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.