Thursday, October 8, 2015

Le Conte’s Sparrow

On Wednesday I took John Holden to see the Nelson’s Sparrows I reported in yesterday’s blog. We were only at the 180th Street Marsh in Dakota County for a few minutes before a small sparrow flew up and into a roadside willow shrub. Although we were uneasy that this bird was relatively bright and a a dozen meters from the nearby cattails, we both assumed we were seeing the Nelson’s Sparrow. My photographs clearly showed a white crown stripe, quite unlike the Nelson’s and typical of a Le Conte’s Sparrow.

Le Conte’s are among the most elusive of sparrows. Even where they are common, these sparrows are hard to observe. They are reluctant to fly, instead creep about “like mice under mats of grass” (Lowther 2005). The first specimen was collected in 1790 and named for a physician friend of Audubon. By 1872, only three additional birds had been found. The nest was first discovered in 1882. Only in the late 1990s were numbers of nests adequately described from North Dakota and Minnesota (Lowther 2005).  I have photographed this species before in South Dakota and you can read a bit more about this sparrow in my previous blog on Le Conte’s Sparrows.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Nelson’s Sparrow

For the last week or so, Nelson’s Sparrows have been reported from the 180th Street Marsh in nearby Dakota County. Never having photographed one, nor seen one in Minnesota, Erika and I ventured out to the swamp on Tuesday. We had no problem finding four birds along the edge of the marsh. Photographing them was another matter. These photos show the ochre eye-stripes and ochre, faintly streaked breasts. The top photo shows the gray sides to the face and the lower photo shows the broad, gray crown. Most of all, these photos show the habitat in which this sparrow skulks.
Nelson’s Sparrows have a confusing systematic history. Until recently, they were known as Sharp-tailed Sparrows. Three different populations were recognized, one breeding in the upper midwest, a second along Hudson Bay, and a third along the Atlantic coast of the northeastern United States. Because of differences in plumage, song, size, behavior, and genetics, Sharp-tailed Sparrows from the the Atlantic coast were split off and called Saltmarsh Sparrows (Shriver et al. 2011). Nelson’s and Saltmarsh Sparrows overlap along the northern New England Coast. Nelson’s Sparrows are named for Edward Nelson, who directed the Biological Survey from 1916 to 1927. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Halloween Pennant

According to John Abbott in the new (and free) DragonflyID app, Halloween Pennants are widely distributed, abundant pennants of North America. Apparently they are particularly common in Florida, and we saw them in numerous locations around the state, where they fly all year. These photos are from the Everglades in early April. They are easily recognized by their orange, dark-spotted wings.

They forage from the tops of marsh vegetation, often with their wings appearing to be out of alignment. Both sexes are able to fly in rain and strong wind. Males wait on their perches for females interested in breeding. The pennants in the upper photo are in their wheel position, the male guarding his mate, while she collects gametes from the male’s seminal pores. The dragonfly in the lower photo is a female, which is poorly represented in my photo collection.

Monday, October 5, 2015


On 2 April, Erika and I drove to the end of the road in the Everglades National Park to the “village” of Flamingo. I already shared with you some of the dragonflies we saw. We listed relatively few birds.

I noticed a bird photographer in an empty parking lot. Clearly we was intent on photographing something in the overhanging trees. I strolled over and found the Osprey with the fish in the left-hand photo. I wonder how our pictures compare. We saw the Osprey in the first photo later in our trip, near Satsuma along the St. John’s River with our intrepid guide, Carol Foil.

Ospreys are North America’s only raptor that eats almost only live fish (Poole et al. 2002). I once saw an Osprey take a small mammal, so this rule of being an exclusive piscivore is not absolute.

Ospreys have been brought back for the edge of extinction in the mid 1900s. The pesticide DDT was the main cause for this crises. Thanks to aggressive environmental remediation, by 2000, Ospreys are once again approaching historic numbers (Poole et al. 2002).

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Nashville Warbler

This fall, I am banding quite a number of Nashville Warblers. I have not made an official tally. Nashville Warblers are one species, at least, that, preferring secondary growth habitats for breeding, have benefited from recent western and Canadian wildfires and clear-cutting.

Sexes of Nashville Warblers are similar. Males tend to be a bit brighter than their mates. Males in winter plumage tend to be duller than in the spring. Young birds, like this one, look like faded adults. Despite their relative lack of winter flamboyance, Nashville Warblers in any plumage are handsome, little birds. For a photo of a spring male and more infornation on the species, see my post from 2010.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Regal Darner

As we walked through the Pineland Trail in the Everglades National Park, a Regal Darner flew up and perched in front of Erika and me. Photographing darners can be frustrating. Usually they are zig-zagging through the air, flying this way and that. This perched darner allowed us only a few photos before it continued on its way.

The green eyes are distinctive for Regal Darners, although this color changes to blue in mature females. The thorax is green with brown stripes. When not feeding in open areas, these darners are found in woodlands with ponds and swamps—exactly the habitat in which we encountered it.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Needham’s Skimmer

In the Everglades National Park last April, we phonotgraphed a couple of unfamiliar dragonflies. The first is this Needham’s Skimmer. This species is common near the coast from Texas to Maine. This skimmer replaces the similar Golden-winged Skimmer in coastal areas. I had trouble identifying Needham’s Skimmers, but the gold in their wings is less extensive and their bodies have less contrast than in the Golden-winged Skimmer.

Erika and I found several of these Needham's Skimmers along the Pineland Trail in the Evergrlades National Park on 3 April 2015. We found other individuals elsewhere in the park.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Wood Stork

Wood Storks are conspicuous waders of the Southeast. Their populations have suffered from water mismanagement in the Everglades, but numbers have increased in northern Florida, South Carolina and Georgia (Coulter et al. 1995). The species also breeds from Mexico through northern South America.

In the Everglades National Park, where, in April, Erika and I took these photographs, Wood Storks soar in thermals, often to heights over 3000 feet. They then glide as far as 30 miles to feeding areas. Birds return in the same fashion to their nesting colonies, occasionally waiting for the next day’s thermals to develop. Birds descend from the thermals either with long, downward, circular glides (like the bird in these photos) or in steep, high-speed dives (Coulter et al. 1995).

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Eastern Kingbird

I have posted before that, when we were in the Amazon Jungle in Ecuador,  Erika and I often saw large flocks of Eastern Kingbirds. Apparently the flocks are maintained until after the birds migrate into North America. Last May, John Holden and I found about a dozen Eastern Kingbirds along the Wells Lake causeway in southern Rice County. Curiously, in South America, these kingbirds eat fruit, whereas here they rely on flying insects (Murphy 1996).

One of these days I will succeed in photographing a male kingbird’s scarlet crown.  Looks like I came close with this bird. Meanwhile, compare this photo with that of the Gray Kingbird. Note the much larger size of the Gray Kingbird’s bill.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Gray Kingbird

After leaving Long Key, we proceeded to Duck Key, which looked like a gated community. On our own, we probably would not have entered—but the BirdsEye bird-finding app assured us that Gray Kingbirds had recently been reported on Duck Key. After driving though the residential streets, I opened the window and heard the raspy call of the kingbird.  “Sounds like it is coming from behind that house!” I called, as we turned a corner. And there was our kingbird. I took some distant photos. A few blocks distant, another Gray Kingbird obligingly forayed from its telephone-line perch.

Gray Kingbirds breed throughout the West Indies, northern South America, and the coastal southeastern United States, from Florida north to South Carolina and Mississippi. These flycatchers consume large flying insects, including beetles, dragonflies, bees, and, as you as see in the bottom photograph, wasps.  They also eat lizards and various fruits (Smith and Jackson 2002). Gray Kingbirds look superficially similar to Eastern Kingbirds, but are more gray overall, lack the broad white terminal tail bands, and have more robust bills. I suspect the size of the bills protects the kingbirds from venomous insect stings.