Friday, November 30, 2012


Thank God it's Friday! This week has seemed to last forever. With the holiday last week and a couple of tests that I took this week it has made this week seem to last forever. Here is a nice pic that I took of a water lily at the Como Zoo water garden this summer. Hopefully it will help cheer you up if you are having a week like mine.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Goldenrod Crab Spider

Goldenrod Crab Spider Female
One of the new things that I have begun to photograph in the last couple of years are spiders. I find spiders extremely fascinating. Like other predators they are diverse in their prey and how they hunt. This affects the habitat where different species live. When most people think of spider they think of them spinning webs but there are many types of spiders that do very little spinning. The goldenrod crab spider is a good example of this.   
Goldenrod Crab Spider Male
 The goldenrod crab spider typically only spins webs during mating and egg laying. They hunt by ambushing their prey. The goldenrod crab has the ability to change its color between white and yellow. They change color to blend in to the flower that they are sitting on. This camouflage helps them to sneak up and ambush their prey. The prey typically consists of pollinating insects which the crab injects with venom and sucks out all of the body fluids, as in the first photo. They are often found in their yellow form on goldenrod flowers, because goldenrod attracts many insects.
Goldenrod Crab Spider Male
 Female goldenrod crab spiders (top) are all one color, either yellow or white, except for the two red stripes that run down their abdomen. Male goldenrod crabs (second and third photo) have a dark thorax. Their front two pair of legs are also dark. The abdomen and back legs look similar to those of the female. The big difference between the sexes is size. The female spider is at least three times larger then the male. This is true of many spider species. This last shot gives you a perspective of just how small the male goldenrod crab is.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler
The Tennessee warbler is a bird with a misleading name. The Tennessee warbler was named in 1832 by Alexander Wilson, a naturalist that first scientifically described the species from individuals that he observed on the banks of the Cumberland River in Tennessee. The fact is that the only time you would be likely to see a Tennessee warbler in Tennessee is during migration. These warblers nest in the boreal forests of Canada and the northern United States, including north east Minnesota. Their favorite food is the spruce budworm. During the winter they migrate down to southern Central America and northern South America where they are often found on coffee plantations. During the winter they still eat insects but they also supplement their diet with nectar, particularly from the flowers of the inga trees.

 Welcome to Tuesday Tweets! To join in the fun just post a photo of a bird and then link it by here by using the handy dandy link below. Then make sure you visit other sites to do a little bird watching.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Hugh Ramsey Nature Center

Cactus Flower
 The Hugh Ramsey Nature Center is a city park located in Harlingen, TX. Much of the 55 acre park was once a landfill.  It was designated a park by the city of Harlingen in the 1970's but sat unimproved for twenty years. In 1994 a parking lot and loop road were added and a project began to restore the vegetation back to what it would have been prior to becoming a landfill. Revegetation continued off and on through the 1990's and into the 2000's.
White Peacock
 In 2005 Hugh Ramsey was combined with the Harlingen thicket to become a World Bird Center location. The entire park is called the Harlingen Arroyo Colorado after the Arroyo Colorado waterway which runs through both parts of the park. Although it is a World Bird Center Location I found it a great place to photograph butterflies, dragonflies and spiders. The numerous gardens, including two butterfly gardens, and water features help to draw in both birds and insects and make it a very beautiful place to visit.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Gorgon Checkerspot

Gorgon Checkerspot
 The gorgon checkerspot is a medium sized brushfoot butterfly found through out the mid United States and south Central Canada. They are usually found in dry fields and prairies. They usually have two broods in this area, one at the end of May to the beginning of June and the other at the end of July to the beginning of August. Further south in their range they can have 3 broods per year. This photo was taken at Crex Meadows in Wisconsin where this butterfly is listed as rare.
 The adult gorgon checkerspot feeds on nectar and seems to prefer yellow flowers when available. In the larval or caterpillar form they eat plants in the Asteraceae family including sunflowers.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Great Horned Owl

The winters here in Minnesota can be pretty drastic. During the winter there are less thing for me to photograph. With no bugs around my photography turns almost exclusively to birds. Unfortunately there are also a lot less birds around, since there is much less for them to eat, however many of the birds that you can find in the winter are spectacular. Some of the cool birds take me a bit of travel if I want to see them but a few can be found all around the state.  
Great horned owls are resident here year long. Their down feathers protect them from the cold and they eat 
almost anything so it is very rare that they can not find prey. Staying around during the winter provides them with the advantage of nesting early. Here in Minnesota they are often on the nest by the end of January. This allows the young owls to have time to grow large enough to defend themselves before many of the other avian predators return to the area. It also helps in finding a nest. Great horned owls do not make their own nest so they have to borrow one, usually from a hawk, heron, or squirrel. Since most hawks and herons do not return that early in the year the owls often have a number of empty nests to chose from. The second photo is of a GHO chick branching. Before they can fly young GHO will climb around the branches of the tree where the nest is located. Sometimes they fall, but the parents will still feed and care for the chick on the ground. Unless a person comes by and finds them and takes them home. If they keep them for too long the owl will be imprinted and will not be able to be returned to the wild. So if you find a chick the best thing to do is to leave it be. If it looks injured or like it might be in danger from ground predators (coyotes, fox, raccoon  house cats) then take it to a rehab facility. Most facilities will give it any care it needs and then return it to the nest if possible, that is what they do at The Raptor Center.   

Friday, November 23, 2012

Barrow's Goldeneye

Barrow's Goldeneye
 There are two species of goldeneye ducks, the common goldeneye and the Barrow's goldeneye. As their name would suggest the common goldeneye has a much wider range and is more commonly seen. The common goldeneye is a circumpolar species that nests up in the taiga regions of North America, Europe and Asia. The Barrow's goldeneye, pictured above, is found primarily in western Canada, Alaska and the north western United States. There is also a secondary population that nests in north eastern Canada and Iceland. The Barrow's goldeneye was named after Sir John Barrow who promoted much of the early explorational voyages into the Canadian Arctic when he served in the Admiralty during the early 1800's.  Both species of goldeneye are cavity nesters and will nest in tree cavities or nesting boxes. Young chicks leave the nest with in days of hatching and have to jump from the nest cavity. This photo was taken at Yellowstone National Park.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean

I took quite a few pictures of the sun rising in the morning while we were in Florida. It works out well when we stay in an area where I can go out in shoot in the morning. That gives Michelle a chance to sleep in. She needs all the rest she can get while we are on vacation because I usually run around so much that you need a couple of days to recover. This picture was taken from the beach by our hotel near Boca Ratan.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Time to Talk Turkey

 The wild turkey is a large ground dwelling bird found in North America. They are the largest member of the order Galliformes and they were an important food source of the Native Americans. Early explorers brought turkeys back to Europe where they were domesticated, one of only two domesticated species that originated in North America. The birds that were brought back to Europe were from a subspecies in Mexico that had white tips on the end of the tail feathers, instead of a tan color like these wild turkeys do. Much of the early trade with North America went through Constantinople on its way to Britain which is how they got the name turkey. Wild turkeys were wiped out in much of their range by the early 1900's because of hunting and habitat lose. In the 1940's wild turkeys were trapped and released into areas where they were no longer found. They have recovered very well over the past 70 years and they are now found in every state in the U.S. except for Alaska.
In the late 1700's Benjamin Franklin sent a letter to his sister in which he expressed his opinion on why he thought that the turkey would be a more appropriate representative of the United States. The bald eagle was chosen to be the symbol of the new nation but the turkey became a symbol of one of our most honored national holidays.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Black Swallowtail

Black Swallowtail

Snail Kite

The snail kite is a raptor that is pretty rare in the United States. The only population of snail kites in the U.S. is in southern Florida. Otherwise the snail kite is found in parts of the Caribbean, Central America and south America. In Florida locally endangered because wetland draining and water level controls in southern Florida are depleting the available prey of the kite.
When it comes to prey the snail kite is a specialist. Their diet consists primarily of apple snails. Their long thin beak is perfect adapted for sliding into the snail shell to get the meat inside. In Florida snail kites have been spotted eating other prey, such as turtles, crayfish and rodents, when snails can not be found but the population of the snail kites is directly affected by the population of apple snails. I photographed this female near the Loxahatchee NWR in Florida. I know that it was a female because the males are more of a blue-gray color instead of brown like the females. This was a life bird for me.

Welcome to Tuesday Tweets! To join in the fun just post a photo of a bird and then link it by here by using the handy dandy link below. Then make sure you visit other sites to do a little bird watching.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Denver Zoo

 Last fall we took a week off of work and headed down to Colorado and New Mexico. We flew into Denver and spent our first couple of days visiting with Michelle's sister and family that live out there. Since we were there at the end of October we spent part of one day at the Denver Zoo during their Halloween celebration. Our nieces were all dressed up and ran around collecting candy and other goodies.
 The real treat though was getting to help feed the giraffes. Michelle's family has connections at the zoo so we had the privilege of going behind the scenes in the giraffe area and hand feeding the giraffes. Giraffe's have a  long prehensile tongue. Their tongue is very dexterous which enables them to pick leaves from the tops of the trees where they feed. The tongue moves almost snake like and can extend quite a ways out of the mouth, Mick Jager and Jean Simmons eat your heart out. It was a fun experience and one that required a good hand washing afterwards.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Gulf Fritilary

Gulf Fritilary
 While the numbers of bird were lower then we were used, to because we traveled the end of October instead of February like we have in the past, there was plenty of butterflies, dragonflies and spiders to keep me busy. One of the most common butterflies that we spotted and photographed was the gulf fritilary. This is not the first time that we have photographed this species. It is also one of the more common butterflies that we see when we travel to south east Texas. The gulf fritilary if primarily found in the south eastern United States, however they can also be found in parts of Mexico and as far west as California. I am not sure what type of flower that it was drinking from. Wild flowers are still pretty new to me and are especially difficult when they are from a different part of the country. The flower looks a lot like a dandelion except that it is pink instead of yellow. The numerous pink angle hair type strands around the plant are also different then any thing that we have around here.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Tundra Swan

Tundra Swan
 This morning I am heading out to Brownsville, MN, near the Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin border. I am hoping to have the opportunity to photograph tundra swans. We have a pretty good population of nesting trumpeter swans here in Minnesota but the tundra swans are only around for a few weeks during migration. You can tell the difference because the tundra swans have the little yellow tear drop on the beak under the eye and the trumpeters do not. Tundra swans nest up above the Arctic Circle but they winter along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. On their way to their wintering grounds thousands stop on the Mississippi River near Brownsville, MN to refuel by eating the tubers of water vegetation found there. Once the river freezes up they will head south east again. I am hoping that I am not too late. Our temps have dropped below freezing during the night for the past few weeks but the daytime temps have been in the upper 40's with the low 50's projected for today. If I did miss the swans I still have a chance at photographing bald eagles along the river and I may swing into south western Wisconsin and see if any of the golden eagles have returned to their wintering grounds.