Saturday, December 31, 2011


We have eight different types of asters growing out in the wild here in Minnesota. They include the silky, sky-blue, smooth blue, heath, Lindley's, aromatic, purple-stemmed and New England.
All eight are native to the state. I believe that this one is the New England. I took this photo at the Carpenter Nature Center.

Friday, December 30, 2011

American Toad.

American toad croaking The American toad is a common amphibian found in the eastern half of the United States and Canada. They have lungs which they use to breathe but like other amphibians they need to keep their skin moist. They are found in a variety of moist habitats where they hunt mostly insects, snails and slugs. To help them avoid predators they can produce a toxic chemical from special glands called paratoid glands.
American toad croakingIn the spring male American toads begin to look for an eligible female with which to mate. They will sing to the females by expanding the pouch in their throat, called a dewlap, and making a call that sounds similar to that of crickets. Willing females will swim out to the male and they will mate. The female will then lay her eggs which will attack to aquatic vegetation. About a week later the tadpoles will begin to hatch. I took these photographs in April as the mating season began.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

To Fly

osprey in flight Have you ever wondered how birds fly? This is a subject that has fascinated mankind for ages. In many ancient cultures they viewed a birds ability to fly as something magical or associated it with the supernatural. The truth is that through many many centuries birds have evolved several adaptations which have assist in their ability to fly.
eagle in flightIn order to fly birds need to be light weight. Instead of having heavy bones and teeth like we do most birds have hollow bones and a light weight beak. They also have a much more efficient cardiovascular system then we do. Their lungs process oxygen more quickly efficiently and their heart beats much faster. This is necessary because it takes a lot of energy to fly.
white-tailed kite in flight Perhaps the coolest adaptation for flight though are their feathers. Birds have between 1,000 to 25,000 feather. Feathers are made of a substance called keratin. Even though they are strong and durable they are also very light. The spine of the feather is called a shaft. The shaft runs the length of the feather and it is hollow inside. Connected to the shaft are branches called barbs. The barbs connect to each other giving the feather a solid appearance however there is space between them which helps to keep the feather light. Each bird has several different type of feathers each serving a different purpose. It is important for the bird to keep their feathers in good shape so they spend a significant part of each day preening. Once or twice a year, depending on the type of bird, they will lose their feathers and new replacements will grow in. This is called molting. Most birds only molt a couple of feathers at a time so that they can continue to fly while their feathers are being replaced. However some waterfowl molt all their feathers at once leaving them flightless for a week or two.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


What is a wetland? In general terms a wetland is habitat where the soil is saturated with water on or just below the surface and is covered with vegetation that is adapted to the wet conditions. Here in Minnesota we have several different types of wetlands, including bogs, marshes, swamps, potholes, wet meadows and seasonal wetlands.
Unfortunately wetlands have typically been thought of as wasted land and have been drained or filled for development. Here in Minnesota over fifty percent of our wetlands have been lost. This is not only unfortunate it is also stupid and potentially disastrous. Wetland are vital to the health of our planet and to the continued existence of many species including our own. Wetlands help to prevent erosion and can help minimise flooding. Wetlands can filter out pollutants from the water and help to recharge the ground water that we use for drinking and growing crops. Wetlands also provide vital habitat for fish and other wildlife, including 43% of the endangered or threatened species in The United States. Fortunately many people have released the importance of wetlands and are working to protect or even restore them. You can help by finding out which politicians support environmental issues in your area then support them and vote for them. After all a tax cut is not so great if there is no planet left for you to enjoy it on.

Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus

In all of the alphabet there are only a few letters that are difficult for me to find a picture to represent. X is one of those letters. Fortunately it is a bit easier to find a scientific name that begins with an X. Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus is the scientific name for the yellow-headed blackbird. The yellow-headed blackbird is more closely related to meadowlarks then it is other blackbirds that is why it is in its own genus Xanthocephalus instead of Agelaius or Euphagus like most other blackbirds.
The yellow-headed blackbird breeds in the western United States and up into Canada. They inhabit prairie wetlands and cat-tail marshes. The nest is cup shaped and usually attached to the vegetation. Yellow-headed blackbirds nest communally. They typically also nest with in the same habitat as red-winged blackbirds. Since the yellow-headed black birds are larger then the red-winged blackbirds they usually get the better nesting spots. Yellow-headed blackbirds migrate down to the south western United States and Mexico for the winter.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Red-breasted Nuthatch

red-breasted nuthatchIn Minnesota we typically see two different species of nuthatch, the white-breasted and red-breasted. The white-breasted nuthatch is common though out the state while the smaller red-breasted nuthatch typically lives in the north eastern part of the state. Some of the northern most red-breasted nuthatch population will migrate south out of Canada in the winter in search of food, so it is possible to see them in other parts of the state during the fall and winter.
red-breasted nuthatchNuthatches are woodland birds. They are often seen climbing down the trunks of trees upside down. They eat mainly insects during the warm months, many of which the glean from the bark of the trees. During the winter they switch to a diet of mainly seeds. They will even cache some during the summer and fall in preparation for winter. They are a cavity nester and will aggressively defend their nesting cavity from other birds. They will often line the whole of the cavity with tree sap which helps to prevent larger predators from entering the nest.

Dot-tailed Whiteface

Dot-tailed whiteface dragonfly There is still quite a while before I will begin to see dragonflies here again in Minnesota. May is when I usually begin to see the first of them. The first ones that I will see, often showing up early in May, are the couple of types that migrate like the green darner and the variegated meadowhawk. The first non-migrating species that we see usually emerge at the end of May.One of those that emerge fairly early is the dot-tailed whiteface.
Dot-tailed whiteface dragonfly The dot-tailed whiteface is a member of the skimmer family. It is usually found in wetlands with standing or slow moving water. Ponds and slow moving streams with a lot of vegetation are usually were I see them. Often times they will perch on floating algae mats.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Visit from Santa Claws

I looks like we had a visit last night from Santa Claws.
Santa Magic, top, and Santa Peanut, below, would like to wish you all a very merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

Bald Eagle

bald eagle Minnesota in winter time is probably not the best place to go bird watching. In most of the Christmas Bird Counts that I participate in, we feel lucky if our group spots 20 different species. However winter does provide some more unique birding possibilities. Minnesota does have a large population of nesting bald eagles, second in the United States, but during the winter many of the eagles from Minnesota and surrounding states and Canada congregate in the south eastern part of the state.
bald eagle eating a fish Bald eagles have over 7000 feathers so they are not migrating south because of the cold. The reason that they head south is because of food. Even though bald eagles are opportunistic feeders that will eat whatever food is the easiest to obtain, including roadkill, as a sea/fish eagle they are designed to catch fish. So in the winter when all of the lakes and rivers freeze up they head to open spots on the Mississippi River in south east Minnesota. The eagle in the photo above is enjoying its morning catch.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

I Love to Gaze at Sunsets by Juan Olivarez

I love to gaze at sunsets,
At the fading of each day.
As the clouds on the horizon,
For the evening pave the way.

And all the glorious colors,
All around the setting sun,
Announce the passing of the day,
And that the night has just begun.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Wilson's Phalarope

Wilson's phalarope The Wilson's phalarope is a shorebird that breeds in the Northern Prairie Pothole Region of North America. It is a migratory species that migrates down to South America for the winter. In breeding they are found in clear shallow wetlands. It is the female phalarope which is larger and more brightly colored. She is the one in charge. She will choose her mate and territory and will defend that territory. Shortly after she lays her eggs she will begin to migrate south leaving the male to incubate the eggs and care for the young. While migrating back to South America they will often stop at bodies of salt water where they will forage for food by swimming in a tight circle. This forms a small whirlpool which helps to bring aquatic insects and crustaceans to the surface.


Wapiti is a Native American name for elk. It was derived from the Shawnee and Cree word waapiti which means white rump. When the Europeans came to North America there was an estimated population of over ten million wapiti. Even though there were relatives of the wapiti in Europe called red deer, the settlers called them elk, which is a common name for moose in Europe, because of their large size. As with many other large ungulates hunting and habitat loss created a large decline in their population. Wapiti were eliminated from the Eastern half of the continent, the eastern subspecies was declared extinct in 1880. The Merriam's subspecies, which live in the southwestern United States, was declared extinct in 1906. Fortunately with new hunting laws, the reintroduction of Rocky Mountain elk into areas that were the wapiti had been extirpated, and the creation of National Parks and other wildlife areas, the over all elk population in the U.S. is estimated at over one million today.
The Wapiti is one of the largest members of the deer family, only the moose is larger in North America. It is believed that wapiti originated in an area called Beringia that once connected North America and Asia. These ancestral elk migrated down into North America and Asia. There descendants spread across Asia and North America and became one of the primary food sources for many of the larger predators, including grizzly bear, wolves and Native Americans. During most of the year males travel in small groups and are typically found at higher elevations. Females usually form larger herds which help protect and care for the young. In the fall, during the mating season which is called the rut, male wapiti split from their bachelors groups and begin to gather a group of females. The bulls are very protective of their harem and will let make an eerie sound called a bugle to warn away other males. If another male does not head the warning it will often lead to a battle. The female wapiti have a very short estrus cycle. She is in the mood for only a day or two so the male has to take advantage when the opportunity presents itself. Males will mate with as many willing females in the harem as possible. The gestation period of the elk is about 8 to 9 months. Typically wapiti in Yellowstone, where the photos above were taken, begin to start calving around Memorial Day. The female will leave the herd and try to find and isolated spot to have the calf. Calves are able to stand on the day that they are born however it takes about two weeks before they are strong enough to be able to run from a predator at which time mother and calf will rejoin the herd. Until the it is strong enough the calf will curl up and hide in vegetation if any danger is near while mother tries to lure the predator away. This calf was born in Mammoth Springs in Yellowstone National Park, which is a good place to avoid predators.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Red Squirrel

Red squirrels are a member of the rodent family that are found around the world. They are a tree squirrel, typically nesting in trees, so they prefer woodland habitats. They are smaller then grey squirrels and fox squirrels, the other tree squirrels that we typically see here in Minnesota, but they are noisier and more aggressive when it comes to defending their territory. They are usually found scurrying across the forest floors looking for food. They are omnivores, eating a wide variety including seeds, pine cones, acorns, fruit, bark, flower buds, insects, eggs, nestlings, and mice. They do not hibernate during the winter. Instead they survive the colder months by hording excess food during the summer into hidden caches for times when food is scarce.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Summer Time Bee

I photographed this macro of a bumble bee collecting nectar and pollen from butterfly weed at Crex Meadows in the summer. No bees around Minnesota now, but it looks like we are on our way to a brown Christmas for the first time that I can remember. You never know though, the weather people have been known to get it wrong on an occasion or two.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


Cinquefoils are a group of flowering plants in the genus Potentilla and the family Rosacdeaa, rose. There are many different cinquefoils found in different places around the world. Many cinquefoils have five petal flowers. Many resemble strawberry plants but the cinquefoil have inedible fruit.
Here in Minnesota we see about five different types of cinquefoil. Some, like shrubby, common and rough cinquefoil are native to the area. Other species, like sulphur and silver cinquefoil are invasive species. I believe that these photos are of the invasive sulphur cinquefaoil and they were taken at the Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Great Kiskadee

The great kiskadee is a large colorful flycatcher that is found from southern Texas down into Central and South America. Even though they are a flycatcher they are omnivores, catching insects in flight but also eating berries, seeds, mice, and even minnows and small fish. They live in wooded forest most often near the water. They get their name from their loud gregarious call . I photographed this bird in south Texas.