Posts from the ‘Mississippi River’ Category

2021 “Top Ten” #5 Bird Behavior

“Is this just another category so you can show more bird photos Sparky?” Why, yes, yes it is! And just so you know…I do include flying as a behavior for some reason. I guess technically everything a bird does is “behavior,” so I’m good!

Bald Eagle and Goldeneyes; February; Mississippi River

I can feel my frozen finger tips by just looking at this photo. So COLD! Most of the Mississippi River was frozen at this point in February; only spots below locks and dams were open…and this spring-fed spot near Buffalo, Wisconsin. Though it appears this young Bald Eagle is preying on the Common Goldeneyes, it is actually plucking small fish from just below the surface. There were several eagles and they made multiple passes each. I just laid down on the snow with my Canon R5 and Canon 100-500mm lens and started tracking them as they approached. The R5 did amazingly well, even in the well-below-zero-F temps. I like the monochromatic blue cast to this image.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/800 second at f8; ISO 100; 0 ev; handheld]

Green Heron; October; Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge

The critical moment. It has always been a thing of wonder to watch birds of all types landing on perches. Can you imagine the vision and motor skills this takes? How about a Great Gray Owl alighting on the tip top of a tiny spruce? It can’t even see the bough when it actally lands! This Green Heron made a perfect two-point landing I am proud to report.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f7.1; ISO 640; 0 ev; handheld]

American Avocets; May; Prairie Potholes of North Dakota

Courtship in American Avocets is highly stylized. This water-thrashing by the male is performed immediately before he mounts the female. The only way I was able to get this behavior shot from such close range was because I was invisible! My floating blind hides the human form which is what alarms much wildlife.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 472mm; 1/1250 second at f7.1; ISO 100; 0 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Evening Grosbeaks; January; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

Not a great photo but kind of fun with all the “bird bickering” going on. This, of course, is common behavior at bird feeders. Evening Grosbeaks are some of the feistiest! Sax-Zim Bog is the best place to find big flocks in winter.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 451mm; 1/800 second at f7.1; ISO 2000; -0.33 ev; handheld]

Hooded Oriole; July; Box Canyon, Arizona

It is not only Carpenter Bees (in background) that find the blossoms of agaves irresistable! Hooded Orioles also make a beeline for the blooms where they can feast on nectar.

I waited a couple hours to get this shot. I chose a single blooming agave that was at or below eye level (most others were higher up so it would be a less interesting angle with a blah sky background). A few female Hoodeds came in but I really wanted a male. But I kind of blew it with the autofocus as it locked on the flower and not the bird (so don’t blow this photo up too much!).

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f7.1; ISO 500; 0 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Wilson’s Phalarope preening; May; Chase Lake NWR, North Dakota

Preening takes up a lot of a bird’s resting time. You’ve got to keep those feathers nice and aligned! The floating blind again worked its magic on this prairie pothole lake in North Dakota as I was able to approach this Wilson’s Phalarope closely…Not unnoticed, of course, it knew a big floating blob was only 10 yards away, but rather completely ignored. It didn’t care that the blob was close since it was not a human- or prey-shaped form.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 428mm; 1/1250 second at f6.3; ISO 320; +0.33 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Snow Geese and moon; North Ottawa Impoundment, Minnesota

In recent years massive numbers of geese have migrated through western Minnesota in spring. Part of this is due to the creation of the huge North Ottawa Impoundment in Grant County. It is part of a multi-county watershed project that has benefited wildlife immensely.

I noticed the moon and intentionally shot straight up as flock after flock of Snow Geese headed north overhead.

In hindsight I should have shot with a MUCH smaller aperture to make the moon sharper in the image. After all I was only at ISO 200 and I could have got a clean image up to ISO 5000 or higher. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 254mm; 1/1250 second at f5; ISO 200; 0 ev; handheld]

Wild Turkey courtship; May; Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota

Human and Wild Turkey courtship have a few similarities: Males strutting their stuff to impress the ladies! The backlit feathers in early-morning light really make this shot.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1000 second at f8; ISO 320; -2.0 ev; tripod]

American Avocets mating; May; central North Dakota

Prairie potholes aren’t just for ducks! Shorebirds benefit greatly as well. American Avocets mating in the prairie pothole region of North Dakota.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 472mm; 1/1250 second at f7.1; ISO 500; +0.33 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Western Grebe; May; prairie potholes of North Dakota

This Western Grebe is not just getting a drink; it is actually performing part of its courtship ritual. “Dip-shaking” is when one grebe faces another, extends its neck and dips its head in the water, lifting it slowly, water dripping from its open mouth. This behavior occurs just before “rushing,” in which both birds race across the water in a vertical position. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 428mm; 1/1250 second at f6.3; ISO 320; +0.33 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Black-throated Hummingbird and Agave; Box Canyon; Southeast Arizona

Ready for take-off! Black-throated Hummingbird showing its true colors (Shouldn’t they be called “Magenta-throated Hummingbirds??)

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f8; ISO 800; +0.33 ev; handheld but braced on car door frame]

Broad-billed Hummingbird; Madera Canyon, Arizona

I simply like the vibrant colors (and blurred wings) of this Broad-billed Hummingbird feeding on garden flowers in Madera Canyon in southeast Arizona.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 300mm; 1/320 second at f6.3; ISO 1000; 0 ev; handheld]

Black Tern; May; Stutsman County, North Dakota

Black Tern cruising over a prairie marsh in North Dakota.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 200mm; 1/1000 second at f5.6; ISO 320; 0 ev; handheld]

Yellow-headed Blackbird; May; Arrowwood NWR, North Dakota

Male Yellow-headed Blackbirds showing off his white epaulets during his courtship song. Interestingly, Yellow-heads are dominant over Red-winged Blackbirds.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/3200 second at f7.1; ISO 1000; +0.33 ev; handheld]

American Avocet courtship; May; North Dakota

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 451mm; 1/1250 second at f6.3; ISO 400; +0.33 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Northern Shoveler; May; prairie potholes of North Dakota

Birds MUST preen their feathers in order to keep them in top shape. Preening aligns and locks the barbules on each feather. It also cleans the feathers and removes parasites. They also rub a waterproof substance from a body gland on the feathers to keep them from soaking through.

This Northern Shoveler was so busy preening that it paid my floating blind no attention at all.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f7.1; ISO 500; +0.33 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Ice Eagles: Bald Eagles fishing a frozen Mississippi River: Canon R5 Wildlife Photography Shooting with Sparky

During the icy grip of the February 2021 Polar Vortex cold snap, Sparky travels to the mostly frozen Mississippi River of southeast Minnesota and southwest Wisconsin to photograph Bald Eagles fishing open spots close to shore. He also looks for Golden Eagles inland in Houston and Winona Counties in Minnesota.

Bitter windchills means frozen toes and fingers, but the Canon R5 does an amazing job of autofocus while shooting super slow motion (4K 120fps) video of the eagles.

A trip to Old Frontenac Cemetery nets Sparky’s first photos and videos of Tufted Titmouse in Minnesota.

The trip ends at Crex Meadows near Grantsburg Wisconsin where an unexpected Gray Fox and Red Fox make a dusk appearance.

Lizards in Minnesota? The well-named Six-lined Racerunner

July 20, 2020

Lizards in Minnesota? We have three species that are found in the state: Prairie Skink (Plestiodon septentrionalis) across all of MN except northeast and north central, Common Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) found in extreme southeast MN and along the MN River Valley, and my target for the day—Six-lined Racerunner (Aspidoscelis sexlineata), which is almost exclusively found in the southeast counties bordering the Mississippi River.

Six-lined Racerunner? Yes, this lizard is incredibly speedy (it can run up to 18MPH!) and it has six greenish-yellow stripes…three running down each side of its body (with a darker middle stripe…so it could technically be called the “Seven-lined Racerunner” but nobody asked me).

And this lizard needs that kind of speed to ambush grasshoppers, crickets, spiders, flies and other insects who can be quite quick to take wing at the first hint of danger.

Range of Six-lined Racerunner in the U.S (from NatureServe.org)

Thanks to a tip from a herpetologist friend I searched this spot along the Mississippi River in Houston County, Minnesota (the southeastern most county in MN). He said to only go on a sunny and very warm day since these guys are only active in the heat of midday. In fact, their ideal air temperature for activity is 93 degrees F! (Fitch, 1958). They won’t even come out of burrows on cool days (below 72?). Mid May is when they emerge and they go back underground for the winter in late August.

Check out the unique scales on the Six-lined Racerunner’s tail. They can “drop” their tail if in danger, or if a predator grabs them by the tail, but it is much more unusual than with the skinks.

My first “sighting” was just a line of grass moving as an unseen lizard raced away from me. The site was sandy with a surprising amount of forb cover. I would have thought I’d find them in more open sandy country. A line of jumbled rocks is where they would scurry to for cover.

After about two hours, and about six lizards speeding away from me to the shelter of the rocks, I finally found a Racerunner that wasn’t racing. I was able to sloooowly creep towards him (see below on how I knew his gender) and get a few shots through the grasses.

The blue throat/chin and lime green face tells me that this is a male who is still in breeding “plumage.”

Much of this information about the natural history of Minnesota’s herps was gleaned from Moriarty and Hall’s excellent Amphibians & Reptiles of Minnesota (University of Minnesota Press, 2014). You can buy it here. Or purchase from Amazon here.

In this Blog Post from summer 2019, I searched for the Five-lined Skink along the rocky landscape of the Minnesota River Valley, but instead found a juvenile Prairie Skink.

Colossal Wildflowers of the Mississippi River backwaters: Part 1—Houston County, MN

July 20, 2020

When the description of a wildflower uses feet instead of inches, you know you have a colossal plant! And at this one spot on the backwaters of the Mississippi River in Houston County, Minnesota I found 3 stands of blossoming behemoths! Where am I? The Amazon?

Backwaters of the Mississippi River above the Reno, Minnesota dike (Reno Landing)

I was meandering back from Iowa where I had dropped off the boys for a week of “Nana Camp” at Bridget’s mom’s. The night before I camped at Minnesota’s Beaver Creek Valley State Park. It is in Houston County which is the southeasternmost county in the state. This is in the “driftless” region, an area that was missed by all of the last glaciers of the Ice Age and retains its high hills, meandering creeks, coulees and valleys. It is an area pockmarked with limestone caves in the karst topography. The hardwood forests have more in common with the southern midwest than the rest of Minnesota. As a result there is a plethora of unique species to Minnesota in this region.

I stopped at the Reno Landing on the Mississippi River to explore the dike and look for Minnesota’s rarest lizard (future blogpost!) when I noticed my first “mega-flower.”

The massive size of the flower is hard to comprehend without something to compare it to. But unfortunately I didn’t have my kayak with so I couldn’t get near the flowers.

It was the huge blossom of the American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea). The flower itself can be as big as your head (4 to 8 inches across) and the leaves dwarf the flowers at one to two feet across!

At first I wasn’t even sure this was a native plant, but a quick check of my Minnesota Wildflowers app on my iPhone confirmed that it is indeed Minnesota’s largest native wildflower. This was Lifer Number 1 (a species I had never seen in my life before).

The American Lotus is only found along backwaters of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers and a few inland lakes (Lake Minnetonka) in Minnesota. And their populations seem to be ephemeral, and not blooming every year.

I wish I would have brought my kayak to actually get up close and personal with these aquatic mammoths. Next summer!

I then spotted a flower I had never seen before. Lifer Number 2. I didn’t even know where to start looking in my Peterson Field Guide nor my iPhone app to identify this monster. It emerged in a cluster from the backwaters to a height of three feet. Atop a stalk was a showy umbell of stunning magenta blossoms with 6 petals (or was it 3 sepals and 3 petals?) maybe half a foot across.

Blossoms of Flowering-Rush (Butomus umbellatus) are held in an umbel of stalks.

Once I got home, my copy of Field Guide to Wisconsin Streams came to the rescue; the plant was Flowering-Rush (Butomus umbellatus), a non-native species that is in the Flowering-Rush family (Butomaceae)

Flowering-Rush (Butomus umbellatus)
Flowering-Rush (Butomus umbellatus)

Then on the way out I spotted a huge and robust stand of Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata). Hundreds of purple-blossomed spikes stood a couple feet above the dense tangle of large arrowhead-shaped leaves.

Dense stand of the large and robust Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata)
The spike of blossoms of Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata)

In the next post I will show a few photos of the lizard I found at this site.