Saturday, April 30, 2011

Common Yarrow

Common yarrow is a native wild flower that is a member of the Aster family. It is found all over Minnesota, I took this pic at Rice Lake.

Friday, April 29, 2011

A True Red-head

There are numerous species of woodpeckers that have red feathers on their head but there is only one truly red-head. The red-headed woodpecker is a mid sized woodpecker found in the eastern portions of North America. Their range runs from southern Canada in the north down to the Gulf Coast and from the Rocky Mountains east to the Atlantic Ocean. Birds that live in the northern third of the range usually migrate south in the winter in search of food. I photographed these red-heads at the Necedah NWR in central Wisconsin.

Red-headed woodpeckers are cavity nesters. Both male and female will work on excavating a cavity in a dead tree or snag preferably one with no bark left on it, or use an existing cavity. The cavity is typically lined with wood chips making a bed for the 4 to 8 eggs that the female will lay one egg per day. Both male and female will incubate the eggs, which takes about two weeks, and care for the chicks, which fledge around 27 to 28 days after they hatch. Both adults will also aggressively defend the nest and territory. They will often chase away other birds, not just other woodpeckers, and have been known to destroy nests or eggs of other birds nesting in the area. In parts of the range where there is a longer summer the adults may chase away the fledglings after they hatch and start a second brood.

Red-headed woodpeckers are omnivores. They eat seeds, berries, fruit, nuts, acorns, eggs, chicks, mice and insects. Instead of boring into trees in search of insects, like most other woodpeckers, red-heads are more often to catch insects in the air or on the ground, especially grasshoppers. Red-heads are one of only four species of woodpeckers that are known to cache food. They will often tuck an acorn into a hole in a dead snag or wedge a live grasshopper in the crevice of a dead tree. They will then frequently cover their cache up with bark, which makes them unique in the world of woodpeckers. Since they rely heavily on dead trees for nesting cavities and cache locations their population has been in decline as people remove dead trees for ascetic reasons. Their population fluctuated positively, at times, when the number of dead trees increased, such as when North America went through the Dutch Elm epidemic. In the long run, however, their population has been on the decline, decreasing 50% since the late 1960's. This is mostly due to habitat loss and nesting site competition from non-native species.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Osprey Flight

I photographed this osprey flying from the nesting platform at Lilydale Park last spring. At this point they were just copulating and had not settle down on any eggs. I spent a lot of time watching osprey nests last year.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Spotted Sandpiper


Soon we will be heading over to Yellowstone to commune with nature take a much needed vacation. On our return trip we will probably stop at a park or two in northern Montana and look for shorebirds to photograph. One of the birds that we are likely to see is the willet. Willets breed in wetland habitats in parts of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, California and the Dakotas. You can often see them probing the mud, water and vegetation in search of insects to eat. I photographed this willet down on the Gulf Coast when we visited Texas last year, before the oil spill. Willets migrate south and spend the winter on the South Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf Coasts.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Wood Lake Nature Center

Yesterday turned out to be a fabulous day weather wise, so I decided to go out and take some pictures before an afternoon dinner with Michelle's family. Since my time was limited I decided that it was best to stay in the Twin Cities so I went out to check on some of my favorite haunts including Wood Lake Nature Center. The visitors center was closed due to the holiday, but the park was open and occupied with quite a few visitors.
I was encouraged to see quite a few signs of spring. Insects have begun to spring up now that the weather has gotten a bit warmer. There were already plenty of flies and box elder bugs flying around. A few green darner dragonflies had completed their northern migration and were chasing the small flying insects in the fields and mourning cloak butterflies were warming their wings in the sun. Mourning cloaks over winter in their adult butterfly form, that is why they are usually the first butterflies that you can see in the spring. Soon they will mate and then pass from the world making way for their offspring.
The first warblers of the year have also arrived. Yellow-rumped warblers seem to be everywhere. Warblers are typically insect eaters so they do not usually return until after the bugs do. Since yellow-rumps do not typically migrate as far south as most other warblers they are usually the first to arrive in the spring, as well as the last to leave in the fall.
Canada geese have already begun to nest. They usually nest on islands of reeds in the middle of the lake. This gives the nest some protection from predators like fox and coyote. Then they use many of their own down feathers to line the nest, making a soft feathery bed for the eggs.
Much of Wood Lake Nature Center is occupied by Wood Lake and adjacent wetlands. The lake itself is very shallow, only a couple of feet deep in many locations, and has a boardwalk running through the middle of it.There are wood duck houses that have been placed around the lake, as well as in some of the parks other water features, to provide nesting habitat for cavity nesting ducks such as Wood Ducks. Because the correct habitat is carefully maintained it is possible to see wood ducks in the park almost any time that you want to visit.
It is not only wood ducks that take advantage of the wood duck nesting boxes though, hooded mergansers are also cavity nesters and frequently will take over nest boxes in the park. During mating season both male and female can often be seen floating on the lake but later on in the summer the males will move off leaving the female to raise the family.
The turtles were also out enjoying the sun and the warm weather. Turtles are reptiles and as such are cold blooded. So they rely on the sun to warm them up which helps them to move better, digest food and fight diseases. They use logs, rocks, or any other make shift platform to bask in the sun, often piling on top of each other, or staking, in order to get more sun.
With dinner time approaching I decided to make my way back to the parking lot. On my way I noticed this great egret flying across the beautiful blue sky. I think that perhaps he had the same idea and was heading off to his in laws for dinner, but I doubt that it was ham and German potato salad.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Pink-edged Sulphur

Sulphurs are medium sized yellow butterflies in the Pieridae family. They have six fully developed legs, unlike the member of the brushfoot family. They can usually be found taking nectar from wild flowers or perched on moist soil, almost always perched with wings closed. Most over winter as a caterpillar pupating in the spring.

We have five sulphurs that are found in this area. This one is a pink-sided sulphur. Many different sulphurs have a pink edge on their wings that some people associate with the pink-sided but the true way to determine if a sulphur is a pink-sided instead of a clouded or orange sulphur is by the number of spots on the hind wing. Pink-sided sulphurs have a single spot on their hind wing compared to two spots on both the clouded and orange sulphurs. Another clue to help determine the type of sulphur is to look in the habitat for the Caterpillar host plant. Pink-sided sulphur caterpillars only eat blue-berry leaves, so the butterflies are usually found in areas near blueberry. Most other sulphur butterfly caterpillars in this area eat legumes, or members of the pea family.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Prairie Smoke

If we get lucky and finally get a bit of warmer weather then it will not be too long before I will be able to go out and photograph some more prairie smoke. This native member of the rose family requires a good amount of sun which is why it prefers dry prairie. It is usually one of the first wild flowers to bloom in the spring time.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Hey, Hey, It's our B-Earthday!

Four years ago today I began this blog with a post that said:

Welcome to my new Ecobirder Blog

In honor of Earth Day 2007 I have started my first blog. The purpose of this blog will be to share my love of the environment, wildlife, and birding with others who share these interests.

A couple days later I posted my second post which included 3 pictures of a great horned owl nest that I was photographing at Wood Lake Nature Center. I had hoped to put these pics into my first post but I was very new to blogging and was still trying to figure things out. I wanted to start the blog on Earth Day, since the blog has a lot to do with the earth, nature and environment, so I decided to make an announcement post on Earth Day to start the blog and begin posting the pictures when I was ready.

I figured that for this B-Earthday we would invite a bunch of owls back to help us celebrate. I photographed this little eastern screech owl near Minnehaha Creek in south Minneapolis in December of 2009. I heard about the owl of the MOU list serve but it took me several trips before I finally found it out sunning on New Years Eve. I guess that proves what a nerd that I am, celebrating New Years Eve out freezing my butt off taking pics while everyone else is out getting ready to party.
2009 was a pretty good year for taking owls pics. While I was participating in the Redwing Christmas Bird Count in December of 2009 we decided to quit and head back up to the Twin Cities early. We had heard about a long-eared owl that had been spotted in a park in St Paul during the Bloomington count the week before so we decided to see if we could locate it. It took us a while but we did find the owl. Unfortunately dark comes early in December so the picture is not as good as I would have liked but you don't often get to be picky when it comes to owls.

In 2009 we took a side trip to Idaho during our Yellowstone vacation to participate in the first ever Snake River Birds of Prey Festival. Since we did not have much time, Yellowstone was calling, we only signed up for a field trip on borrowing owls. The field trip was great we had owls out in the field to photograph and even got to open up some man made burrows to check out burrowing owl chicks. Definitely one of the highlights of that year.

I have been fortunate over the years to be able to observe several great horned owl nests. A hawks nest that was taken over in Lakeville, MN has been the most productive for getting pics. Great horned owls have produced young in this nest in 2008,2009 and again this year. In 2009 they raised three young that began to branch, walking out on the branches before they can fly, in April.

So far 2011 has been a pretty good year for photographing owls also. Although I have had the opportunity to photograph northern saw-whet owls during the owl programs at Hawk Ridge over the years, I have not had the opportunity to photograph one that was not trapped for banding until this year. Back in February a saw-whet decided to perch, for a couple of days in someones back yard in Bloomington, MN. Fortunately the home owner was a birder and he got the word out about the owl in his back yard. A lot of people showed up over the next couple of days, myself included, to get some great photos

This year I made a couple of trips up to the Sax Zim Bog during the winter, as I do most every year. The first trip was for the first ever Brrrdathon that was held in January. As often happens in January in Minnesota the first day of the Brrrrdathon was complicated by a snow storm that dropped about six inches of snow in the area. Fortunately the next day, Saturday, the weather turned sunny and it was a great day to be about taking pictures of wildlife. Since I was spending one more night in a hotel in Duluth I stayed out in the bog until it got dark. I was rewarded when a pair of great grey owls began to hunt along the road at dusk. Since great grey owls are crepuscular, active at dusk and dawn, they can be tough to photograph.

In comparison northern hawk owls are diurnal so they are active during the day which makes them much easier to photograph. I saw northern hawk owls on both my trips up to the bog, as I have in most every year. I took this pic on my second trip at the beginning of March. This hawk owl seemed to be very used to people so it was not very nervous about my presence. As such I was able to get some really nice pics.

So another year of blogging has come to an end and a new one begins. This is the 1502 post that I have done in the four year. I have managed to post every day for most of the past three years. I really hope that you have enjoyed coming here and have taken something away from my pictures and writings. If I manage to make it another year I will have to do something really special for my 5th B-Earthday. I have updated the slide show on my side bar, the old one was getting a bit tattered and frayed, and I hope that you enjoy it. I hope to see you all here over the next year and invite you to join in the big party one year from today.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sunrise by Amanda Shelton


The sun silently ran through the darkness and slowly became the sunrise, and the silent's was broken by the sound of the birds greeting the morning light.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Halloween Pennant

Boulder Lake a Product of Our Past.

It is difficult for us humans, with our limited life span, to try and comprehend time on the planetary scope. Having lived in Minnesota my entire life I am used to change, our seasonal changes can be considered quite drastic. In the scope of time however, there has been no change at all during the insignificant time that I have been on the planet. The home that I have known for almost half a century was once a mountain range instead of the relative flat land that I know. At one time winter did not exists here in what was a steamy volcanic landscape, while at another time the winters were so long that the snow could not melt fast enough and glacier were formed. These glaciers are what created the current landscape of Minnesota. The weight of the glaciers carved out the land. As they began to recede they left behind till, rock and debris. The melted water pooled and formed huge glacial lakes. One of these, Glacial Lake Duluth, was larger then Lake Superior, cresting over 500 feet higher then Lake Superior. The retreating glacier blocked the flow of water to the east leaving only the Kettle and Brois Brule Rivers to drain this massive body of water. Eventually the Superior Lobe of the Wisconsin Glacier receded to the north which opened up the flow of water to the east into the Michigan and Huron basins. This drainage was much more efficient and as the water drained to the east it created the rest of the Great Lakes chain. In Minnesota Glacial Lake Duluth began to diminish leaving behind Lake Superior as well as numerous other lakes like Boulder Lake, pictured above, which is located 18 miles north of Duluth.