For the past few weeks I've spent a lot of time at my parent's home in Eagle Bend, which is a small town about 50 miles south of Park Rapids along Highway 71. Intent on keeping their bird feeding station chock-full of seed, and then some, I've taken it upon myself to purchase a tube-style feeder and hung it on their double-hooked cast iron shepherd's hook, so now the affair has two feeders — the tube feeder and a hanging fly-through style feeder.
Blue jays! Of all our year 'round avian residents, few are as brilliantly plumaged as blue jays are. Indeed, for our color-starved eyes throughout the long and bleak wintertime, the blue jay's color scheme is a welcome contrast to the mostly drab-colored landscape of winter.
It's cold out. Winter's icy grip on the northland, full on, isn't showing signs of release anytime soon. Cracking trees deep in the forest, popping like rifle shots in the still-night air, along with the sounds of groaning and expanding ice across all of the north country's lakes, are reminders to we mortal humans that furnaces and fireplaces must not fail, and that resident fish and wildlife must call upon stored reserves and a host of other mechanisms in order to survive.
Thus far this past late fall and early winter, my backyard bird feeding station has attracted the usual assortment of wild birds. Aside from a small band of pine grosbeaks that showed up for a few days in a row, I have yet to see any large influxes of other wintertime birds that often occur each year. Common redpolls are one such bird that we associate with these "irruptions," or, put another way, the sudden uptick of a species' abundance, which generally means that environmental conditions aren't suitable where "irruptive" species typically inhabit at any given time and place.
In early December an individual mountain lion made the news throughout Minnesota. The cat was allegedly struck and killed by a vehicle on a road not far from the small town of Nimrod, a quaint village nestled alongside the beautiful Crow Wing River in Wadena County. This was the second mountain lion killed on a Minnesota roadway since 2009 when, in the City of Bemidji, a young couple driving their vehicle on Carr Lake Road hit a lion near the bridge between Carr and Marquette lakes. Yours truly was able to examine the dead cat the following day.
One of Minnesota's most recognizable owls is the great horned owl. Its size alone sets it apart from most other owls, but so do those little feather tufts on top of the species' head, sometimes mistakenly believed to be "ears." Known to prey on animals as large as foxes, great horned owls are impressive birds.
Living where I do, I only observe one of Minnesota's four species of native grouse — ruffed grouse. The other three native grouse species, which occupy habitats a fairly short distance from my home, are the greater prairie chicken, spruce grouse, and the sharp-tailed grouse, also called sharptails, sharpies, or the even shorter version, "sharps."
I've always been fascinated by the differences in pelage coloration and patterns of white-tailed deer, including genetic mutations that cause other color abnormalities such as melanism, albinism, and another interesting pelage pattern — piebaldism. Piebald, which simply means, "of different colors; spotted or patched or blotched, especially with black and white," is not common, but routinely shows up in populations of deer. Think of a pinto horse and you pretty much have an example of what piebald is.
Whenever I'm in the Rocky Mountains of northwest Colorado, I'm always delighted to be in the presence of not just one species of chickadee, but two — the ubiquitous black-capped chickadee, which range across all of North America, and the not-so-common mountain chickadee, which occurs in mountainous habitats of the West.
I spend a few weeks each October and November in both the Colorado Rockies as well as in northwest Minnesota hunting deer and elk. Every trip is unique — weather patterns, wildlife observations and encounters — new sights, new sounds, new experiences. Where I hunt in northwest Colorado is considered "winter range." Indeed, it is obvious each fall that the area is where deer and elk spend the wintertime because it's quite common to find shed antlers everywhere throughout the landscape.