Posts tagged ‘prairie’

Prairie Dog Group Back Rub and Peek-a-Boo Burrowing Owls in the South Dakota Badlands: October 5-6

South Dakota’s Badlands National Park

Ryan Marshik and I moved our annual Yellowstone trip to fall this year. We hadn’t “done fall” since 2012. Only late April-early May spring trips from 2013-18. And this time we were NOT going to go through the relative torture of driving 17 hours straight to Yellowstone. No siree. This time we decided to make our first stop South Dakota’s Badlands National Park.

We had high expectations for beautiful landscapes and Bighorn rams, and a slight hope for a Burrowing Owl. Ryan had a report from a friend of a location from this summer where a Burrowing Owl had set up camp in a Prairie Dog town.

GROUP BACK RUB! Black-tailed Prairie Dogs
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
(Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; f5.6 at 1/640 second; ISO 100; -0.33 ev; tripod)

Well, we found the Prairie Dogs! Ryan doesn’t care for these rodents at all. But this is where the Burrowing Owl had been reported, so he tolerated them.

I love these “Group Backrub” photos. This is a family group of young ones and an adult.

GROUP BACK RUB! Black-tailed Prairie Dogs
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
(Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; f5.6 at 1/640 second; ISO 100; -0.33 ev; tripod)
Bighorn ewe
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
(Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 70mm; 1/200 second at f10; ISO 3200; -hand-held)
Bison and Badlands
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
(Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 135mm; 1/100 second at f8; ISO 3200; hand-held)
Bison scratching his belly on wood post (processed as black and white in Lightroom)
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
(Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2 lens; 1/60 second at unknown f-stop; ISO 800; hand-held)
Bison sunset
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
Badlands sunset
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
(Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2 lens; 1/60 second at unknown f-stop; ISO 640; hand-held)
Burrowing Owl at sunrise
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
(Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/500 second at f5.6; ISO 200; -0.33 ev; hand-held)

Ryan’s “owl intel” paid off! The next morning we drove by the spot where his friend Sandra had seen one in the summer. I saw a very round blob and yelled, “Stop!” Sure enough, a Burrowing Owl was soaking up the first rays of sun on a cool morning. But as we stopped the car and fired off a few shots, it retreated to the safety of its abandoned Prairie Dog hole.

A few minutes later, we found a second Burrowing Owl about 100 yards away. This one was in perfect light, but crouched down when we stopped the car, and hid in the burrow when we got out.

We set up our tripods across the road from the owl and laid down to shoot at eye level. But this guy wasn’t having it. He’d only peek above the rim of his safe hidey-hole, and even after an hour and a half didn’t show any more of himself than the top of his head and two eyes. But a very neat experience none the less.

Burrowing Owl at sunrise
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
(Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens with Canon 2x-extender; 1/800 second at f11; ISO 400; -0.33 ev; tripod)
Burrowing Owl at sunrise
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
(Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; f11 at 1/1250 second; ISO 100; -0.33 ev; tripod)
Burrowing Owl at sunrise
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
(Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/500 second at f5.6; ISO 200; -0.33 ev; hand-held)
Burrowing Owl at sunrise
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
(Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/800 second at f5.6; ISO 100; -0.33 ev; tripod)
Black-tailed Prairie Dog family
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
Horned Lark
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
(Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens with Canon 2x-extender; 1/640 second at f11; ISO 400; -0.33 ev; tripod)

The 3 photos above are results of me playing around with Lightroom controls and experiencing a “haccident”… a happy accident. By sliding the Luminance slider to 100 and the Detail slider to 0 under the Noise Reduction panel, you reduce the detail in the image and it creates a painterly quality to the photo. No Photoshop filters here!

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+.

Video—Dancing Chickens: Shooting with Sparky

A morning on the Greater Prairie-Chicken lek at Tympanuchus WMA in Northwest Minnesota; April 26, 2019

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!

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.

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_7260

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

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_7301

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)