Sunday, November 18, 2012

Flying Squirrels and Hornet's Nests

 Summer's hornet's nests become visible at this time of year when the leaves have fallen.  They are fairly common.  This morning I discovered this one on Springbrook's hiking trail.  It is about 30 feet high in an aspen tree.

The bottom part of the nest had fallen off and was on the ground beneath it.  Not unusual, since woodpeckers, Chickadees, and other hungry animals rip holes in the nest to eat the wasp larvae and pupae that remain after the adult wasps die from cold and lack of flower nectar food.

 But this piece of nest was different.  In the middle of what had been the bottom of the nest was a pile of Flying Squirrel droppings, a few sprigs of moss, and Flying Squirrel hair. 
A Flying Squirrel latrine high in the tree tops.  Perhaps it or they were living in the top of the nest.  Something I have never heard of.  But nature is full of surprises.

Notice the droppings to lower left, hair to lower right, and moss at top.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Nursery Web Spider at Springbrook

 At Springbrook's Pumpkin Night Halloween Program last Saturday we had some pretty big pretend spiders.  On Monday, as we cleaned the props after bringing them inside, this very large REAL spider jumped off a fake spider and ran across the floor. 

This Nursery Web Spider, I think Dolomedes tenebrosus, has a leg span of about 3 inches, and moves faster than most of the nature center staff are comfortable with.

This is a female, and with little left to eat outside, and cold weather coming, will be lucky to find a warm place to stay with food to eat.

I photographed her on a wild sunflower seed head.

Look at the close up of the eyes in the pictures below.

Those are her fangs covered by hair hanging down below her 8 eyes. I would not want to be a small bug trying to escape from her.

 Nursery Web Spiders have very good eyesight, and chase their prey down.  Many can also run across water.

But they do have a serious problem with eyelashes, as can be seen in the picture below.  But maybe I just found her on a bad hair day.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

3rd Oldest Hairy Woodpecker is at Springbrook

 At our regular bird banding activity at Springbrook Nature Center today we captured this female Hairy Woodpecker.  We first captured her in October of 1998 as a hatch year bird.  That makes her 14 years and some months old.  If the Bird Banding Lab decides that she is at least 4 months plus 14 years old, she will be the 3rd oldest Hairy Woodpecker ever recorded.
 She looked full of energy and bright eyed as we weighed and measured her today.  These pictures are courtesy of Amber Burnette, who was photographing while I was holding the bird and taking measurements. 

Her band was very worn and thin as can be seen in this picture and the picture below. A new band is next to her band below.

Woodpeckers often wear their bands quite thin as the band rubs against the bark of trees while the woodpecker moves up and down searching for food.  But this band was knife edge sharp on the top edge, and exceptionally thin, so we took the band off and replaced it with a new one. 

We have captured her 25 times in the last 14 years.  Let's hope we catch her for a few more years and set a record for the oldest Hairy Woodpecker ever recorded.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Bull Snake in September

 A local business discovered this Bull Snake in their parking lot today and called police, who promptly brought it to Springbrook for us to determine what to do with it. 

Bull Snakes are Minnesota's largest native snake, and used to be common around Springbrook.  Development has made most disappear, but this one was healthy and large at 60 inches long.

 The area where it was found is fully developed and the chances of another encounter with people very high.  The next encounter might not turn out so well for the snake, so I took it to Springbrook's south prairie and released it there.  There are lots of gophers there for it to eat, and other bull snakes.

Bull Snakes are often called Gopher Snakes because of their habit of eating pocket gophers.  Their nose is more pointed than most snakes to help push into gopher mounds and then down into their tunnels.
Bull Snakes are constricters, and find their prey mostly by smell.  Their tongue is forked as this picture shows.  With the tougue shaped like this, the snake can determine which direction, right or left, smells best, for safety or food.  The snake is constantly smelling with its tongue to re-evaluate its options and make decisions as it moves through its world.

They are excellant at rodent control, so I hope this one can find a good place to overwinter, and then finds Springbrook to be a good home.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

First Fall Heavy Frost

 Last Sunday morning was the first heavy fall frost at Springbrook.  The Virginia Creeper leaves in this picture were covered with crystals of ice. 
In the pictures below there is the pale blue Prairie Aster before and immediately after the rising sun touched it.  The second picture is what I call dew-frost.  Not quite totally thawed but no longer all frost either.
The other two pictures are the tiny hairs on a grass seed head with delicate crystals of frost, and last the heavy edge frost crystals on an aspen leaf.  Fall is here!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Otters at Springbrook

 There has been a family of otters at Springbrook for a few weeks.  A mother and two nearly grown young.  I was able to take these pictures at sunrise with the sun right behind them, so the lighting is bad.  This is the only time I have seen them close, and they disappeared right after I took these pictures.

Several visitors have seen them playing and catching fish close to the boardwalks.  You just have to be in the right place at the right time.

The two young ones are in front here with the larger mother behind.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Transparent Dragonflies, Spiderwebs and Dew

 It is late summer at Springbrook and at sunrise spiderwebs covered with dew drops were everywhere when I took these pictures two days ago. With the sun behind them the dragonflies are transparent and seem empty as can be seen below, waiting to warm up and start catching todays food.
The jewelweed at sunrise is covered with jewel-like dew drops, until the yellow jacket wasp sneaks in and eats the night's nector, knocking off the dew drops as she leaves.  She can just be seen here at the bottom of the flower.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Eastern Tailed Blue-A Tiny Butterfly

 Eastern Tailed Blue butterflies are fairly common at Springbrook Nature Center, but not easy to see.  With its wings folded, the butterfly is smaller than a US nickel (5cent) coin.  They fly quickly and often are only a flash of blue in the air and then gone.

With wings folded, the male and female look identical, as can be seen with this mating pair.  I took this picture last fall in Springbrook's west prairie.
The top wing color is quite different between males and females, as can be seen in these next two pictures.

This is the female to the left.  I took this picture shortly after sunrise two days ago in the south prairie.  It is rare to see them with their wings open like this.  She was trying to warm up and had her wings facing directly at the sun.  The females are supposed to be drab, but her colors seemed quite vivid to me.
The male has the blue color that flashes as he flies.  I took this picture in the south prairie in the spring as it was feeding on this wild strawberry flower.

These tiny but pretty butterflies are almost always around on any hike at Springbrook during the summer.  But you have to be looking for them, or they will flash past you and into the tree tops unseen.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Field Bindweed A Beautiful Pest

 Field bindweed is a vine that is blooming at Springbrook Nature Center now.  Gardeners think it is a real pest plant, but it has a very pretty flower.  Each flower only blooms for one day, and they open early in the morning, which is when I took these pictures yeaterday.

I think the flower looks like something Georgia O'Keeffe would have painted.

As I took the picture of the bumblebee leaving the flower below, I was surprised later to notice the green tree frog in the upper right of the picture.  I didn't see it when I was there!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Green Heron Gathering

The Green Herons at Springbrook are getting ready to migrate already, which means they spend all their time out in the open on the edges of ponds looking for frogs or fish or anything else that moves.

I took these pictures this morning from Springbrook's long floating boardwalk.  There were at least 25 of these herons hunting, preening, or noticing that a spot another heron had looked better, so let's fly over and check it out.

 It seemed like they spent a lot of energy flying from one spot to another.  There was almost always a couple of herons in the air checking out new locations.
 In this picture their short stubby tail can be seen, and the crest on their head, which seems to be raised whenever something exciting/alarming enters the bird's mind.

In the picture below all the primary and secondary wing feathers can be seen and counted as the heron comes in for a landing.  All the new feathers have molted in and it is ready to migrate. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Bald Cardinal

At bird banding this past Sunday at Springbrook we caught the sad looking female cardinal in the picture above. A very bad hair...ahh...feather day.  We often capture cardinals with some of this "baldness" in the summer months, but this poor gal has it really bad. 
There is some debate over what "it" is. Some feel it is normal molting, some think a skin mite, and others think a feather mite.

All I know for sure is that she can't get much more pathetic looking.  And her ears are very noticable, the opening below and behind her eye.  She should have her feathers back in a few weeks and look more like her old self  in the picture to the left here.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Dragonfly Obelisks and Cannibals

 Saturday was Springbrook's annual dragonfly count day.  We saw many, and learned interesting things.  This Twelve Spotted Skimmer was on the Beaver Pond trail pond.  This is a male based on the white spots, which the females don't have.

Down below is a Blue Dasher sitting in the "obelisk" position.  Some dragonflies point their abdoman directly at the sun to reduce their exposure and potential over-heating.
 The Blue Dasher moves his body up until his shadow is the smallest it can get.  The smaller
shadow means less exposure to the sun.
 A different Blue Dasher wasn't watching close enough and this Eastern Pond Hawk dragonfly ate him for lunch.  The wings of the Blue Dasher are in the middle and smaller than the Pond Hawk's, so size means survival in this dragonfly eat dragonfly world. Cannibalism is an everyday occurance in this habitat.
This beautiful Ebony Jewelwing Damselfly, along with several other species of damselflies, were also seen on the hike.  This is a female, which is made known by the white spots on the end of the wings. 

Dragonflies all hold their wings out flat all the time, while damselflies bring their wings together over their backs when at rest.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Dobsonfly Pupae Becomes Adult

 Above is the picture I posted two weeks ago just after the Hellgramite larvae shed its skin into this interesting pupae.  Nine days later I photographed it again the night before it emerged as an adult Dobsonfly. 

The color changes in the wings, legs, eyes, jaws, head and thorax. The wings especially will grow enormously after it emerges, as can be seen in the pictures below.
 If this picture is compared to the close up of the head in the previous post there are a lot of color changes.  The skin of the pupae seems to be separating from the new skin underneath of the adult Dobsonfly around the eyes and on the back of the head.

Even at this point the pupae was very active and trying to bite with its jaws.  It was difficult to get it to sit still long enough for the pictures.
 Here is the cast off pupal skin I discovered the next morning.  It is entirely intact with only a split on the back where the Dobsonfly emerged.  Except for the vacant head and eyes, it looks alive, but a bit transparent.
 Here is the adult female Dobsonfly that emerged from the pupae.  She is a little over 4 inches long and very agressive and defensive.  At night after dark she was flying strongly around the room.

The day after I took this picture someone brought a male into the nature center. Its photo is below. The big difference between the males and females is very obvious.  The pincers on the male are huge, and he can use them effectively, drawing blood from a finger that is not protected when positioning him for a photo shoot!

 Here is a last shot of the two heads showing the difference.  Notice also the two extra eyes in the middle of the top of the head that face slghtly backwards.  I had some interesting reflection from these eyes with the flash from the camera.  I will put those pictures up in a future post.

June Beetle Pupae

 The June beetle larvae molted last night into their pupal stage.  They moved from laying on their side to laying on their back.  The skin splits in the middle and the old skin becomes their new bed.

I think they look like a baby Jabba the Hutt from Star Wars.  They are very active squirming around.  But remain on their back in the bed of their old skin.  Several have made chambers down in the dirt an inch or two.  Four came to the surface and molted while laying on the top of the dirt. 
 Here again is the larvae.  It was pretty quiet for two weeks, then started forming the chambers under the dirt, and now has molted this thin transparent skin.
The old larvae skin is easy to see here.  It will be interesting to see how long it takes for the adult beetle to emerge.

Stay tuned for the next stage of this insects life.