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.