Saturday, March 27, 2010


The month of March in Minnesota... somewhere in it's 31 days, has the dubious distinction of throwing a mid-winter knockout punch. It is notorious for holding true the old sage prophecy, "In like a lamb... out like a lion" or vice-versa.

This year March came in "like a lamb" and it looks like it is "going out like a lamb." Spectacular weather we have had here on Cedar Ridge. February and March have been stellar weather months for all the birds and animals. The year snow total so far and I am careful to say 'so far,' has been a little over 18 inches... and that is since October of 2009. All the snow has melted here close to Lake Superior, inland there are a few pockets left in shaded areas. The three feet of snow the folks had inland, over the Sawtooth Mountains is all but gone.

My pet deer Black Buck and his friends have disappeared deep into the forest. They leave each year after the snow melt and head inland to browse. Blackie has been with me since 2005, he has returned each year in January. He missed 2007 and I thought for sure the hunters, wolves, below zero weather or highway 61 finished him off. But to our joy, he came back in 2008, 2009 and January of this year. Each year he comes back,  stands on the patio and waits for me to come out and go to the garage for corn.

He then follows behind me and stands patiently until I feed him out of the bucket.

Each year Blackie and his entourage of deer left sometime in April, as I have mentioned in past posts. This year he disappeared into the Superior National Forest the second week of March. It is always difficult to see my old friend leave, but he had a wonderful winter and left corn fed, with no ribs showing... unlike severe winters of the past.

The birds also fared well, no ice storms like last March, which was brutal to them and the trees. My "usual suspects" were all "moved" down to my house before the firearm deer season. As the weather gets colder, I put up a suet tree which is an old cedar branch that I put in a Christmas tree stand. I take a wood bit and drill many holes in the branch, then pack the holes with suet. We mix lard, peanut butter and cornmeal together for a concoction all the woodpeckers, Red-breasted Nuthatches and chickadees love.

The most apparent "transition" is the changing color of the American Goldfinch. The little American Goldfinch is gradually changing to his canary yellow color.

The American Goldfinch is one of the few birds that molts twice; in the fall and then again in the spring.

Soon he will look like this in the breeding season. Quite a transition in a short period of time.

I have been following a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers for many days in March... actually most of the winter. On March 20th, I succeeded in photographing the female. I would like to know how many miles I traveled to get this shot; most years photographing Big Woody hasn't been so difficult.

Home sweet home....

There have been a few migratory birds that stop over during the month of March. One such transient is the Snow Bunting. This beautiful bird is heading to their breeding grounds in the far north Arctic tundra. The male arrives in early April and the female follows in May. They will both fly through here again in the fall, usually in larger flocks. They winter in open country of the northern U.S. and "temperate" Canada... if there is such a place.

One of the more pleasant surprises of the winter has been the Northern Hawk Owl. This beautiful owl is a day time hunter, so seeing him is quite easy... if you can find him. I have found the Northern Hawk Owl seven different times here in Cook, Co. Unfortunately one of those times was a dead one on the side of highway 61. They are so intently focused on their hunt and prey, they swoop across the highway and notice nothing else. This intentness is good for the photographer, because the owl is quite approachable in this mode.

The bird I miss the most this winter, is the Gray Jay. Many winters we have the Gray Jay, aka Canada Jay, Whiskey Jack, Camp Robber here until the end of March. They never showed this winter, so we had to make a drive up the Gunflint Trail to find one.

Approachable is not the proper word... this fluffy inhabitant of the conifer forests, in my opinion, is the most friendly bird. Even more so than the Black-capped Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches. If you have treats of meat scraps, summer sausage, bread, etc... they are your best friends. We had them in past years and always they would fly down, sit on the hand and eat various offerings.

The Bald Eagles are now nesting, sitting on eggs. We used to observe a decades old eagle nest close to our ridge, but last October, it blew down in a vicious wind storm. Fortunately, the pair is building again, two hundred yards from the old one.

March is bowing out gracefully... so we will patiently wait to see what surprises April brings. Mother Nature has a unique way of evening things out. One thing for certain, April is the month that begins the sparrow and wood warbler migration. Possibly my favorite time of the year.

"Ah, March! we know thou art Kind-hearted, spite of ugly looks and threats, And, out of sight, art nursing April's violets!" Helen Hunt Jackson

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Through the years, I have observed that people have the opinion that winter in the north woods is bleak, cold and colorless. I suspect these are the reasons each winter, that I lose many friends to the enticement of the sunny south.

Mary and I spent 5 years traveling to the southwest for a few weeks in the winter. We had a marvelous time and thoroughly enjoyed the wildlife, birds and golf. It was quite relaxing and we spent almost every waking moment, from sunrise to sunset hiking the desert. The area was alive with birds, bobcats, coyotes and species too numerous to name. I can readily identify with the lure of the warm sunshine areas.

Building our new home on Cedar Ridge abruptly pulled the plug on the call of the south. Our daily and nightly encounters with birds and animals grew into what we as kids called "chores." These duties include filling the suet tree and post, a number of seed feeders, a heated bird bath and a feeder for flying squirrels. I have mentioned the black buck who has returned for five years, dodging hunters, wolves, subzero weather and highway 61... he comes many times a day for his treat of corn. I could ramble on for hours on the different animals and birds that have brightened and touched our lives in the winter. We are pleasantly "stuck" here in the Arrowhead for the duration.

The prior post on the waxwings is a good example of a feathered visitor that trumps winter bleakness. Their colors and silky look are impressive to say the least; especially when a large flock descends and gorges on mountain ash berries... I can watch them for hours.

A most spectacular, winter bird visitor in the Arrowhead is the Pine Grosbeak. This bird is a true nature's "pastel color palette." The Pine Grosbeaks that I have seen this year are brilliantly colored, yet soft.

The adult male Taiga Pine Grosbeak is a good example of beautiful pastels; pinks, rose, orange and a plethora of beautiful hues.

Not to be outdone, the female Pine Grosbeak displays a variety of pale orange and yellow, embedded in gray feathers.

The first Pine Grosbeaks I saw this winter flew in to the Sawbill Trail on December 28. Mary and I stopped and watched them feeding along the road.

Since the end of December, I have photographed them at various times along the Caribou Trail.

These shots were taken on January 31.

The last Pine Grosbeak I have seen was March 3; last year I was privileged to see and photograph these beautiful birds into the month of April. I hope I have this chance again this spring, for it seems when they leave, my warblers and sparrows start returning. They are truly the grand harbinger of spring.

"Pine Grosbeaks illuminate the evergreen forests"  Dave Brislance