Peregrine Falcons 2022 Season – Part 3

In this post, mom continues to provision the chicks with freshly caught birds. The chicks are beginning to try out their wings and are on the verge of fledging.

Peregrine Falcons 2022 Season – Part 2

Unfortunately, we didn’t have an opportunity to get back to the nest site until late May. When we returned, we found the parents were busy raising four already good-sized chicks. The photography was challenging. We had to contend with the too-speedy traffic of the river road that lied between us and the bluff face where the nest was located and the heat distortion that this blacktop created. There is also the issue of trying to photograph the fastest vertebrate on the planet.

Most often mom would take responsibility of feeding the chicks directly. Dad was primarily the hunter and would drop off prey. Here dad takes some time to piece the prey and feed it to the hungry chicks.
Dad brings a Baltimore Oriole (future Peregrine Falcon) back to the nest.
As typically done, dad would bring the prey back to a spot along the bluff and call for mom. Here mom has just picked up the Oriole and will take the bird to a new spot for processing.
Mom removes feathers from the prey bird on a bluff platform away from the nest site.
Mom begins feeding the impatient chicks.
I suppose at a point of diminishing returns, mom would often take the remains of the carcass away from the nest and would pick the remains to feed herself.
Mom soaring with remains of Oriole.

Peregrine Falcons 2022 Season – Part 1

Miguel and I spent a few hours in the spring and early summer of 2022 photographing a pair of Peregrine Falcons in Madison County, IL during their nesting season. In this first post, the photos were taken in March. There were likely no eggs in the nest at this point and the pair was bonding by the male bringing in food for the female and the two soaring the skies of their territory. It wound up being a pretty dramatic nesting season. Lots more pics to follow.

Regal Fritillary (Speyeria idalia) at the Cole Camp Prairie Complex

A regal fritillary (Speyeria idalia), photographed at Friendly Prairie, feeding on Asclepias tuberosa, one of the only species in bloom at the time of our visit.

Back in late June, Miguel and I took a trip to the “Cole Camp Prairies” near Sedalia MO. Here, we were after a target I had long wanted to photograph, the regal fritillary butterfly (Speyeria idalia). Once abundant across the ancient prairies, lands that are now mostly used to grow the crops feeding us, the regal fritillary are now listed as a G3/S3 species, meaning they are vulnerable to extinction. The reason for this is that the regal fritillary host plants are violet species that only grow in the scarce remnants of the once vast ocean of prairies that covered much of the central United States. Fewer acres of prairie means fewer prairie violets that leads to fewer butterflies. Fortunately, the pitiful amount of prairie remnants left in the Show-Me State do still support this fantastic butterfly and Miguel and I did our best to find and photograph some.

The Cole Camp Prairie complex is a list of approximately eight mostly postage-stamp sized publicly accessible prairies located north of the small town of Cole Camp in Benton County. I did some research to find out which prairies had confirmed sightings in the previous years and which were more likely to have a sizeable population. I knew we would focus on these, but because these prairies are pretty close to one another, we wound up visiting seven locations just to see the differences between them and to give the entire area a good scouting for the regals.

Photographing a butterfly on the wing is no easy task! A regal fritillary (Speyeria idalia) male searches for one of the first females to emerge at Paint Brush Prairie.

Our first stop was at Paint Brush Prairie Conservation Area. This is one of the larger of the Cole Camp Prairies and was reported to hold one of the better-sized populations of regals. Our visit coincided with the early portion of the regals flight period and this would hold ramifications that would complicate the achievement of our goals. Here, we did find an estimated two dozen regals. However, these were all most likely males that typically emerge earlier than females. Although some plants were in bloom, these males were not interested in feeding. Instead, they were constantly cruising, inches above the vegetation, assumedly waiting for one of the first females to emerge and an opportunity to mate. We tried our best. Once in a while, one would stop to rest for a brief second or two, but it was never long enough to get in position, find focus and take the shot. I then tried to see if it was possible to photograph them in flight. This proved to be about as fruitless as it sounds. After hundreds of shots, I wound up with only a single keeper, pictured here.

A regal fritillary (Speyeria idalia), photographed at Friendly Prairie, feeding on Asclepias tuberosa, one of the only species in bloom at the time of our visit.

Our next stop, just a quick drive west, was at Friendly Prairie C.A. This wound up being our most successful stop. Success in photographing these beasts lies in your visit’s timing with flowering plants. In late June, we missed the prolific blooming of most of the Echinacea and Asclepias and were a tad too early for the blooming period of the native Cirsium that support the energy needs of these butterflies over mid to late summer. Thankfully, we did find a few Asclepias tuberosa at peak bloom and the regals had found them as well. We only found four regals here, but they were cooperative indeed!

Miguel, ready for action at Friendly Prairie C.A.
A Halloween pennant photographed at Hi Lonesome Prairie. Notice the parasitic water mites that dragonflies often carry on the bottom of its thorax.

We continued our tour of the Cole Camp Prairies, visiting the holdings that the Missouri Department of Conservation had to offer as well as one restoration property owned by The Nature Conservancy. Towards the end of our time, we stopped at the largest prairie parcel in the area – Hi Lonesome Prairie C.A. This prairie was very dry and, perhaps consequentially, we found very few plants in bloom. There were, however, still a number of butterflies. Here we found monarchs and a diversity of swallowtail species as well as five regals. Almost all of these were flitting around the bushes that spotted the prairie’s many hillsides. This prairie also held some nice bird diversity. In addition to the ubiquitous Dickcissel, we found Grasshopper Sparrows, Henslow Sparrows, and Bell’s Vireos. Around a couple of this area’s large ponds, dragonflies were in abundance as well. I took some time to hop the electric fence around the larger pond, finding out the hard way that it was indeed working to keep out the cattle that graze the prairie, and spent some time working with gorgeous Halloween pennant’s (Celithmis eponina). See attached photo.

A regal fritillary (Speyeria idalia), photographed at Friendly Prairie, feeding on Asclepias tuberosa, one of the only species in bloom at the time of our visit.

I had wanted to give the Cole Camp Prairies a good tour for quite a while. I’m happy that we spent the day doing this although I know it was but a snapshot over the course of the seasons. Finding the number of regals we did was thrilling and I’m happy to have gotten a few worthwhile photos from the day. Although these prairies are a good hoof from the StL, at a little less than a three-hour drive, they are still much easier than getting to other prairies in different parts of the state. Hopefully my next visit comes soon.

-OZB

2022 Kansas Trip – Lesser Prairie Chickens

With this crazy summer, full of a time-consuming work project and trying to keep establishing plants alive in the yard, there has been very little time for birding trips. Casey organized this trip from mid April of 2022 and it was definitely memorable. I still have hundreds of photos to process, but here are a few from our first stop, a couple of Lesser Prairie Chicken Leks in western Kansas.