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Posted by on in Environmental Stewardship

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My favorite days are ones that begin with a beautiful sunrise; the first rays of the sun amplifies the spectacular colors of fall and slowly pulls back the blanket of fog and frost that has silently crept in overnight.

When people think of fall, they think of life fading away. The majority of wildflowers have long been gone, leaving behind only a few resilient autumn residents. The leaves put on their magnificent color pageant, but have since turned brown and dropped to the ground. The bare trees have even been abandoned by many of their avian summer residents, heading south to warmer climes. The animals that are going to stick around, are preparing to disappear from our sights until spring brings warmer weather our way. The life that spring and summer brought is fading before our eyes. Soon winter will be here - a cold, silent reminder of how "lifeless" our woods have become. Yet people rarely consider the life that is beginning right before our eyes in the fall. Creating new life is an energy-expensive, daunting task, and many plants and animals have to begin preparing for that spring time awakening right now, during the autumn season.

The fall season is a time of seed dispersal for many plants, including species that make burrs, like this one, 10/6/14.

Let's look at plants for example. Many people associate seeds with spring or early summer; the red maple seeds "helicopter" to the ground in the spring and the cottony seeds of aspens disperse upon the winds. Others may think of seeds during the late summer when they watch many of the plants in their garden "go to seed". But we often forget about the plants that release their seeds during the fall, like the sugar maple (samaras) or the oaks (acorns). The maple seeds (technically winged fruits called samaras) are very light, fluttering in circles as they fall to the ground with the wind or sometimes the water aiding in their dispersal. The heavier acorns typically just drop to the ground under the tree and rely on wildlife, particularly squirrels, to move the seeds around. But trees are not the only plants of the season dispersing their seeds. For any of you dedicated dog owners (or for those of you without a dog but qualify as avid trailblazers), you know that fall can be just as bad as spring for collecting burrs (this picture shows only a small portion of the 200+ burrs I pulled out of my dog's fur!). Burrs are any dried seed or fruit that has hooks or teeth. These seeds disperse from their parent plant by latching on, in a very velcro-like fashion, to the fur of passing animals or the clothes of passing people and hitch a ride a fair distance before falling off or getting plucked off by the carrier. Now this little seed is all ready to begin growth when conditions are right in the spring. Another common type of autumn seed is from our milkweed plants! The flowers have died and the leaves have shriveled up, leaving only the swollen pods, which have now ruptured and are releasing their cottony seeds to the winds of autumn. Some of the plants mentioned (like some of the oaks) will actually germinate this fall, producing little seedlings that will patiently wait to thrive until the warmer temperatures of spring arrive. Others will remain dormant in the soil as a seed until this time. Either way - the life of these future plants has already begun.

October winds are often carry seeds from plants, such as this Milkweed, 10/8/14.

Many of the fauna of Minnesota are also preparing for new life next spring. Mammals have been busy - the bats have just wrapped up their mating season, the porcupines are right in the midst of theirs and the deer are coming up next - so keep your eyes peeled for buck scrapes on your walks. (And although black bears mated during the summer months, the fertilized eggs will implant in November and the embryos will soon start to grow while Mom starts hibernation- cool!) Although this task has begun, we won't see any of these small, adorable new life forms until spring, just like our plants. Our furry friends are not the only ones who have been busy; our creepy crawly friends have been, too.

   

Left: Just starting to grow some antlers, 9/25/14. Right: Browsing on some frost covered grass, 10/8/14.

On warm autumn days, you may have noticed "swarms" of small insects. If you look very closely, you may notice these insects (gnats, midges, crane files and/or March flies) are just sort of hovering, going up and down, in what is actually thought to be a dancing display flight. The males that win the dance off will successfully mate with females, who then have the task of depositing eggs into the water before it freezes. Similarly, the lingerers of the dragonfly world may be seen hovering over ponds and lakes, dipping their ovipositor (rear-end egg depositor) into the water, gently leaving the eggs behind. They will hatch in the water and live their nymph stage at the bottom of our ponds, lakes, and rivers. Daddy-longlegs, often called harvestmen are also very active right now, laying eggs before the cold can kill of the adults. Harvestmen get their name from the time of year they are most active - the months of harvest (how's that for phenology?!). They are not, contrary to popular belief, spiders at all. They are in the same class as spiders, Arachnida, but are separated into a their very own order. Spiders, all of which have two body segments, are in the order Araneae; harvestmen, all of which have one body segment, are in the order Opiliones. But our actual spiders are very active too! Many types of spiders have a late summer hatch, and those young are ready to disperse and find their own territories. They do this by something called "ballooning", which is when the spider emits silk threads into the air, acting like... well... a balloon, catching the uprising thermals on warm fall days. These air movements carry the spiders a further distance than they would be capable of walking (even with those extra legs). This allows the spider to reduce competition from siblings (hundreds of them!) and maintain genetic diversity within the population. So if you are afraid of spiders - this is your worst fear coming true - yes, it can rain spiders! Check out an annual spider migration in the video below!

While I won't encourage you to get outside and intimately observe these acts of life creation, I will encourage you to enjoy the outrageous streak of fall weather we have been having, if you can even call it "fall" weather! Friday, our high in the Pine River area is 71F! That is 30 degrees warmer than the historical average of 41F for that date! Saturday and Sunday are showing highs that are about 20 degrees warmer than the historical average, so there is absolutely no excuse to spend this weekend inside! Go out and soak up the  sunshine! While its warm - I would highly recommend a canoe ride! Most of the tamaracks are still holding their "smokey gold" color, but it won't be long before they drop their needles. Better get out and see 'em! As always, enjoy it out there!

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"I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house"

-Nathaniel Hawthorne

 

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Posted by on in Food & Water Security

 

Did you know that access to local food is one of the most important factors to lasting community stability?

 

Would you like to make locally grown food more available?

 

Do you have a vision for the future of our community and ideas for how to get there?

 

If you would like hear about some of the work being done to increase access to local food and to share your unique perspective on how to make our rural communities more food secure, join us

 

November 12th

 

at Happy Dancing Turtle

2331 Dancing Wind Rd SW

Pine River, MN 56474

 

at 6:00 pm.

 

There will be a brief presentation on the concept a Local Food Innovation Center and how such a place might serve the Pine River Area. We will then discuss barriers to local food production and access and how an Innovation Center could address those challenges to help strengthen our communities.

 

Food and Beverages provided

 

Check out this link for background information on this project:

 

https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B9zz0MP30LIeSldvY1EtbVN0UkU&usp=sharing

 

 

Please contact Hannah Klemm to RSVP and with any questions.

 

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

218-587-5001 ext. 230

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Posted by on in Environmental Stewardship

Comic from the Cartoonist Group

The last couple mornings I have woken up (having fought the urge to stay under the warm cocoon of blankets) to find frost on our grass, fog rising from our lake and a chill in the air that subtly reminds me of what is coming.  For some of us, this may mean saying goodbye to lake life in the Northwoods and hello to ocean life down in Florida. The decreasing day length and dropping temperatures are a signal to (some) humans and birds alike to start preparing to head south. But are birds leaving because they don't like the cold? Actually, most birds are capable of withstanding freezing temperatures, so it's not the cold that drives them south. It is our waning resources. It's hard to find food, whether that be seeds, worms, mice or something else when everything is buried under a couple feet of snow. In this sense, migration can be defined as a movement from areas containing few resources to areas containing abundant resources. In the spring, birds head north in a hurry as our icy days are replaced with sunshine, our white, snow-covered world fades away in place of the bright colors of spring, and the eerie silence of winter is broken by the drone of the insects returning to the Northwoods. Birds can spread out in the northern habitats as we are released from the iron grip of our winters, settling in to find mates, build nests and raise their young on the abundance of food the summer months bring us. Now, as winter slowly creeps back and mother nature begins to prepare, our local birds have one foot out the door. But how can they do it? How can they fly hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles? How can they sustain themselves? Their flight? How do they even know where to go? While many aspects of migration still mystify scientists around the world, light has been shed on some of the migration secrets. Although these blog posts are mostly phenology related, we are going to have deviate momentarily to a more ornithological focus to see how cool birds really are!

Birds were born to fly. Not ground breaking news? But really, they are fine-tuned flying machines. Many people are aware of the importance feathers and hollow bones play in the role of flight, but it goes much deeper than that, quite literally. Nearly all of the organ systems in a bird have been modified to aid these creatures in their remarkable mode of locomotion. Their skeletal and muscle systems provide the physical requirements for flight. They have pneumatic bones, meaning there are air spaces in between criss-crossing struts, that allow the bones to be strong, yet light. Many of their bones are fused together, including all of the vertebrae (except for cervical, or neck, ones) providing the rigidity required for flight. The sternum has a large, thin keel (blue, at left) protruding from it, serving as an attachment area for the massive muscles involved in flying. The location of the keel helps keep the main mass low in the body, increasing aerodynamic stability during air time.  Their digestive systems are designed to process an energy rich diet quickly and efficiently. Birds need to eat a lot to keep up with the high energy demands of flight, but they don't want to be carrying around that extra weight as food moves through the digestive system - so it does so quite rapidly! A shrike can fully digest a mouse in three hours; a thrush can digest a meal of berries in just 30 minutes! The circulatory system has to work fast enough to support this high metabolism. Birds have a four-chambered heart, like mammals, but it is quite large and strong, comparatively. It also beats extremely fast (a chickadee's heart beats 500 times per minute at rest, increasing to over 1000 beats per minute while active!) to create a high pressure system capable of keeping up with the high metabolic rates required for flight. How can their bodies keep up with the oxygen demand? Birds have very unique lungs that utilize a series of air sacs (for storage) that essentially provide the bird with an almost continuous stream of oxygenated air. They also have a very efficient, vascularized system for getting oxygen to the muscles to sustain flight. Even their excretory system is modified to fly! Birds excrete waste in the form of uric acid, which has a very low solubility compared to the urea of mammals. While it takes about 60 mL of water for a mammal to get rid of 1 g of urea, it takes a bird 1.5-3 mL of water to get rid of 1 g of uric acid (and a lot of that water is reabsorbed before the waste exits!). This greatly reduces the demand for water intake, and thus water weight. Of course, anything that reduces weight is going to make it easier to fly! Lastly, birds have the most developed sense of sight in the animal kingdom - not a bad thing to have if your chosen transportation method is head-first, high velocity flight.

Photo credit to Marco Photography.

Incredible, right? But don't worry - it gets better; their navigational systems give their anatomical systems a run for their money. Bird migration is highly varied; some travel thousands of mile, some travel to the state next door; some migrate in one, continuous flight, others travel more leisurely, stopping many times to refuel; some go one way north, then take a different route back south. But no matter how they choose to migrate, they have to know where to migrate to. Scientists have been studying the mystery of bird navigational systems for many years. And quite honestly, there is no consensus. Different birds use different methods and many likely use a combination of more than one method. Some birds navigate by visuals - they follow topographical landmarks such as rivers, mountains, lakes, etc.  Some experiments indicate that birds have a magnetic compass that uses the earth's magnetic fields to align them in the correct direction for migration. Other experiments indicate that birds have an incredible "internal clock" that keeps track of time extremely accurately. They can then use this clock in collaboration with the sun's movements to figure out directions. But not all birds migrate during the day when they can use the sun. That's okay, because birds have a solution to that, too. Other experiments conducted in a planetarium proved that some birds use the stars as a map, orientating themselves using the location of the constellations that rotate around the north star!  However they complete this magnificent feat, it truly is quite astonishing. The Arctic Tern, the world's record holder for migration distance, navigates north past the Artic Circle to reach is summer breeding grounds and then south to Antarctica for it's wintering grounds - a distance of nearly 12,000 miles! As it turns out, these birds can live to be over 30 years old and the distance they fly in their lifetime is the equivalent of flying to the moon and back.... and then there and back again. ... and then once more.


So it's time to get outside and observe some of these awe-inspiring birds as they pass through briefly! If I could give them a high five as they flew by, I would. Better yet - make sure your bird feeders are full because our feathered friends could use all the caloric help they can get! While many of our summer residents have already departed on their journey south, there will still be a frenzy of bird movement to observe through November. While many of our songbirds have already passed through, such as the majority of the warblers, there are still some headed south. Keep your eyes peeled for large flocks of dark-eyed juncos, lingering robins, a variety of sparrows, palm warblers, hermit thrushes, and a few other songbirds (even though they're currently much quieter then when they move through in the spring!). As we progress further into October, the waterfowl migration scene will continue to heat up - so keep one eye on the lakes, rivers and wetlands for more geese, ducks, mergansers, swans and others! Here are some birds on migrational journeys that I have recently encountered to inspire you! Get outside and enjoy some brisk hikes in the beautiful scenery of fall to search for these winged-wonders!

American robin, persisting through the season's first "wintry mix", 10/3/14.

 

Left: Palm warbler, 10/6/14. Right: White-throated sparrow, 10/6/14.

Pair of wood ducks (male above, female below), 10/6/14.

Two trumpeter swans & a mallard, waking up to the frost, 10/7/14.

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