Saturday, July 28, 2007

Bridge disaster

Last night Michelle ran out to get some food and when she returned the first thing she did was grab the remote and change the channel on the TV. At first I was confused but when I saw the news I was shocked. With in a few minutes my parents called to make sure everyone was OK. The good news is that there does not appear to be anyone that I know who was on the bridge when it collapsed which is lucky since I do not work too far from the bridge. A coworker, who sits right next to me, had gone across the bridge on his way home from work about an hour before it fell.

This morning we went to try and get some pictures. As you can imagine there were a lot of people trying to get a look and a lot of news groups here covering the story. The area was pretty closed off by the police but here are the shots that I got.

The center section of the bridge is down in the river.

You can see the crack in the bridge deck.

Here is a shot of the construction that they where doing to replace the bridge deck.

I don't want to get too high up on the soapbox but this is what happens when our government leaders, a republican administration and a republican governor, care more about fighting wars for oil and giving tax cuts to the rich or keeping pledges, made to rich special interests, not to raise taxes. People died because of their negligence.

A golden Saturday afternoon

On Saturday I went out to check out the Long Meadow Lake unit of the Minnesota Valley NWR. I decided to go check out the bass pond area where I there was a lot of activity on my past visit. It was a gorgeous day with plenty of sunshine and temps in the mid 80s. There were a lot of wildflowers in bloom in the fields around the ponds.
Near the boardwalk that goes out over the southern bass pond I spotted an american goldfinch.

I sat and watch for about 15 minutes as the finch pulled seeds out of a pod.
He would strip the silky parachute threads from the actual seed
Then he would discard the threads and eat the seeds
Sometimes it is more fun to watch them eat the natural way then to eat at bird feeders.
In the same area there were several eastern tiger swallowtail sipping nectar from the blooming flowers.

Some of the swallowtail had some damaged wings.

I took some pictures of other birds and butterflies that afternoon but I will post them later so that I can keep with my gold theme for this post.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Black swallowtail update

So I was kind of disappointed in the first set of pictures that I took of my friends Mary's caterpillars. I got some great suggestions in the comment section from Scott about macro filters and tips and decided to do some reading. After I read a couple reviews I decided to order a Canon 100 2.8 Macro lens. I received it a couple days ago and decided to try it out on Mary's future swallowtails. As you can see the results were much better.
Besides the change in lenses we also took the caterpillar outside into the sunlight since fluorescent lighting is really bad for taking pictures.
Mary brought in a second caterpillar that had fastened itself to the top of it's container.
The next morning it had already shed it's skin and formed it's chrysalis.
So far I am extremely happy with the pictures and happy with the lens too. I can't wait to take it out and shoot some macro in the field unfortunately it has been very hot and humid the past few days with the heat index hitting over 100 degrees.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Birding and politics on a Saturday afternoon.

On July 11th I received an e-mail from the Minnesota Ornithologists Union about an upcoming rally at the Old Cedar Avenue Bridge on July 14th. The purpose of the rally was to show the state politicians, who were visiting the site, that they should help to fund a plan to replace the bridge. The bridge, which stretches across the Minnesota River, was replaced with a new bridge in 1979. It was closed to vehicular traffic in 1993 and to pedestrians and bicycles in 2002. As you can see by the picture below the bridge is in extremely poor shape.
So you may be wondering what an old bridge has to do with birding and the Minnesota Ornithologists Union, well this bridge extends through the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. This bridge was used by many birders to get a great view of the Minnesota river flood plains and mud flats before it became unsafe to use.
Now politicians in the cities of Bloomington, who currently owns the bridge, and Eagan, which is on the opposite side of the river, as well as several state politicians have put forth a plan to tare down the existing bridge and build a boardwalk platform on the existing cement supports. The problem is that the estimated cost is $4.5 million. A large part of that cost is for the removal of the existing bridge which contains lead so that it can not be knocked down conventionally. So far the supporters of the plan have secured $1.3 million in funding but still have a long way to go. That is why 200 or more people of all types (birders, bicyclists, hikers, and families) showed up on the 14th to show our support for this great cause. At the program, which began at noon, they had speakers ranging from local and state politicians, leaders of bicycle groups, neighbors, and leaders from MOU, Minnesota River Valley Audubon, and Minnesota Audubon.

I arrived at the park at 8:30am and spent my time waiting for the speakers program on the trails birding. The Old Cedar Avenue Bridge is a part of the Long Meadow unit of the Minnesota Valley NWR. There are a total of 8 units in MV NWR which follow the Minnesota River and stretch from Bloomington in the north to Jordan in the south. I walked all the trails north of the bridge. As I started from the bridge parking lot I saw an american redstart who had just caught itself some breakfast.
As I continued on I spotted several goldfinch near the bass ponds, which was once used to raise fish for stocking Minnesota lakes. This one was pulling the seeds out of the pods of the wildflowers when a bee ran smack into his head. Boy did he give that bee a dirty look.
Near the same pond I also saw this ruby-throated hummingbird.
I also saw several sparrow, some green heron, and some great blue heron. Then I went to the south of the bridge to check out the small boardwalk which goes out to the lake. There I saw a couple of great egret as well as tree and barn swallows.
I also took a couple of butterfly pics like this one of a common sulfur
and this eastern comma which looks like it had seen better days.
When I was walking back off the boardwalk I was startled by a white tail doe. She just sat and watched me as I walked past about 4 feet away.
This was the only deer that I saw which surprised me because on my trips to Fort Snelling State Park, which borders the park in the north, I have seen plenty of deer. It turned out to be a great morning and afternoon. I got out, did some birding and helped lend my support for a good cause.

Butterfly ranching

Since I have begun taking an interest in photographing butterfly, dragonfly and other insects I have found that I have a friend, Mary, at work who raises butterflies. I thought that it would be interesting and educational to document the various stages of a butterfly. So Mary has been nice enough to bring a black swallowtail caterpillar in to work so that I can observe, and take pictures, as it becomes a butterfly.Black swallowtail are relatively easy to find, with the female typically laying eggs on members of the carrot family especially parsley, dill or fennel. Mary grows parsley in her garden so that she can collect black swallowtail eggs and caterpillar to raise.

The caterpillar has already grown to be about twice the size that it was when she first brought it in. So I will post a new picture each week as it grows and changes. One thing though, the fluorescent lighting inside work is not the best to take pictures under so next week I think that I may try and persuade Mary to go outside to take the picture.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Going buggy at Fort Snelling

While birding at Fort Snelling State Park I have noticed an abundance of insect life. Some of it I really do not care for, mosquitoes, ticks, deer flies, but some of it makes pretty good subject for nature photography. So I decided to expand the eco part of the blog to include some insect pictures. I don't know a lot about insects, I am certainly not an expert on birds either, but maybe I can use the blog to increase my knowledge.

I did find some decent field guides on butterflies and moths so I was able to ID the butterfly that I was able to photograph. This first one is a cabbage white. Cabbage white butterflies are not a native species, they come from Europe, but they are now very commonly seen. The one below is a female. You can tell by the two black dots in the middle of the wings. Males only have one spot so it is easy to identify between the sexes.
The next butterfly is also pretty common it is a red admiral. Red admiral butterfly are found throughout most f the world. They can not survive extreme winter which means that here in Minnesota the population is recolonized each spring by butterflies migrating north. On a trip to Carlos Avery Wildlife Management area a short while ago I saw hundreds of these red admiral sunning themselves on the road. It was like a cloud of butterflies lifting up from the road in front of me as I drove.
Most people in the US will recognize this butterfly. It is, of coarse, the monarch butterfly.
Monarchs are avoided by most predators because they are poisonous. Predators that eat a monarch get very sick, although they usually do not die, and in the future remember that this type of butterfly is not very tasty. The monarchs get there poison from eating the poisonous milkweed plant as a caterpillar.
Unfortunately I have not found a guide book that I like for dragonflies. So for the time being I will just post the pictures with out an identification. If someone reading this blog can and wants to ID them please post in the comment section below.
Thanks to Scott I think that I can now ID all of the dragonflies in the post.
male whitetail
halloween pennant
female widow skimmer
male widow skimmer
western meadowhawk
male blue dasher
It is kind of interesting that dragonfly are similar to birds in that male and female of some types are often very different looking.
I also found this cool bee which I am not able to ID because I do not have a bee guide either.
I also was able to identify this bee as a baldfaced hornet.
If anyone knows of a good guide book for dragonflies and other insects please post the information in the comment section below.

Thanks again Scott for your help.

Fort Snelling State Park

On June 29th I read on the Minnesota Ornithologists' Union list server that a prothonotary warbler had been spotted at Fort Snelling State Park. Since it is only a short 20 minute drive I decided to run over and see if I could get a picture. That day I did not see the prothonotary but I did get a good look at a peregrine falcon that appears to be living under the Mendota Bridge which passes directly over a large part of the park. Since the 29th I have made several trips back to Fort Snelling. I did get a glimpse of the prothonotary once as it crossed the path that I was on but was never able to get a picture. I did find some good subjects while I was in the park though. Like the eastern phoebe pictured below. I found him at the edge of a small field that opened up out of the woods.
There were also some downy woodpeckers checking out the small trees that lined the field.
On most my trips to the park I got some shots of indigo bunting.
They liked to sing in a dead tree on the side of the trail.
The indigo bunting were more blue then this juvenile eastern bluebird that I found.The Minnesota River travels from the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge through the park and then connects to the Mississippi. The flood plain of the Minnesota River provides plenty of shallow water for long legged waders, like great egret and great blue heron, to hunt.
The egrets and heron are not the only hunters in the park. Several times I have spotted the peregrine again on my visits.
Unfortunately I have not been as close as the first time that I spotted it, usually I see it perched on the high support beams of the bridge.
But one morning I was lucky and it decided to take off from a beam that was fairly close and so I got some decent flight shots.
There are other things to photograph in the park other then birds. There are a lot of white tailed dear in Minnesota, even in the Twin City metro area, so photographing them is kind of like taking pictures of cowbirds or robins.
However the fawns are still cute and fun to watch and they are plentiful at this time.
I found a pair of muskrat working on building there home.

They kept going to a small island, in the pond that their home was located, digging up weeds and then dragging them through the water back to their home on the opposite bank.

I also took a lot of pictures of butterfly and dragonfly but I will save them for my next post.