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Tamarac Wildlife Refuge

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Summer is a wonderful time to celebrate being with family and friends by observing the wild families found in nature. 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 summer woodland wildflowers including the Canada anemone, Joe Pye weed, and wild geraniums. Listen for songbirds as they settle in for the summer season. See you on the refuge where the blacktop ends and the backwoods begin!

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 2 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.

Photo contest

Tamarac NWR and the Friends of Tamarac invite you to participate in our annual photography contest. This year's deadline is September 16. All photos must be taken on the refuge. There are five categories: Nature's Abstracts, Plant Life, Recreation, Wildlife, and Scenic. For contest rules and entry forms, contact the refuge at 218-847-2641 or stop by the visitor center.

Guided tours, Sunday movies, presentations

Wildlife Excursions will be offered every Thursday through August from 10 am 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 2:00 p.m. For more information, contact the refuge staff at 218-847-2641.

• 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. NEW! 50 min.

• Monday, July 4, 12:30-3:30 p.m.

"Sweet Dreams" -- Join Gordon Boswell as he makes dream catchers while telling the story behind this Ojibwe tradition. Learn how to make your own to take home. He will demonstrate other Ojibwe crafts as well including moccasins.

• Sunday, July 10, movie, 2 p.m.

"Lords of Nature -- Life in the Land of Great Predators" Wolves and cougars, once driven to the edge of existence, are finding their way back -- from the Yellowstone plateau to the canyons of Zion, from the farm country of northern Minnesota to the rugged open range of the West.

It tells the story of science now discovering the great carnivores as revitalizing forces of nature, and a society now learning tolerance for the beasts they had once banished. 60 min.

• Saturday, July 16, 10 a.m.

Wildlife Excursion Explore the refuge with a knowledgeable guide! Search for wildlife and learn about the cultural and natural history of Tamarac.

• Sunday, July 17, 2 p.m.

The Scoop on Poop! For Kids of all ages! We may not see all the critters we want to on the refuge, but they leave plenty behind! Discover the wonders of scat! You'll even get to create your own animal scat to take home.

• Saturday, July 23, 2 p.m.

The Wonders of Woodcock. Join graduate student Kyle Daly for a fascinating look at this elusive shorebird that lives in the North Woods! Discover their secret world and learn about the research being conducted on the refuge. Presentation will include a research site visit. Don't miss it!

• Sunday, July 24, movie, 2 p.m.

"Magic in the Air" -- Hummingbirds take extraordinary to a whole new level. By using cameras able to capture over 500 images a second, the hummingbirds' magical world can finally be seen and appreciated. 55 min.

• Sunday, July 31, movie, 2 p.m.

"Beavers, the Biggest Dam Movie You Ever Saw!" -- Take an intimate swim with beavers and experience the rich aquatic habitat of one of nature's greatest engineers. Our most popular movie! 38 min.

Jewel of the north

For many of us who make cold Minnesota our home, the sight of a hummingbird may bring a smile to your face and a taste of the tropics. But for many native cultures, the hummingbird was held in high esteem and played a serious role in tradition and ritual.

For the Navajo of the Southwest, hummingbirds held places of honor along with wolves and mountain lions as brave spirit creatures. In the Pacific Northwest, the Squamish of the Puget Sound region associated hummingbirds with the ripening and harvest of salmon berries.

For another tribe, the sight of a hummingbird was a signal for good luck and good weather to come. Perhaps hummingbirds played the most significant role in the Aztec culture. To them, they were called huitzil, meaning "shining one with weapon-like cactus thorn."

Legend has it that when Aztec leader Huitzitzil was killed, his spirit became a hummingbird. From that point on, Aztecs believed that all fallen warriors became hummingbirds since they are often seen "dueling" and practicing their warrior skills. Even their war god wears a bracelet of hummingbird feathers. Clothing of Aztec royalty was often decorated with hummingbird feathers as well.

Hummers have a fascinating natural history as well. Hummingbirds are the largest family of non-passerines. There are 338 species and all are found in the Americas. Fourteen species nest in the United States.

The Ruby- throated is the only species that migrates each spring to Minnesota. It is one of our many Neotropical (New World) migratory birds who will summer here and winter in southern Mexico and Central America. The Ruby-throated occupies the largest breeding range of any North American hummingbird. It is found from the east coast west to the Mississippi occupying the eastern deciduous and mixed forests.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are iridescent green with a long slender bill. Adult males have a red throat patch called a "gorget." In certain light, this patch appears as a brilliant red color. At other times, it may appear black. Males will also have a notched tail while females will not.

The average adult ruby-throat will be 3.5 inches long and weigh only 3-4 grams -- as much as a penny! Don't be fooled by their tiny size as they are capable of migrating nonstop across the Gulf of Mexico.

To prepare for this unbelievable journey of 500 miles, they will gorge themselves on nectar and small insects to double their size. Upon arrival, the males will set up territories around food sources. If food is plentiful, territories may be as close as 50 feet.

During courtship, males will display when females enter their territories. This display includes a series of U-shaped looping dives above the female. The male then shifts to side-to-side arcs. After mating, the female will seek out a location to build her tiny nest.

It takes about 10 days for the female to complete a walnut shaped nest made out of plant down, animal fur, soft grass or moss. It is held together with spider web and is often "decorated" with bits of lichen and moss, providing camouflage. It is tiny to say the least, measuring 1-2 inches high and 1.5 inches across. It found an average of 10- 20 feet above the ground. Generally, the female will lay two eggs. Incubation of the eggs is 2 weeks and three weeks later, the young fledge.

Hummingbirds are daytime feeders. Their diet consists of nectar, small insects and tree sap. They seem to prefer the nectar of red tubular flowers. Some favorites at Tamarac include columbine, wild bergamot, jewelweed, honeysuckle and paintbrush. It is easy to see that certain species of flowers and hummingbirds have evolved together.

For many here in Minnesota, attracting ruby-throats is a popular summer hobby. A simple sugar solution can be prepared by using a ratio of 4 parts water to 1 part sugar. The solution should be boiled and then cooled before filling your feeder. Any unused sugar water can be refrigerated. The addition of red food coloring is unnecessary as feeding ports of feeders are red. The "nectar" should be changed on a regular basis to prevent the formation of black fungus.

Hummer Trivia:

• A hummingbird can fly forward at 40 miles per hour.

• A hummingbird can beat its wings 70 strokes per second.

• To conserve energy, hummingbirds have the ability to enter "torpor," a short term form of hibernation on a nightly basis

• In flight a hummer's heart rate may race to 20 beats/second.

• Hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly backwards and upside down.

• Hummingbirds will reject nectar that is less than 12 percent sugar (the sweetness of Coca-Cola)

• They lap nectar with their tongues at a rate of 13 licks per second.

Whether it be through native culture or natural history, hummingbirds are amazing and admired creatures. Why not reward these jewels of flight this summer by feeding them in your own backyard. Here's to hummers!

Dream catchers -- An Ojibwe oral tradition

One of the old Ojibway traditions was to hang a dream catcher in their homes. They believe that the night air is filled with dreams both good and bad. The dream catcher, when hung, moves freely in the air and catches the dreams as they float by. The good dreams know the way and slip through the center hole and slide down off the soft feather so gently the sleeper below sometimes hardly knows he is dreaming. The bad dreams, not knowing the way, get entangled in the webbing and perish with the first light of the new day.

Small dream catchers were hung on cradle boards so infants would have good dreams. Other sizes were hung in lodges for all to have good dreams.

The originals were made of night whispering willow and night seeing owl's feathers by grandmothers in the tribe and given to new babies and newly married couples for their lodges.

Here is one version of the story:

A spider was quietly spinning his web in his own space. It was beside the sleeping space of Nokomis, the grandmother.

Each day, Nokomis watched the spider at work, quietly spinning away. One day as she was watching him, her grandson came in. 'Nokomis-iya!' he shouted, glancing at the spider. He stomped over to the spider, picked up a shoe and went to hit it.

"No-keegwa," the old lady whispered, "don't hurt him."

"Nokomis, why do you protect the spider?" asked the little boy.

The old lady smiled, but did not answer. When the boy left, the spider went to the old woman and thanked her for saving his life.

He said to her, "For many days you have watched me spin and weave my web. You have admired my work. In return for saving my life, I will give you a gift." He smiled his special spider smile and moved away, spinning as he went.

Soon the moon glistened on a magical silvery web moving gently in the window. "See how I spin?" he said. "See and learn, for each web will snare bad dreams. Only good dreams will go through the small hole. This is my gift to you. Use it so that only good dreams will be remembered. The bad dreams will become hopelessly entangled in the web."

Visit Tamarac on July 4th to make your own dream catcher!