Thursday, August 25, 2016

Black Turnstone

eBird posts monthly challenges to contributors. Those meeting the goals—numbers of lists per month, lists with breeding notes, lists with birds noted flying overhead—are then placed in a pool from which a single prize of binoculars and bird books are drawn. Your chance of winning are poorer than collecting something from Power Ball. (You have a 1 in 27 chance of winning $4 if you hit the Power Ball.)
I am enjoying this month's challenge to submit bird lists containing at least three photographs. This quest proves entertaining and surprisingly difficult. I did not realize how many birds I identify from a great distance or by call. Along the way, I notice that the links to many of my previous photographic submissions to eBird are corrupted. Before, the images were linked to Flickr or Google Album pages. Now you submit the photos through eBird directly to the Macaulay Library at Cornell University. I have spent the month correcting my list links and moving photos to Macaulay. 

I found a few birds for which I have photographs but have not appeared in this blog. One is this Black Turnstone I from La Jolla, California, on 8 January 2008. This species breeds on the Bering Strait coasts of Alaska and winters along the Pacific Coast from Alaska to Baja California and northwestern Mexico. It occurs on rocky shores, where it flips stones in search of algae, invertebrates, and “all sorts of supratidal jetsam” (Handel and Gill 2001).

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Northern Map Turtle

On 11 June 2016, Erika and I were biking the Cannon Valley Trail. Near a bench, we found this Northern Map Turtle laying her eggs in the sand by the trail. This encounter was strange, since map turtles usually prefer large rivers and lakes. This turtle had a long haul, perhaps a quarter mile up hill, from the Cannon River. You would expect her to nest on sandy beaches or sandbars, not in a wooded area.

Breeding occurs in the spring and fall. Most mating occurs in deep water. Judging by the algae on this turtle’s carapace, this individual does spend most of her time in the river. Hatching happens in the late summer. A dozen eggs are laid a few times a year. Warm temperatures produce females, cooler weather results in males. When young hatch late in the year, they may overwinter in the nest (Savannah River Ecology Lab, Wikipedia)

Sunday, August 21, 2016


Last Tuesday I checked out the Dennison Sewage Treatment Plant on the eastern edge of Rice County, Minnesota. Sewage treatment plants and garbage dumps often harbor interesting birds. I  found none of my hoped for shorebirds—but I did find some good birds. Among them were a flock of eight Bobolinks. Winter Bobolinks are drab, compared to the males’ black and white spring plumage.

Curiously, I saw Bobolinks at the Dennison treatment plant almost exactly a year ago. Then I commented that the males in winter plumage tend to be brighter breasted than the duller females. I assume the bird in this photo is a male. In another bobolink post, I wrote “Bobolinks are long-distance migrants, wintering in southern South America, a round-trip distance of about 12,500 miles. A banded female Bobolink was recaptured after nine years, thus “presumably made this trip annually, a total distance equal to traveling 4.5 times around the earth at the equator” (Martin and Gavin 1995). Studies indicate that Bobolinks orient using magnetic clues.”

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Skimming Bluet

Skimming Bluets often fly low and hover over open water—hence their name. They are partial to algae mats and vegetation in otherwise clear-water lakes and ponds. They fly in the middle of day when temperatures are high. These are exactly the behaviors and habitat that Erika and I found them in along the outflow to Hiawatha Lake in Minneapolis on 26 July. All bluets look more or less the same—Erika says, “you’ve seen one bluet, you’ve seen them all.” The Skimming Bluets are small with mostly black, black-tipped abdomens. If you look closely at the eyes of the perched bluet, you may notice that they have a blue streak, but are otherwise brown. This field mark is diagnostic. You should also note the wavy blue line on the side of the first abdominal segment.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Field Sparrow

On 30 May 2016, Erika and I walked up to this Field Sparrow. It must have been near a nest. It bird first watched with its back to us. Then it hopped around and faced us. What a strikingly beautiful sparrow!

Field Sparrows are common across much of eastern North America. These sparrows prefer over-grown pastures and scrub. They do not nest in suburbs. Their clear trill as been compared to a bouncing ball. Take a listen and see what you think:

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Spotted Spreadwig

This Spotted Spreadwing searched for me. On 9 July 2016, Erika spied this tiny damselfly on the  inside, garage wall.  Two dark spots, barely visible on the underside of the thorax, cinch identification. This species is found across northern North America. Their range dips further south down the West Coast and in the Appalachians. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Black Swallowtail

Black Swallowtails are common garden butterflies across eastern North America. They also occur from Mexico into South America. I photographed this swallowtail on 8 August 2016 at the Open Hands Farm, near Northfield in Dakota County.

Black Swallowtails prove to be interesting butterflies. Males form leks. They gather at display sites where females mate with them (Wikipedia). Females are less brightly colored than males, and may mimic the distasteful Pipevine Swallowtail. The males’ bright dorsal spots do not mimic other species. These spots serve as territorial markers (University of Florida).

Caterpillars mimic bird guano. The caterpillars are often considered to be pests. They eat plants in the carrot family, including caraway, celery, dill, parsley and sweet fennel. They are not a serious problem for commercial agriculture. In home gardens, hand killing the caterpillars should keep them under control. Insecticides can provide control, but the caterpillars have a lot of insect predators and wasp parasitoids that provide natural control (University of Florida).

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Ira Allen

The last stop on our spring trip was at my brother’s near Williamstown, Vermont. We had a hard time getting there. The rain of Martha’s Vineyard changed to snow. We arrived a day late and left a day early. We had planned to return to Minnesota through Canada. North Bay was expecting over a foot of snow. Suddenly driving home through Chicago seemed a better alternative.

My brother and his wife proved to be understanding and exuberant hosts. They shared their home and harvested maple syrup. We took long and interesting hikes. This stone—notice the snow—is a boundary marker placed by Ira Allen in the 1700s. The rebar next to the stone is a modern survery marker—Ira was right on. Ira was the youngest sibling of revolutionary war hero Ethan Allen. Ira founded the Univesity of Vermont in 1791 and was a representative in the Republic of Vermont. My sister-in-law writes, “these Vermont heroes were admittedly scoundrels as well....or very good at self-preservation and self-promotion. Ah, history as mythology…”

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Stilt Sandpiper

Yesterday, Erika and I photographed this young Stilt Sandpiper at the Jirik Sod Farm in Dakota County. (We’ve had a bit of rain the last two days.) I have previously posted photos of adult Stilt Sandpipers from South Dakota.

In that former post, I wrote that Stilt Sandpipers are thought to be relatively rare shorebirds, but their numbers may be under-estimated by biologists. Habitat destruction, both in their arctic breeding grounds and in their south American wintering areas, have probably caused population declines.

Young Stilt Sandpipers can be tricky to identify. Field marks to note include the relatively long and somewhat drooped bill, the yellowish legs, and the scaly back. Winter-plumaged adults are much grayer birds. Stilt Sandpipers also tend to feed in almost belly-deep water.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Review: Wasps and Bees of Minnesota

Friend, poet, and citizen scientist, Scott King has written “A Photographic Guide to Some Common Wasps and Bees of Minnesota.” This book is not so much a guide as it is an appreciation of Minnesota wasps and bees. This book is extremely relevant in these days of concern for declining bee pollinator species.

This book contains color photographs, mostly taken by Scott, of 135 of the 400 species known to occur in Minnesota. Scott’s goals in writing this book are to increase readers' awareness of bee diversity and perhaps to learn to identify the common species. But his greater goal is to share his excitement in studying these insects. Scott is thrilled to search for new species, acquire names, and learn apian biology. By his own admission, this book is not technical. Identification is to be attempted by thumbing through the book. Sizes are indicated by lines of different lengths, but the measurements are not given. No keys are included. Scott writes that one in ten wasps you might find are not in this book. He notes that finding new species for Minnesota is not difficult. New species to science are not out of the question.

Despite these caveats, this book will allow you to name many Minnesota bees and wasps. Scott quotes Dijksra who wrote that names lead people to “awareness, conservation, and research.” Some great wasp and bee names are lurking out there—Queen Ant Kidnappers, Ornate Variable Spider Wasps, and Eastern Cicada Killers, to name but three. Some had no common names, and Scott had to pen them based on their scientific names or habits. All await your discovery. Click on the icon above for more information.