Friday, April 30, 2010

Signs of Spring and Viceroy Butterflies.

The month of April has been kind of tough here in Minnesota this year. We have not had snow or cold weather, like is certainly possible here in the frozen north, in fact this year has been quite the opposite with many days already making it up into the 70s. The problem is that even though it feels like the end of May, with warm sunny days, green grass, and leaves on all of the trees it is still just April. So each day I go out expecting to fnd warblers or dragonflies or any of the other things that I like to photograph in May and June but they are not here yet it is just too early.
Things are picking up though. I have spotted a few yellow rump warblers flittering about. Last week I spotted my first dragons of the year, green darners, and I have spotted a couple of tiger swallowtail flying by. These signs mean that soon I will have more subjects to photograph then I know what to do with. Possibly viceroy butterflies like in these pics that I photographed last summer at Eagle Bluff in southern Minnesota. Is anyone else getting impatient like I am?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I Always Feel Like Somebody's Watching Me!

Immature Common Loon

Last summer I was lucky enough to come across an immature common loon while birding out at Crex Meadows. At first there was an adult loon around which was bringing fish to the youngster, who probably was not a proficient hunter yet.Later on the young loon was left alone. It stayed near the middle of the lake which would should provide it with adequate protection from most predators, such as raccoons, fox, coyote, and skunks. Although it still had to be cautious of possible predation from bald eagles. Fortunately the loon is an excellent swimmer and can dive under water well below the reach of an attacking eagle.
The nest of the common loon is usually a mound of grass and sticks located close to water on the shore of a lake or island or sometimes on an old muskrat mound. It is usually hidden the reeds or other vegetation and is used year after year. The female lays a clutch of 2 to 5 eggs which both male and female incubate for 27 to 30 days.
With in a day or two of hatching the loon chicks leave the nest. At two to three days they have the ability to swim and dive under the water. At this point they will spend their whole life in the water until they are old enough to mate on their own. If they need to rest they will hitch a ride on the back of mom or dad.
It takes about eleven weeks for the young loons to learn to fly. Because they are built more for swimming and diving, with their legs placed far back on their bodies, their take off and landings appear awkward. Because of their weight, loons can weigh up to about 12 pounds which is approximately the size of a large femCheck Spellingale bald eagle in Minnesota, it takes a long run way for them to take off. This loon was practicing his take off that afternoon, skidding across the surface of the water but he never quite made it up into the air. He probably still needed a little more practice.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Port Isabel

Each of the days that we stayed out on South Padre Island we traveled through the small town of Port Isabel to get there. Port Isabel was settled back in 1554 making it one of the earliest settlements, that has been continuously inhabited, in North America. The center piece of Port Isabel is the lighthouse, which was built in 1852 to help ships navigate the low lying Texas shoreline. With the emergence of railroads the amount of ship traffic diminished and in 1905 the lighthouse was decommissioned. In 1947 the state of Texas purchased the lighthouse and surrounding land, about 1 acre, and in 1952 it was dedicated as a state park. In 2000 the lighthouse was restored and it now appears as it did back in 1880.
As a nature enthusiast the thing that interested me most about Port Isabel was all of the wild life that was hanging around the port. Each day we would see several different types of birds perched on the piers right off shore. Like this osprey that was enjoying his morning sushi.
There were also cormorants as well as several different types of gulls. I think that these were neotropic cormorants which have a smaller head and longer tail then the double-crested cormorants that I typically see around home during the summer.
The most exciting birds that we saw in Port Isabel were the endangered brown pelicans. Here in Minnesota we can white pelicans, especially the north and west parts of the state, but brown pelicans are extremely rare visitors to the state. In the background of this picture you can see the beginning of the Queen Isabella Causeway. The bridge was built in 1974 and is the longest bridge in Texas, at about two miles. It is currently the only bridge connecting South Padre to the the main land, though they are looking at building a second bridge. In 2001 a tug boat pushing several barges ran into one of the bridges support columns which took down a 240 foot section of the bridge and killed 8 people. Needless to say I kept one eye on the water while we were crossing the bridge after all we have enough problems with falling bridges here in Minnesota.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

First Dragonflies of the Year: Green Darner

Last week I spotted my first dragonflies of 2010. They were green darners of course. Some green darner dragonflies actually migrate south, sort of like birds or monarch butterflies. Their migration is a little bit different though. Unlike birds or monarchs the green darners that migrate south reproduce and lay eggs when they reach their southern destination and then they die, as most dragonflies and butterflies do shortly after laying their eggs.
The eggs hatch into the larval form of the dragonfly in the warm southern waters over the winter months and then emerge as dragonflies in the spring. These dragonfly then head north, which is why they are usually the first dragonflies that we see each spring. When they reach their northern destination they will mate, lay eggs, and then die. Their offspring which emerge in early fall will then migrate south again beginning the circle once more. This dragonfly was a fresh emergent last August. You can tell that she had recently emerged by how shinny her wings are. She landed in this evergreen to dry her wings before she would take off into the world which made for a great macro opportunity.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Tiger Swallowtail on Orange Hawkweed

My final post for this anniversary week and the last picture in my 2010 calendar is this pic of a eastern tiger swallowtail drinking from an orange hawkweed blossom. To us they may be a terrible invasive species but to a butterfly they are just another source of food.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Owls of 2009

In 2009 I had a good year for photographing owls. Through out the year I photographed 6 different types of owls, as well as a seventh type at the owl banding at Hawk Ridge. Three of the owls made it into the calendar. The first owl that I photographed in 2009 was this northern hawk owl up at the Sax Zim Bog. Northern hawk owls are great to photograph because they are usually diurnal, active during the day, which makes for better pics. I was also able to photograph a great gray owl on that trip but it was at dusk so I had to turn up the ISO on the camera which made it too grainy to blow up big enough for the calendar.
In late winter and early spring I was fortunate enough to be able to observe and photograph two great horned owl nests. The first one was in an old hawks nest that was located in a field across from a small strip mall. I had watched these owls raise a brood in 2008 and they were back in 2009. I began to watch the nest at the beginning of February, the female was already on the nest incubating her eggs, and visited regularly until the three chicks that they hatched fledged. In early May I learned about the second nest in a local county park. The nest was located in the hollow of a dead tree, which was cool because I had only seen this type of nest from a distance in Yellowstone prior to that. The chicks fledged soon after I found the nest but I was able to get a few good pics before they left including this one that ended up in the calendar.
Burrowing owls can occasionally be found in the western portions of Minnesota but it is infrequent at best. This particular burrowing owl was photographed while on a visit to the Snake River Bird of Prey National Conservation Area in Idaho. We made a quick side trip to Snake River during the Snake River Bird of Prey Festival as part of our Yellowstone vacation. We did not have much time but we did sneak in a field trip where we went to man made burrowing owl dens and got to photograph both chicks and parents.
I also had the opportunity to photograph a eastern screech owl and a long eared owl but it was too late in the year to get them into the calendar.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy 3rd B-earthday

On Earth Day 2007 I began this blog as a way to share my photographs with other people who were interested in birding and nature. Now here we are on Earth Day 2010 and the blog is still up and running with the number of readers, friends and followers steadily increasing. Over the past three years I have learned a lot about wildlife, blogging and myself and I would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every visitor to this blog.
I wish that I could invite you all over to my corner of the world and meet with you in person. Unfortunately that is not very realistic so I offer this photo as a tribute to you, all of my cyber friends. It is your comments and your continued visits that help me to fly free day after day.

A Special Moment Captured in Time

This picture may seem a bit familiar, look up. Not only did it become the bases for a new blog header back in October of 2009 it is also the photo which I picked to grace the front of the 2010 calendar. The photo was taken at the Fall Raptor Center Release which was held at Carpenter Nature Center. I was very happy with my capture of the young red-tailed hawk. The detail that came out would have made for an excellent close up, but instead I choose to include more back ground in the pic. I think that the blue sky filled with clouds and gently swaying trees help transform this into a special moment captured in time. It is perfect for Sky Watch that falls on Earth Day and the three year anniversary of this blog.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

February Wood Ducks

Calendar Loon

The loon is the state bird of Minnesota. Its haunting call can be heard across lakes across most of the state. This particular loon was photographed at Crex Meadows Wildlife Management Area in neighboring Wisconsin. I took quite a few pics as the loon spent the morning fishing. Loons are efficient divers because, unlike most birds, they do not have hollow bones. This makes them less buoyant, so that it is easier for them to dive, but it also makes them heavier so they need a longer run way to get up into the air.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Calendar Pics from Yellowstone

The calendar that I put together each year is like a compilation of the best pictures that Michelle and I took during that year. The only rule is that the picture had to be taken in the year prior to when the calendar was created, although Michelle also has an unofficial rule prohibiting me from including a lot of bugs. Since we usually spend our vacation each year out shooting pics it stands to reason that quite a few pics in the calendar come from vacation shots. In 2009 we traveled to Yellowstone in the spring and 5 of the 14 calendar pics were taken during the trip.
The osprey is fascinating bird. These diurnal raptors were at one time called a fishing hawk however they are not a member of the hawk family. The osprey is in a family by itself mostly because of their unique feet. Osprey have 4 toes which are all an equal length, the toes of other raptors differ in length. They are also the only raptor, other then owls whose outside toe is reversible, allowing it to face forward or back. We photographed this osprey near its nest outside of West Yellowstone.
For the past two calendars, 2009 and 2010, we have featured a picture of an American kestrel. It is possible that it is the same kestrel as we have photographed it in nearly the same location in the Lamar Valley each year. These kestrel pics are some of the best kestrel pics that we have taken mostly due to the natural surrounding in the background, most of the other kestrel pics that I have taken are when they are on electrical lines.
Pretty much every year that we have gone to Yellowstone in the spring we have been fortunate enough to be able to get good pics of grizzly bear. When we have gone to Yellowstone in the fall we have never spotted any grizzly so if you are looking to photograph grizzly in Yellowstone I recommend that you visit in the spring time. We photographed this fellow digging up ground squirrels for breakfast along the road to Mammoth.
The other real cool thing about Yellowstone in the spring is the opportunity, if you are patient and lucky, to get a view of all of the new life. We have photographed red fox in Yellowstone several times over the years but we had always hoped to spot a den so that we could get pictures of the pups. This year, thanks to a tip from another photographer, we got our wish. We took a half a day to travel out to the east entrance where a mother fox had set up her den under the stairs of an old building. Because of their proximity to humans they did not seem to mind people much, even pesky photographers, which was good for us but probably not so good for them.
The other new baby pics in the 2010 calendar were of a badger with kits. We waited a total of about six hours to get the shots, Michelle was smart and stayed in the car reading while I sat out in the middle of a field in the Lamar Valley with a bunch of other photographers, but it was certainly worth the wait. She had four kits that she finally brought out of the den for us all to see. Unfortunately I never was able to get a good shot of all four kits facing the camera so I decided on this one with mom and one of the kids.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Earth Week Celebration

This coming Thursday, April 22nd, is Earth Day. This is a very important day for environmentalists, and all people who care about nature, around the world. Earth Day has another significance for me though, this Thursday will be the third anniversary of the Ecobirder blog. To celebrate our anniversary I would like to share the pics that I put into my 2010 calendar with you. Each year I put together a calendar with some of the best pics that I took that year for my family and friends. Maybe some day I might end up making them more available to people but for now I will share them with you as my blog posts for this week.

This first shot was taken at Crex Meadows and it is one of two macro pics included in the calendar.