Tuesday, September 30, 2008

They Had Dragonflies at Purgatory Creek Too

Since most of Purgatory Creek Park consists of wetlands there were quite a few dragonflies around back in July. So while I was exploring the mud flats, as well as the rest of the park, I took a few dragon pics.
Like this male widow skimmer. This one looked like it had quite a bit of pruinose on the tale which is an indication that this was a mature dragon.
I was also a bit surprised to find a variegated meadowhawk. We do not see as many of this type then we do many of the other types of meadowhawks. When we do see them it is usually in the spring when they migrate north in large group or in the fall when they migrate east. Since this was late July it was a bit uncommon to see one.
Here is a better view of the variegated meadowhawk. The red color indicates that this is a male. The females are usually more of a yellow, mustard type color with a similar pattern on the abdomen.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Purgatory Creek Shore Birds

This summer when gas prices got high I decided to try and do more of my birding closer to home. There were a few good spots in the Twin Cities that I visited regularly, Carpenter Nature Center, Mn Valley NWR, Dodge Nature Center and Wood Lake Nature Center, but in the past I also did a lot of traveling to places like Crex Meadows,Carlos Avery, Necedah NWR, Hok Si La, Park Point, Hawk Ridge, and Sax Zim Bog. This year since I was limiting my trips to those further locations I needed to find some new spots in the Twin Cities that I could visit to give me some more variety. Near the end of July I found a new spot that fit the bill. Purgatory Creek Park is a wetland area surrounding Purgatory Creek in Eden Prairie, MN. It is in the South west part of the Twin Cities, and I live on the South East, so it is not as close as many of the parks that I frequent in the Twin Cities but it is still only 20 to 30 minutes away, depending on traffic. They have a good system of trails, including one that runs between two wetland areas, and a viewing area. I heard about it on the MOU list server because it had some of the best mud flats around back at the end of July.
So I headed off to Eden Prairie after work to explore the park and check out the mud flats for any possible shore birds. I was not disappointed. There were a lot of things for me to photograph. They even had a small mud flat with a few shorebirds like this killdeer.
Besides for the killdeer I also spotted a solitary sandpiper. You can tell that it is a solitary, as I learned later in August at the shorebird workshop which I attended, because of the white eye ring and the dark shoulder.
Solitary sandpiper often found alone, thus the name. They are unlike most other shorebirds in that they do not mind having vegetation around, so they are often found wandering small ponds.
The lesser yellowlegs, on the other hand, will usually avoid mud that is filled with greenery. They use their long legs to wade through the water looking for aquatic insects, and small fish to eat.
It is difficult to tell the difference between the lesser and greater yellowlegs. A lot of people look for a difference in size to tell them apart but this can be difficult when you have only one bird. In our shorebird class we were told to examine the beak of the bird, if it is two toned then it is a greater yellowlegs but if it is a single color, as this bird demonstrates, then it is a lesser yellowlegs.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Frogs or Toads or Both?

I have spent a good deal of time over the past few days over at the Carpenter Nature Center. Friday was a gorgeous day, with plenty of sunshine and temps up into the mid 80's, so after I got off of work I headed over to Carpenter to watch the bird banding. The banding was a bit slow but there were a couple of cool birds that found their way into the nets. There were a couple of sharpies, that they banded before I got there, the first white-throated sparrow of the season and a brown creeper, which they only catch a couple a year. I did get some pics but I will post them later, I still have a back log that goes back into July.

After the banding I stuck around to help get ready for the Raptor Release that was held on Saturday. Pretty much my whole day Saturday was spent at Carpenter also. Between doing education at the hawk/falcon ring in the morning and the owl ring in the afternoon and sneaking away to take pictures off the release in the middle I was pretty busy.
I was so busy that I did not even get to go watch the nature centers program on reptiles and amphibians. Which is too bad because it may have given me some good info for today's post. As the summer went on I began to see more and more toads on my little journeys out into nature, so I decided to get a few pics, while I was out at the Bass Ponds back in July, to share on the blog.
I did a bit of research and I was surprised to find out that while all toads are frogs not all frogs are toads. You see the term frog is the scientific term of all frogs and toads. Toad is just a distinction or type of frog. So what makes a frog a toad? Well the main difference is that toads tend to have rough dry leathery skin typically filled with many bumps that resemble warts. This protective skin allows them to live further away from water then the other members of the frog family who have smooth skin. Toads usually also have shorter legs then other frogs and do not have teeth, other frogs have small fish like teeth.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Raptor Release

Today I will be spending the day at the Carpenter Nature Center working the Fall Raptor Release for The Raptor Center.
Our educational birds out at the nature center, so that people can get a real close look at a live raptor, plus there will be a stage which will have music and programs from The Raptor Center as well as Carpenter Nature Center
There will be two different bird releases scheduled at 11:30 and at 1:00. These are birds that have been patched up down in the clinic and then rehabilitated and are now being released back into the wild.
These are pictures from the spring release. As you can probably tell from the expressions on the peoples faces the release is a wonderful experience and something, if you are in the Twin Cities area, I would definitely recommend.
I will be answering questions about hawks and falcons, like Cinnamon who is pictured above, in the morning from 10:00 to 12:30.
In the afternoon I will be answering questions about Owls, like Samantha here, from 12:30 to 3:00. You can find more information on the event here and directions to Carpenter Nature Center here.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Skywatch Friday

Here is my submission for my second Skywatch Friday. I think it is very appropriate considering the upcoming election in the US. The photo was taken at Lake Como in St Paul, MN at dawn. When I was taking the picture it reminded me of the poem "Defence of Fort McHenry",by Francis Scott Key, which later became well known when it was put to music and became "The Star-Spangled Banner". As the story goes Key, who was watching the bombardment of Fort McHenry from on board a British ship, was elated to see the American flag still flying over the fort as the sun began to rise. Seeing the flag still flying was a sign to him that the American forces had held their ground.

With the way that things are going in the US these days, especially with W in charge, I am pleasantly surprised to see the flag still flying every morning. The problems that we are seeing daily, due in most parts to the Bush administration, are much more dangerous then the bombs that Key witnessed back in 1814.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Butterflies at the Bass Ponds

There were a lot of very colorful dragonflies flying around the Bass Ponds over the summer, which was lucky for me because it seemed as though we had a lot less butterflies around this year. The lack of butterflies may have been a direct effect of the late start to spring that we had this year. Many butterfly species have more then one brood over the summer and it seems like the early broods, many of which are caterpillars that hatched the prior summer and over wintered in their larval form, may have been effected by the late winter weather and so less made it to their adult form.
The eastern comma, pictured above, is one of earliest butterflies that we see each year. This is because they hibernate as adults. They spend the winter in a state of suspended animation in a crevice or hollow tree with their wings folded together and head down. In this position they avoid predators, while they are helpless, by appearing to be a dead leaf.
The red-spotted purple is actually a subspecies of the red-spotted admiral. These butterflies over winter as a Caterpillar in a rolled leaf of one of their host plants, which include willow, aspen, hawthorn, birch, poplar, basswood, juneberry, black cherry and apple trees.
The red-spotted purple resembles the pipevine swallowtail, which is toxic. This mimicry helps the red-spotted purple to avoid predators in the south where their ranges overlap. Up here in the north they are not so lucky and you can see this one has a few pieces missing from its wings.
Skippers are always tough for me to ID, I am still pretty new at butterflies, but I think that this may be a Delaware skipper. If anyone thinks that I am wrong please let me know in the comment section.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Rest of the Dragons at the Bass Ponds

There were also a few other types of dragonfly that I photographed on my trip to the Bass Ponds back in July.
The twelve spotted skimmer is one of the most common dragons around. It is easily recognized, by the spots on the wings, and usually perches in the open making them easy to photograph. An added bonus is that if they flush when approached they will typically land back on the same perch or one near by.
The common whitetail male is also pretty hard to mistake. The wing pattern along with the white pruinose abdomen make them recognizable from a pretty good distance away. The female common whitetail looks a lot like a female twelve-spotted skimmer.
Another common pond dragon that is a member of the skimmer family is the widow skimmer.
Widow skimmers are identified by the black and the white pruinose bands on their wings. The female widow skimmer only has the black band and does not get pruinose on the wings or abdomen.
One dragon that was not as common as the rest, that I was able to photograph that day, is the eastern amberwing. These small dragons are usually less then an inch long and prefer still or slow moving water.
This was a male eastern amberwing, you can tell because the wings are completely colored. The female amberwing has a wing pattern that is similar to the Halloween pennant, although they are quite a bit smaller.
The final dragon that I photographed was the four-spotted skimmer. This type of dragon can be found all over the globe including North America, Europe, North Africa and Asia.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fall Begins with Halloween Pennants

Yesterday was the fall equinox. An equinox is a day when the sun is directly over the equator. This phenomena provides us with a day that has equal amounts of light and darkness, 12 hours of each. There are two equinox each year the spring equinox, which is around March 20th, and the fall equinox, which falls around September 22. The fall equinox is the herald of less daylight, the days continue to get shorter until the winter solstice which occurs around December 21st, and it is also the official end of summer.
So now that we are officially in fall I think that it is quite symbolic to post these pics of Halloween pennants that I took back in July at the Bass Ponds.
Halloween pennants have a very large range. They can be found from Southern Canada all the way down to the Florida Everglades. Males are orange, like the ones pictured in this post, while females are often more yellow in color.
Halloween pennants can be seen flying into about the middle of September, although I have not see any around here since the beginning of August, they are often active on colder days and when it rains.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Meadowhawk Dragonflies

I am sorry that the last couple of posts were kind of short. I did them very quickly, on Friday, before I left for a trip up north to Duluth Minnesota for Hawk Weekend at Hawk Ridge. I had planned to try and add some more to the posts in the evening after I was done taking pics unfortunately the hotel that I stayed in did not have wireless Internet and the only PC they had in their "business center" was a Mac.I have nothing against Mac but when 97 % of the US works on PCs and not Macs I think it is kind of a bad business decision to choose a Mac. In fact this is the only hotel that I have ever stayed in where they had a Mac. Well needless to say no one could figure out how to use it, myself included and I work with computers for a living, so no one at the hotel was able to use Internet. Good thing that I did those short posts in advance otherwise I would have broken my consecutive streak.

So for today I have some more dragons from the Bass Ponds that I took in July. These are all meadowhawks. Meadowhawks are smaller, an inch to an inch and a half, dragonflies that are commonly seen mostly in fields later in the summer and into the fall.
There are at least 8 types of meadowhawks in my area. Several of the different types are very difficult to distinguish between unless you have them under a magnifying lens, especially juveniles and females.
Most of the male meadowhawks in my area are red in color. The exceptions to this would be the black meadowhawk, which is all black, and the band-winged, which can sometimes appear brown. The variegated is red but has an unique pattern and the Autumn meadowhawk is the only one with yellow-legs. The other four types are very similar. Females of all the species are usually a yellow orange color. My guess is that these were white-faced meadowhawks, especially the males.

In his book Dragonflies of the North Woods, Kurt Mead, states that sometimes male whiteface dragons will fly in tandem with female cherry-faced or ruby dragonflies but they will rarely actually mate because their reproductive parts are not compatible.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Eastern Pondhawk Dragonfly

Another dragon that was plentiful at the Bass Ponds was the eastern pondhawk. These look similar, at least the males do, to the blue dashers from the last post except that they have 2 white spike at the end of their abdomen instead of the black tip that the dashers have.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Blue Dasher Dragonfly

July is part of the peek season for pond dragonflies. So when I visited the bass Ponds on the third weekend in July there were a lot of dragonflies around for me to photograph. Since I had so many pics I have broken them down and given most types their own post with a pick up post for types that I only took one or two pics at the end.

This first type is the Blue Dasher

Friday, September 19, 2008

My First Skywatch Friday

While looking around at some of my favorite sites over the past few weeks I have noticed a few of the sites that I visit frequently, Photography by Leedra and Wings n Things just to name a few, have been posting sky pics under the post of Sky Watch Friday. So I got curious and took a look at just what Sky Watch Friday is all about. It is simply blogs that post sky pics and then link back to the Sky Watch Friday site. A type of online social community. Since I really have been thinking that I would like to improve my skills in taking scenery picks I thought that this would be a good way to get a little bit of practice.
So nothing fancy to start with, just a sky shot from Wood Lake Nature Center that I took while I was out yesterday.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Birding at Old Cedar Avenue

The next weekend in July found me back down at the Old Cedar Avenue Bridge / Bass Ponds. The birding that day was a bit slow but I still managed to find a couple of birds to photograph.
The bright yellow color of a male goldfinch, in breeding plumage, stood out pretty well against a backdrop of green algae. The American goldfinch is one of the more common birds seen here in late summer. This is probably due to the fact that it is a late nester, nesting in late June or July when most other passerines are already done. Last year I got some great goldfinch shots on the thistle by one of the ponds, but the higher water level this spring prevented the thistle from growing back in that spot. So I have not had the opportunities to photograph goldfinch that I did last year. I also managed to get a pic of a great crested flycatcher. Usually great crested flycatchers are found at the top of the trees so I felt fortunate that this one came down so that I could get a pick. I had spotted them several times around the Bass Ponds so I am guessing that at least one pair nested in the area, wooded swamps would be prime breeding habitat.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Fun Bugs at Wood Lake

Over the past couple years I have spent a lot of time in fields. I walk through the grasses and wild flowers in search of interesting wildlife to take pictures of. Often I am surrounding by the buzzing of bees as they move from bloom to bloom but never while I have been out photographing insects in the field have I ever been stung. Unfortunately I can not say the same thing as far as being in my truck driving home from work.

Last fall as I got into my truck to come home from work I was stung on my arm by a yellow jacket. That was nothing though compared to this year. Yesterday I was on my way home from work, driving down the freeway when I felt a sharp pain in my right shoulder blade. Right away I thought that I had been stung but since I was on a freeway I could not stop. I leaned forward in my car seat and began to feel around for the culprit. I found nothing. I began to wonder if it was not just a nerve spike that sometimes I get as a diabetic, although usually in my arms, hands, feet or legs, especially since I had not heard any buzzing and I had been driving for over 15 minutes before the pain started. I began to relax and since the initial pain was diminishing began to slowly sit back. That was when I felt another shot of pain. Fortunately I was getting off the freeway and only a few minutes from home so I drove the rest of the way home leaning forward. When I got home I took off my shirt off right away and ran to the mirror to take a look. Sure enough there were 3 sting marks on my back but I still did not know what happened to the bee. That was until I shook my shirt out a bit and out fell a yellow jacket.

Maybe I should look into getting a bee keepers suite to keep me safe on my drive home.
In the fields I will just keep wearing jeans and a tee shirt because out there the bees, like the one above, are more interested in collecting pollen and nectar then they are stinging me. This bee is pretty loaded up with pollen, you can see the full orange pollen sack on its leg.
I was kind of excited to get these next couple of pics. Not because the red milkweed beetle is a rare insect that is difficult to find but instead because one of the guys that I work with went to college down in Austin, Texas and he is a big Texas Longhorn fan.
These beetles lay their eggs at the base of the milkweed plant. When the eggs hatch the larvae bore into the milkweed stem. They will spend the winter as larvae down in the roots. In the spring they will pupate and emerge as adults early in the summer. The adults usually can be found eating milkweed leaves, the toxicity of which make the red milkweed beetle a distasteful morsel to most predators.
The mourning cloak butterfly, on the other hand, is one of the few butterflies that over winters as an adult, in the northern portions of its range. This butterfly hibernates in suspended animation in a sheltered location over the winter. During this time the mourning cloak secretes chemicals like sorbital into their bodies which act as a natural antifreeze and prevent ice crystals from forming inside the butterfly.
This last picture is I believe a moth but I have no idea what kind. I am hoping that maybe some of the people over at bugguide.net, who I invited to come and take a look at the blog, can give me some idea as to what type of moth that this is. If you think that you might have an idea please post a comment to this post.