Showing posts from 2015

Christmas Bird Count - Kate Crowley

Christmas Bird Count Throughout our lives we develop new traditions over the Christmas holiday season; some with our families, some with friends, and some for our own pleasure.  I would like to suggest a new tradition that can begin at any age - join a Christmas Bird Count. Begun in 1900 by a group of 27 Audubon Society members, this annual census has gone from a total of 89 species of birds counted that first year to 72,653 observers in 2015, who counted a total of 63 million birds! Like the Feederwatch program which was covered in an earlier blog, this is another important Citizen Science project for anyone interested in birds. The one day counts happen between December 14th and January 5th.  You can join as many counting ‘circles’ as you wish.  To find out how to sign up for a count, you should go to the Audubon website.  It will also give you lots more information about all previous counts and summaries.  The counts are done in a circular area 15 miles across and one person is desig…

Woodpeckers and suet

WINGIN’ IT By Kate Crowley It’s hard to be inspired on a rainy day in mid-December in northern Minnesota, but I am finding a bit of a bright spot watching the woodpeckers.  We hung two suet feeders from the branches of the maple right next to our deck, and a third from the overhang near the kitchen window and this fall the action has been non-stop.  We have thought about hanging even more because for some reason this year we have been blessed with an abundance of these black and white birds. 
In Minnesota there are nine species of woodpeckers (including the yellow-shafted flicker and yellow-bellied sapsucker).  A couple – the black-backed and three-toed are only found in our far northern coniferous forests.  For the most part, what you can expect to see in the winter are the Downy, Hairy and Pileated Woodpeckers, although some people also see the Red-bellied. 

Even though they are not the most colorful of our birds – the male and female downy and hairy have red caps and both male and pil…

A squash, a pumpkin - more than a decoration

GOING NATURE’S WAY By Kate Crowley The definition of the word squash is quite diverse.  It can be used as a verb, or to describe a game with a ball played on a small court, or the British word for a type of drink made with fruit juice and soda, or the topic of this column, the vegetable. The word is derived from the Narragansett Indian word askutasquash, meaning "eaten raw or uncooked”.   Squash (also known as gourds) grow on various vine like, tendril-bearing plants. Summer squash are the varieties that are quick growing, thin skinned and are eaten before their seeds harden. They are also prolific, leading some to make anonymous deliveries of unwanted zucchini in neighbor’s homes. What we call ‘winter squash’ is late-growing, sometimes oddly-shaped, smooth or warty, small to medium in size, but most importantly with long-keeping qualities and hard rinds. Both kinds belong, almost without exception, to the species Cucurbita maxima or C. moschata. The one member of the family that ge…

Late migration

By Kate Crowley Looking around your yard or neighborhood, you might think that migration has been completed, but it is still in progress.  The largest birds are the last to migrate; specifically, the swans, bald eagles and hawks.  I was reminded of this last week on several different occasions.  In both Moose Lake and then in Sandstone, on two different days, I looked up to see a pair of swans flying in a southerly direction.  Even with grey skies behind them, and not able to see their blinding white plumage, their large wings and long neck were definitive.  Plus, their wingbeats are much slower than that of geese. In the past, some people have shot swans claiming that they thought they were Snow Geese.  There is no comparison in size and you cannot call yourself a waterfowl hunter if you confuse the two.  Trumpeter swans were extirpated from our state in the 1800s due to overhunting. They continued to migrate through, but they did not stay to nest.  Strong reintroduction and…

Great Egrets


By Kate Crowley Herons and egrets are birds that skulk along the edges of streams, ponds and rivers waiting for an unwary fish or frog to come within striking distance.  Faster than the eye can follow, their long necks uncoil as their beaks spear the water and their prey.  You have to admire their patience as they stand absolutely still for minutes at a time, and when they do begin to move through the water it is almost in slow motion.
We’ve been seeing a lot of great egrets along the banks of the Mississippi River down here in Mississippi and Louisiana.  They have departed their summer haunts in Minnesota in advance of the coming winter, but will remain active down here in the Delta throughout the winter months. These birds remind us of the disaster that nearly befell them and other water birds at the end of the 19th Century.  It was a time when women’s fashion decreed that hats must be adorned with plumage of all sorts, but the most elaborate and fanciful with the long, flow…

Autumn or Fall?

GOING NATURE’S WAY By Kate Crowley We have now officially said farewell to summer.  On September 23rd the sun had moved far enough south that we had nearly equal hours of daylight and night time.  Now it’s just a gradual, but inevitable slide into the darkness (a bleak description I know).  I am already looking forward to December 21st.   But as I thought about the change of season I wondered why and how we call this particular season, both Autumn and Fall; the only season that has two words to describe it. I had to do some research to satisfy my curiosity. Turns out that for most of recorded human history there was recognition of just two seasons – winter and summer, the exception being the Chinese who divided the year into what we now call spring and autumn.  The word ‘autumn’ is Latin in origin and was first used in the 14th Century, replacing the term ‘harvest’. The use of Fall appears in the 16th or 17th century, depending on who you consult.  One of the first citations for ‘fall’ i…

Cats and birds


migration mysteries - Kate Crowley

WINGIN’ IT By Kate Crowley Every year about this time my birding thoughts are focused on migration. I can’t help it.  Everywhere I look; up, down and straight ahead I see birds in motion and I know that they are heading south. I admit to feeling a bit melancholy about this annual procession, because I know it’s going to be a long seven to eight months before we will see them again. Just how birds make this biannual trip remains in some ways as much as a mystery as it was for our ancestors.  We have developed different technologies that give us a great deal of information about the routes they follow, but just how they manage the journey continues to inspire researchers and amaze the rest of us. We know that for millennia before humans walked the earth birds have been flying between North and South America. They are called neotropical migrants and we know that they come up from the south in the spring because the food sources in the northern regions are so overly abundant at that time (i…

Forest fires - can we learn their lessons?

GOING NATURE’S WAY By Kate Crowley As I look outdoors this morning, I find myself wondering whether the sky is really covered with clouds or if it is more high altitude haze coming from the forest fires out west.  Several times this summer we have found ourselves witnessing the after effects of hundreds of wildfires burning in Canada, California, Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and Montana – each with more than 10 major fires burning right now.  We have all been in awe of the effect it produces on our sunsets, creating magnificent auroras of orange, yellow and pink.  For people living in those states and in Saskatchewan, the reality has been much less pleasant.  Smoke has descended into valleys and created dangerous air quality, not to mention the life altering devastation for people who have had the fires destroy their homes and surrounding forests.  As of right now - 30,000 fire fighters in the U.S. are battling these blazes; the largest number in 15 years and even that is not enough. U.S.…


WINGIN’ IT By Kate Crowley By the time you read this they may have already passed further south, but Oh, I hope you looked up and saw the Common Nighthawks flying overhead this past week.  You may have seen them and thought you were seeing gulls, but their sharply pointed wings and erratic flight patterns are unique.  We saw the first flocks as we were driving around Bay Lake.  I looked up and saw large flocks sweeping over the trees, probably hunting on the wing, which is one reason why their name includes ‘hawk’ in it.  This particular type of hunting and eating insects is actually called ‘hawking’.  It was mid-afternoon, not night when we saw the flocks, but I was first introduced to these birds when I was growing up in Minneapolis. I didn’t have a name for them at that time, but on warm summer nights when we would be playing kick-the-can out at the street corner, they would be a constant presence around the street lamps, diving down and sweeping upward and making a nasally  ‘peent’ …

R/V Blue Heron research vessel - Kate Crowley

It was 33F Tuesday morning at 6 a.m. when I went out to feed the birds. Tiny bits of white flittered down.  I refused to believe it was snow and continued to trust in the weather report which said we were going to have a day with sunshine and 50 degrees.  As I drove north to Duluth I looked to the east and could see the sun trying to break through the clouds and by the time I reached Thompson Hill it was well on the way to succeeding.  The lake had a silvery sheen and more blue patches of sky were poking through the clouds.  It was going to be a beautiful morning on the Lake. I was headed to the U.S. Corps of Army Engineer pier where the R/V Blue Heron was docked, but first I and a lot of other cars had to wait for a gigantic freighter to pass through the canal and under the Lift Bridge.  From my position it looked as if the ship was as long as the entire Canal. It’s always a thrill to see one of these huge vessels pass so close by. We had met Bob Sterner, the Director of the Large Lake…

The bear and other visitors

GOING NATURE’S WAY By Kate Crowley Just yesterday we were talking with some of our neighbors about ‘the bear’.  We don’t know if it’s the same bear that shows up each spring looking for sustenance or a new one, but the point of the discussion was the maintenance of our bird feeders.  They wanted to know if we were bringing them in each night; a practice which we have resorted to in recent years, after a series of visits by a hungry bear.  Mike said he’s been bringing one of the seed feeders and one suet feeder in, because we thought we’d had a raccoon show up one night, but so far the bear had not come around. Of course, by speaking it, we conjured the bear that same night.  There was a thunderstorm at some point and I picture the bear coming in under cover of the storm to dismantle a new, metal feeder that was attached to a wooden post directly below our bedroom window.  I even had the window open and yet we heard nothing.  I picture the bear standing on its hind legs and wrenching the …

Retrospectives on our hike around Lake Superior

Going Full Circle in retrospect

1.         Thinking back to five years ago it seems so logical now, in retrospect, that we walked in a circle and that each day was an unknown - that is we were not on a trail, a path, a road - we were not going to something, we were going around, encircling, encompassing, coming to know where we were - here on earth, on this planet, in this north country.
We were moved my majesty that was apparent, but also hidden. I always felt that when people asked how far we walked they asked the wrong question - it should be - "what did you see?"
I was always a meanderer. At the Audubon Center I resisted trails for many year saying that trails led through, between, but not in. When I went off trail I was someplace, on trail I would be going someplace.
Of course, I value trails, the North Country trail, the App, the Muir, Santiago, etc. Great trails, great adventures and I have followed trails in parks, wilderness, Kate and I even wrote a guide to the best tr…