Monthly Archives: February 2014

Snowshoeing in February

It was 38° and partly sunny when I arrived at Des Moines River SNA at noon on Tuesday. The warm front the day before brought three inches of fresh snow. Mine were the first tire tracks in the parking area at Christianna Bridge Public Water Access.


I strapped on the snowshoes and headed up the hill to the southwest corner of the SNA. A Red-bellied Woodpecker complained until I was out of site, repeating its rolling, one-second long churr every few seconds. At the SNA boundary marker there were fresh Red Fox tracks on top of yesterday’s snow. A single line of tracks meandered east, following the fence line that forms the SNA boundary. At one point there was a jumble of many tracks around a small, jagged, mostly filled in hole. The fox apparently dug for and possibly found a vole or mouse.


I continued east following the SNA boundary. With each step my snowshoes sank twelve to eighteen inches into the snow. I had to lift my knees high with each step to avoid dragging the toe of the snowshoe through the snow at the lead edge of the shoe print. At this rate I knew that if I would be worn out soon unless something changed. I began searching for sign of a deer path.

Deer path

Deer path

There were no fresh tracks in sight, but I soon found a path buried under the snow. It appeared as a somewhat straight line where a little less grass protruded from the snow. I stepped onto the path and the snow held my weight.

Snowshoe prints on deep path

Snowshoe prints on deer path

For the next two hours I explored the south half of the SNA. I walked on deer paths where they were available but they seldom went where I did. Other sightings this day include four whitetail deer, several Black-capped Chickadees, about thirty LBJs (Little Brown Jobs—unidentified sparrows), and the tracks of a Ring-necked Pheasant.

Deer highway

Deer highway

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Photo by Bill Reynolds

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) is the smallest breeding bird in the eastern United States and southeastern Canada. It is seldom seen but easily recognized because it is the only hummingbird that breeds in or migrates through Minnesota. It is a migratory bird, arriving in Minnesota in late April and early May. It is a solitary breeder—after mating the male has nothing more to do with the female or its offspring. In the fall, adults migrate across the Gulf of Mexico or along the western coast of Mexico to Central or South America.

Orange Hawkweed

Photo by Ed Oliveras
Photo by Ed Oliveras

The tight clusters or orange, dandelion-like flowers at the end of a leafless stem make orange hawkweed (Pilosella aurantiaca) an easily recognized plant. A native to northern and central Europe, it was introduced as an ornamental to Vermont before 1875. It has escaped cultivation many times and is now naturalized across the northern half of North America. It occurs in a wide variety of habitats and is especially suited to disturbed sites.

Orange hawkweed can form dense mats and crowd out native species. It is one of the six known pollen allelopathic plants. Pollen allelopathy occurs when the pollen of one species is transferred to another species. The transferred pollen then releases toxins which interfere with the growth of pollen tubes, the receptivity of the stigma or style, respiration, germination or growth of the seedling, production of chlorophyll in leaves, or production of seeds.

Though not controlled by the state, orange hawkweed is considered a noxious weed in Carlton, Cass, Itasca, and Koochiching Counties.

Destinations Now Include Videos

Many of the Destination pages at now include one or more videos. So far, there are 96 videos of 66 destinations. Most of those were shot at state parks. While a few were professionally made, most were created by visitors.


Have you made a video of a trip to a park or other natural area in Minnesota? Share it with others on Simply click on the Upload Video or the Upload Photo or Video button on any destination page, then attach the video, or a link to the video, to the e-mail form that pops up.

Linden Leaf Gall Mite


In Minnesota, linden leaf gall mite (Eriophyes tiliae), a specialized plant feeder is found only on American basswood and littleleaf linden, usually the lower leaves. In other parts of the country it is also found on lime trees. As it feeds on the leaf it causes the host plant to create finger-like galls on the upper leaf surface. The galls are unsightly but the infestation causes no harm to the host tree.

This is a common species yet little is known of its life cycle. The adult spends the winter in a crevice in the bark or near a bud. The first galls appear in June.

Monarch Population Crash Continues in 2014


Photo by Tom Baker

This year, 2014, is going to be another bad year for the monarch (Danaus plexippus).

The population of monarchs has declined precipitously in the last two years. It began in 2012 with an unusually warm March, followed by a normally cool April, then an extremely hot and dry summer. That winter saw only 60 million monarchs visiting their overwintering sites in the forests of Mexico. That was down from 350 million the previous winter.


Photo by Bill Reynolds

Other factors contributing to the population decline include deforestation of the oyamel fir forests in Mexico, loss of habitat in the United States, and the effects of the unusually cold spring on the milkweeds in Texas.

In December 2013, the WWF-Telcel Alliance and Mexico’s National Commission for Protected Areas conducted a survey of Mexico’s Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. Hibernating butterflies occupied only 1.65 acres of the reserve. That was a 44% drop from 2012, when 2.76 acres were covered.

My own observation is that for most of the last decade the monarch has been ubiquitous throughout the state. There was hardly a site I visited where I did not see at least one. Seeing a monarch was as common an occurrence as seeing a common dandelion or hearing a Black-capped Chickadee – they were everywhere. In 2013 monarch sightings were, if not uncommon, at least much less frequent than in recent years. 2014 promises even fewer sightings.

Another migratory butterfly, the red admiral, was uncommon in 2013 after being very common in 2012.

Yellow archangel

yellow archangel

Photo by Bill Reynolds

The showy false whorls of yellow flowers and variegated leaves make yellow archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon) easy to identify. It is native to Europe and western Asia, where it is cultivated as an ornamental. It was imported into North America as a garden plant and has escaped cultivation. It has become naturalized in California and the northeast United States, where it is considered an invasive species. It is uncommon in Minnesota where, to date, it has been recorded only in St. Louis County.

EDDMapS Location Data Added distribution maps for plants  have been updated to include location data from Early Detection and Distribution Mapping System (EDDMapS).

EDDSMapS“EDDMapS is a web-based mapping system for documenting invasive species distribution… EDDMapS combines data from other databases and organizations as well as volunteer observations to create a national network of invasive species distribution data.”

EDDMapS lists 394 species in Minnesota. Not all the listed plants are a problem in Minnesota, but all of them are exotic to the U.S. and are listed as a problem somewhere in the U.S. Distribution maps for listed plants that appear on MinnesotaSeasons,com now include EDDSMapS observations.

Russian olive

Russian olive

Polyphemus Moth

Photo by Bill Reynolds

Photo by Bill Reynolds

Polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus) is a common, extra large, giant silkworm moth. With a wingspan of 4″ to 6″ it is one of the two largest moths native to North America. The caterpillar either descends to the ground and spins a cocoon in leaf litter or spins a cocoon in a rolled leaf of the host plant which falls to the ground at the end of the season. The adult is short-lived, lasting only 4 days.

Polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus)

Northern Tooth

Photo by Bill Reynolds

Photo by Bill Reynolds

Northern Tooth (Climacodon septentrionalis) is a widespread and fairly common tooth fungus. The fruiting body is annual and often massive, up to 20″ tall and 10″ wide. It consists of tight, overlapping layers of shelf-like caps joined at the base by a whitish plate. It lives high on the trunks if living hardwood trees, especially sugar maple. It enters the tree through a wound and causes heartwood rot. It is sometimes found on recently dead trees and stumps but is rarely found on fallen logs.

Northern Tooth is not poisonous but is not edible due to a bitter taste and a tough texture. It has a sour smell when it is fresh, an unpleasant, rancid odor as it dries.

Northern Tooth (Climacodon septentrionalis)