There are a handful of wild birds that make their year 'round home right here in marvelous Minnesota. Birds that show up in the springtime and stay until early fall are a joy to observe and have around — our hummers, orioles, and woodland warblers to name just a few —but what about those resident, familiar, and so-so birds that don't necessarily cause a great deal of excitement in birder circles?
The little shallow lake that borders my property, Assawa Lake, is quite low this summer. Rainfall has been sparse and the wetlands and waterways throughout this part of the state bears this out. As I stood in the tall grass adjacent to the lake on a spot that would normally be underwater, I noticed a bluebird perched high in a nearby tree at the tip of dead branch.
While picking blueberries recently at a favorite spot of mine, not far from Itasca State Park, I was thrilled to observe a family of one of my favorite birds to watch and listen to. A striking bird, few birds can match the beautiful red-brown color of the appropriately named brown thrasher. Sometimes mistakenly referred to as a species of thrush, brown thrashers are related to mockingbirds, catbirds, and seven other species of thrashers found throughout North America. However, only one thrasher exists in Minnesota — the brown thrasher.
Few birds are considered as intelligent as members of the crow family are, otherwise known as, collectively, corvids. Among the most intelligent of the lot are crows and ravens, although, I'll have to say, few, if any, can match the combination of both intelligence and friendliness as our own gray jay, also known as the Canada jay.
I'm pleased to report that purple martins seem to be faring well in parts of Mille Lacs County, particularly on the shores of Mille Lacs Lake itself and throughout the countryside of Meeker, Todd, Douglas, and Grant counties, too. On a recent trip to the second largest inland body of water in Minnesota, Mille Lacs Lake, I was surprised to see along the south shore near the tiny lake-town of Wahkon that many lakeshore owners have purple martin houses erected on their lawns. Some homeowners have also strung giant white gourds below and alongside their martin houses as well.
Sometimes called the golden gopher or flickertail, Minnesota is home to a very unique and interesting ground squirrel that we're lucky to be able to observe right here in our own backyard, albeit not in everyone's backyard. Richardson's ground squirrels, a species of ground squirrel with the colonial habits similar to prairie dogs common to western United States, could also be called Minnesota's version of this western cousin. No other Minnesota native ground squirrel has quite as social a lifestyle as what Richardson's ground squirrels enjoy.
Every once in awhile I need to think about whether or not there exists a Minnesota wild bird or critter that I haven't written about at least once. It turns out that there are several, of course, although many of them get honorable mentions without necessarily being the feature subject of any given column.
While recently enjoying an evening of fishing from my small boat on beautiful La Salle Lake of the La Salle Lake State Recreation Area, I was drawn to the scenic and steep north side of the lake's shoreline. Along this shore are numerous spots that provide good fish habitat in the otherwise exceedingly deep lake.
While recently hiking on my favorite of Lake Bemidji State Park's many scenic trails high above and overlooking beautiful Lake Bemidji, I stopped to gaze into the canopy of the mature maple-basswood forest. So thick was the greenery of the forest that only bits of the bright blue sky and dappled sunlight were visible.
Many of you have no doubt come to know, through my words most likely, a canine companion of mine. This column, which I've been writing for many years now, has included from time to time my mention of Duke: my devoted, fun-loving, and hardworking Chesapeake Bay retriever. My old friend, you see, is no longer at home and no longer able to greet me when I open my car door. And oh how I miss him.