Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 A Year in Review: The Top 10 Pics of 2008

Since today is the last day of 2008 I decided that it would be a good time to take a look back through all of the posts that I have made through the past year. Even though it was quite a bit to go through, 385 posts in 2008 not counting this post, it was fun to go back. Each post and pic has a memory behind it and looking back brought up many of those memories and it made my day. There have been times when I have been overwhelmed by all of the work that goes into maintaining this blog. At times I have wondered if it is worth it, but going back and reliving the memories of all of the adventures that I have had in my quest to bring you, my readers and my friends, interesting quality pics on a daily basis, I would not change a thing. So to celebrate the end of 2008 and the beginning of a brand new year of possibility I give you my top 10 pics of 2008.

10) 2008 was a great year to photograph warblers here in south east Minnesota. The spring migration started off later then usual, mostly due to winter hanging on for so long, but it also lasted longer then usual. So we ended up with around a month of warblers migrating through. This pic was one of the first that I got of a blackburnian warbler making it a lifer for me, I do not count a bird on my life list until I have a pic.

9) One of the best action pics that I took last year was this eagle fishing in the river near Prescott, WI back in January of 2008. The eagles gathering around open water in southern Minnesota during the winter time is what really got me started into wildlife photography.

8) I have photographed a few kestrels over the years but this fellow that I photographed in Yellowstone is the only one that was good looking, close, in good light and not on a telephone line.

7) In 2008 I traveled to South Dakota to participate in a shorebird workshop. The workshop was great but I got a bonus when I got to photograph a burrowing owl that was regularly visiting a field in the area.

6) In 2008 I had an opportunity to photograph many new species that I had not photographed before. Some of these species were so rare that they are on the Federal Endangered Species List. This is the case with the endangered Karner blue butterfly that I photographed at Necedah NWR in June.
5) On a return trip to Necadah NWR in October I got the opportunity to photograph another endangered species as a pair of whooping cranes flew over head.

4) In the winter of 2007-2008 I made numerous attempts to find and photograph a snowy owl that was wintering at the MSP airport. Unfortunately my timing was always off and I never saw the owl. This year I have seen more then one snowy at the airport including this one that was nice enough to pose for some close ups.

3) In 2008 I expanded my collection of dragonfly images by quite a bit. After dabbling in 2007 I got quite serious in 2008 and scored a few pics of the dragon that was on the top of my most wanted list, the calico pennant.

2) The most exciting lifer that I photographed in 2008 came during our Yellowstone trip, and it was not a bird. After eight trips to Yellowstone, and many trips to northern Minnesota, I finally was able to see and photograph a wolf up close and personal.

1) The number one pic was one of the few pics to grace the blog that were taken by me. This pic was taken by my wife Michelle and it is a pic a me holding an immature eagle that I was about to release. This picture is my favorite because it brings back very strong personal memories and feelings. This was the eagle that I rescued out of Crex Meadows in August of 2007 and was able to release, through The Raptor Center, down at Redwing, MN in February.
Well I hope that you enjoy reading this post as much as I enjoyed putting it together. Let me know what you think or if you have a favorite pic that was not on the list please list it in the comment section.
I would like to thank you all very much for your support of the Ecobirder blog in 2008 and hope that you will come back and visit again in 2009.

Wordless Wednesday: Ice Cold

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Watery Wednesday: Harlequin Ducks

It appears as though we are going to get lucky in southern Minnesota again this year. The harlequin duck that wintered near Prescott, WI last year appears to have returned again this year and will hopefully stay for the winter.
The reason why this is such a big deal is because there are few places in the United States where you can typically see a harlequin. Other then Alaska the only locations, in the US, that you may see one during the summer months are portions of Montana, Washington or northern Oregon. You can also find them along the Pacific Coast from Washington to northern California and along the Atlantic Coast from Maine to New Jersey during the winter but they are pretty rare here in the middle of the continent.
Harlequins are diving ducks. They mainly eat fish and marine invertebrates which they catch by diving under the water. The location that the duck has chosen to over winter is near the junction where the swift moving St Croix River joins into the larger Mississippi. This area does not typically totally freeze up during the winter which makes for good winter habitat for birds that require open water to survive. Other birds that are in the area besides the harlequin are common goldeneye, Canada geese, trumpeter swans, mallards, an occasional scaup or redhead duck, and bald eagles.
Last year I had several opportunities to photograph the harlequin but unfortunately I still have not got that perfect pic. Much of the Minnesota side of the river is not accessible where the duck typically is seen so most of the time I am shooting from the Wisconsin side. This often puts the duck a good distance away, like in the above shots, or even worse directly in front of the setting sun. Then there is the steam to deal with. During the winter the days that are not overcast are typically very cold. On these days the water temps are usually above the air temp and it creates a steam that flows off of the water making taking pics an extreme challenge. Hopefully this year I will get an opportunity the perfect harle pic.

Monday, December 29, 2008

My World: Bosque del Apache

In the middle of New Mexico, surrounded by Mountains and dessert, lies an oasis that is one of the top birding locations in the United States, the Bosque del Apache.

The Bosque is a 57,000 acre National Wildlife Refuge that straddles the Rio Grande River in Central New Mexico. It is comprised of 3,800 acres of active flood plane from the Rio Grande as well as 9,100 acres of wetlands, farm land and riparian forest which was created through a system of water management. These wetlands are surrounded by arid foothills, mesas and dessert.
Because it is the only extensive wetlands in an arid region the Bosque attracts many different types of birds, over 340 species, through out the year. However many people choose to bird the Bosque during the winter months when large flocks of water fowl descend on the wetlands making it their winter home.
My last visit to the Bosque was in January of 2007, which is when I took all of the pictures in this post. It was great to be there during the peak waterfowl season.
There were a lot of ducks out on the lakes and pools when I was there. A lot of them are pretty common back home in Minnesota during the warmer months, like coots and mallards, but there were other ducks that I rarely get to see back home. In Minnesota we do not see northern pintails all that often, at least not in the eastern portions of the state, so it was a treat to get many very close views of them down at the Bosque.
There were also a few northern shovelers swimming around. Shovelers are another duck that tends to spend their time more in the western portions of the continent.
I also got a chance to see a small group of greater white-fronted geese. This was a life bird for me. These birds breed up near the arctic circle and then spend their winters down in the southern US and Mexico.
The greater white-fronted geese were on the outskirts of a large flock of snow geese. Although snow geese where not a lifer for me on this trip, we sometimes see snow geese as they migrate south plus I had seen them on a previous trip to the Bosque, they are still a bird that I have only seen a couple of times. The Bosque is usually home to over 30,000 snow and Ross geese each winter.
The snow geese are not the only things that winter at the Bosque in large numbers. Approximately 14,000 sandhill cranes spend the winter on the refuge.
Sandhill cranes nest in parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin so these are birds that I have seen and photographed often but we do not usually see them in as great of numbers as is possible down at the Bosque.
The big spectacle, during the winter, are the "fly in" at dusk and the "fly out" at dawn. Each day large flocks of birds spend their day out in the fields and farmland looking for food, but at night they come back to roost on the shallow pools of the Bosque. The times when the birds are coming in "fly in" or leaving "fly out" attract large crowds of spectators.

The Bosque has many different types of habitat, besides the wetlands, to explore. The arid hilly regions were habitat that was different then anything that I have near home.
Some of the birds preferred the habitat of these dry open hills. Many raptors could be found circling these areas looking for prey. The raptors that I saw at the Bosque were eagles, red-tailed hawks, coopers hawks, American kestrel and mostly northern harrier, like pictured above.
There were also quite a few passerines and other small birds that were birds that I do not often see like roadrunners, spotted towhee and red shafted northern flickers, the northern flickers that we see in Minnesota or typically yellow-shafted.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Today's Flowers

I photographed this flower in Afton State Park at the beginning of September.
I photographed this flower at Park Point in Duluth, MN in October.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Camera Critters: Coyote Pups

Each year for the past several years we have made a trip out to Yellowstone National Park to photograph wildlife. Typically we either go in May or September, although we prefer May.
coyote pup Our 2007 Yellowstone trip was perhaps the most disappointing to date. The weather was not very cooperative and we did not see as many of the more rare species that year.
coyote pups The highlight of the trip that year was the den of coyote puppies that we had the opportunity to photograph for a couple of days.
coyote pups playingWe had other opportunities to photograph coyote pups at the den in past trips but none of the other dens where as close or accessible as this den was.
coyote pups playingThe den was located near to a boardwalk trail up near Black-tailed Dear Plateau. There were many photographers there sitting on the boardwalk taking pictures of the pups that were playing outside the den about 50 feet away.
coyote pups playing We photographed the pups over a couple of days but when we returned on a third day the den was empty. When we asked another photographer in the area about the den we found out that someone had tried to get close to the den which had worried the adults so they had packed up the kids and moved the den. Why do some people have to be so stupid and thoughtless.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Birding Maplewood Nature Center

Over the summer I did quite a bit of birding at the Maplewood Nature Center. Near the boardwalk that crosses over the lake there is a small island that always seemed to be teeming with birdlife. On July 31st I stopped in and took the following pics.
I am not 100% sure what type of flycatcher that this is but my guess is that it is an olive-sided flycatcher. It was always pretty easy to find several types of flycatcher perched on the trees, that were growing on the island, waiting for a meal to fly by.
The eastern kingbird is another member of the flycatcher family. An interesting fact about eastern kingbirds, according to the Cornell website, is that when they migrate to South America during the winter they are mostly fruit eaters.
Another bird that eats mainly insects in the summer and fruit in the winter was also hanging around, although cedar waxwing are not members of the flycatcher family.
There was also a consistent amount of waterfowl that hung around the lake through out the summer. These were mainly mallards, wood ducks and female hooded mergansers.
The male hooded merganser are usually no where to be found after the breeding season. Once the eggs are laid the male leaves the female hoody to incubate them on her own, which is why we typically only see the females by late summer. Once the eggs hatch the chicks will be able to swim and catch food with in 24 hours. The female will continue to stay with the young, and show them where to find food, for a few weeks but she will leave them even before they can fly, at about 70 days. I tend to see a good number of hoodies around the parks where I live each summer. This is probably do to the number of wood duck boxes that people have put up in the area. Hoodies are cavity nesters and will often nest in wood duck boxes.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Sky Watch Friday

Since this is the last Friday, and Thursday in my time zone, of 2008 I decided to end Skywatch this year with the first picture that I took in 2008.
This is a picture of the sunrise over a frozen Lake Peppin on January 1, 2008. I am hoping that next week I will be able to post the first sunrise of 2009 but I will have to see if the weather cooperates. There have been many years that we have not seen the sun at all on New Years Day.

Happy Holidays

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Watery Wednesday: Sea Otter

This week for Watery Wednesday I have some really cute sea otter pictures to share.

These pictures were taken at Moss Landing and the Elkhorn Slough, in central California, back in February of 2008. This was our second trip into the Monterrey Bay area of California and we have been fortunate to photograph sea otters on both trips, although there were a lot more of them in 2007.

Sea Otters are the largest member of the weasel family, with adults averaging 5 feet in length. They have the finest fur of any mammal, with up to about 1 million hairs per square inch. Their thick fur is needed to keep them warm as they spend most of their lives in the water, which can get very cold.

Sea otters spend most of their time floating on their backs, they eat, sleep, groom, and nurse their young while floating on their backs. Since they are social creatures they will often float together in groups, that can number over 100, which are called rafts. They are also fairly intelligent and are often seen using tools, like a rock or a bottle, to open up a hard shelled crustation.

Sea otters eat mainly sea dwelling invertebrates like clams, crabs, mussels and urchins as well as fish. Most of these are found on the ocean floor which means that the otter has to sometimes dive up to 250 feet to find its prey. Their front claws are retractable, making it easier to catch their prey. An adult will often eat 25 to 30 percent of their body weight in food each day to help them keep warm in their cold watery home.