First off, my apologies for writing an incorrect "factoid" in my recent column about fish species. I had included a misstatement of the miles of shoreline found in Minnesota. Thanks to the sharp eyes of a MNDNR Fisheries friend of mine, the curious mistake was revealed. Inexplicably I had written, "Minnesota can boast of having more than 6,700 square miles of shoreline".
To be seen or not to be seen; that is the solution, not the question. With creatures the world over, the colors and patterns of their coverings are much more than protection from the elements. For certain, few animals could survive for long without protective covering. But all those different color patterns seen in fur coats, feathers, skin, exoskeletons, and more, help critters blend in with their respective environments too.
We're definitely experiencing January weather. The snow has piled up and the temperatures have plummeted to double digits below zero. Wild birds are flocking to our feeders, white-tailed deer aren't nearly as active as they were just a couple of months ago, and many a bird and mammal that haven't either migrated southward or escaped to a hibernaculum are desperately searching for food and shelter. Up until mid-December birds were having no difficulty in finding preferred, natural foods throughout the landscape, wherever they may be.
Inspiration comes in strange places at unusual times. While scrolling through Facebook's news feed the other day, I came across a friend's post with a photograph of himself and his boys inside a fish house. My friend, smiling broadly, had in his hands one of my favorite fishes — the rock bass. "What!?" you say.
Old Sam Peabody is one of my favorite birds, and for many reasons. With the male of the species sporting distinctive facial markings that include snow-white throat patches and crowns, yellow lores, and black eye stripes, along with other unique markings, few wild birds look like him, act like him, or sing like him. White-throated sparrows belong to a large family, Emberizidae, also known as sparrows and their allies. Other emberizines include towhees, juncos, longspurs, and buntings, not to mention a host of sparrows such as chipping, song, and savannah sparrows.
Wildlife abound along the extraordinary byways of Highway 2 and Highway 59. And, unfortunately, sometimes ends there. Crows and other scavenging birds, including magpies, ravens, eagles, and vultures, find plentiful carrion alongside the roadways to satiate their hunger.
While exploring the old growth pine forest of the LaSalle Creek Headwaters recently, I heard the faint, thin call-notes of a familiar sounding bird, albeit not so often observed. Knowing where to look, I craned my neck and eyes upward amongst the boles of the giant red pines and white pines that surrounded me.
On the last weekend of November I spent a couple of days roaming beneath towering old-growth white pines and red pines at remote locations in Itasca State Park. One locale was near the headwaters of LaSalle Creek, a gently flowing creek that begins its relatively short length from inside the park and flows north through the ancient glacial tunnel valley that was carved by glaciers, water, and Father Time. Left in the glaciers' wake is the LaSalle Chain of Lakes that we know today.
The late Aldo Leopold, considered to be the father of modern day wildlife management, wrote in his essay "Thinking Like a Mountain" about the only time he shot and killed a wolf: "Since then I have lived to see state after state extirpate its wolves. I have watched the face of many a newly wolfless mountain, and seen the south-facing slopes wrinkle with a maze of new deer trails. I have seen every edible bush and seedling browsed, first to anemic desuetude, and then to death. I have seen every edible tree defoliated to the height of a saddlehorn."
Across the tranquil lake in the darkness of a moonless sky, I can barely make out the faint yellow glow of a campfire. My fire is behind me, about 50 feet, crackling in a dreamy and muffled series of pops and snaps as the dry pine slowly burns.