Sunday, July 5, 2015

Bonaparte’s Gull

After leaving Texas in March, we raced across our old stomping grounds in southern Louisiana. Our goal this day was Covington, Louisiana, and, along the way, we wished to visit Avery Island, famous for their gardens and for being the home of Tabasco Sauce. The McIlhenny family subsidized many of our graduate expeditions to Peru during our years as graduate students at LSU.
Our coastal route required several short ferry crossings. At one of these ferries, we were followed by a small flock of Bonaparte’s Gulls. These birds are among the smallest of North American gulls. Despite their being common, I had only once previously photographed one. Small fish make up the bulk of their diet, and here they were attracted to fish and small invertebrates caught in the ferry’s wake. These are basic (winter) plumaged birds. Later they will sport black heads. In all plumages, they can be recognized by the long, white triangles on their outer wings.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Prince Baskettail

Scott King alerted me to the presence of Prince Baskettails at Carleton College’s Lyman Lakes. After one unsuccessful search, I found these two, a male and a female I think, near the bridge separating the two lakes. The dragonflies’ presence here was curious, since Barn Swallows, with a definite appetite for dragonflies, bred under the bridge. The swallow eating an Eastern Forktail perched nearby.

These baskettails never perched, but returned repeatedly to the water along the bridge. Indeed, Prince Baskettails may seldom land—spending most of the day in flight (Mead 2009). They fly under six feet above the water, and, when they do land, it is often in tree tops (Paulson 2011). Paulson also warns that Prince Baskettails, which range across eastern North America,  are much more heavily spotted on the wings in the south and may be a distinct species.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Barn Swallow with Forktail

At the bridge separating the two Lyman Lakes on Carleton College’s campus, I photographed this Barn Swallow with an Eastern Forktail grasped between its mandibles.  Look closely at the damselfly’s blue tail tip—it has a black notch on the underside, a field mark of the forktail. Another swallow, which appeared to be the mate, perched on the same branch. I was standing on the bridge, and my guess was that the swallows were waiting for me to move before feeding the damselfly to their young under the bridge.

Although flying insects make up almost all of Barn Swallow diets (99.8%), Damselflies are actually not their preferred prey. Flies are their preferred prey (about 40%), along with beetles (15%), hymenoptera (13%) , with odonata coming in a distant third at 4%; other flying insects make up the remainder of their favored diet (Brown and Brown 1999).

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Great Egret

Great Egrets breed around the world—North and South America, Europe, Asia, China, Australia, New Zealand and Africa. The fact that this species was decimated during the plume-hunting era is hard to remember. American populations recovered only after changes in women’s millinery habits and the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1913. (To think that some of our politicians today would gladly gut this act.)
Last March, Erika and I often saw Great Egrets as we drove up the Texas, Louisiana, and Florida coasts. The bird in the top photo was photographed at Avery Island, Louisiana. The egret in the second photo was displaying on a windy day at High Island, Texas. This behavior is called a “Bow Display.”  The head is lowered while the bird grasps a branch—a male advertising display and also perfomed by paired egrets before their first copulation (Mccrimmon et al. 2001).

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Rainbow Bluet

On Sunday, 28 June, I explored Lyman Lakes, small bodies of water on the Carleton College campus here in Northfield. A good number of Odonata flew about the lakes, and I took over fifty photos, including this one of a Rainbow Bluet. I had not seen this damselfly since 2012, when I enjoyed my first encounter in the nearby St. Olaf College wild area. Male Rainbow Bluets, with their orange face, greenish thorax, and blue on the abdomens are unmistakable. Note the reddish-orange dots at the wing tips. Both of the Rainbow Bluets I have seen have been perched on pond-side vegetation. Females sometimes submerge to lay their eggs inside aquatic plant stems (Dubois). Dubois’s excellent guide, Damselflies of the North Woods, is out of print, but I understand that a new edition is planned.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Roseate Spoonbill

Last March, as we drove up the Texas coast, we contacted our friends, John and Kathy Holden, who were touring New Orleans. Our plan, in a couple of days, was to meet them in Covington, Louisiana, and do some birding. John asked, “Of course you plan to stop at High Island?”

High Island is famous among birders. John was reading “The Big Year"by Mark Obmascik, upon which the movie of the same nameis based. In the spring, and with the right weather, High Island hosts hundreds of exhausted migrants. High Island had not occurred to me—we were a bit early and the weather was too good. Actually, I did not really know where High Island was. I looked it up on our map—we would be driving across the island—there was no reason not to stop.

Administered by the National Audubon Society, High Island is a forested salt dome in the coastal plain. Just for the record, the High Island of reality does not seem to be the same location depicted in the movie. The refuge contains trails along a swamp and through woodlands. Spoonbills and egrets breed in a rookery in the swamp, and trails along a levee allow close approach. These birds alone are worth the visit. As predicted, we saw very few migrant songbirds, but the rookeries were spectacular.

I have seen spoonbills before, but never this close. The plumage of these breeding birds was truly “flamboyant,” as described by Dumas (2000). Previously I never noticed the golden-colored tails—a color that does not seem to be present on previous birds that I have photographed.

In the United States, Roseate Spoonbills are uncommon residents along southeastern coasts. The species was decimated by plume-hunters in the early 1900s. Most of this destruction may have been collateral, as the hunters slaughtered egrets in colonies shared with spoonbills. Spoonbills lack the plumes coveted by the millinery industry. Spoonbill wings, however, were sold as fans. By the 1940s, spoonbills were gone from Texas and persisted only in a few Florida locations. Although still a species of concern across much of its range, efforts by conservation governmental groups have restored populations from the brink of extinction in North America.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

White-tailed Kite

As we continued north up the Texas coast last March, we photographed this White-tailed Kite. These kites almost became extinct in the early 1900s. But numbers have rebounded, and the kite’s range has expanded north along the Texas coast and up the Pacific Coast all the way up to Washington. The species is also found in southern Florida and Mexico south through South America.

Unfortunately, recently kite numbers have again declined, presumably due to habitat loss (Dunk 1995). These raptors inhabit savannas, where they hover-hunt for small mammals. Threats to savannas include conversion to agriculture and urbanization. My June 2012 blog post contains a bit more information on White-tailed Kites.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Ebony Jewelwing

On 23 June,  Erika and I encountered a dozen Ebony Jewelwings along the creek that drains Carleton College’s Lyman Lakes. We were photographing a female laying her eggs in the quiet water, when a male flew overhead, and landed next to her. We marveled how the male generated lift with its wings folded above its body. Perhaps air is simply much like water to a damselfly.
He seemed to be guarding her, perhaps from interference from other males. Paulson (2011) reports that males, in their territories, guard egg-laying females. Males without territories often try to sneak in and copulate with females in other males’ territories. In this case the male perched next to the female while she continued laying eggs.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Singing Prairie 2

This post is basically a repeat of a June 2011 entry from the Great Western Industrial Park near Randolph, Dakota County, Minnesota. The photographs are somewhat improved, except for this Bobolink, above, which is just different. Note the white wing spots and the right leg with which the bird has just launched itself. The industrial park is thankfully still awaiting industry, but its days are sill probably numbered.
Until then, Grasshopper Sparrows (above) and Savannah Sparrows still stake out territories—both species have yellowish lores, but the Grasshopper lacks the Savannah’s breast streaking. Their songs are also completely different.
A number of Dickcissels called from brush-tops. I have linked this short narrative to previous posts on these sparrows. The photos in this post were all taken on 17 June 2015.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

White-tailed Hawk

After a few days in Rockport, on 19 March we headed north towards Port Arthur, Texas, and Covington, Louisiana. Along the way, we encountered a few interesting birds and, once in Louisiana, our first dragonflies.

The first of these birds was this White-tailed Hawk, a first for my photographic collection. This hawk inhabits arid savannas from Texas to Argentina. White-tailed Hawks are opportunistic predators eating a variety of small prey. The species tends to be shy, and, consequently, has been little studied (Farquhar 2009). Field marks include the black band at the end of the tail and its white breast. We spotted this individual along the highway. I slammed on the breaks and jumped out of the car. I captured these two photos before the bird flew. (Because of the extremely high speed “limits" on Texas secondary roads, birding became relatively perilous.)