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Celebrating Minnesota Chickadees

Celebrating Minnesota Chickadees

Celebrating Minnesota Chickadees

H. Bradford

2/23/19

There are many Minnesota birds that I have never seen.  Until early February, a Boreal chickadee was one of them.   In previous winters, I made some efforts to find a Boreal chickadee at the Sax Zim bog.  I would check e-bird and scope out the place where they were often seen (Admiral Road Feeder).  No matter how long I waited, I never seemed to catch one.  I listened to my bird call CD, trying to memorize their more nasal song so that if one was in the area, I would know.   Finally, this year, at least according to e-bird, Boreal chickadees were recorded in larger numbers than the last two winters.  So, in honor of FINALLY seeing a few of them, here are some chickadee facts to inspire others to celebrate and cherish Minnesota chickadees!


Chickadees are part of the Paridae family, which contains 55 species of birds that are found primarily in Eurasia, Africa, and North America and include birds such as titmice, tits, and chickadees (Otter, 2007).  In Minnesota, there are three species of Paridae, which include Black-capped chickadees, Boreal chickadees, and Tufted titmice.  Boreal chickadees and Black-capped chickadees are both members of the genus Poecille, whereas Tufted titmice are in the genus Baeolophus (Explore the habits of the breeding birds of Minnesota. n.d.).  The members of the Paridae family arrived in North America from Asia 4 million years ago.  The tufted titmouse traces its lineage to this earliest wave.  A second wave of Paridae arrived in North America 3.5 million years ago and led to chickadees (Otter, 2007).   Speciation was the result of isolation from glaciers and expanding desert grassland (Gelbart, 2016).  Tufted titmice are found in southeastern Minnesota.  Black capped chickadees are the most common Parid in Minnesota, ranging throughout the state with larger concentrations around Lake Superior.  Finally, Boreal chickadees are uncommon in Minnesota according to the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas and can be found in the arrowhead region of Minnesota as well as the far north of the state.  There are estimated to be 1.1 million breeding adult Black-capped chickadees in Minnesota, but the number of Boreal chickadees is unknown for lack of observations.  Tufted titmice are also uncommon, with a breeding population of under 100 birds.  However, due to climate change, winter bird feeding, and the maturation of deciduous forests, Tufted titmice populations in the state are increasing at an average of 1.08% per year.   (Explore the habits of the breeding birds of Minnesota. n.d.).  Because Tufted titmice are not found in my region and because they are not “chickadees” or part of the genus Poecille, they will not be given further attention in this piece.

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Two maps to compare the ranges of Black capped and Boreal chickadees


Black capped chickadees are extremely common in the winter months in Minnesota.   They are iconic, as their image is often used on holiday cards and ornaments.   Of the seven species of chickadees in North America, the Black capped has the largest range, spanning all the way from Alaska to California and from the Pacific and Atlantic coasts (Smith, 1997).   The bird is easily identified by its black cap and bib, white cheeks, and gray back.  To me, these active, curious, even aggressive little birds remind me of tiny Orca Whales or oreo cookies.  Orcas and oreos aside, Black capped chickadees look very similar to the Carolina chickadee, which is found in the south eastern half of the United States.  The two can hybridize and learn each other’s songs, which can make identification harder where the ranges overlap (Galbart, 2016).  So, birds in Kansas, Illinois, Missouri, or Ohio for example might be harder to distinguish, though Carolina chickadees have less white on their wing coverts and have a sharper division between their bib and pale underparts (Smith, 1997).  Northern Minnesota is far from the range of Carolina chickadees, so this is not something that I typically have had to worry about.  Black capped chickadees bear a resemblance to Boreal chickadees as well, but Boreal chickadees have a brown cap, smaller white cheeks, brown and gray back, and rusty brown flanks (Boreal Chickadee Similar Species Comparison, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology. (n.d.).  Despite their similar appearance and northerly ranges, research suggests that Black capped chickadees are more closely related to Carolina chickadees and Mountain chickadees than they are to Boreal chickadees.  Boreal chickadees are more closely related to Mexican chickadees and Chestnut backed chickadees.  These species may have existed for two million years (Gill, Mostrom, Mack, 1993).

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There are a few characteristics that make Black capped chickadees interesting birds.  The first is that they are known for their memory (this is true of chickadees in general).   In studies of Black capped chickadees, it has been found that they are capable of finding their food caches using memory.  Their ability to remember is based upon overall location, position in relationship to other objects, and finally, color.  Chickadees can store hundreds of food items a day and all North American chickadees and tits are food storers.  Black capped chickadees can remember where they stored items for at least four weeks (Otter, 2007).  In an experiment conducted in a large indoor aviary which tested of what, when, where memory, Black capped chickadees were found to have all three types of memory.  The chickadees could remember what (if a stored item was sunflower seeds or meal worms), where (where these items were stores), and when (if the mealworms should be avoided because the passage of time would have degraded the flavor).  However, a similar experiment conducted in a less natural cage did not demonstrate a memory for how long meal worms were palatable, which means more studies should be conducted.  Chickadees are the only food storing birds outside of corvids (crows, jays, ravens) that have demonstrated what, where, when memory (Feeney, Roberts, Sherry, 2009).


Another interesting characteristic of Black capped chickadees is their vocalizations.   For instance, during the winter, spring, and earlier summer, male chickadees studied in Wisconsin were found to make two note Fee-Bee calls while alone and moving through their territories.  A faint Fee Bee vocalization was used by both male and female Black capped chickadees to communicate while the female is incubating eggs.  Black capped chickadees make a gargling vocalization to warn others before they attack.  Probably the most recognizable is the chick-a-dee call, which is used as a warning and to coordinate movements.  There are also broken dee and begging dee vocalizations.  Black capped chickadees also twitter, hiss, tseet, and snarl.  Researchers have identified at least eleven different chickadee calls (Ficken, Ficken, and Witken, 1978).   Chickadees are social birds, forming flocks of six to eight birds in non-breeding seasons.  To communicate with each other, they have developed elaborate vocalizations.  For instance, they have two alarm calls: the chickadee call and the seet.  The chick-a-dee call is a mobbing vocalization, which recruits other chickadees to harass a predator.  But, it also communicates information about food and types of predators.  The alarm for smaller predators vocalized with more “dees” at the end.  When the small predator alarm call was played back, Black capped chickadees exhibited more mobbing behavior.  Smaller predators may be a bigger threat to chickadees because they are more maneuverable.  Predators on the move are vocalized by a seet call whereas those that are stationary are met with the chickadee call (Templeton, Greene, and Davis, 2005).  In sum, quite a bit of information is conveyed in chickadee vocalizations.

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A final interesting quality about Black capped chickadees is that they are great survivors.  Black capped chickadees survive in regions with harsh winters through adaptations such as caching food, cavity roosting, and entering a state of controlled hypothermia at night.  By reducing their body temperature at night, Black capped chickadees may reduce their energy expenditure by 32%.  To survive during the day while foraging in cold temperatures, Black capped chickadees have the ability to increase their metabolism to stay warm.  Their ability to increase their metabolism exceeds other passerine birds that have been studied and approaches some mammals (Cooper and Swanson, 1994).   Black capped chickadees are also survivors inasmuch as they are generalists that make use of a variety of environments.  They prefer mixed deciduous and conifer forests and as cavity nesters, depend upon decaying trees or snags, but can survive in disturbed environments (Adams, Lazerte, Otter, and Burg, 2016).  In Minnesota, Black capped chickadees are most commonly found in pine forests, followed by developed areas, upland conifer forests, pine-oak barrens, and oak forests.  Cropland, marshes, and upland grasslands are the habitats wherein Black capped chickadees are the least common, owing the lack of trees (Explore the habits of the breeding birds of Minnesota. n.d.).   Black capped chickadees have a diverse diet of berries, seeds, and insects throughout the year, except the breeding season wherein they are insectivores.  Although Black capped chickadees are generally widespread, they are impacted by habitat disruption that limits tree cover.  This limits genetic variation as populations are fragmented and indicates that climate change could negatively impact the species as tree species shift and narrow in distribution (Adam, Lazerte, Otter, and Burg, 2016).  In other words, Black capped chickadees could become less common or at least less genetically diverse with the northern expansion of grasslands due to climate change.


Moving on to Boreal chickadees, because they are less common and located in less populated areas, they have not been researched as thoroughly as Black capped chickadees.   But one immediately clear characteristic of these birds is that they are not the generalists that Black capped chickadees are.  Boreal chickadees, as the name suggests, are a boreal species.  Boreal forests are primarily found between 50 and 60 degrees N latitude, have long cold winters and short cool summers, and are sandwiched between tundra to the north and temperate deciduous forest to the south.  Boreal forest climate is wet in the summer and dry in the winter and the forest itself consists of conifer trees and poor soils.  The southern part of Boreal forests tend to consist of spruce and hemlock, while pine and tamarack dominate the forests further north where fewer trees can be supported due to nutrient poor soils (Nelson, 2013).  The North American boreal forest is largest of the five major forests of the world that are considered largely intact.  The others are the Amazon, Russian Boreal forest, Congo basin, and forests of New Guinea and Borneo.  The North American boreal forest is 1.2 billion acres and an important nesting ground to billions of breeding birds.  Boreal forests are also important in moderating the Earth’s climate, as they sequester 208 billion tons of carbon.  Boreal chickadees are permanent residents of Boreal forests and prefer a habitat of balsam fir and spruce.  The northern limit of their range coincides with the northern limit of white spruce trees.  The southern range limit is the northern United States, where boreal forests meet deciduous forests.  As a whole, it is estimated that 88% of Boreal chickadees breed in boreal forests.  Like Black capped chickadees, they eat insects, berries, and seeds and they also cache their food as a winter survival tactic.  Because of its northerly range and preference for the interior of spruce forests, it is observed less often than Black capped chickadees (Boreal Chickadee “Poecile hudsonica”, 2015).

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A study of Boreal chickadees at Forêt Montmorency in Quebec, Canada, found that the birds had a mean flock size of four individuals and a range of three to eight individuals, which is smaller than Black capped chickadee flock size, which often consisted of six to eight individuals.  Sixteen of 85 flocks contained at least one Black capped chickadee and 24 flocks contained at least one red-breasted nuthatch.  The red-breasted nuthatches were more loosely associated as they foraged together, whereas the Black capped chickadees remained in close contact with the Boreal flock  (Hadley and Desrochers, 2008).   In areas of Michigan where both Boreal and Black capped chickadees were found, Boreal chickadees foraged in three conifer species, with 76% being black spruce.  Black capped chickadees foraged in six conifer and three deciduous tree species.  Both species often forage together in mixed flocks.  Boreal chickadees generally prefer dense conifer forest and Black capped prefer open mixed forests.  Boreal chickadees were found to spend more time foraging higher on the trees.  Both spent similar amounts of time in middle zones of the tree and little time at the bottoms of trees.  Trees used by Boreal chickadees were tamarack, Black spruce, and white spruce, which minimized competition with black capped chickadees.  Both forage for pupae, dormant caterpillars, and insect eggs, but their strategies helped to avoid competition (Gayk and Lindsay, 2012).  Minnesota is unique in that it is one of just a few states in the United States where the ranges of the two birds overlap.

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Although Boreal chickadees are less vocal than Black capped chickadees (Otter, 2007), they do have many vocalizations with which they communicate.  Like Black capped chickadees, they produce a “chickadee” call, which has many variations and is used for such things as communication between males and females during nest excavation and to scold other birds or predators ((McLaren, 1976). ).  Compared to the Black capped chickadee, the Boreal chickadee’s “chickadee” call is often described as more nasal.  Boreal chickadees also make a “seep” call which is similar to the contact call between Black capped chickadees.  A sharp seep call is used to warn against predators.  Boreal chickadees also hiss, trill, and make begging sounds.  Like Black capped chickadees, they make a chit sound, which Black capped chickadees use to warn of ground predators and Boreal chickadees use for unknown purposes (McLaren, 1976).  Unlike Black capped chickadees, Boreal chickadees do not produce a whistled song (Boreal Chickadee “Poecile hudsonica”, 2015).   In a study of Black capped chickadees at Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, a total of eighteen calls were observed (McLaren, 1976).

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Because Boreal chickadees are only adapted to boreal forests, climate change is likely to  have dire consequences for the species.  Models predict that moose, caribou, spruce grouse, and Boreal chickadees will have entirely separate east and west populations as habitat is fragmented and pole-ward shifts in ranges.  The east west divide may occur due to a vulnerable swath of boreal forest on the border between Quebec and Ontario.  The slim section of forest is the narrowest swatch of boreal forest in North America and a place where boreal meets deciduous forest.   By 2080, Boreal chickadees could be extirpated from this region (Murray, Peers, Majchrzak, Wehtje, Ferreira, Pickles, and Thornton, 2017).  Minnesota is particularly vulnerable to climate change because the state is at the crossroads of three biomes: conifer forest, decidious forest, and prairie.  At the same time, the temperature of Minnesota has gone up 3-5 degrees since the start of the last century.  Duluth could have a climate more similar to Minneapolis in 50 years and the state as a whole could eventually become more like Nebraska, with the expansion of grasslands and oak savanna.  Boreal forests will disappear from the state, and with them, perhaps 36 species of birds, including Boreal chickadees (Weflen, 2013).

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Minnesota has two great species of chickadees (not including the tufted titmouse), but both could shift northward out of the state with climate change.  Boreal chickadees are particularly vulnerable, as they are less common and an obligate boreal species.  The loss of boreal forests is further troubling because the role these forests play in sequestering carbon.  Black capped chickadees require trees to survive the winter and roost at night, so the expansion of grasslands or loss of trees does not bode well for the otherwise plentiful and adaptable bird.  Although chickadees are sometimes taken for granted as common bird feeder birds, it turns out that they are intelligent and well adjusted to the harsh winters of Minnesota.  Their vocalizations are complex and convey a plethora of important information about everything from predators to territory.  Chickadees have made their home in the Americas for millions of years, so it would be tragic to undue millions of years of evolutionary history through the wanton warming of our climate through human activity and dependency on fossil fuels.   The best way to celebrate Minnesota chickadees is to mobilize against climate change!


Sources:

Adams, R. V., Lazerte, S. E., Otter, K. A., & Burg, T. M. (2016). Influence of landscape features on the microgeographic genetic structure of a resident songbird. Heredity, 117(2), 63-72.

Boreal Chickadee “Poecile hudsonica”. (2015, November 30). Retrieved from https://www.borealbirds.org/bird/boreal-chickadee

Boreal Chickadee Similar Species Comparison, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Boreal_Chickadee/species-compare/60411301

Cooper, S. J., & Swanson, D. L. (1994). Seasonal acclimatization of thermoregulation in the black-capped chickadee. The Condor, 96(3), 638-646.

Explore the habits of the breeding birds of Minnesota. (n.d.). Retrieved February 14, 2019, from https://mnbirdatlas.org/

Feeney, M. C., Roberts, W. A., & Sherry, D. F. (2009). Memory for what, where, and when in the black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus). Animal cognition, 12(6), 767.

Ficken, M. S., Ficken, R. W., & Witkin, S. R. (1978). Vocal repertoire of the black-capped chickadee. The Auk, 34-48.

 

Gayk, Z. G., & Lindsay, A. R. (2012). Winter microhabitat foraging preferences of sympatric Boreal and Black-capped chickadees in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 124(4), 820-824.
Gelbart, M. (2016, March). Pleistocene Chickadees. Retrieved from https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2016/03/27/pleistocene-chickadees/

Gill, F. B., Mostrom, A. M., & Mack, A. L. (1993). Speciation in North American chickadees: I. Patterns of mtDNA genetic divergence. Evolution, 47(1), 195-212.

Hadley, A., & Desrochers, A. (2008). Winter habitat use by Boreal Chickadee flocks in a managed forest. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 120(1), 139-146.

Murray, D. L., Peers, M. J., Majchrzak, Y. N., Wehtje, M., Ferreira, C., Pickles, R. S., … & Thornton, D. H. (2017). Continental divide: Predicting climate-mediated fragmentation and biodiversity loss in the boreal forest. PloS one, 12(5), e0176706.

Otter, K. A. (Ed.). (2007). Ecology and behavior of chickadees and titmice: an integrated approach. Oxford University Press on Demand.

Nelson, R. (2013, October). Boreal Forest Biome. Retrieved from https://www.untamedscience.com/biology/biomes/taiga/

McLaren, M. A. (1976). Vocalizations of the boreal chickadee. The Auk, 93(3), 451-463.

Mossman, M. J., Epstein, E., & Hoffman, R. M. (1990). Birds of Wisconsin boreal forests. The Passenger Pigeon, 52(2), 153-168.

Smith, S. M. (1997). Black-capped chickadee. Stackpole Books.

Templeton, C. N., Greene, E., & Davis, K. (2005). Allometry of alarm calls: black-capped chickadees encode information about predator size. Science, 308(5730), 1934-1937.

Weflen, K. (2013, April). The Crossroads of Climate Change. Minnesota Conservation Volunteer. Retrieved from https://www.leg.state.mn.us/docs/2015/other/150681/PFEISref_2/MDNR 2009.pdf

 

 

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Anxious Adventuring: Hiking Santa Anna Volcano

santaana

Anxious Adventuring: Hiking Santa Ana Volcano

H. Bradford

2/10/19

Each time that I travel, I try to reflect upon something that made me feel uneasy or anxious.  I want to push back against the notion that travelers must be brave, adventurous, independent, or fearless.  It is okay to be wary or worried.   In this story, I will discuss my concern that I might not be fit enough to hike up a volcano.


Living in the not-so-geologically active Midwest of the United States, I find volcanoes to be novel.  Perhaps if I lived near them and experienced their destruction first hand, they would not be quite as quaint.  Because of this fascination, the Santa Ana Volcano or Ilamapetec Volcano in El Salvador was a must see destination.  Firstly, the summit of the volcano features a bright turquoise crater lake.  Secondly, it is the highest volcano in El Salvador.  Thirdly, it had a major eruption in 2005, wherein thousands of people had to be evacuated and chunks of rock the size of cars were launched into the air.  In short, it is a tall, active, attractive volcano.  I knew I wanted to go, but I also worried that maybe the hike would be too strenuous.  Here is how it went…


I had some anxiety before leaving on my trip that maybe I would struggle with the two volcano hikes I had signed myself up for.  After hiking up Pacaya volcano in Guatemala on almost no sleep, I felt more confident that Santa Ana volcano would be a much easier ordeal.  After all, at the very least I would have sleep!  When the time finally came, I figured it would be a struggle, but not impossible.  Despite my earlier volcano hike, I was concerned because I knew that the Santa Ana hike was longer.  It seemed that one to two hours up was the average time quoted by some blogs or tours (though one blogger said it took her 45 minutes).  Two hours of slogging up a rocky hill didn’t exactly seem easy.

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While a person can probably arrange to hike up the volcano for under $20 by taking public transportation and paying the park fee on their own, I went on a day tour for around $100 (if I remember rightly).  I didn’t feel inclined to take public transportation for lack of time and confidence.  This worked out fine, as we had an opportunity to stop at the Peace and Reconciliation Plaza along the way.  The plaza features a giant sculpture of a blue haired woman, who represents the people of El Salvador.  In front of this figure is a female guerilla and a male soldier, both of whom are releasing a flock of doves.  I thought it was a unique assortment of statues since the FMLN was represented by a woman.   Women made up about 30% of the FMLN in the 1980s, though often in supportive roles such as nursing, radio operating, and cooking (Luciak, 2001).   The monument itself was created to commemorate the 1992 Peace Accords between the government and the FMLN.  Those who signed the accords are featured on a plaque.  The plaza also features a mural which highlights Salvadorean history.  The Chapultepec Peace Accord resulted in the disarmament of the FMLN, the legalization of the FLMN, dismantling national security forces and intelligence forces, police reforms, intelligence, a cease fire, a UN Truth Commission to uncover atrocities of the war, amnesty for those who committed the atrocities, credit to ex-guerillas for land purchases, etc. (Negroponte, 2012).  As I visited the monument, I was struck by the thought that it would be difficult live with the knowledge of all of the horrors that had happened in the war, but also know that the perpetrators enjoyed impunity.

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We also made a stop at Coatepeque lake, which means hill of snakes.  The lake is popular among the wealthy, so it appears that it still attracts snakes (no offense to snakes).  The lake was formed between 72,000 and 50,000 years ago, when group of stratovolcanoes east of Santa Ana collapsed after erupting, causing the lake to form in the caldera over time (Coatepeque Caldera, 2013).  After a short stop at the lake, we continued on a bit further to Santa Ana volcano.  Santa Ana volcano is one of three volcanoes located in Volcanoes National Park.  Idalco and Cerro Verde are the other two volcanoes located in the park.  Among them, Santa Ana is the tallest at 7,812 feet (2,381 meters) above sea level (Santa Ana Volcano, El Salvador, 2005) and most recently active.  Cerro Verde has not erupted for 25,000 years (I have seen it referred to as a volcano and as a satelitic cone, or cone like structure of volcanic material) and Idalco was once continually active for 196 years, earning it the name, Lighthouse of the Pacific.  Idalco last erupted in 1966 and is iconic enough that it was featured on the 10 colon bill, though this currency was replaced in 2001 by the U.S. dollar.   All three of the volcanoes can be hiked, though I have read that Idalco is more challenging than Santa Ana.  These volcanoes are part of the Central American volcanic chain that is formed by the collision of the Cocos and Caribbean plates (Hernandez et. al, 2007).

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The hike itself began with a walk along a trail from the parking area to the ranger station.  This initial walk took approximately fifteen minutes through a wooded area along a trail with a very gradual incline.   The walk ended at the ranger station, where there is a final opportunity to use an outhouse or buy water or snacks.  Dozens of hikers in colorful hiking apparel waited for the tour to begin by the station.  The hikers leave in groups which are escorted by a police officer.  I am uncertain how many groups leave a day, but the officer who escorted our group had already made at least one trip and it was only 9:30 am.  The crowd was mostly young and eager, though there were people of all ages, shapes, and sizes.  Seeing the diversity in ages and sizes made me less concerned about how strenuous the hike would be, as it seemed like something that a wide array of people partake in.  The majority of hikers were Spanish speaking, so I wondered if they were local or at least regional travelers.  Once the hike began, some young, energetic hikers bolted ahead, walking quickly or jogging to stay ahead of the crowd.  I was determined to go slowly and conserve energy, even if I was at the back of the crowd.

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The first part of the hike was not so bad.  The incline is not terribly steep and at times, there are flat areas.  The first portion of the hike was shaded by trees and bushes.   After a while, the crowd thins out as people hike at different paces.  I plodded along, slowly and steadily.  The initial part of the hike was definitely much easier than the Pacaya hike, which seemed relentlessly steep.  Though, both hikes benefited from shady vegetation coverings which offered protection from the sun and heat.

Image may contain: sky, mountain, grass, tree, plant, outdoor and nature

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While the first half to 3/4 of the hike is mild to moderate in intensity, the last portion is a challenge.  In the final section of the hike, the vegetation gives way to a rocky, sun baked, sulfur scented landscape.  The only redeeming quality of this portion of the hike was that due to the elevation and desolation, there was a cooling breeze.  The rocks can be loose and crumbly and the ascent feels steep.  I had to count in my head to keep going, telling myself I would take 50 more steps then pause for a break or 25 more steps then pause for water.  The summit seemed impossibly far, even if it wasn’t really that far at all.  But slowly and surely, I made it to the top, which felt pretty great!  Since mine was only the second group to leave, it wasn’t too crowded.  Once at the top, I took some photos of the turquoise crater lake.   The crater lake’s average surface temperature in 2005 was 18-20 C or 64-68 F, though because of the steam and bubbling gas it appears to be much hotter when viewed from above.  The maximum temperature measured by scientists prior to the eruption in 2005 was 136 degrees F, which indicates that there is a great amount of variation in temperature depending upon where volcanic gas enters the lake (Hernandez et al).   More recent measurements from 2017 show that the heat of the crater lake has increased to 120-140 degrees F (Graniya, 2018), but this is still below the boiling point of water (210 F) at sea level.  I only mention this because I had the impression that the lake was boiling, though, certainly a person wouldn’t want to fall into it (for the rocky, steep fall and potential for pockets of very hot water).  Aside from being hot, the lake is acidic, with a Ph range of .7 to 2.0 of acid-sulfate-chloride (Colvin et. al, 2013).  For context, stomach acid has a Ph of about 1.  I am uncertain what process creates the bright turquoise color in the Santa Ana crater lake.  In Indonesia, the turquoise color of a crater lake was attributed to dissolved iron and floating sulfur colloids, but since I know nothing about chemistry I can only guess that this is the same for Santa Ana.  I didn’t spend that much time at the top, but that was a matter of personal choice.  I spent long enough to enjoy the view of the nearby volcanoes, crater lake, and Flower Route.  I also marveled at the fact that someone managed to cart pop-sickles to the summit to sell to tourists.  I wanted to make sure I beat the crowd down the volcano, so that I wouldn’t be rushed or crowded.   As I was heading down, I encountered another group climbing up.  So, I think there were about three groups of hikers that morning.

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The hike down the volcano was physically much easier, but required more balance as there were many loose rocks.  I almost lost my balance a few times as I slid on rocks.  It was also made more challenging by the number of tourists trying to navigate either up or down the sometimes narrow, rocky path.  I was happy when I reached the ranger station.  Back near the parking area, I saw a few interesting species of birds.  One was a Bushy crested jay.  In Spanish, it was commonly called a Chara, which I think generically means jay (my bird guidebook did not have local names for birds, which would have been a useful feature).  I also saw some coffee plants.  These little things were a pleasant reward for making it up and down the volcano.

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In conclusion, I managed the hike well enough.  I was sore and worn out at the end.  The hike up took under two hours and perhaps about an hour and a half down.  I paused for more photos on the way down.  Overall, the Pacaya hike was probably a little bit easier, but only because it was shorter.  So, endurance wise Santa Ana was harder, but cardio wise, Pacaya was harder.  It is hard to compare the two because they were both pretty different.  Santa Ana was a better hike because I actually was able to hike to the top.  However, Pacaya does offer the opportunity to roast marshmallows on a fumerole.  Both were good in their own ways.  And I think anyone with reasonable health can probably complete both (they are challenging, but popular enough that people of all sizes and abilities hike them).  For instance, if a person can spend an entire day hiking without problem (no elevation or hills), they can probably hike up the volcanoes, albeit with effort and mild exhaustion.

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Coatepeque Caldera. (2013). Retrieved from https://volcano.si.edu/volcano.cfm?vn=343041

Hernández, P. A., Pérez, N. M., Varekamp, J. C., Henriquez, B., Hernández, A., Barrancos, J., … & Melián, G. (2007). Crater lake temperature changes of the 2005 eruption of Santa Ana volcano, El Salvador, Central America. Pure and Applied Geophysics, 164(12), 2507-2522.

Luciak, I. A. (2001). After the Revolution: Gender and democracy in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Negroponte D.V. (2012) Implementation of the Chapultepec Peace Accords: The Achievements. In: Seeking Peace in El Salvador. Palgrave Macmillan, New York

Santa Ana Volcano, El Salvador. (2005). Retrieved February 9, 2019 from https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/5907/santa-ana-volcano-el-salvador

 

 

Anxious Adventuring: Hiking Pacaya Volcano

hiking pacaya volcano

Anxious Adventuring: Hiking Pacaya Volcano

H. Bradford

1.17.19

I recently went on a short trip to Central America.  With only a short visit to Antigua, Guatemala, I wanted to try to make the most of my time in the country.  I figured that one way to do this would be to hike up a volcano.  After all, the country has at least 37 volcanoes, of which, three are considered active (others are extinct or dormant).  Pacaya is one of the three active volcanoes and one that tourists can easily access for hiking.  Another active volcano in Guatemala is Fuego Volcano, which made headlines when it erupted this past summer, killing 190 people (with over 200 people still considered missing as of October 2018) and displacing almost 3000 people.  The eruption was the largest in Guatemala for about 40 years and was followed by another eruption in November that resulted in the evacuation of 4000 people.  The nearby Pacaya volcano has been continuously active since the 1961 (Wnuk and Wauthier, 2016) and in a state of mostly mostly low grade eruptions since the 1990s, with a major eruption in 2010 that resulted in the evacuation of several thousand people, several deaths, and the destruction of land used for coffee growing.  Pacaya’s volcano tourism took off after this eruption as tourists were curious to see active volcanism (i.e. lava, tephra (volcanic ash, rocks, particles) (Steel, 2016).  Despite the destruction and human suffering wrought by active volcanoes in Guatemala, I wanted to visit a volcano and experience the dynamic geology of our planet first hand.  My main worry is that I was going to physically struggle with the hike.  And, I did!  But not for the reasons that I thought!  This is a story of a journey up a volcano, but also a voyage through sleeplessness.

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Before leaving for the U.S., I booked a hike through Grayline one of many “day trip” companies based in Antigua or Guatemala City.  My plan was that I would do the hike the morning after arriving in the country.   The particular tour that I purchased included a visit to a hot springs and lunch and was a little less than $100.  There are cheaper tours and more independent methods of travel, but I felt satisfied with the price and convenience.   In any event, I departed for my trip with the idea that I would be hiking up a volcano on the morning after my arrival.  This would not have been a problem but for a few complicating circumstances.  For one, I worked a night shift on Wednesday night, then left for my trip on Thursday (directly after the night shift).  I was able to get some fitful napping on my flights but did not fully sleep Wednesday or Thursday.  Furthermore, my flight from Houston was delayed for several hours due to weather elsewhere in the U.S. which had stalled the arrival of my plane and disrupted the flight schedules of the airport.  This meant that I actually arrived at my hotel in Antigua at 4:00 am Friday due to delays.  It also meant that I was awake for about 36 hours.  It also meant that I was committed to hiking up a volcano on a tour scheduled to pick up at my hotel at 6:30 am.  It was not going to be a fun hike.  I attempted to take a two hour nap before leaving for the hike, but failed to fall asleep.


I wearily watched the landscape pass from the window of the van that took me…and less than a dozen other tourists…to the volcano.   There were several large hills and we approached a very steep looking volcano.  I thought that perhaps this was the Pacaya volcano and dreaded the impossible hike ahead.  Thankfully, it was probably the Fuego volcano, which is about 4,000 feet taller than the Pacaya volcano.  The van veered away from the larger volcano to a park entrance, where we were descended upon by locals trying to sell/rent us walking sticks.  A walking stick would have been a great idea, but I felt a little overwhelmed and pressed through the crowd to the visitor’s center.  In retrospect, I should have supported the locals trying to make a little money from a volcano that might otherwise play a potentially dangerous or destructive roll in their lives.  After all, Pacaya has erupted 48 times since the Spanish conquest of Guatemala (Steele, 2016).   I felt vaguely nauseated from fatigue and not sure how I would tackle the hike ahead.  Our group assembled near the start of the trail, where we were offered horseback rides up the volcano.  Taking a horse cost about $15, which was a tempting idea but I went there to hike up a volcano and I was going to hike up a volcano!   Hiking was rough.  I felt dizzy with tiredness.  I felt like a zombie, pushing my brainless body forward and upward with immense effort.  I was slow.  The hike was a relentlessly steep hill that never ended.  There were no flat areas.  Just…up, up, up, up.  The only redeeming quality of the hike was that it was shaded by a forest.  I wanted to cry I was so exhausted.  By the time I was hiking, I had been awake for 40 hours (with some cat naps in chairs).  The 40 hours had consisted of a nine hour shift at the shelter, a van ride to Minneapolis, two flights, a flight delay, a late arrival to my hotel, pitiful tossing and turning in my hotel bed for two hours, around two hours drive from Antigua, then THIS, the hellish hike.  I took two caffeine pills that only seemed to make my head swirl.  With each step I contemplated how far I would go before I gave up.  All the way, my sluggish, slow self was hounded by horse escorts hoping that I would give in and take a horse the rest of the way.  No, no.  I’m okay.  I don’t need a horse.  I really don’t need a horse.  No, I’ll make it.  I’ve got this.  I’ve got this.  I checked my watch along the way.  I had read that the hike up only takes one to two hours.   At around the one hour mark we were told that we were close.  I heard two thunderous booms.  The explosive sound was exciting enough to re-energize me and I was able to complete the last 15 minutes or so through the treeless, drier viewing area.  It was hard all of the way.  I panted from exhaustion as I plodded along and cursed myself for signing up for the excursion.  But, I made it!  I made it!

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The viewing area is not at the summit of Pacaya volcano, but it does offer a view of the summit as well as a view of nearby volcanoes.  The summit crater exudes smoke and gas, which can be seen from the viewing area below.  Another tourist I spoke with went on an evening hike and said that sparks can be seen flying from the summit crater.  This would be an impressive sight, but for her meant precariously hiking down the volcano in the dark.  The viewing area itself is located at about 7,500 ft above sea level and the summit is 8,373 ft above sea level.  It may feel a little disappointing that the tour does not take one to the very top, but I was happy to avoid hiking up the steep, hot looking slope.  According to blogger, Melinda Crow (2017), the actual hike to the viewing area is about two miles and covers an elevation change of about 1,300 feet or 650 feet per mile.  It felt challenging, but not absolutely impossible, as obviously I did the hike with minimal sleep.  In any event, I milled about the viewing area with the belief that the hike was done….but nope….the group then descended down some slippery dark rocks to a lava field.  This was discouraging as I had little interest in climbing back up or climbing up anything more.  I was quite content with the fact that we didn’t actually climb to the summit of the volcano as I was exhausted and it was hot and dusty out in the treeless black field of lava.  I could see a plume of smoke at the top of the volcano and was glad to be where I was.  The blackened valley featured a lava store and fumeroles wherein tourists could roast marshmallows.  This was a big attraction for me.  I had fantasized about roasting a marshmallow on the volcano, but with little sleep, mild nausea, and a strenuous hike behind me, I didn’t feel up to the task of digesting a puff of gelatin and sugar.   There was also a shop nestled in the valley, which sold souvenirs and I believe some snacks.  I really didn’t pay attention to the shop, as I was eager to begin the hike back while I had enough energy to keep myself from collapsing. The hike down was better.  The lava area was quite dry and the air was thick with dust.  My lungs were unhappy with me and I was glad to move away from the lava field and smoking crater.   The rocks on the way down were slippery, as they were often small and easily tumbled under my boots like the wheels of roller skates. Image may contain: one or more people, child, outdoor and nature Image may contain: Heather Bradford, standing, mountain, sky, outdoor and nature Image may contain: cloud, sky, tree, plant, outdoor and nature Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, sky, outdoor and nature


Following the volcano hike, the group was rewarded with lunch and some time at some hot springs.  At that point, I had been awake far too long to have an appetite.  Oddly, being sleepy tends to make me more hungry, but at a certain point of sleep deprivation, even digestion seemed like too much effort.   I watched the others eat their meals while I sipped a diet coke.  After lunch, or my non-lunch, we all set off for the series of pools.  There were two levels of pools of varying degrees of heat.  The hot springs were actually a spa resort called Santa Teresita.  I had imagined that the hot spring would be an actual bubbling puddle of geothermal heated water.  This was far nicer.  The complex featured 11 pools and a thermal circuit of several pools that switch between warm and cool pools.  I probably didn’t do the correct cycle of the circuit, but it felt nice to just relax in warm water.  It was no substitute for sleep, but it was restful.  While I didn’t sleep, I did take some time to lounge on a beach chair and vegetate in the sun.   The hot springs were a fun addition to the trip, but also complimented the volcano hike well.  For one, it was soothing for my weary body and two, the hot springs found in Guatemala are near volcanoes, where water may be warmed by magma.  Pacaya volcano is located about 10 km southeast from Lake Amatitlan where the hot springs were located, so it is possible that the hot water that I found so relaxing was heated by Pacaya’s magma. (Warring, 1983).  I am not knowledgeable enough about geology to know this for sure, but it was neat to think about the hidden connections within the earth.

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When I returned to Antigua, I had been awake for 48 hours.  My day continued with a walk around my hotel to explore the city a little.  I also ate dinner with members of a travel group that I would be traveling with for about eight days.  This kept me up until 10 pm, in what was probably one of the longest spans of time that I had been awake in my life.  While it would seem that after hiking a volcano, working my shift, spending a day traveling, and then…walking and exploring, I might have fallen into a dead sleep.  NOPE, I could not fall asleep when I finally had an opportunity for REAL sleep!  I had pushed myself to stay awake for so long that awakeness had a terrible momentum of its own.  At that point, I didn’t feel like a human being.  Just some hollowed out husk flopped on a bed, with an empty, buzzing head and tired limbs.  I finally dozed off at midnight, but was up again at 4:30 am ish for a day tour to Lake Atitlan the next morning!


Based upon this experience, I would offer the following advice to other travelers.  One important lesson is to NOT book strenuous activities on the day after arrival…as arrival can be postponed by weather.  I didn’t have much choice since my time was limited and I felt compelled to maximize it.  Another obvious piece of advice would be to avoid working a night shift…then staying awake to travel.  I also could not avoid this because I wanted to squeeze the most out of my accrued vacation time.  Taking the night off would have meant exhausting nine more hours of accrued vacation time.  Vacation time is precious.  The loss of a day is one less day I get to spend somewhere else.   My need to work and desire to maximize my time set me up for a very unpleasant hike.  As another general piece of advice, wear sunscreen, a hat, and bring a bandana.  The sun is pretty intense, especially on the lava field.  So….I scorched myself.  Also, the air is heavy with particulates.  So much so that my lungs felt heavy.  Wearing a bandana over my face helped my to endure the worst areas.  Thirdly, while I had attempted to be in OKAY shape before the trip (by jogging several miles a few times a week, using a higher incline on the treadmill, and generally increasing the amount of exercise I was doing before the trip), I was still sadly out of shape and struggled up the hill.  I don’t think the hike is something that needs to be taken THAT seriously, as with patience and slow effort, almost anyone without complicating health conditions can probably complete the hike.  One lesson I have learned is that there really is no substitute for hiking hills (as treadmill incline really doesn’t seem to replicate the real impact of gravity).  A better idea might have been visiting a place with many stairs and just forcing myself to go up, up, up.   My biggest anxiety was over if I would be physically up for the task (as I would have felt embarrassed to be TOO out of shape) but I think this was unfounded.  It wasn’t THAT hard, but it was challenging.  A final piece of advice was carrying small binoculars.  I brought them along so I could watch for birds (I only saw some hummingbirds during the hike).  Aside from birding, I thought they were useful in getting a closer view of the summit (even if there was not much to see but smoke).   In the end, it was worthwhile.  It was arduous, but I can always look back and think…”remember the time you were awake for …like 40 hours…and climbed a volcano.  I think you can handle this.”


Sources:

Crow, M. (2017, September 24). The #TravelTruth About Hiking the Pacaya Volcano in 2017. Retrieved January 17, 2019, from http://firstread.me/pacaya-volcano-2017/

Guatemala’s Fuego volcano erupts again (2018, October 12) retrieved 16 January 2019
from https://phys.org/news/2018-10-guatemala-fuego-volcano-erupts.html

Steel, M. (2016, September 20). Travels in Geology: Guatemala’s Volcan Pacaya: A feast for the senses. Retrieved January 17, 2019, from https://www.earthmagazine.org/article/travels-geology-guatemalas-volcan-pacaya-feast-senses

Warring, G. (1983). Thermal Springs of the United States and Other Countries, a Summary (Geological Survey Professional Paper, pp. 1-400, Rep. No. 492). Washington: United States Government Printing Office.

Wnuk, K., & Wauthier, C. (2016). Temporal Evolution of Magma Sources and Surface Deformation at Pacaya Volcano, Guatemala Revealed by InSAR (Doctoral dissertation, Pennsylvania State University).

other useful source:

https://www.science.gov/topicpages/p/pacaya+volcano+guatemala

 

A Tale of Two Interstate Parks

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A Tale of Two Interstate Parks

H. Bradford

8/25/18


Summer is quickly coming to an end in the Northland, so I wanted to squeeze a final camping adventure in before the season shifts to fall.  To this end, I headed out towards Interstate State Park, which is actually two state parks.  There is a Minnesota Interstate Park and a Wisconsin Interstate Park.  They are located within 10 minutes drive of each other, straddling the banks of the St. Croix River.  Both are located around two hours south of Duluth/Superior near the towns of Taylor Falls, MN and St. Croix Falls, WI.  Both can be reached by taking either Interstate 35 in Minnesota or HWY 35 in Wisconsin.  I opted for HWY 35 in WI, which is a pleasant, leisurely drive through many small, Wisconsin communities.   Here is a review of the parks! Image may contain: sky, plant, tree, outdoor, nature and water


 

Interstate State Park, Minnesota

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Interstate State Park in Minnesota is the second oldest state park in the state, after Itasca State Park.  While my other state park adventures were filled with solitude and insects, this park was swarming with people!  It is a popular tourist destination and more tourist oriented than the other state parks that I have visited this summer.  Despite the buzzing throngs of humans, very few opted to go on the free glacial pothole tour that was offered at noon.  Every weekend and Monday at noon, park staff provide a free tour of the park’s glacial potholes.  I went on the tour and learned about the formation of the large potholes in the park, while meandering around some of the large potholes near the park’s entrance.   Basically, when the glaciers around Lake Superior began to melt 10,000 years ago it created a powerful torrent of water which created the modern St. Croix river.  The cliffs through which this water flowed were formed 1.1 billion years ago from the lava released from a mid-continental rift that spreads from Minnesota to Kansas.   The powerful river once rushed over these cliffs, creating potholes in the landscape as smaller rocks got caught and scoured holes into the surface.  Interstate State Park boasts the largest “explored” pothole in the world.  This means that there are larger potholes in the world, but they have not been dug out to determine their actual depth.  Visitors to the park can actually stand inside one of the larger potholes.  These potholes were manually shoveled out earlier in the last century and the visitor center features some modern artifacts that have been retrieved from the potholes over the years.  Each year, the potholes are pumped out, as they fill with water, leaves, and other debris.  Aside from the potholes, the naturalist also told us about the billion year old basalt left behind from the mid-continental rift.  The surface of the basalt is pock marked with air bubbles from when the lava cooled.  It was neat to learn about this history and to think about walking on top of such ancient rocks.

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After partaking in the tour, I set up my tent at my campsite.  At this point, I may have gone hiking, but instead, I wanted to explore Taylor Falls.  About 10 minutes drive away from Interstate Park is the Franconia Sculpture Park.  On Sundays, the park offers a free tour at 2 pm with one of the sculptors.  So, after the glacial pothole tour, I went on a sculpture park tour not far from the park.  Prior to the weekend, I had never heard of the sculpture park.  I expected to find a quaint community project with a few quirky sculptures.  Instead, I found a massive field of impressive sculptures, some created by famous artists from all over the world.  Artists even stay at the park as residents and interns.  There is also a workshop wherein artists can created their works.  It was an impressive artistic institution pretty much located in the middle of nowhere (Taylor Falls only has a population of about 900 people).  Once again, the guided tour was not well attended.  It was myself and two local senior citizens.  However, it was great to learn more about the artists, their methods, and the meaning of some of the sculptures.  I hadn’t put much thought into sculptures before- or at least not the process of making them.  An artist was busy making a metal sculpture from a mold she made over a plastered comforter spread over a friend’s body.   The artist was not an engineer, so she had to figure out for herself how to work with metal and create something structurally sound.  I could better appreciate the technical challenges of erecting giant sculptures of metal, cement, or stone after the tour. Image may contain: plant, outdoor and nature


Since Interstate Park is located within Taylor Falls, Mn, the local tourist attractions warrant mention- as these are connected to the park through the Railroad Trail.  After visiting the Franconia Sculpture park, I returned to the state park and followed the River Trail from the campground to the town.  Within Taylor Falls, I grabbed some dinner at the Drive In Restaurant.  The Drive In Restaurant is an old fashioned drive in, where you can eat in your car.  I chose to eat at a table.  The servers wear Poodle Skirts and serve classic American foods like malts, sundaes, burgers, fries, etc.  They actually had a veggie burger on their menu.   This is easily within walking distance from the park, as are several other restaurants.

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On the way back to the park, I followed the Railroad trail, which follows along an old railroad bed.  It is less stunning than the River Trail (which follows the St. Croix river) but worth hiking simply to mix things up.  Together, the trails make for about a three mile loop.  Thus, Minnesota Interstate Park does not have many trails (as these are the main two trails in the park).  It is not a state park to visit if you expect to do a lot of hiking, but worth visiting if you want to enjoy the St. Croix river and some local tourist attractions.   The Railroad trail leads hikers past the Folsom House (which is up the hill from the trail), which is a house built in 1854 by lumber baron, W.H. Folsom.  The house was closed when I visited, but it is generally open on the weekends during the summer and fall.  The trail also brings visitors past the historic rail station.  Another attraction, back in town and not on the trail, is a small, yellow library dating back to the late 1800s (it was built in 1854 as a taylor shop but later became a library).  The diminutive library continues to lend books to this day.  Finally, for those looking for something else to do after hiking to two short trails, the state park is unique in that it offers steamboat tours.  Tickets for the steamboat tours can be purchased near the park’s visitors office.  Tickets cost about $20, which I was content to forgo as I had already explored the river on foot and didn’t feel like spending more money.   The St. Croix river can also be explored by canoe or kayak and there are several rentals in the area.

Tiny Library from the 1800s


 

  Park Overview:

Pros: Beautiful cliffs over the water, many local tourist attractions, guided pothole tours, largest explored pothole in the world, riverboat tours, kayak/canoe opportunities, easy hiking trails, and well-staffed park and campground.


Cons: Very busy with tourists, loud traffic, not many hiking trails, relatively small park Image may contain: tree, sky, plant, outdoor, nature and water


Interstate State Park, Wisconsin

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On the other side of the St. Croix River is Wisconsin’s Interstate Park.  As mentioned, this was Wisconsin’s first state park.  I visited here early Monday morning after camping at Minnesota’s park.  At 7am, the park was devoid of tourists and hikers.  This gave me the opportunity to explore the park’s trails alone.  Unlike the Minnesota state park, there are many trails to explore.  Most of these are small loop trails which connect to each other in a series of lopsided figure eights.  Each loop is usually about a half a mile to under a mile long.   I hiked several of these small loop trails.  One of the highlights was the Pothole Trail.  Like the Minnesota park, the Wisconsin Interstate State Park also features potholes.  These potholes are smaller in width and depth, so they are not as impressive as the Minnesota potholes.  But, if you want to take in  more glacial potholes, the trail is still worthwhile and the trail itself features a nice overlook of the St. Croix river.  I also followed the Meadow Valley Trail, which was a bit swampy and buggy.   It is mostly just a connector between a parking lot and the Pothole Trail.  Another trail is the Summit Rock Trail, which brings visitors to the highest point on the bluffs.  This trail features the best observation point of all of the trails, since it is the highest.  I also followed part of the Echo Canyon Trail, though this was done to get to the Lake o’ the Dalles Trail.  The Lake o’ the Dalles Trail is a one mile loop around a small lake.  This is the only place between the two state parks where visitors can go swimming.  Otherwise, the currents of the St. Croix river are either too strong or the cliffs/bluffs are too steep.   This area features a beach house and the trail is described as a wildlife viewing trail.   I didn’t see much for wildlife, but I did encounter poison ivy.

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I didn’t mention that the Minnesota Interstate Park was buzzing with both people, but also a new colony of honeybees.  I have never seen a swarm of bees colonize a tree before.  The naturalist pointed them out and put up a sign so that everyone would avoid that area.  After a few hours, the bees were settled down in their new home.  Despite nearly walking by the swarm, the bees were content to focus on their new home.  Other than this brief and interesting encounter with these bees, I had no major insect incidents over the course of my park visit.  However….I did notice how there was NO poison ivy in the parks.  This was a first, as the other parks I have visited this summer had abundant ivy.  I guess I was lulled into complacency, since during my hike around Lake o’the Dalles, I noticed a lush gauntlet of poison ivy right by the trail (which I had already been following).  When I looked down at my legs, I saw they had small red bumps near the ankles and lower calves.   I couldn’t do much about it at the time.   This was a good lesson in paying attention and wearing taller socks/shoes/long pants.  Several days later, my legs are still bumpy, red, and itchy.   This was my first brush against poison ivy and the reaction was not that severe, just annoying and ugly.  I have used Vicks Vapor Rub and Cortisone cream on it.

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Despite the poison ivy, I saw a Giant Swallowtail butterfly, which are rare…


There were a few other trails which I did not have time to explore.   Otherwise, the park also features a small museum and gift shop.  The museum features information about glaciers.  It also has a display of various clams found in the St. Croix River.  Traveling HWY 35, one passes by Clam Dam and Clam Falls, which alludes to the mussels found in the river.  Personally, I haven’t paid much attention to mussels, so the display was neat because it showcased the variety of local clams.  The mussels have unique names, such as Fawnsfoot, Higgin’s Eye, Monkey Face, Snuffbox, and Winged Maple leaf.   Some of these mussels are endangered and I know that I certainly have never paid attention to the differences between species of clams.  The St. Croix River has over 40 species of mussels, making it one of the most significant mussel habitats in the country. No automatic alt text available.


I did not explore the local tourist attractions outside of Wisconsin’s Interstate Park.  St. Croix Falls, the community near the park, is larger than Taylor Falls and also more spread out.  While I did not stop here, I did stop in Balsam Lake (which was slightly out of the way but roughly 15 miles away from the park).  The small community features a museum, a city park with camping, a few eateries, and some historic buildings.  I ate lunch at KJ’s New North.  The deli/coffee shop does not have any vegetarian items on the menu, but they made me a veggie sandwich with all of their veggies (peppers, pickles, lettuce, tomato, avocado+cheese).   The food was tasty and the service was good.  Since the town has its own municipal self-serve camping in the park, this might be a camping option when the state parks are full.   Pine Park features disc golf and the basic camping sites have a shared restroom and shower.  I visited the park briefly and found that it was great habitat for woodpeckers.  I saw four species of woodpeckers in my first fifteen minutes in the park, including a red headed woodpecker.  This was my only birding on the trip.

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Park overview:

Pros: Various hiking trails, glacial potholes, swimming opportunities, camping,  quieter than MN Interstate Park, close to St. Croix falls and other nearby communities, gift shop/mini museum, first Wisconsin State Park, and cheaper camping fees than MN.


Cons: Poison ivy and tourists (but less busy than MN Interstate Park…though it was a Monday)

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Conclusion:

Both parks compliment each other well.  Minnesota’s Interstate Park is great for its potholes, boat tours, and proximity to tourist attractions.  Wisconsin’s Interstate Park is great for hiking, swimming, and its interpretive center.  Together, the parks give visitors an appreciation for geology, knowledge about glaciers, and great views off the bluffs divided by the St. Croix river.   The proximity of the parks to the Minneapolis area and the dramatic natural beauty ensures that both are a popular destination.  They aren’t the most tranquil state parks, but if you don’t mind the sound of cicadas, traffic, and people they are a great place to visit.

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A Review of Three Minnesota National Wildlife Refuges

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A Review of Three Minnesota National Wildlife Refuges

H. Bradford

7/29/18


This past weekend (+Monday and Tuesday), I visited three state parks as part of my goal to see all of the state parks in Minnesota.  As it happens, all three state parks were not terribly far from National Wildlife Refuges.  Thus, I also visited three National Wildlife Refuges during my mini-vacation.   National Wildlife Refuges (NWR) are administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service for the purpose of conserving…well, wildlife!  I will admit that I am not as familiar with NWRs as I am with state or national parks.  From my limited experience, it seems that NWRs that I have been to differ from state parks in that they typically do not charge a fee or requite a sticker.  At the same time, camping is not typically allowed and there are fewer amenities, programs, and regular staffing.  They also seem less busy or tourist oriented than state or national parks.  On the other hand, some allow hunting and trapping, which is not always allowed at state parks.  My general impression is that NWRs are less family and tourist friendly, but great for bird/wildlife watching and a variety of independent outdoor activities.  There are 13 NWRs in Minnesota, which are among the 550 spread across the United States.  This is a review of three of them.

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Sherburne NWR:


Sherburne NWR is located near Zimmerman, MN and about a half an hour south-east of St. Cloud, MN.  I visited the refuge with my brother as a Saturday excursion during my weekend visit.  The park contains oak savanna, wetlands, and prairie ecosystems and offers hiking, but also a wildlife drive and opportunities for fishing and hunting.   My brother and I mostly partook in the wildlife drive, which provides a few opportunities to stop for short hikes.  The primary purpose of the visit was birding.

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The wildlife drive took us through a variety of landscapes, including the three mentioned on the website: prairie, wetland, and oak savanna.  We took a short hike in the prairie area, which unlike the state parks I had visited over the weekend, was devoid of bothersome insects.   While it seems that woodland wildflowers peak in the early spring, the prairie wildflowers were in full bloom, creating colorful fields of orange and yellow.   As for birding, the park has several species of sparrows which are not regularly seen in Northern Minnesota, where I live.   For instance, during our short hike, I heard a Field sparrow.  The song is very distinct, even though I have never seen or heard one before.  I imagine that it is the sound of a Frisbee being thrown or a UFO taking off.   There were also many grasshopper sparrows, another sparrow that I hadn’t seen before.  They have an insect like song that sounds like a cross between a buzz and a hiss.  Over twenty species of sparrows can be found in the wildlife refuge, so it seems like a great place to visit to see sparrows (even if I only saw a few species).

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The wildlife drive follows along some lakes, where trumpeter swans, double-crested cormorants, great blue herons, and various ducks can be seen.  For me, a highlight of these area was seeing black terns, which are another new bird for me.  I was unable to photograph them, as they zip along pretty quickly.   They don’t range near Duluth, but are found in other parts of Minnesota in prairie or prairie transition areas.  Another highlight was hearing a Least bittern in a ditch by the lake, though I did not see the bird hidden in the thick vegetation.   I am not a great birder, so I would suggest that less skilled birders (like myself) review bird song/calls before heading to the park.  It definitely helps with sparrow identification (as they all look pretty plain and brown) and for hard to spot birds.  I listened to a bird CD in my car on the way to Lake Maria State Park from Duluth (a three hour drive) so a few vocalizations were fresh in my head.

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The only buggy area was on the north-west end of the lake, where there was a small oak forests and trail.  We were too mosquito bitten to venture far, but we did see a red bellied woodpecker.  This was a new woodpecker species for me and one that I later saw more of at Charles Lindbergh State Park and Crane Meadows NWR.  As a whole, I would say that the park offered great birding opportunities.  I would definitely return to see more sparrows and to view the Sandhill cranes which migrate through the refuge in large numbers each fall.    I like that the park offered a wide variety of ecosystems and a wildlife drive.  While we didn’t do much hiking, I would like to return to try out the trails.  The park was surprisingly busy, with several vehicles slowly moving along the wildlife drive, also trying to spy on birds.  There isn’t much room for passing, so, be prepared to take it slow and follow the caravan of wildlife enthusiasts!   The refuge is about 30 minutes drive away from Lake Maria State Park, so both could be visited in the same day (though I visited them over the course of two days).

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Crane Meadows NWR:


Crane Meadows NWR is only fifteen minutes away from Charles Lindbergh State Park and only about ten minutes away from Little Falls.  This makes it very accessible and very easy to take in along with Charles Lindbergh State Park.  The NWR was a welcome reprieve from the mosquito swarms that characterized Charles Lindbergh State Park.  Crane Meadows NWR was bright and sunny, and although the trails followed along the Platte River, the wildlife area lacked the deer flies and mosquitoes that plagued my other outdoor adventures over the weekend.  Crane Meadows is only 2000 acres (compared to over 30,000 for Sherburne NWR) and does not have a wildlife drive.  Instead, it offers a few looped trails along the Platte River to Rice Lake.  The longest loop is just under four miles.  I hiked this loop, which was the best hike of the weekend because 1.) it wasn’t buggy.  2.) There was an abundance of birds.  3.) The trail passes a variety of ecosystems, such as oak savanna, tall grass prairie, sedge meadow wetland, and more!  The trail can only be used for hiking, so horses and bicycles are not allowed.  Perhaps owing to the length and limited use, I did not see any other people on the trail.

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As I already mentioned, the hike was very enjoyable, with easy terrain and a variety of habitats in one relatively small area.  I did not see as many birds as I did at Sherburne, but I also covered a smaller area.  There were some noteworthy birds on the hike, including a great crested flycatcher, another new bird for my list.  The yellow, gray, and rusty orange bird is easy to identify (which is not true of most flycatchers, which look pretty similar in their variations of pale yellow, olive, and gray plumage.)  Another highlight was a few red headed woodpeckers, which I have not seen in Minnesota before.  I also saw red breasted woodpeckers and a swamp sparrow.  Other sparrows included song sparrows and chipping sparrows, both of which are pretty common in Duluth.  The martin house was busy and there were also many barn swallows.

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Like Sherburne NWR, I would definitely visit Crane Meadows again.  The leisurely hike and variety of birds made for a great way to spend an afternoon.  I would say that the main downside of the NWR is a lack of amenities.  There are no toilets on the trails, but there is a port-a-potty at the parking area.  On the other hand, there was hardly anyone at the NWR, so that was a plus.  As a whole, it is a nice, compact wildlife area with easy access to Little Falls.

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Rice Lake NWR:

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The final NWR that I visited was Rice Lake NWR, near McGregor, MN.  I have visited this area many times, but couldn’t resist making a pit stop on my way home to Duluth.   Of the three, this NWR has the widest variety of things to do.  There is a wildlife drive, which I have done many times.  There is an observation deck and several hiking trails.  The NWR also features Native American and Civilian Conservation Corps history.  Native Americans continue to use the wildlife area for harvesting wild rice and maple syrup.  In fact, Native Americans have used the park since at least 1000 BC and there are burial mounds within the refuge.  Each time I visit, there are usually at least a few people fishing, which seems to be the most popular activity.  Rice Lake NWR is rich in waterfowl and each spring and fall during migrations.  In fact, the area holds the state record for the most waterfowl seen in one place at one time, when a million ring necked ducks were observed in 1994.   Like the other two parks, there is a wide variety of sparrows that can also be seen, including the rare LaConte’s Sparrow (which I have not seen).

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Where the wild rice grows…


In addition to the hiking trails, wildlife drive, fishing, birding, and Native American history/use, this NWR generally has pretty good amenities (at least compared to the other two refuges).  There are several toilets or port-a-poties spread throughout the refuge as well as two picnic areas.  There is no running water, however.  The refuge itself features mixed forests, lakes, and bogs.  Because it is a very wet environment, there are always lots of insects!  Of the three refuges, this was the worst, with swarms of deer flies AND mosquitoes.    I have never successfully hiked in this refuge since these attempts are almost always thwarted by voracious insects.  Even an open window during the wildlife drive attracted unwanted deer flies into my vehicle.

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National Wildlife Refuges are a different experience than state and national parks.  While they may not be as full of tourists, activities, and amenities, they are great places to spend a day taking in nature.  All three of these locations are relaxing, tranquil, and great for birding.  All three are places that I would visit again.   There are only 13 of these gems in Minnesota, and only 12 can be visited!  I will definitely be visiting other NWRs in the future and hopefully you will be inspired to visit them as well!

 

A Review of Three Minnesota State Parks

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A Review of Three Minnesota State Parks

H. Bradford

7/27/18

This past week I visited three Minnesota State Parks.  My goal is to one day visit all 66 state parks.  Usually, I try to visit a few new ones each year, so it is a long term goal.  The three parks that I visited are each located in central Minnesota and are each within one hour driving distance from St. Cloud.  I chose the parks since I visited my brother this past weekend (who lives in the St. Cloud area) and it was a way to kill two birds with one stone.  Well, really, I don’t want to kill birds at all.  Typically, I prefer to watch them.  Violent idioms aside, here is my review of the three state parks that I visited.


Lake Maria State Park:

Lake Maria State Park is located near Monticello, Minnesota, about three hours south-west of Duluth.  There was some road construction along the way and when I stopped at a gas station about 10 miles away from the park, the staff and a customer had no idea where Lake Maria State Park was.  The customer reckoned that he had heard of it before.  This did not bode well for the state park.  When I arrived not long after the stop, I found that the park office was closed.  It was a Friday, which I assumed might be a busier day of the week for a state park.  With the park office closed, I decided to do some hiking, then check back later (since I like to collect state park patches).   My first hike was to Little Mary Lake.

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(Sorry to disappoint anyone but Lake Maria’s sign is not this sparkly in real life.  I just had a sparkle setting on my camera by accident.)


Almost immediately, I was attacked by deer flies.  I did not think to wear my hat, so during the course of my hike, I picked dead deer flies from my hair in a demoralizing journey to the lake.  Had I counted the number of dead deer flies, I would not be surprised if at least 50 found their death in my hair.  The hike itself was hard to enjoy, as my constant battle with the flies made it impossible to stop for photos or bird watching.  The trail was dotted with many swampy pools, which seemed like the perfect environment for breeding insects.  The forest itself was unique, as it is a remnant of the “Big Woods” that once covered that part of the state.  The surrounding area near the park is either farm fields with corn or big box stores along I-94, so the park is a piece of what once was.   The forest also seemed unique to me because of the large number of basswood trees.  I might have appreciated the park more had my hike not been marked by the incessant attack of deer flies.

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One of Lake Maria’s swampy pools.


Little Mary Lake features a wildlife lookout, wherein visitors can take a moment to enjoy the swans and other waterfowl on the lake.   Further ahead, there is a boat landing and interpretive trail.  I enjoy interpretive trails, though the Zumbrunnen Interpretive Trail was overgrown with sedges and other vegetation.   Upon finishing this trail, I headed back to my car to eat a snack, put on a hat (to guard against flies), and wait for the visitor center to open.

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The wildlife lookout area


My second hike of the day was to Lake Maria.  I took a meandering path instead of a direct route, which took me to a bluebird restoration area, then back to the lake.  The lake itself was actually much smaller than Little Lake Mary, despite the fact the larger lake is called “Little.”  Once again, I was pestered by flies. Despite wearing hat (which I retrieved after the first hike), they flew at my face and under the brim.  This made for an exhausting day, as my hike seemed like an endless battle with flies.   However, I think that the park would be more enjoyable in the autumn or spring when the flies are not as thick.  Since the park is almost entirely forests and lakes, I am sure that it would be particularly nice in the fall.

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Pros:

The park was almost entirely empty.  I hiked from 11:30 am to about 3:30 pm and only encountered one other hiker.  There were several other people in the park, but I can count on one hand the number that I saw at various points during the day.  The park also features backpacking campsites.  It seems that it is a great park to visit if someone wants solitude.  I assumed that since the park is only 22 miles from St. Cloud and 45 miles from Minneapolis that it would be much busier.  This was not the case at all.  Lake Maria features lakes, forests, and plenty of birds.


Cons:

The flies were insufferable.  The natural ponds and lakes and surrounding farmland seem to be the ingredients for a lot of flies.  I would definitely have arrived more prepared for flies had I been thinking about it.  They bite any exposed skin, making taking photos difficult as they would land on my hands.   Another con was that the park office did not open until 2pm.  I wanted to purchase a year long park sticker and an embroidered patch, but had to wait until the park office opened.  Stickers can be ordered online, but I wanted the sticker right away as I had planned on visiting two other state parks that weekend.


Charles Lindbergh State Park:

Do you like aviation history and relentless swarms of mosquitoes?  I sure don’t.  This made Charles Lindbergh State Park a bit of a disappointment for me (heavy emphasis on the mosquito swarms).   Charles Lindbergh State Park is located about an hour north west of Lake Maria State Park, or about 30 minutes south of St. Cloud Minnesota.  The park was established with donated land from Charles Lindbergh Sr., the father of the famous aviator and a state congressperson.  Upon arriving at the park at about 9am on Monday, I found that the office was closed.  Bugs and closed park offices were a theme over the weekend.  I had intended to camp there, so I dropped off some money for firewood and set off to explore some of the historic buildings around the park.

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Because the park was created through a land donation of Charles Lindbergh Sr., visitors can walk around the family farm house.  The farm house was not open during my visit, but the grounds were open.  Visitors can also view a dilapidated house which was used by tenant farmers on the Lindbergh property.  There are some signs which tell the story of the farm, which seems oddly situated in a wooded strip of land between the Mississippi River and Pike Creek.  Near the farm, there is a museum dedicated to Charles Lindbergh Jr., the famous aviator.  The museum, like the farm house, was not open.  In the opposite direction, there is Weyerhauser Museum, but once again, this museum was not open.   Although the museums were closed, there are a few interpretive signs and a pleasant trail along the Mississippi River, which connects these sites.

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Tenant farmer house

 


After viewing these historical sites, I decided to do some hiking within the woods.  This was where I was bombarded by mosquitoes.  It is little wonder, since the trail followed Pine Creek, a wonderful breeding place for the blood thirsty plague.  I sprayed myself with DEET, but this would not defeat the relentless mosquitoes, which prodded my skin and clothes for any DEET free areas.  On the bright side, it caused me to hike very quickly as the mosquitoes pushed me forward.  I hiked a 1.5 mile loop which took me through the forest, along the creek, and to the landing site of Lindbergh’s “Jenny” airplane.  I am not really interested in aviation history, but the clearing was the only mosquito free area of the hike.

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I would have hiked longer, but the mosquitoes were making me miserable.  Instead, I headed to the park office, which was again closed.  I decided that I would leave the park, head to Little Falls, find some lunch, then go hiking elsewhere (at Crane Meadows National Wildlife Reserve).  This 3.5 mile hike proved to be bug free and greatly improved my bug bitten morale.

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A mosquito breeding area


When I returned to the park in the early evening, the park office was still closed.  I set up my tent at the campsite, took a short jaunt into the mosquito infested woods, then settled down at my campsite with a fire and some reading.  A wasp flew into my tent and I could not find it.  This caused me some concern.  Another source of concern was the nearby campers, who seemed to be very rowdy and loud.  Because of the loud neighbor campers and the mysterious disappearance of the wasp in my tent, I decided to sleep in my car.


Sometime after midnight, a police officer woke me up.  He questioned me about the behaviors of the nearby campers and if I had witnessed anything unusual or anyone in distress.  There were several squad cars parked near my campsite.  I only said that they had been loud earlier, but I didn’t hear any fighting or anything more concerning than the ruckus of loud conversation.  The officer left, but sometime later I was roused again, this time by a sergeant who wanted me to make an official witness statement.  I really hadn’t been paying attention to the other campers, their conversations, or what they were up to.  I have no idea what sort of crime happened on the other campsite.  I never heard anyone in need of help or anything that sounded like an argument or fight.  So…I don’t know.  But, it made me feel uneasy for the rest of the night.  The officers also seemed surprised that I was camping alone and in my car, rather than my tent.  I explained that a wasp had entered my tent and I could not locate it.   The rest of the night was a fitful sleep of wondering if someone had been hurt or if I failed to help someone.  I had a dream that a woman came knocking on my car door asking for help.  In the morning, the park office was still closed as I left…

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My shirt says…camping is in-tents.   Owing to a wayward wasp and concerning crime, it was a little too intense, even if it was not in-tent.


Pros:

Charles Lindbergh State Park features museums and historical buildings, melding history and nature into a unique state park.  The park is located along the Mississippi River, so it is also a good place to visit if a person wants to take in a section of the second longest U.S. river.   However, most of the trails are not along the Mississippi.   The park is conveniently located near Little Falls, MN which has a historic downtown and several local attractions, including the Minnesota Fishing Museum (inconveniently closed on Mondays as well).  The town has a variety of restaurants and stores, making it easy to restock or recharge while camping.  The park is also less than 10 miles from Crane Meadows National Wildlife Preserve.  Location and history seem to be the best features of the park.  Like Lake Maria, the park was fairly empty.  While the campground was active, I didn’t see any other hikers on the trails.


Cons:

The park was not staffed between 9 am Monday and 9am Tuesday when I left.  I checked the office numerous times, but I saw no one there.  This meant that I could not collect an embroidered patch from the park.  It also meant that no one was around to attend to the campground, which in the case of my stay, was the site of some kind of crime.  Obviously, visiting the park on a Monday was not a perfect idea, since the museums were closed.  There were also a lot of hungry mosquitoes.

Crow Wing State Park:


The final park that I visited was Crow Wing State Park, which is less than 30 minutes north of Little Falls near Brainerd, Minnesota.   Of the three, I spent the least amount of time here, since I was simply stopping by on my way home.   Crow Wing State Park is the park that I would most likely revisit and was my favorite of the three.   I spent under three hours at the park, hiking around on Tuesday morning after leaving Lindbergh State Park.  Once again, the park office was closed.  It was closed throughout my visit (though I saw staff poking around the park- just not attending to the office).  Thus, I was unable to obtain a collectable embroidered patch once again…since….once again, the park office was closed.

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Much like Charles Lindbergh State Park, Crow Wing State Park was a breeding ground for aggressive swarms of mosquitoes.  The mosquitoes were actually far worse in some areas of this park.  Once again, DEET didn’t do much to deter the menacing cloud that followed me around the park.  My 100% DEET spray, which is potent enough to remove my nail polish and destroyed the fabric of my leggings, didn’t bother them that much.  The mosquitoes mostly bounced off my skin, looking for a clear spot to feast.  I can only be thankful that the mosquitoes here do not carry tropical diseases as we would all be doomed.  At some points, I actually jogged down the trail, hoping to out run them.  I didn’t.  There were just too many.   Oh well.

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More mosquitoes…

 


Insects aside, there was a lot to like about the park.  For one, the trails were accessible and could easily be visited by families.  The trail that I visited passed through the remnants of the former town of Crow Wing, which was established at the confluence of the Mississippi and Crow Wing rivers.  There is nothing left of the town but sign posts where businesses and town amenities once stood.  However, this was interesting and there were a few interpretive signs which told the story of the long lost 1800s trading town.  Another bonus of this area was that it was situated in a sunny clearing that was devoid of mosquitoes.  Because of this, I took my time, taking in the signs and the history.  Highlights of the remnants of Crow Wing include a reconstructed wooden boardwalk and the restored home of Clement Beaulieu the head of the American Fur Company trading post in Crow Wing.  It is one of the oldest wooden houses in Minnesota.  The town of Crow Wing had a population of 600 people at its peak, most of whom were of Native American descent.  The interpretive signs did not mention (at least the ones that I read) that the town collapsed because of the relocation of local Native Americans to White Earth Reservation in 1868 and the subsequent railroad construction in Brainerd.

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Aside from the town of Crow Wing, visitors can hike along the Red River Oxcart Trail to where oxcarts forded across the Mississippi River.   The Red River Trail was established as a trade route to Winnipeg, Manitoba.  The section near Crow Wing was constructed through Ojibwe territory, as it was viewed safer at the time than passing through Dakota territory.   In addition to this trail (which was very buggy) visitors can also view a battle site where Ojibwe and Dakota people fought in 1768.  There is also a reconstructed chapel of Father Pierz, who built a mission near Crow Wing and promoted white settlement and the acculturation of Native Americans (through conversion to Catholicism and adopting European farming practices).  I did not visit the chapel as I was not as interested in Catholic history and the mosquitoes were too intense.

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Pros:

This state park was my favorite of the three.  There is a lot to like!  Native American history, a ghost town, ox cart trail, and battle site (though there was not a lot of information about the 1768 battle).   It also seemed to be the most accessible of the three parks, as the trails were flatter and the distance to the ghost town was not far.  With that said, those with walkers or wheelchairs would still find it difficult to navigate.  However, families or those with less restrictive mobility issues might be able to enjoy the ghost town.  The reconstructed boardwalk is rustic looking, but this also makes it uneven.  That could be a challenge.  As a whole, state park hiking trails do not seem that accessible, but this one might be slightly less daunting.  The history is the main attraction of this park.  The nature is also nice as well.  Although it is only 30 minutes north of Little Falls, the landscape features conifers, wetlands, and wet prairie.  It is also a location to enjoy the Mississippi River (as it meets the Crow Wing river).


Cons:

There really weren’t any cons to this park, other than the mosquitoes.  I suppose that a con could be that the ghost town of Crow Wing seems to be excellent habitat for snakes- as I saw at least three by the boardwalk.  I am not bothered by snakes, but this might frighten some people.  Interestingly, I also saw a small lizard.  There are only three lizards that are found in Minnesota.  I have never seen one.  I believe that the one that I saw was a prairie skink, as that is the most common and is found in that part of the state.  Again, this should go in the pros, as who isn’t pro skink?  So scratch that, there is nothing wrong with this park except for the millions of mosquitoes and fact that the office was closed AGAIN!  I missed out on another collectable patch.


Conclusion:

If there are two lessons to draw from these state park visits it is 1.) be prepared for bugs.  2.) state parks need more funding and staffing.  To address the first issue, yes, I have complained a LOT about insects.  I could certainly dress differently or prepare myself in other ways for the massive amount of insects.  Another idea is to visit these parks in times of the year where the insects are less active.  Daily weather variations can also make a difference.  Had there been heavy wind or rain, the insects would not have been as active.  I think that next year, if I visit any state parks in the month of July I will choose places that are not as wet, as each of these parks is either located on rivers or lakes.  Southern or Western Minnesota might be better options for July.  To address the staffing issue, I was shocked that the parks seemed like ghost towns…(aside from the actual ghost town of Crow Wing).  The parks seemed very understaffed.  What has happened?  We really need to do more to staff the parks!  Of course, there were few visitors at the parks as well.  These parks may not be as well-visited as other parks in Minnesota.  Nevertheless, it is summer, so I expect that there would be SOME tourism to these parks.  I guess we really need to promote state park visits and funding for staff.   Otherwise, hopefully this inspires someone to visit a state park this summer and now you know what to expect!

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Why Moths Matter and How to Attract Them to Your Garden

Moths Matter

Why Moths Matter and How to Attract Them to Your Garden

H. Bradford

6/15/18

Last week I had the odd idea that I wanted to attract moths to my garden.  The idea is only odd because usually gardeners want to rid moths from the garden.  Even though it is actually a butterfly, the cabbage moth (cabbage white butterfly or small white (pieris rapae)) is the scourge of vegetable growers.  Cutworms generally grow into a variety of species of moths.  Tent caterpillars and gypsy moths defoliate trees. Moths get a bad wrap-taking blame for some of the damage done by their more colorful kin.  But, moths are useful in a number of ways. For one, they are important pollinators of the night shift. As a night shift worker myself, I can celebrate the work of these nocturnal comrades.  Moths create silky cocoons, unlike butterflies, which create chrysalis. Humans have benefited by turning the cocoons of silk moths into a textile. Finally, moths are also a source of food for humans, such as the mopane caterpillars which are farmed and eaten in parts of southern Africa.  Aside from human consumption, moths are food for bats, toads, small animals (Larum, 2018) as well as owls, flying squirrels, song birds, tree frogs (“The Xerces Society » Blog Archive » Gardening For Moths”, 2017).  While there are many reasons why moths are important, the main reasons why a gardener might want to attract moths to their garden is for pollination, food to other garden critters, and as a celebration of their nocturnal beauty.

((Edit Note: the heading image for this post features three moth stock images from canva.  I believe the top one may not be a moth since it is not holding its wings flat.  I did not catch this when I created the image))

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(image from Butterfly Conservation.org)


Both moths and butterflies belong to the order of insects called Lepidoptera, though moths tend to be characterized by such things as being nocturnal, holding their wings flat, and making silky cocoons.  Recent research suggests that moths and butterflies have been around for over 200 million years, appearing before the first flowering plants. Traditionally, pollinators were believed to have evolved with flowering plants.  However, the discovery of fossilized wing scales has pushed the existence of moths and butterflies back into history from 130 million years to over 200 million. They were first found in the Triassic Period, which is also when the first dinosaurs also appeared.  Early butterflies and moths are believed to have looked more like moths with drab colors. More colorful butterflies only evolved after the extinction of dinosaurs (Osterath, 2018). So, while moths may not get the same attention as butterflies, their characteristics reach deeper back into history.  Today, they out number butterflies 10 to 1. In the United States alone, there are 11,000 species of moths. They outnumber birds and mammal species of North America combined (Konkel, 2012). Image result for moth fossil


Planting for Pollinating Moths:

As I mentioned earlier, moths are overlooked pollinators.  Most studies regarding pollinators focus on diurnal pollinators like bees and butterflies.  Pollinating moths do so when visiting a plant for nectar, which is used for energy, but some pollinate when visiting a plant to lay eggs.  Many plants are pollinated by both diurnal and nocturnal pollinators. Research conducted on 289 species of plants which are pollinated exclusively or partially by moths, representing 75 taxa of plants found that moths are specifically helpful as pollinators because they travel further, have higher quality pollination, and greater interpopulation gene flow (Konkel, 2012). A study of moths in a Portuguese meadow showed that 76% of the moths that were captured carried pollen on them.  One third of the moths had pollen from five or more plant species (Banza, Belo, and Evans 2015). Moths lack jaws, so they only drink nectar. Because moths don’t groom away or eat the pollen, they move more pollen from plants than pollinators that do (Tartaglia, 2015). Thus, moths are useful pollinators because they visit many plants, travel long distances, and don’t eat pollen.

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White lined sphinx moth from http://www.nhptv.org/wild/sphingida.asp


Most moths are generalists, meaning they don’t require a specific plant to feed their larvae or to draw nectar from.  However, there are a few plants such as Western prairie fringed orchid and senita cacti which depend exclusively on moths for pollination (Young, Auer, Ormes, Rapacciuolo, Schweitzer, and Sears, 2017).  Western prairie fringed orchid is a wildflower found in the Midwest, including Minnesota. The orchid is endangered in Minnesota and federally listed as threatened. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, it is pollinated by “bedstraw hawk moth (Hyles gallii), the wild cherry sphinx (Sphinx drupiferarum), the Achemon sphinx (Eumorpha achemon), and the non-native spurge hawk moth (Hyles euphorbiae).” (https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/rsg/profile.html?action=elementDetail&selectedElement=PMORC1Y0S0)   It would be impractical, difficult, and sometimes illegal (depending upon how the plant was obtained) to grow this particular orchid,  however a gardener could grow plants which support the pollinating moth populations. For instance, wild cherry sphinx moth larvae are hosted on wild cherry, plum, apple, lilac, and hackberry bushes.  Adults feed on the nectar of deep throated flowers such as Japanese honeysuckle (Wild cherry sphinx Sphinx drupiferarum, 2018). Achemon sphinx moth caterpillars enjoy grape plants and adults feed on the nectar of Japanese honeysuckle, petunias, and phlox (Achemon sphinx Eumorpha achemon, 2017).  Both species are said to like Japanese honeysuckle in particular, which is non-Native plant available at nurseries. Perhaps because the flowers are white, tubular, and fragrant it is a favorite for those moths. Image result for japanese honeysuckle

Japanese Honeysuckle image from Colombia University


Senita cactus and yucca plants are also pollinated exclusively by moths.  If a gardener happens to live in an area which supports yucca or cacti, growing these to attract moths might be a novel idea.  However, Minnesota is not within the range of the yucca moth. There are some yucca varieties which may be cold hardy to zone five, but since the plant is only pollinated by yucca moths it doesn’t make much sense to plant them outside the range of the moth.  Since most moths are generalists, there are plenty of other plants that can attract them to the garden. It is often suggested that gardeners plant pale colored flowers so that moths can see them at night. Though I am not sure if this is scientifically proven, and may be more useful in helping humans see both the moths and flowers in the dark.  It is also often advised that moth attracting flowers should be fragrant at night. Moth attracting flowers include dianthus, red valerian, campion, soapwort, wild honeysuckle, Sweet William, evening primrose, clematis, and flowering tobacco (Carlton, 2015) Heather, lavender, jasmine, mandevilla, madonna lily, phlox, heliotrope, gardenian, butterfly bush, and spider flower are also popular with moths (Miller, 2009)  In Minnesota, four-o-clocks, petunia, fireweed, dwarf blue gentian, dame’s rocket, madonna lily, scarlet bergamot, common bergamot, and weigelia can be grown to attract adult moths and were rated as excellent by Carol Henderson for attracting wildlife (Krischik, 2013).

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Tobacco hornworm moth from https://phys.org/news/2009-03-moths-key-scent.html


Although it may seem unconventional, reserving some vegetables for moths or larvae, also would draw moths to the garden.  For instance, tomato hornworms grown into attractive, Five spotted hawk moths (Moth Pollination, n.d.). Hawk moths pollinate tubular plants like honeysuckle, datura, brugmansias. (Thompson, 2015).  They belong to the family Sphingidae, which also includes include sphinx moths. Larger species of these moths, such as the white lined sphinx moth, are sometimes mistaken for hummingbirds, and like hummingbirds they are active in the day (or at least some are) and like large, nectar filled blooms.  As a general rule, flowers that butterflies like tend to also be liked by moths. Light colored, tubular, fragrant, night blooming flowers are also attractive to moths and make for a nice night garden.


Beautiful Moths:

Image result for luna moth

Luna moth from https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Actias-luna

In addition to attracting adult moths, gardeners can consider attracting moth caterpillars to their garden.  For instance, one of the most stunning moths of Minnesota is the pistachio green Luna moth.  However, Luna moths are among the moths that lack functioning mouths.  Thus, a gardener must consider the needs of caterpillars, which eat the leaves of American beech, willow, White oak, Black cherry, black walnut, red maple, sumac, and other nut and fruit bearing trees (Medina, 2012).  The Polyphemus moth is another stunning moth, and like the Luna moth, it is the Saturnidae family.  This family consists of some of the largest moths in the world, including the Atlas moth of Asia, with a wingspan of up to almost 12 inches across.  One of the largest North American moth is the Royal Walnut moth, which has a wingspan of 4.5 inches and is once again, a member of the Saturniidae family (Konkel, 2012).  These moths are more commonly found in the Southern United States, and as the name suggests, the caterpillars feed on walnut and hickory foliage. Since these non-feeding moths live short lives as adults and do not visit flowers, they are not major pollinators.  However, they are large, beautiful moths often with patterned markings including eye spots. Their caterpillars can also be quite large and remarkable. Planting with these moths in mind is more for beauty than function. Rather than planting vegetables or flowers, planting trees or shrubs would attract these moths.  For instance, in Minnesota, the four inch Cercropia moth caterpillar feeds on cherry, linden, maple, boxelder, elm, oak, birch, willow, hawthorn, and poplar leaves. The moth can have a wingspan of up to six inches or more and it has a bright white and red stripe and eyespot (Cercopia Moth, n.d.). The smaller but also striking three and a half inch, polyphemus moth caterpillar eats the leaves of “ash, birch, maple, oak, and willow. It has also been known to eat grape leaves”  (Hahn, 2005). For those who live in warmer regions and feel like trying an interesting hobby or agricultural endeavor, a gardener could attempt to raise silkworms, which once again, are part of the Saturnidae family.  Silkworm larvae feed exclusively on mulberry leaves.  Minnesota is at the edge of the range of red mulberries, but perhaps due to climate change the tree will expand its range.  Mulberries themselves are attractive trees with bountiful, edible berries. Recently, some red mulberry trees were found growing in Southern Minnesota, but they had otherwise not been documented in the state since 1920 (Thayer, 2017).   In short, a “moth garden” might include trees or shrubs that are attractive to the bold and beautiful Saturnidae family.

Image result for polyphemus moth

Polyphemus moth from http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/MISC/MOTHS/polyphemus_moth.htm


 

Lighting the Way:

Some online resources for attracting moths to a garden or yard suggest turning on a yard light.  Anyone who has left a porch light on, knows that this draws moths in. However, I am not sure if this is the best way to attract moths to a garden.  Light pollution may actually contribute to the decline of moths. Moths are attracted to shorter wavelength light, with variation across species and between sexes.  For example, male moths are more attracted to light traps than females. Lights that produce heat can kill or harm moths. Artificial lights impact how females lay eggs, sometimes suppressing egg layings, altering where eggs are laid, or resulting in hyper egg laying.  Lights can also confuse moth’s navigation, their eyesight, and delay nocturnal activity. Artificial lights can give advantages to some moth predators and can hinder a moth’s ability to evade bats (Macgregor, Pocock, Fox, and Evans, 2014). For instance, the tiger moth uses clicking noises to evade the sonar of bats (Konkel, 2012).  One theory is that moths are confused by the light, so they behave as if it is day and bats are not around. Light also disrupts the reproduction of moths, as light disrupts female production of pheromones and male moths become distracted from following pheromone trails. When moths reproduce, artificial light impacts the size of caterpillars, causing them to be smaller (Macgregor, 2017). Image result for moths and light

image from http://animalia-life.club/other/moths-flying-around-light.html


Because moths evolved to be active in the dark, they do not require much light to find their way.  Moths actually have evolved a keen sense of smell and can follow the scent of a flower several kilometers (Tartaglia, 2015).  A male giant silkworm moths can smell a female from up to seven miles away (Konkel, 2012). Moths do not smell with nostrils, but with their antennae (Tartaglia, 2015).  While scientists often use light to attract moths for studies and perhaps turning the lights on from time to time to get a better peek at moths is probably alright, using lights, or at least short wavelength lights is probably not very helpful to moths.   If a gardener wants to create a night garden for human enjoyment rather than moths, perhaps dim solar lights or glow in the dark garden art would be less disruptive. An even safer idea is to observe moths using red filtered light or to attract moths using smells rather than light.  If a person does choose to have yard lights, avoiding blue light (which is more attractive to moths) and turning out lights or putting them on a timer can reduce the negative impact of light pollution. Finally, some moths can be attracted to the yard with smells rather than light and there are several recipes of how to create moth solutions (Macgregor, 2017).  One recipe calls for 454 grams of black treacle, 1 kg of brown sugar, 500 ml of brown ale, and a paintbrush. After simmering the ale for five minutes, add the brown sugar and treacle, stirring and dissolving, then letting simmer for two more minutes. Once the mixture has cooled, it can be painted onto trees or fence posts, avoiding moss and lichen. Another recipe calls for mixing a bottle of wine with 1 kg of sugar, dissolving the sugar into the wine over heat.  This mixture can be applied to cloth or ropes, which can be hung from trees or posts to attract moths (Butterfly Conservation, 2015). Recipes for moth sugaring or wine ropes can be flexible, using whatever is on hand, including old fruit such as bananas, various sorts of alcohol, sugar, molasses, maple syrup, etc. The mixture should be thick and paste like and can be applied to trees or rope (Moskowitz, 2011).

Image result for moth wine rope

image from UNC Charlotte Urban Institute


 

Moth Conservation:

All pollinating insects have been in decline over recent decades, and with them, the plants that they pollinate.  In Britain, ⅔ of the species of larger moths have declined over the last 40 years. Like diurnal pollinators, nocturnal pollinators like moths are challenged by climate change, use of agro chemicals, and habitat fragmentation (Konkel, 2012).  In the United States, the decline of some moths can also be attributed to the introduction of the parasitoid fly between 1906–1986 to control gypsy moths. Compsilura concinnata did little to control gypsy moth populations and attacks 200 other species of moths and butterflies.  Hawk moths are on of them. IIn a study by Young, Auer, Ormes, Rapacciuolo , Schweitzer , Sears (2017)  one third of the species of hawk moth’s studied had declined between 1900-2012, while four species increased.  Control of two of the moths as pests may have contributed to some decline in addition to the introduction of the parasitic fly.


Gardeners can support moth populations by planting trees, vegetables, and flowers that host their larvae or provide nectar to adults.  Being mindful of light pollution is another way to help moths. Gardeners can also avoid pesticides. Even natural pesticides can be harmful to moths.  Bacillus thuringiensis is toxic to larvae of both butterflies and moths (Miller, 2009). Gardeners can also get involved with National Moth Week, which is held the last week of July.  During the week, participants can join citizen science projects to identify and count local moth populations. Participants can also host events and submit their findings to the National Moth Week website (National Moth Week, n.d.).  Of course, these are mostly small scale, individual, feel good activities. To really protect moths, and all of the life on the planet, individuals must move away from backyard solutions to building social movements against climate change, the profit driven waste and destruction of industrial agriculture within capitalism, and the exploitative relationship to nature that the profit system both encourages and cannot escape.  Environmental movements that mobilize all segments of society towards the overhaul of our economic system and which are given weight by the power of workers and the connections to other mass movements are the only way to challenge the large scale destruction of capitalism.  Thus, while planting white flowers and learning more about moths can be a wonderful hobby, it is no substitute for the structural changes necessary for protecting habitats, changing agricultural practices while ensuring an end to poverty and hunger, and thwarting climate change.  Historically, the example of the Peppered moth illustrated the impact of industrialization on the environment.  I think then that aside from being a night pollinator, moths are a symbol of capitalism.

Image result for peppered moth

Peppered moth image from https://askabiologist.asu.edu/peppered-moths-game/kettlewell.html


 

Conclusion:

Moths are really fascinating.  I have already begun planting with moths in mind and will be on the lookout for these overlooked garden visitors.  Perhaps I’ll even try to participate in National Moth Week this July. Moths are important pollinators, far more plentiful than butterflies, some of the largest insects, misunderstood and under studied, and both economically destructive and important.  At the same time, there are imperiled by habitat loss, light pollution, pesticides, and climate change. I am convinced that moths matter and are worth learning more about it. One of the tragedies of life is that most of the life around us remains anonymous, unknown and unseen.  I lack the time and discipline to uncover the nature of the hidden world around me. In the night, there is a world of moths (among many other creatures). Some lack mouths and live a short time. My senses are muted by capitalism and my own life is too short to learn and do all that I wish to.   Life is truncated by labor and confined by the resources of class. I like moths though. They are night workers like me.

Sources:

Achemon sphinx Eumorpha achemon (Drury, 1773). (2017, July 30). Retrieved June 15, 2018, from https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Eumorpha-achemon

 

Banza, P., Belo, A. D., & Evans, D. M. (2015). The structure and robustness of nocturnal Lepidopteran pollen‐transfer networks in a Biodiversity Hotspot. Insect Conservation and Diversity, 8(6), 538-546.

 

Butterfly Conservation. (2015, September 15). Retrieved June 15, 2018, from https://butterfly-conservation.org/3114-10110/a-recipe-for-moths-sugaring–wine-roping.html

 

Carlton, M. (2015, September). Flowers for Moths [PDF].  http://www.foxleas.com/uploads/files/Moth%20Flowers%202015.pdf

 

Cecropia moth. (n.d.). Retrieved June 15, 2018, from http://minnesotaseasons.com/Insects/cecropia_moth.html

 

Hahn, J. (2000, August 15). It’s a hummingbird, it’s a moth, it’s a what? Retrieved June 15, 2018, from https://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/insects/find/its-a-hummingbird-its-a-moth-its-a-what/

 

Hahn, J. (2005, August 15). Giant silk moth caterpillars. Retrieved June 15, 2018, from https://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/insects/find/giant-silk-moth-caterpillars/

 

Konkel, L. (2012, July 27). 7 Things You Don’t Know About Moths, But Should. Retrieved June 15, 2018, from https://www.livescience.com/21933-moth-week-facts.html

 

Krischik, V. (2013). Butterfly and moth garden plants. Retrieved June 15, 2018, from https://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/yard-garden/landscaping/butterfly-gardening/butterfly-and-moth-garden-plants/

Larum, D. (2018, April 04). Moth Gardening Information ? What Plants Attract Moths To The Garden. Retrieved June 15, 2018, from https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/garden-how-to/beneficial/attracting-moths-to-gardens.htm

Macgregor, C. J., Pocock, M. J., Fox, R., & Evans, D. M. (2014). Pollination by nocturnal Lepidoptera, and the effects of light pollution: A review. Ecological Entomology, 40(3), 187-198. doi:10.1111/een.12174

 

Macgregor, C. J., Evans, D. M., Fox, R., & Pocock, M. J. (2017). The dark side of street lighting: impacts on moths and evidence for the disruption of nocturnal pollen transport. Global change biology, 23(2), 697-707.

 

Macgregor, C. (2017, July 17). Like moths to a flame: National Moth Week, and how you can help our nighttime wildlife. Retrieved from http://darksky.org/like-moths-to-a-flame-national-moth-week-and-how-you-can-help-our-nighttime-wildlife/

 

Medina, M. (2012, May 20). The Gardener’s Eden. Retrieved June 15, 2018, from http://www.thegardenerseden.com/?p=26162

 

Miller, S. (2009, June 21). Pollinators on second shift: Moths. Retrieved from https://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/2510

 

Moth Pollination. (n.d.). Retrieved June 15, 2018, from https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/animals/moths.shtml

 

Moths of Minnesota. (n.d.). Retrieved June 15, 2018, from http://www.welchproperty.com/cannon/mothsof.htm

 

Moskowitz, D. (2011, December 28). Sugar Baits for Moths: Winter Fun. Retrieved from http://nationalmothweek.org/2011/12/28/sugar-baits-for-moths-winter-fun/

 

National Moth Week. (n.d.). Retrieved June 15, 2018, from http://nationalmothweek.org

 

Osterath, B. (2018, January 11). Rethinking evolution: Butterflies came first, flowers came second | DW | 11.01.2018. Retrieved from http://www.dw.com/en/rethinking-evolution-butterflies-came-first-flowers-came-second/a-42110188

 

The Xerces Society » Blog Archive » Gardening For Moths. (2017, July 21). Retrieved from https://xerces.org/2017/07/21/gardening-for-moths/

 

Tartaglia, E. (2015, June 25). The Year of the Sphingidae – Pollination. Retrieved June 15, 2018, from http://nationalmothweek.org/2015/06/25/the-year-of-the-sphingidae-pollination/

 

Thayer, S. (2017, May/June). The Rarest Tree | Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Retrieved June 15, 2018, from https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/mcvmagazine/issues/2017/may-jun/red-mulberry.html

 

Thompson, K. (2015, July 21). Forget butterflies – it’s moths you need to entice to the garden. Retrieved June 15, 2018, from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/gardeningadvice/11744830/Forget-butterflies-its-moths-you-need-to-entice-to-the-garden.html

 

Wild cherry sphinx Sphinx drupiferarum J.E. Smith, 1797. (2018). Retrieved June 15, 2018, from https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Sphinx-drupiferarum

 

Young B, Auer S, Ormes M, Rapacciuolo G, Schweitzer D, Sears N (2017) Are pollinating hawk moths declining in the Northeastern United States? An analysis of collection records. PLoS ONE 12(10): e0185683. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0185683

Growing Injustice: Several Problematic Plants

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Growing Injustice: Several Problematic Plants

H. Bradford

6/4/18

Warm weather is finally here, so I have spent the last two weeks readying my garden for the season.  Since I’ve been planting more, I have plants on the brain. Lately, I have been thinking about plants and issues of racism (and in one case, anti-semitism).  Some plants have some very questionable names. Other plants have racially sensitive histories that social justice minded gardeners should consider. Plants like Wandering Jew, Kaffir lime, Nyjer seed, Indian Paintbrush, and even Collard Greens may be taken for granted by most growers, but contain issues of race and ethnicity.  Thus, the following blog post offers an overview of some of these offenders, so that we can grow gardens as well as a more just world for everyone! (The list of problematic plants is not comprehensive. I also did not cite sources within the text, but a list of links that I drew from can be found at the end).


Wandering Jew:


If you visit a greenhouse, you may find a plant called a Wandering Jew.  There are several plants that bear this name, including three species of spiderwort plants, four species of dayflower, and two other plants.  The spiderwort species are the sort that seem most commonly used as indoor plants. A few years ago, a local greenhouse recommended a Purple Wandering Jew plant for our home, since they can grow in lower light conditions.  The employee assured my housemate and I that there was nothing antisemitic about the bushy, viney plant. Nearly Natural 27 in. Wandering Jew Hanging Basket The term Wandering Jew comes from 13th Century Christian folklore.  The character is a Jewish man who was said to have taunted Jesus before he was crucified.  As punishment for his taunt, he was cursed to walk the Earth until the return of Christ. In some stories, his clothes and shoes never wear out and after 100 years, he returns to being a younger man.  He was a perpetual traveler, unable to rest, but able to converse in all of the languages of the world. This is not based on any actual Biblical story, though it may have been inspired by the story of Caine and European paganism.  Much like Big Foot or ghosts today, Europeans of the time believed that they had actually seen this character. For hundreds of year, even into the present day, this character has appeared in literature and art. Image result for wandering jew art

Gaston Malingue’s painting “The Wandering Jew”

While the character is very fictional, the antisemitic context the character was born from is not.  In 1290, Edward the I expelled all Jewish people from England. During the middle ages, Jews were banned from owning land.  They were also barred from trade guilds. Medieval cities also relegated Jewish populations to certain areas. In the 14th century, Jews were expelled from France, Germany, Portugal, and Spain.  Expulsions and exclusion from various economic activities provided a material reality for the idea that Jewish people were outsiders or wanderers. Thus, “The Wandering Jew” represents not only a person, but a stereotype regarding the nature of all Jewish people.  This stereotype has been used in modern times to incite hate, such as the Nazi film entitled “Der Erwige Jude,” which revived and modernized the medieval myth and envisioning modern Jewish people as criminal, lazy, and perverse cosmopolitans who controlled the world through banking, commerce, politics, and the media.  The idea of the Wandering Jew has


With this history in mind, calling a rambling, hard to destroy plant a “Wandering Jew” does not seem like the most culturally sensitive nomenclature, to say the least.   Interestingly, the Swedish Cultural Plant Database (SKUD) has changed the name of the “Wandering Jew” plant as well as another plant with an anti-semitic name (Jew Cherry which we know as Chinese Lantern Plants).  I am uncertain what SKUD renamed the plant to, but perhaps Purple Spiderwort, Variegated Spiderwort, or Wandering Spiderwort might be some good ideas. There are other plants with “Jew” in their title and these should be changed as well.   While not a plant, no one should call a wood ear mushroom a Jew’s Ear. I could find no similar examples of plant names that are unflattering/prejudiced towards Christians or other religious groups, but if there were and even if the group did not share the same history of oppression and genocide, there seems no reasonable argument to use derogatory common names.  If I saw such plants at a local store or greenhouse, I would suggest a name change to the manager.


Collard Greens:

A few years ago, I planted collard greens.  I was curious about this vegetable and wanted to grow it because I enjoy trying new things.  However, my housemate suggested that the name was racist since it sounds like “Coloured Greens.”  The leaf green is associated with African American cuisine, so it seemed plausible that the name may have had a more racist origin.  Thankfully, it doesn’t! The word Collard comes from “colewort” in Middle English perhaps influenced by Old Norse “kal” for cabbage, and earlier still, kaulos, which is Greek for stalk.  The “Col” and collard is found in other words like cauliflower, kale, coleslaw, German kohl for cabbage, etc.

Image result for collard green


While the leafy green is more prominent in the cuisine of the Southern United States, it is also used in Brazilian, Indian, and Portuguese cooking.   It was cultivated in Greek and Roman gardens 2000 years ago as is closely related to kale. Prior to this, it is theorized that wild cabbages were in cultivation in Europe 3000 years ago and up to 6000 years ago in China.  Leafy cabbages were also grown in Mesopotamia. While collard greens in particular (in contrast to other leafy cabbages) have long been consumed by Europeans, the history is not devoid of racism or contention. A controversy arose a few years ago when Whole Foods Co-op suggested that customers buy collard greens and prepare them with ingredients such as cranberries, garlic, and peanuts.  Some African Americans felt that this was cultural appropriation of a vegetable used in their cuisine and food gentrification of a vegetable by white people who have recently discovered it and have now re-imagined it as something trendy. This critique is not unfounded. Afterall, Neiman Marcus sold out of their $66 frozen trays of collard greens in 2016. Historically, collard greens, like many members of the cabbage family were poor people food.  (Though Romans actually esteemed cabbages as medicinal and a luxury.) Members of the cabbage family are cool season crops with mild frost resistance, making them part of winter staples or lean time food. Image result for neiman marcus collard green African Americans came to the United States as slaves and were only allowed to grow a small selection of vegetables for themselves.  Collards were one of them. While the vegetable is not African in origin, the methods of preparation were. West Africans use hundreds of species of leafy greens and prepare them in ways that maintain their high nutrient content.  Enslaved Africans found fewer wild greens here and came to rely on collards, which were brought here by the British. (Depending upon where the slaves were taken from, they may have been familiar with leafy cabbages as in the Middle Ages, cabbages of various sorts were traded into Africa through Morocco and Mali).  They are unique among cabbages in that they can continue to produce leaves over their growing season. They can be harvested for months when other vegetables quit in the cold weather. Collards helped slaves to survive due to their productivity. For this reason, poor white people also grew collards. It is a cheap, productive, healthy plant.  Although white Southerners grew the plant, it was a marginal crop to European settlers and African Americans deserve credit for popularizing the use of greens and their preparation. Image result for collard greens

image from Foodnetwork.com

I love plants.  I love gardening.  I have no problems eating vegetables.  But, collard greens do raise the question of how white people (at least those who aren’t poor and from the south) should approach collard greens.  On one hand, when food is gentrified, the cost goes up for those who have traditionally eaten it. For instance, after kale was deemed a superfood, its cost rose 25%.  If food prices rise, it can drive poor people to unhealthier, cheaper foods. Collard greens are also a problem when they are commercialized and fetishized. Judging by the tone and content of internet articles on this topic, I don’t know that most African Americans would take issue with a white individual growing a small amount of collard greens for personal, private use for love of gardening and attempting to try new vegetables.  In the case of Whole Foods and Neiman Marcus, it represented capitalizing on and changing the culinary traditions of Black people. The foods were presented in inauthentic ways, devoid of history, and for profit by cashing in on a contextless notion of the exotic. Since the vegetable is tied to the traumatic history of survival and slavery and has cultural importance (such as a feature of New Year’s meals) it isn’t something to take lightly.   Collard greens have double the iron and protein than kale and 18% more calcium, so there may be legitimate reasons that many people should grow them. Personally, I am curious about many vegetables. Does my curiosity “Colombusize” the culture, culinary traditions, or agriculture of others? In small ways, yes. My hope is that I can be mindful of my decisions and the history/power embedded in even the simplest things.


Nyjer Seed:


Anyone who wants to attract finches to their yard may be familiar with nyjger seed, which is also called thistle seed.  The seed does not come from the thistle plant and the name “nyjer seed” seems suspiciously like another n word. When I was a kid, the seed was spelled “niger” which also makes the seed a little suspicious.  We pronounced it in a way that is similar to Nigeria or Niger in Africa. Unfortunately, some people did not pronounce it this way and instead thought it was pronounced like a racial slur. The bird seed industry actually changed the name of the seed because it had confused people or had been mispronounced.  Nyjer is the 1998 trademarked name of the Wild Bird Feeding Industry. Image result for niger seed While the name might suggest that the seed came from Nigeria or Niger, nyjer seed actually comes from the Guizotia abyssinica plant which grows in the highlands of Ethiopia.  I found a reference to the seed being called Nigerian thistle, which to me indicates that whomever named the seed must have had some confusion about the geography of Africa or, perhaps generically called it “niger” seed as a stand in for Africa itself.  Nigeria, Niger, and the Niger River are all located in West Africa whereas Ethiopia is in East Africa. The genus Guizotia contains six species, of which five are native to Ethiopia. A distribution map of the species shows that it grows naturally in some areas of Uganda, Malawi, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sudan.  It also grows in India, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Nepal. The plants found in and around India are believed to have been brought there long ago by Ethiopian migrants, who also brought millet to the region. Therefore, Nyger seed really has nothing to do with the countries of its (former) namesake and represents a sort of “imagined Africa” rather than any geographical or botanical reality. Image result for niger seed ethiopia

  Field of Nyjer Seed plants in Ethiopia

While in the United States, most people feed the oily black seeds to birds, it is used in the cuisines of India and Ethiopia.  It has been been grown in Ethiopia as an oil crop since antiquity and today, makes up 50% of Ethiopia’s oil seed production. Overall, the main producer of commercial nyjer seed is India, followed by Myanmar and Ethiopia.  About 50,000 metric tons of the seed are imported each year into the United States. It is the only commercial bird seed which is largely imported. This seems to be a tremendous amount of seed- which ultimately goes to bellies of wild birds!  The use of nyjer seed seemingly follows the rise of the U.S. as a post-war global power. Bird feeding became more common through the 1950s, which resulted in demand for commercial bird food. As people increasingly fed birds, it became apparent that certain seeds were likely to attract different (more socially desirable) species of birds.  Nyjer seed was adopted as a bird food in the United States in the 1960s. The first tube feeders used for the seed became commercially available in 1972. In the late 1960s, the seed had to be treated with heat, because it was often accompanied by the seeds of invasive weeds. All nyger seed imports must be subjected to 250 degree heat sterilization treatment. Image result for niger seed ethiopia

image from Northwest Nature Shop

Despite small scale experiments, Nyjer is not currently grown in North America, and in an experiment between N.A grown seen and Ethiopian seed, the birds preferred the Ethiopian grown seed.  Reading between the lines, it is important to think about what the import of this seed actually means. Various countries have tried to grow this seed, including the Soviet Union under the guidance of Ivan Vavilov.  However, the plants do not yield enough seeds to make it economically viable. The region of India which produces the most seed is Madhya Pradesh, which is the sixth poorest part of India (per capita GDP). The regions which grow the seed are also home to ethnic minorities, such as Nagar Haveli which is the home of the Warli tribe.  While I could find no articles which specifically addressed the plight of nyjer seed farmers, it stands to reasoning that because the center of production for these seeds are underdeveloped countries (and even greater underdeveloped regions within those countries) that the work conditions of those farmers is probably characterized by low pay, long hours, and hard work.  Since some of these countries actually used these seeds as an oil and a human food, the movement towards exporting the seeds to the West as bird food has likely reduced its use as a subsistence crop. Finally, the fact that it has not been viable in the agriculture of more developed countries means that it is probably a labor intensive crop (and our labor is too expensive due to labor laws, organization) hence, the fact that it is imported rather than domestically grown.


Personally, I love birds.  I want to attract finches to the yard and provide them with a fatty, seed that they love.  At the same time, it certainly represents a lot of privilege that I can buy imported seeds (sometimes eaten by humans) to give to the birds.  The origin of the seed itself is obscured by its name. There seems to be a lot wrong with nyger seeds. I think that my task as a socialist is to learn more about the specific labor conditions related to the seeds (since there is not a lot of information out there).  If there was more awareness regarding the seeds, perhaps there would be more interest in fair trade or better working conditions for those producers. It is also possible that I could try growing my own seeds for the birds rather than relying on expensive imported seed.  Nyger seed as been experimentally grown on a small scale in Minnesota. I think it is a fascinating seed with a wealth of history. At the same time, more should be done to illuminate the history and economic conditions of the seed.

Image result for niger seed

Image from The Zen Birdfeeder

 

Kaffir Lime:


About a year ago, I picked up some gardening books from the library.  One of the books was about growing citrus indoors. It introduced me to the Kaffir Lime.  I really didn’t think anything of this name at the time. It sounded vaguely Middle Eastern, but I didn’t associate it with any particular meaning.  Little did I know that kaffir is actually a racist term. The k-word is a racial slur in South Africa. The k-word was used in Arabic to describe non-believers, but was used by European colonists in South Africa to describe the African population.  The word is so offensive, that there have been legal actions taken against those who have used the slur in South Africa. The name of the lime itself may come from Sri Lanka, where the lime is grown and where there is an ethnic group which self identifies as kaffirs.  It is also possible that the fruit literally referred to non-believers, as it may have been named by Muslims who saw it cultivated by non-Muslims in Southeast Asia. However, because the word is racially offensive in most other contexts and considered hate speech in South Africa, a different name is an order.  In Southeast Asia, the fruit is called Makrut, which has been suggested as a viable name change. Image result for kaffir lime

Indian Paintbrush:


While this example is not as offensive as the k-lime, there are many plants that are named “Indian x” such as Indian Paintbrush, Indian posy (butterfly weed), Indian Blanket (Firewheel), Indian pipe, Indian grass, etc.  There are many North American plants which have common names which invoke something related to Native Americans. However, the way that these common names are used are not accurate, flattering, or supportive of Native Americans.  For instance, Indian Paintbrush sounds quaint. As a child, I imagined that perhaps the flowers were really used as paint brushes by Native Americans. Indian Paintbrush, also called Prairie Fire, was used as a leafy green, medicine, and shampoo by some Native Americans.  But, it was not used as a paintbrush. While the flower may resemble a brush covered in bright red paint, it could easily be called Paintbrush plant. Using the word “Indian” invokes something wild, mythical, or even something silly (such as literally using the plant as a paintbrush).  It reduces Native Americans into an idea about something primitive, whimsical, or even non-existent rather than actual, living people, with actual uses for plants. This is true of the other plants as well. Many of the “Indian” plants are wild plants that are not commonly domesticated (though some are used in ornamental or “Native” gardens.  There is also a colonizing tone to these names, as these are not the names that Native Americans themselves gave the plants but imagined names from colonizers and their descendents. There are often alternate common names for these plants, so there is no excuse to call them names which invoke a mythical idea of Native Americans. Better yet, maybe some of the plants could be given names from actual Native American languages.  This would demonstrate that Native Americans knew, used, and named these plants long before the arrival of settlers. For instance, Ojibwe called the Indian Paintbrush plant Grandmother’s Hair (though I don’t know what this translates to in Ojibwe). Since plants were used by many tribal groups for different purposes, it would be difficult to determine which language should take precedence over another. At the very least, I think it is important to be mindful of language and consider existing alternative names (which I haven’t always been, since I was raised calling certain plants Indian Pipe or Indian Paintbrush).

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image from Wikipedia

Conclusion:

There will always be some people who feel that these issues are no big deal.  Some of these people feel that there is nothing offensive about using traditional plant names or that they know a Jewish person who doesn’t mind “Wandering Jew” or a Native American friend who likes to call plants Indian Paintbrush or Indian Grass.  The world is diverse and certainly there are diverse opinions on these matters. To those folks, this probably seems like much ado about nothing. On the other hand, others may feel that issues of racism or oppression in general are much bigger than the kind of bird seed we use or what we call a lime.  It is better to focus on the big picture than get caught up in the nuances of language. As for myself, I feel that this is a fascinating topic to think about and that to me, it uncovers subtle and not so subtle ways that various kinds of oppression are built into something as simple as what we call a plant or what we grow in the garden.  For me, thinking about these topics is intellectually satisfying (I am interested in learning more about the history of plants) as well as a way for me to be a better, more mindful activist. At the end of the day, helping to grow social movements is far more important than the plants that we grow and know. Growing as an activist means working with others in organizations towards social change, but also the internal change that comes with challenging assumptions and rethinking what is taken for granted.  With that said, hopefully this post helps others to grow in how they think about plants, but also their place in society.


Sources on Wandering Jew:

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/49614212_Creating_National_Identity_through_a_Legend_-The_Case_of_the_Wandering_Jew

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2009/feb/21/wandering-jew-history

https://sputniknews.com/art_living/201709151057426161-sweden-anti-semitic-plans/
https://www.theholocaustexplained.org/anti-semitism/medieval-anti-judaism/who-and-where-were-medieval-jews/

https://www.history.com/topics/anti-semitism
Sources on Collard Greens:

 

http://www.vegetablefacts.net/vegetable-history/history-of-cabbage/

A Letter to the Newgrorati: Of Collards and Amnesia

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/18/kale-compared-to-other-vegetables_n_3762721.html
https://www.wral.com/lifestyles/travel/video/13531214/?ref_id=13531197

http://www.crossroadsnews.com/news/lithonia-festival-is-all-about-the-collards/article_68af27d0-9968-11e7-a979-17d10f0b5b05.html

http://www.ebony.com/life/hungry-for-history-collards

http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2018/01/25/humble-hardy-leaf-defines-national-character/ideas/essay/

http://www.latibahcgmuseum.org/why-collard-greens/

https://weblogtheworld.com/formats/featured/history-of-collard-greens-extends-far-beyond-north-america

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/01/whats-leafy-and-green-and-eaten-by-blacks-and-whites/424554/

http://abc7chicago.com/food/neiman-marcus-sells-out-of-$66-collard-greens/1589488/

https://www.trulytafakari.com/ate-white-peoples-collard-greens-tasted-like-oppression/

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/people-and-culture/food/the-plate/2016/09/5-foods-from-africa/

http://meloukhia.net/2014/06/hipsterisation_and_its_hiked-up_prices_kale_quinoa_and_traditional_foods/

https://everydayfeminism.com/2015/11/foodie-without-appropriation/

 

Nyger Seed Sources:

https://www.topcropmanager.com/corn/niger-seed-production-is-for-the-birds-13172

https://www.petcha.com/nyjer-black-oil-sunflower-bird-seeds-a-history/

http://www.birdchick.com/blog/2009/12/growing-nyjer-thistle-in-north-america

https://web.colby.edu/mainebirds/2016/02/05/the-history-of-bird-feeding-ii/

http://www.manoramagroup.co.in/commodities-niger-seed.html

https://www.mprnews.org/story/2011/11/30/winegar

https://conservancy.umn.edu/bitstream/handle/11299/139533/SB571.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

https://www.bioversityinternational.org/fileadmin/_migrated/uploads/tx_news/Niger__Guizotia_abyssinica__L.f.__Cass._136.pdf

https://www.bioversityinternational.org/fileadmin/_migrated/uploads/tx_news/Niger__Guizotia_abyssinica__L.f.__Cass._136.pdf

 

K-Lime Sources:

https://modernfarmer.com/2014/07/getting-rid-k-word/

http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2014/07/03/kaffir_lime_racist_murky_origins_suggest_a_racial_slur_might_be_responsible.html

Fantastic Birds and Where We Found Them

Fantastic Birds and Where We Found Them

H. Bradford

5/29/18

A highlight of visiting new areas is the possibility of seeing new birds.  I feel that I have been growing a lot as a birder, but it is both a body of knowledge, practice/training, and a skill set (attention to detail, spotting things quickly, memory).  Thankfully, my brother was a good sport and helped me spot birds.  Having a second set of eyes was helpful in uncovering some of the bird life hidden in the world around me.  With that said, here are some of the top birds that we spotted between Texas and Minnesota on our road trip!  (Note that many of the photos are poor quality since the birds are distant, moving, or just hard to easily capture for me).


    1. Golden Cheeked Warbler:

       

The Golden cheeked warbler only nests in Central Texas and nowhere else in the world.  According to Audubon’s guide to North American birds, it prefers mature woods of ashe juniper and has been threatened by loss of habitat and nest parasitism from cowbirds.  My brother and I set out for the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge in search of the bird.  I didn’t have high hopes of finding it, since it is rare and warblers can be difficult to spot.  We hiked along a juniper covered hill in search of the endangered bird and only found it at the end of the hike.  The warbler actually perched a few feet away from my brother.  It wasn’t too difficult to identify, since we had passed sixteen trail markers along the way which featured a painted image of the bird.  The bird’s population is about 21,000, so it is rarest bird I have seen.  Texas land developers want to de-list the bird as an endangered species.  1/3 of the bird’s habitat was destroyed between 1999 – 2011.   It would be a terrible loss if this bird went extinct due to the profit driven shortsightedness of land developers.  Plus, the mature juniper forests we hiked through are a really unique and pretty habitat. https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/golden-cheeked-warbler https://www.audubon.org/news/yet-again-texas-developers-try-delist-endangered-golden-cheeked-warbler

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2. Scissor Tailed Flycatcher

I really wanted to see a Scissor Tailed Flycatcher because they are unique looking birds.  I had never seen one before until visiting the Botanical Gardens in San Antonio.  Of course, once I saw one…I saw them all over!  The birds were perched on wires along the roads between Texas and southern Kansas.  They range across the southern great plains and seemed especially common in Oklahoma.  Since they range so far south, I certainly have never encountered one in Minnesota.  They are related to kingbirds and I watched one of them swoop to eat insects at Dinosaur Valley State Park in Texas.

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3. Painted Bunting

My brother spotted an unfamiliar bird at Government Canyon.  The brilliantly bright bird was about the size of a sparrow.  When I caught it in my binoculars, I saw that it was a painted bunting…one of those birds that is immediately recognizable to anyone who has browsed bird guides.  The colorful, green, red, and blue bird can be found in the South eastern United States, including Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana as well as some parts of the Carolinas and Florida.  Like the Scissor Tailed Flycatcher, once we spotted one we were seeing them all over- with sightings at Balcones Canyonlands and Dinosaur Valley State Park.  That is one of the interesting things about birding.  You can be “bird blind” to a species or all birds, until you take time to notice/identify them- then suddenly- they are everywhere!

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4. Indigo Bunting:

Further north in Nebraska, my brother spotted a small blue bird, which I recognized as an Indigo Bunting.  Although Indigo Buntings can be found in Minnesota, I have never seen one.  There were dozens of the blue colored birds near the wetland trail at Indian Cave State Park.  The bird ranges throughout the Eastern half of the United States, from Texas to Minnesota, eastward to the Atlantic coast.

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5. Lark Sparrow:

Sparrows aren’t always the easiest to identify, since they are generally some variation of brown.  Still, as I identify more birds, I know that sparrows are in the frontier of new species that I can add to my life list.  Thankfully, the Lark Sparrow was easy to identify.  I spotted one at Dinosaur Valley State Park, but also saw a few in Kansas.  I didn’t immediately know that I had observed a new sparrow, but I did note that its facial pattern stood out compared to other sparrows I have seen.  Lark Sparrows are not found in Minnesota as they tend to range further west and south.

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6. Black chinned hummingbird

The only hummingbird regularly found in Minnesota is the Ruby throated hummingbird.  I was definitely hoping to see another species of hummingbird on my trip.  To this end, I spent some time in the butterfly garden of the San Antonio Botanical gardens, where I believe I saw a female black chinned hummingbird.
The black throated hummingbird is most commonly found in the southwestern United States.  I got a better view of this hummingbird at Dinosaur Valley State Park, where I saw several easier to identify males.   Black chinned hummingbirds are common in the Western united states and closely related to Ruby throated hummingbirds.

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7. Golden- Fronted Woodpecker

In addition to seeing another species hummingbird, I really wanted to see more woodpeckers.  I was treated to a sighting of a Golden fronted woodpecker at the San Antonio Botanical gardens.  I happened to make a second, last minute visit to the bird observatory, where the woodpecker was perched by a dried up orange.  According to Allaboutbirds, Golden Fronted woodpeckers enjoy eating grass hoppers and sometimes stain their beaks purple from eating prickly pears.  The woodpecker is found in Oklahoma and Texas. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Golden-fronted_Woodpecker/overview?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI6O_o9bKW2wIVEtbACh26xgVwEAAYASAAEgIUo_D_BwE


8. Red-Headed Woodpecker:

Red-headed woodpeckers can be found in Minnesota, but I have never seen one.  It seems that they range across much of the Eastern United States.  My first sighting of a red-headed woodpecker was at Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve.  My brother and I spotted one in the forest along the river.  It was a quick sighting, but the bird is pretty unmistakable with its entirely red head.  According to Allaboutbirds, the Red-headed woodpecker has many nicknames, the best of which is probably Jellycoat.  Fossils of red-headed woodpeckers have been found in Florida, dating back as much as 2 million years.


 

9. Meadowlark:

Another bird that I wanted to see was a meadowlark.  Meadowlarks can be found in Minnesota, but once again, I have not seen one.  Once we entered Kansas, I started to see meadowlarks everywhere!  They were on fence posts and power lines.  One flew over my brother’s van.  Of course, there are Western and Eastern Meadowlarks- which look extremely similar.  The state bird of Kansas is the Western Meadowlark.  I want to assume that is what I saw, but both birds can be found in Kansas as their ranges overlap.  I took a photo of one of them at Tall Grass Prairie National Preserve.  Upon looking at the photo, I believe it was an Eastern Meadowlark…as it had a whiter mustache and bolder colors.  Maybe among all of the Meadowlarks I saw, I saw a few of each.  I didn’t hear the song, which is an easier way of telling the two apart.

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10. Swallows:

I saw several species of swallows on my trip.  Swallows have been difficult for me to identify because they look similar, move quickly, and often don’t pause long enough for a good look.  However, I am slowly starting to sort out the swallows one by one.  For instance, if it is solidly dark, it is a purple martin.  If it is purple/blue on top but white on the underside, it is a tree swallow.  A blue and brown head with a forked tail is a barn swallow and a blue and brown head (+ white spot) without a forked tail is a cliff swallow.   A swallow that is brown with a brown chest, is a bank swallow.  This is a fairly rough guide to the differences, but has helped me sort out the swallows.  I saw cliff swallows in Oklahoma City and bank swallows at Indian Cave State Park.  The San Antonio Botanical Gardens had tree swallows and purple martins.  I also saw Barn swallows along the way.

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Conclusion:

During the road trip, I saw over 25 new species of birds.  I am sure if I was a better birder, there were probably at least 40 new species of birds.   Kansas and Nebraska were great for viewing raptors, but it was hard to identify them while driving.  There were other birds that I saw, such as a curved billed thrasher, tufted titmouse, sedge wren, lesser yellowlegs, orchard oriole, Loggerhead shrike, etc. which added to my list.   My brother saw a bobwhite, but I only caught it making noise and flying away.  Thus, some sightings were better than others.

Other birds: a loggerhead shrike at the Tall Grass National Preserve, a night hawk also at the Tall Grass National Preserve, a blue gray gnatcatcher at Dinosaur Valley, Scrub Jay at Balcones Canyonlands,  Curve billed thrasher at the San Antonio Botanical Gardens, and many more which were too fast to photograph…

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Road Trip: Texas to Minnesota!

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Road Trip:  Texas to Minnesota!

H. Bradford

5/20/18

This year, my brother accepted a new job in Minnesota.  This meant that he had to move his family and belongings from San Antonio to Minnesota.  The move presented a logistical problem, as he has two vehicles but would have had to pay someone to move one of the vehicles north.  So, rather than have him pay someone to move his vehicle- I volunteered to drive it for him!  I thought it might be fun to travel from Texas to Minnesota on an epic sibling road trip.  I planned out some stops and a route for us.  Because of my work schedule (eight days on/six days off) I was able to fly to San Antonio and embark on this road trip without having to miss work.  Of course, the only problem was that 1.) I hate driving.  2.) I have never driven that far before.  3.) I have never really driven in major cities.  But…the lure of adventure outstripped my anxieties and the cross country odyssey began.  Here are some highlights from the cross country journey!


 

Day One/Two: San Antonio

 

Riverwalk:

I arrived in San Antonio in the late afternoon after working a night shift the day before (and a stretch of nine shifts in a row prior to the trip).  Although I was sleep deprived, I had just enough energy to explore the River Walk for a few hours. The River Walk is a well touristed area, but an easy place for a leisurely stroll and overpriced food.  I enjoyed eating Mexican food, observing ducks, and posing by The Alamo. In the past, I have had some misgivings visiting and posing by The Alamo, which is a symbol of Texan independence/statehood. On the other hand, it could also be viewed as a place where Mexico squarely defeated insurgent U.S.settlers.  Or, it could be viewed as a Spanish mission to educate or covert (i.e. acculturate/destroy) Native Americans into the Catholic faith. However one wants to remember The Alamo, a highlight was watching my brother convince one of the park rangers to take a photo with me by pretending to be a guileless tourist, rather than San Antonio resident for the past several years. Image may contain: 2 people, including Heather Bradford, people standing and outdoor


San Antonio Botanical Gardens:

It is hard to rank something like botanical gardens, since each is unique in their own way.  However, I will say that San Antonio probably has one of the best botanical gardens that I have been to.  A person can spend hours in the massive gardens, which features plants from several Texan regions, a pond, a bird observatory, children’s gardens, herb gardens, butterfly gardens, a Japanese garden, collections of ferns and citrus fruit, and much more.  The garden also offers a great view of San Antonio. I visited the garden while my brother was finishing his exit paperwork for the army. I focused on birdwatching, which is also great at the botanical gardens!

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The Missions:

After visiting the botanical garden, my brother and I headed off to see some of the San Antonio missions. Although I have visited San Antonio twice before, I had not visited the missions on my prior trips.  I was not entirely interested in them, since well, they are monuments to the conversion of Native Americans to Catholicism. However, since it was my last visit, I had not previously seen them, and they are World Heritage Sites, I thought there might be some value in paying a brief visit.  As such, we checked out two of the four missions. We visited Mission San Jose and Mission Concepcion. I would say that a highlight of visiting Mission San Jose was walking along the defensive walls of the grounds and imagining what life must have been like for the people who lived within the walls.  We paused to take a photo of the ornate, Rose Window, which was very popular with tourists. Otherwise, after walking the grounds, we headed over to Mission Conception, which was much smaller. The most notable thing about this mission site was the Native American murals. The ceiling of one part of the mission featured a sun with a mustache.  I like to think that the artist wanted to slip in some sort of subtle cultural resistance against Catholicism. No automatic alt text available.


Government Canyon State Natural Area

One of my favorite places to visit in the San Antonio area is Government Canyon.  In the past, I have spent many hours hiking the canyon area. A must see highlight of the hike is the dinosaur footprints, which are located about two and a half miles from the visitor center.  Unfortunately, each time I have visited the tracks have been submerged in water. Despite the algae, mud, and water, the shape of the tracks is generally visible without much imagination. From the dinosaur footprints, hikers can choose several other trails.  This time, my brother and I chose to take the overlook trail.

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Day Three:  San Antonio to Gainesville, Texas

On day three of the trip, we finally left San Antonio via HWY 281 towards Marble Falls.  This route was preferable to the congested and speedy I-35, which would have taken us through Waco Texas (and to Mammoth National Monument).  The easy drive took us through Texas’ Hill Country, past many things named after Lyndon B. Johnson. Our first stop was in Marble Falls for breakfast…


Blue Bonnet Cafe:

We stopped for breakfast at the Blue Bonnet Cafe in Marble Falls, Texas.  I am not a huge fan of pancakes, but I will say that I had the best pancake I’ve eaten at this cafe.  It was fluffy, filling, and thick. I also appreciate that everywhere I ate in Texas had iced tea (at all hours) and that I was often offered a “to go” cup for my refill.  This is not the norm in Minnesota. In any event, the breakfast was a great start to the day, which says a lot since breakfast is my least favorite meal.

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Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge:

Following breakfast, we detoured away from 281 to Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge.  The visitors center was closed, but we went on to hike at the Warbler Vista.  Our goal was to see the elusive and endangered Golden Cheeked Warbler, which is endemic to Texas and only breeds in mature juniper forests.  We wandered along a jagged juniper lined hill trail. While we heard birds, we saw nothing for most of the hike. Then, towards the end of the hike, we decided to take a moment to investigate the source of a birdsong.  Sure enough, it was the Golden Cheeked Warbler!  I struggled to photograph the quick bird as evidence that I had seen the endangered warbler. The bird actually landed a few feet away from my brother, then zipped off to some nearby evergreens.   I was able to snap a photo. We saw and heard the bird a few more times before finishing the trail.  At the end of the trail, I saw two scrub jays, which were also a first time sighting for me. The Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge is also home to the Black capped vireo, another endangered bird. We set off to the Shin Oak overlook, where the bird is sometimes found. However, we did not have any luck seeing this bird.   We saw an Indigo Bunting and many cardinals, which seem pretty abundant in the Texas Hill Country. Image may contain: plant, tree, sky, grass, outdoor and nature Image may contain: bird and outdoor


Dinosaur Valley State Park:

 

Our journey continued towards Dinosaur Valley State Park.  This brought us back along HWY 281 to enjoy more Hill Country scenery and small, Texan towns.  One of the more unique towns that we passed through was Hamilton, Texas. Hamilton features a Frida Kahlo themed Mexican restaurant and the grave of a man who claimed to be Billy the Kid.  Further along 281, Hico Texas hosts a Billy the Kid museum. We did not stop at these places as we lacked the time, but I think that they would have been interesting stops.


We drove on to Dinosaur Valley State Park, which is known for several sets of dinosaur foot prints.  When we arrived, the day was very hot. We were initially very excited to pose by the giant dinosaur statues and find the prints.  The excitement gave way to frustration. The park was very busy and the tracks were located in the water. We slipped out of our shoes, waded into the water, and crossed slippery rocks to view one set of tracks.  This was a lot of effort. I had imagined that the tracks would be permanently etched in mud turned to stone along a dry path. Nope. It is my understanding that all of the tracks are located in the Puluxy River.  There are times of the year when the river is drier and access to the tracks is easier.   Based on my experience, I would recommend bringing water shoes and preparing for some wading to access them.  I would also recommend a water proof camera or not bringing along anything that should not get wet.  On the other hand, the park is an ideal place to bring kids, since children can literally swim around with dinosaur foot prints. Image may contain: cloud, sky, shoes, outdoor and nature Image may contain: outdoor and water


After viewing one set of footprints, we decided to go for a hike.  Hiking on any of the trails involved crossing over the river (which is another good reason to bring water shoes or waterproof hiking boots).  My feet got wet in the crossing. The heat and wet feet added to my waning morale.   I was encouraged by the idea that we might see a rare Black capped vireo on one of the trails.  However, we didn’t see many birds and after driving all day, we didn’t have much energy for a long hike. Our final destination was still over two hours ahead of us, so we eventually turned around to plot the final leg of our day’s journey.

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Gainesville, Texas:

We spent the night on Day Three in Gainesville, Texas, which is located very close to Oklahoma.  The drive there was pleasant enough as we skirted around major cities and the associated traffic.  By the time we arrived, it was late in the evening and we were both tired. We didn’t do much sightseeing in Gainesville, but managed to drag ourselves to a Mexican restaurant not far from our hotel.  I ordered a vegetarian taco, which was stuffed with “mixed vegetables.” As it turned out, the mixed vegetables were literally the sort of mixed vegetables a person gets from a can or in a school lunch (carrots, corn, green beans, lima beans).  It was odd and disappointing.  Otherwise, we strolled around the historic downtown area and called it a day!


Day Four:  Gainesville, Texas to Wichita, Kansas

Day four took us from Gainesville, Texas to Wichita, Kansas.  We set out early, followed Interstate 35, and made our first stop in Oklahoma City to visit a few tourist sites.  Oklahoma has some lovely landscapes and I regret that we did not stop to take some photos as we pressed towards Oklahoma City.

Myriad Gardens and Bricktown:


This botanical garden was smaller than I thought it would be, but it was still a relaxing place to visit.  I enjoyed the small collection of unique fruit plants such as the blackberry jam plant (Randia Formosa) and fruit salad tree (Monstera Deliciosa).  Outside of the greenhouse, there was a park/amphitheater with ducks, irises, and a sunken lake. Myriad Gardens is located by the Bricktown Entertainment District.  My brother and I strolled around the area, enjoying the river walk along the Oklahoma River. I regret that I did not take more photos of Bricktown itself, which seemed like a pretty typical center of urban tourism.  Originally, Bricktown was an industrial area centered around the Santa Fe Railroad. Bricktown and neighboring Deep Deuce were once centers for Oklahoma City’s African American population, but this shifted with the decline of industries, construction of major highways, and desegregation of the city.  In the 1980s the area was purchased by a private developer and further gentrification was promoted by the city’s Metropolitan Area Projects (MAP) program. http://www.blackpast.org/aaw/bricktown-and-deep-deuce-oklahoma-city-1889 Image may contain: sky and outdoor


Museum of Osteology:

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the museum located miles away from Oklahoma City’s center in what appeared to be a neighborhood of warehouses, fields, and road construction.  It was also strange that the remote building was a private museum of skeletons collected by an individual.   It seemed rather eccentric that a person would collect over 300 skeletons, which he personally cleaned, and displayed for the public.  Despite the weird location and fact it was someone’s menagerie of the dead, the museum was actually one of the most memorable that I have visited. The displays were professional and scientific. The skeletons were generally organized by taxonomic families and featured interesting facts.  For instance, I learned that hedgehogs were no longer grouped in the order Insectivora (as it no longer exists).  All of the skeletons were real, with the exception of a collection of early human remains replicas. The center of the museum featured giraffe, whale, hippo, and elephant skeletons.  The gift shop was full of unique souvenirs, including unicorn skeleton bumper stickers, glow in the dark animal skeleton t-shirts, and toad skeletons encased in plastic.

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Chisholm Creek Park/Great Plains Nature Center:

Upon arriving in Wichita, we felt like taking a walk.  We had heard of the Great Plains Nature Center, but read that it was closed on a Sunday.  My brother searched for another nearby park and found the Chisholm Creek Park. As it turned out, the park WAS actually part of the Great Plains Nature Center and OPEN.  This was great luck! We hiked along the trails, which meandered through wetlands, forests, and prairie areas. I saw many birds, including two black crowned night herons, many tree sparrows, and great blue herons.  The park was surprisingly busy for a Sunday evening, with people of all ages enjoying nature. While we didn’t stay long in Wichita, Chisholm Creek Park was definitely worth a visit (and probably even better when the visitor center is open!) Image may contain: outdoor


Day Five:  Wichita to Sioux City, Iowa

Day five of our journey was packed full of driving, outdoors, and adventure.

Tallgrass Prairie Reserve:

Just over an hour away from Wichita on a farmland and meadowlark lined highway is the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve.  This park is a small piece of the ecosystem that once spread across the midsection of country.  Only 4% of the US’ tall grass prairie remains. We arrived early and were immediately charmed by the hilly, grass carpeted landscape and socially awkward park ranger at the visitor center.  Best of all, the park is FREE to visit!  We set off on a trail that began near the visitor center, which took us through pasture and along a wooded river trail.  The small patch of woods hosted a large variety of birds, making for some of the best birding on the trip.  It also shaded us from the sun and provided a nice vantage point for viewing the prairie. We hiked for over two hours, ending just as the sun was gaining strength. If we would have had more time to explore, we could have taken a bus tour to visit other parts of the park and view the bison herd.  Instead, we had a long day of driving ahead of us, so we set off on back roads towards Topeka. I wanted to avoid toll roads, so we took a slightly longer route. The longer route gave us a nice view of the Flint Hills and smaller Kansas communities.

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Westboro Baptist Church:

I was not aware that the Westboro Baptist Church was located in Topeka, Kansas.  The hateful church is located in a quiet residential neighborhood. We stopped for the spectacle of seeing the infamous church and also for the opportunity to give them the finger.  We made the quick stop before taking a fast food lunch break in Topeka. Across the street from the church are two colorful houses. One is decorated in the colors of the Trans flag and the other is clad in rainbow siding.  The house with the pride flag colors is the Equality House, which has hosted weddings, drag shows, and fundraisers. The Trans flag house was purchased by an eight year old transgender child through crowdfunding.  There are many fast food restaurants located near the church, so we stopped for a quick bite to eat before continuing our journey. Image may contain: tree, sky, house, plant, outdoor and nature   Image may contain: Heather Bradford, standing, tree and outdoor


Indian Cave State Park:

From Topeka, we headed to Indian Cave State Park in Nebraska.  We arrived in the late afternoon, once again following rural roads.  I wanted to visit the park, since I thought it would be interesting to see petroglyphs left behind by Native Americans thousands of years ago.  There is also a ghost town nestled within the state park.


We found that the park was very expansive if not a little confusing.   The petroglyphs were located at the furthest end of the park, along a cliff face facing the Missouri River.  The rock wall is more of a cliff than a cave.  Still, the site is easily accessed from the road.  Unfortunately, many people have carved messages into the rock face over the years.  The petroglyphs are hidden within a mess of graffiti.  There seems to be little to prevent further desecration of the monument, so I would recommend visiting the park for the opportunity to see it while you can! Image may contain: outdoor, water and nature


After visiting the petroglyphs, we followed the road back to the ghost town of St. Deroin.  The city was abandoned after the Missouri River shifted and the town lost ferry service. Interestingly, the community was part of the Nemaha Half-breed reservation, who were a group of mixed ancestry Native American/European people.  The reservation ceased to exist in 1861 but some of the descendants continue to live in the area to this day.  It seems like a fascinating history, since they would have been outsiders to both societies and I wonder how modern descendants fare today.  For instance, do they identify with their Native American roots or do they want some kind of federal recognition?

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Finally, we explored a wetland trail near the remnants of St. Deroin, where we saw over a dozen Indigo buntings and my brother saw a bobwhite.  The trail offered a few of the Missouri River, as well its previous path by St. Deroin.


Sioux City, Iowa:

After a long day of driving and exploring, our final stop was Sioux City.  We didn’t arrive until after 9pm, so we really didn’t have time to explore.  My impression was that Sioux City seems to be a hub for semi trucks.  The only thing we did in Sioux City was share an appetizer sampler at Perkins, almost collapse from exhaustion when we arrived at our hotel, and complain about the news coverage of the royal wedding.


 

Day Six:  HOME!


Lake Crystal:

On our final day, we drove from Sioux City to our respective homes.  The final journey took us through Lake Crystal, Mn, where my brother picked up the rest of his family.  I stopped by the nearby Welsh Park, which is named after the second longest city name in the world. Apparently, many Welsh people settled in the area.  There was once a Welsh Methodist church and there is also a Welsh Heritage Orchard.  There is also a Welsh farmstead on the national register of historic places (Jones-Roberts Farmstead).  I don’t know the specifics of Welsh settlement in Lake Crystal, but Blue Earth and LeSueur Countries attracted a few thousand Welsh settlers who farmed in those counties.

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Pigeon Lake Rookery:

Continuing north, we stopped at Pigeon Lake.  Pigeon Lake is a wildlife viewing area, where a person can stop alongside the road and view several islands which serve as rookeries for pelicans, cormorants, and herons.  Without a spotting scope, it is hard to see the scope of the species breeding on the islands. However, even without a spotting scope, hundreds of birds can be seen dotting the islands. Image may contain: sky, tree, outdoor, nature and water


Sartell to Duluth:  The End…

My brother’s final destination was his new home in Sartell.  We spent some time viewing the new house, which was still devoid of his belongings.  From there, my mother drove me back home to Duluth. Thus my road trip ended! I was exhausted, as I had driven over 1,400 miles and seen many things.  The next morning it was back to work for me.


It was nice to have the opportunity to go on a road trip with my brother.  I felt as though I had lived several weeks over the course of several days.  We were busy from the early morning to late night each day.  Even with a busy schedule, we didn’t scratch the surface of everything we could have seen!  There were bones, birds, dinosaur foot prints, petroglyphs, and hikes.  The “flyover” states have plenty to offer and I think that for as much as I dislike the US for its politics, racism, sexism, other isms, history, and place in the world- I can appreciate the US for our natural landscapes.

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