A Fun-Loving Guide to the Natural World for Kids and Adults

I and the Bird #100

We are proud to have our article Flying Crows featured at I and the Bird #100.  This carnival was hosted at The Nature Blog Network, and features tons of great bird posts.  Be sure to pay a visit!

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International Wolf Center

Guess what?  We now have a literary agent for our upcoming book!  You can learn more about Kenton’s turkey-chasing adventures and his writing here.

To celebrate, we went up to northern Minnesota and spent a quiet weekend with Rebecca’s mother and her boyfriend.  It was all loons, silent waters, and sparkling, starry nights.  We also met a very cool spider, which we’ve always called a ‘Dock Spider’, and were able to pet it.  It was very friendly.

On our way back, we had the pleasure of visiting the International Wolf Center.

For Rebecca and I, wolves have always played a powerful part in our lives.  They’ve featured in haunting childhood dreams, have roused us from early-morning sleep while camping in the Chequamegon National Forest, and have been the impetus that encouraged us to do volunteer tracking for the DNR.  We’ve yet to see one in the wild, but when that moment comes, one of our greatest wishes will be fulfilled.  Many times, we have placed our hands gently on a wolf-track and been amazed to realize that only a few hours earlier, a wolf’s paw touched the same ground that our fingertips now rested upon.

For Kenton, there is also the chilling excitement of knowing that the first person to have been documented as killed by wolves in North America was also named Kenton.  It’s quite possible a bear actually killed the unfortunate college student, but the current official result says that he was killed by healthy wolves (though they were likely de-sensitized to human contact).

Over the years, we’ve been watching the wolves slowly expand in their range, and have been cheering them on all the while.  They’ve even ventured down to an area near Sweetwater Vale, and we have a feeling that our first encounter with one of these incredible predators will be sooner than we think.

If you are ever in the area of Ely, Minnesota, pay the International Wolf Center a visit.  They’re doing a great job of educating people about the important role these apex predators play in our ecosystem, and it’s thrilling to see the wolves in person.  You can also see what the wolves are up to right now by checking out their wolf cams.

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A Grand Canyon in Our Backyard

The Grand Canyon is considered one of the great marvels of nature because it is simply overwhelming.  Primarily visual (though it certainly engages the other senses), it fills our visual capacity, challenging our ideas of breadth, distance, and depth.  It takes us literally to the edge.

Today, when Rebecca and I stepped outside, we found ourselves at another sort of Grand Canyon.  This one engaged our sense of smell, and it, too, took us to the edge of what we felt possible to experience with our olfactory sense.  This Grand Canyon was created by the wild plum blossoms, which were blooming white all along our country road.  Every year at this time, their smell becomes thick and fragrant, so that it moves over you in heady waves.  In the same way that the sight of the Grand Canyon can make your entire body feel Alive, the scent of the plum blossoms fills your entire being.

As we walked down the road, we considered how lucky we were to experience this wonder of nature.  This was a scent-based ‘Grand Canyon’, and it was right here in Sweetwater, right in our back yard.

How often nature presents us with wonders like this!  These are not subtle phenomena that require us to cultivate more appreciative senses.  These are the Right-In-Your-Face events that are available to many of us every day.  It might be crashing waves on a beach that show us how easily our bodies are tossed and pushed by the force of something as ‘soft’ as water.  It might be the bright calls of the birds around your birdfeeder, filling your ears with music.  It might be the autumn leaves turning the hills into a wonderland painting made by a child.  Or it might be the impossible depth of the night sky as distant stars and galaxies  sparkle with light that is millions and millions of years old.

This is the world we live in, and how blessed we all are to be a part of it.

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Red Fox Kits

Our good friend Jen recently led us out to see a marvelous discovery she had made — fox kits!  We sat and watched for a long while, until the sun began setting through the trees and the cool night air of springtime forced us back inside.

Of course, fox kits are awfully high on the cuteness scale, but the real treat is watching them play.  They ran along cliff-edges, balanced across logs, and attacked leaves and grass.  Best of all was when they wrestled with each other, practicing their leaps, pounces, bites, and kicks.  We were reminded of how important play is — and how naturally it flows out of us when we can just ‘let go’.

In addition to the foxes, we saw a whole array of other animals that day.  Visit our Adventure Journal to see them all!

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Variations on a Theme: Hepatica nobilis

This is one of our first spring flowers in Wisconsin, and comes in a delightful array of variations.  We found all of these within a few paces of each other.

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Everyone Loves Maple Sap!

While visiting my brother in Madison, Wisconsin recently, we had the pleasure of watching a variety of creatures taking advantage of the maple tree in his front yard.  You see, it was  dripping sap, and it seemed like everyone wanted a sip.  We sat and watched as chickadees, grey squirrels, downy woodpeckers, and golden-crowned kinglets stopped by for a taste of the delicious tree-juice.

We were waiting for a special visitor that my brother and his wife had seen just the day before — that famous sucker of sap, the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker.  But the sapsucker declined to put in an appearance,  so we had to console ourselves with observing the shallow holes the bird had created in the maple’s bark.

The whole affair got us pretty hungry, so after taking some pictures, it was time for our own maple sap feast — this time with highly concentrated maple sap drizzled over pancakes.  I guess we like maple sap too!

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New Nature Friends

We met two new wonderful friends last week, who took us out to see their land, including forests, ponds, and areas that they are planting with native prairie species.

This last was fascinating, as they showed us many pictures of the summer blooms.  We were introduced to leadplant, wild quinine, and white liatrus, among others. They took us to see the marvelous Storybook Oak . . .

. . . and out on their deck, we saw this bright little creature, who we believe is Ctenucha virginica, which eventually becomes a moth with a striking blue body and grey wings.

Interestingly enough, we met our new friends through our nature writing - they had seen one of Kenton’s articles in the local newspaper and invited us over.  It’s so wonderful to be meeting new people who have such a passion for nature.  They’ve invited us to come up anytime, and we can’t wait to watch the various habitats that exist on their acreage flow through the cycle of the seasons.  Rumors of a bear make things even more exciting!

Since we own only a few acres ourselves, it is a great blessing when people invite us to explore larger areas.  To all of you who do own acreage and have shared its gifts with those who have a keen interest in nature, here is a heartfelt ‘thank you’.

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Flying Crows

This winter we took a lot of crow pictures, since they were spending large amounts of time in our pine forest.  We soon noticed that their silhouettes against the sky made for very interesting pictures, and composed a collage of some of our favorite in-flight poses.  It was very interesting to see, frozen, the positions that compose the crows’ dance-like flight.  They often seem to be playing in the air, and here are some of their most interesting moments captured.  They are actual photos, cropped, brightened and contrasted to bring out the detail (many were at quite a distance).  Enjoy!  We’ve also posted these photos (and one of the originals) on our website.

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Crawlers in the Night

Two nights ago we were walking along our country road and were startled to hear something moving in the forest.  It took only a moment to realize that we weren’t hearing an animal’s footsteps — instead, it seemed as if the whole forest were moving.  As far as we could hear, dried grasses and leaves were creaking and crackling with movement.  It was soft but distinct.  Clearly, something — or rather, a lot of somethings — were moving on the forest floor.  We ventured out with flashlight and camera, hoping to discover the source of the sound.  But wherever we shined the light, the noise seemed to stop.  It took some patient waiting until we saw a leaf move.  We pounced, lifting the leaf to see what was underneath, but there was nothing.

Rebecca was the first to spot one, a quick shining of her flashlight reflecting off of a glistening body.  The noise was the sound of thousands of nightcrawlers.

These strange animals emerge only in the dark or when the ground grows too wet from rain.  We were hearing them as they emerged part-way from holes in order to feed on all the goodies in the leaf-litter.  When our light found one, there was only an instant before the worm pulled itself back into its hole with astounding speed.  We only got pictures by a process of quickly shining our flashlight at the source of a sound and then shooting as rapidly as we could — hoping for the best.

We stood there, surrounded by the sounds of the nightcrawlers’ movements, and wondered at their lives.  We feel pretty lucky to be sharing this planet with such amazing creatures.

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I And The Bird #98

Nick at Biological Ramblings has put together a fabulous edition of I and the Bird, outlining every single species represented.  We learned some great things about an enormous variety of birds.

We’re also proud to have our post Bluebirds Pecking at Mirrors featured therein!

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