Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Monarch Milestone

Today marked a milestone in my monarch ranching experience -- 6 monarch butterflies hatched and released on the same day!!

Two were already hatched by 6 AM this morning when I left for work and the rest emerged during the morning. So they were really fluttery and anxious to fly by the time I got home early this afternoon. Since I don't tag them until I get outside in the backyard, I decided to take a chance and open the ranch to see if I could get photos of all 6 butterflies.

Not to worry.......I did manage to capture the escaped monarch behind my computer desk and he was released unharmed out in the backyard.

Today's butterflies increases the total of monarchs raised, tagged and released from this summer's monarch ranch to 37! Initial observations show that at least 4 more monarchs will emerge tomorrow. With the monarchs still to emerge in the ranch and including the 4 wild monarch butterflies I caught and tagged last week, I should be able to achieve my goal of tagging 50 monarch butterflies this year by Labor Day.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Cutest Twins in the Neighborhood!

I finally got the opportunity to photograph the cutest twins in our neighborhood! We've been watching these two since early summer, but now they've become more independent and are venturing out in the neighborhood without the watchful presence of their mom. Typical teenagers, I guess!

These annoying flies keep biting my legs!

Aren't my spots are adorable?

If we don't move, will people think we are lawn ornaments?

It's so nice here in the shade.

Do you mind people? I'm trying to relax here!

Look out for cars!

Are you still taking pictures?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Pet Update

Penny has "faved" another one of my current knitting projects. This is Jennifer's Afghan, a pattern from a book I read recently entitled "Dropped Dead Stitch." (I bet you non-knitter's didn't even know that there was such a thing as knitting-themed murder/mystery fiction, did you?) Anyway, I stopped mid-row on this afghan, so it ended up being a nice little tube and Penny was able to tunnel inside for her afternoon nap!

Here's my sweet Sophie terrorizing a streaked gopher we caught in the live trap the other day.
I was so happy to see her getting so excited about this little gopher because a week ago Sophie almost died! She had injured her paw in a leap off the bed a few weeks ago and was unable to walk on it. A visit from her vet determined there were no broken bones and I chose to pursue the less expensive Ascriptin therapy (vs. a pricey NSAID prescription which also required a liver & kidney blood test prior to starting the medication). I received all the standard warnings about aspirin's affects on the stomach lining and was told to watch Sophie's stools especially for anything that might indicate internal bleeding due to aspirin irritation.

After a week of trying to restrict her activity, Sophie's limp was almost gone, so I discontinued the Ascriptin therapy. Then after another week, she jumped off the bed and re-injured the paw, so I started her Ascriptin again (half a pill in the morning and the other half in the evening). Last Monday, she was much more lethargic than usual and napped on the couch for almost the entire afternoon. I didn't really think anything of it until suppertime rolled around and she was only mildly interested in her treats and then left the table without even begging for plates to lick (extremely unusual for her!) I asked Mr. Johnson if he had noticed any change while on "poop patrol" earlier in the day and he said he hadn't. Then shortly after supper he had her out and she conveniently pooped for us and Mr. Johnson reported that her poop was black! Uh-Oh! I knew that wasn't a good sign and lifted one of Sophie's lips to find that her gums were an extremely unhealthy shade of light pink (almost white). That's when I knew something was really wrong. We loaded her into the car and whisked her off to our local Affiliated Emergency Veterinary Service hospital. A battery of tests (including blood, x-ray and ultrasound -- to rule out tumors) were done and it was determined that Sophie was severely anemic, due to a GI bleed triggered by the Ascriptin I'd been giving her for the previous week. Poor Baby! She had to spend the night and part of the next day at the hospital. I brought her home Tuesday afternoon with a couple weeks' worth of special intestinal diet food and she's been receiving lots of TLC while she recovers from this GI bleed and associated anemia.

Sophie's almost back to her old self now and that's why I'm so happy to see her getting so excited about a streaked gopher in a trap again -- because a week ago, this photo wouldn't have been possible!
(and in case you're wondering, this gopher escaped unharmed because once the trap's tipped over, they just have to run onto that door and it opens right up--guaranteeing a speedy escape!)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Let's Release Some Monarch Butterflies!

Quite a few monarch butterflies are starting to emerge in the monarch ranch. It's always cool to see the wing colors develop and know that a new butterfly will be born in a couple days.

This picture isn't very clear, but this is what the chrysalis looks like on the morning the butterfly will emerge -- dark and almost ready to pop. No surprises about what's going to happen today!

Last Thursday morning, 4 butterflies emerged from their chrysalis. This is what I saw when I got home from work that day. The monarch ranch is a very busy place these days.

Before they're ready to be released out into my backyard wildflower garden, the monarch butterflies spend the morning in the ranch drying out and stretching their wings. That's always my favorite part -- attaching the sticker tag to its wing and documenting another successful release of a monarch butterfly that I raised from a baby.

They always seem to be happy to be out in the sunlight and fresh air.

Sometimes they'll fly away immediately and other times they like to sit on the flowers and enjoy the warmth of the afternoon sun.

Here's a little video I made on Thursday afternoon......please excuse my moment of ADHD in this video. It was the first Great Spangled Fritillary I've seen in the backyard this summer!

Friday, August 20, 2010

In the Backyard

Here are some photos of some random, but interesting things I've seen in the backyard in the past week or so.

My crow family
The juveniles are big enough to feed themselves now, but still try to beg from their parents every once in a while. Sometimes only 4 will show for a day or so and I get worried that one of them may have gotten shot during Minnesota's crow hunting season, but then the next day all 5 are back again and I'm relieved.

Cooper's Hawk sunbathing
I checked with Susan (the raptor expert) to see if she had any opinions about what this Coop was doing and she said she'd never seen any of her Coop's behaving this way. After the hawk flew away, I went out and checked where it had been laying and no ant hills were nearby, so we ruled out "anting." There was also no evidence of a fresh kill in the area, so I think the bird was just trying to cool off a bit on a hot August afternoon.

The backyard wildflower garden/monarch waystation is in full bloom!
Lost of purple coneflowers, but also Joe Pye weed, Canada goldenrod, Queen Anne's Lace, green-headed coneflower, and brown-eyed Susan. It's definitely a butterfly and bee haven.

Common Green Darner (female)
I found this beautiful dragonfly on the swamp white milkweed last week when I was collecting monarch caterpillars. I was really happy she allowed me to get some great photos before flying away.

Newly tagged monarch enjoying her first nectar in the wild

Great Spangled Fritillary on Joe Pye Weed

Hope you're seeing some neat things in your backyard too!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

9 out of 10 Cats Prefer

9 out of 10 cats prefer to share their home with a knitter!

And if you're wondering about that 10th cat, it's only because that kitty was unlucky enough to choose a non-knitting hooman to share its life with.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Hope you're not tired of monarchs yet!

I pulled a few weeds in the garden yesterday afternoon and threw them into the wheelbarrow for Mr. Johnson to dispose of . After dumping the weeds, he came into the house and asked me whether I had noticed the monarch chrysalis on the wheelbarrow. Sadly, I hadn't noticed it at all.

The wheelbarrow always sits in the same spot in the backyard next to the compost box. On top of the compost box in a long flower box, I'm growing some more milkweed plants (sometimes known as butterfly weed [Asclepia tuberosa]) from seed. These little seedlings are only a few inches tall, but they're very attractive to the monarch caterpillars. I bet the chrysalis on this wheelbarrow is from one of those caterpillars that was snacking on those butterfly weed seedlings earlier this week.
After taking this photograph, I removed the chrysalis from the wheelbarrow and placed it in monarch ranch along with the 17 other chrysalis still waiting to hatch into monarch butterflies.

Another milkweed plant in my yard that's receiving lots of attention from monarch caterpillars this summer is this Swamp White Milkweed. I planted it last summer and was happy to see that it made it through the winter and has developed into a huge, beautiful plant this summer. It has been blooming for several weeks now and has even developed some seed pods that I will save and try to grow more plants from next spring.

I'm amazed at how much the monarch caterpillars love this plant! It's not unusual for me to find at least 5-6 caterpillars on it every day. I collected 5 for the monarch ranch earlier this afternoon and then found these 2 additional ones a couple hours later.

I think there are at least 16 caterpillars of all sizes crawling around in the monarch ranch right now. At this rate, I shouldn't have any problem achieving my goal of raising, tagging and releasing 50 monarch butterflies in my backyard this summer.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Storm Clouds

We had some pretty good thunderstorms with tornadoes in SE Minnesota yesterday afternoon. The first tornado was spotted around 3:30 in the afternoon in the county just west of ours. For the next could of hours, severe thunderstorms and tornadoes continued to develop and move through the area. Finally I couldn't stand it any longer and grabbed my camera to step outside the front door and see what was going on. I was able to capture some slow rotation in these clouds as they passed over our neighborhood. It would have been a lot more dramatic with tornado sirens wailing in the background, but they had already been turned off. Instead, if you listen real closely at the beginning, you might hear a song sparrow.

The good news is that no tornadoes developed from these cells and we ended up with just some heavy rain. We're looking forward to cooler temps and lower humidity starting tomorrow.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Weekend Birding Trips

The past 2 Sundays have been spent on our continued quest for the Yellow-Headed Blackbird. We've expanded our search to the west and still haven't been able to see any signs of this elusive songbird!

Last Sunday we headed over towards Waseca, an area that seems to have a few more lakes, small ponds and wetlands, and also an area where we used to see these birds years ago on trips to Mankato. Maybe spring is a better time to search for the YHBs or maybe their numbers really are declining as we didn't find any in the Waseca area. After leaving there, we headed south towards I-90 and the return trip towards home. Along the way, while we were standing alongside the road scanning another cattail shoreline for YHBs, we were fortunate to have a woman (who was also a birder) stop and tell us about a spot just few miles ahead where there was a flooded field and she had just seen a tremendous number of Common Egrets. She was right! We were able to pull into the field drive and experience this amazing sight.
This photo shows just a small portion of the huge number of Common Egrets in this field. Our best guesstimate was that there were between 75-100 egrets here (certainly the largest number of these birds I've also ever seen in one spot). Mixed in with the egrets were a few Great Blue Herons, Giant Canada Geese, a number of big gulls (Ring-Billed or Herring, I couldn't tell for sure), and some White Pelicans. And if you click on the photo above to enlarge it, you'll also spot an Eastern Kingbird on the fencepost in the lower right-hand corner.

Shortly after we got out of the car to look at all the birds, the pelicans decided to take flight and I was able to get this nice photo of their fly-by. These birds are so beautiful in flight, don't you think?
Yesterday, we decided to head to the far western portion of the state where I was sure we wouldn't have any trouble finding YHBs. We took Sophie with us so we wouldn't have to worry about her staying home all by herself for a long time......besides she's a bird dog anyway so maybe she'd bring us some luck on the trip!

We turned off I-90 at the Lakefield exit and headed north towards South Heron Lake. Took a couple detours to county parks and other wetlands, but no YHBs were spotted. After arriving in the town of Heron Lake, we turned east on our way to North Heron Lake. Just out of town and right across from the Heron Lake BioEnergy plant, we came upon another flooded farmfield that offered our best bird sightings of the day. Unfortunately, no YHBs were present, but the pond was full of gulls, geese, shorebirds, and a few ducks.

My shorebird ID skills are poor, so I'm unable to positively identify some of these birds and I hope that any of you who are reading this blog may be able to provide names for these birds (in spite of my somewhat poor photographs).

This first one I do know.......Killdeer!

There were large numbers of these gulls -- I'm going with Franklin's Gull, based on thewhite wing-tips and large white eye-ring (plus the range map in my field guides indicated this is the summer range for this gull).

There were juveniles and adults.

Here's a cute little unidentified peep. Any thoughts? Maybe a Least Sandpiper? It was pretty small and I'm going by the white spots on the wings and the light stripe over the eye and darker stripe behind the eye. I believe I've heard shorebirds have already started their southward migration through Minnesota also.

Here's another look at the huge numbers of gulls that were hanging out in this pond. Look at the size difference between the Franklin's and those big ol' Ring-Billed or Herring gulls in the middle of the picture!

Here's another shorebird I need help with identifying. Sorry the photos are such poor quality! This one was a bit larger and taller......maybe the size of a Lesser Yellowlegs. Could it be a Lesser Yellowlegs?

The dark wings kind of threw me off, plus in the photo below, it looks like it has a lot of white underneath its chin. I didn't notice that its legs were a really bright yellow, so Solitary Sandpiper was another possibility....

One more look........

Another Least Sandpiper?

Here's another Killdeer. I just put this photo in because I liked the reflection in the water.
Special thanks to Hap in New Hope who left a comment to correct my ID of this bird from a Killdeer to a Semi-Palmated Plover -- LIFER!!

And here's one more with 3 different peeps, reflecting nicely in the calm water!
Do you think those 2 bigger peeps are Pectoral Sandpipers? They have the yellow legs and are just a little bit smaller than that Killdeer on the right.

So I'm officially giving up on the search for the Yellow-Headed Blackbird for this year. We put over 360 miles on the car just yesterday and it's time to stop the insanity! I'm thinking it's just way too late in the year to find them and maybe next year we'll start earlier in the spring, when territories are being established and hopefully the YHBs will be more active and vocal.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Monarch Ranch Update

Things are going well in my monarch ranch. Lots of hungry caterpillars are feasting on all the milkweed leaves I can harvest. I'm guessing that maybe half of the caterpillars I raised from eggs have survived. If I find any wild caterpillars when I'm out harvesting milkweed leaves for food, I round them up for the ranch too (found 2 more just this afternoon!) It's really cool to see all of them crawling around and boy, are they ever hungry! When I put my ear down close to the lid, I can actually hear them munching away on these leaves......it's pretty neat!

One monarch butterfly hatched last week -- it was a male. Here are the other chrysalis that have been created on the lid of my monarch ranch. There are 2 additional new chrysalis since yesterday and 6 large caterpillars clinging to the roof that will probably turn into chrysalis sometime in the next 24 hours.

The other positive thing that happened today is that my monarch butterfly tags (50!!) arrived in today's mail. Now all butterflies that hatch from my ranch will be tagged before being released into the wild for their fall migration journey to Mexico.

Are you interested in monarch tagging? It's not necessary to grow your own butterflies from caterpillars. Anyone can tag and release monarch butterflies. Please click on this Monarch Watch link to learn more and to order your own tags. It's a really enjoyable project, gets you outside in beautiful late summer weather, helps you learn more about monarch butterflies and the habitats they prefer, plus it's a fabulous activity to share with your kids or grandkids!

Monday, August 2, 2010


I found this cute little treefrog this evening when I was out harvesting some milkweed leaves to feed my monarch caterpillars. This is the second time I've seen one of these treefrogs sitting on a milkweed plant in my yard.

I don't know if it's a Cope's Gray Treefrog or an Eastern Gray Treefrog as we have both in Minnesota but from the descriptions I found, I'm leaning towards the Cope's because of this little frog's smooth skin. I did find out that they have the ability to change color from bright green to gray in just seconds!

No markings on the back. This little frog was very shy -- every time I tried turning the leaf to photograph its face, it would turn away from me.

Finally, the little frog grew annoyed with the papparazzi and hopped to a nearby tree branch to escape. I couldn't resist taking one more picture before finally leaving this cutie to go about its froggy business.