Thursday, October 05, 2006

Catching up from the weekend

Long time, no post!

It was a busy and fun weekend, and I seemingly have blog material for days. I am not even sure where to start, but I will just begin my rambling and see where it goes! I spent a long weekend up on the North Shore visiting family and friends. The weather was great, as was the food, I got to do some running, and we had a fantastic time.

First of all, I have several updates on my Searching For Minnesota blog, as well as some new “road food” pursuits on my Food and Cooking blog. Most of these posts are from my weekend up north, so feel free to read them at your leisure.

Teeing it up

On Sunday, I played in a charity golf tournament at Superior National in Lutsen. The tournament benefits health care in Cook County, and they have raised well over $200,000 from this event over the years.

Fall colors at the Superior National Canyon Course



Viking Hall of Fame safety, Paul Krause, was also on hand hitting a "celebrity mulligan" shot for all the teams on the 5th hole of the Canyon Course (Paul absolutely corked one for us, nearly driving the green on this short par 4). Needless to say, Mr. Krause's appearance brought out a faithful Viking fan or two.

Zubaz are fashionable once again! Unfortunately, this was not the real Tommy Kramer… :)



It was a glorious day, and I got to play the scramble with my Dad, brother, and our good friend Marc. We hit the ball well from tee to green, but had difficulties on the green. This is a challenging course with putting surfaces that are very hard to read ("everything breaks towards the lake," they say!). Never in danger of having to scramble for a par, we finished at -6, which was 7 shots back of the winners.

Despite our putting woes, a great time was had by all. We couldn't have asked for a much better day weather-wise. October in Minnesota has been known to produce snow, so we really enjoyed temps in the upper 50's/low 60's with a little bit of sunshine. Not bad.

The Team Photo



Afterwards, they served us some wonderful appetizers and snacks at Lutsen Resort. Not your typical golf tournament fare, either; salmon, radicchio stuffed with walnuts and bleu cheese, hot artichoke dip, baby octopus. Quite a spread! A tasty conclusion to a very fun day.

Running to stand still

I got in three runs over the course of the weekend, my longest being a 10-miler. And what a 10-miler it was. I saw so much wildlife that the run took much longer than I thought it would. I felt a little like the old U2 song from The Joshua Tree album in that I was "Running To Stand Still."

Immediately after leaving the house, I surprised three deer at the end of my parents' driveway (I would see eight more deer during the course of the run, raising the total to eleven for the morning). They bolted into the woods with their white tails raised.

Making my way down to the wooded service road, I saw all kinds of birds. The yellow-shafted flickers were out in full force, as were the blue jays, chickadees, crows, merlins, and ravens, so the bird watching was already fantastic just a short distance into my journey.

About two miles in, I saw someone familiar. It was my old buddy, the gray jay (known as the "Canada jay" in some circles, or simply as "CJ" amongst my family), so I stopped to say hello. The CJ's are starting to move back into the area for the winter months, and my folks usually have one or two of these at their bird feeder. They are very friendly birds (unlike their cousin, the blue jay), almost like a great big chickadee, and they have been known for their fearlessness, especially when it comes to food. Always fun to see CJ!

A picture of me with "CJ" last November



Down the road at my 5-mile turnaround point, I stumbled upon a yellow-bellied sapsucker, who is a really colorful member of the woodpecker family and a summer visitor to Minnesota. I would see several more of them over the course of the weekend, so these guys were beginning their migration south.

Shortly after my encounter with the sapsucker, I stopped in my tracks when a furry critter scampered across the road about fifty feet in front of me. It was the pine marten, a rare, funny, playful, and especially cute member of the weasel family. He ran like a big Slinky across the road and leaped into the ditch, attempting to clear some tall weeds (he was unsuccessful, landing on the ground with a clumsy splat, eventually loping off into the woods).

Astonished at the sheer variety of birds and animals out and about today, I felt very lucky to have seen all of these creatures. It was a very good day of wildlife watching, and spotting a pine marten would normally be my highlight on any nature hike. Little did I know I would see something else that topped everything.

At about the seven mile mark, a woodpecker in the treetops made a small chirp. I never would have noticed him had he remained silent. I looked up and gave a passing glance, initially dismissing it as the relatively common hairy woodpecker. But something wasn't right. It was a somewhat muted call that didn't really resemble the sharp, exclamatory voice of the hairy, I thought. This sound was different. I broke off my run, did a 180 degree turn, and went back to investigate.

Silhouetted in the shadows of a dead birch tree, the woodpecker gently scraped the bark in search of bugs. When the bird emerged into the sunlight, I couldn't help but notice a solid black back that covered him like a cape. This was no hairy woodpecker; it was his rare northern cousin, the black-backed woodpecker!

The black-backed woodpecker is native to the boreal forests of extreme northern Minnesota. They are considered a fairly rare bird since they don't appear in any large numbers and birders consider themselves fortunate to even see one. In fact, this was the first one I have ever spotted in all my years visiting the North Shore!

With that, I got to add the black-backed woodpecker to my birding life list this weekend, and I have now seen every woodpecker native to Minnesota. I was so excited that I stood there for more than five minutes just watching him work until he eventually flew off into the woods in search of another tree.

I resumed my run, laughing out loud. At the rate things were going, I was wondering what else I might encounter? A moose? Timber wolf? Maybe a lynx? Anything was fair game, I thought! However, nothing else too terribly exotic made its presence known as I continued the journey home.

When I got back towards home, I met Mom coming down the driveway in the car. She was going to go look for me because she was worried. As it turns out, I was gone for almost two hours because I stopped so many times to look at birds and animals!

I told my folks about all the wonderful things I saw, and they understood. Mom and Dad know the old saying; If you encounter unique sights and sounds, the prudent thing is to stop and look. Otherwise, you might miss the black-backed woodpecker.

OK, I don’t know if that is an old saying or not, but it should be... :)
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