Friday, June 27, 2008

Dragonflies on the Bog

I went down to the bog today, camera in hand, for a little professional development. I need to work on my dragonfly ID. The first I came upon was a male Common Whitetail. I only got this one photo before it flew off. I then immediately saw a very different dragonfly. As you can see in this second photo it looks different but it is actually the same species. This is a female Common Whitetail.

Next up was this Eastern Pondhawk. I photographed one in the bog a few years ago as well. It is a common resident. This one was actively chasing or "hawking" some species of what I think was a bee fly.

Very close by I spotted this immature male willow skimmer. It is hard to tell an immature male and a female apart but you can see some white smoky color appearing in the wings just to the outside of the black patches. On an adult male these patches are more apparent and the abdomen will turn gray.

The next species I spotted was a Calico Pennant. It can be identified by the yellow heart shapes running down the abdomen. Since the hearts are yellow this is either an immature male or a female. They would be red on a male. The yellow stigma (that's those solid yellow rectangles on the leading edges of the wings) though tells me that this is a female. They would be red on a male.

The next one isn't the best picture as I could not get a good shot of the abdomen. It is a juvenile or female twelve spotted skimmer. It isn't possible to tell them apart. It looks a lot like a female common whitetail shown in the second photo of this post but as you can just barely see in this photo the lateral yellow stripe on the abdomen is continuous whereas on the common whitetail it is a broken yellow line.

The sixth species I spotted was interesting in that it was the only species that returned to a perch as it hunted. I couldn't get a good shot from the boardwalk so I crawled out on a log in the moat and simply waited for the dragonfly to return to the perch. It still isn't the best diagnostic shot but this is a four spotted skimmer.

The last dragonfly I saw in the bog was a really cool one. It flew so different than the others. It was a Racket-tailed emerald. The two yellow semi-circles at the top of the abdomen are diagnostic.

To be really dorky, I can show it is a Racket-tail emerald for sure because the triangle in the wing shown below has no veins though it which is also diagnostic of this species. That's not something you can spot as it flies by!

Well, not too bad for a short hike though the bog!


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Mystery Butterfly

I took this photo down by the lake today at work. I thought it was a red-spotted purple at first but when I looked closer at the photo there seems to be a few things different than usual. The red seems to be in the wrong place on the top of the wing. A classic red-spotted purple should have those red dots up on the edge of the fore wing not the hind wing. The under wing seems too black and lacks the red spots typical of this species. A lot of the other details are correct though. the two larger white spots on the tip of the fore wing, the white tips leading to two light blue dots then a light blue crescent then black then light blue turning to purple...all of these things are correct but those darn reddish spots! The red-spotted purple IS supposed to have red dots exactly where they appear on this butterfly but they are supposed to be on the underside of the wing, not the top. I vaguely recalled that red-spotted purples hybridize with white admirals, maybe this was a hybrid? I decided to investigate.

Here's a link to a butterfly someone is calling a red-spotted purple and a white admiral hybrid. Looks pretty similar. You can just see some light red spots on the hind wing. But, here's a photo of a butterfly someone in Wisconsin is calling a red-spotted purple and it looks exactly like the one in my photo. The red dots on the hind wing are exactly like those of a white admiral and this butterfly looks like a combination of a white admiral and a red-spotted purple. As it turns out there is a lot of confusion over these butterflies.

Because red-spotted purple and white admiral butterflies freely interbreed, some scientists have decided that they are in fact the same species. This gets into the sticky debate of "What is a species?" In 2001, the white admiral and red-spotted purple were re-classified as subspecies of the newly created species red-spotted admiral.

So, I can safely say this is a red-spotted admiral. Check out this wonderful page of photos to see the variation in this species. Scroll down and the first few photos look just like mine. So, this is one of many variations of red-spotted admiral butterfly created by interbreeding of the two sub-species, red-spotted purple and white admiral.

We all clear now?


Monday, June 23, 2008

Scoot Scoot

For many years Chelsey and I have talked about getting scooters. It really isn't very practical in Minnesota so it has always been just a dream. With gas prices rising that dream seems at least a little bit more realistic. Scooters are still too expensive to ride just six months a year and the US dollar is so weak that scooter prices are though the roof so there probably isn't a scooter in our future for a little while longer. It's fun to dream though. Here's some pretty pictures. Perhaps my ultimate dream bike right now? A 1966 two tone metallic blue and grey/white Vespa 150 with chrome edging and white sidewall tires. Drool.

Now, the price on something like this, an actual restored 66 vespa with chrome and a custom paint job is astronomical. What Chelsey has long wanted is a Stella, imported by The Genuine Scooter Company. The Stella is made in the same factory in India that made the Vespa PX from 1978-2005. When Piaggio (the manufacturer of the Vespa) decided to no longer make the PX, LML decided to keep making it for themselves and the Stella was born.

Now Chelsey likes the red, and I do too but what about getting a Stella and doing a custom paint job like that Vespa at the top? I did a quick photoshop job. I can't really recreate the shiny metallic paint and I didn't bother with the tires but you get the idea. While this would be gobs less expensive than the 66 vespa a new Stella is still over $3000 and that wouldn't include the cost to make it look something like this. We're probably looking at something like $4000. Still way out of my price range.

Genuine Scooter company does make some of their own scooters and I think this one is okay. It is the Buddy International 150. This is a nice scooter but the front end looks a little undersized. It has some classic styling but is all new. Nice tires. Sticker price is still too high though. I can pick one up locally for $3400. Ouch. Let's try again.
Now here's something different. This is the Charming from Lance Powersports. I really dig this style but it is only made in a 50cc scooter which would be cool for swinging on down to the movie theater but not practical for going to work. I need something that can do 55 mph. I don't plan on going on the highway but the back roads to work are 55 mph roads.
I like the two tone paint jobs available and the handlebars with the non-integrated speedometer. The light is built into the front instead of the handlebars which is not ideal but at least it is cool looking and not ugly like many other scooters with weird shaped front lights. I think this is actually a rip off of a Honda Metropolitan.

While looking at these I discovered the 150cc Lance Vintage. This is really cool. The body is a ripoff of the Honda Joker which is a scooter I liked five or so years ago when I last looked at scooters. Here it is in red. It has chopper style handlebars with the light attached and nice instruments in three clusters. They aren't encased in a plastic dash like many of the other scooters. There are a lot of versions of this bike out there by different companies but Lance seems to have the nicest details. Retail price seems to be $1995 and climbing by the week. They are in demand and the price keeps going up. That makes them pretty unattractive to me. The price has gone up about $500 in the last month! I would save less than $500 per year in gas because my car is so efficient so the dealors have essentially added more than a year to the time to pay this off which makes it impractical. I haven't sat on one of these but it is one of the bigger vintage looking scooters out there which I think is important since I am 6 feet tall and would look really weird on a scooter that was too small. I think I would remove the box on the back as it is kind of lame.

There may be one more option. At the bottom of the barrel (which is more my price point) I can get a bike like this. I'm not wild about the handlebars but they are okay. I can probably get one of these for around $1200. I don't think I like this quite as much as the Vintage but I would want to see one in person. I'm afraid I would look too big on it. The only way to get that low a price is to have one drop shipped to my house and then do some of the assembly myself. I'm not totally opposed to that. I think I would learn a lot about how the bike goes together and be able to fix more down the road.

Reality Check

All of the bikes in this post are 150cc bikes. In reality that isn't enough power for my commute when I need sustained speeds of 55 mph. Sure, some of these bikes can do 55 mph but they aren't meant to sustain that speed and it is hard on the engine. Hills are a problem. That leaves me with few choices. The new Vespas come in a 250 cc model.
You're looking at a $6000 bike. Forget it. I maybe could pick one up used for $4000, still too much or maybe used and dented for less.

Dreaming's free.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Between the 5's

At Birds and Beers last night someone asked how long it would take for hummingbirds to find a new feeder. My answer, between the 5's. It takes somewhere between five minutes and five years. I'm pretty comfortable that that is an accurate albeit less than useful assessment.

Chelsey and I put up a feeder a few weeks ago when we spent a gift certificate her parent's had given her for the garden center down the street. We bought some roma tomato plants too.

Some time within the next five years I hope to report that hummingbirds have found the feeder.

I'll go ahead and update my bird tally for the year. I added a eastern meadowlark at Afton State Park on Father's Day. Chelsey took Cam and me there and we all went birding. Note in the photo we're both sporting our new organic 2008 Warner Nature Center summer t-shirts. The logo this year is a swallowtail butterfly. I had seen a meadowlark on a telephone line weeks ago but as I didn't hear it so I couln't say for sure it wasn't a Western Meadowlark. We were only there for a short time and only hiked along the path on the prairie but we saw 15 species of birds which wasn't too bad for a casual stroll though the park. Chelsey enjoyed hearing the clay colored sparrows as she had just told me that she and Camden had been playing with my bird sounds book and was surprised how many birds sounded like insects. We heard and then spotted the buzzing clay-colored sparrows just down the trail so that was fun.
Here's Cam lounging in his car seat before we headed home.
2008 Running Bird Tally:
127 Eastern Meadowlark

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Almost a Milestone

This blurry picture is a milestone. I'll explain why in a little bit.

I've been actively watching birds now for three years. I'm a naturalist so I've always had a general interest in birds but I've only taken a greater interst in the past few years. I was more of a plant guy in the past as they don't move. A few years back my co-worker Paul mentioned that he hadn't gotten his hundred birds yet. I asked him what we was talking about and he said that he had set a goal of trying to see 100 species of birds by June 1st each year. I thought it sounded hard but he encouraged me and said that if I stopped to count I was probably half way there already. I started to count up the birds I had seen that year and sure enough I had seen a bunch. By the end of 2004 I had seen 85 birds without really even looking.

The next year, 2005, I was hooked and thought this thing counting thing was fun. I ended up with 109 birds for the year. Most people ignore common birds because they are so, well , common! Starting fresh at a count of ZERO each year means that there are hundreds of birds to get all excited about again. I have a reason to be excited to see a crow or a rock pigeon. I think as a naturalist it helps me as well as I am more in tune with the phenology of the world around me and I pay closer attention to changes in not just species but also to weather patterns. After all, a good strong wind out of the south can either bring in new migrants, help them leave or just encourage them fly right on by and not even stop.

The third year, 2006, I finished out with 126 birds thanks to a trips to Arizona, Washington State and Norway. In Washington I saw a pelagic cormorant, a tufted puffin, clarks nutcracker, an American dipper and more. Norway brought European Magpies, great crested grebes, graylag geese, grey herons, carrion crows, european robins, pied wagtails, and, of course, great tits. Yes, I'm talking about the birds.

The fourth year I ended up with count of 143 helped by one of the volunteers Jane Wicklund who frequents the nature center. She's a snow bird who heads down to Arizona each year and we met up at that famous Arizona bird hot spot Boyce Thompson Arboretum where we saw 22 new species before lunch. I got to see a vermillion flycatcher, a bell's vireo, inca dove, and a handfull of other birds I'd never seen in my life. I also led the fossil hunt out in North Dakota where I picked up a western meadowlark, swainson hawk, lark bunting and lazuli bunting.

This year is different. With the arrival of my son, there are no trips out of Minnesota planned and birding time is mostly restricted to hikes at work. I'm happy with my progress though. Halfway through the year I have 126 birds and plenty of time to find more. A few weeks back I saw a Cape May Warbler which was a lifer for me, i.e. a bird I had never seen before in my life. Now I haven't keet a life list in the past, I just started counting birds a few years back since it was a fun way to learn birds and look forward to seeing them. The Cape May Warbler made me wonder though. What would my life list number be? I had also just finished reading The Big Year in which people compete for how many birds they can see in North America in one year. Nevermind life lists, these guys year lists are more than I will probably ever see in my life. I decided to total mine up.

I copy and pasted all of my blog entries for birds into an spreadsheet and then and removed doubles. To my surprise I was only 6 lifer birds away from the milestone of 200! That's a far cry from my first year of seeing only 85 birds total. A couple of days later I saw a Wilson's warbler bringing me closer and then there was an incredible day with three lifers, Blackpoll, Blackburnian and Canada Warblers bringing me to 198.

Today while getting ready to leave work I called my wife Chelsey on the phone to let her know I was coming home and I saw a bird fly by my office window. From the behavior, flying out from a perch and returning, I could tell it was a flycatcher. I peered out the window with my binoculars and was greeted by the sight of a large flycatcher and I wasn't sure what it was. It had distinctive markings though. I looked in my trusty Sibley guide and sure enough, the flycatcher with the dark vest and light breast is the Olive-sided flycatcher. The blurry photo at the beginning of the post was taken at an odd angle through a window with a screen. Of course it is a blurry photo but not only is it bird 126 of the year but more importantly, I'd never seen one before. That's bird 199 on my life list.

One more to go!