Posts from the ‘Prairie’ Category

Video—Dancing Chickens: Shooting with Sparky

A morning on the Greater Prairie-Chicken lek at Tympanuchus WMA in Northwest Minnesota; April 26, 2019
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Easter Flower of the Prairie—Pasqueflowers bloom

April 26, 2019: Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge in Polk County, Minnesota.

It had been several decades since I’d seen a blooming Pasqueflower (Pulsatilla patens) [Othern synonyms: Anemone patens or Pulsatilla nuttalliana]. They are a true harbinger of spring on western prairies, and are often pushing up when snow still dots the landscape.

My main reason for driving 4 1/2 hours one-way from my homestead in Carlton County, Minnesota to the northwest corner of the state was to spend a morning with Greater Prairie-Chickens. I only had about 24 hours for the entire trip. But I wondered if I could get a bonus photo subject and find a clump of Pasqueflowers. I really didn’t think I’d find any, but while slowly cruising down a “Minimum Maintenance” dirt road, dots of color in the mainly brown landscape caught my eye. And, Yes!, it was a cluster of just blooming “Easter Flowers.”

It is the state flower of South Dakota and the Provincial flower of Manitoba. This species grows around the globe and can be found in the western U.S., Europe, Finland, Russia, Mongolia and China. Other names for this spring beauty are Prairie Crocus, Easter Flower, Windflower, Cutleaf Anemone, and Prairie Smoke in reference to its long wispy seed plumes.

The name Pasqueflower has its roots in the Christian celebration of Easter. The name for Easter in Latin and Greek is Pascha, and Hebrew Pasach,which originally referred to Passover. Many languages use this root for their current name for Easter (Påske in Norwegian, Pascua in Spanish, Pasqua in Italian, and Pâques in French). This flower gained its common name from its association with blooming at the time of Easter, likely in its range in Europe.

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5453

Pasqueflower (Pulsatilla patens) at Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge; Polk County, Minnesota

[Most photos taken with Canon 7D and Canon 70-200mm f4 lens (some with Canon 500D close up lens attached to 70-200mm lens]

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5459

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5417

 

anepat-1

Range of the Pasqueflower in Minnesota. Note that it is mainly a prairie/grassland species so is absent from Northeastern and Northcentral parts of the state.

anepat

Range of Pasqueflower in the U.S. It is also found in Europe, Finland, Russia, Mongolia and China.

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5514

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5411

I’ve never seen white Pasqueflowers! Interesting that this clump was the only white ones amidst many purple clusters (see photo below).

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN MG_5526

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5492

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5540

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5559

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5564

Franklin's Gull flock over Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5403

A flock of migrating Franklin’s Gulls over Glacial Ridge NWR. One of the most beautiful gulls in the world. They nest in massive colonies in remote marshes such as those in NW Minnesota’s Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge and Thief Lake WMA. Tens of thousands may nest in the same marsh!

Chicken of the Prairie: A Morning in a Greater Prairie-Chicken Blind—Part 1

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4767

Greater Prairie-Chicken battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 2000; handheld]

April 26, 2019

Photographers and Birders never really get to enjoy the benefits of staying in a hotel. And this was true for me on Friday morning. I rolled in to Crookston, Minnesota late (after a 4 1/2 hour drive) and after packing my photo/video/sound gear it was already 11pm. Not much time to sleep before the alarm went off at 3:30am. No complimentary breakfast for spring/summer birders! Two granola bars would have to suffice. I had to be in the blind by 4:50am.

Even at that dark hour, the birds had beat me to the lek. Reflectors had marked the 300 yard path to the Greater Prairie-Chicken blind at Tympanuchus Wildlife Management Area in Polk County, Minnesota (in the northwestern part of the state). Honestly it was one of the nicest grouse blinds I’ve ever been in. Spacious and roomy with semi-comfy stools, and even a plywood floor! But like all blinds constructed for the public and not specifically for photographers, it lacked a low-angle shooting window. Photographers like to get eye-level shots. It makes the images more intimate and helps isolate the subject from its background. The addition of two “shooting windows” about a foot off the floor/ground would be really nice.

But as spectacular as their displays are, the sounds these guys make are simply mesmerizing. Crazy cackles, hoots, booms against a background of overhead winnowing of snipe and singing Savannah Sparrows, Grasshopper Sparrows and Western Meadowlarks. I even heard a couple Greater Yellowlegs and a Marbled Godwit. A true spring chorus!

I am far more familiar with Sharp-tailed Grouse displays, and in comparison, the Prairie-Chickens dance less and fight more. Sharptails perform fancy footwork dance displays and inflate purple throat sacs. Greater Prairie-Chickens do less dancing and seem to rely more on their impressive yellow-pink throat sacs and erected feather tufts. They also seem to face off with other males frequently.

By 9am, the energy level had dissipated and the birds melted into the brushy landscape.

**I WILL POST A VIDEO, INCLUDING SOUNDS AND SLOW MOTION, OF THE PRAIRIE CHICKEN DISPLAYS SOON. STAY TUNED!

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5098

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

The male’s display is

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 500; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5166

Greater Prairie-Chicken males displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

At the peak of displaying, I counted about 15 Greater Prairie-Chickens…Maybe 12 males and 3 females. In this photo you can see 4 males displaying.

[Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 167mm; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 320; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5113

Though there were no low angle shooting windows in the blind, I did manage to lay on my belly and shoot a couple shots under the canvas blind’s zippered door. I like the out of focus red dogwoods/willows.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f6.3; ISO 640; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5123

Greater Prairie-Chicken male at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 500; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4941

Greater Prairie-Chicken males at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f6.3; ISO 640; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4601

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/500 at f5.6; ISO 2000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4918

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

Prairie-Chickens are a bird of open prairie and brushy grasslands. This part of Minnesota has thousands of acres of such habitat preserved in many Nature Conservency sites, DNR Wildlife Management Areas and the massive Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge (along the old beach line of Glacial Lake Agassiz).

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens; 1/800 at f4; ISO 250; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4836

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

The sun came up at 6:18am and the photography really kicked into high gear. I took over 1200 photos but “chimped and trashed” 700 of those, keeping about 500.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f6.3; ISO 800; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4887

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

Love the head-on view!

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f6.3; ISO 1000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4769

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off and battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

Brief aerial “battles” were fairly common during my 4 hours in the blind. Most often they would face-off and then one would back off and wander away. But occasionally fights would erupt.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 2000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4768

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off and battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 2000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5011

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 1250; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4979

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying n a shrub! at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

Now here’s something you don’t see every day…A displaying Prairie-Chicken in a shrub!

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f6.3; ISO 500; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5033

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off and battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 640; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5017

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f6.3; ISO 800; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5040

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off and battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 640; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4730

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 1000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4759

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying for female at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 1000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4674

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off and battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f6.3; ISO 1250; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4634

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off and battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 2000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4566

Greater Prairie-Chicken male in shrub at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens at 200mm; 1/800 at f4; ISO 2500; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4558

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off and battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens at 176mm; 1/800 at f4; ISO 2000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN

Greater Prairie-Chicken males displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

Three males displaying just before the sun came up at 6:18am. They had been on the lek since before 5am and would continue until 9am. It takes a lot of energy to impress the ladies!

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens at 70mm; 1/250 at f4; ISO 400; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4859

Greater Prairie-Chicken female at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

The females were more in evidence than at a Sharp-tailed Grouse lek (in my experience). But I saw no mating taking place. She lacks the male’s fancy throat sacs and feather plumes.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f6.3; ISO 800; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4878

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 800; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4430

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

Not much to do photographically in the pre-dawn hour…Too dark. But what is fun is to slow your shutter speed way down and crank up the ISO and try some panning motion blurs. I got about 4 good photos that I’ve included here.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens at 200mm; 1/8 second at f4; ISO 3200; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4384

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

Love this motion blur at a very slow 1/3 of a second. I left the blue pre-twilight background but increased the white balance in the bird to a warmer hue. I do wish it was framed on the left instead of running out of the frame, but I can live with that.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens at 200mm; 1/3 second at f4; ISO 3200; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4467

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens at 200mm; 1/15 second at f4; ISO 1600; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4433

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

You can shoot before dawn! I love the artistic/painterly quality of these early morning motion blurs.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens at 200mm; 1/8 second at f4; ISO 3200; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5284

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/40 at f9; ISO 100; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5367

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1250 at f5.6; ISO 250; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5238

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

Another front view of this amazing bird of the prairies.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 320; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5181

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

This young male (in front) was constantly trying to display in the center of the lek. But the older males (?) would immediately attack him and drive him from the center fo the lek to the fringes. They would even bite his back. I am assuming that he is just a younger individual and has not yet earned his rightful place.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1250 at f6.3; ISO 320; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4826

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 800; handheld]

 

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.

 

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.

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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

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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

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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]