Lake Bemidji State Park Bog Walk Mid-July

•July 16, 2013 • 5 Comments

Doing a bog walk is rather like gambling for me. It is addicting in the sense that you never know for sure what you are going to find on any particular day. When you have a good day, however, (like viewing a wild orchid that your haven’t seen before) it keeps you coming back for more. I just had what I consider one of those “big win” days on the bog walk.

I went in search of the the grass-pink wild orchid after reading on the park’s Facebook page that the orchid was currently in bloom. I found a number of them along the bog walk. This is an orchid I had not seen before. An interesting tidbit about this orchid (found in “Orchids of the Northwoods” by Kim and Cindy Risen) is how it pollinates. Bees are attracted to the yellow hairs on the lip. When the bee lands, its weight causes the hinged lip to close. The bee is captured inside the orchid. As is struggles, it picks up pollen. When it flies away moments later it is ready to spread the pollen the next time it lands.

grass-pink wild orchid blooms

When I got to the park, I was informed at the reception area that a white orchid was blooming at the end of the board walk. I spotted that one too. My reference book (see above) indicates that it is the rare white form of the showy lady slipper. It is beautiful.

rare white form of showy lady slipper

Another flower that  I may have seen, but had never ID’ed before is St. Johns wort. This flower is currently used in alternative medicine as a treatment for depression.

yellow wild flower used for depression

Earlier blooms have now turned into berries. Two of my favorites, blueberries and dwarf raspberries, were present along the walk.

a blueberry and a raspberry with their leaves

Flowers and berries were not the only sightings. There were dragonflies and butterflies too. I spotted this beauty, a male widow skimmer dragonfly, on the first part of the trail.

male widow skimmer dragonfly with black and white wings

Not to be left out, this smallish butterfly, a northern crescent, found a perch he seemed to like and was joined by a friend. Much to my delight, they hung around, tickling my toes, for about ten minutes.

small orange and black butterfly


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?

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,  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