Winter Animal Tracking

Below is an excerpt from an expert tracker,  Jonathan Poppele. He wrote the book Animal Tracks: Midwest Edition:

Tracking is the study and interpretation of the footprints and other signs left behind by animals as they go about their lives. Tracking does not necessarily mean following a string of footprints to locate the animal that made them. It means understanding the footprints, scrapes, chews, digs, and scat that we inevitably run across when we are out in nature. Tracking begins with identifying the animal that left the tracks and signs behind for us to see, and grows into an understanding of the intimate details of that animal’s life.”

Animal Tracks Gallery

fox walking pattern. The animal is registering – meaning that the hind foot steps in the front foot track. Animals who register are trying to conserve their energy.

 

River Otter plunge hole and slide
Photograph by Lawrence Wade

Two  river otters – body Slide – push off – body slide        Photo by Lawrence Wade

 

Owl making an attempted to kill a mouse. The left wing is on the left – tail is below and head is above. photo by Lawrence Wade

 

Crow Wing prints in the snow. The bird must have been flying low, but did not land.
photo by Lawrence Wade

Opossum Tracks w/ tail drag
photograph by Faith Frankel, Boonton, NJ.
Faith said that she lives in town and the opossum lives somewhere in her yard.

Animal Tracking Tutorial 101

In winter, studying animal tracks will give you a lot of information about who is active in your area. The best snow depth to read animal tracks is 1-4 inches. When there is more snow, it is difficult to see the patterns that each animal leaves. Tracking is all about looking at patterns and knowing where an animal is most likely to be found.

There are three basic groups of track patterns to learn.

Mouse tracks show the drag of the tail
Photo by Cindy Eyden

Rabbit Bounding Track
“F” is the smaller front foot. They hit the ground first.
“H” is the larger hind foot which jumps over the front feet.
Photo by Lawrence Wade

Squirrel Tracks – often end at a tree
“F” is the front foot which hits the ground first
“H” is the larger hind foot which hops over the front foot.

 

2. Walkers – “big foot” and “little foot”
In identifying the three species below, the important things to look for is the size of the track and the position of the front foot and the hind foot. Also, the beaver and muskrat are only found in wetland areas, whereas raccoons are found in many different habitats     including wetlands.In all cases the hind foot is larger than the smaller front foot.

 

Raccoon tracks
The arrow shows the direction of travel
“H” shows the larger hind foot
“F” shows the smaller front foot

muskrat Tracks
Muskrats rarely leave their huts in the winter, unless they run out of food or the population is too high.  Photo by Lawrence Wade

3. Straight-line walkers

Both deer and fox step with the hind foot falling exactly in the track of the front foot. Thus, the pattern in the snow appears that the animals are two-legged. This behavior is called “registering”and it helps the animal to conserve energy when walking in deep snow.

Fox Tracks crossing the creek.

deer tracks showing the hoofs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After you determine whether it is a hopper, straight line walker, or a “big foot-little foot”, Look at the pattern closely and notice how many inches there are between tracks or clumps of tracks. Also, think about the habitat you are seeing the tracks. Some animals are restricted to certain habitats (ie beaver, mink, and muskrat are found in wetlands).

 

 

fox tracks

Dog Tracks

Foxes leave a neat pattern in the snow because the hind foot steps in the front foot track (registering). Registering helps a fox to conserve energy, when walking in deep snow. It’s cousin, the dog,  does not register and leaves a much sloppier track. Deer also register, with the hind foot walking in the front foot track. Also, a deer hoof is easy to see when the snow is packed, and they usually drag their hooves. However, in deep snow, the hooves are more spread out and the dew claw is visible in the back of the track.

Mink Tracks along Minnehaha Creek
One foot is slightly ahead of another
Photo by Lawrence Wade

Expert tracker and author, Linda Spielman, made the following comment about mink:

Larry, I see that you have put the mustelids (weasel family) in the section with the straight-line walkers, but they don’t belong there. Sometimes mink are more like the hoppers but at other times they lope or gallop like deer and dogs. Mink are known to walk, but not very often. Maybe you need a fourth category. 

Resources

A Field Guide to Tracking Mammals in the Northeast
by Linda J. Spielman
Paperback, published by Countryman Press, released July 4, 2017     192 pages, 6 X 9 inches
ISBN-13: 978-1682680643

My book contains between 6 and 12 drawings for each of 40 species, each drawing meticulously and accurately copied from one or several photographs.

Each species treatment also includes written sections that discuss important details and point out differences and similarities between different species. Gait patterns can be as important as individual tracks for identification, so the typical gaits for each species are illustrated with diagrams and explained in written discussions. Measurements are given for tracks and gaits, and there is also a short section on habitat, sign, and scat.

By focusing on the tracks themselves and limiting other topics I was able to produce a book that is easily carried in a day pack and yet remarkably comprehensive. My book arises out of my own experience tracking northeastern mammals, but the approach will be beneficial for trackers in any region. A Field Guide to Tracking Mammals in the Northeast is available from major booksellers. I can also ship it directly to you. You can send a check for $15.66 ($13.00 + $2.66 media mail) to Linda Spielman, PO Box 955, Dryden, NY 13053. I welcome your comments; visit www.lindajspielman.com, or contact me at lindajspielman@gmail.com.

 

Animal Tracks: Midwest Edition
by Jonathan Poppele.
Published by Adventure Publications

$14.95

Animal Tracks: Midwest Edition is a pocket sized guide to the tracks and sign of Midwestern mammals. Excellent illustrations and quick identification tips help you get started. Track pattern illustrations, scat photos and descriptions of other signs that animals leave behind provide more clues to help to with identification. The information is easy enough for beginners yet detailed enough for experienced trackers.

Praise for Animal Tracks: Midwest Edition
“There are many great guides to identifying animal tracks. A few are truly excellent and some others are surprisingly misleading. Animal Tracks: Midwest Edition by Jonathan Poppele is a book that surprised me. It has fantastic track drawings, accurate information, and a very smart organization method. This book is inexpensive and worth adding to your library.”–Jonah Evans, tracking expert and State Mammalogist for Texas Parks and Wildlife.
The book is widely available at State Parks, Wildlife Refuges, major book sellers, and online book sellers. The Second Edition is scheduled for release by January 2021. Readers can order directly from the publisher, Adventure Publications 1-800-678-7006.

 

Posted in Nature Notes, Winter | 1 Comment

Nature Through the Eyes of an Artist

Sandra Cowing is a talented water color artist who expresses her love for nature through her creativity. She also gives us an intimate view into her process as an artist.

I had a vision in my mind of a foggy day and I took a risk and tried this new process of blending. I was just trying to get the feel of the forest on paper. This was an early painting and began to believe, “I can do this.” I am very inspired by old growth forests. The white pine is one of my favorites and there are several in my yard.

 

I love birds and house wrens are one of my favorites since they are so loud for being so small. When I go outside, I always know when they are nesting because they make all kinds of noise. House wrens are very dedicated parents going back and forth, feeding their young.


Last year, we had a female turkey that was at our bird feeder all winter long and we named her “Helen”. Helen disappeared in April and we never saw her again. She was a solo female, which is unusual. Solo females can be ostracized by the flock or the entire flock might have been killed. Also, she might have found a Tom in the spring and started her own flock. That is what I hope for. But we have coyotes around here, so she may have been eaten by a predator. At times “Helen” would come and peck at the window while I was painting.

This is my grandson, Ollie, who is four. We took a family vacation to the North Shore of Lake Superior and he is one of those kids who thrives in nature.

 

This was one of my first attempts at painting the North Shore of Lake Superior. I love the water and lighting in this painting. It is very difficult to paint light.
I have been only painting for a year and I am still learning.
I paint almost every day, at least an hour. But if I really get into something, I’ll work a half day. It gets so intense that I just need a break from that.

 

When I visited the Grand Canyon, the depth and immensity was overwhelming. I was somewhat successful expressing that in this painting. This is an early work, and I am learning skills with every piece I do: The water, the color, making greens that look natural.

 

The iris is from a photo that I took from my garden. It is an iris that I inherited with this property. This is a botanical accurate  painting. I like the elegance of an iris and they have so many complicated and lively petals.

Old Naturalist:  This painting feels like Sandra went into the physical form of the iris and brought it out to the paper.

 

The pumpkins were an assignment in a class and we were learning how to blend colors. We used only red, yellow, blue and yellow ochre. The shapes are basic, so I could concentrate on value (light and dark) which makes the painting seem more three dimensional.

 

My cow I tried to paint realistically. The process of sketching and painting might have taken as much as 24 hours.
Old Naturalist: Why would you paint a cow?
My last name is Cowing and that was my inspiration. I did the painting with Sonja Hutchinson, she is water color artist in the area. She helped me with composition and other techniques. I learn best by doing my own thing and then get support when I need help.

 

The heron was an interesting process that I did. I put color on the background and laid saran wrap over it. Went to bed and woke up the next morning, took off the Saran Wrap and I saw the head of an egret or heron. I asked myself, “How can I paint that?” I love this creative process and added in the details.

 

This piece with the egrets was an experiment I was doing of having very “loose paint” and dripped it down from the top of the page, then “masked” out the egrets using Frisket. It is a Chinese style of water color that I had read about.

 

This is another experimental piece in which I used salt. I wet the paper, added color, then put on the salt. Afterwards,  I saw these flowers and enhanced them with shadows.

 

This painting is of my Uncle Rex’s place. I am going to give this painting to him. I really like how the water turned out because it was a rainy/drizzly day. My uncle has lived on this land all of his life and it is as off-the-grid as you can get. They live off the land, stock the pond with fish and have a huge garden.

 


My work brings me such joy. I love the creativity of it and learning the chemistry of paints. All paints use different minerals, so they blend differently. Learning the science behind it is very interesting to me. Also, I enjoy working on skills, so that I can make the ideas I have in my head on paper. It is my passion and even before I retired, I said to myself, “I really want to do this”.  I am working with others who, also, have recently retired and I am finding “my people”.

Posted in Photography/Art | 4 Comments

Holiday Sale of Nature and Ocean Books

During the holidays, you can buy my books at a 60% discount off of the retail price. Each book is priced at $10 + $3.50 shipping = $13.50 I will sign all books. If you don’t like them, books can be returned for 100% refund.

Nature Seeker Workbook

Wade Cover 020913_flt@300 copy 2Nature Seeker Workbook is the product of 20 years of work as a naturalist in the Upper Midwest. Over 900 books have been sold in four years. It is a unique personal field guide to the natural world in Upper Midwest.
More than 50 field-tested activities. Hundreds of detailed and original drawings.
Highlights natural history through all seasons
Entire units for forest and wetland ecology.
Includes Nature songs, poetry, weaving and more
For students  1st – 6th grade 157 pages  (2013)

To learn more about Nature Seeker Workbook go to:
www.oldnaturalist.com/nature-seeker-workbook/
or go to the pull down menu at this site  –  go to Publications. Click on Nature Seeker Workbook.

OceanographyOceanography includes challenging activities on physical oceanography, biological oceanography, interviews with oceanographers and a teacher’s key. For students 4th-7th grade. Over 10,000 copies of this book has been sold. This book is in its 6th revision (2015). 144 pgs. topics:
Plate Tectonics          Marine Communities
Geology of seafloor   Marine Plankton
Mapping the Seafloor   Marine Food Webs
Ocean currents               Food pyramids

To learn more about Oceanography and Getting to Know the Whales go to:  www.oldnaturalist.com/oceanographywhales/ or go to the pull down menu at this site and go to Publications. Click on Whales/oceanography.

This book had to be written because of the author and illustrator’s passion for whales. Whale biologists have readily contributed data to make whales come to life for children. For students 4th-7th grade. Over 10,000 copies of this book has been sold. This book is in its 5th revision (2015). 146 pages

 

Whale Biology Topics
Draw a whale   Prehistoric whales   Whale and dolphin key  Whale dissection
How Whales feed       Lunge-feeding flip book           How Whales Breathe
How long does a Whale dive?    A Day with a Blue Whale  Whale Speed
Whale Migration              Year in the life of a Humpback Whale

How to purchase:
1. Send a check for $13.50 to the address below.
2.  order by email:  larrywade16@gmail.com
3. call me to order:  (952) 288-5025
4. You can also pay by credit card through PayPal go to: /www.oldnaturalist.com/nature-seeker-workbook/  and scroll down  ( Nature Seeker only – $13.50 includes shipping)

Larry Wade
15524 Day Place
Minnetonka, MN 55345

Will ship within 24 hours. Send me your email address and I’ll get the tracking numbers to you. The last day for the sale is Dec. 25.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fish Whisperer

 

Muskie

Muskie

First snorkel
holding onto a rock in the rapids
A large muskie swam up and rested beside me
Ecstatic
wondered if I should be panicked.
Hoped that I was not wearing anything shiny
that looked tasty to a muskie.

Bullhead

Welcome to the underwater world.

a curious male bluegill

Be open to the unknown. Beauty and the mystery awaits you.

Bowfin or dogfish, a bottom feeder. Primitive, creepy and beautiful.

Bowfin or dogfish, a bottom feeder. Primitive, creepy, yet beautiful.

Life abounds,  a spiritual connection with the water beings.

This painted turtle swam right up to me. I thought it was going to bite my nose.

This painted turtle swam right up to me. I thought it was going to bite my nose.

The lake water  is part of you now.
The water inside your body
may have once been part of the lake.

How could anyone name such a magnificent creature “Crappie”?

A tip on photographing fish
Don’t be a predator and chase it
Become part of the water and the weeds
Wait for the fish to come to you.

Walleye swimming in deeper water

Light changes constantly
Depending upon the clouds and the wind.
It dances on the plants and the fish,
Creating a hypnotic connection.

Largemouth

Largemouth bass

Sometimes you see things that makes you thankful to be alive
And you stop breathing
Because you are afraid the experience might end.

Northern Pike

Northern Pike

My first large northern pike.
Inching my way slowly towards it.
Hoping it would stay just one more second.
Making promises that I could never keep.
Awed by its tremendous power and elegance.

 

Water Lily

Water lilies
magical living beings
Connected to all the elements of life.
Their roots are in the earth
Growing in both water and air.
The sun is needed for life

Largemouth Bass

Largemouth Bass

This bass sashayed past me and let me know me it was the king or queen of the neighborhood.

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Muskie

Swimming out into the hinder lands
Turned to see a muskie following.
It circled once and then swam off.
Humbled to experience the raw wildness of nature
And how it feels to be something’s prey.

 

Posted in Animals, Connecting to Nature | 7 Comments

The Big Woods and the Fight to Save Lone Lake Park

Lone Lake – Peak Fall color

Lone Lake Park is a forest remnant of what was known as the Big Woods. The Big Woods was over 2,000 square miles, extending in a band 40 miles wide from what is today Mankato to Monticello. In the 1800’s, bears, wolves, and other creatures lived there, but were extirpated by white settlers moving into the area. Dakota elders said that the woods were so thick, that a squirrel could go the entire length of the great forest without ever touching the ground.

Lone Lake

Department of Natural Resources plant ecologists, Fred Harris and Dan Wovcha say the following about Lone Lake Park. “Lone Lake Park is a remnant of the Big Woods forest. 98% of the original forest has been eliminated and what remains are very small fragments such as what you have at Lone Lake Park. A portion of the forest was mapped in the Minnesota Land Cover Classification System as a mesic oak forest, which was one of the main forest types that made up the Big Woods. We support your effort to conserve this forest remnant.”

Pre-settlement Big Woods is light green. The dark green dots show what remains of the Big Woods today.

The Big Woods existed for over 700 years before settlers began cutting the big trees in the 1840’s. They didn’t see the magnificent forest that was there. They saw the house they were going to build or the field that would have crops. Agnes Larson, author of the book, “History of the White Pine Industry in Minnesota”, wrote: “In the development of Minnesota, these hardwood forests counted for little. It was the rich soil in which they grew that was attractive to the settler. So the strong oaks, the stately butternuts, and the queenly maples were felled merely to be cast into the fire, so that wheat could grow where once they had stood.”

Ginseng Plant – Missouri Department of Conservation


Ginseng was a common plant in the Big Woods in the 1850’s, but hundreds of thousands of pounds was harvested for the Chinese market by settlers so they could pay off their mortgages. The ginseng was no more (MN Historical Society).

“The Big Woods has a high extinction debt–many of the plant species are likely to disappear because of loss of habitat, fragmentation and invasive species like buckthorn and European earthworms that infest even the tiny remnants of Big Woods. To reverse that situation we need to expand the remnants and relieve the many stresses on them.”
Lee Frelich, Director, University of Minnesota Center for Forest Ecology

 

Raspberry Farm near Lone Lake.
Hopkins Historical Society

 

By the 1930’s, farmers near Lone Lake Park had clear-cut the hardwood forest and planted raspberries. Many of the trees in Lone Lake Park are second growth, but there are some areas of old growth trees.  Suburban development including housing and businesses continues to decrease the small forest remnants that exist today.

 

 In 2003, Wayzata, MN, private developers proposed clearing 14 acres of a remnant of the Big Woods for apartments or a high-rise building. But city officials, like Wayzata City Council member Bob Ambrose, said they didn’t want to lose what they saw as a rare treasure. The community raised the money to protect the land and created a park.

The City of Orono has Woodrill  and Long Lake has Wolsfeld Woods, both are Big Woods remnants.

The City of Minnetonka has an opportunity to protect this remnant forest at Lone Lake, so that we can all learn how to be better stewards of our wild spaces.

Photo by Ryan Taylor

 

 

 

In the past 20 years, interest in mountain biking has increased dramatically. In the Twin Cities alone, riders can access over 20 different courses. In addition, there are competitive high school teams.

 

 

 

 

 

The Minnetonka City Council is seriously considering putting in 4.7 miles of mountain biking course into this park. The course would disturb roughly half of the wooded area of the park.

 

The black line is the existing walking path. The orange line shows the proposed mountain biking course.

To meet the demand of some residents, the City Council of Minnetonka, assigned the city staff to research the feasibility of constructing a mountain biking course into Lone Lake Park. Lone Lake is a kettle lake that is enclosed by a glacial moraine. One main reason it is attractive as a biking course is because of its glacial steep hills.

Dan Wovcha, DNR, plant ecologists says, “The overall message is there are a lot of stresses on our remnant forests, and stewardship is extremely important for their long-term health.

What will this habitat look like in 40 years? If the city council votes to put in the trail, this ecosystem will most certainly be degraded. However, if the city council decides that having a Big Woods Park is more valuable than a bike trail, the second growth trees will be over 100 years old. There will be more native plants, more birds, more mammals, more…. Life. My grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be able to walk in the Big Woods Park and know that those who came before them protected the land for future generations.

Do you want to help?
Are you a resident of Minnetonka or neighboring city?
Contact the City Council members and say that you want protect Lone Lake Park. It is a surviving remnant of the Big Woods forest. You don’t believe that a  mountain biking trail is compatible with keeping the forest wild.
dcalvert@eminnetonka.com
scarter@eminnetonka.com
rschack@eminnetonka.com
bellingson@eminnetonka.com
mhappe@eminnetonka.com
tbergstedt@eminnetonka.com
bwiersum@eminnetonka.com

 

 

Posted in Connecting to Nature, Nature Guardians | 5 Comments

The Bass Ponds – A Hidden Gem

The Bass Ponds are part of the Minnesota Valley Wildlife Refuge. It is an urban wildlife refuge in shadow of the Mall of America, a busy highway and the Minneapolis International Airport. Besides being a refuge for animals, the Bass Ponds is a refuge for joggers, fisherman, hikers, and birders.

Blue – Wing Teal nest in the shallow ponds.

Bald Eagles are a common sight.

Male Northern Oriole
(listen to its call below)

 

I asked the two women shown above why they liked birding.
“I have been birding for 25 years. It is addictive. The anticipation of seeing something new, is an adrenaline rush. It is also about slowing down and just being outside in the wonder of nature. Even if it is a common bird, I like to watch their behavior because you witness different behaviors in the spring than you do at other times of the year“.

Male Eastern Bluebird     (listen to its call below)

 

Wood Duck male and female are found in the shallow ponds

American Toad calling. Notice the ripples in the water from the intensity of the sound.

Rose Breasted Grosbeak – It’s call is a beautiful melodious song (listen below)

 

 

LL Bean volunteer March Trail Clean up (Photo by Grant Fleetwood)

I work for LL Bean at the Mall of America. The Bass Ponds is our local trail and LL Bean has adopted it, and we partner with the wildlife refuge. It an urban park and we are going to go ahead and clean up the trash once a month. I get satisfaction intrinsically by helping out the environment. We want to do our part and make it better for everyone to enjoy.
Our next cleanup will be Sat. June 8, and it’s open to everyone. Readers can get more info and sign up at www.llbean.com/MOA .
Grant Fleetwood

Muskrat (Photo was taken in March when the ponds were still frozen).

Other mammals found at the Bass Ponds includes: coyote, beaver, deer, fox, raccoons, mink and otters at the Bass Ponds.

Craig Mandel is on the right in the blue jacket

Craig Mandel is a master birder and regularly leads hikes at the Bass Ponds.  Craig put everyone at ease with his welcoming demeanor. His quiet passion for birding is contagious. (Contact the MVWR Visitor Center to find out Craig’s next hike). 

It was very enriching walking with 25 people who were so passionate about learning and sharing their knowledge of nature.

Male Redwing Blackbird       (listen to its “oka-lee” call below)

 

A female red-wing blackbird weaving its nest out of strips of cattails.

American Redstart is a warbler that nests at the Bass Ponds.

I met a 16 year old bird watcher. “I got into bird watching when I was 5. “My aunt was in a birding group and they “adopted me”. I have been passionate about birding ever since, unfortunately, there aren’t too many birders my age”.

Catbird

Vanessa Nordstrom grew up exploring and hiking at the Bass Ponds. She shares the following childhood memories:
“We would hike down the big hill before it was paved and we loved  having the freedom to explore everything.
In the winter we would see the fish in the stocked pond and the river run off and they would be jumping out of the ice. We used to always find animal skulls down in the woods too skunks, weasels and a deer, etc. “

Indigo Bunting – A little jewel in the trees          (listen to its call below)

 

To get directions to the Bass Ponds contact
Visitor Center
Minnesota Valley Wildlife Refuge
3815 , American Blvd,
Bloomington, MN.
(952) 854-5900

Posted in Birds, Connecting to Nature, Spring | 6 Comments

Sights and Sounds of Spring 2019

Mid February
I heard my first signs of spring. What birds were calling in the cold?

(cardinal and  “fee bee” call  of the chickadee)

 

Early April
Pussy Willows in the marsh

Pussy Willows

Early April
The fluted song of a male Robin is in all our neighborhoods.

Male robin

Early April
First chipmunk scurrying around.

Chipmunk

Chipmunk

 

Early April
The sweet song of a bluebird was a welcome sound.

BlueBird

male Bluebird

First week of April
A male Redwing calling  “Oka-lee” in the marsh.

male redwing displaying

First week of April
Vultures circling on their northerly migration

A soaring turkey vulture (photo by Mike Farrell)

(photo by Mike Farrell)

 

April 15
Vole tunnels in the grass as the snow recedes.
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Mid April
Chorus Frogs and Wood Frogs
In this recording, you will hear the cricket-like sound of the chorus frogs and and also the “clucking” of the wood frog.

 

Wood frog calling with inflated calling sacs on it abdomen.

Mid April
First wood ducks make an alarm call as they fly away.

Male Wood Duck in foreground and the female is in the background.

Late April     60° day
Early Spring butterflies that over- wintered behind the bark of trees.

Red Admiral

 

Mourning cloak

Mourning cloak

 

April 13 – First Wild Leek – A blessing to see something green emerging from the earth.

1WildLeek

April 20th Northern Flicker Calling

Flicker

April 21st

First hepatica blooming. Native Spring Wildflower
hepatica1

April 24 First painted turtle

Painted turtle sunning itself.

I hope that soon I will hear the call of the of the American Toad.

An American toad calling in spring
Posted in Nature Notes, Spring | 1 Comment

Whale Day

For the past 24 years I have traveled to North Hudson Elementary in Hudson, Wisconsin for a very special experience. The 4th grade teachers have developed a thematic unit on the oceans that runs from February to May. All of their reading, science, language arts is based upon oceans. One day a year, I have had the honor of teaching an entire day about the oceans: Ocean Communities, Squid dissection, Sand Lab, and Shell Lab.

Student drawing of a squid

Squid Dissection

Various aspects of squid anatomy were observed and recorded.
The chromatophores allow the squid to change color. This photo was taken by a student through a 30x microscope.
Student photo of a squid beak (30x microscope)
Student photo of a sucker disk on a squid tentacle (30x)


Marine Communities

Jeanette Dickinson, a visual artist, worked with students to create a marine communities mural.

Marine science artists at work
Open Ocean Community

Sand Lab

Learning about the uniqueness of sands from around the world

Sand scientists at work

Shell Lab

Using a scientist’s eye to identify different species
Intense investigations
Is is it an abalone or a limpet?

After doing research projects, students create three dimensional ocean creatures.

viperfish from the Abyss Community
Deck the halls with ocean life.


It is fulfilling to see the Oceanography project has maintained support and grown over the years. This integrated unit has always been close to my heart. The study has generated student enthusiasm; developed learners’ understanding of so many related concepts and processes; and provided an immensely rich and integrated learning experience for every child.
Thank you 4th Grade teachers at North Hudson (Paula Feyereisen, Jessica McQuade, Heather Mathews, and Deborah Smith) for carrying on this invaluable study, especially in the light of frequent obstacles. I truly admire what you do on a daily basis.

Vicki Donatell, retired 4th grade teacher at North Hudson

Posted in Whales & Oceanography | 4 Comments

North Country Pilgrimage

Three nights of winter camping in a yurt can change your perspective on life. Jim Gregory and his son David joined me for the adventure.

Jim Gregory’s water color of our yurt.

Often working with only the light of his headlamp and a lantern, Jim was able to create his work. This was his first experience using water colors. When we left, Jim generously gave his painting to the owner of the property.

Plenty of time for creative activities.

City boy
Brought a cell phone charger
Now I am out of juice
Can’t plug it into a pine tree.
City boy

Jim Gregory on the trail

Creative Snow Plops – Nature is the Artist

Snow bird
Snow Moomin
Climbing Snow Creatures

Lost my glove liners
Tearing everything apart
Going crazy
Heck with the liners…
Going skiing
Out on the trail now….
I adjust my hat
And feel something.
Hey! I found my glove liners.

Gray Jay

Whiskey Jacks
Pirates – Scavengers
Fearless ……If food is involved
Gray Jay

Culinary Art by David Gregory

I went out before sunrise, skiing. When I returned to the yurt, I was hungry and was going to make some hot cereal. David had not skied, but made this special meal. In 50 years of camping, I have never had a breakfast like this. It was a wonderful gift.

Canada Lynx Tracks
I originally thought these were the tracks of a cougar. But my tracker friends, told me that the 16-18 inch distance between the tracks was too small for a cougar.
Canada Lynx Track.
A wolf track would have visible claws. This is a 4 inch wide track, but has no visible claws. The claws of cats are tucked into the skin until they are ready to be used. It wasn’t a bobcat, because their track would not have been so wide.

The foot is very wide on a Canada Lynx, to keep it from sinking in deep snow. It has been classified as a Federally Threatened Species. Barbara Young, the owner of Poplar Creek Guesthouse said that she has seen many lynx over the years. Once she saw a lynx jump 5 feet high and knock over a bird feeder.

Two nights – The same dream
The eyes of wildness
Burning into my Soul
Waking me from a restless sleep.


On the ski trail
Fresh tracks of a Canada Lynx
The lynx’s essence
Passes through me
But remains unseen.
The eyes of wildness
Deep in my bones.


David Gregory used cross country skis for the groomed trails. He carried Back Country Skis that are a modified ski/snowshoe for the deep snow, off trail.

When David was two, I carried him on my back while I cross-country skied. I often wonder if that has something to do with his love of skiing and the outdoors.
Jim Gregory

White Pine

There were no more than a dozen mature white pine near our yurt. Loggers cut down most of the giants in the early 1900’s. I can only imagine what this land was like when the old growth white pine dominated the area.

More work by Jim Gregory.
Jim says, “This highly grained wood chip fascinated me and consisted of a lot of detail.”

Where Does Beauty Hide?

In the lichen on a fallen birch
In the fresh tracks of Snowshoe Hare

Where Does Beauty Hide?

In the shadows of the branches on the snow
In moss and fungus on the birch tree

Where Does Beauty Hide?
In the simplicity of nature
And deep in my heart.

Do you need to make a Northwoods Pilgrimage?
Contact Barbara Young at Poplar Creek Guesthouse. 11 Poplar Creek Drive.
Grand Marais, MN 55604
(218) 388-4487

Posted in Connecting to Nature, Nature Poetry, Photography/Art, Winter | 6 Comments

The Spirit of a Naturalist Artist

We are lucky to have guest blogger, Nanci Olesen,  share her relationship with nature through art and text. When I first saw Nanci’s work in a Minneapolis Star Tribune article (http://www.startribune.com/will-publish-in-different-format/504165212/), I was touched by the intimacy of her sketches and how she was able to connect to nature through art.


I have filled small sketchbooks and journals with my drawing and writing for as long as I can remember.   I am a mom of adult children and a Montessori teacher. Montessori education is rooted in peace, simplicity, independence, and the wonder of the natural world.   I like to pay attention. I like to follow the child. 
Nanci Olesen

The next 4 drawings appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune and document the quiet beauty of an everyday nature walk. Beneath each sketch are Nanci’s nature notes from the day.

30 december 18: Mid afternoon, sort of grey. Still cold, but not bitter. Me neither. I met an old friend on the path. We chatted. We found a red hatted woman happily pointing to a pileated woodpecker (red capped of course). We saw chickadees and juncos too. Later, a boy from my old school, Lamont. In a red hat! “Fourth grade is hard!” And me, with my red hat on, just taking it all in. Oh yes, and I fell on the ice… twice! Argghh.gh…

A

31 december 18
4 pm. Greeeeeyyyyyy. Snow’s coming. Ice still freaking us all out. I only slipped two times. Deep in the bird sanctuary is a little streamlet-kind-of pond. Mallards were doing their happy swim and their funny ra-ra-ra-ra sound. That same pileated woodpecker (or so I think) swooped low, making some loud wa-wa-wa-wa… and me, quietly, to all of it: “Woah.” Snow falling at an angle and temperature dropping steadily. The tree trunk seemed to say “Onward into the new year.” The pond responded “Shoooooshh.” “Tzee, tzee,” whispered the fallen branch.

1 january 19
There are two lifeguard chairs at North Beach, Lake Harriet. I like the one on the left. Sunset. Resolutions. Bravery. “Happy New Year,” I say from my perch on the chair, gazing out at the miraculous ice. Surprisingly, the lifeguard chair responds, “Same to you!!”

3 january 19
It’s that blue of dusk… especially in the winter. Glorious! Deep blue– getting inky—but still holding light. The simple magnificence of it all. Oh baby!
The b e a u t y ! Indeed.

I look to the big picture.  I like wilderness travel.  I like theatre and dance and music.  Yellow is my favorite color.  I swim in Lake Harriet. I play the piano late at night.  I have a humorous husband.  I have grown a garden and cooked dinner and hosted parties and raised our children and ridden my bike in the Kingfield neighborhood of Minneapolis for 37 years.
Nanci Olesen

Do you want to see more of Nanci’s work?
Visit her website (https://www.nanciolesen.com/)
Check out her weekly “visual practice blog” (https://www.nanciolesen.com/blog).
And her Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/drawingnanciolesen/).
Share these links on your own social media!

Below I’ve selected some of Nanci’s online work:

Berkeley loves its twinkly lights. And I love it all. New perspectives continue. Reading for real and getting organized. Thank you, Mary Oliver.

Lupine. Loopin’ back to all that is and was, and loping forward to the next of it. There is so much best in us left in us. Gratitude.
#lupinedrawings, #kahlilgibran, #showyourwork, #littledrawings, #nanciolesen

Lake Superior full moon 12 days ago. Time flies as we await the melting ice. Looking for the big picture. This one. The one I see.
#fullmoon,   #carryon,   #watercolorpencils, #showyourwork, #nanciolesen

On that amazing day I saw the full moon over the ocean, I met a Baird’s Trogon, I heard a monkey howl in the darkness, and I trembled through a tremor from an earthquake. #nanciolesen, #coloredpencildrawings, #costaricadrawings, #showyourwork

Nanci drawing, at the top of Devil’s Causeway in the Flat Tops Wilderness in northern Colorado, summer 2018.

Currently I am in a study cycle in Berkeley, CA, working on drawing and writing skills.  I have a grant to work with a mentor at the Berkeley Art Studio on a children’s book that is living in my head.

Posted in Nature Notes, Photography/Art | 1 Comment