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North Shore Morning

AM Community Calendar/photo by masochismtango on Flickr

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News and information, interviews, weather, upcoming events, music, school news, and many special features. North Shore Morning includes our popular trivia question - Pop Quiz! The North Shore Morning program is the place to connect with the people, culture and events of our region!

 


What's On:
Illustration of the zodiacal light

Northern Sky: February 18 - March 3

Deane Morrison is a science writer at the University of Minnesota, where she authors the Minnesota Starwatch column.

Jupiter is now rising before midnight; Mars can still be seen in the west; uranus appears as a blue dot near Mars. Look to the west after sunset for zodiacal light. Winter stars are still high in the south after nightfall.

(Photo by Stuart Rankin on Flickr)

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The patient pine grosbeak.

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: February 17

Weather in the Wildersmith neighborhood has settled back into a more moderate tone after having to move snow on four out of the last seven days of week two. None of the separate applications were anything to write home about, but in total added up to just a bit over a foot around here.

A snowy follow up provided a brief cold snap, but has since mellowed into a warmer time in the upper Gunflint as February heads toward its final lap. By the way, this part of the world missed out on the full lunar experience for month two as clouds squelched the giant cheesy icon in the heavens.

With March waiting in the wings, I find it unimaginable, how the days fly by. Guess the sands of time grow finer and flow faster than one would expect as some of us get into our autumn years. Memory still finds me recollecting how long the days seemed when I was a kid.

This Valentine time of year finds love is in the air for not only those of us on two legs, but also for canid species in our “wild neighborhood.” It’s mating time for wolves, and other such critters.                                                                                                                                                                  
Speaking of wolves, a trio was observed in the back yard of some folks in the mid-Trail area, and another gray duo has been captured with regularity on a trail cam at a residence along the south shore of Gunflint Lake. 

As it relates to territorial wolf packs, one has to wonder about their diet what with the venison opportunities in these parts non-existent. My guess is the snowshoe hare numbers must be taking a big hit. This in turn could reflect on Canadian lynx frequencies as bunnies are their favorite fare. Survival in our ecosystem is highly competitive, and replete in never ending challenges!

The Smiths had an uncommon visit from a trio of pine martens recently. While marten visitors come in as singletons most of the time, this three-pack looked to be possibly related. The best guess might be a mom and a pair of young’uns.

My suspicion of their being related comes from the fact these smaller ones were compatible in a feed shelter munching sunflower seeds, while the apparent adult accompaniment did not scare them off as is the case when multiples have arrived simultaneously at other times. Whatever the case, the enjoyable observation went on for some time before they bound off into the woods, having cleaned up all the poultry parts and scarfing through bird seed left-overs.

Daily life in the wildlands seems to offer an experience/observation that probably has been going on for eons without notice, only to suddenly come to my attention. Such is the case at our avian seed tray.

Whereas air traffic here is busier than most international airports, I recently took note of one winged species that exhibits a most unusual patience before approaching to dine. Most of the visiting flying folk dart in, peck away hurriedly, and flit off in the blink of an eye.

In the meantime, the brilliant rose blush male pine grosbeaks and their muted female counterparts sit patiently in the adjacent branches waiting for a lull in the activity before getting a chance at sustenance. Their willingness to wait a turn seemingly parallels an airliner in a holding pattern. Interestingly enough, when the handsome birds finally settle in to partake it’s as a group, very mannerly and family like.

While often being driven off by the business of other incoming flights, they calmly go back to their perches to idle for another opening. My observation is they are uniquely easy going, perhaps even philosophic in stoic perseverance. We humans could surely take a little of this pine grosbeak behavior under one's wing, (no pun intended).

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail at Wildersmith, where every day is fabulous, and chock full of mystery and adventure!

Photo by Kristin Maling, Flickr
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Birch Grove Community School

School News from Birch Grove: February 17

Goshi, Deja, and Sophia report the latest school news.

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Superior National Forest Update: February 17

Hi. This is Patrick Krage, Engine Module Leader, Engine 621, with this week’s National Forest Update - information on conditions affecting travel and recreation on the east end of the Superior National Forest. For February 17th, here’s what’s going on in the Forest.

With temperatures in the forties and rain forecast for this weekend, skiing and snowmobiling don’t sound very appealing. But, there is one activity this weekend which you can participate in from the comfort of a chair by the window with a cup of coffee in your hand. This weekend is the annual “Great Backyard Bird Count.” This is a national citizen science effort to track on winter bird populations, and the Forest Service uses the data for monitoring our local birds. The Audubon Society is the organizer of the event, and it is easy to record what you see at your feeders on line, as well as see who else is reporting on birds in your area. Just search for Great Backyard Bird Count on the web to get started, or look for the link on the Superior’s Facebook page and our website.

Our changing winter weather has also seen an increase in a newer form of recreation: Fat tire biking. Fat tire biking can be a great way to get out in the winter, but we are becoming aware of a growing number of bikers and cross country skiers who have been using area snowmobile trails. These trails are not designed for use by skiers or cyclists, and the mix of snowmobiles, skiers, and cyclists on the same trail presents a safety hazard for everyone. Contact a Forest Service office for information on locations where winter biking is appropriate, and for locations of our cross country ski trails.

The alternating warm and cold spells have been hard on our forest roads. During the warm times, watch for soft shoulders and even soft spots in the roadway itself. In the cold, ice has been an issue as snow melts or packs down into some really slippery areas. All this means that regardless of the weather, slow down going around corners because you don’t know what the road conditions will be like up ahead. As always with driving, be defensive and prepare for the worst.

There is some winter timber harvesting going on as well. On the Tofte District, watch for logging traffic on the Trappers Lake Road, Cook County 3, the Sawbill Trail, the Honeymoon Trail, and the Grade. On the Gunflint, expect traffic on the Firebox Road and Greenwood Road.

If you do stop in at the Tofte Ranger Station, you’ll see a new face as district ranger. Lenore Lamb will be filling in behind Kurt Steele for a few months. Stop by and say hi, but she’s coming to us from Rhinelander, Wisconsin, so watch what you say about the Packers. Also, if you are planning on visiting any of our ranger stations, remember that this Monday is President's Day and federal offices will be closed.

Enjoy the woods, or enjoy sitting counting birds from the comfort of your home. Either way, have a great week. This has been Patrick Krage with the Superior National Forest Update.

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Sawtooth Mountain Elementary School

School News from Sawtooth Mountain Elementary: February 16

Tighe and Katie report the latest school news.

For more school news, click here.

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Ethical owl photo

West End News: February 16

What do birders and Harry Potter fans have in common? Both are delighted with the irruption of owls we are experiencing this winter. Every several years, the conditions align in such a way that the elusive owls are seen with some regularity along the backroads, and even in backyards, of the West End. I’ve seen residents and visitors alike posting pictures of Great Gray, Barred, Saw-Whet and even Snowy owls so far this year.

These photographs are being taken and shared by amateurs and professionals. Irruptions of owls create an opportunity for everyone to observe these magnificent birds in their natural habitat and perhaps even capture a great picture. This has given rise to a great ethical debate. That is, is it ethical to bait owls in order to get an action shot?

Baiting owls is the practice of releasing mice, often purchased from a pet store, in the vicinity of an owl. The owl, rendered almost helpless by instinct, will pounce on the mouse, giving photographers the money shot. Owl baiting is not illegal in Minnesota. What is illegal, is releasing an animal (in this case a mouse) in a State Park, State Forest, or Wildlife Management Area.

Here is the debate. Some owl baiters are professional photographers under pressure to get the much sought after action shots. Some will only offer an owl a few mice, on infrequent occasions, away from roads. Others argue that owls are starving, so feeding them mice is actually doing them a favor.

The other side points out that baiting owls often does much more harm than any potential good. From a photography standpoint, selling pictures of baited owls is not the same as capturing an owl hunting naturally in the wild. These staged photos are tantamount to fakes to many photographers. More importantly, the practice of feeding a wild animal is harmful to the owl. First, there is the problem of introducing pet store mice to these wild raptors, there is no guarantee that the mice are disease free. Second, the owls quickly become habituated to people. This is why owl baiting is different from feeding birds at your bird feeder, those birds retain their sense of self-preservation. Habituated owls are also more likely to be hit by cars, once they are accustomed to being fed by people near roads and vehicles. Third, feeding owls changes their wild behavior. Routine access to an easy food source can have a detrimental effect on owls’ hunting behavior and even their migratory patterns.

I invite you to draw your own conclusions about the practice of baiting. Personally, I will be more aware of a photographer’s ethical practices before hitting the ‘like’ button, or purchasing a print.

By popular demand, Birch Grove School is now selling spiritwear. Now you too can rep your favorite West End school with a cool blue shirt sporting the Birch Grove logo. Adult and kids T-shirts, hooded sweatshirts, and beanies are all available. The online store is only open until February 28, so be sure to place your order before then. A link to the online store is included the West End News text on the wtip.org website here.

We were happy to return to so much new snow after our trip to Paris. We were even happier that Bill and a few friends pitched in to shovel all that snow off our roofs while we were away, now that’s a good house-sitter! While in Paris, we visited the Le Marais neighborhood. Le Marais is full of unique and forward thinking concept shops. While window shopping we saw three different Minnesota companies being featured. That’s right, the fashionistas in Paris are wearing Red Wing boots and Minnetonka Moccasins! We also spotted some Epicurean kitchen utensils in the famous concept store Merci. It appears Le Marais and Grand Marais have more in common than one would expect.

For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley with the West End News.

(Photo by Danielle Fortin)

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North Woods Naturalist: Sunflower seeds

How do some birds so expertly extract seeds from their shells and then digest them? WTIP’s Jay Andersen talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about sunflower seeds, crops and gizzards.

(Photo by Pirhan on Flickr)

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North Woods Naturalist: Snow crust

There may be snow accumulating on a frequent basis, but it’s accumulating on a thick crust that has advantages and disadvantages for some animals. WTIP’s Jay Andersen talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about the snow crust.

(Photo courtesy of JLS Photography on Flickr)

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The Gunflint area is bathed in the light of the full moon.

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: February 10

The Wildersmith two are back in the woods. After a swell visit with family and friends from border to border in Iowa, it’s great to be home in the quiet of Gunflint country. The greatness of unorganized territory is never more cherished than when one is absent for several days after being caught up in the hubbub of civilization.                                                                                        

While logging some 1,600 miles of windshield time, extremes of upper Midwest weather made we travelers relish the security of hanging out in our wildland abode. Treacherous roads through southern Minnesota and northwest Iowa had us white-knuckling it for a third of the trip. Then bare pavement eased the return until reaching icy Trail patches leading us back to white reality.

Although our Gunflint winter to date has been fairly wimpy, we can be grateful as surprisingly most areas traveled south of the Minnesota line were largely devoid of snow and temps along our stops seemed prematurely spring like.

Happily a few inches of snow were added shortly before we commenced down the Mile O Pine, and then fluffed things up in the first February weekend, along with temps hovering about the zero mark. The now cold, dried snow has allowed me to regain use of my driveway for more than a slippery walking path. Hope it stays this way until mud season arrives.                                                  

Sure is nice to have recaptured seasonal conditions after a terrible warm siege last half of January. Some of us are not ready for spring in spite of seed and gardening catalogs luring us toward a new growing season. We have more winter yet to enjoy and “Mother Nature” has turned on the snowmaking machine since I commenced with this weeks’ commentary.  

Heading into this weekend, borderland greets the second big moon of year 17 as the Ojibwe, full “sucker moon” will light up our lives in this land of enchantment. The monthly lunar experience is one to behold most anywhere in the universe, but probably not as lustrous as it can be in the snow covered north land.

It’s hard to figure how critters react to the Smith’s not being around with daily nutritional hand-outs. One thing for sure is the woodland chatter doesn’t take long to be passed along when we get home. Our homecoming finds enthusiasm around the feed trough is delirious amongst the wild returnees, and it’s catching for us viewers too.

In the midst of the usual gang has been a raven. It came in and took over the chow line on “Super Sunday” keeping all others at bay until a tap on the window glass sent the ebony beauty flapping off into the pines. I’m wondering if it might be the one with whom I conversed a couple weeks ago. If so, perhaps it could be that my “awking” exchange back then was taken as an invitation to dine here at the “McSmith” eatery.

It seems as though tragedies often occur in segments of three. Such is the case once again for the Gunflint Trail community. Following the deaths of two friends and neighbors since first of the year, word has been received of yet another loss. The family of Jean Schmidt-Smith, (no relation), has sent word of her passing in early January.

Jean lived in Black Mountain, North Carolina, but resided seasonally at her cabin (“Grand Portage”) on the north shore of Loon Lake with her late husband Frank. She so loved the Gunflint territory and so many loved her, she was a really nice lady! Trail condolences are extended to her surviving family and friends.

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is exceptional, and great to be shared with the “wild neighborhood.” Happy hearts and chocolates day!
 

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Great Expectations School

School News from Great Expectations: February 10

Sequioa, Grace, and Lexi report the latest school news.

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