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North Woods Naturalist

Sunrise west harbor  from the Sunrise Series by Stephan Hoglund

Chel Anderson
Chel Anderson is a botanist and plant ecologist. She lives in the Hovland area and keeps close tabs on daily changes happening in the great outdoors. She shares her insights with WTIP listeners every Tuesday during North Shore Morning and North Shore Digest.  Subscribe to our North Woods Naturalist podcast.

Arts, cultural and history features on WTIP are made possible in part by funding from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Check out other programs and features funded in part with support from the Heritage Fund.



What's On:
Brook trout in cool water. Photo by US Fish and Wildlife Service on Flickr via Creative Commons.

Brook trout spawn is on in cold streams

This edition of North Woods Naturalist was originally posted on October 12, 2010.

Chel Anderson is a botanist and plant ecologist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. She lives here in Cook County and joins us periodically to talk about phenology or what’s going on in the woods right now. Welcome, Chel.

Anderson: Hi, Jay.
Well, I understand brook trout are spawning. So, let’s talk about brookies and the spawn.
Anderson: Yeah, well those who have been taking advantage of fishing the streams and inland headwaters of streams here in Cook County over the summer are no longer doing that for brook trout, because the season is closed, and a key reason for that is because this is the time of year when brook trout are spawning, and we wouldn’t want to get in the way of the spawn, now would we?
No, no, because then you don’t get little brook trout.
Anderson: That’s right, because then your fishing the next year and years after would not be nearly so promising. So, yeah, brook trout are one of the two native trout species to Minnesota, the other of course being lake trout. Here in our part of the northeast, we have both a coaster lake trout which lives most of its life in Lake Superior, and we also have a stream brook trout that live in the headwaters and upper reaches of streams.
Do they get into lakes, too?
Anderson: Yeah. They are in lakes and ponds. I’m going to focus on the spawning of the brook trout that don’t spend any time in Lake Superior, because they’re really pretty different. But the brook trout that live in the headwaters of our streams here are cold-water loving species. So, this is where these fish are going to be focused on spending their time and doing their spawning. Brook trout, if one hasn’t ever seen one, is kind of a medium-sized fish, dark back, lighter sides and belly. The belly often has some red; the lower fins have some red on them. They have beautiful modeling on the dark part of their back and upper sides, and then they also have beautiful spots which are red and trimmed with blue. So this is, at least in my opinion, one of the most spectacular fish that one can ever see. They rival any fish I’ve ever seen on a coral reef and have this very close association with what are really rare environments even in Minnesota. Their close association with cold water environments make them a good indicator species for water quality in streams and rivers here in the north. At this time of year, the females are looking for places where the springs are actually coming up through a gravel, sandy, gravelly kind of substrate. They’re interested in finding those particular places for two reasons. One, because that water that’s coming up is cool, so it stays cool all the time and because that constant flow helps maintain the substrate there free of silt and it’s also a place where they can easily make what’s called a “redd” which their nest that they are going to put their eggs in. So, they’re looking for these spots and they’re swimming hard into the bottom and they’re vibrating their bodies and swishing their tails, and over the span of a few days they are doing that in that spot and creating this shallow nest or “redd.” During that time, there may be a male that is defending that against other males while the female is working on creating the redd. Once the redd is ready, the female is satisfied with it, then she’s going to kind of lie still in the redd, just kind of maintaining her position there, and the male will come over and might do a little bit of courting. Then, he’s just going to arch his body over hers and she’s going to release the eggs and he’s going to release the sperm at the same time and they’re going to be vigorously vibrating their bodies and churning the water, so there’s a lot of mixing that’s going to go on when that release is happening. Of course, that’s essential to make sure the eggs get fertilized. Then the eggs will settle down in that depression. The female, then, with swipes of her tail, will move some gravel from the edges of the redd out over the eggs and cover them with a light layer of gravel. So, now they’re kind of stuck there in that nice place where there’s this constant flow of oxygenated, cool water. They’re looking for water temperatures between 40 and 49 degrees, is when they really want to be working on their spawning activities. The eggs are going to develop there. Depending on how cold the water is, it may take anywhere from 50 to 150 days for the eggs to develop and hatch out as tiny fish. They’re going to spend that time right there in the redd, and maintaining that open, oxygenated condition of water moving through is essential to the survival of the egg. So, that’s where the linking of the high-quality conditions of the watershed are so important to the success of the spawning, and the success of the eggs.
And they’re developing under the ice?
Anderson: Yes, they’re developing under the ice. But, of course, because there’s a spring flow, those aren’t going to be places where the ice is going to form right stuck to the gravel, right? And so the fish are very careful about the spots that they choose. The importance of watershed quality is that we don’t want silt coming in and settling over these places. Of course, a small spring flow can only keep off a small amount of sediments coming through in the stream or in a pond. It’s an out-of-sight kind of activity that’s going on, but so important to something that people enjoy so much about coming and living here and visiting here fishing here. You know, I don’t know how many people I’ve talked to over the years who there’s no greater delight for them than spending a day touring through the woods trying to get to their favorite brook trout fishing area. I mean, these are such important aspects of many peoples’ time here, and it’s important to remember that it persists because of some things that go on outside of our easy-to-see or easy-to-hear kinds of experiences, but they’re really important none the less. Brook trout don’t die after they spawn, they live, you know, three to four, maybe up to six years and they spawn every year of their adult lives. They are usually ready to spawn at just a year old.
Yeah. That’s my next question. How fast does it take these little guys to grow?
Anderson: Yeah, they grow pretty fast, and usually within a year or so, they can be ready to spawn the very next one.
Chel Anderson, DNR botanist and plant ecologist. Thanks, Chel, for helping us understand brook trout this fall.
Anderson: You’re welcome.

Butterfly by Stephan Hoglund

North Woods Naturalist: Monarchs

WTIP's CJ Heithoff talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about the incredible migration journey that Monarchs go on every year in this edition of North Woods Naturalist.


Autumn Morning Over Trout Lake and Swamp Lake by Travis Novitsky

Fall is time for the annual moose rut

Originally posted October 5, 2010.

Chel Anderson is a botanist and plant ecologist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. She lives here in Cook County and joins us periodically to talk about phenology or what’s going on in the woods right now. Welcome, Chel.

Anderson: Hi, Jay.
Well, everybody’s favorite very large animal: moose. Chel, what’s this about the rut?
Anderson: Oh, the rut. Yeah, I think the moose rut is a pretty interesting phenomenon that we’re lucky enough to have some sometimes up-close and personal experiences with aspects of, and, boy, that’s not something to take fort granted this mating season, which is what the rut refers to in the case of moose. Of course, moose have been, in a way, the mature moose that are going to be doing the breeding, which is mostly not most of the population. Most of the population of moose are juveniles and calves, and those members of the population aren’t going to be doing the breeding, it’s going to be a much smaller group of animals that are the mature bulls and the cows. The most productive cows are in the range of four to twelve years old, and then the bulls, the mature bulls that will do most of the breeding, are between five and ten years old, so it’s a small part, really, of the total population that do all the breeding. In the world of the moose, bulls really prepare all summer in a sense for the breeding season, because they’re growing their antlers, and it’s high levels of testosterone in their bodies that help them harden off those antlers and get them all spruced up for this particular period of the year that we’re in now. Females, of course, have been striving all their lives and now over the summer to be in good condition and be ready to be in good shape for the breeding season. In the moose range is a wide variety of conditions, right, we have moose that live in the tundra; we also have moose like here that are living in the forest. Well, because of that wide range of environments that moose live in, they really have two different strategies that they use for breeding depending upon where they live. We’ll focus on the one here in the forest, but just a short note on those that live in the open, they use more of a group breeding strategy. So, moose, bull moose, round up kind of a loosely-formed harem. But, of course, if you’re in the forest, things are pretty different in terms of how do you find each other, because you can’t see other moose across vast distances. So, here moose typically are just breeding in pairs. Now, you may have a bull that’s breeding a number of cows, but they’re not keeping them together in a group. They are focusing their attention on finding individual cows and being with them when they’re ready to mate and then moving on to another cow.
My experience has often been that the cows, you’ll often hear them bellowing and then the bulls bellow back. Sometimes it’s quite a distance, so I’m assuming that they finally get together.
Anderson: Yes, indeed. They use both visual cues and auditory cues and olfactory cues, so smells and sounds are both important. Cows give a low, kind of wavering moan. The bulls tend to do something that’s more of a grunt, so those calls can help individuals find each other. They also help the males know where each other are, and they also use smells. So, cows that are breeding age, they’ll be stripping trees of their bark. They don’t eat the bark, they just peel it away, strip it away, and then they rub their heads all over that stripped wood. There are a bunch of glands on their head and they leave their scent there. So, this is something that a bull can pick up on and they can kind of check out that female before he’s actually seen her in person. Both the male and female urine have smells in it, so those clues are being left and assessed regularly by both males and females. Then, the mature males, they really focus on breeding at this time, and they actually give up eating to really just concentrate on finding cows and mating with cows when they’re ready. A bull’s antlers are primarily for the purpose of displaying their superiority to their competitors, but also for displaying their superior qualities as a mate to a cow.
They don’t fight that much?
Anderson: Sparring is a very dangerous thing and about the only time it will happen is when two bulls think they have the larger of the racks, then that’s when a sparring match of some kind is likely to occur. As I said, it’s a dangerous thing, puncture wounds are not uncommon, and occasionally bulls lock antlers and they can’t get free. That will lead to the death of both animals. Think about even though the tines on a moose antler may not come to as sharp of a point as some other species do, think about the force that a moose can put behind it’s antlers. It’s probably more than we can really imagine. We probably all come across, if we’ve spent much time in the woods, places where you can see a moose has done a lot of rubbing of its antlers. And once moose have shed the velvet, and they’re all shined up and all hardened up and ready and into the mating season, then they’ll use that rubbing and that clacking and thrashing against trees and shrubs as a way to broadcast their superiority, because the bigger the antler, the bigger those palms, that makes a very hollow sound that can go a long distance, so they can use that to assess the competitors’ locations and their size. And, once they’ve actually copulated, it doesn’t go on necessarily for very long, and then, once it’s over, they pretty much go their separate ways. And, for the males, of course, once they’ve finished breeding all the cows that they’ve been able to connect with, they go off to spend the winter or the next couple months trying to regain the weight that they’ve lost and get ready to survive the winter. The females, of course, they’re now going to be carrying an embryo and a little moose through the whole winter, so they need to go off and stay really fit and healthy to bring that moose into the world in the spring. So, once the rut is over, they go their separate ways and they don’t really meet up again until next fall.
Chel Anderson, DNR botanist and plant ecologist. Thanks for helping us understand what’s going on around us with moose this fall.
Anderson: You’re welcome.

Yellow birch. Photo by Nicholas A. Tonelli from Northeast Pennsylvania, USA - Foliage Walk (15), CC BY 2.0

North Woods Naturalist: Yellow birch

It's the fall color season along the North Shore!  WTIP's CJ Heithoff talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about a particular tree that can stand out this time of year, the Yellow birch, in this edition of North Woods Naturalist.

Photo credit:
Nicholas A. Tonelli from Northeast Pennsylvania, USA - Foliage Walk (15), CC BY 2.0,


Photo by Washington State Department of Agriculture via Flickr and Creative Commons (

North Woods Naturalist: Gypsy Moths

If you've been outside at night with a light on recently, you've likely encountered gypsy moths.  Did you know that these moths only live for about two weeks? WTIP's CJ Hiethoff talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about the invasive species in this edition of North Woods Naturalist.


Ringless Honey Mushrooms. Photo by Matthew Beziat via Flickr and Creative Commons (

North Woods Naturalist: Humongous fungus

Honey mushrooms and other fungi have been found in abundance this year.  WTIP's CJ Heithoff talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about the world of fungi in this edition of North Woods Naturalist.


Indian Pipe. Photo by Sherlock Holmes via Flickr and Creative Commons (

North Woods Naturalist: Indian Pipe

Monotropa uniflora, known to many as Indian Pipe or Ghost Plant is a perennial wildflower found throughout the United States.  However, according to the U.S. Forest Service, it's not a commonly encountered wildflower.

There have been some sightings of this white wildflower in our area recently.  WTIP's CJ Heithoffs talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about Indian Pipes in this edition of North Woods Naturalist.


Crow.  Photo by Glenn Euloth via Flickr and Creative Commons (

North Woods Naturalist: Crows

Did you know that crows are incredibly intelligent birds?  WTIP's CJ Heithoff talks all things crows with naturalist Chel Anderson in this edition of North Woods Naturalist.


Sunrise Trees by Travis Novitsky

North Woods Naturalist: Changing summer

The woods and waters along the North Shore often undergo dramatic changes during the summer months.  Naturalist Chel Anderson describes the changes she's noticed recently in this edition of North Woods Naturalist. 


Bald-Faced Hornet by Tony Hisgett via Flickr and Creative Commons (

North Woods Naturalist: Bald-Faced Hornets

Bald-Faced Hornets are found all across the country.  You may not have heard of them, but you've probably seen their volleyball-sized paper wasp-like nests before.  WTIP's CJ Heithoff speaks with naturalist Chel Anderson about Bald-Faced Hornets in this edition of North Woods Naturalist.