Thursday, February 28, 2013

It's Getting Hard to Wait

This winter seems to be dragging on. Maybe its because last winter was so mild and this winter things are back to normal but it is getting hard not to be impatient. With March beginning tomorrow and winter still firmly her it looks like it may last a while longer. The only good thing about that is if the leaves do not leaf out until May we might have a good year for warblers.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Northern Hawk Owl

Northern Hawk Owl
 Northern Minnesota is a great place to look for northern owls during the winter. Often the population of prey species in Canada gets low or the number of new owls that are successfully hatched and raised is higher then normal and so during the winter the owls head south. Probably our most frequent visitor over the past 5 years has been the northern hawk owls. This species of owl is primarily diurnal, which means that they are active during the day which makes them easier to locate. This winter there appear to be less northern hawk owls around northern Minnesota then usual but many more boreal owls have been spotted this year.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes

Great Kiskadee

Great Kiskadee
The great kiskadee is a large brightly colored tyrant flycatcher. They are found from the Rio Grande Valley in south Texas south to Argentina. They are omnivorous. They primarily eat insects which they usually catch in the air. They also eat berries, lizards, rodents and they are one of the few passerines that will eat minnows and small fish. They can be quite loud and boisterous, especially when chasing other birds out of their territory, often times birds that are larger then they are. They received their name from their call which sounds  like kis-ka-dee.   

Monday, February 25, 2013

Everglades National Park

 South Florida was once a large series of wetlands that ran from the Kissimme River down to the Biscayne Bay. The numerous ponds, slough, sawgrass marshes, hardwood hammock and forested uplands were the basis of an intricate ecosystem that was home to many unique plants and animals. Unfortunately this amazing wetlands was a nightmare for early settlers that were looking for land to settle, farm, and graze their livestock. As these settles began to drain portions of the wetlands the fragile ecosystem began to suffer. Species at the top of the food chain, like the osprey above, were lead indicators of the damage to the environment.
White Ibis
By 1900 early environmentalists and conservationist became concerned about the impact that people were having on the habitat. Besides draining the wetlands, hunters were also killing millions of the wading birds, like the white ibis above. In 1900 Florida instituted a ban on plume hunting in southern Florida but many people were making a living off slaughtering these birds. The ban lead to tensions that eventually got conservation officers killed. In 1928 Ernest Coe began an effort to create the Everglades National Park and  in 1934 congress finally designated the park. It took supports another 13 years to purchase the land and in 1947 the Everglades National Park was dedicated.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Aphrodite Fritillary

Aphrodite Fritillary on Butterfly Weed
 The Aphrodite fritillary is a colorful butterfly that is found in the north eastern half of the United States and south eastern Canada. They are a nectar butterfly and are frequently seen on bright flowers such as this butterfly weed milkweed. Since they usually frit from flower to flower in search of nectar they are also good pollinators. They over winter as a first instar larva (caterpillar) so there is usually only one brood per summer.  I photographed this butterfly at Crex Meadows back when it was a bit warmer outside.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Frequent Flyer Miles

Bobolink Male and Female
The bobolink is long distance traveler. They breed in open grassland in the north eastern half of the US and southeastern half of Canada, from the east coast through the Dakotas and even further west on Canada. They winter approximately 12,000 miles away in central South America. That means that every two years a typical bobolink will travel the circumference of the earth at the equator. They can travel over a 1,000 miles per day. They typically migrate in flocks stopping to feed on grains and insects in agricultural on their way. Unlike most passerines the bobolink molts twice a year, once on the breeding territory at the end of the summer and once on the wintering territory before they begin their return flight. When the males molt on the wintering territory the feathers have yellow tips which makes it look like they have not changed from their non breeding plumage but as they begin to head north the tip wear off and by the time breeding season arrives their black and white breeding plumage is visible. This is a pair that I photographed at Necedah NWR in Wisconsin.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Hey Does that Log Have Eyes?

American Alligator
 The American alligator is a marvel of efficiency. They are the largest reptile in North America and an apex predator. They spend much of their day sitting in the sun to help regulate their body temperature, since they are cold blooded. They are opportunistic feeders that hunt primarily by ambush. Sitting with just the top of their head above water they can appear like a floating log until something comes along. This way they do not burn up much energy hunting. Alligators are not picky and they will try and eat most anything that they can get into their mouths. They have existed in one form or another for over 150 million years, although in the late 1960s they were close to going extinct. Hunting, habitat loss and the predation of eggs forced the American alligator to be listed as an endangered species. It was removed in 1987 as there are now millions of alligators in the south eastern United States.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Winter is Eagle Time

Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle in Flight
Winter is eagle time in south east Minnesota. Minnesota has the largest population of nesting eagles in the lower 48 states. During the winter eagles from around the state and eagles that have migrated south congregate at the few spots where they can find open water. Most of these locations are along the Mississippi River in southern Minnesota. During the winter we also get a population of golden eagles that migrate down from northern Canada and spend the winter in southeastern Minnesota and southwestern Wisconsin. Since they are not fish eaters the golden eagles are usually not found right along the river but they do like the rolling hills that are in the area adjacent to the river. Often time it is possible to see both species in the same area. Since bald eagles do not get their white heads and tails until they are 5 to 6 years old, it can be a challenge to distinguish the golden eagle from the immature bald eagle. In this photo we have one of each. Can you tell which is which?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Belated Valentine

Calico Pennant
Like a stereotypical guy I am late for Valentines Day this year. I meant to post this last Wednesday but got rapped up in life and it slipped my mind. The calico pennant is one of the most colorful and attractive dragonflies that you can find in North America. In my opinion it rivals any of the butterfly species around and the distinctive red heart shaped spots on the abdomen of the male make it a great subject for Valentines Day, or in my case a belated Valentines Day.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Dinner Time

Osprey with Fish at the Nest

Fox Sparrow

Fox Sparrow
 Many people do not pay much attention to sparrows. They are not large like pelicans or fierce like raptors. They do not have the grace of herons or the bright color of warblers. They are often hard to identify and most people do not take the time to try. Fortunately the fox sparrow is pretty easy to identify.
Fox Sparrow
The fox sparrow is large, for a sparrow weighing in over one ounce which is twice as much as many of the other species of sparrows. There are 4 different subspecies that breed in northern Canada, Alaska and along the Pacific Coast. They winter in the southern United States. Here in the middle of the U.S. we usually only see them during migration. Most often they are seen on or near the ground where they are searching through the leaves foraging for insects. The bird in the first picture was photographed on April 1st. When we see them at that time of the year they are a happy sign that spring has come and summer will soon follow. the second photo was taken in mid October. When we see fox sparrow at that time of the year it is not such a happy occasion because it means that winter is right around the corner.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Big Cypress

Green Heron
 Big Cypress National Preserve is the United States first National Preserve. Much of the 720,000 acre National Preserve was originally intended to be a part of the Everglades National Park back when it was established in 1947. Unfortunately there were problems acquiring the land from its private owners so eventually that tract of the Everglades national Park was eventually scrapped.
White Peacock Butterfly
Later in the 1960s a plan was unveiled to great the worlds largest airport in parts of what is now Big Cypress. Many locals joined with environmentalists, hunters and several Native American tribes to prevent the construction. Some of the locals and sportsmen were worried about access to Big Cypress if it was added to the Everglades National Park and so they came up with a compromise and the first US National Preserve was born.
American alligator
Most of the Big Cypress habitat consists of fresh water cypress swamps. The preserve is the most biologically rich habitat in the Everglades Region. It is home to numerous species of bird, butterflies and dragonflies. It has a large population of American alligator. It also is home to nine federally listed endangered species including manatee, the Florida Panther, and the Florida sandhill crane subspecies.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Anthophora Urbana

Anthophora Urbana
 The Anthophora Urbana is a solitary bee that can be found in this area. They are a member of the genus Anthophora, a large genus in the Apidae family. They do not live in hives like honey bees. Instead they live in solitary holes that they dig in the soil. Often numerous bees will have burrows in the same area. I commonly find these at Crex Meadows, where I took this photo. Crex has a good number of sand prairies which are excellent habitat for this species. The sand makes it easier to dig burrows and there are plenty of flowers to get nectar from. This bee is perched on butterfly weed. A common form of milkweed with bright orange flowers. As its name would suggest butterfly weed is good at attracting butterflies and other nectar eating insects. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Wilson's Warbler

Wilson's Warbler
The Wilson's warbler is a small North American warbler. They breed in wet shrubby forests in northern Canada, Alaska and along the Pacific coast. They feed primarily on insects which they glean from branches or catch in flight but they will also eat berries. They are primarily solitary birds outside of the breeding season but will join in mixed flocks while foraging. During the winter Wilson's warblers migrate to Mexico and Central America where they live in a variety of different habitats including tropical high plains, unlike any other species of migrant warbler.

Friday, February 15, 2013


Just like the order Odonata, dragonflies and damselflies, the order Lepidoptera has 2 similar but different groups, butterflies and moths. All lepidoptera are characterized by scaled wings and body, a proboscis or straw like moth, and a complete metamorphosis. There are nearly 175,000 estimated species of Lepidoptera  and they are divided into nearly 175 families and superfamilies. There are different  theries dividing these families up into which are butterflies and which moths because the differences between butterflies and moths are not cut and dry. For instance examine the two photos in this post. Both insects lack color, which is a trait that usually indicates moths. However they are both outside during the day and perched with their wings over their backs which are indicative of butterflies.        
Both insects look very similar yet one is a butterfly and the other is a moth. Can you tell which is which? The best way to distinguish is to look at the antennae. Butterflies have clubs or widened sections at the end of their antennae where moths usually have either a straight or feathered antennae. With that hint can you tell which is which?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Coyote Pups

Coyote Pups
 Back in 2007 and we made one of our numerous trips out to Yellowstone. That year the weather was not very cooperative so we did not have as many good photo opportunities as we usually do when we go to Yellowstone. The bright spot of the trip was the coyote den that we found, along with numerous other photographers, out on Blacktail Plateau. Mating season for coyotes is from January to March. The female goes in heat for less then a week so timing is very important. The gestation period is about 2 month. The pups are born blind and helpless. They will remain this way for about 10 days. They will remain in the den for about 3 to 4 weeks.These pups have emerged and have probably been weened and are eating meat. The coyote pictures that I took that year have been the most popular pictures on my blog with nearly 40,000 hits. If you would like to see the rest of the series click on the link below.