A weekend of birds and flowers

We drove to Lincoln, Nebraska for a wedding, and on the way we stopped to census the bird life with a few other birders at Weaver Dunes Nature Conservancy preserve in southeastern Minnesota: the day’s total was 77 species, and among them 14 species of warblers!  This was part of the Nature Conservancy’s one-day state chapter competition.  Last year MN came in second, and the pressure was on to beat Texas this year.

It took six people to find a Blue-headed Vireo in a tree.

Female Downy Woodpecker working on a nest hole — one of the 77 species we saw.

A rustic looking barn on a farm across the road from the preserve.

Prairie Violets covered the ground on some of the dune slopes, the first spring flowers blooming here.

Even the lichen were “blooming”: British Soldiers lichen with their bright red fruiting caps on gray-green stems, usually found on rotting stumps like this one.

I had a Sony RX 10 camera I was trying out on this trip, so before the wedding, we headed over to the Sunken Garden in Lincoln to see what was blooming.

Lots of mosquitos on the water lilies, but no frogs to enjoy them.

I don’t know what these trees were, but their new leaves were brilliant salmon red and pink.  The red pigment in new leaves protects them from sun damage before the leaves have synthesized their chlorophyll pigment.


Black and white tulips — that’s a little different.

Spiderwort growing by a waterfall made a nice contrast.  The camera has a wide range of shutter speeds for special effects, like silky water,

Quite a camera this Sony RX10, with its fixed 24-600 mm lens. And it weighs about 1/10 of what Big Bertha (my SLR and telephoto combo) does.  Something to consider when you need a multipurpose, lightweight travel camera.

the Flint Hills

Explorer Zebulon Pike coined the term “flint hills” for the rocky, flinty limestone-rich tall grass prairie that runs north to south down the eastern 1/3 of Kansas into Oklahoma.

Flint hills near Bazaar cattle ranch, Kansas

Rolling prairie as far as the eye can see, dotted with cattle.

Early settlers found the ground much too rocky to farm, but it made good cattle pasture. Today, the prairie is managed by regular burning, which returns the previous year’s nutrients to the soil, and creates a lush green carpet.

Flint hills near Bazaar cattle ranch, Kansas

The contrast of green, previously burned and yellow-brown, unburned prairie is obvious on opposite sides of the highway.  We just barely outran the thunderstorm that was moving east as we drove south.

Flint hills near Bazaar cattle ranch, Kansas

The Flint Hills are the most dense coverage of tall grass prairie in all of North America. Imagine what this must have looked like in the early 1800s when huge herds of buffalo roamed the prairie.

Why is this extensive formation here, you might wonder?  Because 250 million years ago, this area and much of the Midwest was covered by a shallow sea, where silt and sand, as well as the carbonates from the rich invertebrate fauna in the sea, were deposited in layers.  Erosion of softer materials over time left the rocky, flint- Continue reading

April blizzard

After a week of warmth in California weather, we returned to a Minnesota “spring” blizzard, complete with wet snow, fierce winds, icy rain, and frigid temperatures.  Pity the poor migratory birds that came here to replenish their energy before continuing north.

Fox Sparrow

Fox Sparrow looking forlorn about all the snow covering the vegetation.

The icy crust was too hard for them to scratch below in search of fallen seeds from the feeders.

Slate-colored Junco

Slate-colored Juncos were everywhere scavenging fallen seed.

Male House Finch

This House Finch was eating the snow!

Male Northern Cardinal standing tall, trying to look in the feeder to find seed.

Female Northern Cardinal, not finding much to eat with the snow covering all the feeder holes.

American Goldfinch males have turned their bright yellow spring breeding colors. But it doesn’t seem like spring weather now.

Hopefully this is the last of the white stuff we will see this spring.


Bird walk at Alviso marina

Where have all the birds gone?  Just a handful of Avocets, a scattered few ducks, two pairs of Canada Geese, and a dozen or so Black-necked Stilts were around on this sunny (finally) morning at the salt ponds that empty into the southern end of San Francisco Bay.

Alviso marina county park

A beautiful morning for a bird walk, with lilac plants framing the salt ponds.

Alviso marina county park

The ponds here are usually full of waders and ducks, but not today.

Black-necked Stilts

One-legged birds? Black-necked Stilts at rest

Alviso marina county park

I must be desperate to take photos of something, if I’m shooting train pictures.

Kind of disappointing.

But we accidentally started a feud between a Marsh Wren and a Common Yellowthroat Warbler, which made the morning memorable.  After seeing a male Common Yellowthroat land nearby, we played his “wichety” song, and instead of the Yellowthroat popping into view, we made the local Marsh Wren mad enough to come scold us for several minutes.

Common Yellowthroat male

This bright Common Yellowthroat male was the one we were after.

Marsh Wren

You wouldn’t think a Marsh Wren would respond so intensely to the call of another species…but this bird was quite vocal about defending his nest territory.

Marsh Wren

Whistles, chirps, rattles, and buzzes come out in a continuous stream to drive off the invaders.

Marsh Wren

You almost never get this bird in view because they hide down in the reeds, and blend into their habitat quite well. But he/she was mad!

Poppy fields

just what I wanted to see…I love the way they change color from deep orange to bright yellow-orange, depending on the direction of the light.

California poppy California poppy California poppy and lupines California poppy

These poppies are self-seeding, drought tolerant, will colonize disturbed, poor soils other plants cannot, and come in a variety of colors in the red-orange-yellow spectrum. No wonder they are such a dominant roadside plant in California and Oregon. And they brighten your day, just looking at them.

Deer in the meadow

How picturesque, stumbling onto a mule deer herd in Calero county park east of San Jose, CA, as they munched their way through the spring wildflowers.

Mule deer herd in Calero County Park, San Jose CA

Mule deer herd in Calero County Park, San Jose CA

Mule deer herd in Calero County Park, San Jose CA

Yes, picturesque.

Tom Turkey displaying

Tom Turkey was displaying energetically, but the two hens present ignored him.

Ah, spring! So green!

It may be a while before Minnesota takes on such a green glow!

Between the storm clouds

The sun is a fickle thing in Northern California these days; it remains hidden behind dense cloud banks and then teases us with its all-too-brief appearances.  Nevertheless, we’ve been out in search of the few wildflowers in bloom now; apparently, peak bloom is a little late this year.  A few highlights of our adventures in Santa Clara county parks below…

Wildflowers, Calero county park, San Jose CA

Roadside lupines, they really do well in bare, rocky, sandy soil where other plants have trouble getting established.

Wildflowers, Calero county park, San Jose CA

Blue-eyed grass makes an early spring appearance.

Wildflowers, Calero county park, San Jose CA

Possibly a species of Checker Mallow, a dainty and scarce herb in this field of lupines.

Wildflowers, Calero county park, San Jose CA

Yellow violets embedded among the other vegetation


Fiddleheads poke up between other wildflowers in the field.

California poppy

Everyone’s favorite, the California poppy, another scrappy survivor of rocky, barren places.

California poppy

The color orange is defined by the California poppy!  This was just one plant.

California green!

After several months of living in landscapes painted mostly white, mixed with gray and brown, it’s nice to be overwhelmed with the green-ness that has resulted from so much rain in California this past winter.  Feast your eyes, those of you who have been deprived of outdoor color for the past few months.

Santa Teresa county park, San Jose CA

At Santa Teresa county park, San Jose CA

Santa Teresa county park, San Jose CA

No color adjustment on this photo — that’s really what it looks like here in this oak savanah.

Santa Teresa county park, San Jose CA

Oaks have just recently leafed out.

Santa Teresa county park, San Jose CA

It seems that it’s a little early for the wildflowers here.  I wanted to see a carpet of poppies, lupine, etc.


Only a few lupine to be found in the grassy fields

Spring thaw

It’s officially spring, and with the change in seasons comes a change in the state of water — from solid to liquid form.

Spring floods

This is nothing compared to what is currently going on in Nebraska and Iowa, merely an inconvenience here in MN.

But open water in this frozen northland is a signal to the wildlife that another winter has passed, and it’s time to get on with the rituals of spring time: namely singing up a storm, strutting the feather finery for the ladies, and getting started with the production of the next generation.

Mallard pair

Mr. Mallard is looking ever so handsome as he courts a winsome female.

spring thaw

Mallards can be found on every little patch of open water in this early part of spring.  Soon (I hope) they will be joined by a flood of migratory ducks.