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Showing posts from 2014

December FOG

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WINGIN’ IT By Kate Crowley The past week has been so dreary and gray that not even the birds coming to our feeders could brighten the mood, especially when the temperatures got into the 40s and all of our snow turned to puddles and slush.  I desperately needed some cheer and brightness, so I turned to animation. Yes, it was the Penguins of Madagascar that finally made me smile and feel cheerful again. My ten year old grandsons were as excited to go as I was.  There is no age limit on the need for laughter.  The overriding theme of the movie is that everyone loves penguins.  I’d have to agree. How can you not be captivated by these waddling, tuxedoed lovers of snow and ice? The truth is that not all penguins live in the Antarctic regions and none live in the Arctic, or as some cartoons would have us believe - the North Pole.   All 17 species of penguins are found only in the Southern Hemisphere, ranging from the ice shelves of the Antarctic to the Galapagos Islands and many coastal areas…

Put out the Suet

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WINGIN’ IT By Kate Crowley From the looks of things it appears we are in for a long winter.  The jet stream is following the same path we saw last winter and getting stuck in one pattern with the arctic air shooting straight down through Minnesota.   While these cold temperatures are going to put a strain on our heating resources in the coming months, we can’t forget the impact it will have on wildlife.  The 12 inches of snow that fell last week has covered up the dried grasses at an earlier date and so the availability of natural food resources for the seed eating birds is greatly reduced.  If ever there were a year to hang up bird feeders around your home, this would be it.  Most people put out seeds of one sort or another; we highly recommend the black sunflower seeds because they provide more protein and fat than some of the mixes which might include millet or corn.  You will find that squirrels and non-native birds like starlings and house sparrows are attracted to the latter.  The…

Ballooning Spiders on the Mississippi

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GOING NATURE’S WAY By Kate Crowley
Last week while we were traveling on the Mississippi River, I began to notice strands of filament floating above the water.  They almost looked like fishing line, but they were out in the middle of the river and drifting at least 20 feet above the surface.  Later on we noticed that the bow of the boat (it is a Paddlewheel) was festooned with streamers of the same type of filament, all caught on the rigging and ropes and streaming to the right with the wind.  I had realized by this time that we were seeing the apparatus and migratory technique used by some spiders, called ballooning.   Charles Darwin noticed the same phenomena when he was traveling aboard the Beagle on his epic voyage of discovery.  In his notes he wrote “In the evening all the ropes were coated & fringed with Gossamer web. I caught some of the aeronaut spiders, which must have come at least 60 miles: How inexplicable is the cause which induces these small insects, as it now appears…

Crow conversation

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WINGIN’ IT By Kate Crowley The lovely morning chorus of spring time and summer has been replaced by the loud and definitely non-musical conversation of crows and blue jays.  I should know better than to throw stale bread out into the front yard before going to bed.  It is a guarantee that shortly after dawn the crows and jays will arrive and begin to discuss with one another just who will fly down to harvest the manna from heaven.  The mild temperatures have allowed sleeping with the window open and there are trees close by that the crows like to perch in while they peruse the surroundings.  When I finally give up on sleep and listen, I wish I could understand crow ‘talk’, because something is definitely being discussed.  Crows have a varied and broad collection of sounds they can make, but the one we hear most often is the ‘caw’, but this too, can sound different when repeated in a fast and higher pitch.  This is what I heard from the crow sitting in a nearby tree.  It would issue this…

October

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GOING NATURE’S WAY By Kate Crowley As we begin October we have the same number of daylight hours as we had in the middle of March, but alas, we know which way the sun is going and that the coming weeks will bring only shorter, darker days.  That is why a weekend such as this is all the more glorious.  It is the very end of September and the temperatures have been in the reached 80, with low humidity and hazy blue skies.  As Paul Huttner, MPR’s weatherman suggested this weekend you should, “Bike, run, boat, swim, putt, walk, languish, repeat."  These kinds of days are gifts of nature and need to be savored like the finest red wine. In addition we are being treated to one of the prettiest fall color seasons.  All that rain played a role in what we’re seeing now.  When trees are stressed by drought condition, they generally fail to produce the fabulous reds and oranges we’re seeing now.  I drove from Sandstone to Askov on Saturday and let my eyes feast on these colors in the hardwood f…

Toasty's

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1032 East 9th StDuluth, Minnesota  (218) 724-3336Rachael Hagen, owner


A nice clean, uncluttered place for lunch, snack, or relaxation.  I loved the toasted sandwiches. Nice manageable menu with plenty to choose from and beer, wine, coffee and tea available. 


September notes

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Wingin’ It By Kate Crowley
As we reach the middle of September my attention has been captured by various events taking place in the winged world.  First there is the increase in Northern “yellow-shafted” flickers.  These members of the woodpecker family are only transitory in our particular neighborhood. Each spring we watch them as they come through, landing on the thawing ground in search of food. Unlike the other woodpeckers, flickers prefer terrestrial fare, mainly ants.  The reverse happens in the autumn.  These birds are easy to pick out when they fly away from you, by the large white patch of feathers on their rump and their swooping flight pattern. They will land in trees and when they do, you can see their similarity to the other woodpeckers, especially in the tail braced on the trunk. Their beaks are long and sharp, but have a bit of a downward curve. This makes sense since they don’t use them to pound on wood. They will head as far south as needed to find suitably soft soil a…

The Blue Grass Prairie

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GOING NATURE’S WAY By Kate Crowley This cool and mostly wet summer was exactly what our tall grass prairie has been waiting for.  It has been years since the big bluestem grasses towered over our heads, but now when we walk the trail along the three sides of the prairie, we feel as though we’re walking in a tunnel.  Who needs a corn maze? We could make a grass maze very easily if we wished, but instead we will leave the two acres intact and just admire its beauty from the sides.  Besides the weather, it seems likely that burning the section of the field this past spring gave it a boost, especially when we compare it to the other third, which we did not burn.  There is a distinct difference in size and density of the two tracts. Before the arrival of people lightning strikes were the main cause of prairie fires and also an important part of their life cycle.  Fire reduced plant litter and helped to replace minerals and nutrients in the soil.  Once the Native Americans arrived in these la…

Pelicans on the Mississippi

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WINGIN’ IT By Kate Crowley Oh, a wondrous bird is the pelican! His bill holds more than his belican. He can take in his beak Enough food for a week. But I’m darned if I know how the helican... Dixon Lanier Merritt This limerick, while a bit of an exaggeration (pelicans eat about three pounds of food a day) is a good description of the surprising qualities of this very larger waterfowl.  We observed and enjoyed seeing large numbers of pelicans last week as floated down the Mississippi River on a Paddlewheel.  Many of them were seen in along the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife Refuge which begins at the confluence of the Chippewa River in Wisconsin and extends down to Rock Island, Illinois, covering just over 240,000 acres and extending 261 river miles.  This Refuge was first established in 1924 to protect floodplain habitat necessary for the survival of fish, wildlife, plants and migratory birds. White pelicans weigh more than 10 pounds and have such a large, flat and seemingly unwiel…

Vireos, blue jays and loons

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WINGIN’ IT By Kate Crowley There is nothing more satisfying and rewarding for a writer than to hear from someone who read something you’ve written and enjoyed it.  It is rare to get this kind of feedback, and maybe that is what makes it all the more special. Over the past 20 plus years I have written hundreds of articles for the local newspapers, hoping to both entertain and educate readers about nature, whether that be birds, bugs or boreal forests (and everything in between or within).  Sometimes the feedback includes personal stories or experiences which I enjoy hearing too. This past week, I stopped in at T&M Sports and owner Tom Brabec asked about our bluebirds.  This meant he had read my most recent article. This led Tom to tell me about the bluebirds that had nested at his lake place and how the nest had fallen out of the box (after he had already replaced it once).  When it fell out the second time, the young birds, who were apparently ready to fledge, took off; all except o…

Summer

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GOING NATURE’S WAY By Kate Crowley For all the Minnesotans who barely made it through this past winter and long, chilly so called spring, the month of July may very well be what you’ve been waiting so long for.  Both heat (and humidity), historically, reach their peak in this month.  It is not unusual to reach the high 90s and even 100 if you factor in the dew point (heat index).  Personally, this is NOT my kind of weather, but I will try not to be a scrooge and deny others their joy at being able to sweat profusely and apply sunblock over all their exposed skin.  For me, the joy of July comes from the abundance of life all around us (except for the flies and mosquitoes). If ever there were a summer where the world looks lush, this is it.  One of the flowers that is in bloom right now, in great profusion along roadsides of the North Country, is the lupine.  I admit I have Lupine jealousy. In the hill country of Texas they brag about their bluebonnets, but they cannot hold a candle to th…

Bluebirds

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WINGIN’ IT By Kate Crowley We were beginning to think that we might not have any resident bluebirds this summer.  We heard a male singing earlier in June, but then he vanished.  Their chirrupy call is one my ears catch quickly, especially when it hasn’t been heard for eight months.  It is a call that immediately illicit the word, ‘bluebird’ from both Mike and I.  The eastern bluebird is a conservation success story.  In the first half of the 20th century they were common birds across the eastern U.S., especially around farmlands, since they prefer open spaces to nest and hunt for food.  At that time people used wood fence posts around their farmsteads and fields.  These naturally rotted and provided excellent nest cavities for this small relative of the robin. Aging trees with cavities created by woodpeckers also were favored by bluebirds. But by mid-century, it is estimated that the bluebird population had reached a point of 90% decline. Times changed and so did the landscape as the sm…

Little wings

WINGIN’ IT By Kate Crowley There are so many wings in motion that you can hear them.  They make an extremely annoying whining sound as they fly closer and closer, usually just as you’re falling asleep.  Maybe we say it every year, but I bet you have said it more often or heard it this year.  The mosquitoes are horrendous!  I don’t think it’s an exaggeration really.  For those of us living in rural areas they are an unpleasant fact of life in early summer (this is a big reason you won’t hear me or my husband complaining about winter).  In the Twin Cities they institute spraying programs to try and control these annual pests, but that is impossible when you live surrounded by forests, ponds and assorted wetlands.  Surprisingly, mosquitoes don’t breed in lakes. This cool, late, wet spring/early summer has been ideal for the production of these insects.  Every time it rains a new brood of mosquitoes is produced.  They can go from egg to adult in as little time as one week. We all know that o…

Indigo Bunting

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WINGIN’ IT By Kate Crowley For a bird lover, June is like a tempting buffet – or maybe I should say smorgasbord, considering where we live. And at this time of year, we are ravenous, with eyes and ears having been starved by the long and scarce winter rations.  Now there are so many beautiful and melodic sights and sounds that I find it hard to choose which to share with you.  So I will make a compromise and talk about one colorful species and a few of the songs we’re hearing. Many of the birds who return this way each spring come from the tropics and not surprisingly they come arrayed in colorful plumage – far more extravagant than that which our resident birds wear. (The one exception being the American goldfinch).  Baltimore orioles, scarlet tanagers, rose-breasted grosbeaks are just a few of the obvious arrivals arrayed in flashy red and orange feathers.  But there is one small bird that is equally impressive when you see it in the right light.  That bird is the indigo bunting.  Just…

Duels in the Dark

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GOING NATURE’S WAY By Kate Crowley There are duels in the dark and the adversaries are trying to out sing one another; a much more civilized form of settling differences than that practiced by human males in times past.  The players in this night time confrontation are amphibians.  These vocal antagonists have been going at it for weeks now, although the list of entrants has changed and expanded. The site for these assignations is a couple of small ponds in our front yard.  One is only a couple feet in diameter and the other is three times that size.  Both need cleaning out, as algae left over from last summer has bloomed and mostly filled the water.  But I can’t empty them out when they are obviously being used for the important purpose of courtship and territorial defense.  So, for the time being they will look unkempt to human eyes, but continue to be havens for frogs and toads.  Of course, if their pursuits are successful there will be eggs and then tadpoles to consider, so it could …