I appreciate Minnesota's four seasons, including our winters. We are a hardy lot, we Minnesotans, and we're among some of the healthiest people in the nation. I liken our hardiness to the tenacity of our feathered friends that forgo warmer climes for our coldest months. The black-capped chickadee is one such bird. Black-capped chickadees, a common year-around bird seen on our backyard feeders and throughout Minnesota, are, despite their small size, among the hardiest of the hardy. Have you ever wondered how such a small creature can survive in such a harsh environment?
I would argue that a more fitting bird for Minnesota's official state bird would have been the ruffed grouse. Indeed, here's a bird that can be found throughout a large swath of Minnesota, not to mention being a year 'round resident. And as beautiful a bird as the common loon is, the loon is much less "common" in our state than Ol 'Ruff is. Considered by many a hunter as the most challenging of upland game birds to hunt, Minnesotans can boast about living in the premier ruffed grouse hunting state.
Until Labor Day night 2018, I had never seen a wild, live Virginia opossum. The only wild opossum I had ever seen before this was about 10 years ago near Keokuk, Iowa, but those animals were dead along a highway. So as I was driving in southeast Minnesota in a light rain not far from Forestville-Mystery Cave State Park a few nights ago, a small creature scampered across the blacktop. Though the animal was at the farthest extent of my high-beams, I immediately recognized the animal as none other than an opossum. Cool! My first 'possum.
Grouse belong to a very large order of birds, Galliformes. Wild turkeys, bobwhite quail, and the non-native ring-necked pheasant and gray or Hungarian partridge are also members of this order. Grouse chicks, which include all of Minnesota's native grouse — spruce grouse, ruffed grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, and prairie chicken — are down-covered and capable of moving about on their own soon after hatching.
Of the four North American species of nuthatches, Minnesota is home to two species — the red-breasted nuthatch and the white-breasted nuthatch, the latter being the most widespread of them all. The other two species, the brown-headed nuthatch and the pygmy nuthatch, occur primarily in southern-eastern United States and western North America-Mexico, respectively.
My commute to work from my home near Becida to the north end of Lake Bemidji takes me about 40 minutes one way. Traveling on the "Mississippi Great River Road," the route is never short of scenery and wildlife. On my return trip home one early evening recently, I was surprised by the sight of at least 50, possibly more, black-billed magpies flocked together on a freshly mowed hayfield a couple miles north of Becida.
I once watched a ruffed grouse on an early November morning foraging for food within the thick understory of hazel and willow in a Kittson County aspen woodland. The bird, unaware of me sitting in an elevated platform propped against a nearby tree, methodically went about filling its crop, leaving basically no leaf unturned and no hazel bush ignored.
I was reminded again why I love where I live. Waking up one early morning recently, bedroom windows open, I heard the distant rattling calls of two sandhill cranes emanating from Lake Assawa. I could tell that the birds were airborne and were flying northerly and toward my house.
The City of Karlstad, Minn., about 35 miles south of Manitoba in the northwestern-most county of the state, Kittson County, once hailed itself as "The Moose Capital of the North." Maybe the town's residents still makes this claim, I'm not sure, but moose are essentially gone from the landscape these days.
A few weeks ago I put out a bee house. I erected the small, wood structure on the south side of my home on a support column underneath the roof overhang. I'll admit that I had my doubts about whether or not bees would actually find it, much less use it, but lo and behold, the "Bee Our Guest" tower bee house has attracted the attention of a small nondescript species of native bee known as mason bees.