying sparrows, right up there with gulls and darner dragonflies, so if I have misidentified any of these sparrows please let me know. I believe that the first sparrow, 2 pictures above, is a white-crowned sparrow, the one directly above is a clay colored sparrow and the one below is a song sparrow.
One of these days I am going to have to take the sparrow workshop that Doug Buri and Bob Janssen put on out in western South Dakota. I took their shorebird workshop back in 2008 but have not had the time to get out to take the sparrow workshop in October. Last year they identified 14 different species during the three day workshop. If you are interested in this workshop here is the address where you can find more information.
Besides sparrows there were other birds like this eastern bluebird. Bluebirds seem to be more common these days. That is just my unscientific observation.
Another cool bird that I was able to photograph were purple martins. I have seen purple martin gourds at several different locations but usually there have not been any purple martins. At this locations there seem to be a healthy population.
Besides the prairies the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center also has wetland areas. Around the wetlands I found quite a bit of bird life, such as Canada geese, mallards, American coot, as well as redwing and yellowheaded blackbirds.
While I was on my way back to the car everything went quiet. All of the small birds seemed to just disappear leaving me with just the Canada geese and mallards. A shadow crossed over head and I looked up to see a coopers hawk crossing the sky in search of prey. Since the geese were a little much for a coopers hawk it continued on its way.
The eastern comma is a pretty common butterfly that we see here in Minnesota, it is the most common of the six different types of comma's that can be found in this area. Comma's are members of the brushfoot family and get their name from the small white mark on the underside of the hind wing. These marks resemble a comma, punctuation mark, or a question mark. The shape of the comma is one of the field marks that help distinguish between the various forms of commas. The eastern comma has a hook on one end of the comma, as seen above, which the others do not have.
Eastern commas can be found through out much of the spring, summer and fall. They typically have two broods on our area, one at the beginning of July and another in September. The brood that hatches in September will over winter in its adult form, Usually hibernating in hollow trees. Because they over winter as adults they are often one of the first butterflies that we see each year. However they can be easy to miss because when perched with their wings folded, as in the first picture, they can blend in very well with dead leaves.