Thursday, January 31, 2013

Dramatic Sunrise

I photographed this dramatic sunrise back in the winter of 2007. I was on my way down to southern Minnesota to photograph wintering eagles along the Mississippi when the shy erupted in pink and purple. It looked like a scene from a science fiction movie and I was waiting for a UFO to break through the clouds so I stopped and took this pic along the side of the road. Alas their were no aliens but I did get a marvelous pic.   

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Spiders Web

Yellow Garden Argiope
 Most people have seen spider webs but have you ever wondered how spiders build their webs? Spiders produce silk from their spinneret glands which are located at the back side of their abdomen. Most spiders have 6 spinneret glands which are arranged in pairs. Some other spiders only have one pair of spinnerets while other have 8 spinnerets, or four pair. Each spinneret gland produces a different type of silk, or web, which has its own special purpose. Some threads are sticky and are used for catching prey, while other strands are not sticky and can be used for a variety of different purposes.  
Funnel Weaver Web
 Since there are a variety of different spiders and silk it stands to reason that there are a variety of different webs. The spider in the first pic is a yellow garden argiope. It is what is classified as an orb weaver spider. They create intricate webs which are used to catch prey. At the end of the day they will eat the old web, talk about recycling, and then spin a new one the next morning. Charlotte was a barn spider ( Aranea Cavatica) which is also a orb weaver. Some of the strands on the web are sticky so that they can catch prey while other strands are not sticky and allow the spider to move about freely. Another type of web is a funnel type (above). None of the strands on the funnel are sticky. Instead the funnel weaver sits in a hidden spot at the small side of the tunnel. When an insect flies into the funnel and becomes momentarily tangled the fast funnel weaver runs out and captures it before it can get away. Some of the funnel weavers in Australia are the deadliest spiders on earth.
Six Spotted Fishing Spider
Some spiders do not use their silk to help them catch prey. Fishing spiders, like the six spotted fishing spider above, often walk out on the water and kind of use it the way that a funnel weaver uses a web. When they feel a disturbance on the surface of the water, from an insect that fell in or a tadpole swimming by, they run across the water to catch their prey. Wolf spiders and jumping spiders are just a couple more examples of types of spiders that do not typically use webs to catch their prey. Even these types of spiders can still spin silk though. Many will use their silk to make an egg sack to protect their eggs. Others will spin a "dragline", as in the picture above. The dragline is a quick means of escape if the spider finds itself in danger. One minute the spider will be perched on a branch but as soon as it perceives danger it will drop rapidly from the perch using the dragline. Sometimes it will use it as a sort of chute sailing off into the wind on the dragline.   

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

California Sea Otter

California Sea Otter

Clay-colored Sparrow

Clay-colored Sparrow
The clay-colored sparrow breeds in the open grasslands of central Canada and the north central United States. It is a ground foraging species, feeding primarily on seeds of grasses and weeds. They will also eat fruits, berries, buds and insects. They feed on insects more often later in the summer and also feed them to their young. Clay-colored sparrows often forage off of their territory and are sometimes mixed in with other species of sparrows. Because of this their breeding territory is generally smaller.  
Clay-colored Sparrow
Male clay-colored sparrows arrive on the breeding territory first. They are often seen perched on a bush singing to announce their territory to prospective rivals and seek a receptive female. Once a pair finds each other they are magnanimous for the season. The female builds cup shaped nest placed on the ground or low in a bush. Nesting occurres in June and July. As the temperature begins to turn cold the sparrows migrate south to their wintering grounds in Texas and Mexico.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Reeds Landing

Eagle on the Ice
Usually people do not think of winter as a good time to go birding. Especially here in Minnesota where our winter are cold and gray and most birds leave town heading for warmer climates. However winter birding can be quite rewarding if you know what to look for and where to look. Minnesota has a large population of nesting bald eagles, second highest state next to Alaska. During the spring, summer and fall you can find eagles mainly around one of our many lakes, rivers and other water bodies. Although bald eagles are opportunistic feeders, and will eat whatever is easier, they are built to catch and eat fish. During the warm months they are spread out all around the state.
Bald Eagle in Flight
When winter comes its a different story. Bald eagles are not affected very much by cold but they still need to eat. During the winter our temps get cold and our lakes, rivers and streams get frozen. So the eagles migrate and congregate in locations where the water remains open. This is the case at Reeds Landing in south eastern Minnesota. Reeds Landing is right across from where the fast moving Chippewa River comes from Wisconsin and merges into the slow moving Mississippi. When the fast water hits the slower water it churns things up which helps to keep the ice of the river through out the winter. It is possible to see eagles by the hundreds around Reeds Landing. Many eagles will be perched in a favorite tree keeping an eye out for a fishy meal, some will be out on the ice and others will be soaring through the brilliant blue. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Empress Leilia

 Empress Leilia
The empress leilia is a medium sized member of the emperor butterfly family (Nymphalidae). They are found in the desert washes, thorn scrubs, and canyons of the southwestern United States and Mexico. Like many other members of the emperor family they are typically not found on flowers. They prefer to eat tree sap and dung only occasionally eating flower nectar. Males are often found perched on their larval host plant, spiny (desert) hackberry waiting for females.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Aplomado Falcon

Aplomado Falcon
The aplomado falcon is a falcon that is found in the open grasslands and savannahs of southern Mexico, Central and South America. At one time their range extended north through Mexico and into parts of the Southwestern United States. Unfortunately in the 1930's these birds all but disappeared from the northern portion of their range. In the United States they are listed as endangered and found naturally only in parts of south Texas. Reintroduction programs began in Texas as early as the late 1970s. Hundreds of captive breed falcons have been released in south Texas, however getting to see these falcons in the US is still a rare treat. We have been to south Texas three times now and we have only had an opportunity to see Aplomado falcons on our first trip, back in 2004. This picture is not very good. The sky was over cast and the pic was taken on film and then scanned but I am still happy that I have a reasonable photo of this pair of rare endangered raptors.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant
The double-crested cormorant is a water bird that is found through out much of North America. It is often mixed up with the anhinga because both birds are about the same size and color and both have long necks. Both cormorants and anhinga are often found standing in the sun drying their feathers because they do not have the water proofing oils that most waterfowl do. This helps them both to dive under water for fish. Though both species are from the same order of birds they are from different families. The cormorant is actually actually most closely related to boobies and frigatebirds. They are also found in much more temperate climates then anhinga are. They breed as far north as central Canada, migrating down to the Atlantic, Pacific, or Gulf Coast for the winter. This bird was fishing in the Mississippi river near Lock and Dam Number 1.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Yellowstone Sunset

Here is a pic of sunset at Yellowstone National Park that was taken back in 2009. I am hoping to get back there this spring but it I am not sure right now because of my job situation.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Eastern Pine Elfin

Eastern Pine Elfin
 The eastern pine elfin is a small butterfly that is found primarily in the eastern United States and south eastern Canada. They live in open woodlands and pine barrens. The caterpillar feed on jack and white pine which is where they get their name. They over winter in their pupae form and usually emerge in May or early June. I photographed this elfin at Crex Meadows during a butterfly field trip through western Wisconsin last May.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Racket-tailed Emerald Dragonfly

Racket-tailed Emerald Dragonfly

Blackburnian Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler
 The blackburnian warbler is the only warbler in North America that has an orange throat. They breed in the south eastern half of Canada and parts of the north eastern United States. They typically breed in coniferous forests or coniferous forests mixed with deciduous trees. On breeding territory they form a cup shaped nest on the edge of a tree branch. Blackburnian do nest in south eastern Minnesota.
Blackburnian Warbler
Like most warblers, blackburnian warblers eat insects which they glean from tree branches. Since there are no insects during the winter on most of their breeding ground they migrate south each fall down to northern South America. During migration they will often mix with flocks of other small birds, such as chickadees, to forage. However when they arrive at their wintering grounds they go their separate way and live a solitary existence 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Golden Eagle Survey

Golden Eagle Habitat in Western Wisconsin
 This weekend I participated in the 9th Annual Golden Eagle Survey through the National Eagle Center.Each January, for the past nine years, volunteers have braved the cold to go out and count golden eagles in south eastern Minnesota, south western Wisconsin, and northern Iowa. This was my fifth year on the survey and I was joined by my crew mates from The Raptor Center Jim, who was also on the survey with me last year, and Less. We had the same route in south western Wisconsin as we did last year. This route has numerous territories in it and this year we surpassed last years numbers by 1 by spotting 6 eagles.
Golden Eagle in Flight
For many years spotting a golden eagle in this area was a rare occurrence. It was well known that 100 to 200 golden eagles were typically counted migrating over Hawk Ridge each year but most people believed that they migrated out of the area. Perhaps out east to Pennsylvania where a group of golden eagles was known to winter. Then Scott, the Education Director at the National Eagle Center began to spot them in the hilly areas just outside of the Mississippi River Valley. After a few years he organized the first survey. Since then the survey has grown. Last year there was over 154 volunteers and we spotted 130 golden eagles. They have also had the opportunity to put radio trackers on several eagles so that we can learn more about these eagles. One of the big questions is where do they nest, since they do not breed here in Minnesota. Preliminary info suggests that they either breed around the Arctic Circle north of Churchill, Canada or out east in Quebec, Canada. However we need a lot more info before we can hope to understand these majestic eagles and I am continuing to do my part by participating in the annual survey.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Aphrodite's Star

Aphrodite Fritillary on Blazing Star
 Blazing star is a member of the Aster family that blooms later in the summer (from July to September). This type of blazing star forms long stalky stems that grow in clumps. When it blooms the stalks fill with tightly packed purple flowers. These flowers must produce a lot of nectar because blazing star is always a magnet for many different species of butterfly. In this photo an aphrodite fritillary is feed on the flowers. There are many different species of fritillary butterflies. Most of them are medium to large in size and usually a combination of orange, black and white in color. The aphrodite fritillary is native to the north eastern half of the United States into south eastern Canada. They can be found from the east coast all the way to the Rocky Mountains and as far south as New Mexico in the west and the Carolinas in the east. Their larval host plant are varies violet plants.  

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warbler
 The chestnut-sided warbler is a colorful mid-sized warbler that lives in North, Central and South America. They get their name from the maroon patch of feathers on the side of their bodies. The only other warbler that has this color feather on their bodies is the bay breasted warbler but the male bay breasted has the same color on its face. The female bay breasted does not have a maroon face, like the male, but can be distinguished from the chestnut-sided because she does not have the bright yellow cap.
Chestnut-sided Warbler First Year Bird
Chestnut-sided warbler breed in the north eastern half of the U.S. and the south eastern half of Canada. They tend to nest in second growth deciduous woods. The nest is cup shaped and it is usually placed in a bush. Chestnut-sided warblers nest in the north east corner of Minnesota, which is where I photographed this first year bird. They migrate down to the tropical forests of Central America and northern South America for the winter. During the winter they will mix with flocks of tropical warblers often returning to the same flocks year after year.

Friday, January 18, 2013

American White Pelican

American White Pelican
The American white pelican has the second longest wingspan of any bird in North America, only the California condor has a longer wingspan.White pelicans breed on inland lakes in the north central plains of the U.S. and Canada. They are a ground nesters, so to protect the eggs and young they nest in colonies on isolated islands in the lakes. They eat primarily fish which they scoop up in their large beak. Often times several pelicans will work cooperatively when feeding. During the winter they migrate to coastal regions in the southern U.S., Mexico and Central America.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Minnesota Valley Refuge

One of the cool things about living here in the Twin Cities is that we have a lot of local parks, nature centers, refuges and other green spaces that are easily available to people. Since Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes ( actually we have 11,842) many of these areas are set up around lakes or rivers. This is a picture of a part of the Minnesota Valley Refuge. The refuge runs along the Minnesota River from Bloomington to Shakopee. The refuge looks quite a bit different at the moment, it is mostly snow and ice right now, but soon the plants and wildlife will return and the flowers will bloom again.