Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Cassin's Finch

 On one of our trips to Yellowstone I had the opportunity to photograph a few Cassin's finch. I almost missed out because at first I thought they were house finch. House finch are pretty common through out most of the United States. But house finch have more streaking on the belly which this bird obviously does not have. Next I was thinking purple finch but Yellowstone would be a bit out of their range. It also has that distinctive red crown, a by product of the carotenoid pigments that are found in the colorful berries that they like to eat. The purple finch has a more uniform red color on the head. I finally identified the birds as a Cassin's finch, which were named after famous ornithologist John Cassin, who first recorded them in the 1850's while part of the Pacific Railroad Survey. Cassin's finch breed in the western third of the US and winter in the Pacific southwest and Mexico.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Black-billed Cuckoo

Black-billed Cuckoo
Black-billed cuckoos breed through out much of the eastern half of the United States and southeastern Canada.  They prefer woody areas, typically building their nest in deciduous trees or shrubs usually fairly close to the ground. Black-billed cuckoos migrate down to northwestern parts of South America for the winter.
Black-billed Cuckoo
 Black-billed cuckoos are insect eaters. They eat a variety of larger insects which they glean from trees and shrubs. They particularly prefer large caterpillars. They will often knock caterpillars against branches to dislodge their spines before they eat them. They are not always successful and end up with spines lodged in their stomach. To counter this they will shed their stomach lining to get rid of excess spines.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

American Avocet

American Avocet
 Every couple of years or so we make a trip out to Yellowstone National Park to photograph the wildlife. Since most of what we photograph at Yellowstone are mammals we usually stop at one or two Montana wildlife refuges on our way home. The two that we usually go to are Bowdoin NWR and Medicine Lake NWR. Both of these refuges are located around wetland areas in the Prairie Pothole region of North America. Both are typically a haven for waterfowl, waders, shorebirds and prairie species.
American Avocet
On last years Yellowstone trip we stopped at both refuges. At Bowdoin I snapped these images of an American avocet. The red coloration that you can see on the head and neck is breeding plumage. When it is not the breeding season these areas would be white. These birds typically winter in coastal water of southern California, Mexico, Florida, the Caribbean, and along the Gulf of Mexico.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Zebra Clubtail

Zebra Clubtail Male
 The zebra clubtail is a member of the Gomphidae or clubtail family. Cubtails are named for the wide or clubbed end of their abdomen that many species have. This is not a requirement though. Gomphidae are identified because they are the only clubtails that have eyes that are separated, like damselflies. The zebra clubtail is a Stylurus or hanging clubtail. They are often often hanging from vegetation.
Zebra Clubtail Female
 Zebra clubtail are found around forest streams or sandy bottomed rivers. They usually emerge later in the summer, primarily late in the summer. The first photo is an example of a male while the second is a female. As you can see the female can be distinguished easily from the male because she has very little clubbing at the tip of the abdomen in comparison to the male..