Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

Great Egret

When I was younger, maybe about 7th or 8th grade, I was down at the neighborhood pond when I saw a large white bird land in the reeds at the far side. This bird was huge and different from the small birds that I was used to seeing around like robins,crows, and cardinals. When I went home later that day I found myself grounded as usual, I was not allowed to go to the pond, woods, park or pretty much any where, which gave me a lot of time to go searching through my families outdated set of encyclopedias, my family never owned any books on birds let alone a field guide, to find that I had just spotted my first great egret.
This was one of those moments in my life that I will always remember, and one that I believe helped to shape me into the naturalist that I am today. Over the years my path may have veered, from time to time, away from nature but the awe that I had as a teenager when I saw that large white bird flying overhead has always been inside of me. The local pond by my parents house is still around but it is now surrounded by houses, apartments and townhouses. The egrets are not there any more but fortunately I know many places close by where I can be at peace in the natural world, like Purgatory Creek where I took these pics.

Monday, August 30, 2010

North Mississippi Regional Park

Each year, as the long, cold, Minnesota winter comes to an end, it becomes difficult to hold back my excitement for the upcoming Spring and Summer. March and April are the tough months because even though the temps are getting warmer and the snow is melting it is still too early for many of the birds to migrate back through the area let alone butterflies and dragonflies. Fortunately during those months I have the North Mississippi Regional Park to help hold me over.
The North Mississippi Regional Park is located on the west bank of the Mississippi River in Northern Minneapolis. It was jointly developed by the Minneapolis park board, Anoka County park board and the Three Rivers Park District. Because of its location north of downtown Minneapolis and its adjacency to the river it is a very popular park for runners, cyclists, and picnickers however I like to visit the park because of the heron rookery that is located on a small island in the river.
Each year, beginning about the middle of March, the great blue herons begin to return to the rookery. The herons that are the first to arrive have to be hardy, because at that point in time a lot of the ice is still covering the river. Those birds are rewarded by getting the first choice of nesting locations.
Since the trees do not usually leaf out until the end of April or the beginning of May it is quite easy to get good shots of the birds in their nest. However the pics that most photographers work for are flight shots of the birds as the travel to the from the nest performing their daily routine.
Even though they are large birds, averaging about three feet tall with a six foot wingspan, they can be very graceful. They are incredibly fun to watch as one minute they land with ballet style grace on a small twig at the top of the trees and the next minute they crash through the branches like a clown, their long legs tangling in the twigs.
Besides the herons there are often other birds on the river to photograph. A couple of years ago I was lucky and I had horned grebes in breeding plumage swimming by me as I photographed the herons. Most of the time though, the birds are a bit more common, such as Canada geese, mallards and wood ducks.
Fortunately there is also a very nice visitors center in the park. Built in 2002 it was named after State Senator Carl Kroenig who was instrumental in obtaining state support and funding for the park back in 1985. The visitors center has classrooms and displays to help educate people about the habitat and wildlife found in the park. It also has restrooms and heat which are very nice when you are photographing outside in Minnesota in the middle of March.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Horned Clubtail

Watching dragonflies is a lot like bird watching. Like birds the way to find a particular dragon is to know its season and the particular habitat that it prefers. Here in Minnesota dragons typically fly between May to October. Some species emerge from their underwater life at staggered times through out the summer while other types emerge at approximately the same time. This second group usually can only be found for a month or two during the summer. The horned clubtail is one of these types.
Like most clubtails the horned clubtail emerges fairly early in the summer, usually in June, and they are usually gone before the end of July. I photographed these horned clubs at the beginning of June at the Purgatory Creek wetlands. Unlike other clubtails though, the horned clubtail is not usually found near rivers. This clubtail likes slow moving marshy streams, bogs and ponds. They are often found perched on lily pads, moss beds or other vegetation as you can see above.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Ox-eye Daisy

The Ox-eye Daisy is an invasive species in North America. Originally brought over from Europe as an ornamental flower it has escaped into the wild where it has crowded out many of the native species. Even though it is a very pretty flower it is on the list of noxious weeds here in Minnesota. I took this photograph at Rice Lake NWR.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Clever Little House Wren

The house wren is a common bird that can be found through out most North, Central, and South America. They get their name from the fact that they are a cavity nester. They will nest in nest boxes, tree hollows, or almost any other cavity that is available. Often they will drive away other birds, even destroying eggs or killing young that are already in a nest, to claim a preferred cavity.
The choice of a nesting cavity is important because external factors can negatively affect the productivity of the wren couple. Environmental factors like temperature, temps above 105 or below 65, can destroy the eggs. Nesting parasites can also be a problem, once the chicks hatch, but the clever house wren will often include spider egg sacks when building their nest. When the spiders hatch they eat any parasites that make their way into the nest which helps keep the nestling safe. I photographed this house wren at the Carpenter Nature Center.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sunshine by Landan Chandler

I saw the sun today,
Eyes blue as the sky,
Just as beautiful when it rises and when it sets,
Although it was only for a moment,
The image is burned into my mind,
For I saw the sun, and the sun said 'Hi'.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Osprey Fishing at Purgatory Creek

This summer I have spent a lot of time photographing dragonflies and butterflies which has not left me very much time for birding. Fortunately I did have a few raptor nests that I was watching so even though I did not photograph very many birds I did manage to get some good shots of eagles, peregrine falcons, merlin falcons and osprey around the nest.
The raptors that I spent the most time watching were the osprey. I was watching around a dozen osprey nests, most of them built on man-made platforms, earlier this summer. The osprey is a very interesting raptor. They are always found around water because they almost exclusively eat fish. Because of their fondness for fish they were at one time called the fishing hawk, however they are not a hawk at all. They are in a family all their own.
What makes them different then hawks, or most diurnal raptors are their remarkable feet. Osprey have the ability to shift from an anisodactyl foot pattern, like hawks, eagles and falcons have with three toes facing forward and only the hallux facing behind, to a zygodactyl pattern, with two toes facing forward and two facing behind. Like most owls the joint of one of their toes is flexible allowing for them to shift their toe configuration depending on need, as an example anisodactyl while in flight and zygodactyl when they need extra grip to hold on to a slippery fish. This osprey was fishing, eagle style, out at Purgatory Creek in June. Osprey will also fish by diving down into the water from about 50 feet in the air. Unlike an eagle they will submerge themselves up to a couple of feet below the surface in search of a fish.

Monday, August 23, 2010

MN Valley NWR: Rapids Lake Unit

I have visited the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge often over the past several years, however the refuge is broken up into several different units stretching southwest along the Minnesota River. Since I spend most of my time at the Long Meadow portion of the refuge, which includes the refuge headquarters, Bass Ponds, and Old Cedar Avenue Bridge, I decided to explore some of the other units this summer.
So on August 8th I headed down to the Rapids Lake unit of the Minnesota Valley NWR. The Rapids Lake unit is the newest edition to the refuge and it is located in Carver County, which is south of the Twin Cities. It is the only unit, other then Long Meadow, that has an interpretive visitors center, which you can see from the photo above has an impressive view.
The Rapids Lake unit consists of 1500 acres on the west bank of the Minnesota River. It has a variety of habitats including oak savanna, goat prairie bluffs, bottomland forests and restored wetlands. There are also three lakes in the unit, Long Lake, Horseshoe Lake and Rapids Lake, for which the unit is named for. Across the Minnesota River, on the east bank, sits the Louisville Swamp unit.
Much of this unit once belonged to the Gehl Family. The Gehls used the land to raise thousands of turkeys. Turkeys still roam the lands but now they are wild turkeys, all of the domestic birds were removed before they could bread with wild turkeys because the offspring would not be able to live on their own in the wild. The old Gehl farmhouse is just down the path from the visitors center.
One of the main reasons that I choose to visit this unit was because Carver County is one of many counties that needs some serious surveying for Odonata, dragons and damsels. I have spent quite a bit of time this summer volunteering with the Minnesota Odonata Survey Project trying to survey every county. This has included traveling to every corner of the state, but I was surprised to find that Carver County, which is only about 45 minutes from home, had less then 10 types of odonates on their county list.
I found several new species to add to the list including the common whitetail and 12 spotted skimmer, pictured above respectively, and lance-tipped darner, green darner, widow skimmer, blue dasher, white-faced meadowhawk, autumn meadowhawk and common pondhawk. I also found several types of damselfly that had not yet been surveyed.
Besides dragonfly I also saw butterflies, like these mating common sulphur, belted kingfisher, herons and a couple of other types of birds. Unfortunately the heat that day was pretty unbearable, with a 110 degree heat index, so I did not stay very long. I will need to make another trip back down, maybe during the fall bird migration.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Clouded Sulphur

One of the most common families of butterflies that can be seen through out the summer are the sulphurs. Sulphurs are recognizable because of their yellow, sulphur, color. We have five different types of sulphurs in the area in which I live, they include the clouded sulphur, orange sulphur, pink-edged sulphur, dainty sulphur, and the little yellow.
The most common sulphur around here is the clouded or common sulphur. It can be distinguished from the orange sulphur because it lacks orange on the fore wing, although cross breading between clouded and orange sulphurs does sometimes occur. It can be distinguished from the pink-edged because it has two spots, one large and one small on the hind wing. Sulphurs are often found sucking moisture out of sand, puddles or animal dung. When groups are found drinking, as in the photo above, it is called puddling.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Helenium Autmnale

During late summer and fall many of the fields around here are adorned with the bright yellow blossoms of the Helenium autumnale. This perennial is native to most of North America. It is better known by the common name sneezeweed because the leaves were once used to make snuff.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Aphrodite Fritillary

Critters come in many different shapes and sizes and even though this weeks critter is pretty small, what it lacks in size it makes up for it in color and beauty. The Aphrodite fritillary is a member of the Nymphalidae or brush-foot family. Brush-foots get their common name from their shortened front legs which are covered with long hairs making them resemble brushes.
The brush-foots are one of the largest families of butterflies, with around 5000 species around the world. Because of the large number of types they are broken down into several different subfamilies, these include the milkweed butterflies, admirals and viceroys, emperors, satyrs and wood-nymphs, true brushfoots, and fritillaries. There are about 220 different kinds of brush-foot butterflies in the US.
The subfamily Heliconiinae, or fritillaries, are recognisable by their their orange and black patterns, with larger fritillaries have metallic spots on the under side of the hindwing. They are usually found in open spaces such as fields, meadows and parks. Fritillaries over winter as caterpillars at the base of their host plant, although they do not eat in the first stage after they hatch. The following spring the larva begin to eat the new leaves from the host plant, which are various forms of violet. There are 10 types of fritts in the US including the Aphrodite fritillary here which I photographed at Rice Lake NWR.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sunshine by juan olivarez

Sunshine gentle on my face,
Sunshine, caressing, gentle, kind,
Sunshine traveling, through endless miles of space,
Sunshine forever on my mind
Sunshine warms the gentle Earth,
Sunshine warms the seven seas,
Sunshine chases sorrows, welcome mirth,
Sunshine does its very best to please.