it’s feeling fallish

We spent a beautiful morning walking along the St. Croix river at Afton State Park recently, and I noticed that it seems more like fall weather now, and a lot less like summer. What a difference a couple of weeks makes in the climate here.

The beach along the Minnesota side of the St. Croix river is deserted…just the way I like it. There are a few warblers around, geese are flocking up in preparation for migration, and the last of the summer wildflowers are holding onto their blooms, just a little longer.
A somewhat bedraggled Great Spangled Fritillary was foraging on the Sneezeweed flowers — just about the only wildflowers left along this shoreline of the river. This is one of the largest, and longest lived butterflies here in MN. It mates in June but doesn’t lay eggs until August and September, somewhere near a patch of violets, on which its larvae will feed in the spring.
Cedar Waxwings were acting like flycatchers as they perched and then sallied out to catch whatever insects were flying by their perch.
And the ever-present and numerous Canada Geese are now gathering in large flocks to prepare for migration. Here they come downriver right at us…
They fly so closely together you would think their wings would get in the way of each other. In fact, so close that two birds on the right side of the photo look like one bird with four wings!
Nothing symbolizes fall in Minnesota like these flights of Canada Geese.
Fall may be my favorite season, even though it leads into my most dreaded season of bitter winter. But I love the fall weather and color as the landscape begins to glow.

Tough choices…

Last year, I posted a look back at some of the best photos of 2013, and thought I might try that again this year. I managed to pare down the initial 63 selected photos of just the MN and CA backyard birds to the top 10 by making some tough choices.  Reasons for their selection are listed below the photo, but I would be interested to know if blog readers agree.  Which one of these is your favorite?

juvenile barn swallow

A juvenile Barn Swallow waiting patiently to be fed.  This one projects a lot of personality.

black-crowned night heron

A Black-crowned Night Heron fishing on Lake Temescal in California.  I picked this one for the nice reflection of the heron in the water below.

canada geese flying

Canada Geese on the move on the Mississippi River in the spring.  Action shots are more interesting to me.

cedar waxwing on hollyhock

Cedar Waxwings are such handsome birds, with their yellow and red accented feathers and black mask. I liked the composition of this photo, even if we can’t see the bird’s handsome facial markings.

cowbird chick begging

A cowbird chick begging for food from its foster parent, the much smaller Chipping Sparrow. This photo “begs” to be captioned. I’ll leave it to readers to make suggestions.

mallards at sunset

Three (Mallard) guys communing with nature at sunset. I picked this one for the color, and the symmetry of the three ducks. This was taken literally 100 yards from my back door.

rose-breasted grosbeak

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks don’t usually pose so nicely for me. I like the just opened leaves surrounding him, as he cocks his head to inspect the bird feeder below him.

mourning dove billing

There was some foreplay going on between these two Mourning Doves. I guess you could call this “billing”, and they may have been cooing as well.

chestnut sided warbler

Of course I had to include warblers in my top 10 selection, and what better than the stand-out Chestnut-sided Warbler.

yellow warbler

Couldn’t bring myself to throw the Yellow Warbler out of the top 10 either. I like the way the bright yellow pops out of the darker background.

white pelican

White Pelicans flying over the Mississippi — such photogenic and graceful flyers. Another action shot to finish off the top 10.

Oops, I just recounted, and there are 11 birds here. I can’t decide which one to reject, so I’ll leave it up to my readers.

Japanese beetle magnet

Another lovely plant that I won’t be adding to my garden — Hollyhocks.  They seem to be as much of a Japanese beetle magnet as my roses and raspberries.

japanese beetle on hollyhock

It starts like this..one or two beetles on lovely just opened Hollyhock flowers

japanese beetles on hollyhock

And once the “odeur de scarabee Japonais” (pardon my French — or lack thereof) has been released into the air, a mating orgy begins.

A sex pheromone is released by females and sensed by a receptor in the male’s antennae to lure them in.  But other females can also sense this chemical in the air and are drawn into its source, with the expectation that males will also be there.  And so, a mating orgy ensues.

japanese beetles on hollyhock

Skeletonized leaves and munched flowers leave little of the hollyhock beauty to admire.

A Cedar Waxwing jumped down to one plant to inspect the beetle congregation but left without taking one.

A Cedar Waxwing jumped down to one plant to inspect the beetle congregation but left without taking one.

Each year the Japanese beetle population gets a little larger and infests a greater variety of plants.  What's a gardener to do?

Each year the Japanese beetle population gets a little larger and infests a greater variety of plants. What’s a gardener to do?

A bonanza for fruit eaters

Fall must be like Christmas for Cedar Waxwings and Robins, who gorge themselves on the super-abundance of tree fruits available at this time of year.  We found a small flock of adult and juvenile Cedar Waxwings doing just that at the MN Valley National Wildlife Refuge last week.

Adult Cedar Waxwing showing off his red and yellow dipped feathers (for which he gets his name?).

Adult Cedar Waxwing showing off his red (wing) and yellow (tail) capped feathers (for which he gets his name?).

Like all young of the year, the juvenile Cedar Waxwings await instructions from their parent on where to forage.

Like all young of the year, the juvenile Cedar Waxwings await instructions from their parent on where to forage.

The youngsters wear the black mask of the adult, but lack the colorful yellow breast feathers and wax dipped feather tips.

The youngsters wear the black mask of the adult, but lack the colorful yellow breast feathers and wax dipped feather tips.

Here?  Is this a good fruit?

Here? Is this a good fruit?  Is a red-colored fruit a warning or an invitation?

Learning by trial-and-error which fruits are not only nutritious, but won’t poison you, is a long process; copying what your parents feast on is much easier and safer.

Not all fruits are equal: some plants have co-evolved with fruit-eating birds and mammals that aid in disseminating the plants’ seeds; other plants evolved disseminating mechanisms that involve propelling their seeds through pressure-driven or wind-driven means and protect their valuable offspring with toxic chemicals.  In addition, fruits are generally low in caloric value (compared to a nut), and may lack sufficient nitrogen for their consumers’ diets.

So, how does a Cedar Waxwing survive on a fruit diet?

Photo by Debbie Reynolds

Photo by Debbie Reynolds

Cedar Waxwings seem to be inordinately fond of high-sugar fruits, and they have exceptionally good absorptive capacity for sugars, not only in their small intestine, but in the proximal part of their colon as well (an unusual place to transport sugar).  It is thought that the accelerated sugar transport capacity of their intestine actually enhances amino acid transport as well, because these birds can actually remain in positive nitrogen balance on fruit diets that cause other frugivores (like robins) to lose nitrogen via excretion.

An interesting corollary of this high fruit diet is that cowbirds (brood parasites written about in an earlier post) that lay their eggs in the nests of Cedar Waxwings have doomed their offspring, because cowbird chicks can’t survive on a fruit diet, like the waxwing chicks can.