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Tamarac Wildlife Refuge

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Early summer is a wonderful time to quietly observe the young of spring. Look for deer fawns hiding behind their mothers, bear cubs exploring their new world and eaglets demanding to be fed. Experience the vibrant colors and fragrances of early summer woodland wildflowers including the showy pink lady slipper. Listen for songbirds as they settle in for the summer season.

Wildlife watching

Here at Tamarac, wildlife is left undisturbed as they care for their young. Portions of the refuge are closed to the public during this crucial time, but many viewing opportunities still exist. The most optimum times for viewing wildlife occur around sunrise and sunset. But sometimes even an afternoon visit can be rewarding to the quiet, watchful observer.

To increase your chances of seeing wildlife, take a drive on the Blackbird Auto Tour Route. This five-mile drive follows the edges of lakes, marshes and meadows. If you feel inclined to exercise, hike the two-mile long Old Indian Hiking Trail and experience the beauty of the maple basswood forest.


Try your luck in one of our five lakes open to fishing. There are many varieties of fish to be caught including crappie, walleye, sunfish, northern pike and bass. A fishing map and regulations can be obtained at the refuge information kiosks or the visitor center.

Visitor center

If you've got questions, our enthusiastic staff has answers! We are eager to help you make the most of your visit. Check out our interactive exhibits and learn about the diverse habitats, which support Tamarac's many species of wildlife.

Learn about the historical use of the refuge including that of the Ojibwe Indians and the European settlers. Be sure to view our large screen presentation entitled: "Tamarac: Its Life and Legends." Before you leave, browse in the Tamarac Bookshop. Proceeds from sales support educational programs at the refuge.

The visitor center is located 9 miles north of Hwy 34. Visitor center hours are Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. and weekends 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Guided tours, Sunday movies, presentations

• Wildlife Excursions will be offered every Thursday, June 9, through August from 10 a.m. to noon.

Explore the refuge with a knowledgeable guide. Search for wildlife and learn about the cultural and natural history of Tamarac. Wildlife films, special programs or activities will be offered every Sunday at 2 p.m. For more information, contact the refuge staff at 218-847-2641.

• Friday, June 3, Friday Night Frogging 8-10 p.m.

Become part of the tradition! Join a Tamarac park ranger for a night of frogging. Identify frogs by their calls while learning about their natural history and significance to the ecosystem. Meet at the visitor center. Bring a flashlight and boots or shoes that can get wet. We'll tromp through a marsh and get a close up look at some of these cool green critters.

• Sunday, June 5, movie, 2 p.m. -- Frogs, the Thin Green Line

Frogs have been on this planet for 250 million years. Today they are at the center of one of the greatest mass extinctions since the dinosaurs. Learn about this environmental crisis unfolding in our own backyard. 60 min.

• Saturday, June 11, Discovering Tamarac History Tour, 10 a.m.

Take a journey into Tamarac's past. Before the refuge was established, this landscape was extensively settled. Who were these folks? Where did they live and how did they survive in this wilderness? Learn about their significance to the refuge and more! Meet at the visitor center.

• Sunday, June 19, The Secret Lives of Butterflies and Dragonflies, 2 p.m.

Join local favorite, John Weber for an intriguing look into the secret world of dragonflies and butterflies. Enjoy beautiful photography along with a short walk to observe these creatures in the wild. Learn about their fascinating lifestyles and their significance in the balance of nature.

• Saturday, June 25, Nature Photography Workshop 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Discover the fun and adventure of photographing wildlife, plant life and the ever-changing scenes of nature at Tamarac. First, a presentation will reveal some secrets as well as cover the basic principles of taking good photos. Then we'll head out into the field to take pictures. Bring your own camera and sack lunch. Meet at the visitor center. Workshop is geared toward beginner and intermediate levels.

• Sunday, June 26, movie, 2 p.m., Silence of the Bees

Honeybees have been disappearing and it is affecting our dinner table and that of wildlife. Join researchers as they follow the trail of clues from the U.S. to Southern France, to Australia and China as they discover why honeybees are dying in record numbers.

• Sunday, July 3, movie, 2 p.m., Forever Wild

To experience wilderness is to know one of this country's greatest treasures. Forever Wild captures the glory of undeveloped, wild places through stunning images and the passionate tales of America's modern wilderness heroes -- volunteers from around the country.

Butterflies: Flowers in Flight

For most of us, butterflies invoke visions of color, the warmth of summer breezes, and the promise of a new beginning. Throughout history, butterflies have held a place in folklore and tradition. In Germany, butterflies were said to be witches out to steal "schmetten' or cream, thus the name butterfly.

The Aztecs believed that butterflies were the spirits of the "happy dead" who visited their relatives to assure them that all was well. These 'spirits' flew around the house and near bouquets of flowers which were left for them.

It was considered ill-mannered for a human to smell the flowers from the top, for the top was reserved for these spirits. The Blackfeet Indians of the west believed that dreams were brought to them in their sleep by butterflies. It was the custom for a Blackfoot woman to embroider the sign of a butterfly on a small piece of buckskin and place it in her baby's hair hoping it would fall asleep.

In Ojibwe folklore, for a wish to come true, one must first capture a butterfly and whisper his or her wish to it. Since the butterfly cannot make a sound, it could only reveal the wish to the Great Spirit. Once the butterfly is set free, the wish will be granted.

Butterflies have a fascinating natural history as well. Butterflies are classified as insects. They have three body parts including the head, thorax and abdomen. Unlike spiders, they have six legs instead of eight. Perhaps a butterfly's most noticeable feature is its wings. These wings are covered with thousands of colorful scales which overlap like shingles on a roof.

All insects go through metamorphosis. Butterflies go through "complete" metamorphosis. Butterflies begin life as an egg. After five days pass, the egg hatches into a tiny larva or caterpillar. These caterpillars feed heavily on foliage and grow rapidly; shedding their exoskeletons many times. After the caterpillar goes through its final molt, it enters its third stage as a pupa or chrysalis. This is also called a cocoon.

It then takes an additional two weeks for the chrysalis to emerge as a butterfly. Butterflies are diurnal meaning they feed during the day while moths are more active at night. Both adult moths and butterflies feed on the nectar of flowers. Here in Minnesota, there are more than 140 different species of butterflies. These butterflies represent 6 common families: the swallowtails, the milkweed butterfly family (monarchs), the gossamer wing family, the admirals, the skippers and the white and sulphur family.

Monarchs are perhaps the most familiar butterfly. Much research has been conducted on monarchs because of their unique migration. They fly south to avoid the winter weather and must return north for their specific larval food source- the common milkweed plant. Monarchs east of the Rocky Mountains fly down to the forests of Mexico near Mexico City. Monarchs west of the Rockies, winter in small groves of trees along the southern California coast.

Some monarchs will travel up to 3,000 miles. In Minnesota, monarchs that emerge in late summer will not mate or lay eggs. Instead they will prepare for a long and strenuous flight only to return in spring to lay their eggs. In preparation for these journeys, monarchs will load up on nectar before and during their travels.

Fat is stored in the abdomen and must sustain them over the winter. The life span of an adult monarch varies, depending on the season in which it emerged. Those that emerge in early summer have the shortest life spans; living from two to five weeks. Those that emerge in late summer and migrate south may live up to eight months.

Today many people are helping out butterflies by providing habitat in the form of butterfly gardens. Butterflies prefer flowers such as asters, coreopsis, bee balm and yarrow. These will provide adults with a good source of nectar.

You may also want to include host plants for caterpillars. Depending on butterfly species, these may include milkweed, willow, flowering kale, or hackberry. Placing large flat rocks in a sunny spot will provide a warm spot for butterflies to perch and spread their wings.

Butterflies will also appreciate mud puddles to drink from. Finally, placing a pile of hollow logs and sticks will provide a place for butterfly eggs, larvae, pupae to develop.

Whether it be through folklore and natural history, butterflies are beautiful to the eye and lifting to the soul. To learn more about butterflies, attend John Weber's presentation, The Secret World of Butterflies and Dragonflies on Sunday, June 19, and check out Tamarac's Butterfly Checklist.