26 September, 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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24 September, 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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20 September, 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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17 September, 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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16 September, 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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11 September, 2011

Finches, Frogs, and Flowers

I haven't taken any bird photos lately, but I found this series of Goldfinch shots from back in May.
The breeding plumage is so vibrant.
Usually they feed at the nijer feeder, but they seem to enjoy the table feeder just as much.
A chubby little fellow, isn't he?
They eat the sunflower seeds and the millet.
They are a real joy to see in the spring, like a mini yellow sun.
Moving back to the present, one of the at least 3 frogs that hang out in our little pond was being especially cooperative today.
This is Rana pipiens, the Northern Leopard Frog.
It was sitting on the edge of the slightly submerged stone bridge that is also a frequent spot for bird baths.
A princely looking  frog, just waiting for a kiss.
A few hours later when I walked by the pond I saw a movement in the bushes.  Can you see it?  Right there in the center of the photo.
The gold, black, and green make a pretty camouflage 
Today was perfect, high of 82F (28C), low humidity, a light breeze, and the very occasional puffy cloud.  I managed to finish the path in the lower garden and weed the shade garden. Next week we may get low temps cold enough for a frost, so I also made time for some flower photos while they are still here.
A close up of a cluster of small blossoms on a begonia.  Each blossom is barely a cm across.
This is the showiest of the canna lily flowers I managed to overwinter. Each flower in the cluster of about 8 flowers is at least 5 inches across.  This flame color is fabulous; it could warm you on a cold day.

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