Monday, July 30, 2012

Southwest Hummingbirds Part 4: Magnificent and Rufous

As I mentioned in yesterday's post (7/29/12), I was able to see at least four different species of Hummimgbirds, while sitting in one spot at the Ramsey Canyon Nature Conservatory.
A male Magnificent Hummingbird, Ramsey Canyon NC, Sierra Vista, AZ; 4/9/2012.
By far my favorite of the group of hummers was the Magnificent Hummingbird (Above). It was very aptly named, as I found it to be truly "magnificent" to observe. At 5.25" long, it is much larger than the other hummers (ranging from 3.5" - 4" long) that I have seen. Its dark overall coloring was very striking. In the right light, the Magnificent's crown will appear purple with a green throat, but in the shade he looked all black to go with its black breast and belly and with dark green back and wings. He's like the mysterious superhero of hummers.
A male Magnificent HB, Ramsey Can. NCA, Sierra Vista, AZ; 4/9/2012.
I also felt very fortunate to be able to see one of these regal hummers as they are not commonly found on U.S. soil. However, when they are within our borders, they can be found in the very local area of southeastern corner of Arizona in pine-oak forests. Otherwise it is more likely to be located in Mexico.

Another different looking hummingbird than the usual green-backed, red-throated , buffy-breasted species that occupy the western states, is the Rufous Hummingbird (Below).

A male Rufous Hummingbird, Ramsey Can NCA, Sierra Vista, AZ; 4/9/2012.
He appeared and was gone so fast that I almost missed him.  I was focussing on a Broad-billed Hummer (7/29 post) when he showed. The pic (Above) I did get is not the one of my best (poorly focussed), but was the best of the three I managed to get before he disappeared. I was hoping it would return, but never did. What I like about the Rufous is its unusual coloring for a Hummingbird, with an orangish head, back, belly, and tail, offset by its white breast, green wings and dark orangish/brownish throat. Females lack the orange back head and belly, and with the exception of orange under its tail, look much more like other typical hummers. I didn't notice a female at this spot, however. Rufous Hummingbirds are one of our more northern hummers as they reside in Oregon, Washington State and into Canada all the way up to Alaska during the summers. I was happy to get him while he was passing through in southern Arizona.  As a rare sighting, last winter in Chicago, a Rufous Hummingbird was spotted and spent much of the winter there, way out of its usual territory and long past its migration window.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Southwest Hummingbirds Part 3: Broad-tailed and Broad-billed


A female Broad-billed Hummingbird, Ramsey Canyon Nature Conservatory, Sierra Vista, AZ; 4/9/2012.
Broad-billed Hummingbird: During my Spring Break Southwestern birding trip, I was lucky enough to make my second visit to the Ramsey Canyon Nature Conservatory, which is considered to be one of the best places to find a wide variety of species of hummingbirds. After I completed a long hike into and out of the canyon, I still had an hour before the grounds closed for the day. So I camped myself on a bench facing one of their many hummingbird feeders. Within that hour I saw four (maybe five) different species visiting the one feeder: A Broad-billed (Above), a Magnificent and Rufous (tomorrow's post), many Black-chinneds, and an unconfirmed possible Blue-throated (my photo was inconclusive, but was probably a Black-chinned).
Val's photo of the beautiful male Broad-billed Humminbird, Sonoran Desert Museum, Tucson; 12/27/2012.
While visiting the wonderful Sonoran Desert Museum in Tucson, AZ, Val visited the hummingbird house, in which resided hummingbird species that could be found in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona. She was able to catch several excellent close-ups of many different types, including the Broad-billed (Above).  Males sport a dark green belly and dark blue throat and breast with black wings and dark green back, all off set with a brilliant red bill. Don't ask me why I didn't make it to the Hummingbird House. I was probably out chasing wild birds.
Broad-billed Hummingbirds are common in the southeast corner of the Arizona (i.e.Ramsey Canyon NC) during the summer. Rarely do they venture north, but there are few odd sightings of these guys in California.
Val's photo of a female Broad-billed Hummingbird, Sonoran Desert Museum, Tucson, AZ; 12/27/2009.
Val photographed a female Broad-billed (Above) at the Hummingbird House as well.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird: The second of the "broad" hummingbirds is the Broad-tailed (Below).

A male Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Rocky Mt. Nat. Prk, CO; 7/8/2010. Photo taken when I still had my Canon RebelT1i with a Canon 55-250mm lens. I hadn't yet owned my current Sigma 150-500mm lens.
While camping in Rocky Mountain National Park two summers ago, I liked to get up early and before making breakfast, meander around the vast slope, meadow, and creek area to the south of our campground to look for wildlife. One morning, while I was stalking a Mountain Bluebird, I was able to catch a glimpse of a hummingbird that showed itself for only a moment before it buzzed in a high pitch out of sight. My first reaction was a Black-chinned, but upon viewing my photo (Above), the bill seemed too short, and the only other hummer that would be present this far north in Colorado in midsummer, would be the Broad-tailed, and indeed, unless I am mistaken, this what I ID'd it as. Broad-tailed Hummers can be found in dry arid places, especially in and around coniferous forests, which was where I was (check). The male has fairly dark green flanks with an orangish edging to the insides of its tail feathers (check).  In the right light its dark throat would turn a rosy red. The road-tailed range includes Idaho and Wyoming to the north spreading south through Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and into Mexico. It likes higher altitudes, but will not go as far west to the Pacific Coast.
A female Broad-tailed Hummingbird (or a female Calliope?), Sonoran Desert Museum, Tucson, AZ; 12/27/2009.
Val also caught a good picture of a female Broad-tailed Hummingbird (Above) at the Sonoran Desert Museum Hummingbird House.  Initially I ID'd this hummer as a Calliope, as the females of both the Calliope and Broad-tailed are very similar with a green head and back, grayish throat, dark wings and a buffy breast. I decided that it was a Broad-tailed because the wing tips of the hummer (Above) do not reach the tip of the tail, whereas on the Calliope, its wing tips are as long as the tip of the tail, and the Broad-tailed has more white on its breast. And finally, in the photos I've seen of the Calliope, it seems that its bill is thinner than the Broad-tailed, and this hummer looks to have a thicker bill.  However, the eye gave me some trouble with the ID. Calliopes have a white spot behind its eye as does the hummer (Above), while Broad-taileds have a complete white eye-ring.  The bird above doesn't appear to have a complete eye-ring, but shadow and feathers could obscure it. I am still leaning toward the Broad-billed because of the length of the wings.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Southwest Hummingbirds Part 2: Anna's and Costa's - Winter Hummers


Anna's Humminbird showing off its colorful crown and gorget, Famosa Slough, San Diego, CA; 4/7/2012.
Along with the Black-chinned Hummingbird (Fri. 7/27/2012 Post), Anna's Hummingbird (Above) are pobably the most common hummers I have seen in the times I've been to the Southwest in the past few years. In fact if you see a Hummingbird somewhere inside the borders of the U.S. during the winter months, it is undoubtedly an Anna's. They reside along the Pacific Coast the entire year and will broaden their range in the winter months by extending into Mexico.  I have seen many Anna's in Arizona in the winter and in California in the spring and summer.
Anna's Hummingbird, Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 4/12/2012.
To see more of my photos of Anna's Hummingbirds, check out my 4/22/2012 post about them earlier this spring:

The only other Hummingbird that could possibly be seen in the winter months is the Costa's Hummer. It will hang out in the far Southwest corner of Arizona and the southern tip of California all year round, as well as the Baja Peninsula. In the summer, they will migrate slightly north into central California and the western edge of Arizona.  In the winter months it will spread south along the Pacific Coast of Mexico.
Val's photo of a male Costa's Hummingbird, Sonoran Desert Museum, Tucson, AZ; 12/27/2009.
 I saw a Costa's this Spring in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge in the Southwest corner of Arizona, near Yuma. My photo (Below) wasn't very sharp, but Val caught an excellent close up of one at the Sonoran Desert Museum, near Tucson a couple of years ago (Above). Male Costa's have a beautiful purple gorget, which wings out to the sides of the throat.
A female Costa's Hummingbird, Kofa Nat. Wildlife Refuge, Yuma, AZ, 4/6/2012.
So unles you are are south of the border, Costa's and Anna's are likely to be the only hummers you'll see in the Winter.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Southwest Hummingbirds Part 1: Black-chinned

A pair of Black-chinned Hummingbirds - male (left) and female (right), San Pedro Riparian NCA, 4/10/2012.
Where I live in Rockford, IL, we are pretty much restricted to seeing one type of Hummingbird - the Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Photo at the bottom of the page). But the Western U.S. can brag of having a dozen types living within their States in one season or another. They can add another three rare visitors from Mexico that show up across the border from time to time for a total of 15 possible Hummingbirds to see.
Western Hummingbirds: Broad-Billed*, Violet-crowned, Blue-throated, Magnificent*, Lucifer, Black-chinned*, Anna's*, Costa's*, Calliope, Broad-tailed*, Rufous*, and Allen's*.
Rare Mexican Visitors: White-eared, Berryline, Plain-capped Starthroat.
Of the 13 hummingbirds found in the U.S., I have been lucky enough to see 9 of them (marked with an *), including the Red-throated from the East. Only 4 more to find. I have aslo been lucky enough to see two while in Mexico:  Cavinet's Emerald, and the Buff-bellied, for a total of 11 hummingbirds.
A male Black-chinned Hummingbird, Sabino Canyon, Tucson, AZ; 4/8/2012.
Last Spring while I was in Arizona for my Spring Break, I came across one of the more common Western Hummers, the Black-chinned Hummingbirds in many of the places I birded: San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area and Ramsey Canyon (Sierra Vista) (Below),  Sonoran Desert Museum and Sabino Canyon (Tucson) (Above), and Phoenix Botanical Gardens, Riparian Preserve (Gilbert).
A male Black-chinned Hummingbird, Ramsey Canyon, Sierra Vista, AZ; 4/9/2012.
In the summer, one can find Blackichinned Hummers from Texas in the East stretching all the way to the Northwest corner of Washington State as well as into British Columbia.
A female Black Chinned Hummingbird at the feeders of Ramsey Canyon Nature Conservatory, Sierra Vista, AZ; 4/9/2012.
 In the photos of the female (Above and Below) you can see the tongue hanging sticking out, no doubt in anticipation of the fine nectar it will find in the hummer feeders of the Ramsey Canyon Nature Conservatory.
Another female Black-chinned Hummingbird at the feeders of Ramsey Canyon Nature Conservatory, Sierra Vista, AZ; 4/9/2012.

Val's photo of a female Black-chinned HB, Sonoran Desert Museum, Tucson, AZ; 12/27/2009
A male Black-chinned HB sipping the nectar of  the flowers of Sabino Canyon, Tucson, AZ; 4/8/2012.
The Hummingbird (Above) is a different one from the Black-chin (two pics from the top), because this one has a band on its left leg, whereas the other one does not. Both of these hummers were cooperating by taking turns feeding off the orange desert flowers.

A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Paris, TX; 6/22/2011.
(Above) is a photo of the only Hummer found in the eastern half of the U.S., the Ruby-throated.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Black-Crowned and Yellow-Crowned Night Herons and Blue-ringed Dancers

Yellow-crowned Night Heron, South Island Park, Wilmington, IL; 7/22/2012.
Yellow-crowned Night Heron: After reading about it on the IBET ( ) network all summer, I finally found the time to take the two hour drive from Rockford, IL, to visit South Island Park in Wilmington, IL (just a few miles south of Joliet) to check out the Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Above), that has been a surprise summer resident there for much of the summer.  For me, the drive was worth it, not only because I was able to locate it fairly quickly (my gal Val saw it first), but also because it became #404 on my Life List. Their head colorings are very striking with a bold white cheek, yellowish crown (thus its name - and not very visible in my photographs), and long white head plumes, contrasting its otherwise black head. Otherwise they are mostly gray overall with yellow legs and feet.
The same YCNH, South Island Park, Wilmington, IL; 7/22/2012.
The Yellow-crowned Night Heron stayed close to the shore busily hunting the shallow waters for its meals, mainly crustaceans. When I first spotted him, he had just caught something and was eating, but I was too far away for a decent photo. I slowly crept closer, staying behind trees to not startle it, but he didn't seem to mind our presence and basically ignored us.  These Herons are probably more common in the southern half of Illinois, but have been known to make appearances in northern half which is probably at the northern edge of its typical summer range. They can be found in the Southeastern corner of the U.S., spreading up the Atlantic seaboard as far north as Rhode Island as  Massachusetts, and as far west as Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. They are an all-year resident of Florida.

Black-crowned Night Herons: The Yellow-crowns' cousins, the Black-crowned Night Herons (Below) are far more likely to be found in Northern Illinois.
A Black-crowned Night Heron, Famosa Slough, San Diego, CA; 4/7/2012.
Although I have seen Black-crowns a good number of times in Northern Illinois; my best photographs of these guys are from elsewhere. For the past few breeding seasons, a large colony of Black-crowned Night Herons have been nesting at South Pond in Lincoln Park of Chicago. I have yet to witness the many nests in the South Pond trees, but hope to make that pilgrimage next Spring.  I have also seen them in Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin, as well as out West when I did some Spring birding in San Diego at a fantastic bird habitat called Famosa Slough.
The Black-crowns are slightly bigger than the Yellow-Crowns, and have a visibly stockier profile. They are mostly white with with a black back, bill, and crown (thus its name). Like the YCNH, they also sport the long plumes protruding from the back of their heads. These plumes in both species will grow longer as they are courting mates in the breeding season.
Another BCNH, Famosa Slough, San Diego, CA; 4/7/2012.
Black-crowned Night Herons are generally more widely spread and more northerly than its Yellow cousins. They can be found from coast to coast, north into the plains of Canada, and south along the Gulf and Pacific coasts of Mexico. I have even seen them in Hawaii (Below).
One of my favorite early photos of a BCNH doing some evening fishing at a Kauai waterfall, Hawaii; 7/9/2008.
The photo (Above) was taken with one of my first cameras (DSC-7 Sony) with only 8 mega-pixels and a 15x zoom. But even in the dim evening light and with the grainy quality, I loved the setting and composition of the shot. (Below is a Link to more of my early BCNH photos from my blog post of  6/15/2010: ).

Blue-ringed Dancer Damselfly: While I was stalking the Yellow-crowned Night Heron in South Island Park, I couldn't help but notice the multitude of damselflies that were present along the river's edge.
A Blue-ringed Dancer, South Island Park, Wilmington, IL; 7/22/2012.
I probably saw at least 7 different looking damselflies buzzing and flitting around the grass and shallow water's edge. The only one I am fairly positive about identifying is the Blue-ringed Dancer (Above).  The other 6 may not be different species. They could be male and females of the same or even immature damselflies. I am still learning about these intricate little creatures.

I find that adding dragonflies and damselflies to my repertoire of wildlife subjects, has added many new challenges to my amateur photography skills. First of all damselflies are so tiny, that unless I am specifically looking for them, they are very easy to miss. Secondly, my birding lens (Sigma 150-500mm) is not very practical for taking macro shots of these diminutive damsels. So while I am primarily out hunting birds with my big lens and then spot a damselfly, I am too lazy to change to a more practical lens (I also have a Canon 18-55mm and a 55-250mm and am not even sure if they are better suited for insect photos or not, until I actually try them for that purpose), and I find myself having to back away from my subject so my Sigma can focus on the insect. If I am too close, the Sigma will not focus. But then because the subject/insect is so small, I am never really sure I have a sharp focus. Plus the depth of field on the Sigma is so narrow that I can't even get the damselfly in focus from head to tail. If the head is in sharp focus, the tail isn't, or vice versa. (i.e. Above: the Blue-ringed Dancer's head is out of focus, while its tail is sharper).

In practice, I have much to learn about both - these new insects and my photographing of them. Hopefully as I get better my damselfly, dragonfly, and butterfly photos will get better. Next weekend will feature Hummingbirds from the Southwest.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sandhill Cranes and Ebony Jewelwings


Sandhill Cranes, Horicon Marsh, WI; 6/16/2012.
The Big: Sandhill Cranes are one of North America's largest birds ( with a wingspan of over 6 feet) and a good place to see them are at the Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin. It is very rare when I visit the Horicon Marsh area that I do not see a couple a couple of these cranes. If I don't see any, I almost always hear a few cackling away in the vast vegetation of the marsh.  This pair (Above and Below) was very close to the trail of the Wisconsin DNR section of the marsh.

The same pair of Sandhill Cranes, Horicon Marsh, WI;  6/16/2012.

Ebony Jewelwing Damselfly

and now for the small...
A male Ebony Jewelwing, Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 7/6/2012.
On the flip side, one of our smallest winged creatures are Damselflies. The very first damselfly that I was able to photograph this summer were one of the most the common damselflies -  Ebony Jewelwings which are anywhere from 1.5 - 2.5". Most damselflies can usually be found near ponds and lakes; however, Ebony Jewelwings  are most often found near forest streams. And it was in the dark woods where I found my first Ebony Jewelwings. They have very dark colorings with black wings, metallic bluish green head and thorax and a dark abdomen in certain light also looks metallic greenish/blue, but in the shadow looks black or dark purple. Because they are very dark and found in dimly lit environments, it took me several attempts to finally find one in good enough light to get a decent photo (Above).
A pair of mating Ebony Jewelwings, Rock Cut State Park; 7/6/2012.
Females have lighter wings - in many descriptions are said to be dark gray, but the ones I saw had reddish brown wings with a white spot at the tips. I was able to catch a pair of Jewelwings in their mating position (Above) - called the "wheel position" because they form a circle.  The male (on the right) uses the forked tip (tail) of its abdomen to hold onto the back of the neck of the female (on the left) which curls her abdomen underneath the male's thorax to connect to his genitals. Later the female will deposit her eggs inside the soft stems of plants found in the water. The eggs will hatch into larvae called naiads. When the naiads are fully grown, they will crawl out of the water and molt, leaving their old skin behind. Once the molting is complete and the Jewelwing is dry enough to fly, it will immediately go out to look for a mate.
A male Ebony Jewelwing, Rock Cut State Park; 6/15/2012.
(Above) is one of my first pics of an Ebony Jewelwing sitting on a leaf.  Even though the photo is soft, I liked how the light glinted off its wings to show off the texture of the wings.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Sora Rail and Checkered White Butterflies


Sora Rail, Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, WI; 6/16/2012.
Until a month ago, I've only managed to see a Sora Rail once. It was over two years ago in a marshy area in Rock Cut State Park in Rockford, IL. And despite my many efforts, I never saw one there again. That marshy area has not been much of a wetland for the past two years, so it's no wonder that Soras would not stay there as a breeding ground. I've heard their whinny-like call emanating from marshes in several other areas (mostly Horicon Marsh and Necedah Wildlife Refuge - both in Wisconsin), but not in Illinois. So on June 16, while I was hiking in the Horicon Marsh, on a narrow spit of trail sandwiched between the large marsh, I heard the sharp call of a Sora Rail and it sounded very close. I scanned the reeds to try to locate where the sound might be coming from, but to no avail I couldn't spot it. After a few minutes I no longer heard it and decided to move on. As I turned, I saw some movement in the reeds on the other side of the trail. And there high-stepping through the shallow water was a Sora Rail (Above).
The same Sora escaping into the reeds, Horicon Marsh NWR, WI; 6/16/2012.
I was able to get a couple of pics before it slipped into the thicker cattail reeds (Above).
The last glimpse of the Sora, Horicon Marsh NWR, WI; 6/16/2012.
It only made its appearance for a matter of seconds before it was swallowed up by the cattails and gone from sight. That is the same thing that happened when I saw my only other Sora at Rock Cut SP - I saw it for a couple of seconds and then it melted into the reeds.


A male Checkered White, Deer Run Forest Preserve, Cherry Valley, IL; 7/12/2012.
As promised, I am including pictures of butterflies, dragonflies, and damselflies in my posts for the remainder of the summer. Today's butterfly is the Checkered White (Above). I almost ignored these guys thinking they were the same as the Cabbage Whites (yesterday's post) that I have been seeing for the past several weeks. As I was trying to search out some Grasshopper Sparrows (which I failed to find - only heard), I noticed that these little white butterflies seemed to have different markings on their wings than the Cabbage Whites. So I gave them closer attention, took some pics, and sure enough, they were indeed a different species.
A female Checkered White, Deer Run Forest Preserve, Cherry Valley, IL; 7/12/2012.
The females have a bit fancier markings on their wings (Above).

A male Checkered White with its wings spread, Deer Run Forest Preserve, Cherry Valley, IL; 7/12/2012.
Like Cabbage Whites, the Checkered Whites can be found across the U.S., however unlike the Cabbages, which are common all over, the Checkereds are more common West of the Mississippi River, and into Mexico and Florida. So it was cool that I was able to see them in a less common area.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Cabbage White Butterflies & Common Whitetail Dragonflies

Butterflies & Dragonflies too...
When I started this Blog a little over two years ago, it was to share my love, interests, and photos of birds. Writing this blog has taught me a great deal about birds and has been very rewarding to me. However, this summer I decided to try my hand at taking butterfly photos. Of course, one thing leads to another and another...... and another...

Here is the list of the "anothers":
a.) Taking their pictures was not enough. I wanted to know what kind of butterflies that I was taking pictures of, so ...
b.) I had to purchase myself a field guide for butterflies. After perusing several different books, I settled on the KAUFMAN FIELD GUIDE TO BUTTERFLIES OF NORTH AMERICA.
c.) Then after going out and looking for butterflies, I became fascinated with another flying creature -
d. I started taking pictures of Dragonflies... then...
e.) I had to know what kind of Dragonflies I was taking a pictures of.
f.) So far I have been relying on the Internet for information and identifications, but I see a Dragonfly Field Guide in my personal library in the future... then...
g.) I noticed that there were dragonfly-like insects which were a bit different. Whaddya know? There are such things as Damselflies, which, of course I've heard of before, but never really took it upon myself to know what they really were. And now I know that they are related to Dragonflies (both in the Odanta order) and also have differences. So of course ...
h.) I had to start taking pictures of Damselflies and identifying them as well. I also have yet to look for a Damselfly Field Guide, but I suspect they would be included in a book about Dragonflies... then...
i.) Finally, I couldn't just represent my blog as purely a blog about birds. But I didn't want to change the name of the blog or its address, nor start a new one. So I just changed the heading so it included other wildlife of which I might decide to take pictures. I hope you like it. Thanks to my gal Val (my built-in IT Help Desk) for teaching me new and improved Photoshop techniques for me to create the new header look.

Well, enough of the "anothers" and take a look at my first attempts at butterfly and dragonfly photography and identification:

A Cabbage White butterfly (a male with one spot on each wing), Espenscheid Forest Preserve, Rockford, IL; 6/12/2012.
Very common butterflies throughout the entire country are the Cabbage White butterflies which were swarming all over the place in early June, and will be seen for most of the summer.  I didn't have much of a problem getting a few good pics (Above and Below)...
Another Cabbage White (female with two spots on each wing), a couple of weeks later also in Espenscheid Forest Preserve; 6/26/2012.

A male Cabbage White with wings open, Espenscheid FP; 6/12/2012. Exp 1/1250; ISO 500.
Cabbage Whites usually land with its wings closed. When they did open them it was for just a split second. My challenge was to try to get a sharp focus on one during the split second it had its wings opened (Above: still a bit soft in its sharpness - but so far my best).  I also found that in the bright sunlight, as good as these little guys looked in my viewfinder, their very white color were like mini-fireballs in my pictures. So I had to dial up my shutter speed quite a bit.

A female Cabbage White, yellow variation, Deer Run Forest Preserve, Cherry Valley, IL; 7/1/2012.
I initially mistook the Cabbage White (Above) for a Sulphur Butterfly (a species good for a later post), but it turns out that some Cabbage Whites have a some yellowish variations. Also I labelled it as a female, since females have two spots on each wing. You can see the spots through its opaque wings.

A male Common Whitetail Dragonfly, Black Hawk Springs Forest Preserve, Rockford, IL; 6/23/2012. 
Common Whitetails were the first Dragonflies that caught my attention, therefore became the subject of my frst photographs. The males (Above) have large brown spots in the middle of their clear wings. They also have a light blue abdomen with tiny white spots on the sides called cusps. Their head and thorax are brown.
A female Common Whitetail, Black Hawk Springs FP; 6/23/2012.
Initially when I started taking pictures of Dragonflies, I assummed each different looking one was a different type. But it didn't take me long to realize that, like birds, males and females have different markings and colorings. The female Common Whitetail (Above) has a brown abdomen with yellow cusps, while its wings are also clear, but instead of the one large brown patch in the middle of its wings, they score three brown patches on each wing - one closest to its thorax, one in the middle, and one at the tip.
An immature male Common Whitetail, Black Hawk Springs FP; 6/23/2012.
The dragonfly (Above) looked like a cross between a male and female - sporting the female's abdomen and the male's wings. Upon research I learned that this is an immature male dragonfly. Then of course, I had to question - just how long does a Dragonfly live? If it only lived to a couple of weeks like butterflies, then how long would a dragonfly be an immature? a couple of hours? Through some more research, I found out that dragonflies may live (depending upon its species) as adults anywhere from a couple of months to about a half a year. Of the many species, the shortest life cycle (from egg to death) is about six months.  There are even dragonflies that live for several years as aquatic larvae before they emerge and live for a few months as adults. Most dragonflies don't die of old age but are caught by predators. Even if they do survive, they still don't live much longer than a few months.

Well, I hope you enjoyed my first venture into the world of Butteflies and Dragonflies. There will be more to come - as well as more about birds. I can't forget about the birds.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Black Terns nesting in Glacial Park, IL & Horicon Marsh NWR, WI

A Black Tern hovering over part of Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, WI; 6/16/2012.
About a month ago I was able to see my first Black Terns (#397 on my Life List), which were at Glacial Park, near Richmond, IL. However, they were so far out over the marsh that the best photo I could muster (Below) was pretty poor quality. So it goes without saying that a week later when I encountered a pair of Black Terns at Horicon Marsh, excited me for the chance to see them in action at more of a close range and to get a better photograph (Above) of this  beautiful species.
The best photograph I could come up with for the first Black Tern on my Life List, Glacial Park, Richmond, IL; 6/10/2012.
I was actually trying to locate some Marsh Wrens chattering away in the cattails and trying to get a Yellow-headed Blackbird in flight (would that be a YHBBIF?), when a Black tern flew over my head and I followed its flight to over the marsh. They are pretty easy to pick out, as their heads, belly, and breat are completeyl black, whereas most terns are primarily white. It flew pretty far out, but was still a lot closer than the Glacial Park Black Terns. Then I noticed at least two of these Terns hovering over the marsh.
A Black Tern fishing for a meal in the light rain, Horicon Marsh NWR, WI; 6/16/2012.
The two Terns put on quite a display, and even though it had started to rain, I was able to follow some of their flight and snap a couple of photos (Above).
I noticed that one of the Terns landed in the reeds and I lost its trail, but the other kept circling, hovering, and hunting nearby.  It also confronted a couple of Blackbirds (Red-winged and Yellow-headed) as if warning them not too get too close. I hoped that meant there was a nest somewhere. Only when the second Tern also landed did I notice the first Tern sitting on a muddy clump of reeds at the far end of the marsh (Below).
As I was following the flight of the Black Tern in the upper right center part of this photo, there was also another Black tern sitting on a nest in the lower left-center part of the photo, Horicon Marsh NWR, WI; 6/16/2012.
There are two Black terns in the photo (Above). Can you spot them both? (Below) is a close up the nesting Tern from the photograph (Above).

A close up of the Black Tern sitting on its nest, Horicon Marsh NWR, WI; 6/16/2012.
Having never seen a Black Tern before this summer, then seeing them twice within one week was exciting for me, as it is anytime I see a new bird. You birders who are able to identify a bird for the forst time know the feeling I am talking about.
A Black Tern, Horicon Marsh NWR, WI; 6/16/2012.
In the summer months, Black Terns are found across the northern states of the country, from Oregon and Washington in the West to the Great Lakes States in the Mid-section and the East, and spread throughout much of Canada. There are small pockets in California, Nevada, Colorado, and Kansas, where they can also be found. They typically will start their migration already in late July to their winter grounds in and around the northern coasts of South America.