Sand-loving Tigers of Wisconsin — Sauk Prairie Recreation Area

July 15, 2019

Gravel/sand area at Sauk Prairie Recreation Area, Wisconsin

These sand-loving “tigers” are of the beetle variety. Tiger beetles are voracious predators of other insects. They have great vision and massive jaws. They ambush and pursue their victims on foot…and they are very fast.

And they are a colorful lot as well. My publishing company recently put out a field guide to all 21 species of tiger beetles in Minnesota and Wisconsin. It is my goal to photograph all 21….and the Ghost Tiger Beetle would be number 14.

Ghost Tiger Beetle (Ellipsoptera lepida) [Sauk Prairie Recreation Area, Wisconsin]

On this mid July trip to Madison, Wisconsin to bring my kids to “Nana Camp,” I decided to stop at the Sauk Prairie Recreation Area on the advise of Wisconsin tiger beetle guru Mike Reese (Mike is also the photographer for our Tiger Beetles of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan guide).

My goal was to see and photograph this beautiful creature…the aptly-named Ghost Tiger Beetle (Ellipsoptera lepida).

Ghost Tiger Beetle (Ellipsoptera lepida) [Sauk Prairie Recreation Area, Wisconsin]

I knew that they seem to prefer fine-grained sand, so I searched an area at the base of the gravel flats where the finer sand had washed out from rain and erosion…and I got lucky! After about 45 minutes of searching, I saw movement on the fine sand. But as soon as the tiger beetle quit running it seemed to disappear into the background. Their pale elytra (wing coverings) are the perfect camouflage for their light-colored sandy habitats.

This guy went down into this burrow several times. I caught him dropping down in this shot.

You can see the lighter-colored sorted fine sand where the Ghost Tiger Beetles occurred.

Rain has washed and sorted the finer-grained sand to the base of the gravel flats. This is where the Ghost Tiger Beetles were found.

Ghost Tiger Beetle (Ellipsoptera lepida) [Sauk Prairie Recreation Area, Wisconsin]

Can you spot the “Ghost”? They are aptly-named species. You can spot them when the run, but as soon as they stop and remain motionless, they disappear. Ghost indeed!

Punctured Tiger Beetle (Cicindela punctulata) [Sauk Prairie Recreation Area, Wisconsin]

This tiny tiger is the Punctured Tiger Beetle, which is named for the minute pits on its elytra (wing coverings).

Big Sand Tiger Beetle (Cicindela formosa) [Sauk Prairie Recreation Area, Wisconsin]

On the other end of the size spectrum is the Big Sand Tiger Beetle (Cicindela formosa). It is BIG and it loves sand…Well named!

Festive Tiger Beetle (Cicindela scutellaris subspecies Lecontei)
[Sauk Prairie Recreation Area, Wisconsin]

A colorful (and variable) tiger beetle is the wonderfully named Festive Tiger Beetle. It can be mostly green (as above) or mostly red (as in photo below).

Festive Tiger Beetle (Cicindela scutellaris subspecies Lecontei)
[Sauk Prairie Recreation Area, Wisconsin]

Here is a red and green Festive Tiger Beetle (Cicindela scutellaris subspecies Lecontei). One of our most beautiful species.

Velvet Ant [Sauk Prairie Recreation Area, Wisconsin]

Tiger beetles aren’t the only sand-lovers found here. I saw a couple Velvet Ants (family Mutillidae), a group of insects that parasitize ground-dwelling wasps and bees that are found in sparsely-vegetated sandy areas.

Grasshopper laying eggs in the sand.

Three-banded Robber Fly (Stichopogon trifasciatus)
[Sauk Prairie Recreation Area, Wisconsin]

Robber flies are about as ruthless a predator as tiger beetles! As one naturalist stated, “We’re lucky they aren’t the size of golden retrievers!”

This is the Three-banded Robber Fly (Stichopogon trifasciatus), a common and small robber fly, but note that it has captured an even smaller fly.


Sparky’s Top 10 Insect Photos 2018

Nothing too artsy fartsy here…Just some nice photos of some very cool insects (and a couple spiders). As you will be able to tell, the post is pretty heavy on moths. I have been beefing up my collection of moth photos, especially trying to capture them in a more natural setting. I attract them to our land (“Skogstjarna” in northern Minnesota) by leaving an outdoor light on at night. Then early in the morning I go out when the moths are still sluggish and gently move them to a more natural perch. It doesn’t always work so well on tiny moths since they can warm up more rapidly and fly off when I disturb their sleep.
I’ve also included some cool camouflage photos.

blue Karner Melissa Blue butterfly Lycaeides melissa samuelis Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WIIMG_2273

Karner Melissa Blue butterfly, Lycaeides Melissa samuelis, Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Necedah, Wisconsin, July 19, 2018

I unintentionally planned my trip to Wisconsin’s Necedah National Wildlife Refuge perfectly. 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 L USM lens at 118mm with Canon 500D front-mounted close-up lens; 1/250 second at f13; ISO 250; -0.33 ev; pop-up fill flash; hand-held]

Skogstjarna Carlton Co MNIMG_1887

Lytrosis unitaria Common Lytrosis, 6720, Family Geometridae, Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota

Talk about well camouflaged! The Common Lytrosis moth is perfectly adapted to daytime perching on rough-barked trees (or stacked firewood in this case!)

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 70mm with Canon 500D front-mounted close-up lens; 1/60 second at f8; ISO 1600; hand-held]

Nerice bidentata Double-toothed Prominent moth 93-0018 7929 Family Notodontidae Skogstjarna Carlton County MNIMG_0291

Nerice bidentata Double-toothed Prominent, moth, 93-0018, 7929, Family Notodontidae, Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota, June 13, 2018

The “double toothed” pattern of this moth breaks up its shape and makes it look as if it is just another spiky branch. Brilliant camouflage!

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 109mm with Canon 500D front-mounted close-up lens; 1/250 second at f9; ISO 100; pop-up fill flash; hand-held]

fritillary Regal Fritillary Speyeria idalia butterfly Felton WMA Clay County MNIMG_1493

Regal Fritillary Speyeria idalia, male, butterfly, Felton WMA, Clay County, Minnesota, August 17, 2018

One of my main goals in going to northwest Minnesota in late summer 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.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 200mm with Canon 500D front-mounted close-up lens; 1/1250 second at f4; ISO 250; hand-held]

fritillary Regal Fritillary Speyeria idalia butterfly Felton WMA Clay County MNIMG_1630

Regal Fritillary Speyeria idalia, male, butterfly, and Bombus bumble bee, Felton WMA, Clay County, Minnesota, August 17, 2018

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 200mm with Canon 500D front-mounted close-up lens; 1/400 second at f4; ISO 100; pop-up fill flash; hand-held]

Bellura obliqua Cattail Borer 93-2517 9525 Family Noctuidae Skogstjarna Carlton County MN IMG_0719

Bellura obliqua Cattail Borer 93-2517 9525 Family Noctuidae Skogstjarna Carlton County, Minnesota, June 23, 2018

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 91mm with Canon 500D front-mounted close-up lens; 1/250 second at f13; ISO 250; -1.66 ev; pop-up fill flash; hand-held]

Biston betularia Pepper-and-Salt Geometer Peppered Moth 6640 Family Geometridae Skogstjarna Carlton County MNIMG_0911

Biston betularia Pepper-and-Salt Geometer or Peppered Moth, 6640, Family Geometridae, Skogstjarna Carlton County, Minnesota, June 8, 2018

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 135mm with Canon 500D front-mounted close-up lens; 1/60 second at f11; ISO 1600; hand-held]

Habrosyne scripta Lettered Habrosyne 6235 Family Depranidae Skogstjarna Carlton County MNIMG_0925

Habrosyne scripta Lettered Habrosyne, moth, 6235, Family Depranidae, Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota, June 8, 2018

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 135mm with Canon 500D front-mounted close-up lens; 1/250 second at f11; ISO 320; +1 ev; pop-up fill flash; hand-held]

Harrisimemna trisignata Harris's Three-Spot moth 93-1498 9286 Family Noctuidae Skogstjarna Carlton County MNIMG_0337

Harrisimemna trisignata Harris’s Three-Spot moth, 93-1498, 9286, Family Noctuidae, Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota, June 13, 2018

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 113mm with Canon 500D front-mounted close-up lens; 1/250 second at f16; ISO 200; +0.33 ev; pop-up fill flash; hand-held]

Hyalophora cecropia Cecropia Moth far back on Warren Woessner Bog Boardwalk Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MNIMG_7400

Hyalophora cecropia Cecropia moth far back on Warren Woessner Bog Boardwalk at the Warren Nelson Memorial Bog, Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

[iPhone 7+]

Phyllodesma americana American Lappet Moth 7687 Family Lasiocampidae Skogstjarna Carlton County MN IMG_0750

Phyllodesma americana American Lappet Moth, 7687, Family Lasiocampidae, Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota, June 23, 2018

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 70mm with Canon 500D front-mounted close-up lens; 1/60 second at f9; ISO 640; hand-held]

Smerinthus cerisyi One-eyed Sphinx 7822 Family Sphingidae Skogstjarna Carlton County MN IMG_0676

Smerinthus cerisyi One-eyed Sphinx, moth, 7822, Family Sphingidae, Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota, June 23, 2018

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 140mm with Canon 500D front-mounted close-up lens; 1/250 second at f8; ISO 640; pop-up fill flash; hand-held]

Amorpha juglandis Walnut Sphinx 7827 Family Sphingidae Skogstjarna Carlton County MNIMG_0801

Amorpha juglandis Walnut Sphinx 7827 Family Sphingidae Skogstjarna Carlton County, Minnesota, June 8, 2018

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 98mm with Canon 500D front-mounted close-up lens; 1/160 second at f10; ISO 800; -0.66 ev; hand-held]

Anastoechus barbatus bee fly Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge NWR Polk County MNIMG_1945

Anastoechus barbatus bee fly Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge NWR Polk County, Minnesota, August 17, 2018

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 135mm with Canon 500D front-mounted close-up lens; 1/250 second at f11; ISO 400; pop-up fill flash; hand-held]

Argiope trifasciata Banded Garden Spider Felton WMA Clay County MNIMG_1232

Argiope trifasciata Banded Garden Spider Felton WMA Clay County, Minnesota

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 118mm with Canon 500D front-mounted close-up lens; 1/250 second at f8; ISO 200; pop-up fill flash; hand-held]

Uloborus glomosus Feather-legged Orbweaver in web with multiple egg sacs Warren Woessner Bog Boardwalk at Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MNIMG_1590

Uloborus glomosus Feather-legged Orbweaver in web with multiple egg sacs, spider, Warren Woessner Bog Boardwalk at Warren Nelson Memorial Bog, Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 188mm with Canon 500D front-mounted close-up lens; 1/250 second at f22; ISO 800; pop-up fill flash; hand-held]

Swedes Forest: Lizards & Cactus—Minnesota River Valley July 2019

July 23, 2019

Did you know that within the border of Minnesota lives 3 lizard species and 4 species of cactus? On this quick trip down to the western portion of the Minnesota River valley I hoped to see several of these rare species.

Panorama of Swedes Forest in Yellow Medicine County, Minnesota

My first stop was Swedes Forest Scientific and Natural Area (SNA). This site was protected because of its unique rock outcrops, which were historically in a prairie setting. But over the years, Bur Oaks and other trees have grown up and shaded the rocks. The periodic fires of pre-White-Settlement times kept the landscape as mainly prairie, but with the fire suppression of the last 100 years, the forest has encroached. It is time to try and bring back the open grasslands here. On the day I arrived there was a crew cutting down these trees in order to restore the ecosystem.

A view from the exposed bedrock of Swedes Forest SNA.

I headed right to the most obvious rock outcrop south of the parking area. My main goal was to see the very rare Five-lined Skink, but I also knew there were Prairie Skinks here as well. After about 15 minutes I saw a couple-inch long skink start scurrying across the reddish rock. It stopped barely long enough for me to get a few shots. The first thing I noticed was its blue tail…but that doesn’t help identifying the critter since both the Prairie Skink and Five-lined Skink juveniles show this tail color. But by the head and back stripes and markings I could tell it was a young Prairie Skink. Still very exciting because I have never seen one before.

Juvenile Prairie Skink (Plestiodon septentrionalis)
Juvenile Prairie Skink (Plestiodon septentrionalis)

My only skink for the day (despite looking under many rocks) was this juvenile Prairie Skink (Plestiodon septentrionalis). It’s blue tail is one clue but you really have to check out its back and head stripes to separate it from the similar, but much rarer, Five-lined Skink. This youngster was only a few inches long.

I nicknamed this jumping spider the “scary Halloween mask spider” for its unique abdomen pattern, and texted a photo to my kids. I thought I had a rare species at first, but later learned from Minnesota spider expert Chad Heins, that this was simply a young female Habronattus decorus, a jumping spider which I have photographed the very different looking male several times.

Have you ever seen a shiny green, red and blue beetle before? I hadn’t either…until I found this one foraging on a shrub. This is Calleida punctata, a species of ground beetle.

The Coral Hairstreak is a beautiful butterfly of mid summer. I rarely get to see them as they are never found in large numbers.

Talinum parviflorum (Small-flowered Fameflower or Rock Pink)
Talinum parviflorum (Small-flowered Fameflower or Rock Pink)

Shallow depressions in bedrock outcrops on the prairie create one of Minnesota’s rarest habitats. These low spots catch and hold rainwater since they have no outlet. One specialist in this microhabitat is Talinum parviflorum (Small-flowered Fameflower or Rock Pink) as show in the 2 photos above. I was a bit late to see it in full bloom unfortunately, so I guess I’ll have to come back!

Brittle Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia fragilis)
Brittle Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia fragilis)
Brittle Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia fragilis)
Brittle Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia fragilis)

Some may be surprised to learn that cactus grows natively in Minnesota. The above four photos are of one of the smaller species called Brittle Prickly Pear (Opuntia fragilis). It is fragile as its Latin name implies, but it packs a painful prickly punch if you accidentally touch or kneel on one!

The tiny, but large for its family, Galgupha Ebony Bug is so shiny that you can see my reflection, and that of the sun, clouds and blue sky, on its smooth exoskeleton.

Plains Clubtail dragonfly (Gomphus externus)

Dickcissels are only irregular visitors to my home territory of northern Minnesota, making summer irruptions every 4 years or so. But they are abundant breeders in the scrubby grasslands of Southern Minnesota.

**All photos taken with Canon 7D and either Canon 70-200mm f4 lens or Canon 400mm f5.6 lens. Macro photos with Canon 500D attached to Canon 70-200mm lens. Panorama photos taken with iPhone 7+.

EIGHT species of spectacular Hummingbirds —Southeast Arizona June 2019 Part 5

Rivoli’s Hummingbird

Minnesota has incredible birds. In fact, many birds on American birder’s “Most Wanted” list occur here: Great Gray Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, Boreal Owl, Connecticut Warbler, etc. And I love the fact that in a few hours drive or less from home I can bird THREE MAJOR BIOMES—Tallgrass Prairie, Eastern Deciduous Forest, and Boreal Forest.

BUT at home in Minnesota we only have ONE HUMMINGBIRD species! The lovely but lonely Ruby-throated Hummingbird. The fact that southeast Arizona hosts about a dozen species (some are migrants) makes it America’s hummer hotspot and a wonderful reason to head to the heat.

I saw seven of the eight species that could be expected in SE Arizona in July. I only missed Costa’s Hummingbird in the wild. (But I did see Costa’s and Rufous in the aviary in the Sonoran Desert Museum)

SEVEN species seen at feeders or while out hiking…

  • Lucifer Hummingbird (Dave Jasper’s yard in Portal; Also Foothills Road near Portal)
  • Violet-crowned Hummingbird (Beatty’s Miller Canyon Orchard & Apiary near Sierra Vista; Also Paton’s Hummingbird Sanctuary in Patagonia)
  • Broad-billed Hummingbird (most widespread: Beatty’s Miller Canyon Orchard & Apiary near Sierra Vista; Paton’s Hummingbird Sanctuary in Patagonia; Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Sanctuary; etc)
  • Broad-tailed Hummingbird (a high-elevation specialist: Palisade Ranger Staton on Mt. Lemmon near Tucson; Rustler Park at over 8,000 feet near Patagonia in the Chiricauhuas)
  • Blue-throated Hummingbird (only at Cave Creek Ranch near Patagonia)
  • Black-chinned Hummingbird (Beatty’s Miller Canyon Orchard & Apiary near Sierra Vista; Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Sanctuary)
  • Rivoli’s Hummingbird (formerly Magnificent Hummingbird) (Palisade Ranger Staton on Mt. Lemmon near Tucson; Beatty’s Miller Canyon Orchard & Apiary near Sierra Vista)

Two captive species

  • Costa’s Hummingbird (only in captivity at the Sonoran Desert Museum aviary near Tucson)
  • Rufous Hummingbird (only in captivity at the Sonoran Desert Museum aviary near Tucson)

You can see the restricted range for these hummingbirds from these MAPS from http://www.allaboutbirds.org. Most don’t get much farther north than southeast Arizona.

Range map of Violet-crowned Hummingbird (pink is breeding only)

LUCIFER HUMMINGBIRD

Male Lucifer Hummingbird! I’ve never had such a close look at this U.S. rarity. This male and the female below were coming to Dave Jasper’s yard just outside of Portal.
[Dave Jasper’s yard in Portal, AZ]
And here’s the female Lucifer. Note her LOOONG neck, curved bill.
[Dave Jasper’s yard in Portal, AZ]
I even found my own Lucifer “in the wild.” This female was feeding along Foothills Road just outside of Portal.

Some fun facts about Lucifer Hummingbirds from http://www.allaboutbirds.org…

  • Lucifer Hummingbird belongs to a group of hummingbird species called “sheartails,” named for their deeply forked, narrow tail.
  • Mainly a bird of Mexico, the Lucifer is quite rare in the U.S so a real treat for us birders!
  • Unlike other hummingbirds, the male Lucifer Hummingbird performs its displays at the nest of a female.
  • Occasionally also seen in the Big Bend region of Texas.

BLUE-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD

Blue-throated Hummingbird is the largest hummers in southeast Arizona. It was also the least common (next to the rare Lucifer). I onlysaw them in one spot…Cave Creek Ranch near Portal.

Some fun facts about Blue-throated Hummingbirds from http://www.allaboutbirds.org…

  • This Lampornis species is really a member of the Mountain-Gem genus, so they may be renamed to “Blue-throated Mountain-Gem” in the future.
  • Blue-throated are the largest hummingbird in North America, weighing 3x more than a Ruby-throated Hummer
  • Males do not have an aerial display like most hummingbirds. Instead they have several vocalizations that they use in courtship.
  • They will mob birds much larger than themselves…even Goshawks! Several may work together to drive them away.
  • Oldest recorded Blue-throated lived at least 7 years and 11 months.

VIOLET-CROWNED HUMMINGBIRD

Violet-crowned Hummingbird is easy to identify by its large size, thin neck, white throat and belly, and violet-blue crown. You can see in this photo how much larger it is than the hovering Broad-billed. [Beatty’s Miller Canyon Apiary & Orchard **RARE AT THIS LOCATION]
THE place to go to see Violet-crowned Hummingbirds is Paton’s Hummingbird Sanctuary in Patagonia, Arizona. This was the Paton’s private residence when I first stopped here in 1994. Wally and ?? faithfully filled their multiple feeders daily and allowed birders to come into their yard and watch. They even put up a canopy and folding chairs so we could watch in comfort. It was under this canopy in 1994 that I got my lifer Violet-crowned Hummer. After the Paton’s passed away, donations from and other birders and birding organization allowed Tucson Audubon to purchase the house and lot. They have built a new permanent canopy for hummer watching, put in an amazing array of flower gardens and water features, and even a trail system.
Violet-crowned Hummingbird [Beatty’s Miller Canyon Apiary & Orchard **RARE AT THIS LOCATION]

Some fun facts about Violet-crowned Hummingbirds from http://www.audubon.org…

  • This relative newcomer to the U.S. was only discovered nesting in 1959.
  • It is only found in lower canyons with large Arizona Sycamores and/or Cottonwoods, usually along streams with brushy understory.

RIVOLI’S HUMMINGBIRD (formerly MAGNIFICENT HUMMINGBIRD)

Rivoli’s Hummingbird (the hummer formerly known as Magnificent) is a large and brightly-colored hummer. I was split into two species in 2017 and unfortunately did not retain its former Magnificent Hummingbird name (insert sad face here!).
The magnificent Rivoli’s Hummingbird.
[Palisade Ranger Station on Mt. Lemmon near Tucson]
I knew this hummingbird as the Magnificent Hummingbird when I first added it to my life list in 1994. Its name was changed in 2017 to Rivoli’s Hummingbird in honor of the Duke of Rivoli, an amateur ornithologist (Anna’s Hummingbird is named after the Duke’s wife…the Duchess of Rivoli).
Magnificent was split into two species…Rivoli’s in the U.S. and Mexico…and Talamanca Hummingbird in Costa Rica
The magnificent Rivoli’s Hummingbird.
[Palisade Ranger Station on Mt. Lemmon near Tucson]

Some fun facts about Rivoli’s Hummingbirds from http://www.allaboutbirds.org…

  • Second largest Hummingbird in the U.S.
  • One of the highest heart-rates of any vertebrate…420 to 1200 beats per minute!
  • An 11-year old bird (!) was banded in Arizona
  • A hummingbird flower mite uses the Rivoli’s Hummingbird for transport: hiding in the birds’ nasal passages until they can jump off at a subsequent flower patch.
  • Known as Magnificent Hummingbird from the 1980s until 2017.
  • Named for the Duke of Rivoli who was an amateur ornithologist.

BROAD-BILLED HUMMINGBIRD

Though the Broad-billed Hummingbird is one of the most wide-spread hummers in SE Arizona, I also think it is one of themes stunning. Its body is covered in iridescent feathers and it has a bright red bill. From this photo angle you can really see why it is named “Broad-billed.”
[Dave Jasper’s yard in Portal, AZ]
Broad-billed Hummingbird male
Broad-billed Hummingbird male
Broad-billed Hummingbird male
Broad-billed Hummingbird male
Broad-billed Hummingbird male

Some fun facts about Broad-billed Hummingbirds from http://www.allaboutbirds.org…

  • Broad-billed Hummingbirds that nest in Arizona are migratory; populations in Mexico are resident year-round in their breeding range.
  • The male Broad-billed Hummingbird performs a courtship display, starting by hovering about a foot from the female and then flying in repeated arcs, like a pendulum.Broad-billed Hummingbirds that nest in Arizona are migratory; populations in Mexico are resident year-round in their breeding range.

BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD

Black-chinned Hummingbird male shows a relatively narrow band of iridescent purple above its throat.
In poor lighting or shade, the Black-chinned Hummingbird really appears to have a black chin.
Black-chinned Hummingbird male [Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Sanctuary near Patagonia, Arizona]
Black-chinned Hummingbird male [Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Sanctuary near Patagonia, Arizona]

Some fun facts about Black-chinned Hummingbirds from http://www.allaboutbirds.org…

  • The Black-chinned Hummingbird’s tongue has two grooves; nectar moves through these via capillary action, and then the bird retracts the tongue and squeezes the nectar into the mouth. It extends the tongue through the nearly closed bill at a rate of about 13–17 licks per second
  • This is one of the most adaptable of all hummingbirds, often found in urban areas and recently disturbed habitat as well as pristine natural areas.
  • Along good stretches of some southern Arizona and southern New Mexico rivers, nests may be found every 100 meters or so

BROAD-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD

Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Young male Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Female Broad-tailed Hummingbird spotlit by setting sun.
[Palisade Ranger Station on Mt. Lemmon]
Female Broad-tailed checking out an arriving male. [Palisade Ranger Station on Mt. Lemmon]
Broad-tailed Hummingbird females at feeders at Palisade Ranger Station on Mt. Lemmon near Tucson.
Broad-tailed Hummingbird showing off its “zing-makers.” Air passing through the spread wing feathers make a high-pitched zzziiinngg. They are a hummer of higher elevations. This one was photographed at 8,000 feet at the Palisade Ranger Station on Mt. Lemmon.

Some fun facts about Broad-tailed Hummingbirds from http://www.allaboutbirds.org…

  • The longest-lived Broad-tailed Hummingbird was a female, and over 12 years, 2 months old, when she was recaptured and rereleased during a banding operation in Colorado in 1987. She had been banded in the same state in 1976.
  • Male Broad-tailed Hummingbirds produce a loud metallic “zzzinnggg” trill with their wingtips as they fly, but over time the feathers that produce this sound wear down from use. By midwinter the trill is often inaudible.
  • They breed at elevations up to 10,500 feet (!!), where nighttime temperatures regularly plunge below freezing. To make it through a cold night, they slow their heart rate and drop their body temperature, entering a state of torpor.
  • Sometimes they use sap as a nectar substitute, visiting sapwells excavated by Red-naped Sapsuckers.

RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD

Rufous Hummingbird male [Sonoran Desert Museum aviary]
Rufous Hummingbird male [Sonoran Desert Museum aviary]
I’ll end with an artsy “high-key” image of a foraging hummer at Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Sanctuary near Patagonia

Trio of Romping Red Fox Pups—Video & Photos

TRIO of ROMPING RED FOX PUPS. Carlton County, Minnesota. June 23, 2019.

I had a date with a kayak and a family of Common Loons on a lake near my home in northeastern Minnesota…but then I found these siblings out and about in the middle of the afternoon. The Loons would have to wait!

I pulled over and enjoyed their antics for about an hour. I shot video and photos out of the van window and they only occasionally looked over at me. In the entire hour I was there, only one other car came by, and even then, the pups came right back out onto the gravel road to continue their wrestling.

There is an old gravel pit that is now overgrown. Their den was probably in that area.
Play fighting pups

Yellow Rail—Midnight Madness in the McGregor Marsh (VIDEO calling, preening, sleeping)

YELLOW RAIL in McGregor Marsh, Aitkin County, Minnesota. June 13, 2019

Okay, so I was home and in my own bed by midnight, but “10:44 pm in the McGregor Marsh” isn’t quite as catchy as the title, “Midnight Madness.”

It has been about 30 years since I’ve actually SEEN a Yellow Rail (one of Kim Eckert’s multi-birder late-night Yellow Rail “round up” in the 80s). 

Yellow Rails are one of the most secretive birds in North America, and only nest in localized sedge marshes in MN, ND, Manitoba, Ontario, Saskatchewan (and a few other isolated spots). Seven were calling last night (June 13). The rails are only the size of a softball, and they walk around under the cattails…usually. A tape of another male, or clicking two rocks together to imitate their call can elicit a vocal response. But they are used to semi-close neighbors so you have to be in the heart of their territory for them to come out from beneath the sedges/cattails.

Access to the McGregor Marsh is difficult, but an old railroad grade (now an ATV trail) runs through it off MN65. It is a vast sedge marsh, which is the vegetation Yellow Rails prefer.
First glimpses of the elusive YELLOW RAIL. They are only the size of a softball and usually scurry around like mice UNDER the downed layer of sedges and old cattails.

Thanks to my friend Kim Risen who suggested a place in the Marsh to start listening. He has heard and seen many more in the area this spring/summer. Good year for Yellow Rails! They are dependent on proper water levels.

I waded into the marsh at sunset (about 9:15pm) wearing knee-high rubber boots with rain bibs over the top. One bird was calling just off the trail but quit. The McGregor Marsh is a floating mat of sedges and cattails in ankle- to calf-deep water. Good thing I’d laced myself with Deep Woods Off (25%DEET) since the mosquitos were thick.
This rail was calling on and off (sometimes as close as 6 feet away!) but it took 1.5 hours to actually see him in the sedge marsh (in the full company of mosquito hordes, and stumbling around in waders). A powerful flashlight aided in the search. I would sit in the marsh, click my rocks and wait. If he called, I’d sweep the area briefly with my flashlight. 
It was very dark by 10:30 pm when I started photographing him. This Yellow Rail was so calm that he called, preened, and even tucked his head into his back feathers and slept all within 15 feet of me. I only stayed with him for about 15 minutes.

SEE VIDEO OF YELLOW RAIL CALLING, PREENING, SLEEPING HERE

But it took me 15 minutes more to find my backpack (including my car keys!), which I had left laying in the marsh when I started tracking this Yellow Rail. Home by midnight!

Sony A6500 and Canon 70-200mm f4 lens; f5.6 at 1/60; ISO 1600; pop-up flash and flashlight for illumination.

Yellow Rail male in northern Minnesota’s McGregor Marsh; June 13, 2019; 10:15-10:45pm
This little guy got so comfortable with me only 10 feet away that he actually would preen and even tuck his head in his back feathers and fall asleep!

Sky Islands: Huge Pines, Mexican Chickadees, Spotted Owls, Juncos with yellow eyes —Southeast Arizona June 2019 Part 4

“Mexican” Spotted Owl high in the Huachuca Mountains of southeast Arizona.

June 6-12, 2019

We don’t really think of high elevation mountains right near the Mexican border in Arizona, but these “Sky Islands” rise to over 8,000 feet in elevation. And they host a completely different set of flora and fauna.

Here is a sampling of critters and flowers from two such Sky Islands—Rustler Park in the Chiricahua Mountains (outside of Portal, AZ) and Hunter Canyon in the Heuchuca Mountains near Sierra Vista, AZ.

Western Tiger Swallowtail pair on the road to Rustler Park [Coronado National Forest]
Yellow Columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha) grows along the road to Rustler Park at this stream crossing. [Coronado National Forest]
View from the road to Rustler Park outside of Portal, Arizona in the Chiricahua Mountains. [Coronado National Forest]
Ctenucha venosa – Veined Ctenucha Moth on Lupine in Rustler Park
[Coronado National Forest]
The Lupines were in full-bloom at Rustler Park.
[Coronado National Forest]
10mm lens view of Lupines and pines.
[Coronado National Forest]
Lupine
[Coronado National Forest]
Hedgehog Cactus blooming (Echinocereus species) at Rustler Park.
[Coronado National Forest]

Even though I was at 8,000 feet elevation, there was still cactus in full bloom.

The striking undersides of the Arizona Sister butterfly
[Coronado National Forest]
Not just any chickadee!…The Mexican Chickadee

The Mexican Chickadee that is only found in a few places in the U.S.
[Coronado National Forest]

Rustler Park at 8,000 feet in the Chiricahua Mountains [Coronado National Forest]

Rustler Park at 8,000 feet in the Chiricahua Mountains. It was formerly a better site for birding until a massive wildfire burned the area several years ago.

Yellow-eyed Junco
[Coronado National Forest]

Juncos with yellow eyes? These close-relatives of our Dark-eyed Junco are restricted to the very southeast corner of Arizona and extreme southwest New Mexico. They are only found at high elevations. There were several pairs here in Rustler Park (8,000 feet) and they were finding caterpillars under the needle duff layer.

HUNTER CANYON near Sierra Vista is our second stop on the blog post about the higher elevations of southeast Arizona.

The view of the Sierra Vista valley from the top of Hunter Canyon. A Rufous-capped Warbler had been reported here sporadically over the past few weeks. But we had no luck in finding it.

I got an early start to make the hike up to Hunter Canyon to look for a reported Rufous-capped Warbler. I hiked up an easy trail that gave me good looks at Arizona Woodpecker and Spotted Towhee, but it wasn’t getting anywhere near any large pines…plus folks had said that the hike to the Rufous-capped Warblers was a beast. This must be the wrong trail…And, yes, I was on the wrong trail.

I finally made it back to my car and found the correct parking area. Now this hike was straight up the mountain! Must be the right trail. As I reached the pines, I ran into three birders from Maryland that I’d birded with near Portal. They had had no luck in finding the warbler, but a while later they discovered a roosting “Mexican” Spotted Owl! It was only about 20 feet up in a maple along the creek. He was resting but allowed us a few minutes of photos and gawking. A real find and a beauty. I’d seen one in 1994 but this was much closer.

“Mexican” Spotted Owl is morphologically a bit different than the Spotted Owl of the northwest US and adjacent Canada.
His/her spotted plumage made for excellent camouflage in the sun-dappled canyon woods.