Monday, December 9, 2013

Cardinals, Blue Jays and Sharp Shinned Hawks at Feeders

 With the below zero weather we are having the birds are at the feeders all day to keep energy levels high enough to ward off the cold.

And they bring lots of color, too.  The Cardinals, with their bright red are among the brightest colors to see.
 The big beak on the Cardinal can easily open the hardest seeds on the feeder.

At Springbrook Nature Center's bird banding yesterday in the falling snow we caught over 85 birds that were stocking up on energy for the cold night coming up.

Several Cardinals were captured, banded, and released.
 We don't often catch Blue Jays at banding activities as they are too large and wary to get caught in the traps, but we caught several yesterday, which shows how desperate all of these song birds are for the food at our feeders during winter storms.

It is easier to photograph them too, as they are concentrating on the food, and let me get a bit closer, as this one did yesterday.
 The Blue Jay's blue colors make a great contrast to the red of the Cardinals. 

The Blue Jays are big and can become bullies at the feeders, not letting other birds near them until they are done feeding and leave.
Because of all the many little birds feeding around the feeders, this Sharp Shinned Hawk stopped by this morning to see if one was slow enough to become breakfast.  None were on this pass, and the hawk stayed for less the one minute before moving on.  I was only able to get two pictures before it was gone.

The predators need to eat too, and they keep the flocks of song birds healthy by eating the slow and less fit.  And they are a wonder to watch with their fast flying and manuerving ability.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

American Coot Strange Migrating Waterfowl

 Coots are one of the last of the waterfowl migrating through Springbrook right now. I took these pictures from the boardwalk during the bird banding program last Sunday.

Coots are not ducks, but they are found among ducks.  They are more closely related to rails and cranes. They have a bill shaped like a rail, and each toe has its own webbing, instead of the whole foot being webbed together as ducks have.  Some of the webbing on the toes can be seen in the picture below.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Heavy Fall Frost

 There was a heavy frost at Springbrook this morning, with no sun to melt it away early.

The last New England Aster flowers looked pretty droopy, but their colors were very vibrant and enhanced by the frost.
 The crab apples were encased in long crystals of frost.  The leaves were dropping off the tree as I was taking these pictures so the fruits will be more exposed now to migrating Robins, Bluebirds, and Cedar Waxwings.
 The last Black Eyed Susan flowers will be done for after this, and all that will be left will be seed heads.

The seed heads here seem to be the focus point for the frost crystals, with little columns rising off the seeds.
 This picture shows how the frost concentrated on the seed head, like a nest of crystals.
This American Gold Finch was too busy turning the seeds into breakfast to spend time admiring the frost. 

Not having a warm indoor area to return to means needing to constantly eat to stay warm.

The Gold Finch is in its winter plumage now, with the bright yellows of summer replaced by the duller colors that make hiding from predators easier.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Broadwinged Hawk At Springbrook

 This young Broadwinged Hawk was released today at Springbrook Nature Center by Amber Burnette from The Raptor Center.

It's rehabilitation was complete and now it is healthy enough to join other Broadwing Hawks in their migration to South America for the winter.

These hawks nest in and around Springbrook, and a pair was regularly seen and heard over the trails throughout this past summer. 

Keep an eye out next year for this hawk with the band on its left leg.  It might return to this same area.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Sparrows At Springbrook, Song, Fox, White Throated, and Swamp

 At Springbrook Nature Center's bird banding program today sparrows were prominent. These birds are easy to confuse, so here are pictures of the four we caught, so the differences can be seen.
 The Song Sparrow, above and to the left, nests at Springbrook and can be commonly seen.  It has a streaked breast with a central dark spot in the middle. 

It is mostly shades of brown with some black.

All sparrows have a short heavy beak for cracking seeds open.
This Fox Sparrow is the largest sparrow we see at Springbrook.  It is often mistaken for a thrush because of its reddish brown colors, its spotted breast, and its behavoir. But its short beak shows it is definately a sparrow.

Fox Sparrows are only seen during migration in the fall and spring at Springbrook, as they spend summers farther north, and winter in the warm southern areas. 
White Throated Sparrows are also seen only during migration times at Springbrook.  Their cheery song is always pleasant to hear in the woodlands as they feed before continuing their journey.

The yellow above the eye is a sure way to identify these sparrows.  The yellow at the back edge of the beak is left over from this birds "gape" this past summer as a baby bird. 

The "gape" color signals the adults to feed the baby birds, and will be gone by spring.
 To determine for sure that this bird was a baby this summer we look closely at the skull to see if the bone has completely formed.  This bird's skull was not completely "ossified" so we know that it is a "hatch year" bird.  By next spring its skull will be fully formed for its return journey north.
 This Swamp Sparrow has a buffy breast and rusty brown feathers on its tail, wing coverts (the feathers covering the ends of the long primary flight feathers) and head. 
Watch for all these sparrows over the next few weeks as they migrate south, and use this area as an important refueling station in the middle of their long migration journey.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

White-lined Sphinx Moth and Caterpillar

 While hiking today I found and photographed this White-lined Sphinx caterpillar eating the leaf of an Evening Primrose plant. There were still a couple of flowers blooming on the plant. 

By coincidence someone had brought in an adult moth found in their garden a few days ago, so here are their pictures together, something I haven't seen at the same time before.

The caterpillar has the characteristic tail of all sphinx moth caterpillars, but is more boldly colored than most other sphinxes.

Unfortunately, this caterpillar has almost no chance of surviving to adulthood.

 White-lined Sphinx moths immigrate north into our area most years and lay eggs while also drinking the nectar from our flowers.  But the Minnesota winters are too cold for the larvae/pupae to survive, so any moths seen next year will be newly immigrated from southern areas.
Shinx moths hover in front of flowers like hummingbirds to drink nectar, and this species is as big as a humming bird.  But it is more active in the evenings and at night, which accounts for its big eyes. 

During the day the bright underwing colors are covered up as the moth camouflages itself on some tree bark or dead leaves.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Late Fall Wildflowers In The Rain

 After all the weeks of very dry conditions the misty rain this morning seemed to be very welcome to the last wildflowers still holding on. 

This Purple Cone Flower was the only one left, and some of its petals were missing.

The wet cloudy day made the colors very vibrant.  The only challenge was keeping the camera dry.
 The New England Asters are in full bloom now, and hold the water drops for a long time before letting them roll off.

There were no bees or bugs pollinating in the rain.  When the sun returns they will be back.
One last lonely Black Eyed Susan seemed to be absorbing the rain drops into the seed head.  This moisture may help the roots and seeds stay healthy and bring large blooms next year for insects, birds, and us, to enjoy.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Yellow Bellied Sapsucker Camouflage

 Yellow Bellied Sapsuckers are a kind of woodpecker found in this area.  The young juveniles are out of their nests and getting ready to migrate to southern states soon for the winter. 

I took these pictures yesterday afternoon on a Burr Oak tree. 

The picture to the left shows how well they blend in with the bark of the tree.  They sit very still and are hard to see unless the light is behind them. 
Adult Sapsuckers peck rows of holes in tree bark and eat the sap and bugs that get stuck in it.  But this juvenile was not doing any of that behavior, and it would not work on an oak tree if it tried.

But its camouflage is working very well.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Black Swallowtail Butterfly Emerges

 This is the Black Swallowtail Butterfly that the caterpillar of my post several days ago turned into. 

They are beautiful, big, colorful butterflies with a very black background color.

In my previous post the caterpillar was preparing to change into the chrysalis portion of its life cycle. It sat quietly for a day before shedding its skin one last time to become the chrysalis.
 Here is the chrysalis immediately after it has emerged from the caterpillar skin. It moved very little at this point and had this very green and yellow color. 

By the next day the green color was starting to fade and become more brown.
 I had five caterpillars that each changed into a chrysallis.  While the caterpillars looked identical, each chrysalis was a different pattern and color.  Three became very tree bark in their color, and were very camouflaged. Two stayed somewhat green and yellow. 

Black Swallowtails overwinter in this chrysalis form here in Minnesota, and I thought that might be what these tree bark looking chrysalises might do.  But after 12 days for each, four of the chrysalises have now had the adult butterfly emerge.  Perhaps the remaining 16 day old chrysalis will wait until spring.
Immediately before the emergence, each chrysalis became quite transparent, and the butterfly's wing and body colors could be easily seen. 

It seems these buterflies like to wait until full dark to emerge, as I waited up very late several nights and missed all but this one as it was emerging at 5 AM last Thursday.

There is no movement, and suddenly the chrysalis cracks open and the butterfly quickly crawls up the plant stem to find a spot where its wings can hang and expand.
 Only seconds after emergence, the new butterfly's very large abdoman can be seen here pumping fluids into the tiny unfolding wings.

Notice the very prominent greenish yellow veins in the wings, through which the fluid can be seen flowing as the wings rapidly expand.

 Within an hour the wings are fully expanded, but pretty limp so the butterfly needs to continue to hang quietly to let the wings harden. 

The butterfly occaisionly tries to open the wings, but they are not strong enough yet and flop to the side mostly.
 Here the wings are stiff enough to be opened, but still weak.  The greenish yellow veins are only two hours out, and still pliable.

The new butterfly moves its proboscus mouth open and closed repeatedly during this time to get it ready for its first meal of flower nectar.
 Here after 4 hours the wing veins are completely black and hardened for flight.

I released each butterfly on flowers hoping to photograph it outdoors.  But each butterfly immediately flew high up into the sky and into the top leaves of trees near by.

I hope this butterfly's large abdoman means it is a female with lots of eggs to be laid yet this summer so more Black Swallowtails will be seen next summer.
 As the butterflies were emerging at night, it was often the colors of sunrise when I was first able to photgraph them.  They would open their wings and show their colors if frightened.  I believe the "eye" like colors at the bottom of the wings are meant to scare off possible predators. Seen up close these "eyes" are quite bold, as can be seen below.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Confusing Fall Migrating Warblers

 Last night's north winds brought cooler weather and lots of migrating birds into the area.  This Chestnut Sided Warbler is headed south for the winter, where it wants to blend in and survive predators. So the bright colors of Spring are molted to these more muted colors. No chestnut sides now. We caught and banded this warbler this morning brfore releasing it.
 This Mourning warbler was another one that flew into the mist nets this morning. 

It is one of the confusing fall warblers whose muted migration colors make it look very similar to other warblers.

One of the only ways to separate this warbler from the Common Yellowthroat warbler in the fall is to compare the length of the feathers under the tail pictured below.
 The bird on the right is the Mourning warbler.  Its under tail yellow feathers (coverts) are quite a bit longer than the same feathers on the Common Yellowthroat on the left.  The length of these feathers helped us identify these birds. 

Banding birds requires a lot of very specific observations and measurements to be turned in with the banding data.

The rumpled feathers on this Red Start warbler's head are left over from the bander separating the feathers to see if the skull bone tissue was fully formed.  It wasn't, a confirmation that this bird was a nestling this summer.

The orange feathers under the wing indicate this is a male, and will have red and black feathers in the spring when he returns.

Warblers are beautiful birds, even without all the details.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Black Swallowtail Butterfly Larvae on Dill

If you have ever found caterpillars on your dill plants in your garden they are almost certainly the Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars like the ones seen in these pictures.  My son found these on his dill. 

Black Swallowtail Butterflies lay their eggs exclusively on plants in the carrot family.  In the wild in this area that means Golden Alexander plants, and, south of Minneapolis, Queen Ann's Lace.  In your garden it means dill, parsley, and carrot.

The caterpillars eat the entire dill plant, right down to the ground.

 Butterfly and moth catterpillars all grow through what are called 5 "instars" or growth stages.  With each new instar the caterpillar sheds its skin and is able to grow larger.

In each instar the larvae usually look a bit different, or maybe a lot different.

This picture is of the 3rd instar for the Black Swallowtail caterpillar.  It is preparing to shed its skin here.  It quietly sits still on the plant stalk for several hours, not its normal behavior.

Notice all the spines and tubercules on the caterpillar's back.  These will get smaller with each instar until they are not present in the 5th or last instar.

Also notice the white 'saddle' in the middle of the back in this picture.  This will disappear in the next instar, as can be seen in the picture below.

Notice also the silk threads the caterpillar has woven all around the stem so the old skin will stay attached as it splits and the 'new' caterpillar moves forward.
 Here the caterpillar above has just shed its skin.  Basically it just crawled out of it during the night time.  The skin fell off the stem before I could reposition the camera for a better angle.
Here is the caterpillar in the 5th and final instar.  All the spines and tubercules are gone now, and the caterpillar uses its colors to blend in and not be seen by predators.

The caterpillar is about 3 inches long here, 3 times the length it was in the 3rd instar, which is the 2nd picture above.

It is pretty easy to see the difference between the six 'true' legs up by the head and the 10 'pro-legs' or 'false' legs that protrude from the caterpillar's abdoman.

These false legs are like little velcro pads that stick to plant surfaces very well, enabling the caterpillar to use the true legs to help grab and pull food towards its mouth.
 Here you can see the sharp edged 'jaws' pulling in the dill flower, along with a lot of pollen that has stuck to its face from all the other flowers it has eaten in the previous day.

I don't think these caterpillars help with fertilization of the flowers since they completely eat every flower, and stem, they can find.

Notice the aphid trying to escape at the bottom of the flower stem.  I didn't notice the aphids until after I was looking at the pictures on the computer. 
 It soon became obvious that every flower had its group of aphids that were soon to be deprived of their home and food as the caterpiller ate it all. They were very tiny, and trying to figure out where to go. 

The caterpillars seemed bothered by  the aphids when they crawled onto their bodies, especially when the caterpillars were little.  But I never saw one get eaten, even if it was on  the flower as the caterpillar ate the flower.
 All swallowtail butterflies have a brightly colored scent gland that is flashed out and emits a strong odor when danger threatens.  Black Swallowtail caterpillars are no exception.  But these caterpillars did not seem  threatened by me poking them, so this is the best photo I was able to get.  The orange gland is only about half way out here, and the air was filled with a strong dill/citrus odor.

At about 2 weeks of age the caterpillars start to wander, and after doing this for 12 hours or so, they settle on a plant stem to their liking, and attach themselves with a silk thread as can be seen below.  Now it is ready to transform into a chrysalis, which will appear in an upcoming post.