Friday, July 31, 2009

Bullock's Oriole

Another bird that we got to photograph on our Yellowstone trip and that we can add to our life list is the Bullock's oriole. The Bullock's oriole is the western cousin of the Baltimore oriole which we see here in Minnesota during the warm months.
At one time these two types of orioles where both considered the same, northern orioles, but testing has shown that there is enough of a difference between the two to separate them into different species. Orioles, it would appear, did not get the memo because they often mate across the species where their ranges cross, creating Bullock's Baltimore hybrids.
Bullock's orioles are primarily insect eaters. They find their prey by scouring the trees and bushes for spiders, caterpillars and other insects. Their preferred habitat is open woodland especially when it is next to a river or stream. This makes sense, since we spotted quite a few of these birds, and took these photos, in Celebration Park, which is located adjacent to the Snake River near Boise, ID.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Sky Watch Friday: Yellowstone

Yellowstone is a great place to take sky pics, and since the weather was mostly clear with blue skies while we were out there this year, I snapped quite a few pics to share. This is a small pond that is not far from Floating Island Lake on the North Side of the park.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cinnamon Teal

Our Yellowstone and Snake River trip this year provided me an opportunity to add several new birds to my photographic life list. One of these birds was the cinnamon teal. Cinnamon teal are not very rare in North America during the summer, however they are mostly found in the western half of the continent. So it is very unusual to see one here in Minnesota or any of our neighboring states.
Cinnamon teal can be found in marshy wetland habitats. They are a dabbling duck that eats seeds and vegetation on top of and under the water. They usually nest in strands of vegetation hiding the nest so that it can not be seen from any angle, including above. The male cinnamon teal, shown above, is a rusty red with bright red eyes. The female is much more plain colored, which helps her hide with the nest, and looks similar to other types of female ducks. We photographed this duck swimming in Yellowstone River in Hayden Valley.

Monday, July 27, 2009

my World: Black Sand Basin Yellowstone

A short distance from Old Faithful, about one mile north west, stands the Black Sand Geyser Basin. It was originally named the Emerald Group, but the name was changed after tourist in the early 1900s began to refer to it as the Black Sand Basin, due to the black obsidian sand in the area.
The Black Sand Basin is home to several hot springs and geysers. The most popular of these is the Emerald Pool. The pool gets its color from yellow and orange bacteria that grow on the lining of the pool. The yellow color combines with the deep blue of the clear water to produce the green color for which the spring is named.
Rainbow Pool is another hot spring that is located on the Black Sand Basin. Algae and bacteria growing along the edge of the pool produce a variety of colors and are responsible for the name of this hot spring.
Next door to the Rainbow Pool is Sunset Lake. Don't be fooled by the name. Sunset Lake is a shallow pool with yellow and orange algae and bacteria growing on the edges, making it appear the colors of a sunset. This pool has occasionally erupted over the past 60 years. The eruptions bring up hot water which kills the bacteria and algae, but as the pool cools after the eruption the colors return.
There are also a couple of geysers in the Black Sand Basin. Spouter Geyser is supposed to be the most regular erupting geyser on the Black Sand Basin. However while we were there Spouter was a spoiler and was very quiet.
The run off from the Spouter Geyser has created the neighboring Opalescent Pool. This shallow pool was once a boiling spring, but by the 1950s it had all but dried up. Then the Spouter Geyser began to erupt giving new life to the Opalescent pool.
Even though the Spouter Geyser was quiet while we were at the Black Sand Basin we did get to see the Cliff Geyser erupt. The cliff geyser has a much more irregular eruption schedule with eruptions occurring usually only a couple of time a day, although it also been known to go dormant for weeks at a time.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Macro Monday: Woollybear Caterpillar

It is only July here in Minnesota but the unseasonal weather that we had earlier this month has made me already begin to think about fall. Fall is my favorite season of the year. Fall is the time of the year when many birds migrate through on their way south, the weather is usually very pleasant, and the countryside comes alive with fall colors. Even though we have had some fall like weather fall is still a ways away because it can not be fall until the banded woolly bears come out.
The banded woolly bear is the larval form of the Isabella tiger moth. It is called a woolly bear because of the long bristles, setae, which resemble fur. Banded woolly bear caterpillars emerge from their egg in the fall, which is why they are a good indicator for the fall season. They will spend the winter in their larval form, producing a biological antifreeze to help them survive the cold. When things warm up again they will eat and then spin a cocoon. The emerged Isabella tiger moth will live out through the summer reproducing the next generation.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Today's Flowers: Bittersweet Nightshade

Bittersweet nightshade is an evasive species here in North America. Originally found in Europe and Asia this semi-woody perennial vine is in the genus potato. This plant produces a berry which is poisonous to people and many animals, although the poison is not very strong and usually only ends up causing nausea in humans. Most birds are not effected by the poison and they are the typical means by which bittersweet nightshade seeds are spread. I photographed this plant at the Dodge Nature Center.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Camera Critters: Cedar Waxwing

There are two types of waxwings that can be found in North America, the bohemian waxwing, which is found mostly in Alaska and Canada except during the winter when it will migrate down to the northern portions of the US, and the smaller cedar waxwing. The only other waxing in the world is the Japanese waxwing which is found in Asia. Waxwings get their name from the red waxy tips that they have on their secondary feathers. You can see the red tips in both of these pics.
The cedar waxwing can be found inhabiting the northern part of the US as well as southern Canada. Birds that breed in the northern portion of their range will migrate south as far as the northern portions of South America. Cedar waxwings are primarily berry feeders eating a wide variety of types of berries. During the winter they often can be seen eating cedar berries, which is how they got their name. On some occasions they have been known to get drunk by eating berries that have stood around so long that they have fomented. Besides berries they will also catch and eat insects to supplement their diet. I photographed this cedar waxwing last September out on Park Point in Duluth, MN.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sky Watch Friday: Mount Haynes

Here is another Yellowstone sky pic. This is a photo of Mount Haynes, which stands at 8235 feet above sea level, reflected in the Madison River. We drove past this scene every day on our way into the park.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Watery Wednesday: Pied Billed Grebe

One of the smaller waterfowl that we see in my neck of the woods, at least during the warmer months, is the pied-billed grebe. They typically can be found on lakes and ponds, especially ones with plenty of vegetation.
They eat a variety of different types of prey from aquatic insects to crustaceans, fish and frogs. They catch their food by diving under the water, where they are excellent swimmers. In fact when there are predators around they prefer to sink under the water and swim away rather then taking flight.
Although they are commonly confused as ducks grebes do not have webbed feet like ducks do. Their feet have long lobbed toes which are connected by webbing in the middle. This pied-billed grebe that I photographed at Crex Meadows back in September of 2008 was kind enough to give me a good view of one of his feet.

Monday, July 20, 2009

My World: Sheepeater Cliff

One of the interesting locations in Yellowstone is Sheepeater Cliff. It is named after a band of western Shoshone Indians who lived in the area who used to hunt big horned sheep. They were called Tukuaduka, which meant sheep eater.
The cliff was formed around 500,000 years ago during one of the basaltic floods of the Yellowstone Caldera. As the lava cooled it contracted and formed a set of joints perpendicular to the cooling surface. Today much of the basalt has tumbled down from the cliff due to weather erosion.
This loose rock is perfect habitat for the yellow-bellied marmot. These large members of the rodent family make their burrows under rock piles to help hide them from predators such as wolves, coyotes, and fox.
Unfortunately this marmot seemed to be habituated to humans and was not afraid of people at all. He came right up to both Michelle and I, as well as other people who were there, while we were shooting pics.
There were also plenty of chipmunk hanging out around Sheepeater. I am guessing that they also live in burrows under the rocks.
Sheepeater Cliff is just one example of columnar basalt cliff in Yellowstone. There are many other basalt cliffs in the Yellowstone area but most, like the ones near Bunson Peak are pretty in accessible. Fortunately Sheepeater Cliff is located adjacent to the Northern Grand Loop Road just south of Mammoth.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Macro Monday: Clearwing Moth

I found this clearwing moth last August in the wild flowers at the St Croix Scenic Riverway's Marshland Visitors Center. At first I thought that it might be a nessus sphinx moth, which is similar and which I have seen in Minnesota in the past, but when I took a closer look I noticed that it did not have many scales on its wings which would make it a clearwing moth.

There are numerous different types of clearwings. My guess is that this is a slender clearwing. The wings, front and back, of the clearwing moths are hooked together with numerous curved spines. This is different then other moths, who have wings that are not attached to each other, and similar to wasps, which these moths often look like. This is a natural form of defense for these moths, which are often called wasp moths.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Today's Flowers: Butterfly Weed

Asclepias tuberosa, commonly known as butterfly weed, is a perennial that is native throughout much of eastern North America. This member of the milkweed family is often found in dry or sandy soil and requires full sun.
The common name comes from the fact that the bright color flowers, usually red, orange, or yellow, and abundant production of nectar often attract butterflies. Since it is a member of the milkweed family it is also a host plant for the monarch butterfly caterpillar. I found this monarch on butterfly weed out on the sand prairies of Crex Meadows.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Camera Criters: Gold Finch

The American goldfinch is a common bird in most of North America. The bright yellow and black coloration of the males makes them easily recognizable, however this is not the case all year long. People often do not recognize American goldfinch during the winter when it is in its non-breeding plumage. The American goldfinch is the only finch that molts twice a year. The first time is in late winter when the males get the bright yellow and black breeding plumage. The second molt comes at the beginning of fall when they shed their bright yellow for a duller version that is similar to the females coloration all year long.
American goldfinch prefer can be found in a variety of habitat but they prefer to live around weedy fields. This is handy because they are almost exclusively vegetarian. Thistle seeds are one of there favorite foods. It is a lot of fun to watch them tear into the plant pulling out the hairs, called pappus, to get to the seeds at the bottom.
Besides being a consciences vegetarian the American goldfinch is also a good environmentalist. Instead of throwing away all of the pappus from the thistle plant they will take some back and use them to build their nest. This may be part of the reason why they nest much later then other birds, in June and July.