Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Northwoods Raven

Why is it that while I'm fond of crows, they don't come anywhere near to ravens in capturing my heart. Maybe it's because ravens are quieter. Or maybe it's because I associate ravens with my getaways up north. Whatever the reason, ravens fascinate me.

During the winter, when we can explore miles of woods on snowshoe that are simply inaccessible during the summer, we follow the ravens to winter kills. Talk about great nature viewing! The natural buffet attracts an amazing number of critters.

I love this raven photo: Poised on a forest snag. Pretty much where you find them, unless they're soaring overhead. Based on the brown tinge to its feathers and the reddish interior of its mouth, this is a first-year bird, born this spring. Speaking of feathers: I'm amazed at the color of the feathers in the photo, especially the purplish ones in its neck. I didn't see them while taking the pictures: I'd come around the corner on a trail and surprised the bird. I only was able to snap two quick photos before it lifted off. It's always nice when you find a fun surprise like this in your images!

For a really neat look at a raven's "ruff," visit Mia's On The Wing Photography site.  Of interest, it's not actually called a "ruff" on a raven. Other birds, like the Ruffed Grouse, have, well...ruffs, but this area of neck feathers is called "hackles" on a raven - like you'd find on a dog. Not sure how that difference in terminology developed, but it'll make good research this winter!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Last Dragonfly Image of the Season?

One of the largest dragonflies, the Lake Darner (Aeshna eremita) has a wingspan of nearly 6." This was one of the few photos I was able to snap of one during my fall camping trip. Unfortunately, I never saw it land on anything other than logs and trees, which don't make the greatest backgrounds. On the bright side, you can see how easily they blend into their surroundings!

Turns out they rarely land on vegetation and even then, it's usually the females while laying eggs. They also are continually on the move, searching for prey - they don't hover like many other types of dragonflies. Their preferred habitat is clear, open lakes and slow moving streams, along with bogs and fens.

One of the determining ID factors is the segmentation or notch in the lateral stripes on the thorax. This isn't the greatest angle to see them, but thanks to its clear wings, you can see the large indentation in the blue stripe here (right side, kind of in the "shoulder" area):

Lake Darners, like many other darners, are migratory dragonflies and are found throughout Canada, the Northern United States, down along the West Coast and into the Rockies. In my research I couldn't find anything that says where they actually migrate to, so if anyone has that information, please comment below.

Here's a really neat article on how scientists are studying dragonfly migration by The Dragonfly Woman (@DragonflyWoman2).

Monday, October 22, 2012

Great Black-backed Gull

While exploring the cliffy shoreline of Acadia National Park this October, we came across the large Great Black-backed Gulls.

Being from the Midwest, I'm used to Herring Gulls, Ring-billed Gulls and all our more diminutive gulls. I was amazed at the size of the Great Black-backed gulls - one of the largest gulls in the world. They can weigh up to five pounds with an average wingspan of 60."  (Herring Gulls typically max out at under three pounds.)

The gull shown here is at least four years old. It takes that long for their adult plumage to develop.

Like other gulls, they eat a varied diet including fish, carrion, eggs, insects and the occasional McDonald's hamburger and fry.

They're primarily found along Eastern Seaboard and around the Eastern Great Lakes.

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Lucky Duck

The other evening I was surprised by a hissing black and white critter hiding in the tall grass around our mailbox. I assumed it was a feral kitten, got gloves and went to pick it up.

Imagine my disbelief when a male Ruddy Duck came hurtling out of the grass to snap at my ankles. Feisty little guy!

After chasing him down the road a bit and pulling in the assistance of Dean and our neighbor, we corralled him in Dean's sweatshirt and put him in a basket for safe keeping overnight until I could take him into WRC with me on Thursday. He had a bit of blood smear along a wing, but I didn't really look at him much, I didn't want to stress him out any further.

He's since been examined and treated by Vet Renee Schott at WRC. I wrote up a Case Study for him, you can read about it, see his admit exam video and photos of his x-rays here.

I still smile at comment made by a woman who was driving by, only to have to wait for us to herd the duck off the road before she could move on: She asked in a stunned voice "Are you chasing a DUCK down the road?"  I explained that yes, indeed I was, and that I worked at WRC so I'd take him in to get help. Her reply: "Well, that's one lucky duck!"

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Juvenile Hooded Merganser

This juvenile Hooded Merganser was quite curious and came over to the shore to check out me and my camera. Isn't it nice when Fortune smiles?

When it finally decided to leave, it gave me a great look at its white underwing:

Monday, October 8, 2012

Spotted Tussock Moth Caterpillar

I was walking along the creek and noticed this silhouette:

You have to see what it is, right? Turns out it's a cute little bumblebee-like caterpillar. Once I noticed them, I realized that they were all over our acreage. I mean, all over. We must've seen one every 10-15 feet.

They're the caterpillar of the Spotted Tussock Moth - Hodges #8214 (Lophocampa maculata), not to be confused with the "Yellow Wooly Bear."

The reason they were all over? Their main diet is willow, alder, birch, poplar and maple. Check. Check. Check. Check and check! Apparently we own the perfect breeding ground for them.

Other than the color there's another very noticeable thing about these cute caterpillars: They motor! I don't think I've ever seen a faster caterpillar.

They also seem to have a penchant for hanging off the end of leaves. This one has hanging a foot above the creek. I wonder how many accidentally drown...

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Forysthia and Finches

Our cold nights have brought a color change to our forsythia: leaves are turning a deep eggplant. There are always birds hanging out in it, because it's directly below one of our feeders, but today I noticed that nearly all the regular backyard visitors are there busily picking off the newly forming buds.

With them doing this now, and the juncos doing it in the late spring, it's amazing that we have any blooms at all on the poor plant!

I love all the colors in this photo. The pale stems and the eggplant leaves of the forsythia, the bits of bright yellow on the finch, the bright lime green of the disappearing young bud and the red of the maple behind it bleeding through.