36 Hours on the Prairie: Wildflowers

[August 17 & 18, 2018: I made a quick dash to the prairies of Western Minnesota in mid August. Much of my time is spent in the boreal forest and bogs of northeast Minnesota, and I was starting to get a bit claustrophobic. So off to the wide open prairies! I started at Otter Tail County’s Maplewood State Park, then on to Wilkin County (Town Hall Prairie, Western Prairie, Rothsay WMA) and continued north to the huge Felton Prairie complex in Clay County. The next day I hit Felton area again and headed north to the Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge in Polk County]

Wildflowers on the tallgrass prairie peak in mid July to early August, but there were still plenty of showy plants in full bloom in mid August. It is energizing to be in an unfamiliar habitat and meeting new species, or at least species I hadn’t seen in many years. The Liatris were in full bloom on many of the dry sites. You may know Liatris as Gay Feather or Blazing-Star, but did you know that there are a bunch of different species in Minnesota? I didn’t. I even found a white variant of the normally pink-flowered forb (photos below). Monarchs and Regal Fritillaries love to nectar on Liatris.

Pink-flowered Wild Onion (Allium stellatum) was new to me, and is now one of my favorites.

I was really surprised to find Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia) growing on the dry soils of Felton Prairie (Clay County, Minnesota). I am most familiar with this delicate beauty clinging to tiny cracks in the igneous rocks on the Shore of Lake Superior! But this is a very adaptable and hardy species that can be found in many habitats.

Wild Four-o-clock (Mirabilis nyctaginea) is a native prairie species that can also be found in waste places. The “four-o-clock” in our domestic gardens was cultivated from a related European species. The name comes from the fact that this plant opens only in late afternoon. In fact the Latin “nyctaginea” means “night blooming” from the Greek.
[Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge (Polk County, Minnesota)]

You can bet that I will be back out on the prairies next spring and summer to see more of our tallgrass prairie’s fantastic flowers.

**You can click on the photos below to see details on species and location.

 

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36 Hours on the Prairie: The aptly-named Regal Fritillary

[August 17 & 18, 2018: I made a quick dash to the prairies of Western Minnesota in mid August. Much of my time is spent in the boreal forest and bogs of northeast Minnesota, and I was starting to get a bit claustrophobic. So off to the wide open prairies! I started at Otter Tail County’s Maplewood State Park, then on to Wilkin County (Town Hall Prairie, Western Prairie, Rothsay WMA) and continued north to the huge Felton Prairie complex in Clay County. The next day I hit Felton area again and headed north to the Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge in Polk County]

One of my main goals in going west was to find and photograph the rare Regal Fritillary (Speyeria idalia); a truly regal creature of tallgrass prairies. I had seen them at southwest Minnesota’s Blue Mounds State Park, and got some not-so-great photos at Nachusa Grasslands in Illinois, but now I wanted some publication-quality images.

I had no luck on my first day, even though I scanned about a thousand Blazing Star flowers (a preferred nectar source). Then on day two I decided to hike out into the Felton WMA. Within about 20 yards I kicked up my first Regal, followed by half a dozen more in the next 15 minutes. But getting close to them is another story.

fritillary Regal Fritillary Speyeria idalia butterfly Felton WMA Clay County MN IMG_1474fritillary Regal Fritillary Speyeria idalia butterfly Felton WMA Clay County MN IMG_1462

fritillary Regal Fritillary Speyeria idalia butterfly Felton WMA Clay County MN IMG_1630fritillary Regal Fritillary Speyeria idalia butterfly Felton WMA Clay County MN IMG_1635fritillary Regal Fritillary Speyeria idalia butterfly Felton WMA Clay County MN IMG_1607fritillary Regal Fritillary Speyeria idalia butterfly Felton WMA Clay County MN IMG_1480fritillary Regal Fritillary Speyeria idalia butterfly Felton WMA Clay County MN IMG_1469

 

36 Hours on the Prairie: Felton Prairie, Minnesota

[August 17 & 18, 2018: I made a quick dash to the prairies of Western Minnesota in mid August. Much of my time is spent in the boreal forest and bogs of northeast Minnesota, and I was starting to get a bit claustrophobic. So off to the wide open prairies! I started at Otter Tail County’s Maplewood State Park, then on to Wilkin County (Town Hall Prairie, Western Prairie, Rothsay WMA) and continued north to the huge Felton Prairie complex in Clay County. The next day I hit Felton area again and headed north to the Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge in Polk County]

“Felton Prairie” is now a complex of state WMAs (Wildlife Management Areas), SNAs (Scientific and Natural Areas) and The Nature Conservancy prairie tracts in Clay County, Minnesota (northwest Minnesota). It is most famous for being the last stronghold for breeding Chestnut-collard Longspurs in the state (though none were seen or heard in 2018). Other summer breeders include Marbled Godwits, Loggerhead Shrikes and Grasshopper Sparrows. Baird’s Sparrows and Sprague’s Pipits formerly were found here but they have been gone for quite a while. Felton is also a dry gravelly prairie that is on the old beachline of Glacial Lake Agassiz. Much of this ridge has been mined for gravel, but thanks to the MN DNR and The Nature Conservancy big tracts of prairie have been preserved.

Merlin in the fog Felton Prairie Clay County MN IMG_1186

Merlin hunting on a hazy, foggy morning at Felton Prairie (Clay County, Minnesota)

cow cattle Felton Prairie Clay County MN IMG_0995

Forest fires in Manitoba and Ontario made for a very hazy sunset at Felton Prairie. This Bison herd morphed into cattle as they emerged from the distant horizon.

Felton Prairie Clay County MN IMG_1200

American Goldfinch and 3 Mourning Doves.  [Felton Prairie (Clay County, Minnesota)]

Felton WMA Clay County MN IMG_1239

Foggy morning prairie “garden” of Liatris (Blazing Star, goldenrods and sunflowers). [Felton Prairie (Clay County, Minnesota)]

Eastern Kingbird Felton Prairie Clay County MN IMG_1334

A pair of young Eastern Kingbirds waiting to be fed by mom and dad. [Felton Prairie (Clay County, Minnesota)]; Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 USM lens; 1/1250 second at f5.6; ISO 400; hand-held out car window.

Felton WMA Clay County MN IMG_1375

Bumble Bee on thistle flower.  [Felton Prairie (Clay County, Minnesota)]

meadowhawk Band-winged Meadowhawk Sympetrum semicinctum Felton WMA Clay County MN IMG_1401

Band-winged Meadowhawk (Sympetrum semicinctum) male. This distinctive dragonfly is uncommon except where its specific habitat of spring-fed pools and slow marshy waters is found.   [Felton Prairie (Clay County, Minnesota)]

meadowhawk Band-winged Meadowhawk Sympetrum semicinctum Felton WMA Clay County MN IMG_1405

Band-winged Meadowhawk (Sympetrum semicinctum) male. [Felton Prairie (Clay County, Minnesota)]

meadowhawk Band-winged Meadowhawk Sympetrum semicinctum Felton WMA Clay County MN IMG_1412

Band-winged Meadowhawk (Sympetrum semicinctum) male. [Felton Prairie (Clay County, Minnesota)]

Felton WMA Clay County MN IMG_1415

Goldenrod Soldier Beetle on a sunflower.  [Felton Prairie (Clay County, Minnesota)]

Felton WMA Clay County MN IMG_1433

grasshopper on sunflower  [Felton Prairie (Clay County, Minnesota)]

fritillary Regal Fritillary Speyeria idalia butterfly Felton WMA Clay County MN IMG_1462

Regal Fritillary (Speyeria adalia) on Liatris (Blazing Star) at Felton WMA. [Felton Prairie (Clay County, Minnesota)]

Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 USM lens; 1/1250 second at f4; ISO 250; hand-held.

fritillary Regal Fritillary Speyeria idalia butterfly Felton WMA Clay County MN IMG_1480

Regal Fritillary (Speyeria adalia) on Liatris (Blazing Star) at Felton WMA. [Felton Prairie (Clay County, Minnesota)]

Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 USM lens; 1/1250 second at f4; ISO 250; hand-held.

Argiope trifasciata Banded Garden Spider Felton WMA Clay County MN IMG_1676

Banded Garden Spider (Argiope trifasciata) is an orb-web building spider. [Felton Prairie (Clay County, Minnesota)]

Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 USM lens with Canon 500D close-up lens attached to front; 1/250 second at f8; ISO 200; hand-held.

Argiope trifasciata Banded Garden Spider Felton WMA Clay County MN IMG_1687

Banded Garden Spider (Argiope trifasciata) side view. [Felton Prairie (Clay County, Minnesota)]

Argiope trifasciata Banded Garden Spider Felton WMA Clay County MN IMG_1232

Banded Garden Spider (Argiope trifasciata) at the hub of its orb web waiting for a victim to become ensnared. [Felton Prairie (Clay County, Minnesota)]

Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 USM lens with Canon 500D close-up lens attached to front; 1/250 second at f8; ISO 320; hand-held.

36 Hours on the Prairie: Kingbird Antics & Other prairie birds

[August 17 & 18, 2018: I made a quick dash to the prairies of Western Minnesota in mid August. Much of my time is spent in the boreal forest and bogs of northeast Minnesota, and I was starting to get a bit claustrophobic. So off to the wide open prairies! I started at Otter Tail County’s Maplewood State Park, then on to Wilkin County (Town Hall Prairie, Western Prairie, Rothsay WMA) and continued north to the huge Felton Prairie complex in Clay County. The next day I hit Felton area again and headed north to the Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge in Polk County]

Eastern Kingbirds nest in open country that has plenty of perches. They catch insects by ambushing them in flight; they perch and watch for a tasty bug then fly out and nab it. This pair must have nested late since the young were still begging in late August. Mom and dad were busy supplying the hungry duo with insects including this grasshopper.Eastern Kingbird Felton Prairie Clay County MN IMG_1321

Eastern Kingbird youngsters being fed a grasshopper [Felton Prairie (Clay County, Minnesota)]

Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens 1/1600 second at f5.6; ISO 400; hand-held from inside car.

Eastern Kingbird Felton Prairie Clay County MN IMG_1322

Eastern Kingbird youngsters being fed a grasshopper [Felton Prairie (Clay County, Minnesota)]

Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens 1/1600 second at f5.6; ISO 400; hand-held from inside car

Eastern Kingbird silhouette hazy sunset Felton Prairie Clay County MN IMG_1006

Eastern Kingbird silhouetted by a hazy sunset (due to forest fires in Manitoba and Ontario). [Felton Prairie (Clay County, Minnesota)]

Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens 1/5000 second at f7.1; ISO 640; -2 ev; hand-held

Eastern Kingbird IMG_0793

Copy 1 IMG_0793

Sometimes patience pays off; I was just waiting and watching this Eastern Kingbird as it sat on a wood fence post. But I had enough photos of this sitting bird, and I knew it would eventually do something. I set the camera to a high shutter speed and when it suddenly jumped into flight I just held down the shutter and “prayed and sprayed,” as they say. I had no idea that I captured anything until I looked at the back of the camera and saw this image of the Kingbird catching a Carolina Locust grasshopper. I hadn’t even known it was trying to capture an insect, it happened so fast! [Clay County, Minnesota]

Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens 1/2000 second at f5.6; ISO 400;  hand-held from inside car

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Mourning Dove. [Clay County, Minnesota]

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Mourning Dove. [Clay County, Minnesota]

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Mourning Doves are a surprisingly attractive bird…especially in the late day light of summer. Note the iridescent blue-purple tinge to the neck and back plumage. [Clay County, Minnesota]

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American White Pelicans only nest in 3 or 4 locations in Minnesota, but bachelors can be found almost anywhere in the western part of the state [Otter Tail County, Minnesota]

36 Hours on the Prairie: Prairie Grasses & Domestic Sunflowers

[August 17 & 18, 2018: I made a quick dash to the prairies of Western Minnesota in mid August. Much of my time is spent in the boreal forest and bogs of northeast Minnesota, and I was starting to get a bit claustrophobic. So off to the wide open prairies! I started at Otter Tail County’s Maplewood State Park, then on to Wilkin County (Town Hall Prairie, Western Prairie, Rothsay WMA) and continued north to the huge Felton Prairie complex in Clay County. The next day I hit Felton area again and headed north to the Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge in Polk County]

Just outside of Moorhead near Dilworth is a field of domestic sunflowers. It was a foggy gray morning and my camera wanted to shoot the scene in very cool colors where the leaves all turned to blue. When I previewed the images on the back of my camera, I thought it looked ghastly, but upon reflection, I REALLY like the cool blue and yellow look. The “correct” color balance was hard to achieve even in Lightroom.

sunflowers near Moorhead MN IMG_1034sunflowers near Moorhead MN IMG_1038sunflowers near Moorhead MN IMG_1047sunflowers near Moorhead MN IMG_1050sunflowers near Moorhead MN IMG_1052

[All sunflower shots with Canon 7D with Canon 50mm f1.8 lens (shot wide open at f1.8).]

Felton Prairie Clay County MN IMG_0898

Six-foot tall Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) silhouetted by a hazy sunset caused by smoke in the atmosphere from wildfires in Manitoba and Ontario. Note that this plant is in full bloom. This is the grass that covered thousands of square miles of the Midwest prairies before settlement. Early settlers said that wherever “big blue” grew, corn would thrive…and that was about all of the tallgrass prairie and led to the “de-forb-ization” of the prairie in the upper midwest. [Felton Prairie (Clay County, Minnesota)]

Felton Prairie Clay County MN IMG_0998

Six-foot tall Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) silhouetted by a hazy sunset caused by smoke in the atmosphere from wildfires in Manitoba and Ontario. Another common name for this grass is “turkey foot” which refers to the 3-branches of the infloresence. [Felton Prairie (Clay County, Minnesota)]

Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge NWR Polk County MN IMG_1891

Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) blooms in August and September. Note the tiny flowers of this very tall grass. [Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge (Polk County, Minnesota)]

Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge NWR Polk County MN IMG_1958

Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) is not even in the same genus as Big Bluestem; they just share part of their common name. This is a shorter grass than Big Bluestem and in late summer/early fall shows reddish-orange stems and fluffy rachilla hairs on the spikelets. [Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge (Polk County, Minnesota)]

Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge NWR Polk County MN IMG_1963

A non-native Foxtail grass (Setaria sp.) along the roadside. Although it is an alien, it is still very attractive.

36 Hours on the Prairie: Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge

[August 17 & 18, 2018: I made a quick dash to the prairies of Western Minnesota in mid August. Much of my time is spent in the boreal forest and bogs of northeast Minnesota, and I was starting to get a bit claustrophobic. So off to the wide open prairies! I started at Otter Tail County’s Maplewood State Park, then on to Wilkin County (Town Hall Prairie, Western Prairie, Rothsay WMA) and continued north to the huge Felton Prairie complex in Clay County. The next day I hit Felton area again and headed north to the Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge in Polk County]

Glacial Ridge NWR is in northwestern Minnesota and is a complex of prairie tracts that has been consolidated as a federal National Wildlife Refuge. It is a vast complex of “aspen parkland” prairie habitat; savannah like in that there are clusters of aspen trees dotting the grassland.

Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge was established in 2004 and is Minnesota’s newest addition to the NWR system. It is a vast area, that will eventually encompass 37,000 acres (57 square miles)

It is described by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as “the largest tallgrass prairie and wetland restoration project in U.S. history.” [from wikipedia.com]

Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge NWR Polk County MN IMG_1771

Wild Four-o-clock (Mirabilis nyctaginea) is a native prairie species that can also be found in waste places. The “four-o-clock” in our domestic gardens was cultivated from a related European species. The name comes from the fact that this plant opens only in late afternoon. In fact the Latin “nyctaginea” means “night blooming” from the Greek.
[Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge (Polk County, Minnesota)]

meadowhawk Saffron-winged Meadowhawk Sympetrum costiferum Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge NWR Polk County MN IMG_1873

Saffron-winged Meadowhawk (Sympetrum costiferum) male on Big Bluestem

meadowhawk Saffron-winged Meadowhawk Sympetrum costiferum Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge NWR Polk County MN IMG_1915

Saffron-winged Meadowhawk (Sympetrum costiferum) female on Big Bluestem

Anastoechus barbatus bee fly Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge NWR Polk County MN IMG_1945

The beautiful “bee fly” Anastoechus barbatus on a sunflower [Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge NWR (Polk County, MInnesota)]

Endangered Karner Blue butterfly at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis) on June 4 at Crex Meadows, Grantsburg, Wisconsin

I was amazed and pleasantly surprised to find that the nickel-sized Karner Blue butterfly was abundant, and easily the most common butterfly species out and about at south-central Wisconsin’s Necedah National Wildlife Refuge on this cool day July 20th. Its only known caterpillar food plant is the native Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis) which was just done blooming, but that doesn’t phase the adults which nectar on many flower species including the abundant roadside flower Bird’s-foot Trefoil. Interestingly, the Karner Blue caterpillars will not use the escaped Lupine that we often see along the roadsides of northern Minnesota (Lupinus polyphyllus).

This Karner Blue butterfly is a federally Endangered subspecies (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) of the Melissa Blue (Lycaeides melissa). It is intimately tied to its food plant, Wild Lupine, which grows in sandy pine-oak savanna, a rare landscape in the 21st century.

blue Karner Melissa Blue butterfly Lycaeides melissa samuelis Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2529

Karner Blue (Melissa Blue) butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) on Bird’s-foot Trefoil; Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 200mm with Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/160 sec. at f9; ISO 200; pop-up flash; hand-held]

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The very limited range of the Karner Blue (in dark blue) contrasting with the historic range (in light blue). Range is overlain atop the range of Wild Blue Lupine in pink.

[from American Entomologist; Vol. 61 Issue 2]

blue Karner Melissa Blue butterfly Lycaeides melissa samuelis Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2528

Karner Blue (Melissa Blue) butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) on Bird’s-foot Trefoil; Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

blue Karner Melissa Blue butterfly Lycaeides melissa samuelis Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2352

A beautiful Karner Blue nectaring on Bird’s-foot Trefoil? Appearances can be deceiving. After I took a bunch of photos of this Karner Blue, I noticed that it hadn’t changed positions in a while…A sure sign that a predator had nabbed it. But I thought I would see the Karner Blue in the grasp of a crab spider but I was surprised to see it in the grasp of a Jagged Ambush Bug (Phymata pensylvanica). And the name of this bug says it all…It waits motionless on flowers for a victim to land nearby and then with lightning speed nabs it with its mantid-like front legs. See the close-ups below.

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Karner Blue butterfly captured by and in the grasp of a Jagged Ambush Bug (Phymata pensylvanica); Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

blue Karner Melissa Blue butterfly Lycaeides melissa samuelis Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2340

Karner Blue butterfly captured by and in the grasp of a Jagged Ambush Bug (Phymata pensylvanica); Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

blue Karner Melissa Blue butterfly Lycaeides melissa samuelis Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2301

The blue upper sides of a male Karner Blue (Melissa Blue) butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) on Bird’s-foot Trefoil; Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

The male Karner Blue is bright iridescent blue above.

blue Karner Melissa Blue butterfly Lycaeides melissa samuelis Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2298

The blue upper sides of a male Karner Blue (Melissa Blue) butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) on Bird’s-foot Trefoil; Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

blue Karner Melissa Blue butterfly Lycaeides melissa samuelis Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2273

Female Karner Blue (Melissa Blue) butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) on Bird’s-foot Trefoil; Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

blue Karner Melissa Blue butterfly Lycaeides melissa samuelis Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2256

The upper sides of a female Karner Blue (Melissa Blue) butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) on Bird’s-foot Trefoil; Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Female Karner Blues show less blue above, but a bright orange submarginal band on hindwings.

blue Karner Melissa Blue butterfly Lycaeides melissa samuelis Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2251

The upper sides of a female Karner Blue (Melissa Blue) butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) on Self-Heal (Prunella vulgaris); Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Female Karner Blues show less blue above, but a bright orange submarginal band on hindwings.

blue Karner Melissa Blue butterfly Lycaeides melissa samuelis Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2221

Karner Blue (Melissa Blue) butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis); Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

blue Karner Melissa Blue butterfly Lycaeides melissa samuelis Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2215

Karner Blue (Melissa Blue) butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis); Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Lupinus perennis Wild Lupine Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_0246

Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis) on June 4 at Crex Meadows, Grantsburg, Wisconsin

Though the Wild Lupine was mostly done blooming at Necedah NWR during my July 20 visit, I am posting some photos of when it was at peak of bloom at Crex Meadows near Grantsburg, Wisconsin on June 4, 2018. This is the main caterpillar food for the endangered Karner Blue subspecies of the Melissa Blue butterfly. The Karner Blue’s range is limited by the presence of this flower.

Lupinus perennis Wild Lupine Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_0365
Lupinus perennis Wild Lupine Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_0371

Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis) on June 4 at Crex Meadows, Grantsburg, Wisconsin

Lupinus perennis Wild Lupine Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_0251

Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis) on June 4 at Crex Meadows, Grantsburg, Wisconsin

Lupinus perennis Wild Lupine Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_0375

Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis) on June 4 at Crex Meadows, Grantsburg, Wisconsin

Lupinus perennis Wild Lupine Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_0243

Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis) on June 4 at Crex Meadows, Grantsburg, Wisconsin