The common loon travels with me almost everywhere that I go. The license plate on my car, which I pay an extra fee each year to help support wildlife in Minnesota, features the Minnesota State Bird which is the common loon. It is not unusual to find nesting loons on many of the lakes in Minnesota, especially the lakes in the northern parts of the state. Loons are sometimes difficult to spot because they're heavier then most birds, they do not have hollow bones like other birds, so they usually sit lower in the water. Fortunately they are easy to identify by their call, which is one of the most unique in the bird world.
In the heart of southern Colorado sits the Great Sand Dunes National Park. It was established in 2004 and it is the newest park in the U.S. National Park system. Prior to 2004 most of the park was a part of the Great Sand Dunes National Monument which was established in 1932 to protect the tallest sand dunes in North America, rising approximately 750 feet off of the valley floor. The dunes were form from sand deposited by several rivers that run through the San Luis Valley. Strong winds blowing across the valley would pick up the sand and carry it until they lost steam when they ran into the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range on the edge of the valley. No longer able to support the weight of the sand the wind deposits it at the foot of the mountains building up a large field of dunes over the past 440,000 years.
The golden-winged warbler is a small wood warbler that nests in the north eastern half of the United States from Maine to Minnesota.They typically breed in bushy fields or marshes, building their nest low to the ground. They migrate to Central America and the northern portion of South America where they live in mixed flocks in the canopies of tropical forests over the winter. In Minnesota they usually only breed in the northern portions of the state. I photographed this bird while it was migrating north to its breeding territory in May.
The pied-billed grebe is the most widely distributed grebe in North America. They are found through out the continent except in the far northern reaches. In much of their range they are year round residents however in in the north east and north central they migrate south from the breeding range for the winter. Even though young pied-billed grebes often leave the nest soon after they hatch they spend most of their time on the backs of their parents. By the time that they are four weeks old they spend most of their time on the water. This is an immature bird.
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Gooseberry Falls is located on the Gooseberry River just a short distance from the north shore of Lake Superior. The falls is actually a series of 3 separate falls. This is middle falls. You can see the highway 61 bridge that crosses the river in the background. The falls are surrounded by Gooseberry Falls State Park. The park is the most visited park on the North Shore with over a million visitors annually. I photographed the falls early in the morning, which is the best time since the falls can get quite crowded. I went with a slow shutter speed to give the running waters that special unique look.
One of the most common dragonflies in this area is the twelve-spotted skimmer. This large skimmer is often found around ponds and lakes where there is very little water movement. It is easily identified by the 12 dark spots on its wings, each of the four wings has three spots. This a mature male of the species. Mature males can be distinguished from the females and immature because they have white spots in between the black spots on the wings.
The rough-legged hawk is a circumpolar species that is native to the Northern Hemisphere. They nest in the tundra and taiga regions of Alaska, Canada, Europe and Asia. During the winter they migrate south into central Asia, Europe and the United States. Even though they are the same species they are usually referred to as a rough-legged buzzard in Europe and Asia, as most buteos are called buzzards instead of hawks. Their common name is because they are one of only two species of North American hawks that have feathers that go all the way down to their feet, the other is the ferruginous hawk.
The northern pintail is a northern duck. It is circumpolar meaning that it is found in North America, Asia and Europe. Even though it nests in the northern portions of these continents northern pintails winter in the south, sometimes near the equator. They are a dabbling duck, eating mostly aquatic plant matter which they et by reaching their head under the water while floating on the surface.
The hot air balloon is the first form of human flight. The first documented human flights in a balloon occurred in France in October of 1783. In these flights the balloon was tethered to the ground allowing the balloon to ascend to 80 feet above the ground, the length of the tether. A month later in November of 1783 the first documented non tethered flight occurred in France. The hot air balloon is made up of a bag, called an envelope which holds air that is heated from a basket below. The heated air is less dense then the air around it which makes the balloon buoyant. A valve at the top of the envelope allows the pilot to release hot air which helps to lower the balloon when it is time to land.
The ferruginous pygmy owl is a small owl that is native to southern Arizona, southern Texas, Mexico, Central and northern parts of South America. The ferruginous pygmy owls that are found in the United States and northern Mexico are a subspecies that is referred to as the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl. They are currently threatened primarily due to habitat loss. In Arizona 85% of the habitat has been lost to livestock use, water redirection and fires. The fires are exasperated by invasive buffel grass which allows fires to spread burning the catus and trees that the owls use for nesting.
Welcome to Tuesday Tweets! To join in the fun just post a photo of a bird and
then link it by here by using the handy dandy link below. Then make sure you
visit other sites to do a little bird watching.
This weekend I went up to Duluth up on the shore of Lake Superior to look for some dragonflies and shore birds. Unfortunately my fun was delayed by the lifting of the iconic Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge, that connects the city with Minnesota Point. Minnesota Point is a 7 mile sand spit that separates Lake Superior from Superior Bay. Together with Wisconsin point, which extends out 3 miles to the mouth of the St Louis River, this is the longest fresh water spit in the world.
In 1870 -71 Duluth dug a shipping canal through Minnesota point so that ships could come directly into Duluth Harbor, instead of coming in through the St Louis River channel 7 miles away. Unfortunately this canal mad things difficult for those people who were living on Minnesota Point. So in 1905, after about 35 years of people needing to be ferried a bridge was built. The first bridge was a aerial transporter bridge, one of only 2 built in the United States. It took people across the channel in a gondola. By 1929 the transporter bridge could no longer keep up with demand and the bridge was remodeled. A span that could be lifted out of the way to allow ships to pass was added to the bridge as well as adjustments to the top and side spans. The remodel was completed in 1930.
The bridge is still very active today. It is raised 25 to 30 times a day during the shipping season. While I was there this weekend it was raised 3 times. It was kind of cool to stand there and watch the street disappear in front of me. It kind of reminded me of some of the nightmares that I had as a kid. During one of those times a large tanker moved in through the channel. Fortunately the bridge was tall enough to accommodation this very large ship.
The gulf fritillary got its common name because it is sometimes seen flying over the Gulf of Mexico while migrating. They are sometimes referred to as as the passion butterfly because the larva feed only feed on different types of passion flowers. The adults drink nectar from a variety of flowers including thistle as pictured above.
One of the best photo opportunities that I had this winter came from a small saw-whet owl that over wintered at local nature center, Dodge Nature Center . The kids in one of the classes at the nature center first found the owl and it was still hanging around a month later when the birding community found out about it. Since the nature center is close to my house I stopped by frequently to check on the bird and snap a few pics. Each day I found it in the same tree. A couple of times it had mice. I had to wait several hours for it to get hungry enough to wake up and eat, but it was worth it.
So today the weather was nice so I decided to take a half of a day off and head up to Crex Meadows in Wisconsin. Since it is mid August things were a bit slow. Except for a few warblers that I was able to pish out I was mostly just shooting butterflies. That was until I turned on to Murphys Road. As I began to drive down the road a large white bird flushed from a tree on the right side of the road. It flew north and landed in a tree on the opposite side of the road.
My first thought was that it was a kite but since kites are very rare in this part of the country I figured that I just did not get a very good look at it. I knew that it was not an osprey but I thought that maybe it was a male northern harrier, which are light gray with black wingtips and white underside to their wings. So I slowly moved down the road, angling the car so that I could shoot out of the open passenger window. This time I recognized that the bird was indeed a white-tailed kite.
This is not the first time that I have photographed white-tailed kites, I have photographed them in California and Texas, but I had never heard of anyone spotting any in Minnesota or Wisconsin. This last photo was taken in Texas in 2010 and I included it so that you can see the field marking for these birds. When I got home I checked with the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology and found that there are only three records of white-tailed kites spotted in Wisconsin. The last record was back in September of 1989. So even though a few have been spotted over the years it has been over 20 years since anyone has reported one.