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Northern Saw-whet Owl.  Photo by David A Mitchell via Flickr and Creative Commons (

North Woods Naturalist: Saw-whet Owls

WTIP's CJ Heithoff talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about Saw-whet Owls in this edition of North Woods Naturalist.


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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - April 3

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - by Fred Smith

April 3, 2020

Americans welcome month four with a somber greeting. Somehow when intensity of the Pandemic during March couldn’t seem to be much worse, the battle is raging with even more dramatic intensity as we meet on the radio this weekend.                                                                                                                                                      
My weekly report of Gunflint Trail happenings brings three items of concern for WTIP listeners and cyber readers. One is that you are paying attention to the guiding principles of the medical community; two that you are well to this point; and three, if you’ve been infected, are you on the mend.                                                                                                                                             
While this time of year is always quiet along the Trail, it is eerily quieter than usual knowing so many of our brothers and sisters around the planet are hurting and feeling so hopeless. The Smith’s like most everyone I know in border country are taking the distancing recommendation to heart. We’ve been under wraps here for over three weeks, and I’ve observed only two other humans along the Mile O Pine on one occasion during the last week.                                                                                                                                      
Close Gunflint neighbors keep track of each other by telephone on a somewhat regular basis and all indicate wellness to date. Living some distance from the village, most have a cache of survival items on hand with regularity.                                                                                                                          
For any un-foreseen needs or a sudden empty cupboard, kudos goes to grocery people in Grand Marais for accommodating a system where orders can be placed for pick-up without being exposed to instore congregating. Big thanks is also extended to our great Community activist, Sarah Hamilton who has laid in food supplies in her Trail Center Store, these items too are available on a systematic plan of ordering from afar and outside pick-up
In the meantime, spring like weather has really taken hold out this way. Temps have held in the melting range for several days as I scribe this report last Sunday evening. In fact last Saturday night was the first since I don’t know when, the mercury at Wildersmith stayed above the freezing mark. 

The hovering warmness is putting a dent in the snow pack, but piles and drifts remain a plenty. The onset of “mud season” is making candid appearances along back country roads. Where the sun gets through the canopy and the plow driver has kept surfaces scraped thin, places are taking on the look of a Dalmatian canine. The Mile O Pine is no exception as spots of bare gravel have begun to interrupt this magic ribbon of white.
On a related conveyance, I am comforted to announce the “spotted dog look” has emerged on my driveway. I can now navigate the vehicle down the once icy sheet without white knuckles. However, I have not relinquished my ice grippers for a pedestrian trek just yet, and snow removal tools are still hung by the door with care.                                                                                                                

While cheeriness of mankind has been muted during this great America tragedy, energy has not been tempered in the “wild neighborhood.” It’s survival business as usual for critters around the yard. In fact, activity around our wild being food trough is humanly energizing in the midst of the discouraging tone of current times. 
It’s near birthing time for fox and wolves of the territory, and nesting occasion for some of our winged visitors, and the first robin has made it part way up the Trail. If one is betting person, it would be a good bet bears and other cold season slumbering folk are stirring about denning quarters, rubbing the sleep from their eyes. 
I’m watching a youthful birch tree just off the deck at Wildersmith that catches a good bit of sun each day. Buds look to be bulging with anticipation of a new generation. If “princess spring” continues, another week might have fuzzies of pussy willows popping out. You can just tell many beings of “Mother Nature’s realm” are on the verge of “busting out all over.”   
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, do what the “Doctor Orders” and stay well!


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Money Matters - Scott Oeth - April 2020

"Money Matters" with Scott Oeth
April 01, 2020

North Shore Morning host, Mark Abrahamson talks with Scott Oeth about managing our finances during this volatile time.



North Woods Naturalist -March 31

Chel Anderson is a botanist and plant ecologist and she joins us periodically to report on what she’s seeing in our woods and waters right now.


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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - March 27

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
March 27, 2020    

Month three is beginning to fade, and with the turmoil of COVID-19 over the past few weeks, closing the books on March 2020 will go down as an ill-fated narrative of grief and sorrow for more of our fellow man than we care to count.                                                                                                                                                                  

While April predictions of immediate relief seem bleak, all Americans must continue pulling together as the scientific and medical community advises. Since being encouraged to lock down to minimize the viral spread, we are all humbled into a sudden reality of just how important the simple needs of life have been taken for granted. This turnover of our lives surely looks to be a wake-up call. Knowledge and caring can be powerful.                                                                                               

Living in the remote wild along the Gunflint Trail finds life can be difficult at times. Uniquely, getting through the tough moments in border country makes one fully appreciate simple pleasures brought forth in joys of the natural world around us.                                                                                       

Outsiders likely think us woodsy residents must not have enough to do when we share the satisfaction of observing a small woodland creature exercising survival rituals; or taking time to watch a quiet descent of flakes from the heavens; or spectate as the early spring sun turns solids to liquid. When compared to the uncounted complexities of life in a maddening mass of civilization, these simple, but calming and enriching experiences are so comforting.                                                         

At Wildersmith, while the Smith’s have been naturally quarantined, life has gone on about as usual. Weather conditions have bounced around from near spring to mid-winter. Another few inches of snow refreshed the neighborhood, and just when we thought we would not see a minus temp again until next December, another sub-zero night had the deck along the house a popping. But as things do, this time of year, the transition toward April is gaining trajectory.                                                                                                                                                         

Speaking of April, warming thoughts rise with the return of migrants to the “wild neighborhood. We are within weeks of a hummingbird homecoming. Unless one is an earnest avian watcher, most of us know little about these impressive, vibrant winged packages.                             

I learned a bundle of facts about these energetic jewels in the April/May issue of National Wildlife magazine.  Like did you know, “they can feed as often as 18 times per hour, and consume the human equivalent of 150,000 calories per day?”  These facts and more are presented in the Mark Wexler scribing, titled “HUMMING ALONG.” If readers share the excitement in the return of these tiny creations, find a copy, or go online at www.NWF.ORG/NW and be amazed at what researchers have discovered about these “fleet fliers.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        
In appreciation of simple happenings around the place, I’ve been watching a neighborhood squirrel with interest for several days as I dole out daily seed rations.                                 
Over the winter, winds have heaped a deep drift below the deck rail.                                            As I observed this mini rodent one day, I saw it take a seed and scamper down to the top of this wind made igloo and disappear into a hole in the bank. Soon it re-appeared and came back for another morsel. I watched for several minutes as this seed caching took place, one grain at a time, for uncountable repetitions. Those little legs had to be exhausted by nightfall.                                                                                                                                                                        
Oddly enough, as snow happens, it did, and more wind. The other day I followed this critter once again. New drifting had closed off the original entrance. With “necessity being the mother of invention” I discovered the energetic rodent had created a new entry point some fifteen feet away, and was back in new digs or at the very least, did some under-snow re-alignment into the previous quarters. This was nothing earth shaking, but intriguing to yours truly                                                                                                                                                                               
Nothing is too surprising in the natural world. It would seem as we step back from the hubbub of life     at this critical time, perhaps we can find solace in rekindling of personal relationships that have been gradually eroding from our grasp. It could be as simple as watching a feature of creation or lending a helping hand to get things back on track.                                                             

As the loss of two Gunflint neighbors was remembered last week, although I just received late word, I’m saddened to report another passing from our midst. Douglas Tuttle of Overland Park, Kansas and the Bearskin Lodge neighborhood died on February 13th.                                    

Doug was actively involved in many aspects of life over his 96 years, building his dream cabin in the Gunflint woods after his retirement. He thrived in helping his son Dave and Dave’s wife Barb reestablish the Bearskin Lodge as one of the premier Gunflint Trail resorts. More recent years found him spending summer months on the Trail, and remaining active until his calling.                                                                                                                                                                                   
Doug was a gentleman’s gentleman! Gunflint Community sympathies go out to his family.                                                                                                                                                                                    
In a closing note, I regret a mistake in the remembrance of Marjorie Grinnell last week. I mentioned her passing with husband Joe and her three sons at her side. I apologize to the family for not recognizing her family accurately. She is survived by two sons and a daughter.       

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is special, as we all wish for continued worldwide healing!


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International Wolf Center Update - March 17

North Shore Morning host, Jaye White talks with International Wolf Center Executive Director, Grant Spickelmier for the March IWC Update.


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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - March 20

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
March 20, 2020    
For life along the Gunflint Trail, the onset of spring took on a slower approach since our last meeting on the radio. Completing week three of month three finds the atmosphere in border country returning to a more normal state of affairs.                                                                               

Daytime melting in the Mile O Pine neighborhood has been confined to places where the sun shines through, while the mercury has teetered from single digits to just below zero here at Wildersmith during a few night time hours. Consequently, insulating layers have again replaced warm weather attire of earlier in the month for my daily mail run.                                                                                           

Precipitation has remained on the scant side with a couple mini snows and one evening where the white was preceded by our first 2020 shower of the liquid variety. So slip sliding around has not improved much with this new coat of glaze.                                                                                                                                                

If locals are dreaming dreams of green, that’s all these nocturnal visions are. For the time being, buds of re-birth are only notions of a late winter slumber with plenty of ice and snow yet to melt                                                                                                                                                             

Speaking of cold season dozing, in case you didn’t notice, the equinox of spring snuck in during the past several hours. Bashing the “old man of the north,” is no longer necessary as his reign over2020 to date, has been officially terminated.                                                                                                               

He’s been attempting return overtures in the past few days which will likely stir the rancor of many folks in the territory who favor an end to his seasonal occupation. Meanwhile, my snow removal equipment remains on stand-by and was called into action with another three inches earlier in the week. By the way, this latest winter refresher brings the (to date) winter accumulation at Wildersmith to 90.25 inches.                                                                                                       

A step in the spring direction has been taken with the return of ebony avian. Crows are now in raucous collaboration with the jay bird population at the break of each new day.                                                                                                                                                                         
Although they raise discord with quiet of the neighborhood, they are glistening black beauties when caught in a beam of sunshine. While they talk way too much, they are nevertheless keen scavengers of winter left-overs. Isn’t it amazing how every being of the wilderness has a purpose!                                                                                                                                                  

In spite of the recent colder trend, another item of vernal notice is becoming more evident with each passing day. Those hollow cavities around the base of our forest spires must be signaling warm juices of life are being beckoned skyward. Although the hollows in the snow are still a foot to two feet deep in the yard, this ritual resembles others in the “March bag of advancements.”                                                                                                                                                         

It’s with sadness, the Gunflint Community received word on the loss of two upper Trail neighbors. Beverly Keller, longtime homeowner on Seagull Lake passed away recently at her home in Mt. Pleasant Wisconsin. Beverly was 96 years of age.                                                                  

She and late husband Arthur fell in love with the Gunflint Trail on their first visit in 1962, and then made it their summer home beginning in 1976. Gunflint friends and neighbors extend condolences to her five daughters and their families.                                                                                       

Word of the second passing comes from the family of Marjorie Grinnell. Marjorie died on Sunday, March 8th in Missoula, Montana with her husband Joe and their sons by her side.                                                                                                                                                                   

“Margie”, Joe and their family are longtime residents on the Northshore of Loon Lake. Once again, her Gunflint friends and neighbors extend best wishes and sympathies to the Grinnell family at this sad time.                                                                                                                                                               

Finally, in regard to the horrific viral tragedy that is gnawing its way into every fiber of our being and aspect of life, both here in Minnesota and around the globe, we at Wildersmith, and folks along the Trail want you to stay well. As everyone is in this catastrophe together, all must pull together, from a strategic distance.                                                                                                                        

While hope is not a strategy, only doing what research and medical providers prescribe is the track to follow. Exercise some common sense, be a respectful and sympathetic neighbor and do what’s right. Keep on hangin’ on!                                                                                                                                            

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where residents cherish every day, thankful for the preservation of this peaceful place!



Northern Sky: March 14 - 27

Northern Sky – Deane Morrison
March 14-27, 2020

The outer planets have all arrived on stage, and in middle and late March they perform the first act of their big morning show. On Sunday, the 15th, look to the southeast for brilliant Jupiter, then just to the west for a little reddish dot. That, of course, is Mars. East of Jupiter and lower in the sky is Saturn, which is following Jupiter as it approaches Mars. On Wednesday, the 18th, Jupiter will have moved noticeably closer to Mars and a waning, but hefty, crescent moon will be hanging right below them. The next morning, Thursday, the 19th, Jupiter and Mars are even closer and a slightly thinner moon joins all three planets when it rises at 5:26 a.m. On the 20th, Jupiter passes a mere 0.7 degrees—slightly more than a moon width—above Mars. And the moon rises at 6 a.m.
So if you’re up, consider going outside by 6 a.m. on any of those days—the 18th through the 20th. You’ll see three planets, two of them in the process of passing each other, and maybe a moonrise, too. All in a dark sky. That doesn’t happen every day.
As we near the end of the month, Saturn closes in on Mars. On the morning of Saturday, the 28th, the ringed planet will be at about the same height as the red planet, getting ready for the second planetary pass in less than two weeks. By then, Jupiter will have removed itself a respectful distance to the west.
In the evening sky, another approach is in progress. The Pleiades star cluster and Venus are moving closer together as Earth’s orbital motion drops the Pleiades down toward the sunset horizon and Venus’ orbit carries it higher. Venus is unmistakably bright. The Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, are a slightly blurry bunch a little west of and lower than the bright star Aldebaran, the eye of Taurus, the bull. On Saturday, March 14th, the Pleiades will be high above Venus. On the 27th, the star cluster will be closer to Venus than to Aldebaran. Make sure your binoculars are in good working order as Venus and the Pleiades get ready to meet in the first few days of April. And also, just enjoy Venus. From now until well into April, it’s visible for a good three and a half hours after sunset.
East of Aldebaran, the hourglass form of Orion is tilting to the west as it begins its annual exit from the evening sky. We’re also getting into the last few weeks when Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, is high enough for us to enjoy its full radiance; look for it low in the south-southwest at nightfall.
High in the southeast, Leo, the lion, is prancing into view. Leo is a two-part constellation. Its western section is the Sickle, a backward question mark of stars whose point is the bright star Regulus, the lion’s heart. East of the Sickle is a triangle of stars marking the lion’s hindquarters and tail. Leo follows the winter constellations across the sky and makes a very recognizable harbinger of spring.
And speaking of spring, it arrives on the 19th, at 10:50 p.m. At that moment the sun crosses the equator and enters the northern sky, and an observer in space would see Earth lighted from pole to pole. Also, since the fall equinox it’s been the case that as you traveled northward, the days got shorter. At the spring equinox that reverses, and the days get longer as you head north, all the way to the North Pole, which now has, officially, 24-hour daylight for the next six months.


Superior National Forest Update

Superior National Forest Update - March 13

National Forest Update – March 12, 2020.
Greetings Superior National Forest Community.  I’m Jon Benson with this week’s edition of the National Forest Update including information on conditions affecting travel and recreation on the Tofte and Gunflint Districts of the Superior National Forest. For the week of March 13, here’s what’s going on.

As temperatures start to climb and the days are getting longer, it seems like a good time to talk about the changing season and the different types of recreation that are starting to take place on the Forest.

The ski and snowmobile trails are still in great shape thanks to the efforts of our many trail partners.  Now that the daylight is persisting into the early evening hours it is a great chance to get out on the skis after work to enjoy those winter activities before the snow melts and the rivers start running.  Current trail conditions are updated regularly on the Visit Cook County Website.

For folks who are more interested in venturing out onto the lakes, there are still a couple of weeks left to get out on the ice for some ice fishing, but remember that any fish houses must be off the ice no later than midnight on March 16 for all northern inland waters in Minnesota.  As the temperature continues to warm I would like to ask folks to be especially cautious in areas with moving water or current under the ice.  Remember that no ice is ever 100% safe and it is always good to fish in groups or at least make sure that someone knows where you are going.

As winter fades away and the open water season draws near, now is the time to start planning your Boundary Waters trips.  Reservations can be made at for Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness trips as well as some National Forest Campgrounds.  There is some excellent Boundary Waters trip planning info that can be found on the Superior National Forest website as well and folks can find that site at

Another topic that always comes up this time of year is the roads.  As the temperatures climb and the snow on the roads starts to disappear it is good to think about whether you really need to be on some of these roads.  Seasonal road restrictions for Cook County will go into effect at 12:01 am on Friday, March 13.  Not only will the roads be icy and slick this time of year, but the shoulders can often be very soft which can lead to cars and trucks winding up in the ditch.  These situations are certainly no fun for the occupants of the vehicle, but they also result in substantial road damage which cannot be repaired until the snow is gone and the roads have thawed.  I encourage all of you to think about whether it is necessary to travel down some of the lower use roads during this month until after road restrictions are lifted.

Speaking of roads, we’ve got some logging truck activity this week.  Once road restrictions go into effect Friday morning there will be hauling on the Gunflint Trail, the Sunfish Lake Road, and the Greenwood Road on the Gunflint Ranger District.  On Tofte there will be trucks hauling on the Dumbbell River Road, the Wanless Road, and the Trappers Lake Road.  All of these locations are dependent on the road conditions being suitable for hauling activity. 

That’s all for this week!  Let’s hope for good weather so we can all stay warm and safe out in the Forest.  Please have an elite weekend, and until next time, this has been Jon Benson with the Superior National Forest Update.


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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - March 13

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
March 13, 2020    

It seems organizers of last weekends’ trout derby and dog days of winter had it right when they selected the date for their late winter events. Spring like days stumbled with a multi-inch dose of snow (8 at Wildersmith) and another morning below zero a week ago at this time. “Old man winter” came to the rescue and bolstered the landscape for what is likely a last blast in our white world.                                                                                                                                                  

But as I sit at the keyboard to begin this weeks’ report, the spirit of winter stepped back once again and “Mother Nature” has put vernal things back on track. With temps zipping into the high thirties to mid- forties, Trail comfort out of doors was available in a baseball cap and a light jacket, really didn’t even need gloves.                                                                                                           

Even with this swell warm welcome of Mid-March, I find it difficult to become fully adjusted to the past few sparkling days, remembering the worst snow we’ve experienced at Wildersmith over the past twenty-one winters came in the last week of April, with a two foot deposit along the Mile O Pine. And then there’s May too, where the ice has not gone out until a few days after the walleye opener and snow has been known to fall on eager anglers. So we north woods residents should maybe temper our enthusiasm.                                                                                                  

It would be fair to assume cross-country skiing was difficult in the sticky mush and snow mobiles were heard laboring up Gunflint Lake as they plowed through slushy conditions.                                                                                                

It’s hard to argue with the conditions last Saturday and Sunday except for the thought of navigating sloppy slush and ensuing mud, let alone the possibility of dark hours re-freezing which always makes trekking about by any means, a slippery night mare. So the time is right for boot/shoe grippers. The words of the week are, “stay up right”, get a grip to avoid a wet seat of the pants or a more serious, structural bruise or break.                                                                                                                                                                        

The saga of important survival articles required for our many seasons in border country can be easily passed off as a nonchalant way of life. Just think about it for a moment, as semi-winter wear and ice grippers are the order now, we will soon be looking forward to knee high rubber boots and bug nets, then anti-itch insect dupe, then broad brimmed hats and sun screen, then sweatshirts or sweaters and then, add a light jacket, hat and gloves, before this whole regimentation of winter layers starts all over again. What a life in North Country.                                                                                    

A sample of spring in the woods took place at Wildersmith last Sunday. Before the crusted snow softened by mid-day, love appeared to be in the air. At least the Smith’s believed it to be so while watching out the window over the back yard.                                                                                                

A pair of grouse huddled in close proximity on a deep mound of white. While I really have no knowledge for the courtship mannerisms of these “chicken birds”, it sure seemed as though they were sizing the other up for the usual ritual resulting in a continuance of the species.                                                                                                                                                                  

Actually there was little fanfare, no ruffling of feathers, puffing out the chest, fanning of tail plumage and no cooing that could be heard, just strutting about and apparently, exchanging glances. Our observation lasted for some time, thinking we might see another miracle of nature.                                                                                                                                                                                       

But in the end, a signal must have been swapped to the affect neither bird was the one for the other. Eventually, they headed off in opposite directions, scarfing up a seed or two as they disappeared from view into the forest.                                                                                                        

In closing, this northern paradise was blessed with another heavenly big bang event last Monday. It probably happened in many places around the planet, but it would seem hard to match the almost simultaneous radiance during the rise of the “crust on the snow” full moon and flaming climax of “Sol” over Gunflint territory.                                                                                                                                   

Words cannot do justice describing the flare in the west and the lunar beam from the east. It was no “Paper Moon” hanging over a canvas scene, but the original “big cheese” suspended in a genuine, unspoiled, dark sky .The blazing west was another up north photomontage as is slithered below the horizon being spotlighted by the “Super Moon. I hope area listeners/streamers got to share in this celestial light show.                                                                                                   

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is savored, blessed with beauty beyond!