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About Blue Jays, Flying Squirrels, and Chipmunks

In today’s post, Stan Tekiela, naturalist and wildlife photographer, observes Blue Jays, flying squirrels, and chipmunks as they prepare for winter. Off in the distance I can hear the familiar scream-like call of a Blue Jay. The sound pierces through the yellow and orange autumn maple leaves on a crisp blue-sky day. I sit enjoying the sunshine, calm winds, and the smell of autumn in the air. Again, I hear the Blue Jay cry, this time a bit closer. Knowing the biology of these birds, I understand it won’t be just one bird traveling alone. No, it will be a family of Blue Jays—often two mated adult birds and several juvenile birds. Funny thing is, the Blue Jays all look exactly the same. They act the same and sound the same, so it’s impossible to tell them apart. Looking around, I can’t help but notice all the other critters prepping for winter. Gray...

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Breakfast Hot Dish Great for a Lazy Morning

Start the morning with a breakfast Hot Dish, or prepare one ahead of time for brunch. Here are two great recipes. Spuds-Ham-Eggs Breakfast Hot Dish Ingredients 1 (2-pound) bag frozen hash brown potatoes 2 cups diced cooked ham 2 cups shredded Swiss cheese 11/2 tablespoons butter 1 large red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch strips 1 (8-ounce) package fresh mushrooms, sliced 6 large eggs, lightly beaten 1/2 cup whole milk 1 cup cottage cheese 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper Preheat oven to 350˚F. Layer 1/2 potatoes into a lightly greased 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Top with ham and cheese. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add bell pepper and mushrooms; cook while stirring 5 minutes or until tender. Spoon mushroom mixture over cheese in baking dish; top with remaining 1/2 potatoes. Combine eggs, milk, cottage cheese, and black pepper in a bowl; beat until well blended. Pour egg mixture over potatoes in baking dish. Bake, uncovered, 50 minutes or until light brown and center is set. Serves 8. Egg and Sausage Breakfast Hot Dish Ingredients 8 ounces...

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Pumpkins, an Incredible Edible

In this week’s post, Stan Tekiela talks to us about pumpkins and the history behind this incredible edible. It’s funny how we hang on to traditions—especially ancient ones. Take Halloween, for example. Started nearly 3,500 years ago by the Celtic people near Britain, it was a special day set aside to mark the end of the harvest and acknowledge the beginning of the long, dark, and cold season. To celebrate, the leaders, called Druids, would order all fires in the village to be extinguished. A large sacrificial fire was built in the center of the village. People would arrive near sunset carrying large turnips hallowed out with grotesque faces carved into them—kind of like we do with pumpkins (jack-o’-lanterns). The evil-looking turnips, called neeps, were filled with tallow (animal fat), mounted on poles or sticks, and ignited in flames. The flaming neeps were carried around to frighten away the evil spirits that come...

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Cheesy Chicken Enchiladas Hot Dish

The Minnesota Hot Dish is something most other folks would call a “casserole;” either way, the entire family will enjoy this Chicken Enchiladas Hot Dish recipe. Ingredients 1 (8-ounce) jar Cheez Whiz, divided 1/3 cup sour cream 1/4 cup chopped green onion 1 teaspoon chili powder 2 cups shredded cooked chicken 6 flour tortillas Salsa Preheat oven to 350˚F. Mix together 1/3 cup Cheez Whiz, sour cream, onion, and chili powder in a large bowl. Stir in chicken. Spoon 1/3 cup chicken mixture onto each flour tortilla. Roll up. Place, seam sides down, in a lightly greased 11x13-inch baking dish. Top enchiladas with 1/2 cup salsa. Bake 25–30 minutes. Microwave remaining Cheese Whiz until hot, and pour over enchiladas. Serve with additional salsa. Serves 6. Make Your Chicken Enchiladas Modern Substitute 8 ounces freshly grated Chedda cheese for Cheez Whiz. In Minnesota, there’s the “company” hot dish, which has a more elegant presentation and may include seafood but not tuna. The “baby shower” hot dish may indeed contain tuna. Then there’s the hot dish...

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The Argiope Spider, the Predator of the Prairie

It this week’s post, Stan Tekiela shares with us the fascinating world of the Argiope spider, also known as the Yellow Garden Argiope. During the lazy days of summer, nothing in nature seems to be moving or doing much of anything. However, in autumn it feels like everything is on the move or rushing to prepare for winter. Many of our regular backyard birds have already migrated. Hummingbirds are well on their way to the tropics. Thousands of hawks have moved out of the northwoods and are migrating south to escape the coming winter. Meanwhile, deer, elk, and moose are ready to do battle in this year’s mating season (rut). One sure sign of the end of summer is that the fields and prairies seem to be filled with a ferocious predator. A predator that is so efficient, it takes both small and large prey. Some prey is tiny by comparison to the...

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Top 10 Best Children’s Books from Adventure

The best children’s books are the ones that are read time and again—and that educate while they entertain. Adventure Publications has been publishing these kinds of books for years, and I thought it would be fun to look at their top 10. Following is a list of the publisher’s most popular juvenile titles of national interest, ranked from 10 to 1: 10. Floppers & Loppers (ages 0–6): The number one title in the Adventure Board Book Series takes a look at the animal kingdom’s most amazing ears. It features short sentences and Stan Tekiela’s amazing photography. 9. Animal Tracks Activity Book (ages 5–10): The first activity book on this list of best children’s books was inspired by the successful Animal Tracks identification guides. It introduces mammals and their tracks via coloring pages and activities. 8. Yellowstone & Grand Teton Activity Book (ages 5–10): This Color and Learn title makes the top 10 with...

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Stan Tekiela Studies Red-headed Woodpeckers

In today’s post, Stan Tekiela shares with us his study of a pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers. Recently, I had a wonderful opportunity to study and photograph a pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers nesting in an old tree and feeding their young. All of this happened because a reader of this column gave me a shout to share the exciting news of this cool woodpecker. The Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythocephalus) was once a very common woodpecker. In the mid 1800s, John James Audubon stated that the Red-headed Woodpecker was the most common woodpecker in North America. In fact, he called them semi-domesticated because they weren’t afraid of people. He stated that they were camp robbers and also a pest. According to the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count data between the 1950s and 2010, the population of Red-headed Woodpeckers has dropped dramatically. Over 80 percent of the population has died out in just over 50 years. And...

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Feature Shadow in Asylum

Scary Halloween Book a Uniquely Creepy Read

I didn’t go looking for a scary Halloween book this year. It found me. I was rummaging through a stack of  AdventureKEEN titles, and I came across an unfamiliar one: Shadows in the Asylum by D.A. Stern. I’ve written ghost stories in the past, and I like a good horror story as much as the next person. I was pleasantly surprised by this one, to say the least. In fact, over the next several days, I brought it with me wherever I went, squeezing in a page or two whenever I had a moment to spare. This is not your typical novel; it’s not a series of chapters or paragraph after paragraph of narrative. It’s a scary Halloween book with imagination to spare! Here, the book cover looks like a folder, and the pages within appear as “The Case Files of Dr. Charles Marsh:” a collection of newspaper articles, emails, interview...

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