Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Sandhill Crane

On 3 March 2014, Erika and I began our homeward drive from New Mexico. Our first destination was Santa Fe for a car tuneup, computer repair, a fancy dinner or two, and the Georgia O’Keefe Museum. But first we stopped at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, a location I have always wanted to visit.

The refuge is most famous, perhaps, for their huge, wintering flocks of Sandhill Cranes. As often happens in our travels, we were a week late to see the cranes—we only saw three. But, as you will see in the next several posts, other birds abounded. We highly recommend stopping at the refuge if you are ever in the vicinity at any time of the year.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Lance-tipped Darner

On 30 August 2014, Erika and I found several darners flying about a pond at the River Bend Nature Area near Faribault, Minnesota. Flying darners are difficult to photograph. I was disappointed in this one “perfect” shot—a Lance-tipped Darner. You can even see the spines at the end of its abdominal appendages. In the field, the darners appeared to have bright blue-spotted abdomens that contrasted with bright green thorax stripes—perhaps Canada Darners. But, back home, the photographs showed less striking, but, nonetheless, beautiful stripes. One blurry photo seems to show an individual with striking blue thorax stripes—a field mark of the Canadian species. Possibly both darner species were present, but I only came home with Lance-tips.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Copper Underwing

When Erika and I opened the porch umbrella last week, about 50 Copper Underwing moths flew out. The species is common in hardwood forests across most of North America. The larvae feed on a wide varity of hardwood trees. Adults fly from early July and are most common in August and September. These moths have pale-orange underwings, which are often hidden by the forewings. I wish I had known to look. Thanks to Scott King for ID help.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Acorn Woodpecker

Acorn Woodpeckers are found from Oregon across the Southwestern United States, south through Mexico, Central America, to Columbia. We found a few while visiting my brother north of Silver City, New Mexico. Here they inhabited riparian oak scrubland, but, elsewhere they are also found in pine-oak woodlands. 

Acorn Woodpeckers breed in family groups of up to a dozen birds. The group members cooperatively raise their young and are famous for storing acorns in woodpecker-riddled storage trees called granaries. The woodpeckers fit the acorns into the holes they have drilled, often moving acorns to new, better fitting holes as the acorns shrink as they dry. Not all Acorn Woodpeckers, however, live in groups or use storage trees. The species also is variable in its migratory tendencies, with some populations sedentary, and others migratory.

The groups that do use granaries share their acorns as the winter progresses. Acorns are not the only items they eat—Koenig et al. (1965) also list “sapsucking, flycatching, bark-gleaning, and seed-eating."

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Bridled Titmouse

At the end of February 2014, we visited my brother north of Silver City, New Mexico. We made several birding explorations, one in search of Bridled Titmice that my brother assured us lived among the oaks at a local picnic area. A Bridled Titmouse quickly appeared. The titmouse moved from tree to tree so fast that I soon found my legs tangled in the weeds at my feet. The bird acted more like a chickadee than a titmouse. I did, however, manage this one photograph, a new bird for my collection.

Among North American titmice, the Bridled Titmouse’s striking head pattern is unique. They do bear a striking resemblance to European Crested Tit. Some ornithologists wondered if the two species were closely related. Genetic studies indicate, however, that Bridled Titmice are more closely related to North American titmice than they are to the European bird (Nocedal and Ficken 1998).

Bridled Titmice are found in southern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico south through Mexico. The scientific name, Baeolophus wollweberi, is interesting. The species was first described by Charles Bonaparte in 1850 and named for Wollweber, who previously collected a specimen. That is all we know about Wollweber, who sent Mexican specimens to a German museum (Nocedal and Ficken 1998; Gruson 1972).

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Green Heron 2

In yesterday’s post, perhaps I should not have been so surprised to find a Green Heron high in a tree. On Sunday, 24 August 2014, Erika and I came upon this Green Heron in the Carleton College arboretum. The bird flew up, high into a nearby conifer. I do not know if its out-stretched neck was to better observe us, or to provide camouflage among the tree limbs.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Highway 77 Bridge

A good place to bird when time is limited when you are in the Minneapolis metro area is the Old Highway 77 Bridge, just south of Cedar Avenue where it crosses the Minnesota River. This area is part of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Especially noteworthy is a short boardwalk that leads across a marsh just south of the parking lot. Plans are to convert the old bridge into a bicycle/foot path, which will afford interesting birding opportunities. Now, however, bridge access is closed. I have never had any problem, but I have been told by a few birders to never leave anything visible in your car and not to put anything in your trunk while at the parking lot, for fear of vandalism.

Anyway, on Friday, 22 August 2014, Erika and I visited the area. We did not list too many species, but we did enjoy finding a Green Heron perched high atop a huge dead tree next to a pond. You usually expect to find this heron on the ground in the marsh vegetation. I posted several other Green Heron photographs in a previous post. It did not help that two workmen puttered about in a noisy ATV (All-Terrain Vehicle).

We were surprised that the small pond alongside the parking lot was drained, just a muddy surface with a creek running through it. We did photograph a relatively tame Solitary Sandpiper. Last May I posted several other photos of this species and wrote about its food habits.

Monday, August 25, 2014

White-winged Dove

I have already written about the recent range extension of White-winged Doves. Here I researched the doves' food preferences. Birds in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona prefer saguaro seeds, which are found in cup-shaped fruits, resulting in easy consumption.  White-winged Doves occurring further east prefer larger-seeded plants, and often cultivated ones.

Interestingly, seeds of the Century Plant, the largest agave in Big Bend National Park, are not listed in Schwertner et al.’s (2002) list of preferred foods. This White-winged Dove feasted on the agave’s seed pods. It is perhaps noteworthy that the seeds lie in cup-shaped fruits. Notice that both of the dove’s eyes are closed as it ate.

The agave is called a “century plant,” although it blooms once after 20-50 years.  Century plants have many human uses, including mescal and tequila. I assume these plants were cultivated, grown in front of the Chisos Mountain hotel.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Torrey Yucca

Four species of yuccas grow in Big Bend National Park—I believe this one is the Torrey Yucca, sometimes called the Spanish Dagger. The flowers require pollination by the Yucca Moth. Indiginous peoples ate the yucca fruit, and used the leaves to make cloth, rope, mats, sandals and baskets. Roots were used as soap and as a laxative. This species was named for John Torrey, a Columbia University botanist, who designated this yucca as a new species in 1859 (NPS; Wildflower.org). The Torrey Yucca in the United States is native to New Mexico and Texas.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Texas Rainbow Cactus

This Texas Rainbow Cactus was labeled and growing near the Big Bend National Park visitor center at Panther Junction. The species is often cultivated in desert gardens, so I do not know if this is a wild specimen. Wild plants, however, have a limited distribution in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, but are most easily found in the Big Bend region. The plant also grows south into northern Mexico. Plants are normally found with two or three basal branches (Wikipedia; Americansouthwest.net) and get their name for the faint, rainbow-like bands on the branches.