Monday, October 31, 2011

Red-bellied Woodpecker

The red-bellied woodpecker is a common woodpecker in the eastern half of the United States. Here in Minnesota you find them mostly in the south eastern part of the state. I most often see them in the summer foraging in the trees for insects. They use their long tongue with its barbed end and their sticky saliva to catch insects and spiders. During the winter I often see them at bird feeders. They are usually feeding on the suet at the feeders but they will also eat seeds and fruit especially during the winter.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Red-spotted Admiral

The red-spotted admiral consists of two subspecies, the red-spotted purple, shown above, and the white admiral, below. For ages these two were considered two separate species however because they frequently hybridize with each other where their ranges over lap it was determined that they are the same species and in 2001 they were given the common name red-spotted admiral by the North American Butterfly Association.
The white admiral is usually found in the northern portions of North America (Canada, Alaska and the northern U.S.) where the red spotted purple is usually found more in the eastern United States. They overlap in the northern US and southern Canada from around Minnesota to the East Coast. Both subspecies overwinter in the larval caterpillar form. The caterpillar eating mostly leaves of trees such as aspen, oak, birch, willow and others.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Wood Lily

The wood lily is native to most of North America. Even though it is the most common lily in North America it is still currently endangered in Maryland, Texas, New Mexico and North Carolina. It is considered threatened in Kentucky and Ohio. Here in Minnesota the wood lily does not currently have or need any special conservation status.

Friday, October 28, 2011


Juneau is one of three female peregrine falcons that we have in the education department at The Raptor Center. Juneau was discovered walking along the shore of Lake Erie near Point Mouilee, MI with an injured wing in September of 1998. When she arrived at The Raptor Center several days later it was determined that she had been illegally shot in her right shoulder. The TRC vets did all that they could but the damage to her shoulder was irreparable. Juneau can fly for a short distance but could not survive on her own out in the wild. Juneau is a great part of our education department. She was the second peregrine falcon that I learned to handle and has been one of the most common birds that I work with at TRC. That is why I was excited to use her in the 2012 TRC calendar. The picture above can be found representing the month of April. It was shot at the Gortner Parking Facility on the U of M St Paul Campus.

I think that the 2012 Raptor Center calendar is even better then the 2011 was. I photographed and put together both calendars so if you enjoy my photographs on the blog then here is your chance to have some print copies to own. The calendar is available online for $20. This is a bit more expensive then calenders you can buy at the store but please remember that part of the money from the calendar helps to feed and care for injured raptors.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Sandhills at Sunset

Each fall the sandhill cranes gather together in a prelude to their fall migration south. Large numbers of cranes spend their days eating and building up energy in the fields that surround Crex Meadows in Wisconsin. As the sun begins to set they fly back to Crex, often in large waves of birds that remind me of pictures and movies that I have seen of bombing campaigns during WWII. They will spend the night with their toes immersed in the muddy bottoms of the shallow pools. The water serves as both an alarm and deterrent to predators that may try and sneak up on them in the night. When the sun rises the next morning the cranes will leave in waves again, like wheat, back into the fields to eat.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Olympia Marble


The osprey is a large and very unique raptor. They are so unique that they have a genus and family all to their self, genus Pandion and family Pandionidae. What makes them so different then other raptors? First off osprey are found on every continent of the world other then Antarctica. There are other species of raptors that can also make this claim but not many. Osprey also have toes which are all equal length. The toes on most raptors differ in size with the back toe, the hallux, usually being the largest. Osprey are also the only raptor, other then owls, that can rotate one of its toes so that it can either have three toes forward and one back or two and two.
Ospreys are sometimes referred to as fishing hawks or fishing eagles. This is because about 99% of their diet comes from fish. Several adaptations help them to be very proficient at catching fish, it is reported that adults have a 50% to 80% success rate. They have pads on the bottom of their feet that are equipped with short spines that help to grab the slippery fish. Their eyes are designed to allow them to see things under the water and their nostrils have the ability to close. This is important because osprey often dive from up to 100 feet straight down into the water to chase their prey. Other times they will catch fish more like an eagle by skimming the water and dipping their feet in and grabbing the fish with their talons. Once they catch a fish they will turn it so that the head is facing forward as they fly to a perch or back to their nest to feed. This makes the fish more aerodynamic which makes it easier for the osprey to fly while carrying its load.
Here in Minnesota the osprey had disappeared from the southern half of the state by the middle of the last century due to hunting, habitat loss, and chemicals like DDT. In 1984 the Hennepin Parks Association, now Three River Park District, began releasing osprey back into the Twin Cities area. From 1984 to 1995 one hundred and forty four osprey were release from six different hack sites around the Twin Cities. In 1988 a pair of osprey nested in the Twin Cities, Carver Park, for the first time in many years. Since that time many osprey have nested and produced young in the area. Many nesting platforms have been added to the area to accommodate the growing population. They have also food places of their own to build nests, which includes trees, power line platforms, ball field lights, cell towers and more. Since the population in the area is not stable no new birds have been released for over 15 years, however many of the young birds are still banded each year, like the one above, by the Three Rivers Park District, MN DNR, and Minnesota Audubon Society.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Blazing Fall Colors

Have you ever wondered why leaves change color in the fall? The simple answer is the pigments in the leaves. Leaves are the food producing part of the tree. Pigments in the leaves combine sun light, water and carbon dioxide into energy in a process called photosynthesis. The primary pigment in photosynthesis is chlorophyll, which is green. Two other pigments also help in the photosynthesis process xanthophyll, which is yellow and carotene, which is orange. In the fall, as the days become shorter, the trees quit producing chlorophyll as they prepare to hibernate. With out the abundant amount of chlorophyll that the leaves typically have through the spring and summer the yellow and orange pigments shine through. Red leaves come from anthocyanin pigments. Not all trees produce these anthocyanin pigments. It is believed that these pigments are produced to help the trees recover nutrients from the leaves before they fall off and die. That is why some years there is more or less red mixed into the fall tapestry.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Widow Skimmer

The widow skimmer is large skimmer that is found through out most of the eastern half of North America, although they have expanded their range to the Pacific Coast in recent years. They are most often found around ponds or other still bodies of water, especially the males who often patrol a territory around the water waiting for a receptive female.
Females often spend time away from the water, especially right after they emerge, because copulation can be dangerous. The widow skimmer above is either a female or possibly an immature male. Males look similar to females when they emerge but as time passes they develop a powdering substance called pruinose that covers most of their thorax and abdomen making them look blue.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Campanula rotundifolia

Campanula rotundifolia, also known as harebell or bluebell, is a perennial native to Minnesota. It is a member of the campanulaceae, or bellflower family and is often found on rocky slopes or open meadows where it can get a lot of sun.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Yellow-headed Blackbird

The yellow-headed blackbird is medium sized blackbird that breeds in the wetlands of western North America. They often breed in the same wetland as red-winged blackbirds but because they are larger they will often force the red-winged blackbirds out of the best nesting locations.
Male yellow-headed blackbirds arrive at the breeding grounds first. The come from the wintering grounds in Mexico and Central America. The male will defend his territory from other yellow-headed males as well as red-winged blackbirds and marsh wrens. The male will sing to attract females to nest in his territory. He will often mate with multiple females but he will usually only help raise the first group of nestlings. Females are much less colorful then the males. Since they spend quite a bit of time on the nest it is to their advantage to have better camouflage

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Colors of Autumn by Jim Foulk

I can smell fall
in the air
my eyes behold
golden leaves as
they descend slowly
onto the ground
the dying of summer
brings on fall
oh, the wonder of it all.

The Autumn colors
such a splendid marvel
painted all around me
covers me with
feelings of compassion
knowing this beauty
that surrounds me,
is only for a short time
until all the land,
will be barren
on this spot,
where I stand.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Bald Eagle

Northern Flicker

The northern flicker, Colaptes auratus, is a member of the Picidae or woodpecker family. Although you could say that they are the odd member of the family. It is rare to see flickers clinging to the side of a tree drilling into the wood in search of bugs like most other woodpeckers. You are much more likely to flush one from the ground. Northern flickers prefer to hunt for insects on the ground, especially beetles and ants. They often use their curved beak to drill down into the ground in search of ant or other insect larva. They will also eat seeds and berries. Because most of their food source is not available in the winter they are also one of the few woodpeckers that migrate from the northern portions of their range. There are two subspecies of northern flicker, the yellow shafted and the red shafted. They used to be considered different species but since they do frequently hybridize with each other where their ranges cross they are now considered the same species. The yellow-shafted northern flicker is found in the eastern half of North America. If you have the ability to look at the feather shafts of the yellow-shafted flicker you would see that they are indeed yellow, see the photo above, as is the underside of the tail feathers.
Northern flickers found in the western portions of North America are usually members of the red-shafted subspecies. As their name would suggest they have red feather shafts and red on the underside of their tail feathers. Red-shafted flickers will also occasionally hybridize with gilded flickers which are found mostly in Arizona, southern California, and Mexico. This red-shafted flicker was photographed at the Bosque del Apache in New Mexico.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Red Admiral

The red admiral, Vanessa atalanta, is a common butterfly in many parts of the world. It can be found through out most of North America except for the extreme northern portions of Canada and Alaska. They can also be found in Europe, Asia, Africa, New Zealand and Central America.
In the warmer portions of their range they fly all year long. In the northern portions of their range they will migrate south for the winter. This means that each year many of the young butterflies that emerge from their chrysalis' in the south will travel north to repopulate the northern portions of their range.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Elusive Clubtail

While I was out photographing last Sunday at Wild River State Park I was surprised to see a clubtail dragonfly perch on a stick on the side of the trail. Wild River is one of my most reliable places to see clubtail dragonflies but usually that is in May and June. Most clubtails over winter in one of the later nymph instar phases so they typically emerge early in the year. This is the first time that I spotted one in October.
Fortunately I had my net with me in case I came across any darner dragonflies, they fly later in the year, and I was able to catch the dragon. When I got back to my car I checked in my Dragonflies of the NorthWoods book by Kurt Mead and found that there was only one clubtail listed that was known to fly into October in Minnesota and that was the elusive clubtail. This made the job of identifying the dragon quite easy, but the black on the upper part of the face and the pattern of top spots and side spots also fit. The elusive club typically perches on the tops of trees so I was fortunate that this late season specimen was down where I could photograph and net him. This was my first elusive clubtail.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Cultivated Flowers

Here are a few pictures of cultivated flowers that I took at the University of Minnesota Morris flower garden.