Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Purple Finches Arrive With First Winter Storm

 There were several Purple Finches at my bird feeders this morning.  The first ones this year, and just in time for the first big snowstorm of this new winter.

This male was waiting for an open space on the feeder. He soon was eating seed as can be seen below.

The females do not have the purple-cranberry color, but are distinctive with the white line over the eye, as can be seen in the picture at the bottom.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Yellowlegs Shorebirds Migrating South

 Most shorebirds have already migrated through Minnesota on their southward journey, but this Greater Yellowlegs was near the shore of the Mississippi River yesterday and allowed me a fairly close approach. It is usually difficult to get close to these birds.

This bird seemed to be resting, eating, and preening its feathers as it prepared for the next leg of its migration to the southern coasts of the United States or somewhere in Central America.

Yellowlegs nest in Canada, so we only get to see them during migration
 Here is a picture with a female Mallard Duck in the foreground for size comparison. The long bill and fairly large size differentiate this from a Lesser Yellowlegs, which also migrate down the Mississippi Migration Flyway.

The bright yellow legs are distinctive in these birds.

Here this bird is looking for food, and in the next picture is seen grabbing something only it can see under the water.
 I didn't see anything wiggling in its mouth when it came back up, so it must have eaten it while under water.  With ducks and gulls all around it, food seen in its mouth would bring other birds eager for a meal.

After eating a little, and resting, then preening, as seen in the picture below, this bird flew off to another spot for more food and rest.

Next spring it will make the return flight to Canada, passing through this same area looking for food and rest to give it the resources it needs to fly thousands of miles to its breeding grounds.

Solar Eclipse At Springbrook Nature Center

 Yesterday in the late afternoon a partial eclipse of the sun occurred all across North America. It was a perfectly clear day and easy to see.  I took these pictures at Springbrook Nature Center at about 6 PM as the sun was setting.

With this eclipse and the total eclipse of the moon earlier this month, it has been a rare sky focused time.
In this picture the sun was dissappearing into the trees of Springbrook as it set, with the partial eclipse still obvious.

The moon moving between the earth and the sun causes this eclipse, but the moon can not be seen, since the sun is lighting its other side.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Mallards and Wood Ducks at Springbrook to Migrate Soon

 Ducks at Springbrook Nature Center are getting ready to migrate.  It is easy to see the Mallards and Wood Ducks in the wetlands off the boardwalks right now, as they spend most of their time eating.

This male Wood Duck is one of the most colorful ducks in North America and and is easily seen from the boardwalk.
 The female Wood Ducks are much less colorful, but almost always together with the males at this time of year.

The Wood Ducks are usually at the edges of the wetlands, and a bit more secretive than other ducks.
 The Mallards are common and easy to get close to.  This pair were within a few yards of the boardwalk, and taking a rest from their busy eating schedule.

As you can see below, their time is mostly spent eating plants that can be reached just under the surface of the water.  Bottoms Up!

Blood Moon Eclipse

A week ago there was a full eclipse of the moon on a very clear early morning, which many people either watched, or viewed pictures of. 

I took this picture at 10 PM, six hours before the eclipse started. 

In the picture below you can see how the moon changes position, at least from our perspective, turning a bit clockwise, over the next 6 hours.

The internet said the eclipse would begin at 4:25 AM, but at 4:00AM it had already begun in my location, so I was glad I had taken this picture of the whole moon earlier.
 This picture was taken at 4:15 AM, and from here-on the moon moved fairly quickly into the Earth's shadow, as can be seen in the following photos.

As the shadow "moves" across the moon, the limitations of photography, compared to human eyesight, become apparent.

To the camera it looks like the area on the moon that is in shadow is completely dark.  But our eyes are able to see the red glow of the dark moon area caused by the "halo" of reddish sunrises/sunsets happenning all around the edges of the Earth.  This is where the term "Blood Moon" comes from.
 This picture was taken at 4:40 AM,  The moon was getting fairly low in the sky here, and I had to move my tripod to not have tree branches interfere with the picture.
 By 4:55 AM the moon was nearly 2/3rds in the shadow, and nearing total eclipse.
 By 5:11 AM only a crescent of the moon was visible from sun light reflection.

But as you can see in the picture below, the red "Blood Moon" was very visible over the rest of the surface of the moon.

The pictures here are all taken at about 125th of a second because the moon is quite bright in the camera lens.  But the "Blood Moon" is quite a bit darker and required a slower shutter speed of about 1/5 of a second.

The white area on the right side of this picture is the regular moon light, which has to be overexposed to be able to see the red area.  This picture was taken at 5:11 AM, the same as the picture above.

At 1/5th of a second through a 600mm lens the moon actually moves a little as it is setting, making it difficult not to have some blurring when taking the picture.

From my place to take these pictures the moon lowered into the trees nearby and was gone for photography purposes after this picture.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Wooly Bear Caterpillar Weather Predictor?

 Wooly Bear Caterpillars are busy finding a place to hibernate for the winter, and walk busily in front of anything in their search. So lots of sightings are being made now.   Here are pictures of two caterpillars I have found in the last few days.

Folklore seems to have made sure that everyone hears the story that the amount of brown on these caterpillars is a predictor of how severe the winter will be.
Supposedly, more brown means a less severe winter.

Here in Minnesota we are always looking for a reliable winter prediction, even if from a caterpillar.

Folklore is fun and will persist, but science and observation helps to give some understanding of why these caterpillars may look different sometimes.

Eggs are laid in late summer and early fall when these caterpillars hatch and start to grow.

After hatching they eat several plants that grow in our lawns, and shed their skins as they grow.  They shed 6 times, and each time the black bands get wider and the brown gets narrower, but the furry bristles get thicker with each shedding as well. 

When cold weather sets in the caterpillar finds shelter under some bark or other protected place and hibernates, freezing solid!

When warm weather returns the caterpillars revive, eat a little, then form a cacoon, and after a few weeks an Isabella moth emerges, and the cycle starts over.

So, what do you think?  A long hard winter or a short easy one?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillar

 Almost everyone has seen the beautiful and gracefull Tiger Swallowtail butterflies that visit our gardens in mid summer. 

As the flowers and warm weather have dissappeared, the butterflies have as well.

 I saw this old and bedraggled looking one last week in the prairie.  I was surprised it could still fly from flower to flower.

While these butterflies are now gone their caterpillars are finishing growing and looking for a place to make a chrysalis for the winter. 
 Tiger Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars have some distinctive features.

They are a basic green like many caterpillars, but they have special "eye" markings to use in defensive situations.

When danger approaches they pull their head back into their body, swelling the front part of their body, making it look like the scary picture below.

If that doesn't work the caterpillars have brightly colored orange scent organs they extrude from their head that emit a bad odor. 

It's defenses seem to be working for this caterpillar so far.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Monarch Butterflies Start Migration

In Springbrook Nature Center's south prairie the Rough Blazing Star is in full bloom and the Monarch Butterflies are busy drinking nectar as they start their long migration to Mexico. 

I took these pictures on Tuesday with Monarch butterflies all around me, seeming to have added to their numbers this summer after reports of serious population decline last spring.
 I'm sure they are still in serious decline, but it is great to see them in numbers after seeing so few recently. 

This is a male, as told by the black "spots" on the hind wings.

Although there were plenty of flowers to go around, the butterflies often nectared together on a single plant, with 3 or 4 close together, as can be seen in the picture below.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Butterflies in Summer

 Lots of butterflies around the flowers at Springbrook Nature Center and gardens this summer.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtails are nearly the largest and there have been lots of them this year.

They are slow fliers when they are getting nectar from flowers, and a pleasure to see.  Their caterpillars feed on cherry leaves, so a Cherry tree will attract even more of them.
 This American Lady butterfly is feeding on Joe Pye Weed flowers.  These butterflies probably do not survive our winters in Minnesota as hibernating adults, but fly north in the spring and will have a couple of generations in this area before the cold of late fall ends this year's cycle. 

These butterflies are very fast flying and some years will be seen in great numbers and other years very few seen.
 The Question Mark butterfly is named after the silver white mark on the hind wing that looks a little like a question mark.  These butterflies fly very fast and rarely stop for anything.  Finding one that stopped to get some nectar was a gift.

Below is the Red Admiral Butterfly, another one that is sometimes seen in great numbers.  This one is nectaring on Purple Cone Flower, and flies very fast from one flower to another, spending all day on the flowers.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Robber Fly Bumblebee Mimic Eating Real Bumblebees

 Bumblebees are an important part of ecosystems because of their pollinating activities on the many flowering plants all around us.

There are many species of Bumblebees, but most of us are more familiar with the large yellow and black ones that generally ignore us while busily working away at gathering nector and pollen, as in this picture taken at Springbrook Nature Center.
 A group of predacious robberflies have taken advantage of this casualness that other insects seem to have with bumblebees. 

As can be seen in these pictures this member of the fly family is an amazing mimic of a bumblebee.

By using this mimicry, the fly can sit in the open among leaves and flowers and  not be seen as a threat by other insects.  And birds don't try to eat it since they don't want to be stung.
 Yesterday I was photographing small bumblebees in my raspberry patch when this fascinating imposter showed up.

It did not take it long to get close enough to one of the small bumblebees to grab it and then land on a leaf to enjoy a healthy lunch with its piercing and sucking mouthparts.

Mimicry works for both defense and offense, especially for this fly.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Dew In Prairies At Springbrook

 There was heavy dew in the prairies at Springbrook Nature Center this morning.  All the new grasses and flowers, as well as any critter that spent the night in the open was pretty much covered with drops.

As the sun came up, the dew evaporated into the air as things warmed up.

The image in the dew drops illustrates how a lens inverts whatever it sees.  You can see the sky on the bottom of the drops.
 A damselfly is covered with dew here, and the drop on the grass beside it shows how a drop of water can act as a magnifying lens.

As soon as the dew evaporated off the damselfly it flew away and joined the many others searching for small insects to eat.
 The Prairie is full of flowers, including the Spiderworts, which have just started blooming.

Each flower blooms for one day only, with a new bud behind it taking its place tomorrow.
 The wild asperagus has grown tall and now has many tiny flowers which will grow into little green berries about the size of a pea in a few weeks.
 The wild roses have started blooming, and are the biggest blossoms in the prairie.

The puccoon in the picture below is also starting to bloom after the managed prairie burn earlier this spring.  Their large yellow clumps can be seen from a long way off.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Broadwinged Hawk Banded At Springbrook Nature Center

 For the first time in 26 years of banding birds at Springbrook Nature Center a Broadwinged Hawk flew into one of our mist nets and was captured immediatly and then banded and released.

This was pretty exciting for all the volunteers, most of whom don't get to see a hawk up this close.  Fortunately, volunteer Amber Burnete, who works at the Raptor Center, was present and very familiar with handling birds of prey. 

This turned out to be a Broad Winged Hawk that was only one year old, so a little inexperienced and may be why we captured it..  The eye color helps to determine the age, and has not turned to the brighter yellow af an older adult.

This hawk was very calm through the banding process, but wary of so many hands measuring and looking at feathers to determine its age.
 Here the band is being closed on the hawk's leg.  Now if this hawk is ever captured again we will be able to learn where it has traveled and how long it lives.
Here is the hawk being released.  the band can be clearly seen on its right leg.  If the hawk stays around Springbrook we will be able to see the band on his leg and know that this is the one we captured on Sunday, May 10, 2014.

The hawk was ready to go, and flew immediately into a tree nearby.  It shook its feathers out, and then flew back in the direction of the area where we captured it a little earlier.

Hope we see it again.

Bird Migration In Full Swing At Springbrook Nature Center

 At Sunday's bird banding activity at Springbrook Nature Center migrating birds were everywhere.  The early migrants have been held back by the wet weather and late migrants have arrived from the south, making a great opportunity to see them all at one time.

This male Northern Shoveler duck was swimming just off the boardwalk.
 This Yellow Rumped Warbler was also on the cattails seen from the boardwalk, along with many others.  The yellow feathers on his rump show where his name comes from. 

These little warblers are early migrants, and have usually flown further north by now, but are still very common in the park.  they will be gone soon
 This Olive Sided Flycatcher is one of only four caught in our nets for banding in the past 26 years.  His hooked beak is very normal for flycatchers.

He is posing here after he was banded and ready for release.  He seems to be less "olive" colored than others I remember.
 Here with his wings open there is just a hint of the olive color that gives him his name.

Being captured, banded, and released did not seem to frighten himt too much, as I saw him again back in the same area at Springbrook yesterday, two days after his release.

The Black and White Warbler below was just one of the 22 species and 73 individual birds banded on Sunday at Springbrook.