Monday, December 31, 2012

Winter Wildlife Watching

Weather was beautiful on December 23, 2012 for a wildlife watching field trip. Lolo Creek Campground west of Lolo, MT by 15 miles along Highway 12 was the destination. Target species for the trip were: chestnut-backed chickadee (Poecile rufescens), gray jay (Perisoreus canadensis), Steller's jay (Cyanocitta stelleri), and a host of macrolichen using bark as a substrate. Habitat here somewhat described in previous blog posting. Found the forest quiet for most of field trip...only few common raven (Corvus corax) calling. However, did find and photograph three life lichen species, small and beautiful:

Ophioparma rubricosa
Pacific Bloodspot (Ophioparma rubricosa)
Ochrolechia oregonensis
Double-rim Saucer Lichen (Ochrolechia oregonensis)
Calicium viride
Green Stubble Lichen (Calicium viride)
To get a flavor of the conditions and experience, below is a video...a multimedia field notebook. Field Notes on Science and Nature is a book to motivate you to record your own wildlife sightings in the more traditional format. Most importantly, get outside and find something great!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of N.A...Wow

I just got around to purchasing Stokes Field Guide, published in October, 2010. This is my 16th field guide (conservative count) to birds of North America! Why? Simply put each contributes different knowledge on which to profit (continuing evolution of bird identification).
The Stokes Guide is no different: covers 854 species (wow); 3,400 color photos; and emphasis on "quantitative shape" as the identification tool. Don and Lillian Stokes maintain that this publication is "factually and visually superior to any other field guide." Is it?
Well, the photos (more of them and bigger in size compared to Kaufman, National Wildlife Federation, and Smithsonian field guides) are stunning (ala +HQSP Birds +Birds4All  +Bird Poker ). I can say I've never seen many bird species through binoculars, as well as the photographs portray them in this field guide. Using a DSLR for other critters, I can appreciate the excellence and the standard of these photos; maybe just the reason for bird photographers to acquire this book (sorry I don't own Richard Crossley field guide for comparison...waiting for the western edition to be published). I also like the emphasis on "quantitative shape" akin to G.I.S. (General Impression and Shape) that accents body parts proportional relationships, e.g. Greater Scaup (horizontal head shape) versus Lesser Scaup (vertical head shape).
This field guide is not really for ones pocket, but ideal for the reference library. Of course, there is no 'the one'. All the field guides have pluses and minuses, use your public library to find ones that fit your identification process/style. Most importantly, get outside and find something great!
American Three-toed Woodpecker (Picoides dorsalis)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tough Morphology ID's of Lichen

My usual modus operandi in identifying lichens is to take multiple macro photographs of an unknown species. Then upload digital photos to computer where they can be zoomed in to reveal diagnostic morphological characteristics. Works fairly well with macro lichens...with crustose lichens it can be wishful thinking. Here's a case study of sorts:

I 'justified' identification by descriptions from Lichens of North America. Really should use chemistry for definitive ID. Making my way slowly to this action. Check out +The Lichen Page or +Dan Bowden on Google+ for more lichen dialogue/photos.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

70th posted Lichen Species...this is fun :-)

Just uploaded a photo of broad wrinkle-lichen (Tuckermannopsis platyphylla) to my Flickr set of lichens; this marks the 70th species identified via photographic record. It has been great fun. Lichens fill a slow time of the year for wildlife watching in Montana, late fall through winter. These organisms are beautiful, if you note them, as they are small and somewhat inconspicuous. Identifying can be a bear; many times chemical tests are required for a definitive answer. I have not gone there...yet. Have relied on my Canon T1i and 100 mm macro lens instead. Learning by trial and error the entire way...the best way to go, truly fulfilling and empowering. Here's a photo of the scree/rock slope of Kim Williams Nature Trail in Missoula,'s all lichen habitat!
Kim Williams Nature Trail
Yep, rocks, soil, tree, shrub, bark, dead wood all substrate for lichen species. Discovery is everywhere...bring a camera on your next neighborhood hike/wildlife watching field trip :-)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Bohemian Waxwing...Back in the Neighborhood

Bohemian (Bombycilla garrulus) and smaller numbers of cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedorum) descended on our yard to ingest chokecherry berries. These birds are reliably seen every fall through spring because of many accent plantings of fruit bearing trees and shrubs. A Eurasian cultivar, mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia), seems to be the commonest yard planting here in Montana urban landscapes and a favorite of waxwings. Here's a video of these birds in action on what I believe is a crabapple in February:

Identification is straightforward: bulky, gray chest/upperbody along with the burnt orange undertail coverts. Vocalizations are distinct. Mr. Swarth describes (1922, from Life Histories of North American Wagtails, Shrikes, Vireos, and their Allies; author-Cleveland Arthur Bent, reprint from Dover 1965) the voice of the Bohemian as a " a series of slightly separated notes". And yes, they are 'garrulus' calling most of the time from flight or day-time roost.

Invariably, because of their flock size and vocalizations, merlin (Falco columbarius) isn't far away.
Merlin (Falco columbarius)

Getting video and photographs is difficult at times because the birds are skittish. However, it is a minor challenge when considering how accessible this wildlife is...right out the front door of our home. Stake out some berry-laden plantings in or near your neighborhood this fall/winter and see what you discover.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Common Redpoll...coming soon to a neighborhood near you

Flushed a small flock of common redpoll (Carduelis flammea) while doing my job at the waterfowl hunt parking area the other day on Lee Metcalf NWR (Stevensville, MT). Of late there are posted sightings of redpoll on MOB from other birders in Montana. Obviously, Nyger feeders are best at attracting these winter finches; don't forget that non-feeder habitat can be just as reliable and good for finding these birds. Here's some video from December, 2011 illustrating this point:

It doesn't hurt to use your ears/hearing in finding these species also; they have a distinct call:

Finally, a photo of how one usually sees these birds in the 'field'
Common Redpoll in flight

Monday, November 19, 2012

'Yard' Restoration...Continues

Yesterday I seeded about 400 square feet of yard to native wildflowers, photo below. Note the sand on the soil; the process of planting requires adding small seeds to 10 cups of sand, mixing thoroughly, then distributing on bare ground. That's it!!

The rock garden seed mix was acquired from Native Ideals Seed Farm. Here's a species list of what was planted:

No doubt it won't be kool-aid; hoping it will look something like this in two years or so (another part of our 'yard'):

Now have very little to mow; I've built it and they have come...wild your yard-planting time is now!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Lichen Looking

Continued my deeper segue into lichens. Have made several field trips seeking species out. Here's a short video of my adventure, mostly capturing aesthetics of lichen searching, to Kootenai Creek (Bitterroot National Forest) yesterday:
Below are two photos of somewhat common, distinct-form lichens...variously referred to as tube, bone or pillow lichens. Yes, the naming scheme fits; many plant and animal have common names that include a description of form or color. The genus is Hypogymnia and for the most part species in this genus are found growing on bark, occasionally on moss over rock. These lichens are not really small and lend themselves to photos by plain point & shoots. Taking along a magnifying lens is also a good idea for the in-the-moment experience. The color and structure of these plants is beautiful and abstract, though my questions also center how and why. On your next walk, try looking for lichens-they can even be found in urban areas :-) 
Hypogymnia physodes or Monk's-hood lichen

Hypogymnia tubulosa or Powder-headed tube lichen

Monday, November 5, 2012

Vote Now...for the correct Fritillary ID

Timely opportunity to practice decision-making before tomorrow's voting booth visit. This poll is wildlife-centric; help me determine the identity of five different butterflies that are from the genus Speyeria or Fritillary in general. This group of insects are difficult to identify because of variability in color/pattern within species. All the shots posted below capture the underwing which is key for identification. Any resource/reference may be used in voting. You might read a American Birding Association blog posting from Ted Floyd, that overviews the concept of species in the context of birds. It is excellent reflection as basis for decision-making here with butterflies. A multiple choice form follows the photos below...good luck.

Photo 1

Photo 2

Photo 3

Photo 4

Photo 5

Monday, October 1, 2012

Full Life...

Contained in a feed from Brain Pickings is a quote from Anais Nin (1946):
Technology associated with this blog posting may be superficial as Nin describes, but it a great medium to broadcast her message. Similarly, Fast Company has a Kaihan Krippendorff web posting about finding your work purpose/passion. So a simple message to you: "Get in the moment, find your purpose/passion, go for it, be the best you inc...create a full life" 

Here is a photo link of some butterflies doing just that:
Butterfly-'Coppers' subfamily Lycaeninae

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Rabbitbrush...Neighborhood Butterfly Magnet

Over time I've discovered that some of the best wildlife watching may be right out the front door of your home. For sure it helps if one cultivates plants/habitats attractive to wildlife around the home site. Plus, many residential areas/subdivisions may have areas that are dedicated as "parks" in the neighborhood. That's the case where I live. It just so happens the parks (not huge in size...largest about 7 home lots in extant) here have a good native component. To my discovery, the 'beat down' looking shrubs growing in these areas, Rabbitbrush (Ericameria genus) are major butterfly attractants in late summer/early fall. Paul Opler, dean of butterfly watchers, published a paper detailed 33 species of butterfly using Rabbitbrush [Journal of the Lepidopterists' Society 49 (1), 1995, 1-5]  Yes, I've been going to a large expanse of Rabbitbrush southeast of Stevensville which has been great for butterflying. However, the wildlfire smoke has been really bad there recently. So, I checked out instead the Rabbitbrush in my neighborhood parks. And I'm not talking about extensive stands, instead scattered specimens far apart that may get to 6 foot in diameter (most much smaller). Had some great action. Found west coast lady, hoary comma, juba skipper, red admiral, and clouded sulphur in an hour. Here's the video followed by photos for your enjoyment:

Clouded Sulphur

Hoary Comma

Juba Skipper

Red  Admiral

West Coast Lady

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Watching Dragonflies...Learning How

Monday mid-afternoon, a hot summer wife and I go to Fort Fizzle to wade in Lolo Creek for the exquisite feeling of cold, rushing water. Brrrr, water is still cool in August! I've got my Canon DSLR camera and Christine has her keen eye on rocks. The action begins, a's a darner zooming by, nice! After several more darner sightings, a smaller, darker dragonfly with emerald eyes blows past. As 'Scooby Do' would say "rut row". Yep, I'm fully engaged with getting a photo of this mystery odonate. The best I could do:
Emerald species
I'm thinking this is a member of the Striped Emerald group, genus Somatochlora. Did not know or think of looking here for this genus of dragonfly. These dragonflies really fly, I mean for extended periods which photographing them challenging. And this could be a species I've never seen before. Choices according to the Dennis Paulson field guide Dragonflies and Damselflies of the West are Ocellated, Ringed, and Hudsonian Emerald (all stream species to a degree). The photo I took does show a diamond shape (if not a photo artifact) on the front of the thorax, indicative of Ringed. However, not getting any sense of white rings on the abdomen. So have gone back two other times this week after work to get a diagnostic photo. No luck. So tomorrow morning will be going to the spot for success. Had a similar challenge with Sedge Darner (Aeshna juncea) at Mud Lake near Skalkaho Pass (east of Hamilton, MT). After the fifth try I captured one in flight:
Sedge Darner
Hey, the fun is in the doing and discovery. 

Other groups of dragonflies are not as difficult at least to photograph. Meadowhawks, genus Sympetrum, are much more cooperative. Check out this video:

I encourage you to investigate your own neighborhood...learn something new and good:-)

Monday, August 13, 2012

'Going Up The Country'...Sort of

Yep, even living in Montana, one needs to leave the city and get away; check out (link above) a 60's band 'Canned Heat' singing the theme via Spotify (timeless message :-). My reason includes wildlife watching. Today, went to State School Trust Land southeast of Stevensville, Montana in hopes of finding loads of skippers nectaring on the flowering sagebrush species in montane sagebrush steppe. Video'd the drive in...try humming Canned Heat as you watch:

Here's a still shot of the habitat:
Montane Sagebrush Steppe

Within minutes of entering sagebrush stand noted Melissa Blue (Plebejus melissa) nectaring:
Melissa Blue

Climbing the slope encountered scattered skippers (photo below); all seemed to id out to the 'Branded skipper complex', Hesperia comma/colorado. Can you decide?
Branded Skipper 'complex'

Unexpectedly this beautiful butterfly came into my path, Coral Hairstreak (Satyrium titus)...only the second time I've seen this insect.
Coral Hairstreak
'Go up the country' in your neck of the woods; there's still good butterflying to be had.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Photographic Miscues of Copper Butterflies

It is a great feeling to go wildlife watching, find the species you are looking for, and then capture a superb photo documenting your sighting experience. After investing in two Canon 'L' lenses of late, 100 mm macro and the 70-300 mm, the results of most of my photographic efforts are pretty great (my take)'s all in the equipment :-) Recently while butterfly watching at Skalkaho Pass (elevation ~7200 feet east of Hamilton, MT), was so intent on photographing a Fritillary (to id, really good photos are necessary), missed getting on quickly one of the most beautiful and distinct lepids that landed just beyond the fritillary...Lustrous Copper (Lycaena cupreus). Here's what I would up with the camera:
Lustrous Copper
The butterfly flew after a brief period; I looked for quite a while never relocating it. A second great  Copper miscue at a different location, I locate a Bronze Copper (Lycaena hyllus) nectaring, which they don't do regularly. I'm clicking away point blank with my Canon T1i; later discover that I had neglected to insert the SD card...NO photos were captured! Being prepared and camera ready is part of success; that serendipity thing plays important role in wildlife watching. Walking the Peterson Lake Trail (Bitterroot National Forest near Florence, MT) came upon several small meadows immediate the trail; several wildflower species were still in bloom among them Sulfur Buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum). 'Euphilotes' Blue butterflies usually key in on this species as a larval foodplant. Yep, no Square spotted Blue butterflies using the buckwheat, just many other Blue butterfly species along with one Blue Copper (Lycaena heteronea)...a lifer! Ready with the camera this time, got many good photos of this particular Copper:
Blue Copper
Much success in finding and photographing something great.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Great Wildlife Yard Planting...'Rotkugel'

The previous owner of our current home planted an Ornamental Oregano cultivar 'Rotkugel' that I ignored for several years...until I noted a Juba Skipper (Hesperia juba) using it a couple of years ago, that got my attention. It is a pollinator magnet! Bees dominate, but butterflies also frequent in lesser numbers. Wood-Nymphs and Skippers are the main customers. Check it out:

Here are some still shots of recent Skipper sightings:
Branded Skipper 'Complex' (Hesperia sp.)

Woodland Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanoides)

Monday, July 16, 2012

On a Mission...

Maclay Flat, USFS property along Bitterroot River in Missoula, Montana, has a wet meadow that is attractive to the Red-veined Meadowhawk (Sympetrum madidum) and perhaps the Bronze Copper butterfly (Lycaena hyllus). I don't have a real good photo of a male red-veined and I have never seen the copper species...hey, let's go for it. Of course did some homework beforehand. This species of copper is found on wetland edges that have 'dock' plant species (genus is Rumex) growing.
Arrived at the site about 2 pm, ~85F, WNW wind >10 mph at times. Right off found Melissa Blue butterflies (Plebejus melissa) along moist spots on trail.

Many meadowhawks were also seen the trail that borders an irrigation ditch, here's a Cherry-faced Meadowhawk (Sympetrum internum).
Cherry-faced Meadowhawk

A robust stand of sweet clover is growing along the trail in places...attractive for bees Edith's Copper (Lycaena editha) butterfly.
Edith's Copper

Got to the wet meadow and found 'dock' growing, however found zero Bronze Copper and zero Red-veined Meadowhawk, hmmmmm. Called it a day and headed home. Decided to water some flowers around the yard and what do I find in the process...a Red-veined Meadowhawk 'hawking' insects from my garden.
Red-veined Meadowhawk
The nearest wetland is a mile away (riparian forest of the Bitterroot River)! It's funny that both butterflies and dragonflies aren't always found where they should be. Need to review the literature more for added understanding...or maybe not. Take home message, finding something great may just be out your back door.

Monday, July 9, 2012

New Wildlife Experience...

Today, I did a NABA Butterfly Count in Missoula, Montana at Rattlesnake National Recreation Area. Joining five other folks at 10:30 am of varying skill and talent we walked the trail of Spring Gulch identifying and counting all butterflies encountered. Initial conditions were ideal for human activity...sunny and 72 Fahrenheit. It quickly warmed up, ending up in the high 90's. As a birder, these temps are death knell for bird activity, birds stop singing and moving. Not so for butterfly action. Frenetic activity was non-stop gliding, fluttering, flitting, darting, diving. Imagine sweeping a net at animals that flap their wings 25 times a second in order to examine it closely for identification purposes, no harm comes to animal in the quick process of netting, id, and letting loose again. It was fun leading the group up the trail; I could see the butterflies in advance of our position coming down to us. I would shout out to folks with nets behind me the general orientation and generic designation, e.g. 2 'blue' coming down trail. Melissa Blue (Plebejus melissa), mere 5/8" in length, approached at ankle high creating numerous gyrations on the part of netters to capture them; it was fun watching them and their smiles at capture. Again, that happiness thing; according to Action for Happiness, 40% of our daily happiness comes from activities/relationships of our choosing...only 10% from income/environment. IMHO, attending a butterfly count as a novice or expert is great fun and a terrific learning experience. Photographer?, opportunity abounds for point blank shots. See below for some species found today; the Coral Hairstreak (Satyrium titus) was a 'lifer' for me. Find a count (typically June or July) in your community and find something great!
Lorquin's Admirals
Painted Lady
Coral Hairstreak

Friday, July 6, 2012

Butterfly Bonanza @ Spring Gulch (Rattlesnake NRA)

Decided to do a pre-count reconnaissance of the Spring Gulch Butterfly Count (Rattlesnake NRA, Missoula, Montana) scheduled for Monday, July 9 starting at 10:30 am. I was not disappointed; I counted over 120 butterflies of ~20 species over 3 hours. Here's a short video illustrating the action at times:
At times the butterflies 'teed up' nicely for still photographs, even caught one species in flight:
Small Wood-Nymph (Cercyonis oetus)

Common Roadside-Skipper (Amblyscirtes vialis)

Rocky Mountain Dotted Blue (Euphilotes ancilla)

Melissa Blue (Plebejus melissa)

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Colorful Wildlife Not Your Style...Abbreviated Fireworks Show

On a full moon night with the Sapphire Mountains in the background, a group of patriotic, pyrotechnic citizens put on a fireworks show on July 3rd in Lolo, Montana. Who these folks are and why they do the show a day early is unknown. Embedded video below is abbreviated from the full fifteen minute show. Happy July 4th...see something great!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Build It and They Will Come...

Have been 'restoring' my yard for several years now, from lawn to meadow/garden/wildlife habitat. Here's a recent photo of the meadow:

It's been beautiful right from the start (to a degree of course). Now it's becoming more beneficial to wildlife, especially pollinators. Over the last three weeks have had four species of swallowtail butterfly use my plantings. Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) found first on Dianthus,
Western Tiger Swallowtail
then followed by: Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata) on Penstemon sp.,
Two-tailed Swallowtail
Canadian Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio canadensis) on Penstemon sp.,
Canadian Tiger Swallowtail
and lastly Pale Swallowtail (Papilio eurymedon) on Coreopsis
Pale Swallowtail
As pointed out by butterfly field guides, swallowtails are easy to attract to a garden. So I haven't really achieved anything extraordinary. The point being you can do this. Butterflies and bees (and a host of other pollinators) are in decline for a variety of reasons. Consider 'plowing under' a part of your lawn for their benefit. The Xerces Society has many publications as reference information for your restoration efforts: . Michael S. Baldwin writing on the blog 3quarksdaily makes a more expansive case for 'Rethinking Lawns'...good reading at . Create something special!