Wildersmith January 20

Hoary Redpoll
Hoary Redpoll

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Winter in the north woods, mellow as it has been, is already a month old and whizzing by fast. The minutes between sunup and sundown are gradually increasing to the point where we are having about nine hours of daylight.

If that isn’t giving us enough notice about things to come, folks are already getting those spring seed and plant catalogs. And, the Farmer’s Almanac says it’s time to start planning spring veggie and flower gardens.

The season we had all hoped for along the Gunflint seems as though it will be a non-entity. Spring is not far from peeking around the corner and we are running out of wintertime opportunities. I know one of those green thumb gals in the area who I can almost bet is getting those seedling pots and grow lights lined up.

The scourge, of a border country winter that hasn’t been, reflects a territory so moisture starved it’s scary. As we went into the cold time, the area was already choking in drought. We always bank on some hefty amounts of frozen moisture to fill things back up come spring but, unless there is a huge turnaround, that’s not going to happen.

I for one am deeply concerned about the danger of more wildfire tragedy when what little snow we do have dries up come April and May. I’ve already heard of some unattended campfires flaring up down in the burn area of Pagami Creek where there is little to no snow. The rest of the Arrowhead wilderness is about to become just as vulnerable.

When the coming season of brown and dry replaces white, one would hope that timely burning bans will not be left to chance by governing agencies. With our ever changing, unpredictable climate, history over the past half dozen years has shown that just when agencies assumed conditions were tolerable for campfires and burning, they really weren’t; the proof is in the forest.

Temps did fall enough to do a little ice enhancement on Gunflint Lake. Hard water improvements came in the nick of time for our trout opener. My friend down the road indicates that the thickness ranges from near a foot right near his shore to about five or six inches 100 yards out to where he set up his trout camp. This says nothing to other areas further out and where there is rushing water beneath.

Come last Saturday morning, a few brave souls screamed by Wildersmith on their snow machines headed for their usual trout hangouts. I must say that they used common sense and stayed quite close to the shoreline. To my knowledge there have been no plops through the ice around here. By the way, what few catching reports I’ve heard indicate the action is slow to moderate depending upon the locale and possibly skill.

Molly Hoffman, our well-known Cook County avian expert and WTIP volunteer, came to my rescue after last week’s scribing on unusual birds coming into the mid-trail area. She shared with me that the whitish redpoll I mentioned was most likely a hoary redpoll. Guess the ghostly looking birds are often seen dining with their true red cousins.

The other bird of mention, which I thought was a lady pine grosbeak, was in fact an immature male pine grosbeak. Guess the adolescent males can have the bright yellow-red plumage that gives them a bright feathering appearance, somewhat parrot-like. As they mature, their orangeish quills eventually give way to the brilliant rosy pink to which we are accustomed.

The pack is still in our neighborhood as they practiced their winter song for the trout fishing neighbors last Saturday night. Then come morning the Smiths did some tracking of a threesome that came out onto Mile O Pine. The trio was side by side and went further than we eventually cared to follow--what an adventure. One of the three had imprints in the snow larger that the palm of my hand.

On MLK day I got word from my ice fishing friend that a huge wolf was observed coming out of the woods along our Wildersmith shore. Trudging icebound to the northeast, I suppose it was on survey detail for another venison dinner.

It seems tragic that these marvelous warriors of our wilderness are going to be put in peril once again at the hands of the trap ‘em/shoot ‘em up human race as they come off endangered species listing.

We supposedly civilized folk just can’t leave the many aspects of our natural world well enough alone. One would think that the people of Minnesota would know better than to let a hunting season happen for this revered historical component of our natural resources.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a peaceful forest moment.

Airdate: January 20, 2012

Photo courtesy of Omar Runolfsson via Flickr.


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