Was Tinker Bell a Firefly?

Photo: Angeli Wright/awright@citizen-times.com

For the past three nights (mid June) I have watched as many as a  hundred fireflies blinking in my yard. This is so hopeful because for years I have rarely seen them. Twenty-five years ago, I remember walking out at night with my kids on a warm summer night. In the field below were hundreds of fireflies with blinking lights. The kids ran down in the field shrieking with joy.

Yes, they are magical, but they don’t come from pixie dust.

Adult Firefly
drawing by Jeanette Dickinson

The greenish glow or “bioluminescence’ of adult fireflies comes from a light-producing organ in its abdomen. The light is produced by a chemical reaction in its body and the reaction is triggered by oxygen from the breath of the firefly. So a firefly can control its flashing pattern with its breath. Each species of firefly has a specific flashing pattern that helps it locate a mate. In observing fireflies you may see the male flash once and then flash again 5 to 10 seconds later. Typically a male will fly just above the grass flashing for a female of its species. It will continue this flashing until a female hiding in the grass, flashes back to it. There are also species that flash twice instead of once.

Firefly underside showing the bioluminescent organ. photo by Heather Holm.

Early Summer Firefly watching:

  1. Track a firefly and make a map of where you see the firefly go.
  2. Try to find female flashers in the grass.
  3. Keep track of the number of flashes a firefly makes and the amount of time between flashes. How many different flashing patterns (species) can you find?
  4. What is the most common type of firefly? Make a chart of the different types:
    One Flash – Two Flash – Other Patterns
  5. Catch some fireflies in a jar, enjoy them for a few minutes and then release them, so they can mate and complete their life cycle.

There is danger in the weeds!

It all sound so simple, a male firefly flashes and a female waiting in the weeds flashes back. Some female fireflies are predatory and mimic the blinking pattern of another species, to draw the male to her. Imagine a male locating its mate and just when the male thinks it is going to mate, the “female mimic” kills and eats the male.

Firefly life cycle

firefly larva
illustration by Jeanette Dickinson

Fireflies are not flies or bugs but actually a type of beetle. The adults live only long enough to mate and lay eggs (usually 1-2 weeks). Mated females lay up to 100 eggs under leaves and the larvae hatch in about a month. Surprisingly the eggs of some species of firefly glow dimly in the soil. Most of a firefly’s life is spent underground as a larva. In fact, some firefly larvae live underground for almost two years. They are found under leaves and mulch in moist soil. The larvae are predatory and feed on earthworms, slugs and snails. Many species of larval fireflies have “lights” and have been called “glowworms”. In late spring or early summer of the next year, the larvae makes a mud chamber and forms its pupae. While in the mud chamber, the larvae metamorphoses into an adult flying beetle in 2-3 weeks.

September firefly watching:

  1. Look in your moist leaf pile for firefly larvae.
  2. Once you find one, look at its light-producing organ with a magnifier.

Mating fireflies. Notice the large size of the female.
photo by Heather Holm

Where have all the fireflies gone?

Alert! Have you noticed that you don’t see as many fireflies as you used to? This is not happening just in your yard, but researchers are seeing firefly populations disappearing around the country. It is not really clear what is causing the drop in firefly numbers, but there are several things you can do to create a friendlier environment for fireflies and other invertebrates in your neighborhood.

  1. Don’t use chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. Keep your yard friendly to fireflies and pollinators by using natural fertilizers. Chemical fertilizer may harm the ground-dwelling firefly larvae. Spraying pesticides or herbicides in your yard may kill adult fireflies and adversely effect ground-dwelling creatures like slugs which are food for firefly larvae.
  2. Don’t over-mow your lawn. Frequent mowing may disturb local adult firefly populations. Leave an area of your yard un-mowed from mid June through July because adult fireflies like to hide in tall grass for protection.
  3. Build a small pond. Fireflies like standing water and moist areas and tend to congregate in these areas.
  4. Keep a leaf pile . Firefly larvae live underground and feed on creatures that live in the leaf litter. Rotting logs and leaf piles are also excellent microhabitats for fireflies.
  5. Turn off outside lights Too much light pollution can disrupt the mating behavior of fireflies. If they are unable to find mates, then they will not be able to complete their life cycle and lay eggs.
  6. Catch and Release – If you are going to catch fireflies in a jar make sure you release them so they can find a mate.
  7. Make a brochure about fireflies – Give it to your neighbors and alert them about the plight of fireflies. Tell them some interesting facts about fireflies and let them know what they can to do make their property better for fireflies.
  8. Join Firefly Watch Citizen Science and participate in a firefly study near your home:



Posted in Insects | Leave a comment

Isn’t Nature Amazing!

The Short Life of an Early Spring Bee.
Look at this barren hillside. Who would guess that beneath the ground is a whole colony of bees awaiting the warmth of the sun, so they can emerge. Known as the cellophane bees, they are the first bees to appear in the spring. Their adult lives are short (one month) and they depend upon the weather to cooperate. Anyone who lives in Minnesota knows that our weather patterns tend to fluctuate (e.g., sunny and warm one day and cold and snowy the next).

Nest entrance of a female cellophane bee.



This is where Heather Holm picks up the story. Heather is a biologist, as well as a nationally known bee researcher and author. She has studied not only the life cycle of many dozens of bee species, but also the plants they need to pollinate for their survival.

Heather has located and examined the cellophane bee’s nesting areas for the past four years. Below is her video of male cellophane bees patrolling the colony looking for a female to mate with. Most people would run the other way if they saw hundreds of bees buzzing around. But not Heather, for she is what we call an “Earth Guardian,” a person who cares about the small things on our planet.


Male cellophane bee emerging from its winter home (photo by Heather Holm).

Cellophane bees remain in their underground homes for eleven months. First as larvae eating the food provided for them by their mother (who died the previous spring). Then in late summer, they pupate (similar to a butterfly) and eventually turn into an adult. If the soil temperature gets above 50°F and it is sunny outside, the adult males will emerge from their underground home for the first time. They will fly around the surface looking for a female to mate with (see Heather’s video above) .

Apparently, the male’s main purpose in life is to mate with a female. Their adult life is very brief (less than a month) and they will die shortly after mating with the female.

Cellophane Bee Ground nest.
(illustration by Heather Holm)

After emerging from the ground and mating with a male, the female begins digging her nest for her larvae. The hole can be up to 10 inches deep, with side branches where she builds oval cells to place the pollen and nectar she collects.

Once she has enough food for her larvae in the cell, the female starts laying eggs at the bottom of her nest and uses the sperm to fertilize those eggs ( they will become females). When there is no more sperm, she lays unfertilized eggs (they become males) closer to the surface. The following spring, the males, who are closer to the surface, dig their way out first and then later the females emerge.



Female Cellophane bee gathering pollen from a willow flower. (photo by Heather Holm).

The females have only four weeks to accomplish the following tasks: mate; dig their ground nest, gather pollen from nearby willow or red maple trees; stock the nest with pollen for their larva and lay their eggs.

Minnesota is not an ideal place for cellophane bees to flourish. They can encounter several challenges, such as the changing weather conditions, predators digging out their nests, and humans disturbing their nests. It is a tough life, but many are able to survive. By the first of May, all of the males and most of the females will have completed their life cycle and will die. It is nature’s way.

See Heather’s video of a female cellophane bee gathering pollen and nectar from a red maple tree.

Questions about Cellophane bees

1. Do cellophane bees sting?
The male does not have a stinger, but the female does. Heather walked right in the middle of the colony and they did not react to her. She said the only way someone could be stung is to pick up a female in your hand.

Cellophane-like lining of that protects the larva and its food. Photo courtesy of Max McCarthy and Nick Dorian, bee researchers From MA.


2. How did cellophane bee get their name?
The female lines the nest with a blend of her saliva and a glandular secretion from her abdomen. When these two materials combine, they form a waterproof cellophane-like lining that protects the larva from flooding during heavy rains.

3. In Heather’s video I saw hundreds of bees in one area. Are they like a yellow jacket wasp and have a central nest?
No, each female cellophane bee builds her own nest.



4. Where can I go to see a cellophane bee colony?
Cellophane bees like south facing, flat ground that gets plenty of sunlight. They like the ground to be bare and the soil to be sandy.

Many thanks to Heather Holm for sharing her wisdom with Nature School. To see her website go to: https://www.pollinatorsnativeplants.com/

Thanks to Janine Pung, Kathy Adams and Cindy Eyden for their suggestions on improving the text.







Posted in Insects, Spring | 4 Comments

How I Feel About Nature

All photos  by Alex Munoz
Alex Munoz is an accomplished photographer and this is his second posting at Old Naturalist.  His first post was titled Raw Beauty Unleashed and was published in Dec. 2017. Alex Munoz is from my home town of Fillmore California. Alex currently lives in Prescott Valley, Arizona.
Note: Click on each photo to see it full screen.

For as long as I can remember,
Nature has been
A source of solace, inspiration, adventure and delight.
A home, a teacher, a companion.

I’m just happy to capture what I see. I go out with my friends for the simple purpose of taking photos and nothing else. At 77  years of age, I have taken some great photos  and I and wonder why I like them so much.  That’s why, I began carrying my camera more, seeing more opportunities to take a photo.

Granite Dells

Granite Dells
The Granite Dells is a geological feature near Prescott AZ. The rocks consist of bedrock and large boulders of granite. The granite has been dated  to be 1.4 billion years old. Erosion has caused the rocks to have an unusual rounded appearance.

The changing water levels over time has created interesting patterns on the rocks.


Rock design and Reflection

Watson Lake level 2012

Watson and Willow Lakes are reservoirs that were build in the early 1900’s. The area is used by sportsman for fishing,  paddling, climbing and camping.


Riparian Preserve
Riparian plant communities are found along edges of rivers and wetlands. Watson Woods Riparian Preserve is 126 acres. The area was once  a 1,000 acre  of riparian  forest consisting of cottonwood and willow trees. Concerned citizens were able to protected this land which  has now become an oasis for wildlife and humans alike.


Cattail Reflection

Great Egret

Red-tail Hawk


Pictographs at Devil’s Bridge
I am not a archaeologist, but I was there to photograph these pictographs shown  below at Devil’s Bridge where you may see rock art in red sandstone. These symbols have lasted, while those people who made them  have not. I travel extensively, visiting sites, it does require permits and a fee.

Devil’s Bridge


Granite Mountain Alligator Juniper Tree
Granite Mountain is outside of Prescott, AZ and if you hike to the top of it, you’ll find one of the oldest alligator juniper trees of its kind. It is thought to be over 2,000 years old. This juniper has been designated as an Arizona Champion Tree.

In 2013, the tree was saved from a wildfire by an elite group of wild land firefighters called the “Granite Mountain Hot Shots”. A week after the juniper was saved, all but one of the crew were killed by another fire in the area.

View from the top of Granite Mountain (7,000 ft high). Photo by Alex Munoz

Bark on the alligator juniper


Desert Wildflowers
In the spring,there can be all kinds of blooms out here. These are stunning landscapes to visit anytime of the year.While you may be able to enjoy wildflowers from the roadsides, finding the truly impressive displays usually requires some degree of hiking and off road vehicles. These photos were taken in the lower areas of Arizona deserts.


Spring Cactus bloom

Ocotillos live up to a hundred years and get to be 20 feet tall. They usually bloom after a rainstorm

Alex Munoz beneath a huge cottonwood that is said to be 1000 years old

Posted in Connecting to Nature, Photography/Art, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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. 


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


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 | 2 Comments

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

Fish Whisperer




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


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 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.



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 | 8 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.



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”.


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 2020

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

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

Mid March – Vole tunnels in the grass as the snow melts.

Vole Tunnels in the Grass

Late March
Pussy Willows in the marsh

Pussy Willows

Late March
The fluted song of a male Robin is in all our neighborhoods.

Male robin

Late March
First chipmunk scurrying around.




Late March
The sweet song of a bluebird was a welcome sound.


male Bluebird

Late March
A male Redwing calling  “Oka-lee” in the marsh.

male redwing displaying


Late March First wood ducks make an alarm call as they fly away.

Wood Duck male and female are found in the shallow ponds


Signs of spring to be looking for in the future

First week of April
Vultures circling on their northerly migration

A soaring turkey vulture (photo by Mike Farrell)

(photo by Mike Farrell)


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.

Late April    
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.


April 20th Northern Flicker Calling


April 21st

First hepatica blooming. Native Spring Wildflower

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 | 4 Comments

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