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Showing posts from 2016

Air, water and Sun

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GOING NATURE’S WAY By Kate Crowley
As one calendar year ends and another begins many of us take stock of where we’ve been and where we hope to be (literally as well as philosophically) in the coming year.  I would hope that everyone would also stop and think about all that our earth and our fiery star gives us.  Every day we get up and take a deep breath of oxygen without a second thought. In one day, the average adult takes 17,000-30,000 breaths per day.   Clean, breathable air; how much does that mean to you?  Then you head into the bathroom where you brush your teeth using this incredible life sustaining resource called water. Depending on what report you read, we are told that the average American drinks anywhere from 2.5 cups to 4 cups of water per day.  And we never question the safety of our water, although there may be more anxiety about this since the people of Flint, Michigan found theirs was severely polluted with lead. And then there is the sun.  Though it has hidden behind …

Christmas bird food

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WINGIN’ IT  




By Kate Crowley I know that the birds are supposed to be protected by their layers of feathers from our winter weather, but when the temps drop into the minus 20’s overnight, I really wonder how any of them survive. They must deal with more than 12 hours of darkness without benefit of external sources of heat, like the wood stove that glows with its warmth in our living room.  But every morning, we are blessed with the movement and antics of our resident birds (all 17 wild turkeys included).  Mike gladly goes out each morning to refill the sunflower feeders and the suet feeders if they need it.  He also spreads a wild bird seed mix on the ground.  The turkeys are watching unseen for this earliest feeding and immediately swoop down from the pine trees or race up the front field in single file to forage as fast as possible on the seeds and grain he has spread for them.  Then they retire to the top railing of our fence where they perch until they get hungry again and resume th…

Lycopodiums - forest floor plants

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GOING NATURE’S WAY By Kate Crowley It is the first week of November, the leaves are off the trees, but the ground below is as green and lush looking as it was in August. And I still have flowers blooming next to the deck; a weird feeling for lifelong Minnesotans.  I will not complain about the mild temperatures because I know that eventually cold and wintery weather will arrive, but that doesn’t change the feeling of abnormality that this autumn weather creates, especially for those of us who study nature and the complex dance of the seasons.  Besides the green grass, which will eventually fade to brown under a layer of leaves and snow, there is green on the forest floor which will remain throughout the winter months, even as a blanket of white covers it.  I walked through our woods the other day with my friend Cindy and she pointed to some of the plants in this group.  She asked, “What are these? They’re so pretty”.  She was referring to a cluster of Princess Pine, scientifically known…

Red Tailed Hawks and turkeys - November birding

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WINGIN’ IT By Kate Crowley November arrives and with it comes the doldrums of birdwatching.  Yes, there will be birds throughout the winter at our feeders and in the trees, but the excitement of spring and summer is a fading memory.  So, I look inspiration wherever I can find it and today it was while driving to the Twin Cities and counting the red-tail hawks perched on the arched road lights on the sides of I35.  They are big birds and if they are facing towards the car you will see a white breast with a dark band below it.  If they are turned with their backs to you, they appear to be mostly brown.  There must be a lot of rodents in the grassy borders in certain stretches because there can be three or four hawks perched in a half mile. Earlier in the week my daughter and I saw two sitting right beside one another on a light pole; not typical for these solitary hunters.  We assumed they were a pair of siblings or possibly a parent and an offspring, though it is late in the season for t…

Ravens, crows and Halloween

WINGIN’ IT By Kate Crowley Stereotypes.  It happens all the time in our society.  It even happens with birds.  How else can you explain the association of crows and ravens with the evil spirits of Halloween?  Both of these birds belong to the Family Corvidae – my favorite, because of their innate intelligence and social interactions.  Like the fairy tales of the Big Bad Wolf, these glossy black birds have come down through the centuries with stories and beliefs that emphasize one behavior that we humans find revolting and ignores all others. During the Middle Ages and the scourge of the Black Plague, these predators and scavengers found easy pickings among the countless dead who lay exposed in streets or fields.  The same was true for the warriors and soldiers killed in endless wars;  people saw the wolves, crows and ravens feeding on the dead and were (not surprisingly) horrified.  It is not a coincidence that wolves and corvids would be found in the same places because ravens, lacking…

Late fall

WINGIN’ IT By Kate Crowley
Here it is the first week of October and all our flowers continue to bloom and not a hint of frost in the forecast!  We all enjoy these beautiful autumn days, maybe even more than any others because we know they are numbered.  I’ve noticed in recent days that it’s not only us humans who are basking in this warmth and unusual climatic conditions; but so are the bees. Last week when it was cloudy and moist I was surveying the flower beds and stopped by the maroon colored chrysanthemums.  All over the golden disks in the center of the flower were bumblebees.  They were very lethargic and really didn’t seem able to fly.  I tested one with a stick and it could move its wings, but did not get airborne. These bees very slowly moved from flower to flower probing the nectar tubes.  There was no pollen collecting on their bodies, which is an unintended side effect from their search for nourishment.  They only make small amounts of a honey-like substance for their own su…

Fall Fungus

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GOING NATURE’S WAY By Kate Crowley
If there is a silver lining to be found in this very wet autumn, it is found in the forests.  I’m not talking about the leaves, which are very slowly turning color; I’m referring to the vast assortment of mushrooms on the forest floor and on the sides of some trees.  We just returned from a week’s hiking in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and I have to say, we have never seen such abundance and variety in the Fungi Kingdom.  The people we were with, I’m happy to report, were just as excited as Mike and I and demonstrated a sense of wonder that adults normally lose.  Overall, I prefer to just observe the variations in shape, size, texture and color of mushrooms.  I do like to eat the types sold in grocery stores and Morels are a favorite in the spring, but I have only eaten a few ‘wild’ mushrooms and that only happened when I absolutely trusted the knowledge of the person I was with.  In Europe people have been hunting, picking and eating wild mushrooms…

Great Blue Heron on the Cumberland River

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WINGIN’ IT By Kate Crowley We are currently cruising up the Cumberland River, headed to Nashville.  This is all new territory for us and as naturalists we are excited to see new landscapes and rivers.  We call the Cumberland a river, but in this stretch, up from Paducah, it is part of a reservoir system created by the TVA in the 1930s.  Because it is such, there is far less current than we find on the Mississippi River and it is a popular spot for fishing;  For both people and birds. While we were docked in Paducah, on the Ohio, we looked out the window one morning and found ourselves being observed by a Great Blue Heron just a few yards away from us.  It was stalking, as these birds often do, along the very edge of the shore, lifting one impossibly long leg after the other in slow motion.  We could see how the toes flopped down when the foot was raised, and opened as they went back into the water. It tilted its head so its eye could see the water, then lifted it up and looked directly …

National Parks and Lake Superior

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GOING NATURE’S WAY By Kate Crowley We have spent much of the summer leading groups of people from all over the country on tours of the Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan shores of Lake Superior. These trips have been a combination of hiking trails and going out on boats, while having the comfort of a hotel for the night.  We are happy to be able to share this Great Lake with others who are less familiar with it.  It has already been six years since Mike and I walked all the way around this vast body of water, but we never grow tired of its beauty and changing nature.  People from as far away as Texas, California and Florida have joined us for these trips and without exception they find themselves in awe of the size of the Lake, as well as its clarity. Besides showing these folks this marvelous natural resource we have introduced them to both the State Parks of these three states and the National Park of Isle Royale.  I would imagine most Minnesotan’s can say they have visited Gooseberry S…

Phoebe

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WINGIN’ IT BY Kate Crowley I don’t know when the Eastern Phoebes returned to our property this year because we were gone for the entire month of April and part of May, but the average over the past ten years has been mid to later April.  When we returned the male was in his usual location, back by the barn singing his sweet, raspy “fee-bee, fee-bee’ song, with the second phrase ending with a bit of a tremolo. This call is repeated over and over, especially while the male is seeking a mate.  It will continue throughout June and July, but with less intensity and frequency, unless he seeks another mate. The Phoebes have been coming to our property since we moved here 30 years ago (and probably long before that).  They have used different locations for their small, neat cup nests, but quite long ago they discovered the light fixtures in the barn, where the horses used to stay were ideal nest sites.  They built two identical nests, one above each light fixture. These were made with a combina…

Minnesota Mosquitoes

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GOING NATURE’S WAY By Kate Crowley It could be the soundtrack for a horror movie……a faint, high pitched whining, that grows louder as you look around and in a panic begin to run for your life.  That is what life has become here in northern Pine County (and possibly southern, and Carlton County).  The mosquitoes this summer have taken over our minds and bodies.  We are being held hostage day after beautiful summer day, by these blood sucking hordes hovering near every door and window.  Minnesotan’s love to brag and joke about the Mosquitoes (our state bird – yuk, yuk), but no one is laughing now.  We seriously have no recollection of them being so abundant and fierce in any of our 30 years on this property. June was blessedly beautiful and we sat on our deck in the evenings basking in the low angled sun and soft breezes.  We congratulated ourselves again and again on our good fortune to live on a sand plain where water soaks quickly into the ground, leaving mosquitoes with less breeding h…

Rain threatens birds

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WINGIN’ IT By Kate Crowley As the floodwaters recede, a stunned and relieved populace can finally stop holding their collective breath. Throughout southern Carlton County and all of Pine County there is a sense of disbelief that only four years after a major flood event, it has happened again.  At our home we measured over 8” of rain in less than 24 hours. This is what the word deluge was meant to describe. Others said it felt like they were in the middle of a monsoon. Thankfully there was no loss of life in our region, but property damage and loss was significant for people who have in some cases finally recovered and remodeled after the flood of 2012, which was said to be a once in 100 years flood when 8 to 10 inches of rain were spread over three days. Here in Willow River, there was fear that the small dam holding back the waters of the river would fail, with catastrophic results. Roads throughout the two counties (and into Wisconsin) were hard hit and the cost to repair them is goin…

Love and Need for Trees

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GOING NATURE’S WAY By Kate Crowley The recent storms that blew through took a toll on many trees in the Willow River area. On our property we thought we had been spared because there were just two dead jack pines that came down in the horse pasture. We have lots of trees around our home and thankfully they held, but then we walked around our trails today and discovered there will be months of work cutting and clearing all the trees that fell and that includes a two perfectly healthy looking white pines and a very large, very healthy looking balsam fir.    We are in the habit of leaving dead trees standing in our fields and pasture as food and nesting sites for the birds and don’t really mourn their loss when they finally succumb to the elements.  They have given their all to us and the other creatures that live here, but losing a healthy, full size tree is always a shock and a feeling of loss, especially if it is nearby where you are used to seeing it, day in and day out. Last year we ha…