When most ducks and other waterfowl hatch the chicks are precocial. Precocial birds are birds that are born with their eyes open, covered in down feathers and able to leave the nest soon after they hatch. Some precocial birds, such as ducks, follow their parents for protection after leaving the nest but are able to find their own food. Other precocial birds, like grebes, need to rely on their parents for food and protection. Birds that are born blind and with out feathers, such as song birds, raptors and many others, are classified as altricial.
The black-crested titmouse is a passerine that is found in parts of Texas, Mexico, and Central America. They were once considered a part of the tufted titmouse species but DNA testing as well as vocal differences have recently led to classification as their own species. The two species will hybridize in southeastern Texas where there ranges over lap. Both the black-crested and tufted titmouse are cavity nesters that scavenge for seeds and insects on the ground.
Perhaps the most unusual looking bird in North America is the roseate spoonbill. These large pink wading bird get their common name from their unique shaped beak. They use their "spoon bill" to sift for food, swinging it from side to side as they wade through the shallow water. They eat small fish, crustaceans, aquatic insects, amphibians, and some aquatic vegetation. The bulk of the roseate spoonbill population is found in Central and South America. In North America they are pretty much limited to the Gulf Coast. In the United States they are found mainly in Florida, Louisiana, and Texas. In the early parts of the 20th century the roseate spoonbill was hunted for its beautiful pink feathers which were used primarily for women's hats and fans. At one point the Florida population, which is the largest in the US, fell to less then 50 nesting pairs. With the protection of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and other legislation the population has rebounded and there is now estimated to be over 1000 nesting pair in Florida. In Texas and Louisiana the roseate spoonbills nest on the ground on small coastal islands, in Florida they nest on mangrove trees. These islands nest are endangered by coastal development, oil and other contaminant spills, as well as ground based predators that can reach the islands. Leaving the Texas and Louisiana populations at risk.
The Largest dragonfly that we see here in Minnesota is the dragonhunter. This large clubtail dragon averages around 3.3 inches long. They are so big that they are often seen with the back of their abdomen curling down making them appear like a flying letter "J". Dragonhunters are the only dragon in the genus Hagenius. To many dragon hunters around the world they are a must see. They are ferocious, attacking and eating other dragons that are almost as big as them, including other dragonhunters. They are also one of the few insects that are not affected by the toxin that monarch butterflies carry in their system from the milkweed that they eat as caterpillar. In the photo above this dragonhunter is dining on a river jewelwing damselfly.
It might look like a weed but hoary vervain is a native wild flower that grows here in Minnesota. It can be confused with blue vervain, which is also native in this area but hoary vervain has leaves that are more oval shaped compared the the thin leaves of the blue vervain.
The fox sparrow is a large North American sparrow. They breed mostly along the West Coast, as well as northern Canada and Alaska. They winter down in the south eastern United States so the only time we typically see them here in Minnesota is during the spring and fall migration. There are 4 different color varieties of fox sparrow. The one in the pictures above is an eastern variety. The eastern fox sparrow breeds up in the boreal forests of Canada. They often stop in Minnesota during migration to feed. They eat insects which the scavenge from the ground. You can often hear them rustling around in dried leaves, looking for food, before you see them.
I photographed this double-crested cormorant near the Ford Damn along the Mississippi River this summer. Cormorants are considered sea birds but the double-crested cormorant is widely distributed across much of the central portion of North America during the breeding season. Cormorants are often seen perched near water facing the sun with their wings spread open. This is because cormorants do not have the waterproof oils that most waterfowl use to waterproof their feathers. Instead the cormorant must leave the water and air dry their feathers.
The spotted sandpiper is one of the most common sandpipers in North America. They breed through out most of the northern two thirds of North America and winter in the southern United States, Mexico, Central and South America. They are solitary birds except during the mating season. What is interesting about the spotted sandpiper is the apparent role reversal between the male and female during breeding. During the breeding season the testosterone levels in females increases by approximately seven times. She is the first to arrive on the breeding grounds and will select and defend a territory. Sometimes females will mate and lay clutches with more then one male. It is primarily the males job to incubate the eggs and care for the young once they have hatched.
One of the smaller snakes in Minnesota is the red-bellied snake, Storeriaoccipitomaculata. These harmless snakes only get to be from 8-10 inches long, compare the size to my hand in the photo below. They are a wood snake that is often prey for birds, mammals, and larger snakes. They eat worms, snails, slugs and insects. Even though they are pretty plain looking and similar looking to the brown snake the scales on their under side are, as their name would suggest red or orange in color.
The banded argiope spider, Argiopetrifascianta, is a large spider that is found through out North America, as well as many other places around the world. As a member of the orb weaver family of spiders, Araneidae, their eye site is not as good so they spin large orb shaped webs in the tall grass. I took these pictures in September of 2010 at the Minnesota Valley Refuge. I was looking for dragonflies and spotted the bright yellow color in the grass. Due to their bright yellow color they are often called the yellow garden argiope. Usually you do not see these spiders until the fall. Up to 10,000 spider hatch from the egg sack during the summer but they stay hidden until fall when they are large enough to protect themselves and mate.
I am not a big sports fan but I do like to watch a little bit of football. So the other day when I was on my way home from The Raptor Center I flipped my radio over to one of the local sports station to see what was happening in the NFL. Even though I live in Minnesota I am not at all a fan of the Minnesota Vikings. Having lived in Mankato, MN, home of the Vikings training camp, for a couple of years while I was going to school I got to see first hand how many of the Vikings players where complete assholes. Now the players may have changed since the many years ago that I went to school but sex boat cruises, drunk driving arrests and guys who beat their wives over the years have done little to change my mind about the home team. On this particular evening one of the Vikings leading defensive players, Jared Allen, was being interviewed by a local radio host. Since Mr Allen did not want to talk about their last game, they lost 45 to 7, the conversation instead turned to the hunting trip that several players had taken over their bye week. The host then asked about the most unusual prey that Mr Allen had ever hunted in his life. The jerk went on to tell the host that he had hunted coyotes using hand guns from the back of a snow mobile. He explained how groups of his friends had joined him hunting coyotes by his farm. They would run over the coyotes with their snowmobiles first then they would come back and shoot them. He laughed and said that it was really cool. The live audience, I think they were broadcasting from a Twin Cities sports bar, gave him a cool response and he did not seem to appreciate that what he had done was completely despicable. Michael Vick went to jail, lost his contract and most of his endorsements because of his cruelty to dogs. I think that what this #@#@#@#@!!! did is just as bad. Maybe one of the animal rights organizations will protest against the Vikings until they get rid of this worthless jerk.
The Bosque del Apache is the wintering home of approximately 30,000 plus snow geese. Snow geese breed up in the arctic tundra of Alaska and Canada. Most snow geese migrate to coastal wetlands along the Atlantic, Pacific or Gulf Coasts however habitat like that which is found at the Bosque also attracts pockets of the snow goose population. Like the sand hill cranes, that also winter at the Bosque in large numbers, the snow geese spend their days out feeding in the fields and the nights on the relative safety of the shallow pools and wetlands. Watching the spectacle of the geese and cranes fly out in the dawn light or fly in at dusk attracts people from all over the world.
For a few years we were lucky enough to have a harlequin duck winter in the Mississippi river not far from home. These interesting looking ducks usually spend their summers breeding in fast moving mountain streams and rivers along the eastern coastal areas of Canada and western coastal areas of Alaska, Canada and down into Washington State. They typically winter in the northern Atlantic and Pacific coastal waters of the U.S. and Canada. That is why it was so strange to have one wintering here in the middle of the continent. It was first spotted in the winter of 2007 -2008 and it returned to the area for two more winters, this photo was taken in January of 2010. Unfortunately no one reported seeing it last winter so perhaps it decided to follow others of its kind to the coast. I am sure that I will head over to Prescott Wisconsin some time this winter when the temps are below zero just to take a look and make sure.
The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota takes in between 600 to 800 injured raptors every year. The clinic is world renown and they work hard to heal and rehabilitate every bird that is admitted. The highlight of being involved with The Raptor Center is when we get to release a recovered bird back into the wild. Birds are released all the time but twice a year we invite the public to come and join with us and celebrate as we have a big public release. This photo was taken at the fall 2010 release at the Carpenter Nature Center. It is also the featured photo on the 2012 Raptor Center calendar. If you would like to help out the great work that The Raptor Center does you can purchase a fund raising calendar by going to their online store.
The northern flicker is a member of the woodpecker family that is found in North and Central America. The northern flicker has two subspecies that were once considered separate species. The red-shafted subspecies, Colaptes auratus cafer, is found in the western portions of North America. As its name suggests the feather shafts of the primary feathers are red. The red under the tail and the red moustache markings also help to distinguish it from the yellow-shafted subspecies, which is found in the eastern portion of North America. I photographed this red-shafted flicker in the Bosque del Apache NWR on our recent trip to New Mexico.
The pearl crescent, Phyciodes Tharos, is a common butterfly found in the eastern two thirds of North America. It ranges from southern Ontario in the north down through Mexico in the south. Adults lay eggs on plants in the aster family, which is the larval host plant. They over winter in their larval, or caterpillar, form.