Sunday, August 21, 2011

not Duluth and not quite urban either

Last week I went to Wisconsin Point with some friends. It is technically possible to get there with bus and bike, but it is a lot easier with a vehicle, so as a result I generally don't get out there unless somebody else drives me. It was more peopled than any of us would have liked, but that is to be expected on a beautiful summer evening. Although there was easily more dragonflies than people, which was nice and as it should be.

A single spotted sandpiper picked along the rocks by the pier, being rather obligingly placid and friendly. I got a ton of blurry pictures, but nothing exactly greeting-card worthy. My birder friend said he was in his winter plumage already.

In a patch of milkweed and knapweed just off of the parking lot, there was a small colony of frogs that were spectacularly talented at silently creeping away through the layers of grass and weeds every time we approached so that never got a clear look at one. Finally, the three of us managed to corner one of them and flush it into the open so that we could ID and photograph it (yes, we torment frogs for fun). It was past dusk by then, so the lighting is terrible from my flash, but our specimen was a beautiful leopard frog (and we did let him back in the weeds after we were done with him).

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Why did the bear cross the road?

Maybe he was headed to Taste of Greece up by Marshall.

I was walking along Central Entrance when I saw what I thought at first was somebody's dog in the field downhill from the Coppertop Church but then realized it was a yearling black bear. I managed to snap a couple crappy cell phone pictures as he crossed the street (luckily there wasn't much traffic, just one car that slowed down as the bear clambered into the ditch, then the driver when he passed gave me a weird look, like he thought it was my bear and I shouldn't let him off-leash like that). I did not see any signs of the cub's mother. This is, for non-locals, the middle of the city, directly between downtown and the mall.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

you can call me flower if you want to

I was on the side of the road in the Antennae Farm, taking pictures of the viburnum (ain't it purty?) when I heard a rustling from behind me on the other side of the road. A few minutes earlier a raccoon family had crossed the road about 100 feet in front of me, and although the mother raccoon had stopped to glare at me until I turned away and pretended to be graze on vegetation so that she would think I was just another animal and not some evil human (the babies, meanwhile, gathered up alongside her and kind of glanced around idly, like they were trying to ape Mom but weren't sure what she was looking at) I wondered if maybe they had come up to investigate further, and I turned around slowly, hoping to get more and better pictures of raccoon babies. But it wasn't a raccoon.

Skunks are misunderstood. A local wildlife rehabber says that they are good natured, docile and curious animals, and I've heard other people tell stories about baby skunks out exploring their brand new world and walking right up to a human to check them out. They only spray if they feel like they don't have any other option. (And this one, for what it's worth, did not smell at all, and I was standing about 10 feet away.) So I was actually excited to see one and get the chance to hang out with it for a while. But then a motorcycle came buzzing down the gravel road, and the skunk ducked back into the ditch.

I think there actually been some informal mammal meet-and-greet in the Antenna Farm, because in addition to the skunk and the raccoon family I also met a deer. I almost always see deer when I'm up there. This one was on the side of the road just as I turned a corner, and we looked at each other for a moment, and then she stamped one of her front hooves, and even though at that point I was anxious to get home (I'd found some oyster mushroom and wanted to get home and cook them up, although they turned out to be disappointingly bland) I thought, "Fine," and pretended to graze so that the deer would move on and let me pass. I even meandered into the woods, away from the deer, but every time I glanced over my shoulder there she still was staring at me. It occurs to me now that she may have left her fawn somewhere in the woods near me, although I also think that by this time of the year fawns should be big enough to be up and walking around on their own. But then a car came and the deer disappeared into the woods, and I moved on.

There were also tree frogs by the pond, singing already at 6:30 p.m., and about a million dragonflies. I think there must have been some big hatch of four spotted skimmers, because hundreds and hundreds of them are all over town this weekend. Of course they were denser out in a wetland, where some of them possibly hatched. (I wanted to look for exuvia on the cattails, but we've gotten so much rain that the pond was flooded and I couldn't get close enough.) I always enjoy these plagues of dragonflies; I like looking up at the sky and watching a steady stream of them pass overhead, maybe 40 or 50 of them every minute.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

wild orchids

I have been so busy hustling to make ends meet and trying to get my garden in in the few scraps of spare time that I have that I ended up missing a lot this spring/summer. But at least I did not completely miss the ladyslippers.
I have three ladyslipper spots out east within walking distance of each other. The first two were a complete bust--no ladyslippers at all, not even any evidence that they ever existed. In the third spot I finally found one blooming, and a few more plants with just leaves.

I also have/had coralroot and twinflower spots out east, too, but it's too late for twinflower and I haven't seen the coralroot there in years. Coralroot is my favorite orchid because it was my "first," and because how can you not like a plant that forgoes chlorophyll? I saw some in Hartley a few weeks ago, but they weren't flowering yet, and I've seen them in Jay Cooke in the past but I never get out to Jay Cooke unless somebody drives me there.

Also today caught the very tail end of the trillium--I found exactly two plants with slightly crusty but intact petals--and the clintonia. I was hoping the cold spring would have slowed things down a bit more for me, but no such luck. Still, it is very odd for it to be almost July and to still have trillium with flowers. Thimbleberries and roses both blooming heartily, dewberries starting to flower, and strawberries, mertensia, bunchberries and mayflowers still hanging on from spring.

Friday, January 28, 2011

getting political: PolyMet and sulfide mining

Last weekend I attended a meeting organizing a grassroots movement against sulfide mining. I think I'm probably too undereducated and hermitish to be of much help, but I figured at the very least I could blog about it.

PolyMet is proposing open-pit mines in northeastern Minnesota near the communities of Babbitt, Hoyt Lakes, Biwabik and Aurora. This part of the state has a long history of iron mining, which has its own set of concerns, but these new proposed mines would be much, much more environmentally devastating. Metallic sulfide mining (also known as nonferrous mining or hard rock mining) is the process of extracting minerals like copper and nickle from a sulfide ore body. When the ore or surrounding rocks are exposed to water or air the result is sulfuric acid. The runoff from the mine site can pollute surface and ground water, killing or sickening wild vegetation, fish, birds and mammals as well as humans. The mining process would also allow toxic heavy metals like mercury and lead to leach into the water system. This is the first mine of its kind in Minnesota, but sulfide mines in other parts of the world have invariably left the surrounding ecosystem polluted. For example, the Flambeau mine in norther Wisconsin operated from 1991 to 1997, and despite precautions taken and despite years of clean-up and the removal of 7,400 tons of contaminated soil, water runoff from the site still has dangerously high levels of copper and other toxins, and Wisconsin has since enacted a moratorium on sulfide mining. In a recent study, fully 100% or mines similar to the proposed PolyMet mines in Minnesota had water quality violations.

The mine and tailings sites for the PolyMet project are just south of the Boundary Waters and are located on Superior National Forest land, and the site also includes two square miles of wetlands. The sites are dangerously close to the Partridge River and the Embarrass River, both of which flow into the St. Louis River, which in turn empties into Lake Superior. The proposed PolyMet mines would not be a health and safety hazard for just a small area on the Iron Range but would actually effect ALL wildlife and humans in northeastern Minnesota .

One of the arguments in favor of the mines is that they would create jobs, which people on the Iron Range desperately need. However, 60% of construction jobs and 75% of the operation jobs would go to people from outside the area, and all jobs would decrease over time as the mine becomes more automated. PolyMet is also historically anti-union, and profits from the mine would not stay in the Iron Range but would be funneled right back to PolyMet headquarters in Canada. Pollution from the mines would also greatly impact tourism related industries (wilderness outfitters, resorts and campgrounds, hotels, restaurants, etc.) and would ruin many bodies of water for wild ricing or fishing.

Save Our Sky Blue Waters and Water Legacy are two great websites for education and updates on PolyMet's proposed sulfide mine, and literature from these organizations was the source for this post. Friends of the Boundary Waters also has a page on sulfide mining, and there's also a short educational video at Precious Waters. If you want to write a letter to Minnesota's lawmakers, there is a template letter here to make it easy for you. Local activists have set up a public Facebook page--Sulfide Mining: Prove It First--and a google group for organizing. There's another meeting planned for mid-February and there are plans afoot for events and other activism.