Saturday, October 22, 2011

Back to Belize

Seems life has been conspiring to keep me from posting a blog entry recently.  Computer issues, mainly.  But also getting ready to go back to Belize.  In a couple of days, we'll be at our beachfront jungle for a couple of weeks, seeing sights like that pictured below.
See you there.
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Sunday, October 2, 2011

Seeing Red

I'm in Georgia now, visiting my Mother for a bit.  Most of the summer, the weather in Georgia was monstrously hot and somewhat dry.  But now the weather is perfect with highs in the 70s and 80s and lows in the 40s and 50s.  We have been taking advantage of the warm, sunny days to go out to Sutton Park, a city park here in Elberton, to walk the trails.

The trails are smoothly paved, making navigation easy.  The occasional benches are perfect for stopping to observe the flora and fauna.
We spotted this beautiful Flowering Dogwood, Cornus florida, loaded with clusters of red fruits.
Hard to resist photographing the red and green against the bright blue sky.
Flowering Dogwoods are understory trees that are native to this area.  Many birds eat the fruits.
This cluster of fruits is from a cluster of flowers surrounded by 4 showy white bracts that serve as the petals.  You can see the bud for next springs flower right next to the fruits.
Flowering Dogwoods are native to this region of the US.  Other Cornus spp. are found throughout temperate forests of the world, but this one is my favorite.  Its 3 inch white flowers open early in the spring, the red fruits are attractive in the late summer and autumn, and the autumn leaf colors are orange and red.  


We also saw many specimens of another favorite tree of mine - the Southern Magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora.  I don't have any photos of the trees to show you, but I do have shots of their cones with bright red seeds peeking out.
The 4-5 inch long cones are fuzzy and split open to reveal the bright red seeds.
Botanically speaking, these aren't really cones; they are fruits.  But they are commonly called cones because of their shape.  Makes sense to me!
The lovely red seeds are eaten by squirrels, turkeys, quail, opossums, other animals.
The Southern Magnolia is native to the southeastern US, but is cultivated in many parts of the world.  It grows to great heights (90ft, 27.5m), has glossy, evergreen leaves, and magnificent creamy white flowers in the summer.

Today is yet another lovely day; I'm sure we will make another trip to the park.  Wonder what we will see this time?
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Monday, September 26, 2011

Colorful Birds

This spring we were fortunate to have a number of Indigo Buntings pass through and make a stop at our bird feeders.   
Here is an English House Sparrow at the feeder with an Indigo Bunting.  The Bunting is somewhat smaller  than the  sparrow.
And then they hung around all summer long, a first for us.  


There were at least 3 adult males.  


I'm not sure how many of non-descript females were around.
I believe this is a female Indigo Bunting.
But I am not certain.
The females often have some blue on the wings, and I don't see any blue on this one.
The males are unmistakable with their nearly solid blue color.  The heads are often darker, almost purple.
Their nearest relative, the Lazuli Bunting, has a white belly and orange chest.  The Indigo Buntings breed in North America and winter in Central America.  We may see these birds or their relatives in Belize.
The cardinals are another colorful bird that show often at the feeders.
The Cardinals live here year round.  They sure can brighten up a dull winter day.


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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Big Chipping Sparrow Baby

Chipping sparrows were frequent visitors to the feeders all during the summer.  
They are quite small, but very dapper with their chestnut cap and white stripe just across the upper eye.
Their high-pitched vocalizations have been the background noise all summer long. 
But all is not right in the chipping sparrow world ...
It has been fooled by the brownheaded cowbird into rearing the cowbird young.  The cowbird juvenile is screeching for its food so loudly that it startled the chickadee.
The parasitic brownheaded cowbird added its egg to the clutch laid by the chipping sparrow.  The resulting baby bird is accepted by the chipping sparrow as its own, resulting in the incongruous scene below.
"Feed me now!"  It is so much larger than its chipping sparrow "parent". 
"Hey.  Where did you go?"
Although the chipping sparrow adult didn't look rundown from all of its efforts to feed its big baby, the cost was in the loss of its own young for this season.  Other chipping sparrows were successful, though, and we saw many real families at the feeder.  They will be leaving soon for their winter home not too far to the south of us.
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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Dragons of Autumn

The sun came for about 90 minutes on Sunday and that brought out hordes of dragonflies.  I was able to get a few digitally immortalized and even managed to put names to them, although I stand to be corrected by anyone who knows better.
Meadowhawk, Sympetrum species.  Not sure which one.
Meadowhawk, probably Sympetrum internum - the Cherry-faced Meadowhawk
Aeshna umbrosa - Shadow Darner.  At 7.5 cm, this is a huge beast of a dragon.
Green Darner - Anax junius - female.  Also a beast at 6.8-8.0cm!
Can you see it there toward the bottom?
a cropped view of  the image above.  Looks like the common green darner again, impersonating a drone bomber.
The sun disappeared and with it the dragons.  I hope to see them again in a few days when the weather warms briefly and the sun reappears.
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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Pileated Woodpecker Visits the Suet Block

Back in June, I saw a Pileated Woodpecker fly into the hickory tree next to the patio.
The pileateds are probably the largest of the North American Woodpeckers.  I say "probably" because there is a slim possibility that the larger Ivory Billed Woodpecker is, in words from Monty Python's Spamalot, "not dead yet!
You can get an idea of how large she is in the photo below of her on suet feeder.  They can reach almost 20 inches in length.
I say "she"  because she lacks the red moustache and forehead seen on males.
She looks rather ungainly on this suet feeder.  I have seen suet feeders made specifically for woodpeckers with a vertical board located below the suet block that serves as a tail brace.  
The lack of a tail brace didn't deter this bird from feeding.
We hear them in the woods behind our house with their distinctive call and slow, deep hammering.  They prefer large trees in which to excavate a cavity for nesting and there are plenty of large trees in our woods.
If you double click on the photo below you can get a glimpse of her tongue sticking out.  Apparently they have long barbed tongues that they use to pull ants and termites out of tunnels.
Here in southeastern Minnesota, we are near the western edge of their range and we don't see them as often as we did in Georgia.  But no matter when or where we see them, these birds are a favorite.
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Friday, September 16, 2011

Monarch Migration

Night before last, a big cold front was scheduled to move through and bring us the first frost of the season.  Dennis and I moved a lot of our potted plants inside and covered all the others that we left out on the patio.  It was a lot of work, but worth it because I doubt we will have another frost for a few more weeks.  I'm just not ready to see the outdoor growing season come to end just yet!

Yesterday, which dawned bright and clear, was pretty chilly - the low temp was a degree or so below freezing, so we were glad that we had taken care of the plants.  In the afternoon I was sitting at my desk at work in my north facing office on the 12th floor and was treated to the start of the monarch butterfly migration.  In less than one hour, I saw at least 20 monarch butterflies heading south past my window in downtown Rochester, Minnesota.  The cold front had initiated the big migration.
Nectaring on purple coneflower.
and Liatris (blazing star) back in July.
It is amazing and awe-inspiring that these butterflies will wind up in Mexico for the winter.  Not a bad plan.


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