Monday, June 30, 2008

Bird Chick at The Raptor Center

No not that Birdchick this bird chick.
Last Wednesday while I was doing my volunteer work at The Raptor Center someone brought in a very tiny chick that they had found. I was in the back feeding Othello when the chick came in so I did not get to hear the where, when, and how of the matter.
The chick obviously was not a raptor, though I have no idea what type of bird that it was. Perhaps someone reading the blog has mad chick ID skills and will post what type of bird that it is in the comments below.
Since it was not a raptor we could not care for it at The Raptor Center. Fortunately one of the other volunteers in our Wednesday education crew was going to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota, she is currently interning there, after our shift and she agreed to take the bird with her.Boreus think it good thing chick go away before Boreus gets hungry. Boreus prefer mouse but bird will do in a pinch, even if it is scrawny.

Eastern Bluebird

We do not typically have mountain bluebirds in Minnesota to get confused with indigo buntings but we do have eastern bluebirds here. This year seems to be a good year for eastern bluebirds here in the Twin Cities. I have seen quite a few around this year. I photographed this bird at the Dodge Nature Center on June 9th.
Eastern bluebirds are cavity nesters and most of the bluebirds that I have seen this year have been close to locations where there are nesting box. Often the bluebirds have to compete for the boxes with other small cavity nesters, especially house sparrows, house wrens, and tree sparrows. This year it appears as though the bluebirds have been more successful in claiming nesting sites then they were last year, which has enabled me to get some nice photos.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Indigo Bunting

One bird that is sometimes mistaken for a mountain bluebird is the indigo bunting. Although similar is size and color the indigo bunting does not have the lighter colored breast of the mountain bluebird. The indigo bunting also has a thinker beak which is light in color compared with the thin black beak of the mountain bluebird.
While I was birding at Fort Snelling State Park on the 7th of June I heard a bird singing somewhere down the trail. The song of the indigo bunting varies by location, and I am not very good at identifying birds by their song, so I was not really sure what type of bird that it was.
So I followed the sound down the trail and found this indigo bunting perched in the open singing. He let me get a few pics before he disappeared into the foliage.
An interesting fact that I found out when I was reading up on indigo buntings is that during migration they typically travel at night, using the stars as a guide. I am guessing that they do this because their blue coloration is a lot more noticeable in the day time then it is at night. It does make it harder to get pictures though when they are traveling at night.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Yellowstone Mountain Bluebird

One of the first migratory birds to return to Yellowstone each year is the mountain bluebird. Mountain bluebirds inhabit the western half of North America and prefer open habitat.
The female mountain bluebird is mostly pale and grey in color with only a hint of the blue coloration of the male. The female builds the nest by herself, typically in a cavity or nesting box.
The males are bright blue with out the reddish coloration on their underparts that the eastern and western bluebirds exhibit. Mountain bluebirds will often compete with western bluebirds for nesting spaces and territory. In the few areas where their range overlaps that of the eastern bluebird the mountain bluebirds tend to dominate.
We spotted mountain bluebirds at locations all around the park, however the most cooperative ones that we found were hanging around the Old Faithful complex.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Yellowstone Grizzly

This year was our fourth visit to Yellowstone in the spring, we have also been to Yellowstone three times in the fall. The first grizzly that we spotted in the park was on our first trip during the spring, end of May. We headed out to the Lamar Valley right away when we got to the park. Out in Lamar the traffic was stopped because of a male grizzly that was hovering around a kill in the river near where the Soda Butte Creek and Lamar converge. The rangers were not taking any chances with this bear. They did not let anyone get out of there car and eventually brought in a bear trap to capture the bear and move it away from people. We did manage to get a couple of pics from our car window. That was the only grizzly that we spotted on that trip.

Our next spring trip we managed to photograph a female grizzly with a couple of cubs as they crossed Swan Lake Flats. This also occurred on the day that we arrived and it was our only grizzly sighting of the trip. Our third spring trip, 2007, was a bust for spotting grizzlies, just as all of our fall trips have been.

This years trip started out the same as our first two spring trips. Out in the Lamar Valley we spotted a grizzly on our first day in the park, but unlike our past trips that was only the beginning of our grizzly bear sightings.
While traveling to the fishing bridge on Tuesday we spotted what looks to be grizzly tracks. This is not something that you would want to see if you were of hiking in the woods.
Out near Grizzly Lake this bear demonstrated the fine art of ground squirrel digging. The hump, over the grizzlies shoulders, is one trait that distinguishes it from the black bear. The hump is a mass of muscles which helps the grizzly to dig up roots, bugs and rodents, such as ground squirrels.
Grizzlies are omnivores, they eat both meat and vegetation. This bear was getting his roughage over near the Twin Lakes. Since Spring in Yellowstone came late this year, just as it has in many places across North America, a lot of the area, especially the higher elevations was still covered in snow. I believed that this forced many of the bears down to lower elevations, and closer to the park roads, in order to find food. This is probably the reason why we spotted so many grizzly this year.
While the snow may have helped us to have more grizzly viewing opportunities, it also created problems for us at times. There were several times during the trip that we came across grizzlies but we were unable to get any pics due to the weather. Photographing a dark furred animal in low light with bright white snow flying in front of it, is a photographer's nightmare.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Duskywing Skippers

Besides butterflies we also saw a couple different types of skippers at Crex Meadows on June 1st.
Skippers are similar to butterflies, both are members of the order Lepidoptera, but they typically have shorter wings and a thicker, hairy body.
The skippers that we found that day were the dreamy duskywing, pictured first, and the persius duskywing, pictures above. Both of these types of skippers are spread-wing skippers, because when they land they usually spread their wings out similarly to many butterflies. Other skippers hold their wings partially open with the upper and lower wings at different angles.

Blue butterflies at Crex Meadows

With the butterfly and dragonfly populations finally exploding in June we on the look out for insects as well as birds on our trip to Crex Meadows at the beginning of the month. We were particularly hoping to find and photograph a Karner Melissa blue butterfly.
The Karner blue is listed on the endangered species list because it depends on lupine as the host plant for its larval form, caterpillar. The best place to find karners is in middle of Wisconsin but there is a small population that is know to inhabit Crex.
So as we travelled through the park photographing birds, butterflies and dragonflies we would stop and look for blue butterflies any time that we spotted a good size patch of lupine. We never did find a Karner, it was still pretty early in the summer, but we did find an eastern tailed-blue, which is pictured in the top two photos. The eastern tailed-blue is pretty easy to ID. There are only two blue butterflies with tails in the area, the western-tailed blue, which has only one orange spot on the bottom wing near the tail, and the eastern-tailed blue which typically has more then one orange spot on the lower wing.
We also found a silvery blue, notice no tail and no orange on the under side of the wing. We were pretty excited because this was our first pic of a silvery blue, I have not been photographing butterflies and dragonflies for very long, but I wished that I could have taken a pic with its wings open. The upper side of the wings is a silvery almost metallic blue color. Oh well, maybe the next time that we go out looking for Karnes again I will get a shot of a silvery blue with its wings open.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Yellowstone Pronghorn

The pronghorn antelope is one of seven different types of ungulate, hoofed mammals, that live in Yellowstone. The other six types of ungulate are bison, moose, elk, big horned sheep, mountain goat and deer. Pronghorns, like the other ungulates, spend their time roaming Yellowstone's grasslands consuming large amounts of vegetation.
Pronghorn are named for their unique branched horns. These horns are made up of 2 parts, a bony core, which grows out from the skull, and an outer sheath made up of a hairlike substance called keratin. This outer sheath is shed and then regrown each year. Female pronghorns have smaller, typically non-pronged horns or no horns at all. The pronghorn above is a female. The males, like the one pictured below, have pronged horns which average about one foot long.
Pronghorns are found only in North America. They have adapted well to living on the open prairies and grasslands of the west. They have very keen eyesight which allows them to see movement up to 3 miles away. Their eyes are very large and set way back in their head, this gives them a 320 degree field of vision and allows them to watch for predators even when they have their heads down to munch on the prairie grasses. If a predator is spotted the hair on the pronghorn's rump will stand erect, making the rump appear more white, to warn other members of the herd to the danger. When confronted by a predator the pronghorn will attempt to run away. As the fastest land mammal in North America, sprinting speed is up to 60 mph, there are not many predators who can keep up. Even the cheetah, which is considered by most people as the fastest land mammal in the world, would be hard pressed to beat a pronghorn in a race. The cheetah may be slightly faster in a sprint, estimated between 60 to 70 mph, but the pronghorn can not only sprint at abound 60 mph in can also run at a pace of around 30 mph for many miles. Both of these pronghorn were photographed out in the Lamar Valley.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Yellowstone Raptors

With an army of ground squirrels, chipmunk, pika, marmots and other rodents as well as lakes, rivers and streams filled with fish, Yellowstone is a paradise, as well as home, to many raptors. On our trip this year we spotted 7 different types of raptors.
A common raptor around Yellowstone, as well as most of North America, is the red-tailed hawk. Most of the time you can see red-tails perched in trees surveying the fields for rodents. On Monday night, as we were heading home from taking pictures of the wolf, we spotted this red-tail perched on the side of a small cliff. We almost missed it since we are not used to seeing them perched on the ground.
We caught this male kestrel out in Lamar Valley not far from the Lamar River. Kestrels are one of the few raptors in which you can distinguish between the sexes by their coloration. They are usually seen around fields, often hovering in place, looking for mice and insects. It is believed that they can see into the ultra violet spectrum, which enables them to follow the urine trails that mice leave so that they can find their way home. I spotted this kestrel on a dead tree not far off the road. I stopped at a nearby pull out and walked back. Unfortunately there was a rock ledge that rose up from the hill that was blocking my vantage point of the tree until I was almost even with it. I was able to stand on my tip toes and get off a not so great pic before he took off. I kept walking around the ledge to try and see where he was flying off to when he flew to this spot almost directly in front of me, where I got the pic above. This is the first good kestrel pic I have where the kestrel is not perched on a wire.
On Friday, our last full day in the park, we were driving across Blacktail Deer Plateau on our way out to Lamar when Michelle spotted this bird perched in a lone tree out in the field. At first she thought it was a kestrel, it was quite a bit further away then in the picture above, but I could tell by the size that it was not a kestrel. It was pretty obvious that it was a type of falcon and with the terrain and its lack of bold color I guessed that it was a prairie falcon. My guess was right on. We were both pretty excited because neither of us had seen a prairie falcon before and there are not many North American raptors that are not yet on our life list.
We saw some other raptors also, like both types of eagles, Bald eagle and golden eagle. We also saw some northern harrier gliding low over the field, but we did not get any good pics, and osprey. Unfortunately the osprey nest that I photographed last year was abandon this year, which was too bad because it was situated such that you could stand on the hillside and be almost even with the nest. We did see a couple of other osprey nests but they were too far away to get any descent shots.

Blue Morpho Como Zoo

Here is another butterfly from the Como Zoo butterfly exhibit.
This is a blue morpho. I had to be patient and wait a while before I could get a pic of one with its wings open.
It was well worth the wait.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Yellowstone Milbert's Tortoiseshell Butterfly

We did manage to find a couple of butterflies in Yellowstone. We were up at the tower gift shop on Monday, it was pretty warm that day, and we spotted 4 or 5 Milbert's tortoiseshell butterflies fluttering around between the dandelions.
A couple day later most of Yellowstone, including Tower Falls, got a couple of days of snow. I wonder if the butterflies have a way of dealing with the weather fluctuations or if it was their time.

Butterflies Crex Meadows

Last year around this time I was having a bit of a problem with the blog. I had posted all of the stuff from my Yellowstone trip, it was not as productive a trip as it was this year, and the spring migration was long over. I was going out shooting 4 to 5 times a week but there was not much variety and even I was getting sick of posting more and more goldfinch pics. That was when I decided to branch out a bit and I began to photograph butterflies and dragonflies to go along with the birds and other wildlife. This year the butterfly and dragonfly season started off a bit slow, mostly because of the late winter, but I have finally been able to start getting some descent bug pics. On June 1st we did find a few butterflies at Crex Meadows while we were out birding.
The clouded, or common, sulfur is a pretty common butterfly through out North America
The monarch butterfly is probably one of the most recognizable butterflies in North America.
This olympia marbled was a type that I had not seen or photographed before. When I first saw it I thought that it was a cabbage butterfly. When it's wings are open it is mostly plain white with a small black dot, very much what a cabbage butterfly looks like, but when I went to photograph it I noticed the gold almost glittery lines that ran across the outside wings. This was a pretty cool butterfly and a butterfly lifer for me.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Yellowstone Barrow's Goldeneye

This past winter there was quit a bit of excitement in the bird community around home because of a harlequin duck and Barrow's goldeneye that were wintering in the St Croix River near Prescott, Wisconsin. I made quite a few trips to Prescott and photographed the harlequin several times but I was never able to spot the Barrow's that had been reported. Since the bird was reported to be mixed in with a flock of common goldeneye it was difficult to pick out and more then one person misidentified a common goldeneye who was facing a weird angle as a Barrow's.
At Yellowstone this year there were barrow's goldeneye everywhere. We had seen them in Yellowstone on past trips but nothing with the frequency that we saw them with this year.
There were Barrow's in many of the small lakes and ponds that dot the landscape between Norris and Mammoth.
There were Barrow's out in the Lamar River, not far from Soda Butte.
There were even Barrow's in the small portions of Yellowstone Lake that were not frozen.
At first I was very excited, frequently stopping to get a pic. These were Barrow's goldeneye after all and not something that we typically have many of, close to home.
After a while though we got to the point where it was, "don't bother stopping it's just another Barrow's."
We did get some real nice pics though and this winter when everyone is hoping to see a Barrow's I will be able to go back and look at my pics and remember how beautiful they were in the warm May sun.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Crex Meadows Mammals

It is not necessary to go all the way to Yellowstone to see rodents. When we returned from Yellowstone we took a day trip up to Crex Meadows, in Wisconsin, on June 1st. At Crex we saw some mammals too.
For example chipmunks can be found all over, as we found out by photographing them in Yellowstone then at Crex. We even have a chipmunk living in our yard. From time to time Misty and I will sit at the window and watch as the chipmunk fills his cheeks with maple seeds.
We also spotted some thirteen-lined ground squirrels. These ground squirrels are native to prairies and grasslands in the central US. They are very cute, especially when they stand up to survey their domain, usually consisting of 2 to 3 acres of grassland. They are also the mascot of the University of Minnesota.
We also spotted a white-tail deer. We spotted a few deer in and around Yellowstone but they were all mule deer. Someone did report seeing a white tail while we were there but they are much more rare in Yellowstone. In Minnesota you can see white tail deer all over.
The most exciting mammal that we saw at Crex on that trip was a pair of river otters. They crossed the road a little ways in front of us and by the time we got down to where they had entered the water they had swam a ways away into the rising sun. This made getting any descent pics impossible.

Yellowstone Rodents

Most people who visit Yellowstone are there to see the large mammals that can not be seen in many other places in the continental US. Mammals like grizzly and black bear, wolves, moose, elk, big horn sheep and pronghorn antelope are the big attractions but small mammals are very important in the Yellowstone ecosystem. There are many rodents inhabiting the nooks and crannies of Yellowstone that are an important food source for the predators that roam the lands or soar in he skies above. These rodents also help to spread seeds which promotes the plant growth that is needed for the roaming herds of ungulates.
Chipmunks are pretty common in the forested areas and near areas where there are more people.
The first chipmunk pic was taken outside the Tower Falls gift shop. I was actually hoping to get some pics of the pine martin that is rumoured to be living around the gift shop but I had to resign myself to getting a picture of this adventures chipmunk searching the patio and parking lot for people food. The second chipmunk was photographed in the woods around Yellowstone Lake.
The Unita ground squirrels are common through out much of Yellowstone. They are very easy to spot in the Lamar Valley.
I spotted this little fellow running on the rocks out in Lamar. He followed the crack in the first shot and then came towards the road and peaked out at us.
This little fellow was scratching an itch and showing off his butte over at Soda Butte.
We also found quite a few of the unita ground squirrels on the other side of the park. The shot above and below were taken at pull outs near the Madison River on the west side of the park. We would typically stop at one or more of these pull outs on our way into the park each morning looking for mountain bluebirds, we did not get any bluebird pics there but we did get some cute unita squirrel pics.
In the same location I also got a shot of this red tree squirrel. These are pretty common all around the US but I took the pic because I really loved the look he was giving me. It was like, "what are YOU looking at?"
In Yellowstone you can also find rodents in the water. We spotted this muskrat swimming in the Yellowstone River. While we parked he turned and began to swim up Otter Creek. He was working hard, swimming against what looked to be a pretty strong current, so he stopped to take a rest on a rock, which gave me the opportunity to get a pretty good shot.
Other rodents that we were looking for included marmot, beaver and pica. The marmots pics we took have already been posted. We did see 4 beavers on Friday night but it was getting dark and they were a ways away so the pictures were not that great. We were disappointed to not see any pica this year. We stopped two times at a talus field near Mammoth that we have easily seen picas at on past trips but despite a lot of searching there were none to be found.