Bird Feeders Are for the Birds, I Thought…

•July 9, 2013 • 4 Comments

We really enjoy feeding the birds at our house. We have several feeders on our decks and keep them stocked in black oil sunflower seed and thistle seed. Earlier in the spring we had a wonderful array of what I consider special birds; the scarlet tanager, Baltimore Oriole, rose-breasted grosbeak, purple finch, as well as chickadees, nuthatches, and gold finches. Now, I am wondering what happened? Who spread the word about the good food available at our house?

three squirrels eating birdseed

OK, time to get out the squirrel-proof feeders.

Squirrel in birdfeeder

Well, that didn’t work. How about the one with the protective cage on the outside.

Squirrel next to downed bird feeder

Guess I’ll try the thistle seed bird feeder. Squirrels are too big to get into that one.

Chipmunk eating from thistle seed bird feeder

I think I give up. Here are some quick bits of info on squirrels and chipmunks. First of all squirrels and chipmunks belong to the same family of rodents (makes sense to me now). Chipmunks have a lot in common with ground squirrels, but not so much tree squirrels (the type you see in my photos) or flying squirrels. Other facts include:

  • Squirrels can jump 20 feet.
  • Squirrels have excellent eyesight, but are born blind.
  • A squirrel’s tail serves many purposes such as shielding the squirrel from the elements of sun and rain, used as a stabilizer when jumping,  used as a parachute when they fall, and  used as a rudder when they swim.
  • Chipmunks use their  cheek pouches to take pieces of food to to their burrows, either to store for later or to eat now.

Side view of squirrel headSo who’s smarter, squirrels or humans?

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Dragonfly Emerging

•July 1, 2013 • 8 Comments

Cleaning up my kayak (which had been upside down in the weeds) a few mornings ago, I found what I first thought were live bugs attached to the plant stems. Then I realized that they were only a shell of a bug (correct term is exuvia). They all had a hole on the top, right below the head.

dragonfly larval shell

I also noticed a beautiful dragonfly (later id’ed as a female calico pennant) that didn’t seem in a hurry to fly away. Its wings appeared rather shiny, almost glossy. (I now know that this is evidence of a recently emerged dragonfly called a teneral.) I wondered if there could be a connection. Over the weekend I attended a dragonfly and damselfly workshop given by Kurt Mead, author of “Dragonflies of the North Woods”. I learned that there is most definitely a connection. Our class had the exciting experience of witnessing a dragonfly emerging.

female calico pennant dragonfly

The beautiful dragonfly starts out as a rather ugly bug (referred to as a nymph or larva). The female dragonfly lays her eggs on a plant in the water or sometimes right in the water of a pond or marshy area. The dragonfly larvae hatch from the egg and live in water until they are ready to emerge as  dragonflies. The nymph or larva stage of development can take several years. During this time the larvae molt several times. When the larva has matured and is ready for its magical transformation, it crawls out of the water and finds a place to perch, such as the stem of a plant. It stabilizes itself by hooking its claws into the perch. After a short rest, the process begins with the skin on the back of the head breaking open and the thorax emerging.

After a couple hours of dragonfly information in the classroom,  our instruction moved outdoors to the edge of a pond. There we learned how to net and identify dragonflies. Our instructor Kurt found a nymph to show us. As we were looking at the nymph, Kurt noted a crack forming in the body. View the slideshow below to see what happened next. Pretty amazing!

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For anyone interested in more information about dragonflies check out the following websites:

Dragonfly Society of the Americas and Minnesota Odonata Survey

Also, an autographed copy of “Dragonflies of the Northwoods” is available directly from the author for $23. (Shipping and taxes are included in that price.)  Email Kurt Mead, info@mndragonfly.org  to request the book.

Roseate Spoonbills

•January 8, 2013 • 10 Comments

People sometimes ask why we go to Florida in the winter. To escape the cold is the obvious answer, but there’s more to it. Florida has wonderful opportunities for viewing and getting up close to all sorts of wildlife, especially birds. Two times this week (a morning walk close to our house on Sunday, and a kayaking outing today) resulted in spoonbill sightings. These sightings were not just a flash of pink flying the other direction (what typically happens), but prolonged observations while they hunted for food. I thought I was in bird watching heaven, a feeling comparable to sighting a rare orchid in northern Minnesota.

pink bird with spoon shaped billLet’s see. Why are these birds called spoonbills? Oh yea, it’s the spoon-shaped bill. When seen from a distance they are sometimes confused with flamingos due to similarities in their colors. Flamingos, however, have an angled beak and are taller.

spoon shaped beak of spoonbill

The spoonbill swishes its beak from side to side in shallow water. Its beak has special nerve endings that sense when it has come across small fish, shrimp, or aquatic insects. The large beak closes around the food and filters it from the silty water.

Spoonbill using beak to feedSpoonbills were almost extinct at one point. In the late 1800’s their colorful plumes were used in hats and their wings were used for fans. The value of their feathers caused them to be over-hunted till the mid 20th century. Now they are making a comeback, although still considered a species of “special concern”. The biggest threat to their future is loss of habitat. The coastal marshlands where they breed and hunt for food are disappearing due to development and pollution. The marshlands are important to not only the spoonbills, but all their wading bird friends (wood storks, snowy egrets, great egrets, herons, etc.)

Spoonbills with wood stork and other white birds

Nature Finds Along the Paul Bunyan Trail

•July 13, 2012 • 10 Comments

The proud owner of a “new” used bike, I decided to check out 3-4 miles of the 110 mile Paul Bunyan Trail. I got on the trail at Lake Bemidji State Park and pedaled to the Mississippi River with my camera in my backpack.  I found lots of reasons to stop and pull it out. The most exciting for me was spotting a scarlet tanager. What a beautiful bird!

Red bird with blackHe even posed so I could get a good view of his tail feathers.

Red bird with black tail feathersWild flowers were also abundant along the trail, some familiar and some I had to look up. Here is a sampling.

dark lavender wildflower

Wild Bergamot

purple coned wildflower

Purple Prairie Clover

Light yellow wildflower

Goat’s Beard

Red wildflower

Joe-Pye Weed

The Paul Bunyan Trail crosses over the Mississippi River just before it enters Lake Bemidji. The bridge has some open areas that make for great wildlife viewing.View of Mississippi River

A family (mama and babies) of hooded merganzers showed up to entertain us. We didn’t see an adult male, whose striking colors stand out more than the bland browns and grays of the female. I do like her crest, however.hooded merganser duck with babies

Biking the Paul Bunyan Trail is a fine way to spend a summer morning in the great outdoors of northern Minnesota.

Paul Bunyan bike trail as it crosses the Mississippi River.

Stepping Lightly in the Pennington Bog

•June 8, 2012 • 5 Comments

Stepping into the Pennington Bog is almost like stepping into another world. Overhead is a thick canopy of white cedar, balsam fir, and black spruce. Underneath your feet is a blanket of sphagnum moss. When you take a step, you are never quite sure how far your foot is going to sink. Walking becomes a new experience for the senses.  There are no designated trails or boardwalks, so you are the master of your own exploration. While the floor of the bog in general is soft and spongy, there appear to be narrow pathways for water runoff (look closely behind the log in the first picture). The pathways have a firmer surface and are apparently used by animals (evidenced by the droppings in the pathway.)

Log in bog with moss and water path

Water pathway under log and through moss blanket

I was fascinated how blankets of the sphagnum moss form mounds over dead and decaying tree trunks. When you stop and take a look inside the mound, you often find a pool of still water.

Blanket of Sphagnum Moss

Blanket of Sphagnum Peat Moss

Scattered in the bog, just waiting for discovery, are orchids, other wildflowers, and assorted plants. Of course the “prize” for the wildflower enthusiast is finding an orchid that one has not seen before. Pennington Bog did not disappoint. I spotted my first small round-leaved orchid, a beautiful white flower with pink to purple spots. I also saw the biggest clump of moccasin flowers that I have ever seen. In addition I found bluebead lily (or clintonia), star flower,  buckbean, and a small white flower that I could not identify.

White wildflower with pink spotsRound leaf Orchid

Clump of pink moccasin wildflowersPink Moccasin Flower (or Stemless Lady Slipper)

Yellow and white wildflowers

Bluebead Lily (or Clintonia) and a Star Flower

White wildflowerBuckbean

white wildflower

Unidentified wildflower (Do you know the name?)

Moss and Non-flowering plant leavesMore wildflowers soon to bloom?

The Pennington Bog, located on Hwy 39 (the Lady Slipper Scenic Byway) between Blackduck and Cass Lake, is a Minnesota State Scientific and Natural Area. It is described in an informational flyer from the Department of Natural Resources, as “a virtually undisturbed tract of lowland-coniferous forest, which provides critical habitat for a diverse array of bog-associated plant and animal species”. Due to the fragile nature of the forest floor, one must obtain a permit (free) from the DNR (call 218-308-2682)  prior to visiting the bog. The permitting process controls the number of people visiting the bog at one time. The Pennington Bog is a wonderful place for nature discoveries. If you do decide to visit, get your permit, bring your camera, and step lightly.

Toppled tree roots

Behold the Pink Trillium

•May 24, 2012 • 6 Comments

A couple days ago my husband came home and announced that there were flowers in the woods by his construction job site that looked like trillium, but they were pink. Excitement mounted. I had heard of pink trillium, but had not yet seen one. The next morning I tagged along to the job site, and lo and behold, pink trillium everywhere, in the woods and roadside ditches.

Pink WildflowersI spent the next 2-3 hours crawling around in the woods trying to get the best shots and trying to remember to be on the lookout for poison ivy (also everywhere). Later I researched pink trillium, trying to find out why they are pink. Is it due to being a different species, or is it related to the soil where they grow? They certainly look like the same species as the white ones I have seen. Note the three large leaves (actually bracts)  on both.

White trillium wildflower

Several sources indicated that while there is a pink species, it is quite rare. A more likely reason for the pink color is that it is part of the life cycle of white trillium. Apparently a few days before white trillium wilt, they often turn pink. Another interesting tidbit is that trillium seeds are spread by ants who carry the seeds back to their nests. The seeds are thus situated slightly underground in well-worked soil, enabling them to germinate and grow.

pink wildflowerTrillium bloom for about two to three weeks in the spring. The fact that the ones I found were pink probably means they won’t be around much longer this year.  Trillium are very slow growing and best enjoyed where you find them. It is illegal to pick or transplant trillium from public lands in Minnesota without a permit.

Pink wildflowerThe perfect end to a morning of wildflower scouting was a find of yellow lady slippers growing in amongst the pink  trillium. Stay tuned for more on the yellow lady slippers.

Pink and yellow wildflowers

Yellow: Wildflower Theme of the Week

•May 11, 2012 • 5 Comments

Yellow everywhere, or so it seems this week. Yesterday, May 9th, on Lake Bemidji State Park’s Bog Walk, the marsh marigolds now have quite a presence, lighting up the boardwalk with their brilliant yellow gold blossoms.

Yellow wild flowers

Having planted marigolds in my flower garden for years, I wondered if garden variety marigolds are related to the Marsh Marigolds. A little web research later, and, now I know that the answer is “no”.  The Marsh Marigold is in the buttercup family, and the garden marigold is in the aster family. Apparently, the main thing they have in common is their beautiful yellow color.

yellow wild flower blossom

Today I hiked the Rocky Point Trail at Lake Bemidji State Park, a different habitat with different flowers. The somewhat shy, but oh so fluid in the wind Large-flowered Bellwort was the flower of the day. Clumps of the Large-flowered Bellwort lined the path and drifted off into the woods. It is beautiful in a delicate sort of way.

Yellow wildflower

Bees collect their pollen and find their nectar tasty. Deer are fond of their foliage.

Yellow wildflower

Last, but not least, of the yellow wildflowers that posed for me today is the Downy Yellow Violet. The “downy” part of its name comes from the long soft hairs on its stem and on the underside of its heart shaped leaves.

Yellow Wildflower

The yellow blossom is less than an inch with purple brown veins and five petals. Its two side petals are bearded. The Downy Yellow Violet has an above ground stem, unlike the Common Blue Violet which has an underground stem.

Yellow wildflower