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Prairie Chickens Perform an Unusual Mating Ritual

In this week’s column, Stan Tekiela shares with us the mating ritual of Prairie Chickens. I’ve been spending a lot of time this spring filming some of the most strange and unusual mating rituals of the bird world. First I spent several evenings with the timber doodle, better known as the Woodcock. How this shorebird of the woodlands started its elaborate late evening sky dance no one will ever know. Now I am photographing Prairie Chickens on the vast windswept prairie. The elaborate dancing and displaying of these crazy birds is a sight to behold. Honestly, the drive of these birds just to reproduce each spring is astonishing. Before daybreak, in complete darkness, I pulled up my truck to the side of a minimum maintenance road. I could barely open my truck door because the wind was blowing so hard. With each push of the door it came swinging back at me...

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Cauliflower Mushrooms—A Prized Delicacy

Today, Teresa Marrone and Walt Sturgeon share with us information about another prized delicacy, Cauliflower Mushrooms. Many books show pictures of Cauliflower Mushroom (Sparassis spathulata, Sparassis americana) in a basket, on a plate, or displayed proudly in someone’s hands. The first reason is to show the impressive size that this mushroom reaches, but the second may be that hunters who find this delicacy aren’t willing to show anyone exactly where in the woods they found it! Cauliflower Mushrooms are saprobes, getting their nutrients from the buried roots of dying and dead trees. They’re found alone or in groups in mixed woods next to deciduous and coniferous trees. This large, brain-like cluster mushroom is easy to recognize. It is made up of a mass of creamy white- to tan-colored folds growing from a branching base. Some describe it as looking like a pile of egg noodles. Large examples may be up to 12 inches across, but most specimens are much smaller. This mushroom doesn’t...

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Eastern Bluebird—The Helpful Garden Bird

In this week’s column, Stan Tekiela talks about one of his favorites birds, the Eastern Bluebird. The warming winds of spring bring us many fun and interesting birds and critters. One of my favorites is the Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis). A member of the thrush family, the bluebird is closely related to the American Robin. In fact, you can see the similarities between these birds in the posture, body proportions, movements, and also in the matching rusty red chest. Both birds are prolific insect eaters, finding most of their food directly on the ground. Because of this diet, these birds need to migrate to areas where they can find insect food during winter. Even though both birds are well known for migration, neither of them make long distance migrations like some birds such as the warblers or hummingbirds. Eastern Bluebirds are late to leave in the fall, often staying around until Thanksgiving, and they...

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Partridge Falls

Join Lisa Crayford, author of Waterfalls of Minnesota, on a journey to Partridge Falls, located on the Grand Portage Indian Reservation. Partridge Falls is one of my favorite falls on the North Shore. It’s also one that takes some time and effort to reach; while I highly recommend a visit, you need to be very careful. The falls are located on Partridge Falls Road, a minimum-maintenance road full of rocks and potholes. I highly suggest that you take a vehicle with four-wheel drive, as well as an extra tire, bottled water, and some snacks and sandwiches. (If you can do this trip toward the end of September, you’ll be fine driving slowly because the view of fall colors will be amazing.) The falls are located at the end of Partridge Falls Road. As you make it back to the end of the road and to the Pigeon River, park your vehicle and get ready for a short hike down a wide path....

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Great Blue Heron Nesting

In this week’s column, Stan Tekiela discusses the nesting habits of the Great Blue Heron. There’s a large and very common bird that people see on a regular basis, but rarely does anyone see it nesting. The bird is the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias), the largest and  tallest of the North American herons. The name is often shorted to just “GBH.” It is found in every state in the nation in good numbers. Some regions see this long-legged bird all year long, while others see them in warmer weather only. This bird is a great example of how common names often don’t make any sense. Let’s break down the name. Great refers to being the largest of its kind. I can agree with that part of the name. What I have problems with is the “blue” part of the name. I have photographed this bird in all stages of its life and in more parts...

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Cranes, Herons & Egrets

The Elegance of Our Tallest Birds Stan Tekiela, author of Cranes, Herons & Egrets, shares with us his love for these majestic birds. Cranes, herons, and egrets are long-legged, elegant birds that are amazing to watch. Seeing them near our homes or while out for a walk or bike ride greatly enhances our outdoor experience. Because they tend to be tall, large, colorful, and fairly obvious, we take much joy in being able to observe and identify them easily. Cranes are the royalty of the bird world. No other birds represent such beauty, stateliness, and grace. Since the dawn of time and across every nation on this planet, cranes have drawn the admiration of people. From their soul-touching call to their magnificent flight, Sandhill and Whooping Cranes adorn North America with their presence. The Splendor of Cranes If the Sandhill Crane is the main event, then the Whooping Crane has to be the highlight! The tallest bird in North America, this majestic creature was nearly driven...

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March Chores and Maple Syrup

In this week’s column, Stan Tekiela talks to us about maple syrup, a uniquely American product. I love this time of year. March is a transition month and often heralds the beginning of spring, even here in the frozen north. Many of our backyard birds are singing their spring mating and territorial songs. Some early migrating birds, such as Bluebirds and Horned Larks, are already arriving. The male Goldfinches have molted their old, drab, gray feathers for a new coat of bright yellow feathers. It is also the time to get out and clean out your Wood Duck boxes or to put up new ones. The Wood Duck, along with the Common Goldeneye and the Hooded Merganser, is a small duck species that nests inside cavities. Providing these ducks with a safe, warm, and dry place to nest is essential. So, before the ice is off your pond, it’s always good to inspect...

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The Chicken Mushroom Announces its Presence Loudly

Today, Teresa Marronne and Walt Sturgeon share with us some fascinating facts about the colorful Chicken Mushroom. Unlike other edible mushrooms that seem to use natural camouflage to hide from the eager forager, the Chicken Mushroom (Laetiporus) announces its presence loudly. Its bright colors, large size, and frequently elevated location make it easy to spot from a fair distance. The mushrooms are found in association with live, dead, or dying trees. The appearance of Chicken Mushrooms on a living tree is a signal that the tree has been attacked by the mushroom’s parasitic mycelium (thread-like fungal roots), which can sometimes be seen as whitish fibers in cracks in the wood. The fungus causes heart rot of the host tree. Three different species are found in our area. All grow as a grouping of thick, stemless, fan-shaped caps; individual caps may be up to 12 inches wide but are generally smaller. Caps are some shade of orange to yellow-orange, with a fair amount of variation among different groupings...

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