Posts tagged ‘dragonfly’

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+.

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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.

Five Hours in a Fen

I was able to combine business and pleasure yesterday (July 1st)… Well, It was really all business and a complete pleasure! I had heard of a bog near Cable, Wisconsin that held many Calopogon tuberosus orchids (Swamp-Pink or Grass-Pink) and I was hoping to get video of their ingenious and devious pollination method (read more below).
This particular peatland is actually classified as a fen. What is the difference between a bog and a fen? Bogs are usually stagnant water with very acidic waters. Fens have some water movement and are more basic in pH and richer in nutrients.
Calopogon tuberosus Swamp Pink orchid IMG_2153 Calopogon tuberosus (Swamp-Pink or Grass-Pink orchid) is a delightful mid summer orchid that grows in the floating mat of bogs and fens. Its flowers are “upside down” as the lip is actually on top. The insect-enticing yellow hairs are just a ruse…They fool insects into thinking that they are pollen-tipped or hold nectar, neither of which is true. If a heavy enough bee comes along, it gloms on to the yellow-tipped hairs and tries to extract some pollen. The flower has a built in hinge that collapses and drops the bee on to the sticky pollen packets below. The startled and frustrated bee flies off to try his luck at another Calopogon, and the scenario is repeated, though this time pollination is completed. Devious and Delightful orchid!
Calopogon tuberosus Swamp Pink IMG_2095
Note that on the middle right flower the hinge has already been collapsed by a visiting bee. Though I got video of several small syrphid flies visiting the orchid, none heavy enough to collapse the hinge paid a visit with my camera rolling. Oh well, a reason to go back!
flag spruce IMG_2207Believe me, I was shin deep in water and sinking fast as I took this image. This is an example of a “flag” spruce… A growth form that is very common in the subarctic lands. The “flag” is the upper branches while the nonexistent middle branches were scoured by winter winds and failed to thrive. The sprawling mass of branches low down on the trunk survived because they were protected by deep blanket of winter snow.
Elfin Skimmer male Nannothemis bella IMG_2109
Elfin Skimmer Nannothemis bella IMG_2114Elfin Skimmer male (Nannothemis bella)
A wonderful surprise! Just days after Jim Lind and Dave Grosshuesch found many Elfin Skimmers at the Sax-Zim Bog BioBlitz III (a new species for Sax-Zim!) I got my lifer dragonfly! This is the smallest dragonfly in North America at a tad over 3/4 inch long…and the second smallest in the World (one in China is a bit smaller). The male is pruinose bluish and almost appears to have a clubbed abdomen when in flight.
Elfin Skimmer Nannothemis bella IMG_2087Elfin Skimmer Nannothemis bella IMG_2080Female Elfin Skimmers (Nannothemis bella) are very different than the males. They show a ringed black and yellow abdomen. Both the males and females perch often and only move a short distance when disturbed. These were found hunting around a bog pool mainly on the floating mat.
Pogonia ophioglossoides Rose Pogonia IMG_2048Another orchid was just coming into bloom… the Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides) a delicate beauty of floating bogs. Genus name Ophioglossoides is from Greek meaning “snake tongue,” and I guess you’d have to use your imagination on that one, but the lower lip may resemble a fuzzy tongue to some.
Okanagana Cicada IMG_2134Okanagana Cicada IMG_1949A very exciting find was not one, but two singing Okanagana Cicadas. The male of each species produces a unique sound with their tymbal organs on their abdomen which vibrates and resonates in a cavity inside their abdomen and thorax. The Okanagana’s sound is a fast and steady high-pitched buzz.
Crimson-ringed Whiteface Leucorrhinia glacialis IMG_2146Crimson-ringed Whiteface (Leucorrhinia glacialis) is a bog-loving dragonfly of mid summer.
Lincoln's Sparrow IMG_2000Lincoln’s Sparrow was the most obvious avian bog dweller today, singing its beautiful hollow-can, echoey song from stunted Tamaracks and Spruces. Other birds seen in the bog included Nashville Warbler, Eastern Bluebird, Red-tailed Hawk and Eastern Kingbird. The oak-maple covered hills surrounding the fen held Pileated Woodpeckers, Scarlet Tanagers, Ovenbirds, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Eastern Wood-Pewees and other deciduous species that would have no use for a bog.
Rhynchospora alba White Beaksedge rush IMG_2019Rhynchospora alba or White Beakrush (or White-beaked Sedge) was very common surrounding the bog pools.
Sarracenia purpurea Pitcher Plant leaf IMG_1900Is there a lovelier leaf in the world? Yes, the “pitcher” of the carnivorous Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea) is actually a modified leaf. Inside a deadly mixture of rain water and enzymes can drown and dissolve the unwary insect. The plant is able to absorb important nutrients such as Phosphorous from the tiny carcasses with special cells low inside the pitcher. Good thing these guys aren’t six feet across!
Utricularia cornuta Horned Bladderwort IMG_1952One more carnivorous plant was super-abundant at this fen, Horned Bladderwort (Utricularia cornuta). The related Common Bladderwort is a predator that has dozens of tiny bladders on its underwater leaves. The hair-triggers on the bladders are set off when a tiny aquatic insect blunders by and sucked in to the bladder in a rush of water. The bladder now becomes a tiny stomach and the insect is dissolved by the plant.
IMG_1929Mystery sedge/rush.
IMG_0338If you do swing through Cable, Wisconsin, be sure to stop at their impressive Cable Natural History Museum. Among other treasures, they have an actual stuffed Passenger Pigeon! More info at http://www.cablemuseum.org
IMG_0328