Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom

Hiking in God's Country

As if trail running wasn't enough exercise, I also got in plenty of hiking over the weekend. We went hiking every day (sometimes twice) in search of furry creatures, butterflies, birds, and whatever flora and fauna we could find. I spent a lot of time in the woods (as my numerous blackfly bites and welts would attest to!), and we did a lot of hiking in the National Forest with many great sightings.

Mom and I also took a trip over to Oberg Mountain to hike around on Monday morning. The trail at Oberg Mountain is a spur off of the Superior Hiking Trail.

Photo of Mom on the trail leading up to Oberg Mountain

The hike is steep in some areas, but it is not terribly difficult. And the entire loop is only perhaps two miles at the most, so it is easy to accomplish in a couple of hours. Your reward comes in the form of spectacular views. The trail makes a loop around the top of the mountain through sections of beautiful hardwood forests, and there are at least a half dozen overlooks, each offering a different perspective. It is really quite amazing, and the birdwatching wasn't bad, either (more on this in a second).

Photo of yours truly on top of Oberg Mountain

Furry creatures, and flying flowers

One of the pleasures of hanging out in God's Country is getting to see all the animals, and it was a good weekend for seeing them. I mentioned previously the deer and the snowshoe hare that I encountered on my runs. Additionally, I got to see a pair of gray foxes, as well as a solitary red fox who strolled out of the woods while we were on a birdwatching trip. The adorable flying squirrel was busy raiding the bird feeder in the evenings. And Dad and I even encountered a moose while we were driving around in the back county. Very good wildlife watching over the weekend.

Perhaps some of the most entertaining animals are the red squirrels. The red squirrel (affectionately nicknamed "Jumpy" by my family because of his twitchy mannerisms) is a cute little guy who is very territorial. Actually, "very territorial" doesn't quite do it justice. They are ornery little buggers, and they rarely ever stop their chattering! But, even in spite of their mean streak, they are really very cute and have an awful lot of personality. We spent hours watching several of them wrestle and chase each other all over the yard and through the woods, trying to keep each other away from the bird feeders. It is endless entertainment watching their antics.

Spring also marks the return of the butterflies as well, and they thrive in Mom and Dad's wildflower garden. The picture to the left is of a striking Canadian tiger swallowtail (a phase of the Eastern tiger swallowtail that is slightly more pale yellow). We were also inundated with many of the infamous monarchs (there seemed to be more around this year than ever). We also saw the gray comma, the delicate mustard white, the velvety mourning cloak the tiny and dark dreamy duskywing, the cute little hobomok skipper, and the pretty pastel blue-colored spring azure. There will undoubtedly be more (and different) butterflies as the summer rolls on.

Warber Mania!

Spring in Minnesota is a joyful time to be a birdwatcher. Every year around Memorial Day, this means the return of the warblers, which are colorful little jewels of the northern woods that are among my favorite birds.

Seemingly the most abundant of them in my parents’ back yard is the pretty and cheerful black-throated green warbler. Pictures do not do this little guy justice, as his greenish-yellow head practically glows. He sings from sunup to sundown, and can usually be seen in the treetops. So we got to see plenty of him.

Other great warbler sightings included the ever-popular and faithful Myrtle warbler (now known as the “yellow-rumped warbler,” but will be forever known to me as “Myrtle”), the “fire throat” Blackburnian warbler, the spectacled and necklace-wearing Canada warbler, the sweet singing chestnut-sided warbler, the Halloween-colored American redstart, the sleek and handsome black-and-white warbler, the brilliant and distinctive magnolia warbler, and the dainty little moss-dwelling northern parula warbler.

I got to add three new warblers to my life list this weekend, which is always cause for excitement for any birdwatcher:

I finally got to identify the ovenbird, and I feel kind of silly because this little guy is absolutely everywhere. Previously, I had mistakenly identified his piercing call as that of some sort of vireo. However, I finally learned who this voice belonged to, and was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of this noisy-but-cute little bird.

The mourning warbler was also a new sighting for me, and I was really lucky to see this guy. He was singing away in some low shrubs on top of Oberg Mountain, but he was staying out of view. Luckily, he showed himself to me long enough that I could see some definitive markings and characteristic which later helped me identify him.

My favorite discovery of the weekend was finally getting to see the black-throated blue warbler while at Oberg Mountain. This is a warbler that is somewhat elusive up in this region, because he reportedly likes to frequent maple forests (much of the North Shore consists of coniferous trees and birch). Oberg happens to have a lot of maple, and there have been numerous sightings of this bird there over the years. Sure enough, he made his presence known, and even granted us to a long look at this classy little bird. What a rare treat!

That pretty much wraps up my experiences in the "Wild Kingdom." I felt like Marlin Perkins’ able-bodied and often endangered assistant, Jim, by the end of the weekend because I was so beat up and swollen from blackfly bites. But it was worth it!

Until next time,

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