Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Western Kingbird

Western Kingbirds are a dime-a-dozen in South Dakota. Until yesterday, when Gene Bauer texted that he had one at the Prairie Creek Wildlife Management Area—Koester Prairie Unit, I had only seen this flycatcher three times in Minnesota. This sighting was my first for Rice County.

As its name implies, the Western Kingbird inhabits western North America. Western Minnesota is as far east as it normally occurs. The white outer-tail feathers distinguish this kingbird from other closely related species. Western Kingbirds have expanded their range since the late 1800s. Tree planting in the prairies facilitate this kingbird’s abundance. Fence and power lines also provide perches from which to hunt. Western Kingbird populations continue to expand (Gamble and Bergin 2012).

Monday, May 30, 2016

Virginia Waterleaf

Virginia Waterleaf is a common, early-spring flower under moist, deciduous forests. By midsummer, they die back to the ground. The plant grows across most of eastern United States and southeastern Canada.

This photo may be somewhat misleading, since the leaf in the background does not belong to the waterleaf. I think it is nettle. Also called Shawnee Salad, waterleaf is said to be edible in salads. Teas made from the roots have combatted diarrhea (practicalplants.org). But be careful to correctly identify the plant. I imagine a raw nettle salad is quite painful. You should also be aware that, in some regions, waterleaf is a protected species (Davesgarden.com).

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

This spring, we witnessed a wave of migrating Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. Recently I posted, “Sapsuckers are famous for drilling sap wells, and often damage trees in the process. In the spring, the wells harvest upward moving sap in tree xylem. Later wells capture downward-flowing phloem sap. Insects trapped in the sap wells are also consumed.”

Sapsuckers are common migrants in Northfield; a few breed here. These woodpeckers are important community members. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds follow sapsuckers through the forest. Hummingbirds use woodpecker holes both for their sap and the small insects trapped there. Sapsucker nesting holes provide roosting sites for other birds and some mammals (Walters et al. 2002). Note the red throats of the birds in the first two photos—they are males. The white throat of the last woodpecker indicates that it is a female.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Bald-faced Hornet

Catching wasps and hornets in my banding nets is not my favorite occupation. These insects tend to make knots out of the net. They are never happy. On 22 May 2016, I captured this Bald-faced Hornet, a type of yellowjacket. These aggressive wasps construct the giant paper nests that you occasionally see in trees. They fiercely defend these nests (King, pers. comm.). They repeatedly sting trespassers.

Bald-faced Hornets are found across the United States and southern Canada. The wasp in the photo is probably a worker. Queens lack “hair.” Workers are males and are produced by unfertilized eggs. Females have two sets of chromosomes. Queens control the number of workers by the number of unfertilized eggs they lay. If too many workers are produced, the queen kills the surplus male offspring (Wikipedia).

Friday, May 27, 2016

Four-spotted Skimmer

About a half-dozen Four-spotted Skimmers invaded Erika’s garden yesterday afternoon. These dragonflies are found in the Northern Hemisphere, across North America, Asia, and Europe. As this species matures, it is often found away from water. The migrations of European populations have not been documented in North America (Paulson). I do not know if our skimmers were migrants or wandering immatures. In either event, their amber wings sparkled in the sunlight.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Florida Herons

During our 23 March 2016 visit to the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, we saw about a half-dozen species of herons and egrets. Among them were these three, a Tricolored Heron (first photo), a Little Blue Heron (middle photo), and a Snowy Egret. The Tricolored Heron is recognized by its white belly. The Little Blue is uniformly dark—unless it is in its white, juvenile plumage, which tends to complicate matters. Finally, the Snowy Egret has a black, needle-like bill and yellow toes. I have linked the names of these herons to a few of my previous posts.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Common Whitetail Male

Since Saturday, Erika’s garden has been filling with Common Whitetails, Plathemis lydia. Females first appeared. Yesterday males, like this immature, showed up. As they matures, their abdomens will become bluish-white.

Who was Lydia? Dru Drury described this dragonfly in 1877. My best GUESS is Lydia Bowen, who was famous for coloring many of Audubon's plates, and was probably known by Drury. Lydia was sought after by many printers and artists of the day (Leach 2013). Do any of you know any better?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Common Whitetail

On Saturday, I found Common Whitetails in the Carleton College arboretum and in Erika’s Garden. This dragonfly is a female in the arb. Yesterday, I took the second photo of yet another whitetail in the garden. This is the second Minnesota species I listed this spring, the first being Common Green Darners. The darners did not stop long enough for a photo.

In this blog, I have previously written about Common Whitetails.  Their name describes their abundance across much of North America. This dragonfly is an important component of many aquatic ecosystems. They can occur, however, some distance from water.

Monday, May 23, 2016

American Alligator

One thing you have to remember, while walking in the Florida Panhandle’s St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, is to watch your step. Total absorption in birds and dragonflies is not advised.

According to Wikipedia, “As humans encroach into their habitat, attacks are few but not unknown. Alligators, unlike the large crocodiles, do not immediately regard a human upon encounter as prey, but may still attack in self-defense if provoked.”  This source also assures us that feeding alligators in Florida is illegal. In 2010, the Archbishop of New Orleans ruled that, for catholics, alligator meat is considered to be fish. See my previous alligator post for a few more tidbits of information on these reptiles.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Marsh Wren

Last Wednesday, 17 May 2016, John Holden and I drove over to the 180th Street Marsh in nearby Dakota County. We encountered these territorial Marsh Wrens. Most territorial defense occurs in early spring. Males chase intruders, often singing vigorously. These squabbles can last for hours. When humans approach nests, however, females are more responsive. Then they call intensely, while the males appear to ignore the intruders (Kroodsma and Verner 2014).

I suspect these wrens are males, but there is no way of telling for sure. In any event, the wren in the bottom photo is one angry bird. This singing bird almost stood on its head, pointed its tail at us, and let us know what it thought of our being in its territory. Alternatively, this wren may have been upset at the presence of the Marsh Wren in the first photo.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Daphne Odes

My patience paid off during Erika's and my short walk from our hotel in Daphne, Alabama, on 22 March 2016. To my surprise, when I worked on my photos, I had two species—the Common Baskettail in the first photo, and the Variegated Meadowhawk in the second. I have many records of both species, both in Minnesota and elsewhere during our travels.

Common Baskettails make short forays and often land on the underside of twigs, as in my photo. The Variegated Meadowhawk is a migrant dragonfly. Unlike the baskettail, they usually perch horizontally on twigs. See my 2011 post for information on their migrations.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Carolina Saddlebags

One reason that Erika and I decided to stop for the night, of 22 March 2016, at a hotel next to I-10 in Daphne, Alabama, was that, last year, I found several dragonflies on a nearby dead-end road. The roadsides were sparsely forested. We walked about a quarter mile, with the interstate on one side and a golf course on the other. As we turned to return to the hotel, suddenly we became aware of dozens of flying dragonflies. Erika continued walking as I hoped a few might pose for photographs.

Most were small and dark. An exceptionally large one, bright red, landed nearby. I knew this might be a Carolina Saddlebags. Little did I know how difficult identifying this dragonfly would prove. Basically the black rings at the end of the abdomen are not as wide as those on a Red Saddlebags. The large red patches on the hind wings are unicolored, whereas in a Red Saddlebags tend to have clear windows within their patches. I hallucinated a purplish color on the top of the thorax, which is a diagnostic field mark. Beaton, writing of nearby Georgia, warns, despite the Red Saddlebag’s being very rare in the region, the two species are “probably not always safely separable in the field, and [the Red Saddlebags is] likely overlooked.” I was relieved when Odonata Central vetted my identification.

The Carolina Saddlebags was the only new dragonfly for me this day. I did get photos of the two smaller dragonflies flying over the roadside. To my surprise, when I worked on my photos, I found that I saw two additional species. These dragonflies are on my next post.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Violet Wood Sorrel

We found patches of Violet Wood Sorrel in the Village Point Park Preserve near Daphne, Alabama, last March. The plants’ shamrock-shaped leaves, not visible in this photo, indicated this plant belonged to the genus Oxalis. Violet Wood Sorrels are found across much of central and eastern North America.

Wikipedia, source of all human knowledge, informs us that all parts of this plant are edible, but advises “It should not be eaten in large quantities due to a high concentration of oxalic acid, …which can be poisonous.” Nevertheless, Oxalis was a food source for a number of Native American peoples.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Three Swallows Land at a Bar

The title of this post sounds like the beginning of a great bird joke. Perhaps you can think of a punch line. In any case, about a mile from the parking lot that I described in my last post, I found about two dozen swallows perched on the railing at another public access area on Cannon Lake. This area was a bit more sheltered from the howling wind. Remarkably the birds were comprised of about equal numbers of three species.  From left to right: Tree, Bank, and Cliff swallows. The Barn Swallows, that were so common at the south shore of the lake, did not join these birds.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Swallows in the Wind

On Saturday, 14 May 2016, birders participated in the eBird Global Big Day Count. Twenty to thirty mph winds and temperatures around 36 degrees hampered efforts in Rice County. I was disappointed to end up with a list of only 83 species. But I did enjoy my day.
The south shore of Cannon Lake looked more like the ocean—white caps and a howling north wind. About 80 swallows, all facing the wind, huddled on a parking lot behind a short hedgerow and parked cars. This day was also the fishing season opener—I wonder how many people drowned.
Most of the birds were Barn Swallows (the first two photographs). The birds did not seem under physical stress. The flock would occasionally take to the air, but always returned to the parking lot. They may have been keeping out of the wind, but also may have fed on insects blown through the hedge row or smashed into the cars.
Among the Barn Swallows were a few Cliff Swallows (the third and fourth photos). All the swallows appeared to be cold. So was I. The birds held their wings loose along their sides and most fluffed their feathers. Finally I  listed a Tree (the bird in the last photo) and a couple of Bank swallows. In my next post, I will post photos of Bank Swallows that I found about a mile down the road.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Carolina Wren

You can hear the Carolina Wren’s “tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle” song throughout the southeast. In the last century, the species spread northward, but cold winters slow or reverse this tide. Carolina Wrens defend territory and keep pair bonds all year. They are a “generalist species” and thrive around homes and gardens (Haggerty and Morton 2014). This wren fearlessly sang during our visit to the Village Point Park Preserve near Daphne, Alabama, last March.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallows nest in tree cavities abandoned by other species. Bluebird enthusiasts rue the presence of these swallows in bluebird boxes. The swallow’s dependence on nesting cavities, often real-estate in short supply, has some interesting consequences. Tree Swallows are early spring migrants and breeders—the early bird gets the nesting cavity. Tree Swallows fiercely defend their breeding territories against other Tree Swallows. As a result, many tree swallows are unable to breed. These “floaters” are ever vigilant nest holes abandoned, for whatever reason, by the territory holders (Winkler et al. 2011). I took this photo on Wednesday of a Tree Swallow at a local nursery, while Erika bought supplies for her garden.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Northern Parula and Jackson Oak

On 22 March 2016, we drove from Meridian, Mississippi to Daphne, Alabama. Before arriving at our hotel, we took an afternoon hike. I picked the Village Point Park Preserve at random. This location was the nearest green spot to the hotel on our map. The preserve is a relatively small city park. Its claim to fame appears to be a huge Live Oak, 95 feet tall and with a circumference of 28 feet. It was a survey line marker in the 1787 Spanish Land Grant survey map. The tree is called Jackson’s Oak. Andrew Jackson made a speech under the tree during the War of 1812. Now a boardwalk surrounds the tree so that the surrounding soil is not compacted or eroded by tourists.
At the boardwalk, I made spishing sounds and brought up a flock of about a half-dozen Northern Parula Warblers. Parulas inhabit the forest canopy. They nest in eastern North America. Southern birds nest in Spanish Moss, which you can see in the Live Oak. In the Boundary Waters of Minnesota, Parulas use the lichen, Beard Moss, which looks similar to Spanish Moss. Parulas, however, are not dependent on these nesting materials, and will use other plants and nesting sites.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Common Blue Violet

Common Blue Violets have blossomed across the forest floor. This violet is the common violet of Minnesota woodlands, meadows, and gardens. Erika considers these violets to be weeds in her garden. She curses their sturdy, under-ground roots by which the violets propagate. Violets are hard to identify. They vary in leaf-shape, flower color, and other field marks. Botanists do not know how to handle this diversity, and file most under one species, Viola sororia.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Palm Warbler

Although Palm Warblers are common migrants in Minnesota, I have only banded them twice. I caught this one on 3 May here in Northfield. The other was on 4 May 2012, also in my backyard.

Palm Warblers are odd. These birds forage on or near the ground (see my photo from the Carpenter Nature Center). Also unlike most other warblers, the plumage of males and females are similar. You might think it strange in Minnesota to find a warbler named for a tropical tree. The birds winter along the coasts of the United States, and also in the Caribbean. The species was first named in Hispaniola, where plenty of palms grow. Surprisingly, the Palm Warbler is one of our most northern breeders. In the summer, this warbler breeds in bogs across boreal Canada, only as far south as northern Minnesota and Wisconsin (Wilson 2013).

Monday, May 9, 2016

Zelda and Scott Mallard

For the past seven years, Zelda and Scott Mallard have hung out at out water feature. We do not know if we get the same ducks each spring. We have witnessed mating at the water feature, but we do not know were they build their nest. On this April day, Zelda was twitching her wings at at Scott. I assume Zelda was flirting with her mate, drawing attention to her sexy blue speculum. I could be mistaken. Perhaps she was just drying her wings. None of my sources mention wing flicking.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Pine Warbler

Pine Warblers are hardy birds of eastern North American pine forests (and in the Bahamas and Hispaniola). They are late fall and early spring migrants in the north; and are permanent residents in the southeast. Although mostly insectivorous, they are unusual among the warblers in that seeds comprise a large portion of their diet (Rodewald et al. 2013). This warbler occasionally visits bird feeders.

During our hike near Meridian, Mississippi, on 22 March 2016, Erika and I heard what sounded like a raucous Chipping Sparrow. I knew this call, having learned it last year during our Everglades trip. I made spishing sounds that attracted a curious Pine Warbler. (The Everglades birds did not pose for us, but I do have another Pine Warbler photo taken several years ago in the Corkscrew Sanctuary). To my surprise, I have never seen a Pine Warbler at home in Rice County, and, obviously, have never banded one.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Great Horned Owl

For three weeks, Bloomington friends have watched three juvenal Great Horned Owls. On Wednesday, Erika and I finally got a chance to take photographs. Great Horned Owl clutch size ranges from one to five. The first-layed egg is usually the largest. Hatching takes place at two-day intervals. The young owls grow quickly and leave their nest after about six weeks (Artuso et al. 2014).

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Winter Wren

On 14 April 2016, I banded this Winter Wren in Northfield. These wrens are common, but elusive, migrants in southern Minnesota. They are one of the few species that are able to fly right through my nets.

Winter Wrens inhabit old-growth forests. Wren numbers have dropped, in some areas by nearly half, as old-growth forests are clearcut or fragmented for human uses. Winter Wrens were once thought to be found in both the Old and the New Worlds. DNA and behavioral studies suggest our birds are separate species from those in Eurasia. One difference is that European birds are not dependent on old-growth forests and, in fact, are often found in cities.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Grapevine Epimenis

On Monday, while walking in the Carleton College arboretum, Erika and I came face-to-face with Psychomorpha epimenis, a Grapevine Epimenis. This small, but beautiful, moth is found in woodlands across eastern North America. This species is the only one of its genus found north of Mexico.

The English name is odd. Ordinarily you might expect it to be called the Grapevine Psychomorpha. In any event, one source explains that the scientific names refers to this moth’s having “the soul of a butterfly.” The Grapevine Epimenis, like butterflies, often forages for minerals at the edge of mud puddles. Our individual seemed to be foraging for minerals on our path.  The larvae specialize on feeding on wild grape leaves, while adults take nectar from a number of flowering shrubs (Bugguide.net).

Monday, May 2, 2016

Bald Cypress

22 March 2016 was a gorgeous day. One plan for this road trip was to drive only a few hours each day, leaving time in the morning and afternoon for hiking and exploring. Today was one of the few days during which we achieved this goal. We started in Meridian, Mississippi, and walked a couple of miles around their Bonita Lakes Park.

This young Bald Cypress indicated we were in the South. These deciduous trees are associated with swamps. Seeds are dispersed by both floating in water and/or by animals carrying seeds. Although the seeds rarely geminate on well-drained soil, they can’t grow under water. They require wet, but not flooded, ground. Once they germinate, the trees grow quickly to escape future floods. The trees do not produce seeds until they are about 20 years old. After 200 years, they stop growing. Some live to be over 1000.

One aspect of these trees is their “knees,” little projections of the root systems surrounding the main trunk. Botanists once thought these growths provided oxygen to the roots. Little evidence exists for this hypothesis. Now scientists think knees (and wide trunk bases) serve as structural support in their swampy environment. Strong winds rarely topple cypress trees (Wikipedia).

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhees breed in eastern North America, while Spotted Towhees breed in the West. Their breeding ranges overlap, and the species hybridize, along the Missouri and Platte rivers and in a few other locations. I have seen a Spotted Towhee only once in Minnesota. In Aberdeen, in northeastern South Dakota, I banded both species, but caught Spotted Towhees most often.

Their winter ranges overlap widely in eastern Texas. This overlap explains why Erika and I saw this Eastern Towhee on 17 March 2016 at the Ray Roberts Lake State Park near Denton, Texas. But, on 15 February 2014 we listed a Spotted Towhee at the same location.