Sunday, September 30, 2012

Compton Tortoiseshell

Compton Tortoiseshell
At first glance this butterfly maybe identified as one of the comma species of butterflies or a member of the Polygonia family. Comma butterflies are identified by the white "comma shaped" mark on the underside of their wings. This butterfly has a "comma" on its wing but it is actually in the Nymphalis, or tortoiseshell, family. From its underside the Compton tortoiseshell looks similar to a grey comma except that it is larger and the punctuation mark is very thin.   
Compton Tortoiseshell
From the top the Compton tortoiseshell looks more similar to the eastern or green comma then it does the gray comma. The Compton has white marks on the leading edge of its wings which are similar to those on the eastern comma but it has much bolder black patches then the eastern. The green comma has bolder black patches that are similar to the Compton but it does not have the white patches on the edge of the wings. So if you combined the upper side of a green and eastern comma and a lower side of a gray and gave it steroids to grow then you would end up with something that looks a lot like a Compton tortoiseshell.

Monarch on Butterfly Weed

Monarch on Butterfly Weed
 Butterfly weed ( Asclepias tuberosa ) is a great plant for attracting butterflies. It's bright orange blossoms are excellent at producing nectar that draw in many species of butterflies. It is even more important for the monarch. Since butterfly weed is a member of the milkweed family it is also a host plant for the monarch caterpillar. So this plant can provide food to all stages of a monarchs life that require food.

Saturday, September 29, 2012


Pi - Immature Bald Eagle
This handsome fellow is Pi. Pi is one of our education birds at The Raptor Center. He may look a bit different then many of the bald eagles that you have seen before. That is because Pi is just beginning to become an adult. Bald eagles do not reach maturity until they are around 5 years old. While they are immature they look quite different. Their feather are mostly brown, although some do get a mottling of white feathers on their wings and/or chest. Immature eagles also have a dark silvery beaks and brown eyes. PI is about 4 years old. With this years molt he has begun to get his adult plumage. This process usually takes 2 or 3 molts to complete and since they molt each feather only once a year the entire process will take a couple of years or more.

Great Pondhawk Dragonfly

Great Pondhawk Dragonfly
Great Pondhawk
Earlier this year Michelle and I went down to Texas on vacation. The main purpose of most of my vacations is to go out an take pictures in habitats tat are different then I see at home. This year we did not go to Texas until April. We did not see the diversity of birds that we have when we have traveled there in late February but we made up for it by photographing many new species of butterfly and dragonfly. The great pondhawk was a species that I almost missed. They were fairly common at several of the parks but I mistook them for common pondhawk females. 
Common Pondhawk Dragonfly
Common Pondhawk
The common pondhawk is a dragonfly that I see frequently around home during the summer. The female and immature are green in color with stripes across the abdomen. As the males mature they are covered with pruinose and they turn a chalky blue color. The great pondhawk is a little bit larger. Their abdomen is thinner and the stripes on it are reddish a little bit more distinct. Also both male and female are the same coloration.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Only the Turtle Stands Between the Darkness and the Light

 Turtle Reflection
Even though the turtle and the log are the central subject of this photo it is the reflection of light and shadow on the water that makes this pic interesting to me. The turtle and the log seem to separate the band of light from she shadows extending from the reflection of the turtles head. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Split Rock Lighthouse

 This weekend Michelle and I headed up north to try and photograph some of the fall color. Since we were up north we had to stop to take some pictures of my favorite Minnesota landmark, the Split Rock Lighthouse. Although I mostly shoot wildlife I have always been fascinated by lighthouses and I will make some time in whatever I am doing to go take lighthouse pics. This shot was taken from the edge of Pebble Beach which is located west of the lighthouse on the shore of Lake Superior inside the Split Rock State Park .

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Snow Geese

Snow Geese
Snow geese are one of the most abundant waterfowl in North America. They breed up in the arctic and subarctic regions of Canada, Alaska, Siberia and Greenland. They nest on the tundra typically near ponds or other shallow wetlands. The nest is a scrape that is usually protected by vegetation and rocks. The female will add her own down feathers to the nest. She may also add other vegetation as she continues to lay eggs. The clutch size is typically 2- 6 eggs. When the eggs hatch the chicks already have their eyes open and they are protected by a layer of down feathers. 
Snow Geese in Flight
 After the chicks hatch the families move to areas where their is more food. They eat grasses, shrubs, and other vegetation. They eat all parts of the plant including stems, leaves, roots and seeds. In the fall they gather together and migrate south for the winter. While migrating down the four major migration flyways flocks of snow geese will stopover at staging grounds to feed. While feeding they typically have a look out that will call out if a predator, or crazy photographer, approaches. This will usually cause the flock to take off. They winter in the southern portions of the United States. These photos where taken at the Bosque del Apache in New Mexico where typically 20,000 or more snow geese spend the winter.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Gray Jay

Gray Jay


The killdeer is a common plover that breeds through out much of North America. Killdeer that breed in the northern portion of their range, Canada and the northern US, migrate south for the winter. Some killdeer migrate into the southern United States and Mexico and some continue south down into Central America and northern portions of South America. The killdeer is named because of its shrill call which sounds like they are saying kill-deer.
Although they are a plover they are often found far away from water. They are found in a variety of habitat and have adapted very well to humans. The bird in the first picture made its nest in the side of a gravel road. Fortunately it was in a wildlife refuge so the area was roped off to avoid an accident with a car. Other common places that you can see killdeer include parks, ball fields, low farm fields, yards and golf courses. Killdeer are known for faking a wing injury to lure predators away from their nest or young. Since they consider us predators I have seen this behavior on a few occasions, but since I do not intend to eat the bird it does not quite work correctly. Instead I look for the chick because they are quite photogenic. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Fall Release

 Peregrine Release
 This past Saturday was The Raptor Center's annual Fall Raptor Release. This event has been held at the beautiful Carpenter Nature Center, over looking the scenic St Croix River, for the past 5 years. Even with the cold and cloudy weather that we had we still had a good crowd. The highlight of the event is when we release rehabbed birds back into the wild. This year we released 6 birds. Two of the released birds were bald eagles. We only birds in the appropriate habitat and since the Carpenter Nature Center is right on the St Croix near to when it joins the Mississippi it is great habitat for eagles.  
Great Horned Owl
My main job at the release was to take pictures. This was not so easy this year since the cloudy skies made the lighting difficult to work with. Fortunately we did have a bit of clearing as the day went which did give us a little light to work with. My other duty during the event was to help out at our raptor rings. We bring many of our education birds out to the release so that during the day people get get a good close look at a variety of different raptors. The ed raptors are divided into rings. This year we had 3 rings, one with bald eagles and our turkey vulture and 2 others that have a mix of hawks, falcons and owls. So while I was getting some nice close ups of our ed birds, like the one above of Samantha the great horned owl, I also answered questions about the raptors. It turned out to be another great event.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Riverine Clubtail Dragonfly

Riverine Clubtail Dragonfly
The riverine clubtail is a member of the genus Stylurus or hanging clubtails. I think that they are a little easier to recognize then many of the other species of hanging clubs because the males "club" is distinctively flat and wide. They range through out much of the Great Lakes region as well as parts of the north eastern coastal states. They are found in a variety of different river habitats. Typically the mature dragonflies perch high in the trees coming down to the water only for mating. This makes them difficult to photograph but I was lucky to find this one down in the tall grass beside the Straight River at the Riverbend Nature Center.

Otus the Eastern Screech-Owl

 This is Otus, one of the two eastern screech-owls that we have in the education department at The Raptor Center. She spent the day today out at the Carpenter Nature Center for our fall release. The weather was mixed with clouds and cold temps for part of the day and sun and mild temps for the rest. Otus gets her name from the genus that the eastern screech owl used to belong to Otus. Recently though the numerous species of screech owls were given their own genus Megascops. You can still find the old scientific name Otus asio instead of Megascops asio in many older field guides.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Pink Tropical Water Lily

I photographed this water lily at the water garden at the Como Zoo.

Bearly Far Enough Away

 Grizzly Bear
 There have been very few time that I have been worried about my safety while I have been out photographing. Most the time I am not photographing anything dangerous but on occasion I have had opportunities and been quite close to moose, wolf, bobcat and black bear. I always make sure I do not get any closer then the animal will tolerate. I do not want to stress the animal or find myself in a bad situation.
Grizzly Bear
The one time that I was kind of worried was on a trip to Yellowstone a few years back. As we were driving down the road on our way to the Lamar Valley I noticed a guy looking at something of to the side of the road. I stopped to check it out and found that he was looking at a grizzly bear seeping in a little home made bad about 100 yards away. Shortly after I got there the bear stood up and looked directly at us. I am guessing that it had caught a whiff of our scent on the wind. Bears have a very good sense of smell. Even though it was a good football field away it was still pretty scary. Bears can run quite fast so it would have been an all out sprint to the car, which was about 25 feet away, if the bear had charged. Even so we both decided it would be a good idea to back up. We slowly moved back towards the road and my car, walking backwards and keeping an eye on the bear as we went. After a few minutes it must have decided that we were not a threat because it lay back down in its hole and went back to sleep. I have ended up closer to grizzlies on a couple of occasions but have never had one stare me in the eyes like this one did and hope that I never do in the future.

Friday, September 21, 2012

All in the Badger Family

 Badger and Kit
The badger is a member of the weasel family. There are eleven different species of badgers that are divided into three subfamilies, the Eurasian badger, the American badger, and the ratel or honey badger. The honey badger is found through out much of Africa and in a few places in southern Asia. The American badger is only found in North America. There are no badgers that are native to South America, or Australia
Badger and Kits
The American badger is found through out the western and central portions of North America. They live in dens that they dig with their long sharp claws. Grasslands and open prairie with are their preferred habitat especially those with sandy soil which is easier to dig in. The American badger is an omnivore but primarily eats pocket gophers, ground squirrels, marmots, prairie dogs, other rodents, burrowing owls and other ground nesting birds, amphibians, lizards, insects, carrion and some vegetable matter. Badgers are typically solitary except during the mating season in late summer. Like bears, badgers have a delayed pregnancy. Pregnancy usually occurs between December and February. The kits are born in March or April with a litter consisting of 1 to 5 kits. The kits are born blind and helpless. It takes about 4 to 6 weeks for their eyes to open and another week after before they begin to emerge from the den. It was May when I photographed this female with her 4 kit out at Yellowstone. With in a month or two after these pictures where taken the young will have left to go out on their own.  

It's a Frog's Life

 When I looked at my reflection the prince was gone and all that remained was a frog!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Living in the middle of North America makes it a little difficult to run down to the ocean to take a pic. I was over 30 years old before I saw the Atlantic Ocean and even older before I looked out over the Pacific. Perhaps that is why I try and stay in a hotel that is near the ocean when we travel to places like Florida, Texas, and California. This shot was taken on the beach on South Padre Island in Texas. On of our hotels was right on the beach. Each morning I would get up and take a walk on the beach while Michelle got to sleep in. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Elephant Seal

Elephant Seal
The elephant seal is a large seal that spend the majority of its life in the ocean. Their are two species of elephant seals. There is the northern elephant seal species, which lives primarily in the northern Pacific Ocean off of the coast of North America, and the larger southern elephant seal species which lives primarily in the frigid waters surrounding Antarctica. Elephant seals spend about 8 to 10 months a year living in the ocean. They are able to dive 1000 to 5000 .feet in search of their favorite prey such as octopus, squid, and large fish. They have a high proportion of red blood cells which enables them to hold their breath for about 100 minutes. Layers of blubber enable them to survive the frigid temperatures of the deep waters.
Elephant Seal
 Twice a year the elephant seals come to shore. In the fall they come ashore for mating and breeding. Males gather harems of females which they protect from other males. Fights over females can be common. Much of these altercations consist of the males roaring from their long snout, which the elephant seals are named for. The other time that elephant seals come to land is in the Spring when they "haul out" on the beach in order to shed their old skin and hair and grow a net set. While they are in the ocean the blood stays under the blubber so that it stays warm but when they need to grow new skin they need some blood to pass through the blubber and feed the new growing skin. At this time they are vulnerable to the cold so they will spend about a month on the beach growing their new skin. Unfortunately this left them vulnerable to hunters who killed them for their oils. By the end of the 19th century the elephant seal was almost extinct but with new protections their populations have rebounded. I photographed these seals at Point Reyes on the California coast.