Posts from the ‘Prairie’ Category

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.

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_7289

Whooping Cranes, Karner Blue Butterflies, Red-headed Woodpeckers, Northern Barrens Tiger Beetles…These are the reasons I made my first visit to Necedah National Wildlife Refuge near Nacedah, Wisconsin on July 20th. I was headed from my home in Wrenshall, Minnesota to pick up my kids at the home of my brother- and sister-in-law’s in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.

I ended up spending 6 hours here! This is one of those refuges that welcomes visitors and really concentrates on education, unlike many of our National Wildlife Refuges.

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_7253

I hiked the 1.75 mile Boghaunter Trail and Boardwalk. It is named for the very rare Ringed Boghaunter dragonfly that lives in this fen. They emerge in May and have a short flight period so I did not see one on this trip…But I will be back!

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

Karner Melissa Blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI

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. Its 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.

This butterfly is a federally Endangered subspecies of the Melissa Blue.

[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]

Calopogon tuberosus Swamp Pink orchid fen Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2387

Swamp-Pink or Grass-Pink orchid (Calopogon tuberosus) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Swamp-Pink (or Grass-Pink) orchids dotted the fen near the Boardwalk along the Boghaunter Trail. This species likes fens that are not as acidic as bogs.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 98mm with Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/160 sec. at f13; ISO 100; pop-up flash; hand-held]

Cicindelidia punctulata subspecies punctulata Punctured Tiger Beetle Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2512

Cicindelidia punctulata subspecies punctulata Punctured Tiger Beetle Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2582

Punctured Tiger Beetle (Cicindelidia punctulata) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Though I did not find my lifer Northern Barrens Tiger Beetle, I did see many of the small Punctured Tiger Beetle (Cicindela punctulata) named for the colorful pits on its elytra (wing covers). The are ferocious predators of other insects which it stalks on open sandy soil.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 with Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/250 sec. at f11; ISO 100; pop-up flash; hand-held]

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_7246

Pine barrens savannah Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah, Wisconsin

Necedah NWR protects some of the original Pine barrens/savannah landscape of pre-settlement Wisconsin. Pines were mainly Red (Norway) Pine and Jack Pine. This spot was thick with Red-headed Woodpeckers.

[iPhone 7+]

Red-headed Woodpecker Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2283

Red-headed Woodpecker Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

The habitat in the photo above is perfect for the Red-headed Woodpecker, a species which loves open savannah type landscapes with larger trees in which it excavates its nest cavities.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM lens at 126mm with Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/4000 sec. at f5.6; ISO 320; -0.33ev; hand-held]

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2435

Ant on Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Ant on Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis). The lupines were WAY past peak, and only a few remained in flower.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 131mm with Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/250 sec. at f8; ISO 250; pop-up flash; hand-held]

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2535

A “bachelor” group of American White Pelicans.

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Sandhill Crane feather Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Whoopers are not the only crane at Necedah; a Sandhill Crane feather is stained with iron-rich mud which the Sandhill coats its feathers with.

[iPhone 7+]

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_7265

Remains of a small bird; a snack for a bird of prey.

[iPhone 7+]

Rhexia virginica Virginia Meadow Beauty Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2466

Virginia Meadow Beauty a.k.a. Handsome Harry wildflower (Rhexia virginica) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 163mm with Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/100 sec. at f11; ISO 100; pop-up flash; hand-held]

Rhexia virginica Virginia Meadow Beauty Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2481

Virginia Meadow Beauty a.k.a. Handsome Harry wildflower (Rhexia virginica) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 70mm with Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/640 sec. at f7.1; -0.66ev; ISO 100; pop-up flash; hand-held]

Rhexia virginica Virginia Meadow Beauty Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_7272

Virginia Meadow Beauty a.k.a. Handsome Harry wildflower (Rhexia virginica) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

[iPhone 7+]

Rhexia virginica Virginia Meadow Beauty Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_7268

Virginia Meadow Beauty a.k.a. Handsome Harry wildflower (Rhexia virginica) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

[iPhone 7+]

I’d never heard of Rhexia virginica (Virginia Meadow-Beauty) until I read the first Necedah NWR brochure I picked up. It is at the far northeastern edge of its range in Central Wisconsin. It is most common along the East Coast and Southeast U.S. It prefers open, wet and acidic sites.

Also known by the fun name, “Handsome Harry.” It is in the Melastomataceae, a family of mostly tropical wildflowers. The pink petals are asymetrical in shape, and the stamens are bright yellow, thick and bent. A very cool “lifer” for me.

Rhexia virginica range map

Range map of Rhexia virginica (Virginia Meadow-Beauty or Handsome Harry). As you can see it reaches its northeastern range limit in south central Wisconsin.

skipper Northern Broken-Dash Wallengrenia egeremet Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2565

Northern Broken-Dash skipper (Wallengrenia egeremet) on Liatris “Gay Feather” Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 126mm with Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/200 sec. at f6.3; ISO 200; hand-held]

skipper Northern Broken-Dash Wallengrenia egeremet Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2553

Northern Broken-Dash skipper (Wallengrenia egeremet) on Liatris “Gay Feather” Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

The above two photos are of a Northern Broken-Dash butterfly on Liatris wildflower (Gay-Feather).

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 145mm with Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/250 sec. at f6.3; ISO 200; hand-held]

turtle Blanding's Turtle Emydoidea blandingii Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2403

Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

turtle Blanding's Turtle Emydoidea blandingii Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2406

Plastron of Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

turtle Blanding's Turtle Emydoidea blandingii Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2417

Plastron and yellow throat of Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

turtle Blanding's Turtle Emydoidea blandingii Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2421

Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

You don’t see Blanding’s Turtles every day so I was very excited to find this large (and presumably old) specimen along the boardwalk on Boghaunter Trail. He was shy but I flipped him over to examine the beautiful red-marked carapace, and his bright yellow throat. Don’t worry, I quickly tipped him back upright after I snapped a few photos.

“One of the most critically imperiled turtles to be found in North America is the Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii), named for William Blanding, a Philadelphia naturalist who first described it. They are found from Ontario, Canada; south to Iowa and back east as far as New York. There is a small population of about 300 found in Nova Scotia. The highest population densities are found in the Great Lakes region. They are listed as state endangered or a species of special concern in nearly every state they are found in. The biggest threat these turtles face is the loss of habitat due to agriculture and from major modifications to streams and rivers, such as dam building. Blanding’s turtles have very specific habitat requirements that include marshes, sloughs, ponds, lakes, streams, creeks, and vernal pools with shallow water, soft bottoms and large amounts of aquatic vegetation.” [Text from the Rattlesnake Education & Awareness Blog]

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_7276

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_7293

Visitor Center Headquarters Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

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Interpretive displays at Visitor Center Headquarters Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_7302

Interpretive displays at Visitor Center Headquarters Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_7306

Interpretive displays at Visitor Center Headquarters Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_7309

Interpretive displays at Visitor Center Headquarters Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_7316

Interpretive displays at Visitor Center Headquarters Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_7317

Visitor Center Headquarters Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_7294

Crane sculpture outside Visitor Center Headquarters Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Snowy Owls & other birds—Glacial Ridge NWR March 9-10

Last week I posted photos of the amazing hoarfrost that greeted me at sunrise in northwest Minnesota’s Polk County on Friday March 9th. This time we will concentrate on the wildlife I saw over these 2 days (actually 1 1/2 days). Most of my time was spent in the 57 square mile Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge east of Crookston, Minnesota. It is Minnesota’s newest National Wildlife Refuge, established in 2004.

My main purpose for this trip to far northwest Minnesota was picking up a pallet of books in Pembina, North Dakota, but my photographic goal was to get slow-motion video of a Snowy Owl in flight. I ended up having six sightings of FOUR different Snowy Owls….A success even without getting any video.

Snowy Owl in Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge. I saw 3 different Snowies in the western part of the refuge. Unfortunately all were sitting on telephone poles…Not the most photogenic perch. But my goal was slow-motion video of Snowy Owls in flight….but most were just patiently watching the landscape for any mammalian movement.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/800 sec. at f9; ISO 100; hand-held]

Three Sharp-tailed Grouse in the frosty landscape of western Minnesota.

This gal (?) was the most tolerant of the four Snowy Owls I saw over the two days. But unfortunately she was sitting right above a busy highway in Kittson County and a State Trooper urged me to move on. I asked for a few minutes longer and he said that was fine. But I could have spent a couple hours with this beautiful owl. I did get video of it stretching and fluffing its feathers.

Kittson County is the extreme northwest county in Minnesota. It is a LONG WAYS from anything! In fact, Kim Eckert claims that if you were in Minneapolis and wanted to get here, it would be faster to fly to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada and then drive southeast to Kittson County than to drive here from the Twin Cities!

[Sony A6500 with Sigma 50-500mm f4.5-6.2 OS HSM lens; 1/640 sec. at f10; ISO 100; tripod]

Excavating a nest cavity or just feeding? Hard to tell but this female Pileated Woodpecker (no red mustache and the red on the head doesn’t reach the bill) was busy chiseling away at a very oval hole.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 sec. at f5.6; ISO 1600; +1.33 ev; braced on car window frame]

Rough-legged Hawk taking flight from the railroad tracks bisecting Glacial Ridge NWR. I  really think the Roughleg is one of the most beautiful buteo hawks in North America. They nest on the tundra of northern Canada and Alaska but spend the winter in southern Canada and the northern U.S. Their tiny bill and feet are perfect for feeding on small rodents, especially voles and lemmings.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 sec. at f5.6; ISO 1600; +1.66 ev; braced on car window frame]

Finally! A Snowy Owl on an eye-level and photogenic perch! But alas, it was about a half mile away. Let’s call these “bird in the landscape” photos. I actually think they would look pretty cool printed large (like 4 feet wide!).

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/800 sec. at f9; ISO 100; tripod]

Sparky in the Polk County, Minnesota portion of the Pine to Prairie Birding Trail on a gorgeous late winter day.

Very small and very white Snowy Owl (so likely a male) atop very large power pole just outside Glacial Ridge NWR. The day before he was in the refuge, and hunting from a smaller power pole.

Coyote hunting in northwest Minnesota’s aspen parkland.

Note the beautiful barring on the breast and belly of this Greater Prairie Chicken. Glacial Ridge is a real stronghold for this prairie species in Minnesota. I (conservatively) saw 28 prairie chickens on Saturday March 10 in Glacial Ridge.

Rough-legged Hawks were mostly absent from NE Minnesota this winter, but there were good numbers at Glacial Ridge on this weekend. I saw 15 in just the eastern part of the refuge in one morning.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 sec. at f6.3; ISO 640; +1.66 ev; hand-held]

Both Sharp-tailed Grouse (pictured above) and Greater Prairie Chickens were feeding along the railroad tracks that bisect Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge. Maybe there is spilled grain along the tracks. I saw a total of 48 Sharptails in the refuge on March 10th.

Either Sharp-tailed Grouse or Greater Prairie Chicken tracks in the snow.

 

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 sec. at f5.6; ISO 320; +1.66 ev; hand-held]

Snow Buntings were beginning to head north to their tundra breeding grounds in northern Canada. I saw many flocks along US75 between Crookston and the North Dakota border near Canada…441 total with one flock totaling about 150 birds. But this Snow Bunting was all alone and I saw him on two consecutive days along the same stretch of deserted road. I even got video of him feeding on plant seeds that were peaking above the crusty snow.

[Sony A6500 with Sigma 50-500mm f4.5-6.2 OS HSM lens; 1/1000 sec. at f10; ISO 320; hand-held]

Fenceline border between private and public lands adjacent to Glacial Ridge NWR.

Pair of Bald Eagles…The Bald Eagles are beginning to think about nesting in far NW Minnesota. I saw two pairs that were actually IN/AT THE NEST already…even though there was no open water anywhere around. This duo at Glacial Ridge was actually an adult and immature.

BIRD HIGHLIGHTS

NW MN trip

March 9-10, 2018

Between Crookston and St. Vincent in Kittson County along US75

441 Snow Buntings

373 Horned Larks

Glacial Ridge NWR (March 9 and 10)

15 Rough-legged Hawks

48 Sharp-tailed Grouse

28 Greater Prairie Chickens

3 Snowy Owls (CR446 mainly)…including a very white and little male

1 Pileated Woodpecker

Snowy Owl along US75 at milepost 379.5 just south of Kennedy in Kittson County (March 9)

Meadowlark sp. near Lake Bronson in Kittson County (March 9) (spring migrant)

3 Bald Eagle nests with pairs occupying nest (Polk and Kittson Counties)