Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 Finale

For the past twelve or so years I have been putting together calendars that Michelle and I give to family and friends as holiday gifts each year. These calendars are a reflection on the past year and usually contain what I feel were the best pictures that we took during the year. Since the end of the year is usually a time to look back and reflect on the past year, it has become sort of a tradition to end the year by publishing all of the calendar photos here in the blog as a sort of retrospective of the year.

Over the years many calendars have featured quite a few pictures that we have taken while we were on vacation. This year we travelled to south Texas back at the end of February so you will see quite a few pictures from Texas here. The cover pic above is an immature Harris hawk that we photographed at the Martin Refuge in Texas.
January featured this photograph of a great kiskadee that we photographed in Bentsen State Park, also in Texas. a couple of days after I took this shot we saw one of these fly into the glass at the Santa Ana NWR. It was a sad reminder of the effect that we humans can have on nature.
This rough-legged hawk, which I photographed at Crex Meadows in Wisconsin, graces the month of February. In November I found quite a few rough-legged hawks in Crex Meadows, both light and dark color phases. Since these birds breed up on the Arctic Circle, where there are not many people, they did not seem to have the same type of fear of people that other raptor have and often flew right over my head.
We have photographed roseate spoonbills in the Ding Darling NWR, Everglades National Park, and other parks in south Florida in the past but we have never been able to get as close or get such clear pictures as we did on South Padre Island. This spoonbill almost walked right up to us at the South Padre Birding and Nature Center.
April featured the only picture in this years calendar that was taken in Minnesota. I photographed this beautiful reflection of a white pelican while I was at Dragonfly Weekend, sponsored by the MOSP, in Morris, MN. Because I was up early I was able to get the shot just after the sun came up. The combination of early morning light and still water helped to make the surface of the water shine like glass.
May belongs to Michelle. She took this photo of a green jay at the Laguna Atascosa. Both of us took many pictures of this colorful south Texas specialty bird but I always like to include at least one picture that Michelle has taken in the calendar. Since she does not take very many pictures at least by my standards, it is sometimes difficult.
A pair of northern caracara from the Martin Refuge is featured in June. We spent several hours in their raptor blind one morning taking pictures of the Harris hawks and northern caracara as they flew in to eat the food that the refuge provided.
For July I choose this least grebe photo that I took at the Edinburg Scenic Wetlands in south Texas. The least grebe is the smallest member of the grebe family in North America. It was also a life bird for Michelle and I.
Action often makes for better photographs and this photo which occupies August is full of action. I took the photo in the Laguna Atascosa when a group of three turkey vultures made an attempt to abscond with an osprey's hard earned meal. After a minute or so of posturing on both sides the osprey grabbed the fish and flew off. However the vultures where not far behind.
There was nothing common about the September shot of this common loon. The posture of the wings as well as the water droplets on the head help to make this shot more unique. This is Michelle's favorite picture in the calendar.
This Altamira oriole is another south Texas specialty that made it into this years calendar. Over the past couple years I have been adding smaller pictures in some of the open spaces in the calendars. Last year the smaller pictures included a Bullock's oriole, which I photographed in Idaho, and a Baltimore oriole, which I photographed around home, but this was the first oriole to get the main photograph for October or any other month. This was a life bird for Michelle and I.
Photographing at the Martin Refuge was our most productive time while we were in Texas. You can see that many of the calendar pictures, including these last three, came from the Martin Refuge. This adult Harris hawk, November, was photographed at the raptor blind at the Martin Refuge.
After photographing raptors all morning we moved on to a songbird blind after lunch. The northern cardinals at the first blind that we went to were kind of aggressive and chased away many of the other birds. Despite the fact that people in Texas claim that the cardinals there are more red then they are elsewhere I was still not very excited about photographing them, since they are pretty common here in Minnesota, so we moved on to another blind.
The second songbird blind that we moved to was much more productive. We were able to photograph quite a few of the south Texas specialties including the pyrrhuoxia, which was featured in December, and the olive sparrow, above, which took its place on the back cover. Both of these were life birds for Michelle and I. So 2010 was an amazing year for me, especially for bird and dragonfly photography, hopefully things will continue here in 2011.
Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Sunset on Another Year

This time of the year is very much like a sunset. The holidays are the bright colors that light up the sky just before the sun sets on another year. This may be the end of 2010 but 2011 is just beginning, like a beautiful new sunrise full of new promise.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Have You Seen My Mama?

Where have all the turtles gone.

Since I had the day off today and since it was relatively warm, the temps were in the high 20's I headed over to the Black Dog Lake. I was disappointed to find that Black Dog Road was closed and they were doing construction on the north waterway that connects the road to the river. Black Dog Lake is usually one of the best spots to find wildlife during the winter but with all of the construction all that I saw were a couple of eagles. Since I did not have much luck I decided to cross the river and hike around near the Bass Ponds area of the Minnesota Valley NWR. All of the ponds are all iced up and there was not much wildlife that I could see. However during the winter many animals stay in the area by hibernating. Turtles, like the one above that I photographed at the Bass Ponds in September spend their winter in a sort of suspended state at the bottom of the pond under the ice. It will still be four more months or more before we see turtles out sunning themselves like this again.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Lake Vadnais

This morning I decided to head over to Lake Vadnais in search of the Townsend's solitaire that has been hanging out in the area. Lakes, rivers and other water ways are usually good areas for finding nature but Lake Vadnais seems to find more then its share of interesting visitors.
During the winter the road which runs between the lakes is cosed and not maintained except for trails for cross country skiing. The dusting of snow that we had over night, maybe another inch or two, covered the trees making them look like they were flocked. It also covered the trails making them a bit more difficult to travel, but since it was sunny and relatively warm, about 15 degrees, I did not mind much.
I did not find the solitaire on this trip but I did manage to photograph him back in November. The Townsend's Solitaire is a bird that is not very common here but once in a while one will hang around over the winter as long as it can find enough food.
In November at around the same time that the solitaire showed up Lake Vadnais was also playing host to a male long-tailed duck. This duck was hanging out with a group of common goldeneye until the lake froze up. Since long-tailed ducks and goldeneye are both diving ducks I spent several afternoons in November watching them dive for fish.
Vadnais must have had a really good year for fish because not only did we have a host of diving ducks in the fall back in July we had around 100 white pelicans that spent time on the lake. White pelicans are common in the western portions of Minnesota but usually we only see them during migration here in the Twin Cities that is why it was quite a surprise to see such a large number here in the middle of summer. It must have been the luck of Lake Vadnais.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Silver-Spotted Skipper

This little butterfly is a silver-spotted skipper. It is a part of the Hesperiidae or skipper family. There are approximately 3500 different species of skippers around the world and about 230 species in North America. Skippers usually have large stocky bodies in comparison to the size of the wings and fly in a quick darting pattern, which is how they got their common name.
The skipper family is divided into three subfamilies, the spreadwing skippers, the grass skippers and the skipperlings. The silver-spotted skipper is a member of the spreadwing subfamily. The silver-spotted is one of the larger skippers and is named for the large irregularly shaped white or silver spot on the bottom side of the hind wing. Adult silver-spotted skippers feed on a variety of different flowers, including red clover as in the pictured above which were taken at Eagle Bluff, while the larval food consists of black lotus tree leaves as well as different types of legumes.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Holidays

Here is wishing you a Berry Merry Holiday.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays

Here is wishing your family a very happy holidays from our family.
Magic is trying to figure out which of the presents is his.
While Peanut is trying on her new holiday hat.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Cloud by Percy Bysshe Shelley Finale

I am the daughter of Earth and Water,
And the nursling of the Sky;
I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores;
I change, but I cannot die.
For after the rain when with never a stain
The pavilion of Heaven is bare,
And the winds and sunbeams with their convex gleams
Build up the blue dome of air,
I silently laugh at my own cenotaph,
And out of the caverns of rain,
Like a child from the womb, like a ghost from the tomb,
I arise and unbuild it again.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bumble Bee

Long-tailed Duck

The long-tailed duck is a duck that is not very common here in Minnesota. These ducks spend the summer up on breeding territories up in the Arctic Circle and usually spend winters out on the open oceans. Last year however we had one, possibly two, that spent most of the winter on the open waters of the Mississippi River.
Only the male long-tailed duck has the long tail which the duck is named for, so this bird was obviously a female. Since these pictures were taken last December this duck is in its alternate plumage, which they were through out the winter. Long-tailed ducks actually have three different plumage phases and molt gradually through out the months of April through October.
I first photographed this bird in mid December on the Mississippi River near South Saint Paul. As the weather got colder and the river froze up I believe that the duck moved to open water near Prescott, WI and further down river where a female long-tailed duck was spotted off and on through out much of the winter. This is the same location where a harlequin duck, another Arctic duck that usually spend winters on the coast, has been seen for the past three winters. Since both the long-tailed duck and the harlequin duck are both diving ducks that eat mostly aquatic invertebrates and fish it is likely that these spots on the Mississippi have a good supply of prey. At least enough to support these ducks over the winter. Earlier this year we had a male long-tailed duck on Lake Vadnais that I had the pleasure of photographing. Perhaps if we are lucky he will stick around in the area this winter.