Friday, November 25, 2016

Tundra Swans

 Last weekend I made my third trip down to southern Minnesota to photograph tundra swans. Each year tundra swans migrate from their breeding grounds up in Alaska and northern Canada down to the Atlantic or Pacific coasts of the southern United States. A large population, numbering in the thousands, stop over on the Mississippi River in Southern Minnesota to fill up on tubers, roots, of the arrowhead plant before heading east to the Carolina Coast.
 The migration here usually starts at the beginning of November but when I traveled down to the Upper Mississippi River Wildlife and Fish Refuge on the first week of November there were very few swans to photograph, and most were in the middle of the river. The second weekend in November, which is typically when the most swans are in the area, was a little better but still there were not many swans in the water by the overlook. The problem was that the weather was so mild with temps in the 60s to 70s that the swans put off migrating. Finally a dip in the temps brought enough swans down on the third weekend that some finally were with in photo range.
Since each trip was about a two and a half hour drive each way I found other subjects to photograph on the trips where the swans were not around. There are usually a lot of bald eagles on the river this time of year. This one had almost completely molted into its mature adults feathers. With the little bit of black still on the head and tails I would estimate its age at six to seven yeas old. Besides fishing in the river the eagles will also go after the small ducks that are also migrating south. In a few weeks most of the river may be frozen, the swans and ducks will be on their way south to their wintering grounds, and the bald eagles that remain will congregate in spots where the river stays open.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Olive Sparrow

Olive Sparrow
The olive sparrow is a secretive emberizine sparrow that is found in Mexico and Central America. In the United States it is found only in south Texas.
 Their preferred habitat includes dense thickets, semi-open scrub, chaparral and undergrowth near forests. They can often be heard foraging through the dense brush in search of insects, caterpillars and seeds. These pictures were taken in the Rio Grande Valley back in February.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Long-billed Thrasher

Long-billed Thrasher
 The long-billed thrasher is a southern relative of the more common brown thrasher. They are found in southern Texas and eastern Mexico. Their name is deceiving, since their beak is shorter then many other species of thrashers. They do however have a long tail. This photo was taken in the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Golden-fronted Woodpecker
The golden-fronted woodpecker is one of the most colorful woodpeckers found in North America. Their range extends from southern Oklahoma, through Texas and eastern Mexico and down into Central America. There are four different subspecies that vary slightly in color that were once considered different species. They are closely related to the more common red-bellied woodpecker and where their ranges cross the golden-fronted will aggressively defend their territory against the red-bellies. 
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Golden-fronted woodpeckers are found in open to semi-open woodlands. In the U.S. this includes mesquite brush land, orchards, groves, along rivers, and second growth forests. They are omnivores with a diet consisting partially of insects (grasshoppers, ants,beetles and other insects) and the rest of fruits, seeds and nuts. This female was eating some of the fruit from a prickly pair cactus. These shots were taken earlier this year down in Texas' Rio Grande Valley.  

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Eastern Screech Owl

Gray Eastern Screech Owl
 The eastern screech owl is a small owl found in the eastern United States and north eastern Mexico. Although they are fairly common many people have never seen one. Looking at the picture above you may be able to guess the reason why? Eastern screech owls have pretty good camouflage. They are also primarily nocturnal or crepuscular, so they are most active at night or dusk and dawn. As a cavity nester they usually spend their day in a tree cavity or perched in dense tree foliage.
Gray Eastern Screech Owl
 This owl was quite popular back in March when I photographed it. On cold sunny days he would sit in the entrance to this cavity and sun himself. Many photographers new his location so he often had quite an audience. Unfortunately some photographers care more about a picture than they do the bird and while I was there one such photographer was playing calls to try and get the bird to open its eyes. The owl turned out to be smarter than the photographer and was not fooled. After the photographer left, I guess he did not like being confronted, the owl rewarded the rest of us by opening one eye to check us out.
Red Eastern Screech Owl
Eastern screech owls also can come in a red color. This is Mestaae, an education bird at The Raptor Center. In the eastern portion of their range only about 30% of the birds are this rusty color but in the western portion of their range, which includes Minnesota, only about 15% are red. We have had 3 eastern screech owl education birds since I have volunteered at The Raptor Center, only one was gray the other two, including Mestaae, where both red.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Curve-billed Thrasher

Curve-billed Thrasher
 On our trip down to Texas last February we were fortunate to get some pictures of a curve-billed thrasher. We frequently see the long-billed thrasher when we are in Texas but the curved billed thrasher is usually more difficult to find.They live in scrub, mesquite and semi-desert in south Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Mexico. Since this bird was photographed in southeastern Texas it would be a member of the eastern population. Birds found in the western portion of the range, like Arizona, would have a grayer breast, barely visible wingbars, and gray tis on the tail instead of white. When we are photographing in Texas we are always warned to make sure and drink plenty of water, it looks like this thrasher got the same message.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican Fishing
 Most people know how pelicans hunt. From an early age many of us have seen cartoons that feature pelicans whose bill can expand like a large pouch. This is fairly accurate at least when it comes to white pelicans.
Brown Pelican Fishing
 Brown pelicans however are a different matter. They usually fly low over the water scanning for fish and when they see one they dive head first into the water. Often there dive is so sudden that the rest of their body tumbles awkwardly into the water behind their diving head.
Brown Pelican Fishing
Like many predators hunting for prey there are many more failures then successes. But when a brown pelican fails it gets back up into the air and gets ready for another dive. These pelicans were photographed in south Texas near Brownsville.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

American Oystercatcher

American Oystercatcher
The American oystercatcher can be found around the coastal areas of North, South, and Central America as well as the Caribbean. They eat primarily shellfish, crustaceans, and other aquatic invertebrates. To catch their prey they typically stab their beak into a partially open shellfish before it can close its shell. Since they rarely travel very far inland their nest consists of a scrape located at a higher spot on the beach.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret
 One nice thing about traveling to warm places during the winter is getting to see birds that you never get to see back home. In Minnesota the only egret that we usually see is the great egret.I still remember how excited that I got when I saw my first great egret as a kid. Down in Texas they have a few other species of egrets that are only rare visitors to Minnesota. One example is the snowy egret.
Snowy Egret Feeding
Snowy egrets look very similar to great egret except that they are smaller. Sometimes size is tough to gauge, especially from a distance, so there are other a couple other field markings that you can look for to help determine whether a bird is a snowy or great egret. First of all snowy egrets have bright yellow feet where great egrets have black feet. Unfortunately their feet are often not visible in the water. Snowy egrets also have lacy plumes on the back of their head and tail. Great egrets have no plumes on their head and long plumes on their tail. Finally snowy egrets have a black beak with yellow lores, the area around the beak and eyes. Great egrets have a yellow bill with yellow lores.
Snowy Egret in Flight
Most species of egrets were hunted almost to extinction in the late 1800's and early 1900's. feathers were in fashion at the time and hunters killed millions of birds in order to adorn hats and other articles of clothing with lacy feathers. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 put a stop to the legal feather trade by protecting feathers, body parts, nests, eggs and the birds themselves for all native species of birds other than game birds like ducks and such. The illegal feather trade continued but eventually feathers went out of fashion. Even though most of the hunted species made a comeback and are not endangered today they are still protected.

I apologize for my neglect of the blog over the past couple months. Between work, volunteering, building two websites and several other projects my time has been limited. Summer usually is a busy time also, but I will try and post more often again

Friday, April 22, 2016

Hey, hey, it's our B-Earthday

That's right! Nine years ago, Earthday 2007, the Ecobirder blog began. So to celebrate I give you a 2015 Year in Review.  

Barred Owl
I photographed this barred owl at the Minnehaha Falls dog park early in the year.

Cedar Waxwing
While photographing the barred owl at the dog park I ran into a small flock of cedar waxwings.

Bald eagle
 In the fall I often travel to the southeast corner of Minnesota, near Brownsville, to photograph migrating tundra swans and bald eagles.

Eastern Bluebird
 While photographing great horned owls early in spring bluebirds migated back into the area.

White Pelican
 I got this white pelican taking off while I was photographing swans and eagles near Brownsville.

Pileated Woodpecker
 There is a lot of old growth near where the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers converge. This is perfect habitat for the pileated woodpecker.

Trumpeter Swans
 During the summer I usually spend a good deal of time at Crex Meadows in Wisconsin. They usually have several pairs of nesting trumpeter swans which are fun to photograph when they have cygnets.

Yellow Ladyslipper
 While photographing dragonflies at the Ridges Sanctuary in Door County Wisconsin I found this yellow lady slipper. This is the only lady slipper that I have found in the wild.

Big Horn Ram
Our big trip of the year in 2015 was to Yellowstone in May. We photographed this big horn ram near the North Entrance 

Black Bear COY
We like to go to Yellowstone in May because it gives us the opportunity to photograph a lot of babies. In 2015 we saw a lot of black bear cubs of the year, which had only recently come out of the den. 

 Spotted this coyote moving parallel to the road on our way north in the park one morning.  

Red Fox Pouncing
In years past we have had the opportunity to photograph red fox at their den with pups. This year we did not get to photograph a den but we did get to watch this spectacular beauty hunt. 

Yellow Bellied Marmot
Marmots are very common in Yellowstone and will often pose for you. 

Pronghorn Antelope
On our way home from Yellowstone we stopped at Bowdoin NWR and Medicine Lake NWR. These are great places to photograph prairie birds and waterfowl. Every now and again you find something a bit larger to photograph. Such as this pronghorn antelope.

I hope you enjoyed some of my best pics from 2015.