Wednesday, March 5, 2014
A bitter cold walk from somewhere, I don't remember where, in North Minneapolis to my home on the other side of the river. I crossed along of the Lowry Ave bridge. This was a few years back before the bridge was rebuilt; when it was a criss cross of old iron girders. It was the piece that tied two ugly and depressing sides of the river together; giant piles of scrap metal, derelict structures stretching into the river, and dilapidated buildings jumbled together along a forgotten stretch of the Mississippi. The area has changed a fair amount in the past few years, with redevelopment, new river front parks, and a new bridge (which is pretty cool looking, and lights up).
The bridge usually has some open water under it and attracts Canada Geese, Branta canadensis under it during the winter. It's also a good spot to find Common Golden-eyes, Bucephela clangula during the winter. And usually a Greylag Goose, Anser anser - domestic goose. I'm not sure if it's been the same one, and I don't think I've seen it every year, but it's been there more than one winter, mixed in with the Canada Geese. The first time I saw it, on the aforementioned cold walk home I got really excited. I didn't have binoculars and thought it was a rare goose of some sort; a new entry for my life list! I hurried home, and returned with binoculars, scope and a field guide. The discovery that it was a domestic goose was disappointing, but only briefly, because their was still the joy of discovery, and in the long run, a place in my neighborhood to bird watch during the winter; I look here for Barrow's Golden-eyes in the winter, so perhaps birding here will eventually yield a new life list entry (though this winter the river did freeze over completely under the bridge, so no geese or ducks).
You might wonder why this post isn't titled "An Illustrated Life List: Greylag Goose". It's because I didn't add the bird to my list. Everyone has slightly different criteria for adding birds to their lists, but I believe it's fairly common practice to not add domesticated birds to a life list. It strongly resembled a wild Greylag Goose, but one has never been recorded in Minnesota, and it's much more likely that it escaped, or is the hybrid offspring of a Canada Goose and a domestic goose on a farm. I do look here for Barrow's Golden-eyes in the winter, so perhaps birding here will eventually yield a new life list entry.
Sunday, March 2, 2014
Because as soon as you start really looking, a lot of plants have three leaves and sort of look like poison ivy, and poison ivy itself is variable enough that it can be hard to pin point other identifing features that seperate it from these look alikes. So I've been thinking for awhile of a quick, nontechnical guide to separate Poison Ivy's look a likes from the plant itself.
The plants pictured below are prime candidates for Poison Ivy look alike status. Under the plant's name is a one word or short phrase description of the plant; one feature that distinguishes these three-leaved plants from Poison Ivy. Then after the picture is a short discussion of that feature. Note these are not complete ID guides for these plants.
Box Elder - Acer negundo
Raspberry - Rubus sp.
Virginia Creeper - Parthenocissus quinquefolia
Hog Peanut - Amphicarpa bracteata
Jack-in-the-Pulpit - Arisaema triphyllum
Note: the five plants included here may not be definitive, since most of my experience with the plant is from MN. I'm curious to know what other plants you know of that look like Poison Ivy.
Friday, February 14, 2014
I love watching crows, especially in the winter time. Last week I saw a group of crows seemingly playing in the fresh snow while driving to work along Victor Memorial Parkway in Minneapolis. Some of them were perched on a very skinny branch that hanging almost vertically, others were in the snow below. They were very active with their cawing and flapping. Maybe there was something good to eat under the snow. Maybe they were just having fun.
Corvid quiz: name three species of birds that could be easily misidentified as an American Crow in North America, and name a state or province were they would be found. This is a closed book (physically and virtually speaking) quiz.
Thursday, February 6, 2014
I thought I would spend some time posting about my life list. Yawn, you are probably saying, we don't really care. But my life list has always been more than a list or scorecard. Many of my life's major events, travels, and tribulations have been recorded and entered with a particular bird in the journal form of my life list (for the record I have three versions: a homemade, taxonomically ordered list, the journal version, and a copy of The Clements Checklist of the Birds of the World).
I've thought for awhile that an illustrated life list would be pretty cool. And usually in February I get a little list crazy and plan an improbable trip to some exotic and warm location in the world - but instead go further north and drive up to the North Shore or Sax-Zim Bog in the hopes of adding a boreal forest inhabiting bird to my list (last year I saw a Boreal Owl!). But for a variety of reasons I haven't had a chance to make any trips this year; and it's been so cold this year that I've barely been out to search for potential new life listers more locally . . . such as Long-eared Owls.
I've never seen one. It's one of the top birds one my nemesis list. Perhaps this post should be titled An Illustrated List of Birds I Really Want On My Life List. They are a difficult bird to find in Minnesota; they are very nocturnal, secretive, well camouflaged, and seemingly sporadic in their choice of locations - which might the hardest part of finding one. It's probably the bird I've spent the most time looking for, but haven't found, if such a thing could be quantized; maybe a better way to put it is that it's the bird I've spent the most time wishing and hoping to find, while out and about in the woods and fields.
Monday, January 6, 2014
Ugh . . . we're experiencing some very cold temperatures here in Minnesota, with highs in the negative digit range, plus wind chills of course. Not ideal conditions for poking around under logs looking for dried up turkey tail fungi, or admiring the variety of white spots on tree bark.
But I truley enjoy Minnesota's varied and often unpredictable climate, and anyway, I'm a "the glass is half frozen" type of person, and like to find opportunities in most situations.
So with the cold temperatures, it's not uncommon to have ice floating around in the atmosphere which can refract and reflect light from the sun and moon and create some interesting and beautiful halos.
Sun dogs, parhelia, or mock suns are two arcs of light to either side of the sun. They are usually about 22° away from the sun, which is about the same as the width of your hand outstretched to arm's length (your hand and fingers make really useful measuring tools for things in the sky). They are most often seen when the sun is low in the sky at sunrise and sunset. Often times the sun dogs have a red tinge on their sun side.
Sun dogs occur when ice crystals with a hexagonal plate shape are floating in the atmosphere with a large flat side facing the ground (and up into the sky). It doesn't have to be cold on the ground for sun dogs to form; the ice crystals can be high up in the atmosphere.
The same effect can be seen with the moon, and are called moon dogs, or parselenae.
22° Circular Halo
Light pillars are caused when light from street lights (wastefully) goes up into the sky and is reflected back down by horizontally oriented hexagonal plate ice crystals. The pillars are not physically over a light source, as might be expected. But then again, none of the optical effects described here actually exist anywhere in physical space - "like all halos they are purely the collected light beams from all the millions of crystals which just happen to be reflecting light towards your eyes or camera" (quote taken from the Atmospheric Optics page on light pillars).
There are plenty of other halos that can form, mostly dependent on the shape and orientation of ice crystals floating about. For a more complete list and detailed information about each, please consult the aforementioned Atmospheric Optics website, the definitive website for information about ice halos, rainbows, and more.