Sunday, June 30, 2013

Spring White Butterfly

Spring White Butterfly
Although this year seems to be a difficult year for photographing butterflies here in Minnesota, because the numbers we are seeing are well below normal, it was one of the best that we have ever had for photographing butterflies in Yellowstone. Since we usually go in late May often there is still quite a bit of snow on the ground. This past year though it seems that they had a rather mild winter so the snow was already mostly gone when we visited. Usually we do not see any butterflies but this year I added 3 new species to my butterfly life list. One of those species is the spring white. This white butterfly gets its name because it is early to emerge in the spring. This is mostly because the over winter as a chrysalis. They are found in a variety of habitats in western North America. In the lower part of their range they can emerge as early as February. Males are often seen patrolling hilltops and ridges where they have a vantage point to look for females. Females are often near to larval host plants, plants in the mustard family, where they lay their eggs one at a time.   

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Audubon's Yellow-rump Warbler

Audubon's Yellow-rump Warbler
Out of all of the warblers the yellow-rump warbler is usually the first that we see in spring, the last we see in the fall, and the most common warbler during migration. These birds pass through southern Minnesota on their way to northeastern Minnesota and Canada. They usually do not go as far south in the winter because they feed on more berries then most other species of warblers, including bayberries and wax myrtles which other warblers can not digest. Usually the only yellow-rump that I get really exited about is the first one that I see in the spring because it is a portent that other species of warblers will be arriving soon. This yellow-rump was different though. This is a Audubon's yellow-rump instead of the myrtle variety that we see around here. Out west these are probably pretty common but since I have only seen one or two of these before, and never one that was quite so cooperative, I was pretty happy.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus

Yellow-headed Blackbird
 So I know I have used this one before but X is a pretty tough letter. Thank goodness for Latin scientific names.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Emerald Pool

Yellowstone has more geological features that any where else in the world. A great deal of the park is on top of the Yellowstone Caldera. This is a hot spot with molten rock rises toward the surface. This is one of the things that makes Yellowstone such a wondrous place. The emerald pool is one of the geological features that is found in the Black Sand Basin which is near Old Faithful.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Harlequin Duck

Harlequin Duck
Harlequin ducks are colorful waterfowl that breed in mountain streams and rivers in northwestern and northeastern North America. They are primarily found in Canada and Alaska, although they can also be found in Washington, Montana and Wyoming. They winter along the rocky shores of Alaska, Canada, Washington and Maine. They spend most of their time in fast moving water such as rapids. Although we have heard of people seeing them in the Yellowstone River over the years we have never seen one in Yellowstone until this year. When we arrived there were 5 birds hanging around in the rapids but by the time we left this was the only bird that still remained.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Western Grebe

Western Grebe
The western grebe breeds on freshwater lakes and marshes in the western half of North America. They usually build their nests on the water anchoring them with vegetation. During the winter they head to the Pacific coast where they gather in protected bays and estuaries. They are sometimes called a swan grebe or swan necked grebe because of their long neck. We saw many western grebes at Medicine Lake NWR in Montana on our way back from Yellowstone.  

Monday, June 17, 2013

Lamar Valley

Grizzly Bear
The Lamar Valley is a long valley that sits in between flowing hills on the northeast side of Yellowstone National Park. The valley follows the Lamar River from which it got its name. Another name that you often here for Lamar is the Serengeti of North America. The wide open valley is frequently home to herds of bison and pronghorn. Dear and big horn sheep are often found along its peripherals along with the occasional moose. Fox, coyote, badgers, ground squirrels and other smaller mammals scurry through the grass and sage while golden eagles, red-tailed hawk, osprey and other birds of prey circle in the sky above. The creatures that you see most frequently is the wild life watcher. People with their large scopes hoping to get a quick glance of one of the elusive wolves. Lamar was good to us this year especially on our last day in the park. We did not get to see any wolves but this large grizzly crossed the road near where we were parked. Yellowstone is one of the few places south of Canada where you can see a grizzly. In 1975 the grizzly bear was listed as a threatened species in the lower 48 states. Extensive hunting and habitat loss decimated a population that once stretched from Alaska to Mexico. Yellowstone was listed as one of six recovery areas for the species. In 1975 the Yellowstone grizzly population was estimated at 136 bears that occupied a territory of about 5 million acres. By 210 the population had increased to 602 occupying 14 million acres. While the Yellowstone numbers are hopeful they account for over half of the estimated grizzly bear population in the lower 48 states. Grizzly bears require a good deal of territory to roam and as a predator they are often misunderstood and maligned by people who make a living raising livestock in the region.     

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Giant Swallowtail

Giant Swallowtail
This weekend I was supposed to go up north for the Minnesota Dragonfly gathering but unfortunately my car was broken into on Thursday while I was at a local park. Fortunately all my camera equipment was with me but they broke my back passenger window to gain access. The only thing that they took was a laptop bag that was filled with all of my books, surprise! So I decided to head up to Wild River State Park today to do some dragonfly photography. What I photographed most though was giant swallowtail butterfly. The giant swallowtail is a butterfly of the south east, although they are also found in southern California. The larval host plant are eaves of citrus trees so it makes sense that you would find them primarily in the south where they grow citrus. There range does extend to the southern border of Minnesota and on some years they push into the southern part of the state as the summer progresses. This year they have already made it as far north as Wild River, which is further north then I have ever seen them, and its only the second week in June. The strangest part though is that this year it seems to be hard to find species that are usually common. Everything is mixed up. It's like we have a shortage of butterflies except for giant swallowtail which are an uncommon species.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel
The golden-mantled ground squirrel is found in mountainous areas of western North America. They look similar to chipmunks with stripes running up their sides but they do have any stripes on their faces as chipmunks do. They act similar to chipmunks, carrying food in their cheeks. They carry it back to their shallow burrow, which is often located under the rocks or tree roots. They need to eat a lot to build up fat reserves. Because unlike the Uinta chipmunks, who share their habitat, the golden-mantled ground squirrel hibernates through the winter. However they do also cache some food so that they can eat right away when they wake up in the spring.    

Friday, June 14, 2013

Reflection in a Geothermal Pool

When we were at Yellowstone I photographed the reflection of the sky in one of the geothermal pools at the West Thumb. With the color in the pool the reflection came out looking  a lot like an oil painting of the sky.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

SkyWatch Friday

Here is another sky shot from Yellowstone. With all of the rainy cloudy days that we have had here in Minnesota since we got back its almost hard to remember what blue skies look like. Thank heaven for SkyWatch Friday.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Violet-green Swallow

 Violet-green Swallow
The violet-green swallow nests in the western half of North America from Alaska to Mexico. Like the tree swallow, which are common in the eastern half of North America, they are cavity nesters. Since tree swallows are slightly larger they are more likely to take over prime nesting locations where the species range over laps in the middle of the continent. During the winter these swallows migrate to Central and northern South America. This is only the second time that we have seen this species in Yellowstone. Usually winter still has its grasp on the area when we visit so they do not return until after we leave. This year though, Yellowstone sent all of the cold and snow to Minnesota and they had a mild winter so the swallows had already returned. When we do see these birds it is usually around Old Faithful. They seem to like to nest in crevasses in the buildings. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Yellowstone Bison

 Yellowstone is the only place in the lower 48 states of the US where bison have roamed continually. Over 3000 bison roam the park. They are divided into two group or herds, the northern herd and the Hayden Valley or central herd. The Yellowstone bison are pure bison with no cattle genes. They are descendant from the small herd that continued on and was protected in Yellowstone.