I've been enjoying the company of a little white carnivore this winter. Known by most people as simply a weasel, this particular fellow is none other than a short-tailed weasel, also widely known as an ermine. Fearless, my ermine, as is characteristic of all species of weasels, it hunts mice, voles, shrews, and other small prey with purpose and efficiency. Few predators are as specialized and capable as are weasels.
It won't be long and spring will be upon us once again, although one would have to wonder if this spring will be late in arriving. The snow is deep, the ice on the lakes is thick, and winter still has a month to go yet. Regardless of when Old Man Winter actually leaves the northland, most of us look forward to springtime. And it won't be long until migrant birds will begin trickling northward and eventually arrive here in northern Minnesota.
It is March in Minnesota once again. Springtime will soon be upon us, though meteorological spring is already here in the northland. And with all things considered — snow depth, temperature, and more snow and cold in the forecast — we could be looking at a very late spring this year. While we humans are comfortable inside our warmly heated homes, one need only to look outside and imagine what it must be like to live each day in the elements, as do a host of wildlife species that call Minnesota their year 'round home, to appreciate just how good we have it.
Related to jays and crows, the Clark's nutcracker is named after the explorer William Clark of the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition, who first recorded observing the interesting mountain bird in the year of 1805.
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.