Monday, September 4, 2017

Labor Day Painted Lady

Today was Labor Day and I had the day off of work, though I didn't feel all that great. The previous evening I contracted a sore throat of the worst kind, but no other symptoms so I still tried to be out and about and doing things. My wife and I had hiked extensively for the past few days, visiting nearly 4 different parks in the metro area and today was kind of day to ourselves. I forgot to mention that she was also sick as of the previous day but was further along than I and wanted nothing more than to stay inside and recover. Anyway, I found myself hiking along the paved path on the north side starting at 73rd Avenue. I quickly noticed not one but two butterflies on a plant I know well; White Snakeroot. But here's the interesting part, I can't say I've EVER seen any species of butterfly on this plant. It is a native, but with it's small white flowers it generally doesn't attract much attention from pollinators, especially butterflies in my experience. But it's worth mentioning that this particular year was a "boom" year for Painted Lady Butterflies, and they are being seen by the hundreds and sometimes thousands in various parts of Minnesota this summer. Anyway, when I spotted two Painted Lady's and one Red Admiral on the same plant I just had to take some photos. Only a few hundred feet later I spotted yet more Painted Lady's again on White Snakeroot. And boy were they in perfect sunlight for photos! I think these might be the best shots I've ever gotten of this butterfly species. After sharing these on facebook, I had people with waaay more experience than I tell me that they had also seen them on White Snakeroot AND that it was the first time they'd seen that too! Since the Palmer Lake Park area doesn't support a wide variety of flowering native plants, my guess is that the Snakeroot was the best option these butterflies had for nectar. A bit later I bumped into a friend of mine and we hike together for a little bit. We spotted a Viceroy Butterfly as well but it was too far off the trail for a good photo.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

First Migrant Bird of the Season!

August can be kind of a "dry" time for finding new birds, well at least at Palmer Lake Park anyways. Seems like all the best birds have gone somewhere else by now. The first thing that caught my eye was a Cabbage White Butterfly on the south end. It was nectaring from the tiny yellow flowers of some wild (and likely invasive) mustard. The Cabbage White is a very common and easy to find butterfly but somewhat difficult to photograph as they just never hold still. The next thing I found got me excited for birds again though; a Northern Waterthrush! This little bird is a member of the Warbler family, though you're more likely to find it on the ground near muddy banks versus up in the trees. This bird is actually already returning back south! One can see them for 2 to 3 weeks maybe in the springtime, then they are on their way further north to breeding grounds. A couple of years ago I came across another one around this same time, maybe even earlier. It's surprising how soon some birds migrate back south. Shorebirds are typically first, followed by waterfowl, but that is just a generalization and each species is different. I spent quite a bit of time following this bird around trying for a better photo, but for all my efforts this was the best I could do. Later I spotted another bird that stood out, but for my inability to identify it. Juvenile sparrows are notoriously difficult to ID, but I see some good indicators here for a young Swamp Sparrow. I'm still not 100% sure but that would be my best guess. Other birds seen today include; American Redstart (male and female) and a Gray Catbird.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Juvenile Birds

I had the day off of work today but didn't get to the park until the afternoon. I had one particular goal in mind actually and that was to find and photograph a Green Heron. It took me a while but I did end up locating one in the small pond on the east side just north of the parking lot. I had to bushwack a little while being extremely quiet and not scare the bird away, but I finally got into a good position to watch my subject for quite some time. This bird was likely a young one as evident by the whispy, white feathers on it's head that stood straight up. I've heard that Green Herons will actually catch small prey like a Dragonfly and then dip that in the water to attract a larger fish, but that behavior is something i've still yet to witness in real life. This one did seem to pull something out of the water but I couldn't tell exactly what it was. I think I watch this bird for nearly 40 minutes before he wound up on the other side of the pond in some dark shadows. A fun experience though for sure, and one that yielded some acceptable photos :) I thought I was basically done for the day but later I ended up with very close views of another young bird, this time an American Redstart. Redstarts are Warblers and notoriously difficult to photograph because the move so quickly and so frequently. But this one was so busy preening itself that it let me approach closely. At a young age, the male American Redstart looks an awful lot like an adult female Redstart. So they are often confused. But one thing to look for to differentiate them is any indication of dark patches on the face or head. Generally a female will be all grey and not show any trace of dark or black feathering here. So I think I can safely say that this is a juvenile male American Redstart.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Few Good Photo-ops

Though I heard and saw my first Red-winged Blackbirds of the year in early March, none of them have been approachable until today. I visited the park after work this Wednesday evening as there is still enough light now. I wasn't sure what to expect but as I rounded the corner from the east side into the southern end of the park I could hear Red-winged Blackbirds trilling loudly from the cattails not far off the trail. I made my way in closer, crunching on cattails and figured I would scare them away. But surprisingly this male stayed put and gave me my first good looks of the year! The light was fantastic to begin with, but as I approached closer I could see that my background was all brown cattails. I decided to kneel down and shoot upward just slightly as this angle would give me some nice blue sky behind the bird. I really love RWBB's despite how common they are. Nothing compares to hearing them in early spring and knowing that nicer, longer days are still ahead. I've not seen any females still, but it shouldn't be too long now. About 5 minutes after shooting these photos, the sun disappeared behind the clouds for the rest of the day. In fact it went from sunny and nice to almost dreary in a matter of minutes. As I hiked the wood chip trails on the southern end, I heard and saw a small number of flighty birds moving from a Dogwood shrub to the cattails and back. I first thought they were Juncos but they turned out to be American Tree Sparrows. I used to pass up on photos of this particular species because I saw them so frequently. But over the years I've come to realize they rarely give you good views and generally tend to perch in thick cover. I waited patiently for some time until one or two finally came out into the open. I didn't quite realize at the time but the colors of this bird really match it's environment here and it's no wonder they can blend in so well. I really wanted one to perch on the Red-Osier Dogwood you can see on the left side here but that never happened. As I started running out of daylight, I turned around at the duck pond and was headed back when I hear a distinct owl hoot. It sounded close but after scanning around I could not see anything. I tried following the sound and was either fooled about the direction, OR maybe I was hearing a second Owl, I'm not sure. Finally I honed in on one source long enough to make out a dark shape in a tree. I don't see Great Horned Owls often here on the south side so it was a nice surprise. As I approached many yards away, the Owl bumped from it's perch to a new one much further away. As I kept hiking it moved yet again, this time choosing to perch directly above the wood chip trail! Unfortunately it was very high up and the light had now turned ugly. I decided to take a guess at some different camera settings and I somehow managed to get something I could at least share here. It nearly looks like it's snowing out the sky is so white, but that's the camera compensating for the poor light. The Owl stayed perched here even as I walked directly underneath him and beyond. It was a memorable sighting for me.