Thursday, March 31, 2011

Red-tailed Hawk Flying Free

Hawks are divided into two genus, Buteos and Accipiters. Buteos have long wings and a relatively short tail while Accipiters are the opposite with short wings and a longer tail. Buteos are typically the soaring hawks. The long wings help them to ride the air drafts and thermals. With a shorter tail they are not as acrobatic in the air as the Accipiters are. One of the larger Buteos in North America is the red-tailed hawk. It is often easy to tell a red-tail in flight by the slight "V" shape of the wings which is called a dihedral.

The red-tailed hawk is the most common raptor seen in North America. They are often seen perched on signs and light poles on the side of many roads. This is because the roads provide an excellent hunting habitat for these birds. Red-tails are ambush hunters. They typically perch and wait for prey, which takes a lot less energy then flying around. Since there are typically not a lot of trees and bushes on the road side and the grass is often cut the red-tail perched up on the light pole has a very large area for which it can search for prey.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Coral Hairstreak

Living in Minnesota Keeps You on Your Toes.

You never really know what the weather is going to do here in Minnesota. We have seen temps change 70 degrees in a 24 hour period. This year winter seems to be reluctant to release its hold on us. While the rivers are mostly open now, except for the chunks of ice that float like rafts in the current, most of the lakes are still frozen.
Last year, by this time, most of the lakes in the southern and central portions of Minnesota had already thawed out. All the snow melted so fast that many of the rivers flooded over, I found this beaver swimming in the flood waters of the Mississippi in Hok Si La park. This year even though we had much more snow it looks like the long winter will reduce some of the flooding that we will have.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Another Sign of Spring

One of the first signs of spring here each year is the return of the herons to the rookery in the North Mississippi Regional Park. They usually start to arrive around St Patrick's Day so I headed over on March 19th. The rookery is located on a small island in the Mississippi. The park, where I shoot from, is located on the west bank of the river. Since the river is not very wide at this point distance is not much of a problem.
Even though the rookery is not very far it is still difficult to get an unobstructed photograph of the herons on the nest, because of all of the tree branches. So the best time to get a pic is when they are flying to or from the rookery.
As part of their mating rituals the males will go out and search for branches to bring back to the females for nest improvement. So on sunny days it is possible to sit on the shore of the Mississippi and watch these large birds fly over head carrying sticks of all sizes.
When they arrive at the nest with a stick their is a intricate ritual where the male passes the stick to the female from beak to beak. She will then take the stick and work it into the nest. This helps to replace nesting material that is lost over the long winter. I hope this year to get a chance to photograph some of the chicks but unfortunately the rookery becomes much more difficult to see once the trees begin to leaf out.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

My Capstone Project Begins

Currently I am spending two nights a week in a Minnesota Master Naturalist program. The purpose of the program is to introduce and educate us on a particular biome that is in our state as well as to assist us in becoming better volunteers for environmental organizations. As a part of the program we are required to complete a Capstone Project. This is an environmental project of our choosing which is beneficial to an environmental organization or agency. For my Capstone project I have chosen to develop an educational program on Minnesota dragonflies which I will be teaching at the Carpenter Nature Center later this summer.
My program is going to consist of a beginners lesson on dragonflies, for which I will rely mostly on a PowerPoint presentation and then we will go out into the nature center and try and net us some bugs. I began working on the project this weekend, partly because I had to spend some time at work Saturday baby sitting a phone tech that had to replace a part. First I came up with an outline for my presentation and then I began to modify a couple of picture so that I can use them in the presentation. The top photo describes the different parts of a dragonfly, many of which are used to differentiate between different species of dragons. The second photo shows the 10 abdominal segments that all dragons have. It is important to know which segment is which because marking on specific segments may also be used to differentiate between species. This project will count as Environmental Education as well as Citizen Science. I am posting it here hoping to get some feed back so that I can have a successful presentation.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale)

Here are a few more pics that I took last summer of sneezeweed.
I was hoping that it would not be too much longer before I could take some new wild flower pics but with the snow and colder then average temps it looks like it might be a while before we start to see any flowers.
Its a good thing that I stocked up on pics over the summer. Living in Minnesota you need to take a lot of pictures when it is warm because you get at least 4 months where you don't have a lot to work with.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Newest Baby Pics.

Yesterday after I got off of work I decided to go out and take some pics. There are some nests that have sprung up lately that I have begun to keep an eye on. First I headed over to the great blue heron rookery, that is located on a small island in North Mississippi Regional Park, and took pics for a couple of hours. Then I headed to Acacia Cemetery to look for the merlin pair that nested there last year, but they were not around. So then I headed to the great horned owl nest that I have been watching.
It had been about almost two weeks since I had last photographed the nest. I think that it is important to make sure and give the wildlife enough space. If I went there to shoot too often I might interfere with the parents ability to hunt, which would probably mean less food for the young which might threaten their health. On my last trip all that I could see of the young was the top of a head. You can see from the pics above that they have grown quite a bit in the last 13 days. I am not sure how many young owls are in the nest. One is obvious but the nest is deep enough that there may be another sibling or two that is not visible. The last time that I watched them raise young was two years ago and they had three chicks that fledged that year.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Super Moon

Did you know that last Saturday we had a Super Moon floating over head? Do you even know what a Super moon is? To be honest I did not know what a super moon was but when I heard that we were scheduled to have one on March 19th I decided to look into it. I also decided that I had to get some pics. So I began checking out the moon through out the week last week but unfortunately the only days that I could see the moon was on March 16, above, and March 19th, below.
The moon is typically about 239,000 miles from the earth, however as it orbits it travels in an elliptical path. One side of this path is closer to the earth then the other. Its furthest distance, called apogee, is approximately 252,000 miles and its closest distance, called perigee, is approximately 222,000 miles. On March 19th, when the moon was full, it was almost at perigee. This happens only about every 18 years, the last time the full moon was this close to earth was March of 1993. So if you got a chance to go out and look at the moon on Saturday it looked about 14% bigger and 30% brighter then the full moon when it is at apogee. Unfortunately it is difficult to tell the difference in size and brightness from pictures. The best time to take pictures to demonstrate the size is when the moon is at the Earth's horizon and it can be seen in comparison to objects on Earth, such as trees and buildings. Clouding skies prevented me from getting some shots when the moon was setting so I guess if you missed it you will have to wait around another 18 years to get a chance to see it for yourself.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Five Stars for Jim's Birdacious Bark Butter

Last month I had the opportunity to do a review of Jim's Birdacious Bark Butter. My friends over at Wild Bird Unlimited were nice enough to send me a jar of the Bark Butter as well as a Bark Butter Feeder to try out. I hung the feeder at my house and it has attracted quite a few chickadees and a couple of woodpeckers, at least that I have seen.
A couple of weeks back, when I had the opportunity to head up to the Sax Zim Bog to do some birding, I decided to bring the Bark Butter with. I wanted to test out a couple of things. I wanted to see how well the Bark Butter worked when it was applied directly to the tree and I wanted to see how well it would attract some of the northern specialties that are not very common in the U.S.
When I arrived at the bog I headed over to Admiral Ave to check out the feeding station located there. At the feeding station there was mainly common redpoll and black-capped chickadee. So I went up and spread some Bark Butter on several of the tree branches. Since redpoll are seed eaters they did not pay much attention to the Bark Butter but the black-capped chickadees began to go to the Bark Butter almost immediately after I left the feeding area.
I was not surprised that the black-capped chickadee were eating the Bark Butter, since they had been eating at home too, but I was hoping that one of the northern specialties would show up so I could see how well it would work on some less common birds. Soon a red-breasted nuthatch showed up and began to eat at the Bark Butter. I had white breasted nuthatch that had been on the feeder back home but we don't see red-breasted nuthatch too often in the southern portions of the state.
After watching and photographing the black-capped chickadees, red-breasted nuthatch, redpolls and the single pine grosbeak I got really excited because a pair of boreal chickadees showed up. Boreal chickadees are usually found up in the boreal forests of Canada but a few migrate south during the winter and the Admiral feeder in Sax Zim Bog is the best place in Minnesota to have a chance to see them. I was hoping that there were still a few boreals around because I wanted to see how good that the Bark Butter would be for attracting them. Just like their cousin the black-capped, the boreal chickadees went right for the Bark Butter.
The boreal chickadees only stayed for a short time, as usual, eating their fill of Bark Butter and then disappeared back into the bog. As I was waiting for them to return, the seem to return to the feeders every hour or so, gray jays began to appear and a feeding frenzy began. The jays would eat a large chunk of Bark Butter and then grab another large chunk and fly away. Gray jays, sometimes reffered to as camp robbers, are known for caching food. This helps them to survive times when food is scarce.
Despite the fact that there was several different types of suet at the feeding station, and someone had even spread some peanut butter on one of the branches the jays, chickadees and nuthatch all kept going right after the Bark Butter. When I moved to the feeding station on Arkola there was only one gray jay in the area, it was in the trees across the street from the feeders. I decided to give that lonely guy some Bark Butter and with in a minute suddenly 15 gray jays appeared. This experience has certainly sold me on Jim's Birdacious Bark Butter. I will give it a 5 stars out of 5 and definitely recommend it if you are looking to attract birds that normally eat suet or other types of protein. I know that were some happy birds up in the bog that day and a happy Ecobirder who got a lot of great pics.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Red-headed Woodpecker


Wetlands are the most bio diverse of all of the Earth's ecosystems. A wetland is an area where the soil is saturated with moisture, this saturation can be either permanent or seasonal. Wetlands are often covered completely or partially by shallow water. This shallow water often supports aquatic vegetation such as water lilies, cattails and other plants. Examples of wetlands include things such as swamps, marshes and bogs.

Monday, March 21, 2011

SOAR at the National Eagle Center

March is kind of the beginning of the bird migration here in Minnesota. Most birds migrate because there is less food during the winter. So in March as the rivers and lakes begin to thaw, those birds that rely on wetlands habitat for food begin to return to the area.
Eagles are one of the birds that begin to migrate north in March. During the winter many eagles migrate to southern Minnesota where they can find open waters to fish in. Others continue south down into Iowa, Southern Wisconsin, Illinois, Nebraska or other states. It all depend on how much food that their is available. Now with all of the water beginning to open up here the eagles are moving back north to their breeding territories.
In March the National Eagle Center, located in Wabasha, MN, hosts their Soar with the Eagles event. Each weekend is packed with programs to entertain and educate people about eagles, raptors and environmental issues. Thousands of people visit Wabasha during this time to check out the programs and eagle watch along the river.
I headed down to Wabasha on March 12th because I wanted to see the Cincinnati Zoo "Wings of Wonder" program. The eagle center has several classrooms that are used for educational programs but for the big programs during "Soar with the Eagles" they use a gymnasium at one of the local private schools to accommodate the large crowds. I estimate that there were a couple of hundred people or more at the program that I attended at 2pm.
The show was a mixture of different types of birds. There were several raptors that were not native to Minnesota including a Harris hawk, photo number 3, which are native to south western North America, and a spectacled owl, above which is native to Central and South America.
The program also featured several other birds that were not raptors. There were several parrots that performed flight demonstrations, speech demonstrations or other tricks. There was a Kookaburra, which is a native of Australia, that had a very interesting call and a cute little penguin that was usually found in southern South America.
The reason that I chose to travel down to Wabasha on this particular weekend was because they were bringing a Stellar's sea eagle with them. This was my first opportunity to see one of these huge birds that are native to Russia and other parts of Asia. The Stellar's sea eagle is the largest eagle species, by weight, in the world. This particular bird was a young male so he was only about 12 to 13 pounds but the females can weigh up to 20 pounds. They need the weight because they are typically found in cold harsh climates. This was a big way to finish off the program and definitely worth the drive down to Wabasha. Next weekend is the final weekend of Soar with the Eagles and the feature program is from the World Bird Sanctuary in St Louis. I would definitely recommend checking out the program if you have the chance.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Circle of Life

When most people think about spiders they think of webs, but there are actually quite a few spiders that hunt for prey with out the use of a web. The goldenrod crab spider, for instance, catches its prey by waiting on a flower and ambushing nectar eating insects as they come to feed. The goldenrod crab spider has the ability to change its color from white to yellow to light green so that it can match the color and blend in to the flower from which it is hunting from.
Despite the fact that it is on a purple thistle flower, they can not turn purple so she had no camouflage, this goldenrod crab spider was able to catch this European skipper with her long crab-like, front legs. Once its in her grip then she grabs a hold of the prey with her powerful jaws, leaving her legs free. You can tell that this is a female because of her size. Even though she is smaller then this small European skipper the male goldenrod crab spider is one half to one third as large. I took these photographs up at Voyager National Park last summer.