Monday, February 28, 2011

Frozen Falls

One of the big tourist attractions here in the Twin Cities is Minnehaha Falls. The falls was made famous by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his epic poem The Song of Hiawatha, the love story of Hiawatha and Minnehaha, however Longfellow never visited the falls themselves.
Longfellow wrote the Song of Hiawatha loosely based on Ojibwe and other Native American legends. Longfellow incorrectly translated his heroine's name, Minnehaha, to mean laughing waters. He took this translation from an earlier book called Dacotah by Mary Eastman. The correct translation, from the Dakota language, would be water (mni) waterfall (haha).
The source of the falls is the Minnehaha Creek, a tributary of the Mississippi River which runs from Lake Minnetonka in the west to the Mississippi River 22 miles away. The creek meanders its way through several Twin Cities suburbs as well as south Minneapolis before if plunges 53 feet, shortly before it joins with the Mississippi. Much of the land around the falls was purchased by the state of Minnesota. It was originally intended to be a state park but the state decided to give it to the city of Minneapolis to form a city park instead. In the late 1800s and early 1900s the park was kind of a spectacle with a carnival, zoo and even horse racing. Now the park is mostly grass fields or open wild area where people can walk, hike, run, bike, swim, bird and enjoy the view. At this time of year the creek and falls are mostly frozen but they still have a magical property to them.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Buck Moth Stops Here.

Moths are usually somewhat difficult to photograph. Many of them are nocturnal which means that the only way to photograph them is with artificial light. Fortunately not all moths are nocturnal, some can be seen in the middle of the day.
This colorful moth is a buck moth, Hemileuca maia. They are a member of the Saturniidae family. They are fond in the eastern half of the United States with eastern Minnesota being the north west portion of their range. This is probably a male because females usually have more red on the tip of their abdomen.
Buck moths are usually seen flying on sunny days in early Autumn. I found this one wandering in the grass in the Minnesota Valley NWR on a sunny September day. Typically there is one generation of buck moth a year but here in the north many will actually pupate through a second winter. I love the eye in this last shot, it gives him an almost whimsical look.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Waiting for sSpring Fields

I have really been suffering from Spring fever lately. I can't wait to see blue skies and green grass. Unfortunately with the foot plus of snow that we got last weekend and the below normal temps we have lately I am beginning to wonder if spring will ever come. At least it will be march in a couple of days which means maybe things will start to change for the better.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Western Chorus Frog

Even though the western chorus frog can be found through out Minnesota they are most often heard and not seen. A member of the Hylidae, or treefrog family, they are Minnesota's smallest frog ranging from 3/4 to 1 inch.
During breeding season the western chorus frogs sing in large groups, or choruses, which is how the frog got its name. The song of the chorus frog sounds something like the sound of running your finger down the teeth of a comb. I photographed this frog in Morris, MN,

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ballet in the Sky

As we get close to the end of February I begin to anticipate the return of the great blue herons to this area. There are a couple of heron rookeries here in the Twin Cities that begin to see life again by about the middle of March.
Most often when I see herons they are in the water on land near water. There large size and long legs make them appear kind of gangly, kind of the like the kid in grade school that grew so fast that they did not quite know how to control their own body.
Herons at the rookery are quite the opposite. They seem to float in the air like a leaf, suspended in time, until they land daintily, toes first with the grace of a ballet dancer, on a tiny twig.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Birdacious Bark Butter from Wild Birds Unlimited

It's been almost four years since I started this blog as a way to share my pictures. Now my friends over at Wild Birds Unlimited have asked me to share my opinion with you on some of there products, specifically Jim's Birdacious Bark Butter. This unique bird food was created by Wild Bird Unlimited founder and CEO Jim Carpenter and it is part of the Birdacious line of treats, trays and toppers which are available exclusively at Wild Birds Unlimited.Jim's Birdacious Bark Butter is a spreadable suet that is made from beef suet, peanut butter and corn. It has attracted over 100 different species of birds including woodpeckers, chickadees, cardinals, nuthatches, mockingbirds, catbirds, grosbeaks, towhees, brown creepers, robins and more. They have now also added calcium to the mix to make it even more healthy for the birds.
The thing that I like most about it is that you can spread the butter right onto the bark of a tree. This is great for photographers who are looking to attract the birds but prefer to get a more natural looking shot. If you just are looking to attract a greater variety and quantity of birds to your back yard then there are feeder options, like the Bark Butter Feeder, that are available. I was happy to see the made in America sticker on the feeder that they sent me. I have nothing against products made in other countries but it is great to see that Wild Bird Unlimited supports US companies and workers.
I was hoping to get up to the Sax Zim area last weekend to see if I could use the Bark Butter to attract some boreal chickadees, grey jays, black-backed woodpeckers, pine and evening grosbeak, but unfortunately the weather was less then cooperative. However I have my Bark Butter Feeder set up and it is possible that I may get up north this weekend so I will hopefully be able to follow this post up with a lot of great pictures of birds enjoying Jim's Birdacious Bark Butter.
Wild Bird Unlimited also sells a variety of other types of wild bird seed, including nyjer thistle, and black oil sunflower, as well as suet. They also have a large selection of wild bird feeders, including window feeders for that birds-eye view.

If you visit their website and then return here and post a comment about a product that you think looks interesting you can win an item of your choice up to a $50 value. You can increase your odds of winning by signing up for the Wild Birds Unlimited newsletter or becoming a Wild Bird's Unlimited fan on Facebook.

Even if you don't win, please visit Wild Birds Unlimited for a great selection of birding supplies.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Coral Hairstreak


The Whitewater River is a tributary of the Mississippi River. It was named the Whitewater by the Dakota Indians because in the spring when the river was high it would erode the light-colored clay deposits along the banks turning the color of the water white. This portion of the river is a part of Whitewater State Park.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Colvill Park, an Eagle's Winter Retreat

Each year as winter approaches most birds begin there annual migration south to their wintering grounds. The reason why most birds head south for the winter is not to escape the cold, that is why retirees head south for the winter, the reason why they make such a journey is basically just to find food. Consider flycatchers and warblers that primarily eat insects, when winter comes there are not so many insects so they head south to where there is still food.
Bald eagles do what is often referred to as a partial migration. With over 7000 feathers they do not worry much about the cold, however it is very difficult to catch fish, their primary food source when all of the lakes and rivers are frozen.
Since eagles are opportunistic feeders they also eat a lot of carrion. So some eagles may stay in areas where there is no open water source and survive mainly off of road kill, but the majority will head south until they find open water for fishing. Minnesota has a very healthy population of bald eagles, Alaska is the only state in the US that has more nesting pair, and so during the winter most of them congregate in the southern part of the state along the open waters of the Mississippi River.
One spot where we usually find good numbers of bald eagles during the winter is at Colvill Park in Redwing, Minnesota. Colvill Park is a little city park that is located adjacent to the Mississippi River. Much of Colvill Park is what you would see in a typical city park, benches overlooking the river, a public swimming pool, a very nice children's playground, but during the winter the big attraction is the small wooded area to the north of the park. People come from all around to see the eagles perched on the trees or fishing in the river. An Excel Energy plant which is located just a few blocks up river helps to keep the river as well as the back channels from freezing up.
The eagle population at Colvill fluctuates depending on the weather. During years where we have a mild winter we often have a pretty large group wintering down around Redwing. During years where the winter is harsh, like this year has been, the eagles tend to go further south down into the Mississippi River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, so only a few remain up in the Redwing area. Even when the eagles go further south they often begin to head back up to Redwing as winter begins to thaw. When I was down in Redwing last weekend I only saw a few eagles in the park. I expect that will change as the weather starts to warm up. I took the pictures for this post last year in January. Last year the winter was milder then this year and there were quite a few more eagles to photograph.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Macro - Halloween Pennant Purgatory

The genus Celithemus is a part of the Libellulidae, or skimmer, family. There common name is pennant which comes from the way in which they typically perch. As you can see in these photos, pennants usually perch horizontally at the top of a stick or blade of grass. The wings are held at an angle with the forewings higher then the hindwings which gives them the appearance of a flag or a pennant.
We see two types of pennants here in Minnesota the calico pennant and the Halloween pennant, which is featured here. Even though Halloween pennants seem to be less effected by cold, they are often found out flying in weather that other dragons avoid, they are not usually found here in Minnesota in October. They received the name Halloween pennant because of the color of the males, which are orange with black-brown spots. These pics are of females, which is why they are yellow with black-brown spots. I photographed these dragons at Purgatory Creek during the summer.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Purple Loosestrife

Lythrum salicaria, or purple loosestrife, is an invasive species that was introduced to North America from Eurasia by the nursery industry. Unfortunately it has made it out into the wild where it has quickly overtaken native plants, especially in wetland areas like Purgatory Creek where I took this photo.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A New Lifer, Sort of.

Last Saturday I decided to head up to Crex Meadows to check out their camera club. The shy was pretty cloudy so I figured that it would not be a very good day to take pictures. When I got back home around 2:00pm I checked my e-mail and found that a birder in Bloomington had posted that he had a saw-whet owl in his backyard. Unfortunately by that time the owl was no longer around so I decided to take a nap. I did not get much sleep though because I got called into work to handle an emergency. When I got home from work I had another e-mail stating that the owl had returned but alas it was already too dark to try and get a photo.
The next morning I was up early and was checking my e-mail frequently as I worked on my computer. Around 8:00am I noticed an e-mail that the owl had been spotted by the home owner again that morning so I printed out the directions and headed over. When I arrived at the house in Bloomington the owner was not home but another birder was already there and had located the owl perched in an apple tree in the backyard. From the side of the house we had a pretty good view of the bird except there was one branch that was obstructing the view, see the photo above. Even though the picture was not perfect I was still pretty excited because this was the first saw-whet that I had the chance to photograph in the wild, all the others were photographed while they were being banded up at Hawk Ridge.
Shortly after I arrived and got a few shots from the side of the house the owner returned. The other two birders who were there, another arrived as we were photographing from the side of the house, decided to leave so since it was just myself I asked the owner if I could go into the yard to try and get an unobstructed shot. He was very kind and let me go though his house and out the back door. I was able to find a good angle on the bird, with no branches, but unfortunately the bird was not facing the camera, see the shot above.
After taking a couple of shots I figured that I had probably bothered the owl and the home owner enough so I decided to leave. While I was leaving the home owner told me that the owl had perched in a more open spot on Saturday. So I decided to give the owl some time and I headed over to a park that was not far away. A couple of hours later I returned and this time there were many people there to see the owl. The owl had moved to a slightly different location in the same tree and was now surrounded by large camera lenses and gawking birders.
I hung around for a while taking pictures. There was always at least 5 people with big glass in the yard during the time that I was there. Most of the time the owl had its eyes closed but on a couple of occasions when the chickadees began to mob it the owl did open one of its eyes. Then someone decided that he had to get his 500mm camera right on top of the owl. I wanted to say something but was afraid that the ensuing argument would stress the owl even more. So a few minutes later I left. I never saw any more posts about the owl after that day so either the owl moved on or the home owner decided it was better not to invite people over because unfortunately there are people who care more about getting a pic then they do the owl that they are photographing.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Woods in Winter by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

When winter winds are piercing chill,

And through the hawthorn blows the gale,

With solemn feet I tread the hill,

That overbrows the lonely vale.


O'er the bare upland, and away

Through the long reach of desert woods,

The embracing sunbeams chastely play,

And gladden these deep solitudes.


Where, twisted round the barren oak,

The summer vine in beauty clung,

And summer winds the stillness broke,

The crystal icicle is hung.


Where, from their frozen urns, mute springs

Pour out the river's gradual tide,

Shrilly the skater's iron rings,

And voices fill the woodland side.


Alas! how changed from the fair scene,

When birds sang out their mellow lay,

And winds were soft, and woods were green,

And the song ceased not with the day!


But still wild music is abroad,

Pale, desert woods! within your crowd;

And gathering winds, in hoarse accord,

Amid the vocal reeds pipe loud.


Chill airs and wintry winds! my ear

Has grown familiar with your song;

I hear it in the opening year,

I listen, and it cheers me long.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Good News for Whoopers

Its been over fifty years since a whooping crane was last seen in the state of Louisiana but now the US Fish and Wildlife Service has published a regulation that will facilitate the reintroduction of the species back to areas that were once its native habitat in that state.
The plan is to release and manage a flock of non-migrating whooping cranes at the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries' White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area. Part of the conservation area was once the Vermillion Parish property which was the last known location of Louisiana whooping cranes back in 1950. The project is a cooperative effort between the US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Geological Survey, and the Louisiana Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit.
The whooping crane is the most endangered crane in the world. There are currently approximately 400 whoopers in the wild. The majority of these comprise the only self-sustaining population in wild which migrate between Buffalo National Park in Canada and Aransas NWR in Texas. It is dangerous to have the entire whooping crane population in one flock, disease or natural disaster could wipe out the entire species, so multiple efforts are in progress to reduce the risk by providing new whooper flocks. These include a flock which migrates, with help from ultralite aircraft, between Necedah, NWR in Wisconsin and Chassahowitzka NWR and St. Marks NWR in Florida and now the non-migrating population efforts in Louisiana. The new Louisiana flock will be given the designation non-essential , experimental population which will give the organizations managing them more leeway, since they are in the endangered species list.
The cranes above are part of the eastern flock and they were photographed in Wisconsin.
For more information check out the news release from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.