Thursday, June 30, 2016

Summer Tanager

Erika and I visited the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum on 28 June. We looked forward to the arboretum’s exhibition of giant insect sculptures. We were not disappointed. We walked the three-mile auto loop, as is our custom when visiting the arboretum. For the past three days, a Summer Tanager was reported from the Buckeye Grove along our route. The tanager, singing loudly, greeted us at the grove. It sounded like an off-key robin or Rose-breasted Grosbeak.
Summer Tanagers breed across the southern United States. Especially spring males, like the one we photographed, are regularly reported north of the breeding range. Less often they are found in the north during the fall. This Summer Tanager was my first in Minnesota. Very little is known about the breeding biology of Summer Tanagers. Overall, their populationa appear to be stable. Only at the edges of its range has this species been declining (Robinson 2012).
Summer Tanagers are bee and wasp specialists. One of the folk names for this tanager is Beebird. They also consume a wide variety of fruits and invertebrates.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Glossy Ibis

We stopped at the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge on our way to Savannah. We were disappointed by the lack of bird diversity—we saw many more birds during a previous visit. We did enjoy watching this Glossy Ibis feed. On land, these ibis locate prey by sight. In the water, they feel for their prey with their bills.
They search for small invertebrates, like beetles, dragonfly larvae, caddis flies, worms and leeches, and small mollusks. On land, they will also consume various grains (Davis and Kricher 2000), As you can see in the final photo, Glossy Ibis are really quite adept at finding and handling their prey.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Sandhill Crane

On Sunday, 26 June 2016, Erika and I bicycled the Cannon Valley Trail in nearby Goodhue County. Near mile-post 17, we spied two young Sandhill Cranes. Previously at the same location, we heard adults calling, so we assume these two are locally hatched birds. Sandhill Cranes normally hatch two eggs. Wild cranes live for over 35 years. First breeding takes place when the birds are two to eight years old. Only 0.3 percent of the young survive to adulthood. All of these factors make crane conservation difficult (Gerber 2014). Yet crane numbers are increasing in our part of Minnesota.

Sandhill Cranes are opportunistic, omnivorous foragers, feeding both on dry land and in aquatic habitats. They eat plants, grains, small vertebrates and invertebrates. I photographed one of the two young as it fed. I was surprised as the crane plunged its head entirely under water. Presumably it held its breath as it did so.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Wood Stork

On 24 March 2016, we began driving northeast, towards New York and Martha’s Vineyard. This first day started out as planned.  We visited Savannah for two days in the rain. Rain fell for the next week, until, in Massachusetts, the rain changed to heavy snow. None of this weather was conducive to birding or dragonflying. We did take backroads. I managed to avoid I-95 until northern New Jersey, a feat that added hours to our days. Our schedule was also hampered by a cracked windshield and an oil change.

As we drove through Madison, Florida, Erika said, “Turn around, good bird in the city park!” Around Lake Frances, loafed six Wood Storks. They appeared like sullen teenagers. Wood Storks are known to beed in the area, presumably along the nearby Suwannee River. Local kayakers suggest the storks’ presence in this urban park is due to regional drought. Coulter et al. (1999) write that “declines of the Wood Stork in south Florida have been balanced to some extent by movement into…northern Florida, Georgia and South Carolina."

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Racket-tailed Emerald

When Erika and I explored the Lebanon Hills Regional Park on 21 June 2016, we came upon this Racket-tailed Emerald along the edge of our trail. The eyes are an astounding shade of emerald. When not patrolling lakes, Racket-tailed Emeralds rest in forest openings. They hang in shrubs or perch on the ground. They often swarm around people, eating our “attendant” blackflies (Paulson).

Friday, June 24, 2016

Chalk-fronted Corporal and Frosted Whiteface

On 21 June 2016, Erika and I took a long walk in the Lebanon Hills Regional Park in Dakota County, Minnesota. The numbers and diversity of dragonflies were exceptional. Hundreds of Chalk-fronted Corporals greeted us. This ode gets the name from the two, gray chevrons on top of their thorax. These bars look like a corporal’s insignia.
The less mature Chalk-fronts did not show their rank as well as the adult male corporals. As I looked at them, I realized that immatures might be hard to tell from Frosted Whiteface. Understand, I had Frosted Whiteface on my mind. I had never seen one, but had vowed to try to find this species in 2016. So I had studied up on them, but expected to find them another day and further north in Minnesota.
I started looking at the corporals more closely. Towards the end of our hike, without a doubt, I found my Frosted Whiteface. In the photograph above, despite a superficial similarity to immature Chalk-fronted Corporals, you can see the “frosty” pruinosity on the top of the abdomen. They white marks on the wings may also be significant—and look at the white mouthparts! This first Frosted Whiteface is a male.
Nearby flew several other whitefaces that were much brighter than the first. These are probably immature males. Frosted Whiteface range across the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada. Minnesota is as far west as they are normally found. These individuals are the first ever reported from Dakota County.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Fish Crow

I have written that I expect Fish Crows to be found in Minnesota. These small crows are expanding their range from coastal areas of the Southeast. They are adapting successfully to urban settings (McGowan 2001).

The problem is that Fish and American crows are very similar. We took the upper photo of a Fish Crow in the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge last March. The lower photo is of the larger American Crow. In the field, calls are the only reliable difference. McGowan writes, “the Fish Crow sounds like an American Crow with a bad cold.” Here in Minnesota, however, I have heard American Crows that sound like Fish Crows. I have even heard Minnesota birds give what sounded like a Fish Crow’s double-noted “Uh-uh” call. One difficulty is that young American Crows often give odd calls.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Common Green Darner

Mead writes that two populations of Common Green Darners exist in Minnesota—one resident, the other migratory. The residents overwinter and emerge in the spring. The migrants leave in late summer. Their offspring return the next year. We found this darner in the Carleton College arboretum on 19 June 2016.

Photographing dragonflies takes manual focusing. These insects are long-gone by the time the automatic focus kicks in. Nor does automatic focus often work on perched individuals. The camera tends to lock on areas behind the wings or the larger nearby twigs.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Northern Cardinal

Even casual birders are familiar with Cardinals. This female perched in front of us at Florida’s St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge last March. The male sang in our backyard in Northfield this spring. Since the 1800s, Northern Cardinals have moved northward, assisted by global warming, urbanization, and bird feeders.

The red color in both male and female cardinals is due to carotenoid pigments in the birds’ diet. The color signals mate quality. Bright males have higher reproductive success than duller ones. Bright colors in the male and in the underwing of the female are correlated with parental care—bright birds are the best providers for their young (Halkin and Linville 1999).

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Amber-winged Spreadwing

I am on a roll. A second new county record in as many days. Yesterday Erika and I made a quick stop at the Carpenter Nature Center and photographed this Amber-winged Spreadwing. According to Odonata Central, our record is the first for Washington County, Minnesota.

The amber-washed wings and the long “pinchers” at the end of the abdomen are diagnostic for this species. This male is my first. Previously we photographed a female in Erika’s garden. Amber-winged Spreadwings are found across northeastern North America, west to Minnesota, Iowa, and eastern Kansas and Oklahoma.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Blue-eyed Darner

I photographed this Blue-eyed Darner in Northfield on 17 June 2016. Darners are damned difficult to photograph. Way too much darting back and forth for automatic focus. It took 90 minutes and 63 attempts to get one good picture. Most of my efforts look more like the bottom picture.

This record is possibly the 5th from Minnesota; definitely the first from Rice Co. Scott King discovered these dragonflies yesterday. About six flew about a small catchment pool on the edge of the St. Olaf campus. They were swooped upon by Tree and Barn swallows and Red-winged Blackbirds—I can’t imagine the dragonflies will last long.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Black-throated Green Warbler

This spring I really had only one migratory warbler wave, on 24 May. Among the birds banded, was this female Black-throated Green Warbler. This warbler is an abundant breeder across much of northern and eastern North America. That I do not band more of these birds is a bit odd.

The Black-throated Green Warbler’s call is distinctive, usually a “lispy, dreamy" zee zee zee zee zoo zee, with the zees at the same pitch, and the zoo lower (Peterson). Listen. The males tend to sing persistently.  One male sang 466 songs in an hour (Morse and Poole 2006).

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Common Buckeye

You’ve heard of folks finding Rembrandts in their attics? Last Sunday, in the St. Olaf Natural Lands, I found a Bob Ross original on a Common Buckeye butterfly. See the silhouettes of the happy White Pines against evening thunder clouds?  See my previous post for more information about this amazing butterfly.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


Anhingas spend a lot of time under water. They have dense bones and wettable feathers to facilitate underwater travel. Being under water so long, they face thermal challenges. They spend hours warming themselves, like this one at Florida's St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. In fact, this dependence on solar radiation limits the Anhinga to the coastal plain of the southeast, and on south through coastal Mexico and South America (Frederick and Siegel-Causey 2000). See my 2011 post for more information on Anhingas.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Red-breasted Merganser

We photographed this handsome, hen Red-breasted Merganser on 23 March 3026 in Florida's St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. This duck can be hard to differentiate from Common Mergansers—the brown head and the white breast are not as abruptly contrasting and the bills are thinner in the Red-breasted. Compare this hen to a female Common Merganser in my 2011 post.

Both mergansers occur during migration in Minnesota. Red-breasted Mergansers winter along the coast of North America, while Common Mergansers do not venture into the southeastern states. On the other hand, Red-breasted Mergansers breed further north than do Commons. One consequence of these differences is that relatively little is known about Red-breasted Merganser biology (Craik et al. 2015).

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Blue Jay

We authors of Birds of South Dakota argued about Blue Jays. Are they migratory? “I recapture the same banded birds all year,” said Dave Swanson. “Recoveries of birds banded in South Dakota range from Saskatchewan to Texas,” I countered.

No wonder we were confused. Some Blue Jays are year-round residents across their range. Others migrate. I thought maybe only the young migrate. Banding studies indicate that less than 20% of any given population, regardless of age, migrate. Some individuals migrate one year and not the next. The non-migratory roaming of some young jays further confuse matters. Suffice to say, the movements of Blue Jays are poorly understood (Smith et al. 2013)

As I wrote in a previous blog, the beauty of Blue Jays tends to be under appreciated. I banded this handsome bird this May in Northfield, Minnesota. 

Saturday, June 11, 2016


In March, at the end of the road, on the Gulf of Mexico, at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, I took this photo of a pretty butterfly. It looks a lot like a Viceroy, but see my previous picture taken in Minnesota. Amazingly, where the Monarch Butterflies that Viceroys mimic are rare, like along the Gulf Coast, Viceroys are less orange and more tawny. Presumably these dark Viceroys are mimicking Queens rather than Monarchs (Brock and Kaufman).

Friday, June 10, 2016

Yellow-throated Vireo

My blogging has fallen way behind. I have many photos to share with you from our eastern road trip in March; I have current photos waiting in cue, especially now with dragonfly season upon us; and I have yet to blog about birds from this past spring migration—like this Yellow-throated Vireo I banded on 24 May 2016.

Vireos look like hooked-billed warblers. Recent DNA work suggests the two bird families are not closely related. Vireos are most similar to babblers of Australia and Asia. Apparently vireos came to the New World via the Bering Land-bridge. The Asian babblers prove to be more closely genetically related to vireos than they are to other babblers and may be moved into the vireo family (Brewer et al. 2016).

The name “vireo” comes from the Latin for “greenish bird.” This description fairly well describes North American vireos (Gruson). Yellow-throated Vireos are perhaps our brightest species.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Large-flowered Penstemon

Large-flowered Penstemon is native to Minnesota. Erika and I found a few growing in the Carleton College arboretum prairie. This grassland is a restored prairie, and effectively managed by the arboretum staff. Management includes periodic burning. Once established, penstemon easily reseeds itself. This penstemon flower clearly awaited a visiting insect on which to dab its pollen.

Aboriginal uses of penstemon included making it into a salve. The plant was also used as a poultice for snake bites (Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden).

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Clay-colored Sparrow

During our Friday and Saturday strolls in the Carleton College arboretum, we flushed a single Clay-colored Sparrow. Unlike the uncommon Henslow's Sparrow we had just photographed, Clay-colored Sparrows are common in the grasslands of the northern Great Plains.

The Great Plains is one of our most endangered major ecosystems (Todd and Knapton 2002). Much of these grasslands is converted to agriculture or subjected to overgrazing. The prairie that remains is fragmented and in poor condition. In many areas, fire suppression has even resulted in reforestation.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Henslow’s Sparrow

During our Friday stroll though the Carleton College arboretum, Erika announced, “Listen—that is a different sparrow!” In the tallgrass prairie sang a Henslow’s Sparrow. This sparrow is “remarkably inconspicuous” (Herkert et al. 2002).

We were unable to photograph the sparrow on Friday, so we returned on Saturday afternoon. We heard a pair of Henslow’s Sparrows at the same location. Since these sparrows often sing low in the grass, they can be very difficult to find. We thought they might be only a few feet distant. Finally one flew up and continued to sing from a taller stalk. 

Sibley describes the Henslow’s Sparrow call as a “feeble hiccup.” Herkert et al. 2002 quotes Jones as writing, “the musical performance of this bird has very little to commend it...[The sparrow] suddenly throws up his head and with an appearance of much effort, jerks out his monosyllabic ‘tsip,’ apparently with great satisfaction.” I thought the song sounded like a little grasshopper being crushed underfoot.  Listen and see what you think.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

Erika and I walked in the Carleton College arboretum on Friday. This female Twelve-spotted Skimmer took a perch, near the ground at the edge of our grassy path. The dragonfly repeatedly took flight, but always returned to its original twig.

Female Twelve-spots look similar to female Common Whitetails. The Twelve-spots have more solid yellow stripes down their abdomens, unlike the yellow spots on the whitetail. Male Twelve-spots are distinctive, with white and black spots running down their wings. Twelve-spotted Skimmers are found from southern Canada, across almost all of the United States, and into Mexico. They are often common and easy to see as they defend territories over ponds and marshes.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Blue Corporal

On 23 March 2016, Erika and I spent most of the afternoon at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in the Florida panhandle. This visit was our third, over the years, to this refuge. We listed 44 species of birds, but the high point of the visit was this dragonfly along the nature trail at the refuge headquarters. The ode landed in front of us, and a frustrated Erika almost gave up trying to direct me to its perch.

We had no trouble identifying this dragonfly. One of the refuge staff asked what we had seen. I replied, “Look at this dragonfly. At home I would identify it as a corporal because of the two bars on the back of the thorax.” We began our search with the corporals.

We quickly found Blue Corporal. Beaton writes, “…impossible to miss when present, perching horizontally on or near the ground…” This individual is a female. Males are mostly blue. This species is one of the early emerging and common dragonflies in the southeast (Paulson).

Thursday, June 2, 2016


I don’t think I have ever seen a Sora walking out in the open. Their laterally compressed bodies help them slide through thick marsh vegetation. Their long toes, however, are certainly adapted for strolling on lily pads. Melvin and Gibbs (2012) do not mention lily pads, but do report wintering Sora’s in wet pastures and overgrown fields. Last March, Erika and I found this bird at St Marks National Wildlife Refuge.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016


Any bird that walks through the forest yelling, “teacher, teacher, teacher” is OK by me. Perhaps Robert Frost described the Ovenbird better, a “Loud, mid-smmer and mid-wood bird, Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.”

Over the past several years, I have entered most of my bird sightings into eBird—at least those with locations and dates. My first Ovenbird record was made on 22 September 1962, followed by 510 additional eBird entries. Ovenbirds, however, were among the first birds I ever saw. In a bird diary, although without precise dates, I note Ovenbirds from the spring and fall of 1961. Finally, I am also fond of Ovenbirds because this species was the first I caught under my banding permit—and almost my last. On 14 October 1967 I set a net south of Alexandria, Virginia—little knowing I was a few feet from an unobservant drug dealer’s rendezvous. I banded my Ovenbird, gathered up my leaf-clogged net, and never returned.