Living where I do, I only observe one of Minnesota's four species of native grouse—ruffed grouse. The other three native grouse species, which occupy habitats a fairly short distance from my home, are the greater prairie chicken, spruce grouse and the sharp-tailed grouse, also called sharptails, sharpies, or the even shorter version, "sharps."
I've always been fascinated by the differences in pelage coloration and patterns of white-tailed deer, including genetic mutations that cause other color abnormalities such as melanism, albinism and another interesting pelage pattern—piebaldism.
Whenever I'm in the Rocky Mountains of northwest Colorado, I'm always delighted to be in the presence of not just one species of chickadee, but two—the ubiquitous black-capped chickadee, which range across all of North America, and the not-so-common mountain chickadee, which occurs in mountainous habitats of the West.
I spend a few weeks each October and November in both the Colorado Rockies as well as in northwest Minnesota hunting deer and elk. Every trip is unique—weather patterns, wildlife observations and encounters . . . new sights, new sounds, new experiences. Where I hunt in northwest Colorado is considered "winter range." Indeed, it is obvious each fall that the area is where deer and elk spend the wintertime because it's quite common to find shed antlers everywhere throughout the landscape.
I've always remarked that getting to know the names of plants and animals is a good thing. Not just for the mere knowledge, but for the fact that no matter where you're at in the field or forest, you'll never feel alone if you only take the time to get to know the names of the resident flora and fauna.
There exists a familiar feathered friend that all of us generally observe each spring and each fall, but normally never in between these two periods of time. A common looking bird, not very distinct looking, and not vociferous in any way. What this bird represents to most people with an eye to a calendar and is a student of phenology, is that the dark-eyed junco is an avian harbinger to be sure.
There are two beloved and familiar Minnesota woodpeckers that most everyone knows about and enjoys observing. And though each species looks remarkably similar, the two are distinct in both subtle and obvious ways. You might've guessed already which species I'm writing about. Indeed, they're the hairy woodpecker and its look-alike diminutive cousin, the downy woodpecker.
We often hear this species of bird before we see it. One sound is produced from the bird's throat, whereas the other sound is produced from an action unrelated to its vocal cords. In this case, the bird's loudly delivered rattling call is often preceded or superseded by the sound of a loud splash into the water. Indeed, this is from none other than the handsome and unique belted kingfisher.
It has been a while since I've seen a fisher. I normally only come across their sign, usually just tracks in the snow or mud. But what a thrill it is to actually observe one of these remarkable, interesting, and mysterious Minnesota mammals. The last fisher I actually was privileged to watch for any amount of time (they're usually just observed on a trail camera photo or darting across a roadway) was several years ago while hunting deer one morning in Kittson County in a cold and snowy November woods.
It doesn't seem that long ago when the sweet whistled songs of male Baltimore orioles, rose-breasted grosbeaks and American robins were raining down from treetops everywhere. Not so now. In fact I awoke this morn, Oct. 5, with a few inches of snow on the ground!