Sometimes called by their nickname, “butcher bird,” although I’ve never been one to call them that, few birds in Minnesota are as rarely seen or understood as shrikes. A bird of interesting, albeit implausible, habits, their appearance, peaceful-seeming dispositions and anatomical features bespeaks of the songbird they are rather than the raptor they behave like.
Before I begin, I want to thank each and every one of you for taking time out of your busy day to read my “wildlife weekly.” Over the years it has been a great privilege to spend a couple hours each week to write about a topic, observation or experience that I hope you’ll enjoy.
I recently spent some time inside a ground blind hunting deer in northwest Minnesota, mainly to escape sub-zero, wind-chill factors and blowing snow. The other reason was to hunt in the open landscape where concealment was critical if I were to go unnoticed by deer either nearby or far away. Surrounded by commanding prairie views in all directions, the tall big bluestem grass swayed in the wind, even making noise as the stiff golden stalks and seed heads knocked against one another.
The first time I observed a bobcat in the wild occurred in the most unlikely of places—or at least it was to me at the time. I was vacationing in Vermont and I was parked in a parking lot within the Green Mountains somewhere getting myself ready for a short mountain hike up a well-worn and marked trail. The area was full of people, cars and activity.
There are only a few species of wild birds that garner the attention and admiration as those wild birds colored red or colored blue. Think of the scarlet tanager, or think of the eastern bluebird. Both species are brilliantly plumaged and a joy to observe. They're revered by many a birder, and what's more, species of birds colored red or blue or have splashes of red or blue mixed in with other coloration, have been named official state birds by various state and territory government. Examples include the ring-necked pheasant, American robin, wood duck and others.
With wildlife viewing, being in the right place at the right time (along with a lot of luck!), is often what spells the difference between observing something unique and missing it altogether.
Minnesota is home to two species of bunting. One is a tropical bird that migrates north to our state in the springtime to breed and nest. The other is an arctic bird that migrates south to Minnesota to spend the winter. And while sharing similar names, each of these species of bird is vastly different from one another -- in appearance, distribution, and, as it turns out, taxonomically as well. Each bird belongs to entirely different families.
On a recent October three-day weekend at my Kittson County hunting camp, I was overwhelmed by my good fortune. The grouse hunting was very good, work was getting accomplished, and the weather was the nicest I've ever remembered—bluebird sky and warm and dry. I was in heaven. Or so I thought.
Since the passing of my beloved old Chesapeake Bay retriever Duke, things aren't quite the same around the homefront. In fact, it's downright lonely, and that lonesomeness is acutely felt while walking my favorite wooded trails to chase Ol' Ruff around, which was without question Duke's favorite thing to do, too. As such, although not foregoing grouse hunts altogether on account of the loss of Duke, I've taken to another autumn passion of mine: sitting in favorite trees waiting for a deer, but mostly just letting the world pass by to observe Nature unfold before my eyes.
Following another long day at work this past week, staying late and leaving the office as the autumn sun began its rapid descent to the western horizon, I didn't think I'd have time to slip out to the woods for a last-hour ruffed grouse hunt on one of my favorite trails.