Sunday, February 28, 2010

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

One of the larger butterflies that we see here in my little corner of the world is the eastern tiger swallowtail. It is so named because of its yellow color and the four black tiger stripes on each wing. I found this swallowtail at the Carpenter Nature Center in September.
In this area the range of the eastern swallowtail crosses that of the Canadian swallowtail this can sometimes make identification difficult. The Canadian swallowtail is smaller and has a continuous yellow band on the trailing edge of the forewing as compared to the eastern where the band is interrupted by black. Occasionally giant swallowtail come north making identification even trickier.
This is a male eastern tiger swallowtail. The female of the species has orange and blue spots mixed into the black border of the wings, particularly near the tail. Females can also come in a dark form that appears similar to a black swallowtail. This dark form is not very common, especially this far north, and I have yet to see a dark form female.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Hardy Waterlily: Clyde Ikins

From the water garden at the Como Zoo

Friday, February 26, 2010

Field Sparrow Identification

For me sparrow identification is right up there with gull identification as far as difficulty goes. I think that part of the problem is that sparrows are not very large, which makes it more difficult to see their tiny field marks. The fact that they almost never seem to stand still also does not help.
Fortunately, if you are able to catch a pic or two it makes it much easier to ID them. I photographed this field sparrow near the Old Cedar Ave bridge in September. It can be identified by the stout pink bill, white eye ring and the gray and rufous pattern of the head. It resembles the American tree sparrow except that the tree sparrow has a bicolored bill and a dark spot on the breast.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Red-tailed Hawk Over Hawk Ridge

Hawk Ridge is one of the best places in North America to watch raptors during the fall migration. Each year as temps begin to fall many raptors begin their journey south. Some like osprey and broad-winged hawk are on their way to warm tropical climates. Other raptors, like red-tailed hawks and bald eagles, go only as far as necessary to find a spot where they will be able to find food through out the winter. All of them use thermals, warm air rising from the earth, to save energy as they migrate. Unfortunately the Great Lakes are large bodies of cold water and so there are no thermals so the birds choose to go around the lakes which is why many end up flying over Hawk Ridge. I photographed this red-tailed hawk flying over the ridge back in October.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Eagles: Reeds Landing

As a kid I was really into wildlife but as often happens life interferes with our dreams and so for many years I was more interested in school, girls, career and other normal pursuits. One day, back in the mid 1990s, Michelle and I took a couple days off to celebrate our anniversary. We decided to go up to northern Minnesota for a bit of a change of pace. We did not really have any plans other then getting away.
After exploring a the area around where we were staying for a bit my ADD kicked in and I got bored. So I started looking around for activities that we could participate in. At a info rest stop in Duluth I found a brochure on Wild River State Park that listed eagle watching as an activity. It sounded interesting, at the time I had never seen a bald eagle, so we decided to stop on our way home.
I saw my first bald eagle that day, although it was a little more then a speck in the sky to me, and it awakened that spark in me that I had as a kid. We went back to Wild River the following weekend and by the end of that month I decided that I had to make some changes in my life. So I went back to school got some certifications in computers and got out of the constraining world of retail that I was working in.
My job was not my only change. I picked up a new camera and began taking pictures of animals at zoos, this gave me something to do when I was traveling for my new job, but I was not satisfied with photographing captive animals. I began to research and found that along the Mississippi River in southern Minnesota was a great place to view eagles during the winter time. So I began spending much of my weekends during the winter photographing the eagles in southern Minnesota, like these that I photographed last January near Reeds Landing.It is because of that first eagle, and all of the other eagles that I have photographed since, that the love of nature that I had when I was young has been rekindled making me the man that I am today.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Winter Birding Part 3: Harley's Release

A couple of years ago, back in 2008, my February was highlighted by the honor of releasing an eagle that I had saved six months earlier, if you would like more info on that story check out these posts from 2008. This January I had the pleasure of attending another important release.
The release was held at the Carpenter Nature Center. This location was chosen because it over looks the St Croix River just north of where it meets the Mississippi. Because of the joining of the two rivers the water typically stays open here which makes it good eagle habitat during the winter.
Many eagles are released at Carpenter during the winter but this release was special. This was the time for Harley to return to the wild. Harley had become a local celebrity because of the details of his rescue.
Harley was injured and dying on the side of the road in northwest Wisconsin when Brian Baladez, a local biker, rode by on his bike. He realized that there was something wrong with him so he stopped grabbed the mature eagle, something you should not do unless you have experience, wrapped it in his leather jacket and strapped it on to his bike. He took the eagle to the Duluth Zoo, with the help of friendly police officers who were very surprised to find a biker with an eagle strapped to his bike, and it eventually was transported to The Raptor Center.
When he was admitted to TRC it was determined that he had a fractured Ulna, a bone in the wing, and was suffering from lead poisoning. Because of the unusual circumstances surrounding his rescue some newspapers in Duluth picked up on the story and thus Harley got his celebrity status and his name. Brian, pictured above, got the honor of releasing Harley back out into the wild. He was fitted with a transmitter so that his moves could be tracked. If you would like to follow Harley out in the wild check out the new TRC blog. I was asked to come out and photograph the happy occasion and several of the pics, including the one above, made it into publication.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Canada Darner

Most of the blue darner dragonflies are difficult to distinguish because they look very similar. Usually the only field marks to tell them apart are the side stripes on the thorax. Perhaps no two look as much alike as the Canada and green-striped darners.
Both types of darner have a notch in their front stripe as well as a rearward extension extending back from the top. The difference between the two is the angle of the notch on the front stripe. If the notch is deep, greater then 90 degree then it is a Canada darner, if the notch is shallow, less then 90 degrees then it is a green striped. The back stripe of both types is not notched at all. You can see the notch on these is pretty deep so I would guess that these are Canada darners. I photographed them at the Carpenter Nature Center in September. The second photo is an excellent example of a wheel, which is how dragons mate. They can actually fly pretty well even when they are locked together like this.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Tropical Waterlily: Alexis

This photo was taken at the Como Zoo water garden over the summer.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Broad-winged Hawk

Hawks are broken down into two different families, buteos and accipiters. Buteos are what most people think of when they think of hawks. They have long rounded wings and often seen soaring on thermal air currents. Since accipiters are hawks they also have rounded wings but their wings are shorter and their tails are longer. This gives them more maneuverability which they need since they are primarily bird hunters.

One of the smallest members of the butoe family is the broad-winged hawk. These stocky hawks are usually found in deciduous forests in much of the eastern half of North America. I found this broad-winged hawk near the Old Cedar Bridge in the Minnesota Valley NWR.
Broad-winged hawks eat much of the same prey as their larger cousin the red-tailed hawk, this includes mammals, reptiles and amphibians, small birds and even large insects. Because of their smaller size they are able to get around in and hunt with in the forest usually ambushing their prey by dropping on them from their perch in the tree top canopy.

Broad-winged hawks go through a mass migration each fall, in Minnesota this typically occurs around mid September. Though not really travelling together many travel in the same thermal currents. This phenomenon is called a kettle. they will travel about 60 to 70 miles per day and end up in Central America or the northern portion of South America where they will spend the winter.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Pelican: Watery Wednesday

This past weekend I did several presentations for Girl Scouts at The Raptor Center. Since the programs was part of earning a merit badge of some sort we were given some subjects that the leaders wanted for us to talk about during our presentations. One thing they wanted us to talk about why birds have different types of beaks and how it effects the type of food that they eat. This worked right into my normal program since I usually talked about the raptors hooked beak, as it is one of three characteristics that make up a raptor. One of the other birds that I used as an example was the pelican. Most people are familiar with how pelicans swim across the water scooping up fish in their pouch style bill.
However the brown pelican is unique. Not only is it the only dark pelican they are also the only pelican that is found only in coastal waters. Although their bill is similar to the American white pelicans pictured above, the pic was taken in Florida in 2006, the brown pelican hunts by flying about 5 feet or so above the water and then diving straight down under the water. There it uses its bill to trap its prey while under the water. I photographed the brown pelican in California in 2007.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Winter Birding Part 2: Lilydale Park

At the end of December I once again participated in the Red Wing Christmas Bird Count. This was the third year that I have birded the back roads of Redwing, MN with my friends Jim and Jim. This year though we got done with our route early and decided to head back up to the cities in search of an owl that had been spotted the week prior in the St Paul Christmas Bird Count.
The bird had been spotted by Sharon "BirdChick" Stiteler at the Lilydale Regional Park. Lilydale is a small city park that is located adjacent to the Mississippi River in St Paul, MN.
Jim Ryan lives near the park so he had contacted Sharon to get more information on the location. The owl had been hanging out in a small evergreen not far off of the road. When we arrived we found the tree pretty quick but we did not see the owl. We decided to take a closer look at the tree to see if there were any signs that the owl might still be in the area. As we made our way slowly closer to the tree a long-eared owl burst out from out of no where and flew off into the woods behind the tree.
It was getting quite dark by this time and we were not sure if we would find the bird again, let alone get a pic. We decided to head down a trail that headed down into the woods in the general direction that the owl had flown. As we moved down the trail we heard the sound of passerines going crazy and we suspected that they might be mobbing the owl. A couple second later the owl appeared, it flew across the path quite a ways in front of us followed by a few small birds. Fortunately we were able to keep an eye on it well enough to now about where it landed. Jim Ryan and I moved into the woods to see if we could get a cleared view, while Jim Gay headed back up the path to see if he could see it from the road. After we had taken a few steps into the woods we located where the owl had perched on a tree surrounded by branches. It was getting very dark so I had to turn the ISO on the camera way up and as you can see it was good enough to get an identification picture. Unfortunately this was the only time I got to see this owl, shortly after this the St Paul Winter Carnival medallion was hidden in the Lilydale Park and many people seeking the medallion trampled through the woods scaring away most of the wildlife especially something as cautious as a long-eared owl.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Calico Penant

I thought that this would be a very fitting picture for MM this week considering that today is Valentines Day. I remember when I first started to photograph dragons I was looking on some website and I saw a picture of the calico pennant and thought that it had to be one of the coolest dragonfly around. I photographed my first calico back in 2008 in the Sax Zim Bog area. I was so excited I almost did not get the shot. I took this picture at a dragonfly seminar held by the Minnesota Odonata Survey Project at Camp Ripley. I have not yet had the privilege of spotting one of the females who are yellow in color. Maybe this year I will add one to my photo collection.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Leafy Spurge

Many wildflowers that you see growing in fields are actually considered weeds. Such is the case of leafy spurge. This invasive species, which originates from southwestern Europe, usually forms dense colonies which displace indigenous species.
Leafy spurge is on the Minnesota list of noxious weeds. They develop an extensive creeping root system which help it to spread and make it difficult to eradicate. They are also considered toxic because they produce a milky white latex that can irritate the eyes, skin and digestive track of people as well as some animals.