Monday, August 31, 2009

Crex Meadows Road Trip

The second road trip that I took with the new car was to Crex Meadows. Crex is located about 90 miles north of the Twin Cities just over the border in Wisconsin. All together I ended up driving about 200 miles, this included driving around the park and ended up using a little bit over 4 gallons of gas.
While driving I try and keep an eye on the road, an eye on the dash, it turns green when I am driving more efficiently, and an eye out for wildlife. It's a good thing that I have four eyes that way I can also keep one closed to get some rest while I drive LOL. You never know what you might see while you drive like an American kestrel hanging out on the power lines. Fortunately I spotted this kestrel after I left the interstate so I could stop to take some pics. Usually kestrels are quick to fly away when you pull your car over but this little guy did not seem to mind me very much. If you look closely you can see that he has one foot tucked which is not something a bird will do if he is nervous or frightened.
Crex is named for the Crex Carpet Company which owned the land in the early 1900's. The Crex Carpet Co. harvested wiregrass from the areas marsh lands to create grass rugs. In 1933 the carpet company went bankrupt, later, in 1946, the state of Wisconsin bought the land and turned it into the Wildlife Management Area that it is today. The carpet camps are long gone but the marshes where the grasses where harvested from still exist and are now home to a lot of wildlife. One of the most noticeable wildlife that you can often find in the marshes of Crex during the warm months are the very large sandhill cranes. Sandhills can be found in Crex through out the spring and summer but the largest populations are seen in the fall when migrant birds use crex as a staging area for the fall migration.
Crex Meadows stands on what is sometimes referred to as the Northwest Wisconsin Pine Barrens. The barrens is a long narrow sand plain that was formed as the Wisconsin glacier retreated 10,000 to 15,000 years ago. As the glacier retreated north, glacial till was deposited in the area forming the sand prairies that make up the Barrens and much of Crex.
The sand prairies support the growth of many different prairie grasses and plants. Wild flowers like butterfly weed, black-eyed Susan, and blazing star help to add color to the prairie and attract butterflies like the pink edged sulphur, pictured above, and the Aphrodite fritillary, pictured above the sulphur.
As the Wisconsin Glacier receded it also created Glacial Lake Grantsburg over where Crex now stands. Over the years the lake drained away leaving shallow sedge marshes behind. Today there is approximately 6000 acres of open water with in the Wildlife Management Area. Most of this comes from the twenty-nine flowages which are managed by a series of dikes, pumps and transfer ditches. Besides the flowages there are also four natural lakes, numerous ponds and three streams which begin on the property.
These waterways are home to many different types of wildlife including fish, reptiles, mammals, and waterfowl. Some of the waterfowl are visitors who stop in the spring and the fall during migration to rest and to feed. Other waterfowl like the common loon and pied-billed grebe can be found all summer long. The common loon in the photo above is an immature that was born in the park and photographed on Phantom Lake. For more information about Crex Meadows check out their website here.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Butterflies on the Sand

Most of the time when you think of butterfly habitat you envision open fields full of blooming wild flowers or ornate flower gardens. These are good places to look for butterflies but another place to look, that most people do not think of, is the shore line of lakes, rivers and streams. Like most living things butterflies need to ingest minerals and one way to do this is to suck up the dissolved minerals in wet sand. In this first pic a male cabbage white is partaking of minerals from the sand. We can tell that it is a male because it has a single spot on the fore wing, females have two spots.
The eastern tailed-blue can be identified by the small "hair-like" tail that protrudes from the hind wing. The only other member of the blue family that has a tail is the western tailed-blue. To distinguish between the eastern and western varieties of tailed-blue look for the orange spots near the tail on the hind wing. If the blue has two orange spots then it is an eastern tailed-blue if it only has a single spot then it is a western tailed-blue. While we do not see many western-tailed blue in the southeastern part of Minnesota their range does overlap in the northern part of the state and into Canada.
The viceroy butterfly is a monarch look a like, however it is easy to distinguish the difference once you know what you are looking for. First off the viceroy is typically smaller then the monarch, with a 2.5 to 3.25 inch wingspan for the viceroy and a 3.5 to 4.5 inch wingspan for the monarch. This can be difficult to judge, however, unless you are lucky enough to see them both together. The easy way to tell the difference is to look at the hind wing. On the viceroy there is a line running across the hind wing which is not present in the monarch. All of these butterflies where photographed at Afton State Park in September of 2008.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Today's Flowers: Crown Vetch

Crown vetch is not actually a true vetch. Crown vetch is an invasive member of the pea family. It was originally brought to North America from Eurasia and North Africa and used as an ornamental plant and for erosion control. Its creeping growth and ability to provide dense growth, by spreading through rhizomes, makes it well adapted for road bank stabilization. However these same factors are what makes this plant highly invasive. The fruit of the crown vetch are pods which are about 2 inches long and contain approximately 12 seeds in each. Crown vetch provides excellent forage for many different types of wild animals including deer, turkey, pheasants, and rabbits. For this reason some people have considered using it as forage in livestock pastures. While it is comparable to other forms of grass legume pastures crown vetch can be toxic to horses. Nitroglycosides in the plants can cause impaired growth, paralysis or even death in horses that consume large amounts.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Horned Lark

The horned lark is the only true lark that can be found in North America. Their preferred habitat is open ground, preferably with out grass, which is why they were quite easy to find in the farm field surrounding Hastings, MN.
Open fields suit them well as their main food source is grass seeds. They nest in a depression or hole in the ground. The nest is basket shape and made of grass or other vegetation.
Immature horned larks have a similar facial pattern to the adults except that it is not as dark or defined. While they are young their diet consists mainly of insects with some seeds mixed in. The added protein helps the young birds to grow quickly.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Cloud by Percy Bysshe Shelley Part 2

I sift the snow on the mountains below,
And their great pines groan aghast,
And all the night 'tis my pillow white,
While I sleep in the arms of the blast.
Sublime on the towers of my skiey bowers,
Lightning, my pilot, sits;
In a cavern under is fettered the thunder
It struggles and howls at fits;

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

White-faced Ibis

While we were traveling through Hayden Valley in Yellowstone we stopped to take some pictures of the pair of cinnamon teal that were swimming around in the Yellowstone River. That was when I noticed a couple of ibis wading through the water in the flood plain next to the river. I was surprised and excited to see what I thought were glossy ibis that far north.
As it turns out, I found out later, these were actually white-faced ibis, which was another new bird for us. The white-faced ibis looks similar to the glossy ibis except for the white outline around the face, which is where it gets its name. The white-faced ibis is found in Mexico, parts of South America and the south western United States. They head north to their breeding territories in places like northern California, Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana during the summer. These ibis where searching the marshy grounds surrounding the river in search of insects to eat.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Road Trip Necedah

Last week Michelle and I made a pretty big change. We decided to take my truck in and buy a new car. This is kind of a big deal because I have been driving trucks for twenty some years and not owned a car, other then Michelle's cars, since my first vehicle, but I decided it was time to do more to help the environment and my truck was only getting 15 MPG so it was time to trade it in for something a bit more fuel efficient.
So I bought myself a Honda Insight hybrid. For day to day I do not drive all that much, between 30 to 40 miles to work and back, but since I like to go out to photograph nature in a variety of different habitats I do put on a few miles doing road trips. So this weekend I took the new car on its first road trip to Necedah NWR in Wisconsin. Everything went perfect, the weather was nice, there was a good amount of wildlife to photograph, and the new car, pictured next to the Necedah sign above, worked great. The trip was 384.4 miles round trip and I used 9.1 gallons of gas, which means that I got over 42 MPG.
Since this is a nature blog and not a car blog I also took some pictures of wildlife while I was there. I was excited to see a pair of endangered whooping cranes out in the field in front of the observation tower, unfortunately they were too far away to get any good pics.
I did get some better pics of the red headed woodpeckers. They are quite common in Necedah. This is probably due to all of the dead wood that the staff leaves in the refuge. Red headed woodpeckers thrive in habitats where there is a lot of dead wood around. They use cracks and crevices in the dead wood to cache their food, this would include seeds, nuts, and even live insects.
Eastern kingbirds are also pretty common in Necedah. They can usually be found hunting for flying insects in the open fields.
Gray catbirds are usually more secretive. You are much more likely to hear one then you are to see one as they typically stay in shrubs or brush piles repeating their distinctive call.
Necedah is also a great place to photograph butterflies. It is one of the best places in the world to find the endangered Karner blue butterfly. The Karner is a sub species of the Melissa blue that is found mostly in the Great Lakes region. The Karner blue caterpillar is very particular and will only eat the lupine plant. As the amount of lupine decreases, due to habitat destruction and fire suppression, so does the population of the Karner blue. They have already disappeared from many areas where they used to be quite common.
Monarchs, on the other hand are quite common. They are probably the most recognized butterfly in the world. They really love blazing star, which are blooming all around Necedah at this time. They need a lot of nectar because they will begin migrating south soon.
Another butterfly that was partaking of nectar from the wildflowers of Necedah was the eastern tiger swallowtail. The eastern tiger swallowtail is common though out most of the eastern United States. It can be confused with the Canadian tiger swallowtail, which is a bit smaller then the eastern tiger swallowtail but other then that they pretty much look the same, in the northern states where their ranges cross over.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sheridan's Hairstreak

When you think about the wildlife of Yellowstone most people think about all of the big animals that can be found there, like bison, moose, elk, wolf and bear, but it's important to keep your eyes open or else you may miss some of the interesting little things that you can find.
For instance on our trip to Yellowstone we had our fist opportunity to photograph the Sheridan's hairstreak butterfly. These small butterflies are comparable in size to many of the common blue butterflies that we see in my pat of the world. In fact when I first saw one flitter by I believed it was a blue but on closer examination the color was more of a green color. The Sheridan's hairstreak is a butterfly of the western portions of North America. It is usually found at elevations from 6000 to 10,000 feet above sea level, and prefers habitats such as hillsides, canyon slopes and sagebrush. I photograph these on a hillside over looking the Lamar River that was filled with sagebrush.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Today's Flowers: Harlequin Blueflag

One of the more colorful and beautiful wildflowers that I frequently see is the harlequin blueflag or Iris versicolor. This member of the iris family is native to North America and can usually be found in a wetland habitat such as marshes, stream banks or the shores of lakes and ponds. I photographed this harlequin blue flag in the Purgatory Creek wetlands.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Camera Criters: Yellow Bellied Marmot

When we travel to Yellowstone we always set aside a few hours to search the talus fields for yellow bellied marmots. The yellow bellied marmot is a member of the Rodentia (rodent) order even though they can grow to be quite large, adults typically weigh between 5 to 11 pounds.
They are related to, and closely resemble, their more famous cousin the ground hog, except that the yellow bellied marmot is usually found is the western portions of North America in elevations typically above 6500 feet in elevation. The ground hog is more wide spread across North America and prefers to live in low land habitats.
Since marmots are a type of ground squirrel most of them live in burrows that they dig in the dirt. The yellow belied marmot typically digs its burrow under rocks to help hide it from predators like bears, wolves, coyotes, and fox. Often one or more marmots will stand guard in an area where many burrows are located, sometimes sitting up on two legs like their cousin the prairie dog. If a sentry spots a predator in the area it will let out a whistle to warn others in the area about the danger. This is how they got the nickname whistle pig.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Cloud by Percy Bysshe Shelley Part 1

I bring fresh showers for the thirsting flowers,
From the seas and the streams,
I bear light shade for the leaves when laid
In their noonday dreams.
From my wings are shaken the dews that awaken
The sweet buds every one,
When rocked to rest on their mother's breast
As she dances about the sun.
I wield the flail of the lashing hail
And whiten the green plains under,
And then again I dissolve it in rain,
And laugh as I pass in thunder.