Sunday, December 19, 2010

ice, ice

Greentangle's been posting so many lovely pictures of ice that have been reminding me that I haven't gotten down to the lake much at all this winter, so today I went out for a quick foray through Lester Park and then down to Kitchi Gammi to visit the lake. Today the high was around 20 and down my the lake there was a sometimes biting wind, but I brought a thermos of hot tea and wore a lot of wool and I survived. What I love about Duluth is that I can get to places like this on public transit

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Antenna Farm update

Clarkhouse Creek is still flowing, albeit only marginally, but the pond is completely frozen over, although I didn't try walking on it to test the thickness. The forest was mostly quiet except for a few crows and chickadees, plus two dogs that came barreling down a long driveway to bark at me, which doesn't really count. There were also a few deer browsing on shrubs, and lots of deer and rabbit/hare tracks in the snow.

And almost no snowmobile tracks, which surprised me, although some of last year's trails have gotten overgrown or have had trees fall over them. There was also only a single pair of snowshoe prints on the trails that I was on. While I've run into other people on the roads, I've never encountered a single other person on the trails. Today, although we haven't had significant snowfall in over a week, snow still clung to the branches of all the underbrush, because nobody's been walking through them to knock them clean.

To get from my house to the Antenna Farm, I have to walk along a few blocks of Central Entrance, which is always busy any time of day, and it's jarring, especially coming home, to go from a such a quiet, unpeopled place to such a heavily trafficked road. Even after visiting it for over a year, it still doesn't seem possible that there could be this kind of wilderness in the middle of the city and not even as official parkland. The trails are ungroomed, and the antennas are ugly and people often dump garbage on the roadside, but it is by and large such a lovely place to be.

For that matter, it's kind of jarring to go from Central Entrance into my actually rather idyllic Central Hillside neighborhood. This is supposedly the "ghetto," and when I tell people I live in the Central Hillside they get a worried look on their face and ask me how it is. Oh yes, it is truly a trial living here, all these community gardens and friendly neighbors, all this public transit and amenities within walking distance, it's brutal I tell ya. Which is not to say there are no problems in the Hillside, and certainly there are blocks closer to downtown where I would want to stick to well-lit streets after dark, but I've never felt afraid here and this is by far my favorite neighborhood in Duluth. Like the Antenna Farm, the Hillside is imperfect but beautiful.

Monday, November 22, 2010

sick day with chickadees

It looks very picturesque out there, with temps in the 20s and softly falling light, dry snow. Unfortunately there will be no frolicking for me today because the only reason I'm not shut away in a near-windowless factory is because I am getting over the worst cold I've had in years. My walk to the compost pile earlier is probably all the outdoors time I get today.

So instead I am browsing mukluks online (because I should spend half a week's pay or more on footwear, right?) and watching the birds outside. At first there was just my usual gang of pigeons, but after they dispersed a single chickadee flew in, quickly followed by a second chickadee, then a third, and eventually there were seven of them taking turns at the feeders. One by one they flit out from my lilac or spruce or my neighbor's chokecherry or currant (with sporadic forays into my vegetable garden or the neighbor's woodpile), grab a single seed, and then flit back into shelter again. I feel bad that all their shelter trees are so far-flung from the feeders, but in a few years the viburnum, elderberry and serviceberry I planted last summer with be more than just sticks in the ground and the birds can hang out there, too. It would have been interesting to see if there was a pattern as to which chickadee went to which feeder, or which shelter they prefered, or if they had a pecking order as to who got to eat when, but I am not so sharp-eyed to be able to tell quick chickadees apart, especially when I am still slightly cotton-headed from my sickness.

I was thinking about the Christmas Bird Count today. If my friend does a route, I might see if I can tag along with her, because I don't know how scientifically relevant my chickadees, pigeons and occasional downy woodpecker would be for a yard list. Still, it might be nice to have an excuse to sit at the kitchen window and watch the birds. The cats are certainly happy to have me at home and largely recumbent most of the day.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

golden fall day

In town the maples are starting to turn and are flaming up the boulevards, but in Lester it is mostly birch and aspen coloring the landscape in warm yellow. Smaller plants like ferns and sumac are also preparing for autumn.

Lester is one of my favorite city parks. I like the rivers, and the landscape seems more deep woodsy than a lot of other parks, and it seems like I fairly consistently find something good in Lester. There's a series of trail to the west of Lester Park proper, below Skyline, that I "discovered" a few years ago, and because it is just an undefined blank spot on the map--and because there is that subdivision nearby with road names like "Bald Eagle Drive" and "Snowy Owl Circle"--I was worried for the fate of the Lester spur trails. But now there are signs up designating them as COGGS trails, which means that I have to dodge the occasional mountain biker, but that's much better than the whole thing being razed for Peregrine Avenue or Kestrel Lane.

Lots of chickadees out, and white-throated, song and possibly Lincoln's sparrows, plus warblers, most of which I couldn't ID (I, uh, saw a couple yellowrumps, and possibly an ovenbird (or some kind of thrush; this was when I had my camera out and not my binoculars)). I also flushed a grouse. I am having a very grousy year; usually I'm lucky if I see one all year, and so far this year I've kicked up at least half a dozen ruffed grouse in the city, plus I got to go watch sharp-tailed grouse dance on leks by Barnum last spring with my friend A.

Asters still blooming prolifically, along with some yellow composite, but the tansy and goldenrod are fading already. As I was watching the warblers and sparrows, something else flitted into view and landed on my leg: a comma butterfly. This was when I had my binoculars out and not my camera. Luckily for me, it was a very accommodating butterfly and waited for me in the mud while I dug out my camera for an overexposed but still documentary photo. (Can anyone ID the species from my crappy picture? I'm afraid I don't have any better angles.)

Last weekend it was finally sunny after more than a week of rain, and on Sunday the temperature was around 60. Not quite warm enough to bask like a snake on a rock, but just cool enough to keep me from getting overheated as I climbed in and out of Amity and Lester River ravines. The birch were turning gold overhead and at my feet there were still flowers in bloom.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

nature in the Friendly West End

Nature, of course, continues. I've been busy with a new job that is otherwise good except that I'm stuck in a windowless basement all day, and I have never really mastered the skill of balancing a 40 hour work week with having a life, so I'm not getting out as much as I'd like (although I do have a recent Antenna Farm jaunt to write up).

Today I overslept just enough to miss my usual bus, and I thought the next bus option would have gotten me there late since I'd have to transfer downtown, but there were some unexpected road closures and the bus driver ended up going a lot further west than he should have, so I just got off at the M&H and walked from there into the Friendly West End. It was lightly drizzling, and the patchy cloud cover caught the dawn light and cast a dramatic scene over the industry and waterfront. One deer skittered across Superior Street towards the scrub below Point Of Rocks, and on the other side of the street two more deer grazed in the grass, keeping an eye on me but not appearing overly concerned. Once I got up closer to Garfield I could see a faint rainbow arcing over the city.

I usually use part of my break time to take a walk around the block. The ditch is filled with flowers, mostly weeds (vetch, gumweed, daisies, tansy, plus some native asters) but the butterflies love it, especially the vetch. Today there were several sulphurs and cabbage whites, and one Milbert's tortoiseshell. The tortoiseshell is probably newly hatched (he did look very clean and new) and will overwinter as an adult and emerge again in the spring. By afternoon the sun was bright and warm, and there was brown tabby cat basking in one of the apartment windows I walked by.

Monday, August 9, 2010

swimmin' again

Today the high temp (according to my thermometer) was 88 and the humidity level was around 70% most of the day, and if that isn't a perfect day to go jump in the lake, I don't know what is. This time I didn't want to make the trek to a specific "swimming beach" so I just found some little cove in the hillside where the shoreline is rocky and the rocks are kind of slimy once you're more than a few feet in, but the water is cool and clear. I floated around for a while, then after I went back on the rocks to dry off, a flock of mergansers paddled in, diving for fish right where I'd been swimming. Further down the beach there was a sandpiper of some variety, I never got close enough to see any details. Later, a cormorant arrived; he'd swoop underwater and disappear for a long, long time, and then would invariably come up with a glittering fish clasped in his mouth.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

thimbleberries and more in Chester

The thimbleberries in Chester are ripe now, and while they are not as abundant as they have been in years past, there is enough ripe fruit just off of the trail for a sizable snack without quite gorging myself. (Although it is also somewhat early in the season, and there might be more substantial yields in a week or two.) Wild raspberries are ripe now, too, but in Chester they are much less common. Chokecherries are also just starting to ripen, super super early this year.

Joe Pye is in full, glorious bloom by the ponds, and is a magnet for butterflies and hummingbirds. Fireweed and jewelweed also blooming, although not in as extravagant of numbers. My friend C. and I laid on the rocks just below Skyline for a while, and she pointed out to me the tiny (1/8 of an inch long or smaller) mud-colored, mud-covered snails in the still shallows of the creek slowly creeping though the algae and muck. Above us, dragonflies hawked after mosquitoes.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

park point, late july

I used to live on South Street and 16th, literally just a block from Lake Superior. The shore there is not a sandy beach, but I did have really easy access to the water and I could usually find a little stretch of lake all to myself and go swimming a couple times every summer. Since I moved from that apartment five years ago, I haven't gone swimming once, so I was long overdue. It's been actually hot this past week (at least Duluth's version of hot, in the 80s) so yesterday I went down to Park Point to go baptize myself in the Lake.

Even on a Monday afternoon, there were about a million people on the beach, and I had to walk all the way down to the pumping station before I found a stretch of sand all to myself--not that walking halfway down the Point is really the worst thing in the world. On the harbor side by the airport I saw these guys. Sanderlings? I am not confident at all in shorebird ID.
There were also many speed-of-light warblers in the woods that I never got a good look at, let alone a picture of, and I cannot ID warblers by song. They had yellow on them. That doesn't help.

Sunflowers were blooming along the trail, and milkweed was just finishing up. Jewelweed, fireweed and harebells were blooming in the woods, and rattlesnake root was just getting ready. The blueberry and raspberry crops on Park Point this year are phenomenal. Unfortunately, the poison ivy crop is also phenomenal, and picking berries requires playing Poison Ivy Twister: right foot not on poison ivy, left foot not on poison ivy, right hand on blueberry (not poison ivy). 24 hours later, I seemed to have escaped unscathed.
This spring it got so warm so soon, and this summer we've had a couple of hot spells already, and what that means is that Lake Superior is, for once, not hypothermia inducing (note to non-locals: the average year-round temperature of Lake Superior is 40 F; it's usually somewhere in the low 50s in the hottest part of summer). It is not exactly bathwater, and I still had to ease myself into it, but it's still excellent for pushing yourself away from the land and floating on the shining big sea water. I think I'm going to need to go swimming more often this summer.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

black swallowtail pupation pics

I'm raising black swallowtail butterflies again this year, and tonight I got to watch one of them pupate. I wrote about it in my other blog. Go check it out!

Monday, July 19, 2010

rush of summer

Okay, wanting to post stuff on the day that I observe it obviously isn't working, because the result more often than not is that I don't post at all, and in the middle of summer when there is so much happening--even if I'm not getting out enough to see it all--I really don't want to go back and post date entry after entry. So from here on out I officially switch to slapdash summaries and catch-as-catch-can posting.

In Lester and Hartley this past week there was fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) blooming everywhere, which, despite the scary L-word is not evil like purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), which it isn't even closely related to, but is instead a delightful native wildflower of moist, shady areas. Also blooming now is Joe Pye, Indian pipe, vervain, and jewelweed. This photo of Indian pipe was taken on the forest floor around 8:30 p.m. on an overcast day when we were doing one more frog survey in Hartley for the summer (nothing - nothing! - except one out-of-season wood frog). Any other flower picture from that time and place would have been unpostably dark and blurry, but Indian pipe seems to give off its own light.

There are also right now berries everywhere. Wild raspberries and dwarf raspberries are at peak, and there may be a few late strawberries hanging around yet. I've heard lots of talk of blueberries, but haven't been able to get out to my blueberry spots yet. Serviceberries are just starting, but depending on the species and the locale, they could be producing until the end of August. Baneberries are also ripe, but you can probably guess from the name that they are less-than-edible. Also in the do-not-eat category are lots of amanita mushrooms, which look very cheerful with their pretty red caps with white dots, but which are also potentially very, very deadly.

Monday, July 5, 2010

inflated and exploding fabaceae

Mowing the lawn with an electric mower is a pretty hateful task, but mowing the lawn with a reel mower is almost enjoyable. You can hear the birds sing, watch butterflies (I had to wait a few times for cabbage whites to finish nectaring at the hawkweed; luckily for the butterflies the reel mower tends to just roll over some of the taller, wirier plants like hawkweed, so even after I mow there's still plenty of flowers.) Today I also got to stop and watch a bumblebee pollinating my snap peas. The bee crawled inside the flower, and the petals puffed up like a balloon. Once inside the flower, the bumblebee made a high-pitched buzzing noise, different than the buzzing they make in flight. I got to watch the butt end of the bee a few times when she was working, and if the buzzing was made with her wings, they were moving too fast for me to see.

Later today I went for a neighborhood walk. The lupine is more or less finished up for the year, although there are some stalks that are still blooming and some that haven't even started yet. Last week the seed pods were still all green, but this week they are starting to turn black, which means that they are ready to harvest if you want to use the seeds to plant your own lupine. A few days after they turn dry and black, the pods explode and fling the seed, so you've got to get the pods after they turn black but before they explode. (And after you pick them, store them in a paper bag so the pods can breath and when they do explode you don't lose the seed.) I picked some green pods last week and they are starting to turn black now, too. I'll plant the harvested-green and harvested-black in different plots and compare germination rates.

(And it turns out my cell phone camera can take serviceable pics if the light is right.)

Friday, July 2, 2010

Chester tonight

Cells phones are annoying and horrible inventions, but I have one anyway because there's always the possibility I might fall into a ravine and break my legs and have to call for help (anti-spoiler: that is not what happens in this entry). My very old, decrepit cell phone was finally starting to die, so I got a new one, and the new one has a crappy camera. The camera is very crappy, and the pictures are not worth posting, but they are good for reminding me what I saw while I was out without having to try to shove a notebook and pen in my pockets in addition to wallet, keys and cell phone.

Chester tonight was lovely, and surprisingly unpeopley (maybe everyone was at the carnival or grilling dead things in their backyard?). Some serviceberries were ripening at the edge of the trail just past a rocky drop off, and I managed to pick a few without falling into the ravine and breaking my legs. Later I found a trove of ripe wild strawberries growing in the cracks in the rocks alongside the creek that had somehow escaped all other human and critter visitors to the park. The berries were tiny, maybe a quarter inch to a half inch long, but very soft and sweet. The leaves and flowers were all very tiny, too, which I guess is what happens when you are growing directly out of stone.

Also growing in the rocks along the creek was a cheerful clump of harebells, which are another favorite flower of mine (I have many favorites) and I found exactly one stalk of blooming white pyrola. Thimbleberries are finishing up flowering and are starting to produce fruit, but it's still fairly flat and very green still. In one folded thimbleberry leaf that I saw, a funnel weaver spider had built its nest. Outside the park, along Skyline, wild raspberries are starting to ripen. I'm usually pickier than that about not eating stuff on the roadside, but I ate them anyway.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

pyrolas and damselflies

I've barely gotten out this June--the weather, my schedule and my mood did not often happily align--and I've missed so much. Missed the ladyslippers, missed twinflowers, missed coralroot, barely saw any clintonia and columbine and sarsaparilla and mertensia. So today I set aside silly things like job hunting and housework and went and walked around in the woods for a while.

June has turned out to be three weeks of rain followed by one week of warm sun, and the forest in the Antenna Farm is lush and thick. I'd been assuming that the snowmobile trails were ATV trails in the summer, but they were largely overgrown and barely used. And also severely flooded in several places with up to a foot of water, which is probably why they aren't ATV trails. At least I hope not; several times as I approached the pools I heard a splash of unknown origins, and once I actually saw a frog hop from the grass into the water and into the grass again.

And there were damselflies galore, too. A few dragonflies, too, but mostly damsels, and some of them even posed nicely while I fiddled with the focus of my camera. (Any damselfly experts in the audience care to chime in on ID?)

In the world of birds, highlights include a pair of bluebirds along the roadside, a small flock of cedar waxwings eating underripe serviceberries, and a mourning warbler that was yelling at me from the shrubbery.

And while I have missed a lot of blooms already this summer, one that I did not miss is pyrola, which is one of my favorite flowers, but one that I don't see very often. There's some on the Superior Hiking Trail a bit further west, and one year I saw some at Scandia cemetery, but it's kind of hit or miss whether I see any pyrola each year. I like the unassuming structure of the plant, the kind of lurid-looking, long, curved pistil, and the sweet lily-of-the-valley scent. I feel lucky to have seen some at all, and luckier still to have found them in my Antenna Farm.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

rodent omens

This must be my week for meeting new mammals. Today I was running errands out west, and I can't say I was really paying much attention to the scenery, when all of a sudden a groundhog runs across the sidewalk, moving much more quickly than I would have expected a groundhog to move. I've never really given groundhogs much thought, and was somehow under the impression that they lived Somewhere Else, not here, but according to my Kaufman mammal book, their range covers most of northern and eastern North America. 40th West doesn't seem like very happy groundhog territory, but there he was, squeezing itself under a chain link fence and disappearing behind or under a pile of palettes. He must've crossed the (rather busy) street to have gotten where he was, and I just didn't notice until he was right in front of me. It seems like it should be some kind of omen, to have a groundhog cross your path, but I'm not sure what it means.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

a real live weasel!

In my backyard this evening, I saw what I can only guess is a weasel. There was a small mammal back by my neighbor's shed, and I thought, "Well, huh, that's a funny looking squirrel." So I got out my binoculars. The animal in question was about the size of a gray squirrel, but with reddish brown fur, larger ears, a longer snout, a thin weaselly body, and a skinny dark tail. Consulting my Kaufman guide to mammals, my best guess is long-tailed weasel (Mustela frenata). I'm not entirely committed to a weasel ID, but I don't know what else it could be. Fisher, marten and mink are all too big (and are also not any more likely to be found in the city), and tree squirrels, ground squirrels, chipmunks, etc. don't have a long weaselly body.

The weasel spent some time poking around my compost pile--although the only weasel-friendly things that could possibly be in there are worms and beetles--then hopped back to a pile of brush and scrap wood behind my neighbor's shed (moving very much like pet store ferrets-- which I am sadly more familiar with than wild weasels--kind of boinging and slinky-like). The weasel made a couple such trips, and I've heard that weasels will sometimes move their den from one location to another, but there is no earthly reason for a weasel to build a den in my compost pile, especially since I'm out there three to five times a week throwing stuff in and stirring it up, and the neighbors are in their yard just a few feet away pretty regularly too.

I went outside to go investigate, and caught only the very briefest glimpse of the weasel as it boinged away, making a cute little trilling chirp as it did. It looks like it was digging in my finished compost pile, the one I haven't added anything to for about a month or two, the one that is covered in volunteer squash sprouts, and there is now a pile of compost on the grass outside the bin, which wasn't there two days ago when I mowed the lawn. I did not see any obvious evidence of a weasel babies or a mouse den, and of course the weasel did not come out and pose nicely for a photo. I tossed some grass clipping over the tunnel it was digging (because that totally weasel-proofs the compost, right?) and went back inside.

I can't recall ever seeing a weasel in the wild before, and from what I am reading now, they are not an especially common thing to see, especially in the city. Sources say they do generally live near a water source, and there is a little blip of a creek across the street (it is mostly underground in pipes). Maybe the weasel got washed down the culvert from upstream (where it is woodsier) and is just refueling with worms in my compost. I will report more details as events warrant. And I should probably share my observations with the neighbors, since they are currently in the process of building a chicken coop off of their shed.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

botanical transitions

Lupine are blooming already, despite the cold and the wet. My cultivated spiderwort has been blooming for about a week, and now the native spiderwort is blooming, too. Some volunteer rough cinquefoil in my yard is just starting to flower, and the volunteer wild strawberries are still putting out a few flowers but are mostly concentrating on making tiny fruit. Chokecherries are long done blooming, and now the cherries are already starting to swell.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Hartley frogs, revisted

As nice as my last trip to Hartley to monitor the frogs was, even nicer is going on a similar hike with a friend who is smarter and more observant than me, because that way I see things like a spotted sandpiper on the rocks by the big pond and an osprey fishing overhead (okay, I probably would have noticed the osprey on my own). She was also able to identify that the flutey hooting noise that I heard last time and that we heard again tonight as a snipe, plus she ID'ed by song several warblers in the woods earlier in the evening (yellow, yellowthroat, ovenbird and redstart) and later, outside the park in a rich people neighborhood, a barred owl.

Being a writer is kind of a curious occupation, because readers sometimes assume that you are an expert in whatever has been published with your name attached to it. For instance, I've had some people read the content dreck that I've written for quick cash and assume that I know a lot more about gardening or nutrition than I actually do, and the same goes for naturey stuff (which I do take more seriously than content dreck). But really, I am a rank amateur naturalist, I am a nerd with field guides, and almost everything I know I learned from books or from my friend C.

Starflower, trilliums and bunchberries all flowering now, and the wild apple trees are strewing petals in the trail. Right at dusk, we saw two bats snatching bugs overhead--the first bats either of us have seen in along time. And, once again, the frogs did not disappoint. Upon entering the marsh, we spoke in hushed tones, walked slowly and stopped often, listening to the peepers and tree frogs, but once we were in the thick of it we had to raise our voices just to be heard and we had to keep moving because the frog decibels were literally painful (I am not exaggerating when I say that my ears were actually ringing slightly when we got back into the woods). And all the while the frogs kept on singing and singing and singing, seemingly oblivious to the lumbering mammals shuffling over the boardwalks.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

house finch update

The baby house finches, meanwhile, are getting really big, really fast. I only noticed the babies for sure a week ago on the 9th (there was some activity on Friday the 7th, but I couldn't clearly see what; that was also the day of the freak blizzard). And then today suddenly they are big enough that one of them accidentally fledged. The babies hadn't previously been bothered by me using the back door, so I was putting some plants outside, and one of the babies was sitting up and looking at me, so I stood there a while and looked at it. I finished up with my plants, but then when I opened up the back door again the baby got scared and sort of jumped/fluttered to the ground. The official protocol is that if a baby bird can fly, even just a little bit, that you're supposed to leave him be and the parents will keep taking care of it, but I felt bad for being the one to scare him off, so I put on gloves, caught him (once on the ground he could only flutter away a few inches at a time) and dropped him off back on the rafter.

I'm kind of surprised that the babies made it this far, since the parents don't seem to be particularly attentive. The mom was on the nest almost constantly when she was incubating, but then after the babies hatched she's barely been on the nest at all--she flies in a couple times an hour to bring in a mouthful of grub for the little ones, and then flies off again. And before yesterday, I hadn't seen the dad at all during all of incubation and baby-rearing, and today and yesterday he's only dropped by a handful of times. Once he flew in just as the female was about to feed the babies, and she instead handed off the food to him, and he fed them; then another time I witnessed the exact opposite, the male fed the female who then fed the babies.
But most of the time the babies are on their own. As far as I'm aware, there were four when they hatched and there's still four now. And then the poor robins--who actually co-operate and co-parent effectively and are on the nest almost constantly--they're the ones getting harassed by predators.

Friday, May 14, 2010

more predator drama

I was fixing breakfast for the cats when there was suddenly a ruckus outside, a flock of robins attacking some predator near the nest (from the angle of the kitchen window, I cannot see the nest or the predator). This was more than just the nesting pair, this was at least eight robins all swooping and squawking. Soon, a crow flies off with what I am assuming is one of the baby robins in his mouth, and an army of adult robins go off after him.

Back at the homestead, I can hear a robin still sounding an alarm call either from the nest or the roof right above it, and there are several robin sentries posted on fences, sheds and wires around the yard. After a few minutes, the crow tries coming back, but before he even gets within a block of my house, four or five robins are on his tail and they chase him back down the hill.

Sentry robins continue to patrol the yard, and a couple of time a robin flies in to check on the nest, but things seem to be calming down, so I leave the kitchen for a minute to go get the newspaper. When I come back, there are robins and grackles sounding the alarm in the big spruce in my yard, and eventually they flush out a crow, and this time it's the grackles that chase him down the block. (Maybe the grackles have a nest in the spruce? Maybe the grackles just like a fight.)

A few minutes later, two crows fly in and perch on the wire across the alley, but neither of them must be the nest snatcher, because nobody pays them any mind and a few minutes later they fly off on their own.

Half an hour after this all started, the robins are pleasantly singing again, and I see one fly into the nest with a large earthworm. But I'm afraid the robin family is facing an uphill battle now; about an hour after the first incident I was upstairs and heard distressed robins, so I went to look out the window, and there's the crow again, being mobbed by half a dozen robins. Me approaching the window must've spooked him, because he took off again and the robins chased after him. A hour after that I went outside, and there is a robin hunkered down on the nest, and the nest itself looks undamaged. The only time I got a clear view of the babies, I saw two little heads with gaping maws, although there could have been more. There's one less now.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

hikes not spent alone

I took my friend C. out to the Antenna Farm today, and at her encouragement we walked down an ATV trail that I hadn't previously explored, which went through a very pretty birch woods with several small hills and valleys. At the pond, C. heard a pied-billed grebe (something I certainly wouldn't have been able to recognize by sound alone) and later saw a swamp sparrow. In the woods, there were many trilliums in bud (none blooming yet) and many blooming strawberries and yellow violets; a few anemones were flowering, and we saw one stalk of sessile bellwort. But look what else C. found:
Bloodroot! There were about 10 or 15 leaves, but no evidence of flowers or fruit, so either it hasn't flowered yet this year, or it's still too young to flower. C. says she's only seen bloodroot in the wild out by Spirit Mountain, and I've only seen it before in private gardens. (I'm told it's in Jay Cooke, too. Everything is in Jay Cooke--except easy access to public transportation.) Some of the Antenna Farm bloodroot is growing literally mere inches away from a muddy, rutted ATV trail.

The more time I spend in the Antenna Farm, the more protective I feel about it. If the radio towers must remain, I want the land around them to have some kind of official status, if not as parkland then at least as hiking/multipurpose trails. The Antenna Farm is just a big blank spot in the map, and being located as it is in the middle of the city between several busy roads, it's a prime spot for so-called "development." It makes me worry about who owns this land and what might happen to it in the future.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


I needn't have worried about the snow. Most of it was melted by 2 or 3 p.m., and according to my thermometer the high temp today was 52 F. My peas, spinach and peonies all pulled through with flying colors (I probably didn't need to cover them, but then when I uncovered them this morning, the robins appreciated the suddenly snow-free ground and immediately began pulling up worms), and one of the volunteer tulips even started to open its flower bud in the afternoon.

Later today, I went down to Park Point with some friends, and the stellata was just starting to bloom, and blueberry flowers lined the trail out near the end of the Point. Clintonia is on its way to flowering, and sarsaparilla is starting to open up its leaves. My hiking companions got at least seven wood ticks between them (I was hoping the snow would have killed off some of the ticks). There were children walking barefoot on the shore, and driving back there was a surfer crossing the street near the playground. If I'd slept through all of yesterday and this morning, I wouldn't have suspected that it ever snowed at all, unless I happened to look in the shadows on the side of my house.

Friday, May 7, 2010

a brisk spring day in Duluth

The last official snowfall in Duluth this year was on February 25, which meant that we were well on our way to having the first snow-less spring in recorded history. And then today happened.

As of this writing, there's about an inch of wet, heavy snow on the ground, and it's continuing to fall, although it is starting to taper off now. The temperature's been hovering right around freezing, and the wind has been wicked all day (and lucky me, I got to walk to the co-op and then back with 40 pounds of groceries on my shoulders).

When I checked this morning, my peas and spinach (which were planted on April 18 and were all sprouting nicely) looked a little shocked, and my poor peonies (which were putting out flower buds already) looked rather peaked. I covered them all up with tarps, plastic bags or old sheets, and it's supposed to warm up a little bit tomorrow, so we'll see what pulls through. The dandelions are all closed up, and even the creeping charlie looks a little withered. I have some volunteer tulips coming up in my yard, but they're still in bud, so they might be okay. A neighbor's tulips that were already blooming don't really look so hot any more.

The lilacs (also putting out flower buds) were looking a little droopy, but I think they'll pull through. Most fruit trees haven't flowered yet--both wild and domestic apples and cherries are still in bud--so they should all be fine. My neighbor's plum tree, however, was in full, perfect, spectacular bloom; it's positioned so that it's protected from the wind, at least, so I'm crossing my fingers for it on my neighbor's behalf.

The serviceberries just started blooming this past week, and since this is my first spring in the Central Hillside, I'm only noticing now how many of them there are in my neighborhood. Of all the flowering plants currently in bloom, the serviceberries seem to be the only ones taking the snowfall in stride.

It would be interesting to go kicking around the woods this weekend to see how the other native plants are doing. They are, I imagine, by and large well-adapted to a late spring snowfall, but it still worries me, and I'm worried about all the warblers and butterflies that are already out, and all the birds on the nest, and everything else. I can replant my peas and spinach if I need to, and anyway I'm not depending on them for my survival. Hopefully the birds and bugs and flowers are all as tough as serviceberries.

Monday, May 3, 2010

life and death in the Central Hillside

The merlins eventually decided against my spruce, but they are definitely nesting in the neighborhood, I think in a little grove of conifers about four blocks (as the merlin flies) from my house. A few weeks ago on a neighborhood walk I saw one perched at the very tippy-top of one of the trees, and the other flew out from the interior of that tree to another tree, and they seemed to be calling back and forth to each other.

In my yard, a pair of house finches have commandeered an old nest on one of the beams on my back porch, and a robin built a nest on the bat house I put up above my kitchen window. (That was not the intended effect of the bat house, but I guess wildlife is wildlife.) (I actually haven't seen a live bat in a long time, not this year yet and I don't recall seeing one last year, either.)

Today I was coming back from the dentist, and decided to cut through the alley and into the backyard so that I could check on my recently planted fruit trees. Just as I turned the corner into my yard, I saw one of the merlins fly up from my garden, not far from where I planted my spinach, with a dark bird not much smaller than him in his talons. I couldn't see any details of the victim, just a splay of black-grey feathers as the merlin flew off. There was a deeply distressed robin calling from my neighbor's chokecherry, and grackles and starlings making a ruckus in my spruce. I checked the garden, but there were no clues, not one feather or a drop of blood. But I'm guessing it was a robin, since they like to pick around the compost in my garden for grubs.

Ten minutes after I went inside, the backyard was quiet and idyllic again, pigeons and grackles at the birdfeeders, a robin singing and the house finch chirping to her mate. Forty five minutes later I went back outside, and there was a robin back on the bat house nest. So if it was a robin that got killed, it might not have been one of "mine." If I hadn't witnessed the merlin fly off with his prey, I would have had no idea that it had happened. I wonder how often the merlins are hunting in my yard.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

full moon frogs

A full-time job is nice for the whole regular income thing, but it doesn't leave a lot of time or energy for frolicking (or, for that matter, laundry or dishes or cooking real food or...)

Nevertheless, I got out for a small walk tonight. I volunteered to survey frogs in Hartley this spring, but have so far been a very bad frog counter and only got out once. It's been such a warm and dry spring that I really should have gone frogging a couple times in the earlier part of the month, but later is better than never, I guess. Too bad the frog survey isn't done city-wide, because doing the Antenna Farm would be a snap for me, and I think those frogs deserve some kind of official recognition, too.

Spring continues to gallop along. The trees are leafing out more fully, and now there are flowering forbs. I've seen marsh marigold at work for the past week, and it was flowering in Hartley today, too, along with white and lavender violets. Mayflowers leaves are lush and verdant, with flower buds just starting to form, and a few wood anemones were budding out, too. Currant bushes are flowering, too, and although I must admit that I haven't previously taken specific, phenological notice of when currants normally flower, that seems insanely early to me. (Checking records now, I guess I have a picture of currant flowers from May 5, 2006, so maybe it's not all that early.)

But the frogs were the reason I went out there, and the frogs did not disappoint, even with as dry as it's been. After dusk, the air vibrated with frog songs, which made the darkness seem more friendly and cozy (it was too cloudy for the moon to cast much light). Chorus frogs were the loudest and most prevalent, singing from almost every vernal pool within earshot, and in the marsh below Rock Knob there were also spring peepers and exactly one lonely wood frog. The peepers were loud enough that there must have been some just a few feet off of the trail, and waves and waves of chorus frogs played behind them. It was so dark that I could only see the outline of the trees, trail and water, and although it would have been neat to be able to actually watch the frogs sing, I also feel like bringing a flashlight would have ruined the magic of it.

This video is pitch black, and the microphone on my camera is not that great, and of course it doesn't capture the actual experience of standing out in a marsh at night enveloped in music, but I still feel the need to record and share the frogs from Hartley tonight.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

miscellaneous spring

I went out to Lester and Amity in search of spring ephemerals today, because I've only ever seen hepatica and bloodroot in gardens, and I'm not sure if I've ever seen spring beauty. But alas that ephemerals have thwarted me once again. I have it on good authority that hepatica was blooming in Jay Cooke last week, but getting out to Jay Cooke without a vehicle is a significant undertaking. At least the maple flowers were pretty.

There were lots of downy woodpeckers, and some brown creepers, juncos, and nuthatches, plus a mystery raptor that I did not get a good look at through the trees (bigger than a crow, smaller than an eagle, dark (or maybe just in shadow) with upturned wingtips). I also saw a chickadee hunting a moth, and while I know that they'll eat bugs if the bugs present themselves, I've never seen one actively hunting an airborne insect. The chickadee was not successful.

I saw my first bumblebee on March 31, but in the past few days they are suddenly everywhere, and there were plenty in Lester. My first butterfly of the year was a mourning cloak on March 23, and there have been cabbage whites around the yard, and then today in Lester I saw a little blue butterfly, probably a spring azure, but he wouldn't let me get a good look or a decent picture. Possibly saw a dragonfly today, but it was just a zipping something at the edge of my vision, and I'm not willing to commit to an ID.

In regards to the calender and the weather, this past winter was short and mild, but spring this year has come on so early and so quickly that it feels unreal or imaginary. I was expecting another two months of cold and snow and grayness, so to see the trees leafing out, a blush of green against a bright blue sky, feels startling and miraculous.


On a side note, I'll sometimes backdate entries like this (I'm writing this on Sunday, not Saturday the 17th) so that relevant information will have a post date for the day it actually happened. This is for the sake of my own record keeping, but I was thinking--does this screw things up for feeds/RSS/whatever or otherwise complicate things for anyone? (I think I have all of three regular readers.)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

frog depot

Today I had the opportunity to walk from the mall to Home Depot (because the bus does not go directly to Home Depot anymore). Past the parking lot, on the other side of the frontage road, there is a puddle of a pond, maybe 10 by 25 feet. Today, at 3:30 p.m., even with temps around 40-45F, there were wood frogs singing in the Home Depot pond. I wonder how many people ever notice them. There's no sidewalk, and no reason for a person to be over there unless you're trying to get to Home Depot on foot (or unless you're doing a Miller Hill frog survey).

Monday, April 5, 2010

wood frog pandemonium

Finally got up to the Antenna Farm at dusk, and as predicted, it is teeming with frogs. The tiny vernal pools were quiet when I started out (around 6:30 p.m.) but at the pond it was wood frog pandemonium, then by the time I was heading back (7:45 p.m.) the frogs in the vernal pools had started up, too. I might have heard a spring peeper, too, but over all the wood frogs it was hard to tell if the peeping was from a bird or a frog. I got some video from the pond, although the sound quality isn't as nice as I'd like. The video starts off following a brown creeper up a tree, so visually it's not just scenery.

The snowmobile trails are unsloppy enough to walk down again, and now that the snow's gone I can see that there's tons and tons of garbage in the woods. Mostly of the rusted metal variety, which'll eventually rust into nothing, but lots of plastic, too. Next time I'm out I'll have to bring a garbage bag with me.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

lost blackbird

On and off all day long I thought I heard a red-winged blackbird outside declaring his territory. I couldn't see him anywhere, and I didn't really take the noise too seriously, because I'm about half a mile from the nearest wetland or patch of cattails. A red-winged blackbird just passing through would be one thing, but sticking around all day and acting like he's going to set up shop? So it's just a funny sounding grackle, or a very determined starling doing a blackbird imitation over and over--right?

Nope. Around 6 p.m. I was in the kitchen kneading bread, and there was Mr. Blackbird gleaning seed from under the feeders. His shoulder patch was more yellow-ish than red, and I thought I read somewhere that epaulet color was related to diet and that males with redder epaulets had larger territories and attracted more females, but now I'm having trouble digging up any research on it. All the same, I think it's a pretty safe wager that if this particular blackbird decides to make my yard his territory, he's probably not going to have a lot of mates. Maybe I could plant some cattails around my birdbath for him. Red-winged blackbirds are very, very common, but it still not a bird I was expecting to add to the yard list.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

merlins in the hood

Last Thursday morning, the day after I had the merlin fly-by, I got to actually see the merlin. He flew into the confer in my yard, called a while, flew out, flew by in again, and repeated that for about half an hour. I've heard him every day since but haven't gotten to see him again before today, when I learned that it is not just a single merlin, but a pair. I was just heading out for a tiny neighborhood walk when I heard one close by, and I looked up in time to see it fly into my confer. He called out the high-pitched, slightly ascending whinny I've been hearing, then in the distance another one answered him. There are several tall conifers in the neighborhood, and for almost my entire walk I could hear one of the merlins, and a couple times got to see one fly by. The way they move, it doesn't look like it should be physically possible to stay aloft. They're either soaring or, if they're flapping at all, it looks like they're only moving the very ends of their wings, like a human trying to fly by flapping his wrists. But they are, to their credit, flapping very fast.

These merlins seem to be a mated pair looking for a nest site. It would be pretty cool if they nested in the neighborhood, although they can choose a tree that is not mine, so that they don't eat all the smaller birds that come to my feeders.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

spring and philosophy come to the Antenna Farm

I rode my bike around the Antenna Farm today, and the endless ruts and potholes and the small but numerous inclines convinced me that the Antenna Farm is better for walking than biking (or driving, for that matter). The ice is almost completely out on the pond now, and today there was one red-winged blackbird proclaiming his might. A bit further down the road I saw a pileated drumming on a phone pole again, on the opposite end of the woods as the last one I saw, although it could be the same bird. (I managed to shoot some shaky, dizzy-making video this time, but I will not inflict that on you all.)

Elsewhere, there were two separate snowshoe hares merrily gamboling down the dirt road and nibbling on greenery in the woods, offering me excellent views of their limited-time-only piebald coat, brown on top and white underneath. They both scattered when I reached for my camera. Before this year I can't remember the last time I saw a for-sure snowshoe hare (not a regular cottontail rabbit) here in town, and now I've seen three in the Antenna Farm woods. Today I also nearly ran into a cluster of five deer, a mix of adult does and yearlings, and finally saw my first chipmunk of spring.

A lot of land off of the road is impassably flooded now, quite a bit of a contrast from other wild places I've been recently, which are mostly much drier than they should be. If there was a place in town to find skunk cabbage, the Antenna Farm would be it. (Although I've heard from several reliable sources now that there is none in Duluth to be found, but that kind of makes me want to find some even more, to have my own private, special patch of skunk cabbage.) But I'll be interested to see what other wildflowers there are up there, and unless radio signals do something funky to amphibians, it should be frog central up there in a few weeks.

The area around the Antenna Farm--and possibly that pond in particular--is the headwaters for Brewery Creek, a poor neglected urban creek that has mostly been shoved underground. It's above ground briefly just downhill of the Coppertop Church, then again just above 10th Street, once more behind the Co-op, then it empties into the lake by Fitger's Brewery. That little pond may also be what's left of the "ancient lake" mentioned in this DNT article. (I haven't explored Duluth Heights enough to know if there's another lake or pond further to the east; there's certainly wetlands.) The pond could also be the headwaters for Buckingham Creek, and according to that DNT article, Brewery and Buckingham once both flowed from the same source (and were once trout streams! can you imagine?).

At any rate, the Antenna Farm woods is an example of what that part of town looked like before it was all mall and sprawl. One of the things that fascinates me most about natural history is just that--the history of natural places. What did the land beneath me right now look like before 1886 when my house was built? What did downtown look like before it was buried under concrete? What did the mall look like before it was the mall? The towers on the Antenna Farm do uglify the area, and radio tower cause havoc with bird migration, but at the same time building radio antennas has saved the land from even worse development, like dredging and filling and franchise building. Even with the radio interference, nature is trying to find a way to make do anyway, and the woods around the Antenna Farm offer a rare view of what this portion of Duluth used to be before white people came in and tore it all up.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

raptor day

Today must be Raptor Day in the Central Hillside. Around noon I stepped outside briefly and saw at least five (and probably more, it was hard to keep track) bald eagles circling overhead, coming over the hill and drifting slowly up the shore. Two of them flew directly over my house, so I can now legitimately add "bald eagle" to my yard list. There was also one red tailed hawk, although he did not come close enough to my property to count for the list.

Later, I was working on the computer when I heard a high-pitched whinny outside, which tickled at the back of my brain: "I know that, that's a Good Bird." But it took hearing it a second time, and seeing a fast-moving shadow flash by my window to recognize it as a merlin. I had a merlin very briefly in the yard last November, but haven't seen one since. I got off the computer and went outside with my binoculars, but although I could hear him in the neighborhood, I couldn't see him.

Monday, March 22, 2010

sparrow season

Today under my feeders there were three, possibly four juncos poking around for seeds and squabbling over prime patches of grass. They were all dark, dark gray, so probably all males. The boys and girls spend the winter apart, and the boys are the first to move back up north to stake out their territories. Some juncos stick around all winter in Duluth, but I haven't had any in the yard since December, and these are my first sparrows of spring. My yard is kind of bare right now, and over the winter all I've gotten at the feeder are chickadees and the occasional nuthatch, so the start of sparrow season is a cause for celebration.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


There's an old bird nest on one of the beams of my back porch, and today a house finch couple was thinking about taking it over. The boy flew into the nest to investigate and occasionally chipped to the girl finch, who was perched in a nearby lilac and seemed to be calling out instructions to him. They've been singing in the yard for the past two or three days.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


I probably shouldn't be confessing my erosion-causing sins on a public forum, but: today I went walking on the muddy trails in an around Lester Park. In fact, I chose that area specifically because it has some swampy spots, and I wanted to see if there was any skunk cabbage. Greentangle saw skunk cabbage last week in New England, which is not all that climatically different than Duluth, but I did not have any such luck. It has been a weirdly warm spring, but it might still be too early here. The shallower vernal pools are completely thawed, but the deeper ones are still icy. There's still ice in the smaller, shadier creeks, too, although both Lester River and Amity Creek are both churning, muddy and dangerous.

Strawberries, marsh marigolds and other forbs, plus a few ferns, are starting to green up, and the tree buds are swelling, but the landscape is still mostly brown. Temps have been in the 40s or 50s for two weeks (hitting 60, a record high, earlier this week) and the snow is almost completely gone now except for a few gritty drifts that look out of place.

In the woods, I saw one robin around for grub, and of course there was the usual crowds of chickadees and nuthatches. I heard a woodpecker drumming in the distance once, and a few hours later heard a pileated call. Waxwings were briefly heard but not seen. Three bald eagles (two adult and one juvenile) were cruising over the main branch of Amity, and I flushed a grouse while walking through the birch and hemlock woods at the far northern reaches of the ski trails in Lester. When I was at Northland I kicked up grouse at least semi-regularly, but I rarely get to see them here in Duluth. It's always a thrill to be jolted out of your own thought by that explosion of wings in the trees.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Thunder, lightning, hail and rain today, temps in the upper 30s. After spending most of the day staring at a screen, I had to go outside and see what Lake Superior was up to. Even though it's only a few blocks, I could still feel the wind noticeably pick up the closer I got to the water. Ice is pushed up into the corner of the lake, and all you can see at the shoreline is mildly pulsing slush. A little further up the shore, ice chunks noisily clatter against each other, and further up the shore yet the open water is churning up seven foot waves and lots of smaller white caps. The spray on the rocks is building up into thick, opaque ice formations, and the gusts are at times almost strong enough that I can lean all my weight into the wind.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

state of the pussy willows

Pussy willows are currently adorably fuzzy, like little bunny tails all in a row.

Also adorable today: chickadees drinking from the puddle of snowmelt underneath my lilacs. Chickadees in general are singing their "spring" song now (fee-bee, fee-bee), but you have to take that with a grain of salt, because they'll actually do that all year round.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

stick a fork in it

The snow is quickly melting after a week of temperatures in the 30s and 40s (and today it nearly got to 50). In exposed, south-facing spots in my yard, dandelions, plantain, clover and other lawn herbs (we'll call them that rather than weeds) are coming up. Another week of weather like this and I can pick myself a salad.

My compost pile has melted enough that I can turn it for the first time this year. (I started it in November, so it didn't have time to heat up before winter came and it froze solid.) And the compost is beautiful, despite the fact that I've done nothing to it all winter except dump kitchen waste in. All this warm weather makes me want to go work in the garden, but it'll be another month or two before I can start doing anything outside.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


I like to lean on the railing on Skyline Drive and look into the steep, wide ravine of Chester Park pierced with tall conifers and birch, and above it a wide expanse of blue sky. Behind me, cars zip along Skyline, presumably "taking in the view" at 30+ miles per hour, and joggers and power walkers pump along the sidewalk for their daily exercise. After they pass me, half of them glance over their shoulder trying to figure out what I'm looking at, probably expecting to see something extraordinary--moose gamboling in the woods or a bald eagle plucking a trout out of the creek--as if the park itself isn't enough.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

pileated drumming

I was out exploring the Antenna Farm again today when a male pileated woodpecker suddenly swooped across the road just over my head (literally about 10 feet above me). He then perched on a telephone pole, drummed once, and flew off again. This is the first woodpecker drumming I've heard this year, although I maybe haven't been getting out to the right spots. Walking back, I noticed several trees with huge, pileated beak-sized holes in them.

Very little fruit left on the chokecherries now, and what fruit is there is inedible and devoid of flesh--it's just pit and skin. Sumac have a little fruit left, and mountain ash and European buckthorn have plenty. The snow is melting on south-facing slopes, and last year's mullein is being exposed to the sun; they look like fuzzy green roses blooming on the ground.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

chester athletics

The trail in Chester Park this time of year is like a luge course, full of twists and turns, steep slopes, and all of it coated in a thick layer of ice. Still, if you have to go up or down the hill, it's prettier to walk through the woods than on the street, provided you can stay in the woods and not go skidding down into the creek. It would have been safer to walk up 15th Avenue East, but where's the adventure in that?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

a new wilderness

Went for a walk through the woods up by the Antenna Farm, a young-ish birch and alder forest with more mountain ash than I've seen growing wild anywhere else in town. Pussy willow catkins, the earliest flowers in the Northland, are starting to bud out, and cattails are turning fluffy and explode in my hand. The birds today were mostly quiet; crows, chickadees and nuthatches passed through, and once I saw a hairy woodpecker rooting around for grub in a paper birch. I also kicked up a snowshoe hare, which was still completely white.

When I bought my house in the Central Hillside, I despaired a little because there were no big, official parks nearby--Chester and Enger are both about just too far to conveniently saunter out too--but the longer I'm here the more secret pockets of wilderness I'm finding. Walking through the Antenna Farm woods is like being suddenly transported out to the boondocks, complete with dirt roads and the occasional farmhouse, only you're in the middle of the city, between downtown and the mall. There's a little pond or swamp up there, maybe 500 by 300 feet, lined with cattails, which in the spring will be a good place to go listen for frogs and which will probably host a great blue heron or two.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


In Duluth in the springtime, all the avenues become honorary creeks. The temperature has been in the 30s all week, unseasonably warm for this time of year, and all the snowmelt goes coursing down the hill into the lake, carrying with it all the road salt, sand and miscellaneous detritus of winter.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

crow rendezvous

Running errands just before dusk. Near the co-op are 100 to 125 crows silently spiraling through the sky, descending onto the roof of the ramshackle apartments across the street and roosting in the huge boulevard maples down the block. Even from street level I can see that the buds on the maples are starting to swell and turn red. The days are getting noticeably longer--it's still light at 6 p.m.--and temperatures have been in the 20s or 30s for the past week.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

wild fruit

Lots of fruit still on the mountain ash trees, and although up close it is wrinkled and faded, the trees en masse make a bold statement on the landscape. Sumac, apples, crabapples and European buckthorn all still have fruit, too.

Brewery Creek is mostly frozen, but today is trickling through storm drains.

It's been warm and sunny enough recently that in the afternoons I can open up the door to my unheated, northwest-facing porch and let the kitties have some porch-time. They haven't had significant porch-time since October, so it's still a novelty and they have to inspect all the corners and crevices, rather than flopping and napping in the sun.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

the benefits of public transit

I went to a lecture at Hartley about climate change in the upper midwest tonight. The presentation itself was kind of disappointing--lots of statistics without stories, the speaker did a lot of equivocating and fence-sitting, and I'm fairly certain I was the only one that arrived by some means other than personal vehicle, and most of the vehicles in the parking lot were rather hulking, too--but before and after made up for it.

Walking from the bus stop on Woodland Avenue down the long driveway to the Nature Center, I heard an owl several times, who, who WHO who, who-who. I had to look it up once I came home, and I am fairly certain it was a Great Horned Owl. According to "Birds of Minnesota and Wisconsin" they would be courting now, and the females may start incubating eggs by the end of this month.

After the presentation I had about 25 minutes until the next bus, so I went back into the woods for a while to listen for more owls. No luck there, but I did hear something barking from the pond/Rock Knob area. Sounded too wild to be a dog, and too yappy to be a coyote or wolf (although wolves have been anecdotally reported a bit further east in town, out in Lakeside, and one could conceivably wander into Hartley, and I was kind of hoping it was one because that would be cool). But I'm pretty sure it was a fox, calling several times from multiple locations, b-bar bar. I have seen foxes a couple of times in town, but this is the first time I've heard one bark. This site has some wav files to listen to, if you're interested.

And of course I wouldn't have heard the fox or the owl if I hadn't taken the bus--you wouldn't have been able to hear either of them from the parking lot.

Monday, February 1, 2010

birch seeds on the snow

Walked along the Superior Hiking Trail today from Piedmont Avenue to Enger Tower. This section of the trail doesn't offer as many sweeping vistas as other parts of the SHT further west, but there are still some nice views. Chickadees, nuthatches and crows all active in the woods. I heard either a downy or hairy woodpecker but did not see it, and thought I heard crossbills, too, but I didn't see them and I'm not super confident on my aural crossbill ID skills. Lots of deer poop and tracks in the snow, but no actual deer. No other humans on the trail today, either--I guess all the outdoorsy people in town were out east watching the start of the John Beargrease sled dog marathon.

In the open fields the snow top was peppered with tiny tansy seeds, and in the forest it was birch seeds. It took me a long time to figure out what the seeds were coming from--alder? some conifer? some forb?--until I finally found an intact cone in the snow and some birch trees with low branches that still held some cones.

Friday, January 29, 2010

chickies and bunnies

Apparently 13 above is too cold for the chickens down the street. Their coop door is open, but they're all huddled inside pecking around the fluffy straw.

In my own yard, bunny tracks in the snow lead to the compost pile, while a rotten butternut squash is lightly nibbled upon. Come spring I'll have to cover the kitchen waste better, but for now the bunnies can have a free snack.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

a crow and his apple

Spring-like, sunny and with a warm south wind, temps in the low to mid 30s. I walk along the Lakewalk from 12th E to 43rd E., comfortable in a short-sleeved t-shirt, flannel and ski vest (I had to take off my sweater because I was too warm). Just past the Ugly Condos on Water Street, four robins fly overhead, rocketing out of a little patch of trees and headed up the hill. A bit later, out on the lake, there are 25 to 30 black-and-white somethings, most likely goldeneyes but possibly mergansers (I did not bring my binoculars). The lake is mostly open, but with a small, loose build-up of ice near the shoreline; jangling against the rocks it sounds like toy, plastic coins.

Back in the hillside, a crow plucks a rotten apple from a tree, but then drops it as he takes off. He glaces regretfully over his shoulder and half circles back, then changes his mind and keeps flying.

Friday, January 15, 2010

midwinter chokecherries

Warm, sunny and slushy. In the woods behind Grant Elementary there are chokecherries with fruit still on the tree, looking very desiccated and raisin-like. There's more pit than fruit now, but the flesh is sweeter and milder than any Rainier cherry

Saturday, January 9, 2010

dark arrows

A walk at sunset takes me up to the Coppertop Church. Crows partol the neighborhood, and once I thought I heard a raven croak. From the overlook by the Church, the birds are dark arrows against the dusky rainbow of colors in the sky and lake.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

crossbills in Congdon

In Congdon Park, a flock of about 30 crossbills ransack the spruce trees. They take a bite or two, then let the spent cones trickle down through the trees like raindrops. Red squirrels are more than happy to glean their leftovers. The creek is as yet unfrozen; it gurgles underneath a skin of ice and snow.

Friday, January 1, 2010

the beginning

Cold and bright, clouds just at the horizon. Steam rising up off the lake. Starlings at the feeder and spiraling overhead and perched on the wire, fluffed into little balls. Fresh bunny tracks in the snow. Temps around zero with a light, biting wind.