Categories
Natural Sciences Outdoor Adventures

Morel Madness

morels

The lilacs aren’t blooming yet, and oak leaves are still smaller than a squirrel’s ear, but Fisherman and I went mushroom hunting anyway on Tuesday. The morels didn’t care if the old signs weren’t in their favor, they sprouted from the side of a steep hill anyway.

It is odd how I regard detail and specificity so highly in writing but will cut almost all of it from this story. Anything that would give it a sense of place could give intrepid Google users — both its search and its satellite maps — a trace to the place where we found five pounds of mushrooms when we shouldn’t have.

But there is still a story, we just have to focus a little closer. A good morel spot is a closely guarded secret, yet you can photograph them from a few feet away and put that picture anywhere. So it is also with words.

Native habitat

The delicious wild mushrooms only emerge from the leaf litter on the forest floor for a few weeks every May. They are some of the first edible anything to grow every year — the return to a world that sustains you, not tries to kill you like a six-month winter with 50 days below zero degrees.

But they don’t give themselves up easy; the woods are big when you’re looking for a four-inch fungus. There are lots of likely spots where they don’t grow, but you will spend long minutes staring at those spots anyway, seeing nothing.

So you search, with no certainty, waiting for that dark cone to appear. And each time one does, it feels like finding hidden treasure.

An unusual guardian welcomed us to the morel thicket: an Eastern Towhee, an uncommon bird that neither of us had seen before. An eight-inch long sparrow with splashes of white and orange against a black back and head, it sang and hopped between branches before fluttering out of sight in the brush.

We resumed our slow patrol, heads bowed.

Forest floor flora

Categories
Miscellaneous

Strib blog: Eagle eye

This is the latest post on my Star Tribune blog. Enjoy!

Eagle chick in a nest on the Mississippi RiverA bald eagle chick was briefly kidnapped from a nest on the Mississippi River recently.

A group of folks from the Great River Road Visitor & Learning Center (better known as Freedom Park) in Prescott, the Misssissippi National River and Recreation Area, and the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway are thinking about putting a webcam on an eagle nest at the confluence of the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers, and went to take a close-up look at the nest and its occupant one day last month.

Professional tree-climber Jim Spickler evaluated the nest for a potential camera but also brought the 10 lb., seven-week chick down to the ground for a visit with a researcher, who took blood samples and banded it before returning the eaglet to the nest.

Climber Jim Spickler ascends to the eagle nest
Climber Jim Spickler ascends to the eagle nest

Spickler, who travels all over the globe climbing our planet’s tallest trees and who has helped install several such eagle cameras, rated the Prescott nest as at least a nine out of 10. It’s solidly built, within sight (and transmission range) of Freedom Park, and there are good branches to mount a camera on where there won’t be a risk of the lens being covered in, well, eagle excrement.

Like the very popular camera in Decorah, Iowa this spring, the Prescott camera would let anyone on the Internet watch life in the nest next spring, 24 hours a day. In the video below, Spickler first evaluates potential camera locations, but it’s the the close-up footage of the eaglet at the end that is both fascinating and endearing.

Route, of the National Park Service, has been conducting research into contaminants in our environment, and using blood samples from young eagles on the Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers and the Apostles Islands to measure levels of chemicals.

Eagle populations have recovered to the point the birds were removed from the Endangered Species List in 2007. What almost wiped them out once is still a problem, though: the birds accumulate pollutants because of their diet and the fact that they are at the top of their food chain, which makes them excellent indicators of pollution levels.

If the webcam project goes forward, information about Route’s research will also be available on the website. That seems like an excellent way to mix entertainment and education, and it might inspire viewers to do more to protect eagles, and ourselves.

Taking measurements
Taking measurements

The nest camera idea came up about two-and-a-half months ago and is far from a sure thing. Many details still need to be worked out, including permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and funding. Bird expert Jim Fitzpatrick, who runs Carpenter Nature Center just upriver on the St. Croix, another project partner, is working on that process.

Watching the video and viewing the photos, I wondered how the chick and its parents responded to the intrusion and abduction. In an e-mail, Jim Shiely of Friends of Freedom Park told me, “When the eaglet was being captured in the nest the eagles flew overhead. You can hear them on the video. They did not and do not attack climbers except in rare cases.”

Eaglet on a nest near Prescott, WI on the Mississippi River

Thanks to Jim Shiely (disclosure: my wife’s uncle) for sending the photos and video and providing a lot of information. Photos and video by Jim Spickler, Margaret Smith, and Roger Santelman.

Categories
Miscellaneous

Boundary Waters caught on film

Our friends Jason and Kate took this amusing video of two Pine Martens tussling on their deck outside Ely, MN. Like they asked on their blog, can you watch closely enough to see which one starts in the planter and which one ends up there?

Two videos shot in the Boundary Waters in late September captured the eye of many last week. Filmmaker Alex Horner spent a weekend filming in the BWCAW with his dad and uncle and then worked with his dad when they got back on the music.

It’s like falling asleep and dreaming of canoe country heaven. I love the first rays of morning sunlight hitting the bright yellow birches. And I like pretty much everything else in both videos, too.

I’m pretty sure that when I tweeted the link to part two via my work Twitter account, it ended up making MPR’s News Cut blog:

When I first moved to Minnesota many years ago, an executive (who no longer works in Minnesota) pulled me aside and said, “these people… all they care about is getting through the workweek and getting to their cabin.” He wasn’t from here; he was from New York, where people go to work for entirely different reasons.

At the time I thought — but didn’t say — “so? What’s wrong with that?”

Categories
Miscellaneous

Twenty days of sojourn

my mind shattered
in thousands of fragments
wishes to spend
the whole day on a boat
drifting with the river stream

Okamoto Kanoko, 1889-1939

Drifting with the river stream

twenty days
of sojourn in the woods
and yet
not a single tree willing
to take me in its warm embrace

Ibid.

Twenty days of sojourn

Categories
conservation Projects

How to start your summer

The St. Croix and its valley.Memorial Day weekend is just a few days away; it’s when summer gets real in Minnesota. The holiday really sneaked up on me this year, but that’s how summer is.

Soon, the blur and bustle of the season will be the only existence imaginable. A blast of hot and humid weather starting last weekend was a wake-up call that the season is underway, and I started thinking about how Minnesotans will celebrate the weekend.

I just posted an article over at Minnesota Trails magazine about great opportunities this weekend in our state’s many great parks:

Everyone knows that Memorial Day weekend marks the start of summer in Minnesota. The current blast of hot and humid weather has gotten a lot of folks pulling out the shorts and sandals, and looking for ways to enjoy our state’s great outdoors.

We’ve picked some of the most promising events and opportunities for fun scheduled in Minnesota’s state parks and trails this holiday weekend.

Whether you’re looking to learn about nature or history, or walk through the woods looking for birds, or even just get some pancakes, we’ve got something for you.

Memorial Day is not just an extra day off work, of course. It’s also a solemn holiday for all the brave Americans who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Take a moment while you’re enjoying the parks and trails this weekend to remember those that never got the chance to, so you could.

I still don’t quite know what I’m going to do with myself this weekend, but I’ve certainly got a few ideas. Head on over to the magazine’s website for seven interesting events at parks around the state, as well as a special bonus featuring some paddling opportunities!