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West End News: February 21

Boreal Owl
Boreal Owl

The boreal owl is a very small owl that used to be fairly common around here, but has mostly disappeared in recent years.  At the moment though, there is a well-documented irruption of boreal owls occurring in northern Minnesota. 
The word “irruption,” spelled i-r-r-u-p-t-i-o-n, is often confused with the word eruption, as in the eruption of a volcano.  Irruption with an “i” means the influx, in unusually large numbers, of a species into an area where they normally aren’t seen.  Biologists are guessing that a lack of prey farther north is driving the little owls south this year.
Most people probably haven’t noticed this latest irruption because the boreal owls are nocturnal and are silent when they aren’t breeding, so they are rarely observed unless you’re looking for them.  It’s only when they make a rare daytime appearance, or when they die in a place near humans, that they get noticed. 
Here are Sawbill, I found a dead boreal owl while plowing our canoe yard after the most recent snowfall.  It’s fun to see such a rare bird close up, but sad that it had to die for me to be able to inspect it.  It’s always a surprise to pick up an owl.  The one I found was about the size of a small grouse, but only weighed about four ounces.
Another phenomenon that may be occurring this year is bobcats appearing at bird feeders.  When the snow gets deep but hasn’t developed a crust, which is the case right now, the bobcats have a hard time catching prey.  When they get hungry enough, they start to show up at bird feeders, especially if there is a suet feeder that can be robbed.  I’ve heard a few reports of bold bobcats around the West End this week, but we haven’t seen one here at Sawbill yet.
Recently, I’ve noticed that there are a large number of job openings in the county.  I don’t know if this is a good sign, or a bad sign.  It could be the result of the improving economy - or it could reflect a migration out of the area by the people who formerly held the jobs - or it could just be a coincidence. West End visitors often ask me about job openings in the area.  It seems many people fantasize about moving to our wonderful community, and who can blame them?
The new water pipeline, erosion control projects and high-speed ski lift at Lutsen Mountains will surely mean many construction jobs in the near future.  The ski area is also looking into replacing its 50-year-old gondola soon.  Superior National golf course is planning a large upgrade too.  With the continuing fiber optic project and Highway 61 construction, things should be hopping around Lutsen for the next few years.
If you know somebody who has always wanted to move up here, now might be a good time.
The Bloodmobile is returning to Zoar Church in Tofte Monday, Mar. 4.  It’s important to maintain a good blood supply, but even more important is the chance to hang out with your neighbors and catch up on what everyone is doing, while drinking juice and eating cookies.  New donors are always needed, so if you’re interested call Carla Mennsen at 663-0179.

(Photo via Wikimedia Commons. This image is a work of the Forest Service of the United States Department of Agriculture. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.)