Monday, July 30, 2018

Green Heron

Erika spied this Green Heron at a pond in Northfield on 26 July 2018. As is usual in my dragonfly-hunting old age, she was quite a distance ahead of me. Probably because the bird is young, it did not fly while Erika wildly waved me forward. The bottom-up attitude of the second photo is a bit uncommon in Green Heron photos. We were just at the right place at the right time. I believe the heron struck out at whatever it was trying to spear. Green herons are usually fish-eaters, but will take whatever invertebrates and amphibians they happen to find. Capture rates of 57% are reported in the literature (Davis and Kushland 1994).

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Hooded Merganser

On 24 July 2018, Erika and I encountered three young Hooded Mergansers at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. The pond was laden with duckweed, a common, small, aquatic flowering plant. I am not sure how the mergansers could see their prey below the duckweed mat. The mergansers, nevertheless, made repeated underwater dives.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Sandhill Crane

On Tuesday, 24 July 2018, Erika and I visited the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Along the way, still in Rice County, we passed three Sandhill Cranes, two adults and a fully grown young, in a wet pasture. The birds were so close to the road, I asked Erika to turn around so that I could take these photos. The crane in the second photo is one of the adults, the young crane is shown in the last photo.
Here in central Minnesota during the past decade, Sandhill Crane populations have been on the increase. Now seeing them is not unusual (although they are not always as close to the highway as these birds). Across their range, northern Sandhill Cranes are stable or increasing. Sandhill Cranes breed across Canada and the northern United States. Florida, Mississippi, and Cuba also support crane populations. Sandhill Cranes lay from one to three eggs, with northern birds laying fewer eggs than southern ones. The young of northern birds take longer to mature than those in the south. Cranes survive, on the average, seven years. Wild cranes have lived over 37 years (Gerber et al. 2014).

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Dallas

We spent the weekend with family near Dallas, Texas. We had little time for birding or searching for dragonflies. Here are three birds we did find—a Northern Cardinal, White-winged Dove, and Lincoln’s Sparrow. All three are common birds in the area.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Bentsen State Park

On 21 February 2018, we visited Bentsen State Park. The day was blindingly hot, and our best birding was at a bird feeder with a dripping water source. We got closeup photos of Black-crested Titmice. These birds inhabit Texas and northeatern Mexico. They hybridize with Tufted Titmice where their ranges overlap.
Orange-crowned Warblers also visited the water source. These warblers are abundant and hardy enough to winter along both our coasts south into most of Mexico.

I saw my first Great Kiskadee in Santa Ana Refuge in 1964. Their offspring are still there.
We walked from the park headquarters to a boat ramp, where odonata are often reported. The only odonae we encountered, however, was the relatively common Blue-ringed Dancer.

During our travels in south Texas, we were told that Bentsen State Park hosts Curve-billed Thrashers. As we left the park, one carrying nesting material flew into the parking lot.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge

Santa Ana is our absolute favorite place in South Texas to look for birds and dragonflies. We visited this national wildlife refuge on 21 and 22 February 2018. This location is the only place I have seen a Clay-colored Thrush in the United States. The plan to build a border wall through the center of this refuge makes little or no reference to the habitat or wildlife that will be affected by the wall.
Golden-fronted Woodpeckers are abundant in south Texas. Clearly they are closely related to Red-bellied Woodpeckers found further north. Indeed, the two species hybridize where their ranges overlap.
I was surprised to find a Verdin in the refuge. I thought they inhabited areas further west. In fact, they are found across much of central Texas, west to California and south through central Mexico. Just how Verdins are related to other birds has long been debated by ornithologists. Current thought is that they are closest to Old World Penduline Tits, the Remizidae. This classification would place them near chickadees and titmice. Other studies place then nearer to wrens, gnatcatchers, creepers, or nuthatches.
American Kestrels often take odonates, probably including the Familiar Bluet. Kestrels capture dragonflies and other arthropods both on the ground and in the air.
The refuge personnel told us to keep an eye out for a rare Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. We found one. I am not sure, however, that this species is all that uncommon in south Texas. In the winter, this species is found across the souther United States south through most of Central America.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Estero Llano Grande State Park

20 February 2018 was a Tuesday. I planned to visit a new location for us, but was surprised that Resaca del Palma State Park was closed on Tuesdays. Instead we headed towards Mission, an oil change, and our hotel. Along the way we stopped as Estero Llano Grande State Park, another excellent place for birds and dragonflies. We were greeted at the park by a small flock of Inca Doves.
A White-tailed Kite flew overhead. The Park also hosts a wide variety of waterfowl. The most interesting of these was this Least Grebe.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Laguna Atascosa

On 20 February 2018, we found ourselves at one of our favorite south Texas stops, the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. At the headquarters, they have some water and a few active bird feeders. On any trip, this is a good place to see the first few south Texas specialty birds—like Green Jays and Altamira Orioles. 
White-tipped Doves also stroll among the undergrowth. These doves become common further south through Latin America, at least where they are not over-hunted. White-tipped Doves spend most of their time on the ground. Without the aid of a feeder, they can be difficult to detect. Hogan (1999) writes that it is surprising how little is known about the biology.
We were delighted to list the Long-billed Thrasher. We watched as it consumed what appeared to be insect grubs from a rotten log under one of the feeders. Tweit (1997) does not sepcifically mention grubs in his list of thrasher prey—these birds take a wide variety of arthropods and berries. Grubs, however, would be hard to retrieve from thrasher digestive tracts. 

Friday, July 20, 2018

Long-billed Curlew

On 19 February 2018 we continued down the Texas coast. We were amazed at the devastation caused by last fall’s hurricane of Rockport, one of our favorite birding places. We did manage to find several Long-billed Curlews. These birds breed in the northern Great Plains prairies. They winter along North American coasts, south into Central America. They eat a wide variety of invertebrates, and even some small vertebrates. In the winter they consume shrimp and crabs that burrow into coastal mudflats. In the summer they subsist on earthworms and arthropods.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Mangrove Buckeye

I thought this butterfly was a Common Buckeye. We found it in Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on the Wulfort Keys Trail on 7 February 2018. This walk was our first on the path, that led to a fishing pier. Months later I stumbled on the picture in Kaufman’s butterfly guide. Common Buckeyes have incomplete, white rings around their outer eyespots, not orange like on this Mangrove Buckeye. Mangrove Buckeyes live in Black Mangrove swamps in southern Florida, exactly the habitat we found this one. They often fly near other buckeye species, but are genetically distinct. This photo is a bit out of order in this account of our 2018 road trip.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Laughing Gull

On Sunday, 18 February 2017, we continued to Galveston, Texas. Our goal was grandchildren in Dallas, but we were not due until the next weekend. So we bided our time with a quick trip down the Texas Coast and two days in and around Mission, Texas. These Laughing Gulls followed our ferry into Galveston.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Avery Island

18 February 2018 found us at Avery Island, as we headed across the Gulf Coast towards Texas. Great Egrets greeted us. These birds represent a conservation success, as they were almost wiped out by the plume trade in the early 1900s. Their feathers were highly prized for women’s hats. Avery Island is owned by the Mcillhenny family. After the Civil War, they returned to home on a salt dome in the Louisiana swamps. They made their fortune farming the hot peppers used for Tabasco Sauce.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Reddish Egret

During our two weeks in Sanibel Island, we made almost daily visits to the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Interesting birds were always around, although, perhaps due to dredging on the part of the refuge, birds did not seem as close to the tour route as they were during previous visits. How many bird species are in the top photo? I count at least five: Tricolored Heron, Little Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, White Ibis, and, most strikingly, Roseate Spoonbills.
Reddish Egrets are our favorite heron. They dance around the shallows, watching for minnows to make a move. Other times they hold their wings out to create a shadow. Minnows may seek shadowy habitat to avoid the bright sunlight. Possibly the egret is just reducing glare to better see their prey. Or both.
The final photo shows a Reddish Egret capturing a minnow entangled in vegetation. Different studies indicate that the percentage of captures per strike ranges from 25 to 42 percent. Young are less successful than are adults (Lowther and Paul 2002). For more information and photos from Texas and from Florida, follow the links I just provided.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Brown Pelican

During our Sanibel Island sojourn, I made half-hearted attempts to photograph diving Brown Pelicans. I think the key to absolute success is to concentrate on a single species on any given day. In any case, here are my best results from 7 February 2018. Brown Pelican dive from heights of up to 20 meters. At the last second, the bird turns slightly to the left to avoid injuring its trachea and esophagus, which are located n the right side of the neck. The gular pouch fills with up to 10 liters of water. Air sacs keep the pelican from going under water, so prey is only taken near the surface. About 80% of the time the pelican’s dive is successful. Curiously few, if any, studies exist at total food intake. Captive birds require around half a kilo of fish per day (Shields 2014). 
The Laughing Gull in the final photo is kleptoparasite on the pelican. The gull is hoping for scraps from the pelican’s catch. In some studies, gulls were successful in their robbery about 15% of the time. Too bad I was slow about getting my camera in focus. A few seconds previously the gull perched on the pelican’s head.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Sanibel 4

Here are a few more of the cratures we saw during our visit to Sanibel Island. Gulf Fritillaries are a common southern species that wanders north in the summer. The black-ringed white spots in the fore-wing are indicative of this butterfly. They fly all year in frost-free regions. The larvae eat passion vines. We have seen them before in Key West and in southern Texas.
I did not recognize this Marl Pennant in the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge Bailey Tract. We saw this same species here during a March visit. This species is found along Atlantic and Gulf coastal areas, across Mexico, and south through the Caribbean to Belize and Venezuela (Paulson 2011). They are found in brackish and fresh water and often perch, like this one, on the tips of vegetation. Previous Marl Pennants sported a dark “W” marking on their sides. Perhaps this field mark becomes more apparent as the year progresses. Marl is a calcium carbonate or lime-rich mud; it is unclear if this substance is critical for this dragonfly.
Two ducks—a Mottled Duck and a Red-breasted Merganser. Mottled Ducks are found across Florida, but are otherwise coastal birds along the southeastern Atlantic and Gulf. They prefer freshwater ponds, so to see this one swimming in the Gulf was somewhat surprising. The merganser was less surprising. They winter along all the coasts of the United States, almost every Canadian shore, and those of northern Mexico. They breed across Canada and Alaska and migrate across the entire United State and Canada.
The next bird looks like a duck but, instead, is a Pied-billed Grebe. Its feet are not webbed, only each toe is. Unlike ducks, grebes lack tails. This grebe cruised close to the road in the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
A White Ibis in the surf. Ibis are normally marsh birds. Occasionally we saw ibis and herons feeding in the Gulf, were they must find an abundance of arthropods living in the sandy beach. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Sanibel 3

Late during our two-week stay on Sanibel Island, we discovered the Bailey Homestead Wetlands. This area appeared to consist of a couple of water purification ponds.  Although the area seemed ideal, we saw very few dragonflies here. The birds, however, were remarkably tame. The first was a male anhinga. Anhingas are classified in the order Pelicaniformes, due to their webbed feet and throat pouches. Among the birds in that order, Anhingas are thought to be closest to cormorants. Among other unique features, Anhingas have only one carotid artery, nostrils with no outer openings in adults, and vestigial tongues (Frederick and Siegel-Causey 2000).
During a visit to the Bailey Homestead Wetland on 10 February 2017, I took this photo of a Cattle Egret. I have posted about this invasive bird elsewhere in this blog. Cattle Egrets appeared to be less common in Sanibel during this visit, but that status may have been due to the time of year. Elsewhere in Sanibel, on the Bailey Tract of the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, we came upon a Great Blue Heron in a very strange pose. Clearly this behavior was an attempt to lose heat. The day was one of the hottest of the year, with temperatures around 90 degrees. I had never seen anything like this before, but since I have seen photos of Great Blue Herons doing the same thing here in Minnesota.
Every day we beach-combed, seeing different birds on nearly every hike. This Black-bellied Plover perched on a large piece of driftwood, elevated above the beach. Black-bellied Plovers breed in the Arctic of the New and Old Worlds. In this hemisphere, they winter along most coasts of the United States and south along the South American coasts. In mixed shorebird flocks, Black-bellied Plovers act as sentinels. They are “wary and quick to give alarm calls” (Johnson and Conners 2010).