Posts from the ‘herons’ Category

Birding North Dakota’s Prairie—Part 2: Marsh Birds

Last blog post we talked about the prairie birds of central North Dakota’s Kidder and Stutsman Counties, and now we focus our lens on the county’s birds of lake and marsh. Where I live in Northeastern Minnesota, cattail marshes are a rare commodity, and even where present they don’t normally attract the western and southern species that are cattail specialists. So it was fantastic fun to get to see avocets and ibis, Ruddy Ducks and Yellow-headed Blackbirds, all at close range.

American Avocet flying Kidder County ND IMG_0889AMERICAN AVOCET
An exotic breeding bird of the prairie pothole region is the American Avocet. Not often seen in Minnesota, it is a fairly common bird in central North Dakota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/3200 at f5.6 ISO 320; handheld]

Pied-billed Grebe nest Kidder County ND IMG_0837PIED-BILLED GREBE FAMILY.
I stumbled across several active Pied-billed Grebe nests along the backroads and main roads. Unlike the ducks, male grebes are actively involved in raising the young. Juvenile Pied-billed Grebes are colorful stripy little guys.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 at f5.6 ISO 320 -0.67ev; braced on car window]

White-faced Ibis Kensal ND IMG_0763WHITE-FACED IBIS

White-faced Ibis Kensal ND IMG_0746WHITE-FACED IBIS
Ibis in North Dakota? Yes, several species of herons and ibis have moved into the northern plains as breeding species since the 1970s, including White-faced Ibis.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/640 at f5.6 ISO 500; braced on car window]

Swamp Sparrow Horsehead Lake Kidder Co ND IMG_1295SWAMP SPARROW
A very common and vocal marsh dweller is the Swamp Sparrow. Its staccato trill often goes unnoticed as it becomes background noise in wet areas.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/4000 at f5.6 ISO 640; handheld]

IMG_1219HORSEHEAD LAKE
Horsehead Lake is well, shaped like a horse’s head. At least it used to be. Lakes all over this part of North Dakota have been rising dramatically over the last 20 years, probably the result of a natural wet cycle. But it is a great place to get up close and personal with many prairie wetland species.

Yellow-headed Blackbird Horsehead Lake Kidder County ND IMG_1157YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD

Yellow-headed Blackbird Horsehead Lake Kidder County ND IMG_0989YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD

Yellow-headed Blackbird Horsehead Lake Kidder County ND IMG_1185YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD
Most of us are quite familiar with the ubiquitous Red-winged Blackbird, but the Yellow-headed is restricted to high-quality cattail marshes of central and western U.S. Their yellow feathers often look quite fluffy, more like a mane. They outcompete Red-wings for the best nesting sites, occupying the deepwater cattails near the center of the marsh and forcing the Redwings out to the less secure shallow-water fringes.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/320 at f5.6 ISO 320; braced on car window]

Ruddy Duck Horsehead Lake Kidder County ND IMG_1112RUDDY DUCK
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/400 at f5.6 ISO 320, -1 ev; braced on car window]

Ruddy Duck Horsehead Lake Kidder County ND IMG_1091RUDDY DUCK
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6 ISO 320, -1 ev; braced on car window]

Ruddy Duck Horsehead Lake Kidder County ND IMG_1084RUDDY DUCK
The male Ruddy Duck (right) is a dapper little fella. His blue bill and chestnut plumage are just part of his allure. He also performs a funny head-pumping display that evidently attracts and impresses the female (left).
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/60 at f22 ISO 320; braced on car window (Note: I was taking video previous to this photo and forgot to switch my camera settings…that is why the ridiculous f22 at 1/60…but I lucked out and it is sharp)]

IMG_1057AMERICAN WHITE PELICANS AT HORSEHEAD LAKE
A bucolic summer scene at Horsehead Lake in Kidder County, North Dakota
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/400 at f5.6 ISO 320; braced on car window]

Black Tern Horsehead Lake Kidder County ND IMG_1053BLACK TERN
A bird of inland prairie cattail marshes, the Black Tern is rarely seen in the Duluth area, so it was fun to see several near Horsehead Lake in Kidder County.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6 ISO 320; braced on car window]

Double-crested Cormorant Kidder County ND IMG_1388DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT
These water birds are a common sight along the shores of Lake Superior in Duluth, and a sighting is often accompanied by the phrase “Oh, just a cormorant.” But they are impressive birds when seen in good light and at close distance. I especially like their azure blue eyes!
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2500 at f5.6 ISO 320; braced on car window]

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Florida Part 2: Beach Life

Fort Myers Beach panorama SMALLFLORIDA. I wish I could post the full-size photo of this panorama combining 4 images in Photoshop…It is 45 inches long! …and very sharp. Taken during a brief appearance of the sun near sunset along Fort Myers Beach. Handheld with the Canon 400mm f5.6 lens.

American Oystercatcher stare Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3995 - Version 2
American Oystercatcher preening Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_4000 - Version 2
American Oystercatcher fluffing Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_4003 - Version 2The above images were just “G&G” images for me (“grab-and-go”)…I was walking the Estero Beach Lagoon when I saw these AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS lolling about. I didn’t put much effort into stalking them or even setting up my tripod because the light was FLAT and the only background was blah, colorless white water. Not a very interesting background. BUT when I got home and looked at these on the computer, I knew that they were my best photos of the trip. I really like the monochromatic water background…It is a nice contrast to the brown-black and orange of the oystercatcher. By the way, yes, oystercatchers do “catch” and eat oysters! (and many other bivalves including mussels and clams)

Frigatebirds 1 composite SMALLWhat a great name!…MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRD. For me the name conjures up visions of the Caribbean and the tall ships that plied these waters centuries ago. An early naturalist likely noted that the birds often came to rest on the masts of these vessels far from any land and named them “frigate birds.” These are HUGE seabirds that effortlessly float in the sky, gliding on stiff Caribbean winds, wings that span nearly EIGHT FEET(!) firmly set. They can glide like this for HOURS, never once flapping their wings. You’ve probably seen them in some nature program before…They are the birds with the red air sacs on their throat that they inflate like a balloon during breeding and courtship. But on this trip I only managed a few flight silhouettes, distinctive as they are, under gray sky conditions. But I decided to get creative and combine 5 images of the same bird into one, making my own flock of five flying frigatebirds (say that 3-times fast!). A dramatic increase in contrast helped the final image pop.

Great Egret breeding face Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3838In the North Woods of Minnesota, we rarely get to see a Great Egret (found south in the state) and NEVER get to see them with their breeding plumage including their green facial skin. Snuck up on this guy at Estero Beach Lagoon.

Sandwich Tern flying Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3538SANDWICH TERNS always remind me of my birding friends Parker Backstrom and Don Kienholz. Back in the mid 80s they were birding the Duluth Port Terminal on a gray, rainy, foggy May day when they spotted a strange tern with a yellow-tipped bill. It was a very-far-from-home Sandwich Tern, and a first state record for Minnesota! Dirt common in Florida as they hunt (fish) the ocean shorelines for small fish, plunging beak-first into the water.

Least Tern flying Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3581LEAST TERN is the smallest and cutest tern in North America. I completely associate it with the Gulf Coast but amazingly, they also nest on braided, sandbar stretches of the Upper Missouri River in South Dakota (only an hour SW of the MN border), North Dakota and Montana.

Snowy Egret high key Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3824
Snowy Egret stalking beach Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3601SNOWY EGRET stalks critters along a busy Fort Myers beach. I didn’t think much of either of these photos UNTIL I made it a “HIGH-KEY” image, overexposing, and even blowing out completely the whites. I like the monochromatic effect and the contrasting black bill, legs and yellow feet.

Brown Pelican Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3636Who doesn’t love pelicans? And BROWN PELICANS are the native pelican in Florida. This adult was lazily flying along the beach, but would then suddenly plunge head-first into the surf and more often than not, come up with a fish in its pouch.

Common Ground-Dove Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3807COMMON GROUND-DOVES, like many of North America’s doves and pigeons, are taken for granted. But when you really study them, many have quite beautiful plumages, some with delicate scaling and subtle iridescence. This dove is native to the southern fringe of the U.S. from South Carolina to Florida to Texas, Arizona and S. California. When it flies, it reveals its stunning rusty red underwings.

Cicindela hamata lacerata Tiger Beetle Estero Beach Lagoon Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3863
Cicindela hamata lacerata Tiger Beetle Estero Beach Lagoon Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3866A lifer TIGER BEETLE! This beach tiger was a new one for me—Cicindela hamata lacerata. I love tiger beetles! Fast and furious, they pursue insect victims, pouncing on them in lightning fast attacks. And it really helps to be colored like the sand you hunt on.

Wilson's Plover Fort Myers Beach FLFunny story…WILSON’S PLOVER is a sand-colored shorebird restricted to the South Atlantic and Gulf Coast states, Virginia to Florida to Texas, BUT I’d just seen one the week before on Minnesota’s own version of an ocean beach—Duluth’s Park Point on Lake Superior. My friend Karl Bardon had found this lost wanderer, only Minnesota’s THIRD state record. Interestingly, I myself had found Wisconsin’s FIRST STATE RECORD of this species back in 2004(?) and just a few miles from here on Wisconsin Point. Anyway, good to see a Wilson’s in its native habitat for a change!

[All images taken with Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens handheld]

Florida Part 1: Mangrove & Key Wildlife

“Sunshine State”??…not when we were there! During the first week in June, Bridget and I took the kids to the Fort Myers Beach/Estero Beach area for a mini-family reunion for my mother-in-law’s 70th birthday. Though we only saw the sun for a grand total of 15 minutes in our six days and survived a blow from Tropical Storm Andrea (60 mph winds, torrential rain…Whitecaps in the pool!), WE ALL HAD A BLAST and I did manage to get out and shoot a bit. I visited the Estero Beach Lagoon behind the Holiday Inn several times, and Bridget and I did some hiking at Lovers Key State Park, exploring the Red Mangrove thickets and wooded hammocks.
Cuban Brown Anolis sagrei Anole Lovers Key State Park Ft. Myers Beach, FL IMG_4204Though the CUBAN BROWN ANOLE (Anolis sagrei) is a fascinating creature, it is an alien here, introduced to the U.S. in the 1970s, and is sadly crowding out the native Green Anole (and will eat them too!). This male is showing his orange-red dewlap…a common feature of lizards and anoles which is used for several reasons…1) to make itself look bigger and to warn off predators, and 2) to impress the ladies during mating season.

Mangrove Tree Crab Aratus pisonii Lovers Key State Park Ft. Myers Beach, FL IMG_4189MANGROVE TREE CRABS (Aratus pisonii) are gorgeous residents of mangroves in south Florida…This species was a lifer for me, and we saw MANY at Lovers Key State Park just south of Fort Myers Beach. Native to Florida and south to northern Brazil (on the Atlantic) and to Peru on the Pacific side. They migrate vertically in the mangrove trees, remaining higher up during high tide and then coming down to beach level at low tide. This was one of the bigger ones at 2-inches across.

Zebra Longwing Heliconius charitonius Lovers Key State Park Ft. Myers Beach, FL IMG_4210An old friend, The ZEBRA LONGWING (Heliconius charitonius) is a fairly common butterfly of south Florida, and I’ve seen them on every trip. Don’t you love it when large stunning critters are actually common! This one was nectaring at a butterfly garden in Lovers Key State Park.

Snowy Egret Lovers Key State Park Ft. Myers Beach FL IMG_4183SNOWY EGRETS are very common birds in south Florida, and can even be seen foraging in the surf line on busy beaches. This bird is still sporting its feathery finest with delicate plumes blowing in the ocean breeze. Lovers Key State Park.

Mangrove Periwinkle Littorina angulifera Estero Beach Lagoon Ft. Myers Beach FL IMG_4430Sea shells are not the only shells along the beach. Terrestrial snails also have beautiful shells. This is the MANGROVE PERIWINKLE (Littoria angulifera) found at the Estero Beach Lagoon in, what else, a Mangrove!

Mangrove Periwinkles Littorina angulifera Estero Beach Lagoon Ft. Myers Beach FL IMG_4401 A group of MANGROVE PERIWINKLES (Littoria angulifera). Note the variation in shell patterns.

White Ibis Estero Beach Lagoon Ft. Myers Beach FL IMG_4322WHITE IBIS at Estero Beach Lagoon. Check out those blue eyes! Mainly found in the Gulf Coast states in the U.S.

White Ibis Estero Beach Lagoon Ft. Myers Beach FL IMG_4318WHITE IBIS at Estero Beach Lagoon. They used that wicked curved bill to pluck crayfish and other crustaceans from water and mud and grass. Will also occasionally eat insects and small fish.

flower Lovers Key State Park Ft. Myers Beach FL IMG_4252Bridget pointed out this unfurling wildflower in Lovers Key.

Basilica Orbweaver Mecynogea lemniscota Lovers Key State Park Ft. Myers Beach, FL IMG_4234The BASILICA ORBWEAVER (Mecynogea lemniscota) builds a very complex web. In fact, its common name comes from the basilica-like dome it creates by pulling up its horizontal orb web with guy threads (visible in the photo). Native to wetland woods in the SE U.S.

Sea Grape Coccoloba uvifera Lovers Key State Park Ft. Myers Beach, FL IMG_4227SEA GRAPE (Coccoloba uvifera) is a distinctive and common plant of beach dunes and wetland woods. Because of its high tolerance to salt, it is an important dune stabilizer of Florida beaches. Grape-like clusters of fruit hang in bunches and are edible once they ripen red. You can even make jams and jellies out of the fruit.

Lined Tree Snail Drymaeus multilineatus Lovers Key State Park Ft. Myers Beach FL IMG_4205LINED TREE SNAIL (Drymaeus multilineatus) is another attractive mollusk of the wetland forests.

[All photos taken with Canon 7D, Canon 400mm f5.6 lens or Tamron 100mm f2 macro, handheld.]

NEXT POST: FLORIDA PART 2—BEACH LIFE

Sparky makes Audubon Magazine Top 100

At my semi-regular solo lunch at the pizza place below my office ($5 spaghetti & meatballs!…Tuesdays only), I was reading the latest Audubon Magazine—the Bird Photography Awards issue. Some amazing photos were chosen as top winners; The one that stood out to me was Continue Reading