Michelle and I have always been fascinated with loons.
Maybe the reason is because the common loon is the Minnesota State Bird, or perhaps it is their striking red eyes and haunting call
Whatever the reason I was pretty excited when I found this young loon at Crex Meadows working on trying to take its first flight.
Loon chicks are able to swim almost immediately after they hatch, although they spend much of the first week on their parents back, however it takes a couple of months before they are ready to fly.Since loons eat primarily fish and aquaticinvertebrates they are built for diving under the water. Their legs are set back on their body to assist in swimming underwater but this makes them awkward when they come on shore during mating and nesting season. They also do not have hollow bones like most birds. This makes them heavier which helps them underwater but it also makes it more difficult for them to get up into the air. They need a long runway and often appear to be running across the water as they take off.
The second unit, going from north to south, in the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge is the Black Dog Lake unit. It consists of 1400 acres around Black Dog Lake, which flows from the Minnesota River on its eastern side. Much of the land is owned by Excel Energy which has a power plant in the middle of the unit.
Black Dog Lake is a great place to visit in the winter time. It is one of the few places in the Twin Cities where the water does not completely freeze up, because the power plant is continuously pouring in hot water. The open water is a draw for many different types of birds, I have seen many types of ducks, geese, swans, belted kingfisher and eagles in this unit during the winter.
Last winter ended rather abruptly with most of the lakes and rivers in the state thawing in a week or two. This caused a lot of problems with the rivers around here. As you can see the Minnesota rose up over its banks and flooded a big chunk of the Black Dog unit.
Even after the water finally subsided it took a long time, months, before they completely opened the road that runs through this unit. The road was covered with silt and other debris from the river. It seemed more like walking down a beach then walking down a road. Once the road was finally cleared off they still kept it close because they needed to do some repairs, as the road was in even worse shape then before. The road closure made things more difficult as one of the osprey nests that I was watching in the summer was off of Black Dog Road. The osprey have a nest on one of the transition towers that hold the lines coming from the power station. Since the tower is a little ways out in the lake it was necessary to bring my scope and tripod to try and read the bands. The scope and tripod in addition to my normal camera equipment made for a long walk out to view the nest.
Fortunately there was a lot of wildlife to greet me and make the burden of carting all of that equipment much lighter. One day I found a fox sparrow scratching its way through the scrub.
Another day the sweet song of the indigo bunting helped to quicken my step and brighten my mood on my way back to my car.
The snaketail dragonflies are a genus, Ophiogomphus, in the family Gomphidae, or the clubtail family. Like other members of the Gomphidae family, snaketails have separated eyes but most lake the thickness at the end of their abdomen that most people think of when they think of clubtails. Their common name comes from the snake like patterns that most snaketails have on their abdomen.
Many of the snaketail dragons are fairly rare. A couple types like the St Croix and Sioux snaketailes have only been discovered in the past decade and have only been found in small numbers. The main reason is that many of the snaketail nymphs are susceptible to water pollution and contaminants. Since most burrow in the sand at the bottom of the stream or river they can only be affected by river erosion and the depositing of silt on the bottom of the river.
This particular snaketail is the rusty snaketail, Ophiogomphusrupinsulensis. This is one of the more common snaketails that does not seem to be as affected by the river conditions as many others of the genus are. It is a mature male that was perched on a rock in the rapids of the Sunrise River where it empties into the St Croix River in Wild River State Park.
Back in the 1980's their was a skit on Saturday Night Live called the Coneheads. If planet Conehead had a planetary flower it would probably be the purple coneflower or Echinacea. This member of the daisy family can be found in open woodlands and dry fields across eastern and central North America.
When you look at this bird you may not know at first glance what type of waterfowl that it is. From its looks you might think that it is called a clown duck or something of that sort, but in actuality it is common throughout most of North America and parts of South America.
The bird in these photos is an immature pied-billed grebe, the second smallest grebe found in North America. These grebes breed on ponds, lakes, marshes and sloughs with a lot of vegetation, like Phantom Lake in Crex Meadows where I took these photos. The nest is a bowl style construction built on floating vegetation and anchored with cattails. The female will usually lay between 4 to 8 eggs which both parents will incubate for approximately 23 days. If both parents leave the nest they will cover the eggs up with vegetation.
Chicks can leave the nest about a day after hatching but spend most of their first week asleep on the backs of their parents. By about three to four weeks they will spend most of their time in the water. At first when there is a possibility of danger they will go back to the safety of their parents back but eventually they learn to dive under the water to avoid danger.
Wood ducks, or woodies as I like to call them, are one of the more interesting ducks that we see around here for most of the warmer month. The males are very colorful during breeding season, unfortunately this photo was taken in early fall when the males plumage is much less colorful. Unlike many other ducks the wood duck is a cavity nester, nesting in tree cavities or nesting box. I have always found it an unusual sight to see wood ducks perched on their webbed feet up in a tree.
Last week I stopped in at a fund raising auction for the Minnesota Valley Chapter of the Audubon Society. Even though I am not a member of this chapter, I am a member of the St Paul Chapter, I wanted to help them raise money for the education programs which they sponsor at the Minnesota Valley Refuge. This refuge is the closest NWR to my home and I spend a lot of time photographing there so I wanted to give something back. I did not buy anything at the auction but I did donate a framed print for them to sell.
The Minnesota Valley NWR consists of approximately 14,000 acres of habitat that spans 99 miles of the Minnesota River. The refuge is broken into eight different units. The unit that I spend most of my time at is the Long Meadow Lake Unit.
Long Meadow Lake is comprised of 2400 acres of Minnesota River floodplain. This unit includes the Bass Ponds, which were once used for breeding fish to stock Minnesota Lakes, and the Old Cedar Avenue Bridge, which stands derelict like a ghost from the past spanning the river. Long Meadow also includes the spacious refuge visitors center.
One of the cool things about this refuge is that parts of it are located in the middle of the Twin Cities. You can see from the pictures above skyscrapers peaking over the skyline of the trees at Long Meadow. This refuge is only blocks away from the famous Mall of America. So if you ever come to the Twin Cities for a visit do yourself a favor and skip the shopping and walk a couple of blocks to the refuge and get a taste of the real Minnesota.
A common dragonfly found around much of North America, the four-spotted skimmer gets its common name from the black nodal spot and stigma on each wing. There are 4 spots on both the forewing and hindwing. The scientific name is Libellulaquadrimaculata.
The four-spotted skimmer is a circumpolar species and can be found in Europe, Asia, northern Africa, and North America. In Europe they are called the four-spotted chaser and some develop much larger wing spots at the base of the hindwing then those in North America.
Four-spotted skimmers are ambush style hunters. They usually have a favorite perch or two from which they will hunt, often coming back to the perch to feed or try again. This makes them a good dragonfly to photograph. Males and females both look the same so I am not sure which these are.
Sometimes when you see the name of a plant, bird or insect you wonder what in the world that the person who named it was thinking. Good examples as far as wild flowers go would be sneezeweed, hawksbeard and gumweed just to name a few. This plant common name is very appropriate however, it is called butterfly-weed. It's scientific name is Asclepias tuberosa. It is a member of the Asclepiadacea, or milkweed, family so it servers as host plant for the larvas of milkweed butterflies like the monarch. The bright orange flower is also popular with many other types of butterflies.
If you live in the western hemisphere then chances are that you may have or may some day see one of these small song birds zipping though the trees and shrubs. The house wren has an extremely large range for a song bird. They can be found from breeding territories in southern Canada down to the tip of South America and most places in between. They live in a variety of different types of habitats and seem to do well in habitats which are populated with people.
House wrens are cavity nesters. They typically nest in tree cavities but they will also nest in nesting boxes or other man made cavities. They can be quite aggressive in their search for the perfect nest site, often driving away larger birds. The nest is a cup style which is built into a foundation of sticks that the wrens bring into the cavity. The nest cup is lined with feathers, hair, grasses and often spider egg sacks. The later helps to control insect parasites when the spiders hatch. This wren was nesting at the Carpenter Nature Center.