Monday, September 20, 2010

Backyard Cooper's Hawk

I was just finishing supper this evening and happened to look out the dining room window and spotted this beautiful Cooper's Hawk perched on the ground feeding tray. Cool!

It sat there for ages......long enough for me to grab the camera and sneak downstairs to the patio door to take all these pictures.

When no sparrows showed up at the ground feeder tray, the Coop turned around on the tray and looked towards the house. Doesn't it look like it's thinking, "Hmmmm, maybe there's some tasty prey lurking under that deck."

I was surprised as heck to see this Coop hop off the tray and start running towards me.

Did she say running? Yeah, I couldn't believe it either! Here's an action shot in mid-stride.
Still don't believe me? Well, I got a little video clip too! This Coop was probably only about 5-6 yards away from the house. It must have seen something interesting under the deck that was worth running for rather than flying. Isn't it cool to see this raptor up close? Looking all around in search of something to eat?

I never did see it catch anything, and it finally gave up and flew back out into the yard again. It perched on the trail camera for several minutes before finally departing from the backyard to search for a meal elsewhere.

This was definitely one of my most memorable raptor encounters in the backyard and I'm so glad I was able to photograph it. I hope this Cooper's Hawk continues to visit my backyard......I have a ginormous flock of house sparrows that definitely needs thinning!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Backyard Trail Camera

If you've ever wondered what goes on in your backyard while you're asleep, you really should think about getting a trail camera! They've really come down in price -- you can generally find some pretty good ones for less than $100 (watch for sales at your local sporting goods store). Most all of them are digital now and most even capture video. We know the deer are in our backyard, but they usually show up after we've gone to bed. Mr. Johnson decided to put one of his trail cameras out in the backyard where the deer feeders are and here are some "action shots" from this past Wednesday night. We had some bad storms and heavy rain that night, so I didn't even fill the corn tray, figuring the weather would deter the deer from showing up. Obviously it didn't. In this first shot, you can see the raindrops reflected in the flash. I think these two are our neighborhood twins. The closer blue tray contains acorns and the far tray contains just a few remaining kernels of corn from the previous nite. Time stamps are on the bottom of each photo.

Twins have left and now another small doe stops by for a snack.

This last one is my favorite! Baby gets a kiss from mom! Unfortunately, they were so close to the camera and its super-bright flash, but it's still cute and you can see baby's whiskers even.

Trail camera......never too early to start hinting for Christmas gifts!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Narceus americanus

It was a gorgeous late summer day and perfect for a family picnic at our favorite spot: Forestville State Park. In the picnic shelter, we found this large millipede (Narceus americanus). Normally I'm a bit squeamish about bugs that are larger than an inch, but this millipede was really interesting and after my brother and nephew said it was really cool to feel all those millipede legs walking across their hand, I had to experience the sensation also.

It was a really neat feeling and so fascinating to watch all those little legs propelling this millipede forward and backwards! Sorry this video isn't longer......hopefully you'll find a large millipede of your own someday and experience the wonder of this amazing bug!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Wildflower Plantings

I didn't get a chance to visit the health club today, so I took my 2-mile walk up the road instead. Along the way I noticed there was some Stiff Goldenrod growing in the roadside ditch. I've been wanting to get some of this for my backyard for quite a while -- the flowers are an excellent source of nectar and very attractive to butterflies and bees. I dug up at least 8 plants from the ditch. I also dug up some sunflowers -- Woodland Sunflowers, I think. My plan was to put all of these plants out in that wild, unmowed acre of my backyard.

I also found and dug up several of these interesting looking plants. The seed pod on them led me to believe they were some sort of milkweed. When I cracked open one of the seed pods, they definitely looked like milkweed seeds inside. What do you think?
After I got everything planted and came back in to my computer, I went to the MonarchWatch website because they have photos of all the different varieties of milkweeds. To me this plant looked exactly like Plains Milkweed, which supposedly is not found in Minnesota. OK, now I was really curious, so I googled "Plains Milkweed" and here's what I found on the USDA Plants Database website for Plains Milkweed. Check out the range map on this website -- it also shows this plant is not found in Minnesota! I got all 4 plants in the ground and marked so I'll be able to check and see if they make it through the winter. I hope they do because I want to see if it grows and spreads on its own and how attractive it will be for the monarch caterpillars and other butterflies and insects next spring.

Most of the wildflowers I've planted previously in this wild acre haven't survived (the soil is really crappy), but I was happy to see that this plant and another just like it had survived and were thriving. It's one of the hyssops and the leaves have a wonderful sweet minty-licorice scent when you rub them between your fingers.

While I walking through the tall grass searching for spots to plant my new wildflowers, I noticed there were lots of spider webs created and populated by these beautiful Banded Garden Spiders.
The webs were hard to spot in the bright afternoon sunshine and I hope I didn't accidentally destroy any of them.

It was a beautiful afternoon to be outdoors, a light breeze, and about 65 degrees. The only negative thing was the swarms of hungry mosquitoes just waiting for me to walk through the tall grass. Where are those dragonflies when you need them?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Backyard Doe and Fawn

Just before dark one evening last week, I looked out the kitchen window and spied the little fawn feasting on corn in the birdfeeding tray. I tried to get some photos out the kitchen window, but managed only this one poor quality image through the window screen.

I decided to head downstairs and see if I could get a picture from the outside patio. Once downstairs, I saw that Mama Deer was also in the backyard under the apple tree. As soon as she saw me come outside, she went into full alert mode to protect her baby. I switched my camera over to video and managed to capture their hasty retreat from the backyard.

Friday, September 3, 2010

State Fair Trip

Yesterday Mr. Johnson and I visited the Minnesota State Fair. I took a whole bunch of pictures of animals (like this adorable baby pig) and posted them on my Facebook page.
I was able to narrow the photos down to 94 and I hope you'll be able to enjoy them by clicking on this link to see the album.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Here's what I saw in the monarch ranch when I got up at 4:45 this morning.......9, count 'em, 9 chrysalis have turned black because there's a monarch butterfly in there ready to emerge!

And here are the 9 beautiful new monarch butterflies that greeted me when I got home from work this afternoon!
I will be using my last 9 monarch tags when I release these butterflies this afternoon, for a total of 50 monarch butterflies tagged and released this summer! This is a new personal best for me and more than doubles my totals from the previous 2 seasons of operating a monarch ranch. I'm already planning to purchase a larger enclosure and expanding my monarch ranching operations for next summer. 75 sounds like a really good number, don't you think? (tags can only be purchased in lots of 25)

Sadly, this concludes another season of monarch ranching. It will be strange to not have monarchs sitting on the kitchen counter anymore, since they've been taking up so much of my time at home for the past couple months. But, it gives me something to plan for and look forward to for next summer. I'm already collecting milkweed seeds from plants in my backyard to start new seedlings next spring and figuring out where and how to expand milkweed plantings to encourage and accomodate more monarch activity in the backyard.

I strongly encourage any of you who are interested to try monarch ranching. I think you'll find it a fun and rewarding activity for a minimal $$ investment. I'll even send you seeds if you want to try growing your own milkweed plants! "Try it, you'll like it!"