I spend a few weeks each October and November in both the Colorado Rockies as well as in northwest Minnesota hunting deer and elk. Every trip is unique—weather patterns, wildlife observations and encounters . . . new sights, new sounds, new experiences. Where I hunt in northwest Colorado is considered "winter range." Indeed, it is obvious each fall that the area is where deer and elk spend the wintertime because it's quite common to find shed antlers everywhere throughout the landscape.
I've always remarked that getting to know the names of plants and animals is a good thing. Not just for the mere knowledge, but for the fact that no matter where you're at in the field or forest, you'll never feel alone if you only take the time to get to know the names of the resident flora and fauna.
There exists a familiar feathered friend that all of us generally observe each spring and each fall, but normally never in between these two periods of time. A common looking bird, not very distinct looking, and not vociferous in any way. What this bird represents to most people with an eye to a calendar and is a student of phenology, is that the dark-eyed junco is an avian harbinger to be sure.
There are two beloved and familiar Minnesota woodpeckers that most everyone knows about and enjoys observing. And though each species looks remarkably similar, the two are distinct in both subtle and obvious ways. You might've guessed already which species I'm writing about. Indeed, they're the hairy woodpecker and its look-alike diminutive cousin, the downy woodpecker.
We often hear this species of bird before we see it. One sound is produced from the bird's throat, whereas the other sound is produced from an action unrelated to its vocal cords. In this case, the bird's loudly delivered rattling call is often preceded or superseded by the sound of a loud splash into the water. Indeed, this is from none other than the handsome and unique belted kingfisher.
It has been a while since I've seen a fisher. I normally only come across their sign, usually just tracks in the snow or mud. But what a thrill it is to actually observe one of these remarkable, interesting, and mysterious Minnesota mammals. The last fisher I actually was privileged to watch for any amount of time (they're usually just observed on a trail camera photo or darting across a roadway) was several years ago while hunting deer one morning in Kittson County in a cold and snowy November woods.
It doesn't seem that long ago when the sweet whistled songs of male Baltimore orioles, rose-breasted grosbeaks and American robins were raining down from treetops everywhere. Not so now. In fact I awoke this morn, Oct. 5, with a few inches of snow on the ground!
I would argue that a more fitting bird for Minnesota's official state bird would have been the ruffed grouse. Indeed, here's a bird that can be found throughout a large swath of Minnesota, not to mention being a year 'round resident. And as beautiful a bird as the common loon is, the loon is much less "common" in our state than Ol 'Ruff.
For about a week in early June, I left the forestlands and lake country of northwest Minnesota in exchange for the deep and cold lakes of the Canadian Shield's famed Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of northeast Minnesota. Departing home about 7 a.m., three of us were happily paddling our canoes by early afternoon. Not bad, I thought. For as much time and energy as it takes to prepare for trips such as these, it's always a pleasant surprise when one at last arrives and troubles are left behind.
Until Labor Day night 2018, I had never seen a wild, live Virginia opossum. The only wild opossum I had ever seen before this was about 10 years ago near Keokuk, Iowa, but those animals were dead along a highway. So as I was driving in southeast Minnesota in a light rain not far from Forestville-Mystery Cave State Park a few nights ago, a small creature scampered across the blacktop. Though the animal was at the farthest extent of my high-beams, I immediately recognized the animal as none other than an opossum. Cool! My first 'possum.