Thanksgiving Geese

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I went out to fetch the newspaper early Thanksgiving morning and heard what sounded like a giant cocktail party coming from the direction of Farquar Lake, which lies about a half-mile down the hill. Though we can't see the lake from home, I knew that the occasion was a gathering of migrating Canada geese.

I'd heard this sound once before, also on a Thanksgiving morning.

So, we bundled up and went over to join the party. This morning, there were a thousand or so geese assembled, standing on the ice, floating in the open water. Every so often a few geese would stand up, stretch their wings, and then, in groups of 4 to 20, they'd take flight out over the lake before circling back overhead heading south.

gaggle.jpgIn the image above, the pink flecks against the trees in the center of the picture are several geese that had just left the party, their backs catching the light of the rising sun.

Later today, perhaps we'll be able to catch the next group of migrants descending in wave after wave to the lake to take their rest.

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Hunting Season Safe Haven

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With Lebanon Hills Park down the street holding a special bow hunt to thin the deer herd, this young buck spent a couple of days browsing in the woods behind our house. He seemed wary of us in in the window, but was otherwise unperturbed.

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A Year at Beaver Pond: A Birthday Card for Sherry

Last year on her birthday, Sherry and I took a walk through the woods at nearby Lebanon Hills Park. As we strode across the wobbly bridge that spans the narrow between Bridge and Beaver ponds, I pulled out my camera and shot the image below.

We travel this way often, and I thought I would take the same photograph each time I passed to get a picture of the place over a year's time. Although Sherry wasn't physically present on every visit, she was always on my mind as I stopped to admire the waterscape in evolving light and season.

Please engage your speakers, click the blue arrow below left, and take the next two minutes to enjoy A Year at Beaver Pond.



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Ahoy! Turkey in the Straw

Riding down the bike path in Apple Valley the other morning, I thought I saw a turkey head periscoping up through the grass. So, I quickly pulled over, dismounted and took a look.

Yes, there was a turkey, and another. And then the grass boiled like a tumultuous sea and poults bobbed to the surface one after another.

The flock, acting more like geese than turkeys, didn't appear particularly concerned by my presence, but after a time, the adults gathered the fleet and sailed off down the path.

turkeys2.jpgBoy voyage.

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Dragonfly Summer

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IMAG0290.jpgWith the thermometer topping 100 yesterday, the forest denizens in my neighborhood have erupted into full summer swing.

In addition to the usual ducks and geese keeping me company on my run around the lakes, I was joined on the trail today by a painted turtle, two turkeys, a snapping turtle scratching out a nest (see Turning Turtle for a previous turtle story), and dozens of dragonflies sunning on a bridge rail.

The turkeys played their usual game of hide and seek: When I came upon them, they ran down the trail ahead of me until they rounded a bend—never to be seen again. They must have ducked into the woods and found quick cover.

IMAG0294.jpgThe woodland wildflowers also have erupted. Anemone and rue anemone were everywhere and columbine was starting to bloom at one sunny lakeside spot. I also crossed paths with blue flag iris, fleabane, wild geranium and wild roses.

It was a great morning to be out exploring before heading for my desk.

The dragonflies put me in mind of a favorite summer song. Enjoy.

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A Case for Muddy Boots

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boots.jpgThe wet spring has done a number on area trails. Some riverside paths are still under water and many others sport huge mud puddles.
What's a hiker to do?

A good hiker would walk right through the mud as if it were not there, resisting the temptation to move to the edge of the trail or, worse yet, cut through the woods to avoid the mire.

This rule of hiking etiquette was brought home to me when I visited Isle Royale a National Park on an island in Lake Superior. All visitors to the park, whether they arrive by boat or seaplane, are given a short, mandatory orientation by park rangers. The rangers discuss the flora and fauna of the island along with the topography and weather, but a main focus of their talk has to do with how to handle mud puddles, to wit, walk through them, not around them.

The trail around Lake Jensen, near my home, has suffered this year thanks to people ignoring this rule in the service of keeping their footwear clean. In recent years, the park has added boardwalks over some perpetually wet areas, making this trail ever more popular for casual amblers. But those using woodland trails must realize that water is a natural condition, especially after an unusually wet spring, and they should come equipped with hiking boots rather than shiny, white tennis shoes, sandals, or flip-flops.

When hikers try to avoid mud, they can cause trail damage that will take years to undo. The photo below shows how walkers seeking to avoid the mud leading to the boardwalk have taken a jog to to the right around the big tree, trampling a beautiful stand of ferns in the process. How long will it take for that scar to heal?

IMAG0282.jpgGood hiking boots are made to withstand water and dirt. That's why you have them. Don't be afraid to use them.

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Bike Ride to Brunch

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Sherry suggested we take another ride on the Dakota Rail Trail today. We hadn't ridden the trail since just after it opened in 2009. We'd start in Wayzata and pedal to St. Bonifacius, a ride of 13.2 miles.

The trail, freshly paved and relatively flat is easy to ride. It runs through some densely populated areas on the north side of Lake Minnetonka, so the traffic can be heavy with riders, walkers, joggers, and dogs, especially on the east end.

st-boni-bistro.jpgShowers were predicted, so we brought raincoats, but we never needed them. The clouds kept the day cool and comfortable. We reached St. Bonifacius about 10:30 a.m. and planned to have a snack in the small city park at the trail's end there, but the bistro on the hill overlooking the park was open and inviting, so we decided to investigate.

With all the bike racks out front, we reasoned that the restaurant would not mind serving a sweaty rider or two, and we were right. The place was packed with bicyclists out enjoying the beautiful morning. We chose a spot on the patio and studied the menu. The St. Boni Bistro specializes in organic and locally produced foods, and the menu was full of interesting choices. We both thought French toast and fruit would hit the spot, and we weren't wrong. It certainly topped the granola bars we had in our saddle bags.

 Currently the Dakota Rail Trail currently ends at St. Bonificius, but work is underway to extend the trail which, when completed, will run 44 miles miles out to Hutchinson. The current work, which will take the trail past Lake Waconia and west to the town of Meyer is expected to be complete by year's end.

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Fourth of July State-Park Tour

July Fourth broke dreary and wet, but we hitched up the wagon and headed to the North Shore anyway. The long weekend afforded us an opportunity to do some hiking in more rugged terrain than we generally get here on the edge of the prairie.

overlooking-bean-lake.jpgBy the time we reached Silver Bay, the rain had stopped, but the sky still looked ominous. Nevertheless, we set off on the Superior Hiking Trail, heading up and over ridge after ridge to Bean and Bear lakes in Tettegouche State Park. We would return via the Twin Lakes trail making a nice 7-mile loop.

From time to time throughout the afternoon we saw the sun, but mostly it was heavy clouds, fleeting fog, walloping wind, and an occasional raindrop. We only needed to don jackets at  Bean Lake Overlook where we enjoyed a wind-whipped lunch while watching the lake a few hundred feet below us.

suzanne-at-lake-superior.jpgAfter the hike, we were joined in Silver Bay by Suzanne, who'd been visiting friends in Duluth. After we ate, Sherry and Suzanne hung out the motel window oohing and aahing over Silver Bay's fireworks display while I sawed some logs.

We had planned follow the Bean and Bear loop hike with a hike to Eagle Mountain, Minnesota's highest, a little further up north, but since this was Suzanne's first trip to the North Shore, we opted remain in the area and hit the regular tourist high spots: Split Rock Lighthouse and Gooseberry Falls
state parks.

We visited the lighthouse, clambered around the rocks on the beach, hiked the trails near Gooseberry Falls, then had a picnic lunch and cooled our heels on the lakeside before heading back home.

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Walking William O'Brien

wm-obrien-sp.jpgAfter an absence of some years, we returned to William O'Brien State Park today to stretch our legs on it's wide, rambling trails. It was a cool, cloudy, yet muggy day for a hike, and everything seemed a little muted — the colors, the sky, the sounds of the forest. All in all, we covered 6.5 miles going up and over a few hills, amounting to about 450 feet in elevation gain.

Wildflowers bloomed in abundance all along the way. Over the last two or three years, we've made an effort to learn to identify these flowers, and we kept busy all morning putting our identification skills to the test. We saw a dozen or fifteen different varieties today and among those found two that we were able to name for the first time: hoary puccoon and wild lupine. I know we've passed these two before on other walks, but that was back in the days when the best we could do was to say "we saw some wildflowers." It amazes me how many more wildflowers there seem to be once you've trained your eye to spot them.

There also were plenty of birds about, and we saw and heard one of my favorites, the rose-breasted grosbeak. This guy has a spectacular song that, while reminiscent of the robin, is much clearer, crisper, louder, and more lilting than the robin's. This bird also out robins the robin as far as the red breast goes.

A few miles down the trail we heard an interesting, upward-spiraling call. We never saw the musician, but wondered whether it might have been a Swainson's Thrush, which we only learned about a day or two ago.

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Turning Turtle — a Mother’s Tale

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snapping-turtle.jpgJune is usually the month when Minnesota snapping turtles lay their eggs, but after an unusually warm spring, who's to say they can't jump the gun by a day or two. While plying the trails at Lebanon Hills Regional Park today, as the Memorial Day weekend got off to a spectacular start, we came across egg-laying snapping turtles in two separate spots.

Lebanon Hills, with its myriad lakes and ponds, makes delightful snapping turtle habitat, so it was no surprise to stumble across one — or two — during a morning walk

Sherry was alarmed, though, at the apparent capriciousness of nest-site selection: Didn't these mama turtles realize they were laying eggs right in the middle of heavily used hiking, jogging, and equestrian trails? Didn't they, perhaps, want to find a slightly more secluded locale? What would happen to the poor offspring who hatched out on such a busy thoroughfare?

Motherliness is a trait my hiking partner carries in such abundance that she attempts to share it with, and project it upon, any creature whose path we cross. She would have had these turtles check into the nearest branch bank and deposit their clutches in safe-deposit boxes.

Alas, for these unmotherly beasts, a sun-dappled trail that provides a little warmth and easy digging is all that's required. A snapper's maternal work is complete once the eggs are laid and the nest is covered. Then, it's back to the mud hole.

And what of the 20-30 eggs buried beneath a thin covering of sand? Unless they are destroyed or eaten by predators (a highly likely occurrence, by the way), the eggs hatch in two months time. The sex of the hatchlings will be determined by temperature during the incubation period. Higher temperatures produce more females, lower temperatures more males. Once hatched, the tiny turtles will make their way quickly to the nearest body of water where they'll spend the next few years trying to defy the odds and grow to adult size.

If they only had Sherry on their side, they'd have a much better chance.

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