Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Mountain by Rowving Smith

The mountain just sat there
Every morning sun rose behind it
Casting a long shadow across the vally
Towards the evening
The darkness float down it
Waking up fire flies
And lighting the lamps
At village huts

The rain washed it
And made the shurbs green
Giving the mountain a green dress
With a stony hat
People climbed it
Birds flew over it
Clouds kissed it
Mist in the early morning
And in late evenings
Covered it like a blanket
Througout all this
The mountain just sat there

There were songs about it
There were poems
There were stories
There were pictures
People talked about it
People did love it

But no one never thought
How much, just how much
The mountain thought about them
Or for that matter just how much the mountain loved them...!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Northern Pearl-eye

Tower Falls

A couple miles south of Roosevelt Junction stands Tower Falls. At this point the Tower Creek plunges 132 feet on its way to join the Yellowstone River. The creek and falls get their name from the towering volcanic formations that surround the falls.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Bowdoin NWR

Yellowstone in May is not exactly a birders paradise so we typically arrange another stop or two, while on vacation, to do a little bit of birding. This year we left Yellowstone a day early so that we could visit a couple of other parks on our way home. Unfortunately due to bad weather and a flat tire we only had the opportunity to make one stop.
Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge is located in the short and mixed grass prairie region of North-central Montana. It is home to many western prairie species of birds such as the western kingbird and western meadowlark, pictured above.
Bowdoin was established back in 1936 to help protect vital resting, feeding and breeding habitat for migrating birds, particularly waterfowl and shorebirds. The refuge encompasses 15,551 acres, 8,675 of which is wetlands. The wetlands provide homes to a variety of birds such as the yellow-headed blackbird pictured above.
The refuge is centered around Lake Bowdoin. In preglacial times it is believed that the lake was actually an Oxbow in the Missouri River but over time the river has moved 70 miles south of the lake. What was left behind is a variety of habitats including saline and freshwater wetlands and native prairie. These are perfect habitat for the marbled godwit pictured above.
Before 1936 Lake Bowdoin was used by the Montana Bureau of Reclamation as a catch basin to help manage the waters of spring floods, irrigation return flows and seepage. Each spring snow melt would pour down into the lake from Beaver Creek and the Black Coulee drainage flooding the land around the lake. This provided good habitat for shorebirds and waterfowl that were migrating north at about the same time, like the white-faced ibis flying above.
Once the refuge was established the Works Progress Administration began the construction of the refuge headquarters as well as a system of water control structures designed to help manage the wetlands to provide the proper habitat for waterfowl and shorebirds like the Wilson's phalarope pictured above.
Lake Bowdoin sits on 5,459 acres of the refuge. Islands in the lake hold breeding colonies of white pelicans, double-crested cormorants, California and ring-billed gulls. Wetland areas around the lake provide habitat for American avocet, black-necked stilts, ducks and grebes. Eared grebes in breeding plumage are a common site at this time of year.
In the upland prairie areas you can find pronghorn antelope, deer, sharp-tailed grouse and raptors. We found a pair of northern harriers hunting in the fields just outside the refuge. I was happy to get a shot of the mail in flight. I see females pretty frequently around home, mostly during the fall, but I hardly ever see the males. Female harriers are mostly brown compared to the light gray color of the males from which they have received the nickname, "the gray ghost".

Sunday, June 26, 2011

European Skipper an Invasive Butterfly

Earlier today I spent most of the morning and early afternoon surveying butterflies as part of the St Paul Audubon's Annual Butterfly Count. The count is held each year at the Arden Hills Army Training Site, more commonly referred to as AHATS.
Since AHATS is a secured military training facility that is under the control of the Minnesota National Guard it takes special permission to get access. This is one of the reasons that I enjoy working on the survey because I get the opportunity to see a little bit of the wildlife that can be found in this large mostly natural expanse. Unfortunately weather hampered this years count and the cloudy skies and wind held down the number of species that we found.
The main butterfly that we saw on the count was the European skipper. This invasive species was accidentally introduced to North America back in 1910 in London, Ontario. Since then it has spread through out much of the continent. It lays its eggs in strings on a larval host plant, mostly grasses, and then overwinters as an egg. In the spring the caterpillars will eat the grasses until maturing and then will pupate. In Europe these butterflies are known as the essex skipper.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Western Spiderwort

Tradescantia occidentalis, or western spiderwort, is a member of the Commelinaceae family. It is native to the middle portions of the US from Minnesota down to Texas. There are 26 species of spiderwort that are native to North America. Ohio spiderwort is common in the eastern US and zigzag spiderwort is found in the southeast.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Barrow's Goldeneye.

It is common to see flocks of common goldeneye spending the winter in Minnesota on open parts of the Mississippi river. Each year someone will post on the list server that they spotted a Barrow's mixed in with the flock and so people will come from all over and spend hours trying to find a Barrow's

When we go out west to Yellowstone the Barrow's goldeneye is always the most common duck that we see in the park. Usually I take a few pictures, since we do not really have them at home, but quickly they become as common as mallards and we pass them by when we see them.
Barrow's goldeneye are fascinating birds. They breed near inland lakes in the northwestern United States and Canada. They are a cavity nester and often lay their eggs in the nest of another goldeneye or cavity nesting duck. This is not too big of a deal though because shortly after hatching, typically with in a couple of days, the Barrow's chick are pretty elf sufficient and are able to swim and dive to find prey such as small fish, vegetation, aquatic insects and other aquatic vertebrates.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Spirit winds, Approaching Storm by Poison 9901

I stood on the mountain top and watched the approaching storm

I watched in awe as It slowly took form

Lightning fell from the clouds in brilliant blue flashes

Knowing everything it touched would soon be turned to ashes

White clouds soon faded to shades of gray and dark blue

As the sky followed suit and took on and eerie yellowish green hue

The wind began to rise as I felt it tenderly kiss my face

With out stretched arms I welcomed its warm embrace

Curtains of gray soon adorned each of the approaching clouds

As if to be hiding secrets each possessed its own shroud

Lighting cracks in a brilliant flash, a tree explodes and falls to the ground

Tear drops from heaven slowly begin to fall all around

With arms held high I turn my face upwards towards the storm

Admiring all its beauty and the ease at which it could transform

Thunder rolled across the heavens with a deafening roar

Slowly fading away until it could be heard no more

Trees bent and swayed in the wind as if playing tug of war

As the winds stripped their leaves ever higher did they soar

Rain drops rushed together to form silvery pools of every shape

Each joining together as they hurriedly made their escape

With eyes wide open I felt my spirit had been lifted and set free

As those had before me like the Cheyenne, the Apache and the Cherokee

As I descended the mountain I felt your presence everywhere

And suddenly there you were riding across the sky on a great white mare

Chasing the storm a free spirit a guardian from the past

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Blue dasher

Welcome to Summer 2011

Today is the summer solstice,in the Northern Hemisphere, and officially the first day of summer. Our changing seasons are the result of the tilt of the planet which fluctuates between 22.1 to 24.5 degrees. The summer solstice is the date when the Northern Hemisphere is the closest distance to the sun. This is also the day with the most daylight of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Things are just opposite in the Southern Hemisphere where they have the winter solstice and the least amount of daylight in the year.

It may officially be summer but it does not seem a lot like summer here. The temperatures have been below average so far this June, although we had our first 100 plus day in the past five years earlier this month. We have are a bit above average in the rainfall department but we have had many days that have been cloudy and gray, making it difficult to take picture like the ones of the Canada goose family above. I took these photos in June 2010 at the Bass Ponds. The weather was quite a bit more cooperative in 2010 then it has been so far this year.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Yellowstone Part 3

We started out Wednesday by heading back over to the Yellowstone Lake area by the Fishing Bridge. As we got to the lake, much of which was still frozen, we saw two small dark shapes out on the ice. We stopped to take a closer look and found that they were a pair of river otters. One otter, pictured above, seemed to be resting near the edge of the ice while the other was running around.
After the otters finally disappeared under the ice we headed out towards the east entrance. The road was still closed off due to danger of avalanche but we did find a couple of grizzly to photograph, one at Mary's Bay and another at Sedge Bay. Unfortunately we still were not able to find the grizzly sow and cub.
Since the sky was beginning to clear up we decided to head back around the southern end of the park so that we could get some pictures of Old Faithful erupting. We had tried a couple of days earlier but the weather that day made it difficult to get good shots. With nice blue skies the pics turned out much better.
After Old Faithful we headed up to Mammoth and the north entrance to the park. We had hoped to get some more shots of the new born big horn lamb that we had seen a couple of days earlier but as we came around the corner we could not see the sheep on the cliff face where we had seen them earlier. We did see some cars pulled off a little way down the road so we headed that way to check it out. There on the hill not far from the road was the big horn ewe and lamb. Since they were much closer we were able to get a lot of good pics. It was amazing to see this little lamb scurry around on the rocks and cliffs at the ripe old age of two days.
It was getting late so we decided to head back to our hotel in West Yellowstone. On the way we spotted two black bears in different areas. The first black bear was indeed black, above, but the second was a cinnamon black bear. Black bear is a species and can come in a variety of colors, although black is the most common.

Thursday was our last day in the park. We were already quite happy with all of the great wildlife that we had seen and the photo opportunities that we had. So we decided for the finally day we would go all the way around the park, except the road between Tower and Canyon which was still closed due to snow, and just see whatever we would find. On the south loop near the Lake Area turn off a large bird flew across the road and perched in a tree close by. It turned out to be a Swanson's hawk that was cooperative and let us stop to take some pictures.
Then we headed up top the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone to take some scenery shots. This shot was taken from Artist Point and the falls in the distance are the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River. We do not spend much time in this area because I am afraid of heights. Since places like this bother me we just took the shot and got going as quick as possible.
Next stop was Mammoth where we were surprised and pleased to find that one of the local elk females had calved the day before. A small heard of elk live in Mammoth and the surrounding area. Since the main predators of elk are wolves and grizzly it is smart to stay in a place that has a lot of people to keep the predators away. However the elk themselves can be dangerous to people in Mammoth that get too close. The ranger, who was keeping spectators from getting to close to the elk and calf, told us that she had chased a park employee who unknowingly had gotten too close to the calf.
Bull elk usually are found alone or in small groups at this time of the year. A healthy buck like this does not have too much to fear from the predators so they usually wonder about more in the highland areas on the north side of the park. During the fall each bull will be surrounded by a harem of females in hopes that he will find one that is receptive to mating. Shortly after we took this picture it began to snow again. It was not bad on the north end but as we passed Mammoth and headed towards Norris the snow on the roads began to get deeper and driving more treacherous. I am used to driving in the snow but roads here in Minnesota get plowed and sanded. They are also wider and do not have steep drop offs or rivers on the side. We were worried that we might have to park and sleep in the car. Fortunately things got better after Norris and we were able to make it out to West Yellowstone.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Hackberry Emperor

The hackberry emperor is a member of the brushfoot family that has a range which stretches into the southern half of Minnesota. The hackberry emperor caterpillar only eats the leaves of the hackberry tree, or possibly elm leaves, so they are only found in areas where these trees grow.
There are typically two broods of hackberry emperor per year. The first brood hatches should be hatching soon, usually the end of June and beginning of July. The second brood usually hatches near the end of August. The second brood will over winter in the larval form. You don't usually see these butterflies on flowers because they do not drink nectar, instead they are attracted to tree sap, bad fruit, and animal waste.