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Archive for the tag “Ojibwe in Minnesota”

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!

 

Bird Nerding Notes: Birding with My Mother

Bird Nerding Notes: Birding with My Mother

H. Bradford

4/10/17


My mother and I don’t spend that much time together.  I keep a pretty busy schedule which doesn’t always align well with the schedules of others.  But, last weekend we both went birding together.  I wanted to visit Savannah Portage State Park and Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge for some birding adventures.  I invited her along and since she wasn’t busy, we set off together for a Saturday of bird watching.


 

The day began with a drive to Wright, MN.   It is only an hour from where I now live, but I only visit a few times a year.  We went to what once was the Wright Place Cafe, which I hadn’t eaten at in over a decade.  I was a waitress there for a summer, back when I was 19 years old.  In a way, it is surreal returning to where I grew up since it is very foreign to me, yet near.  I feel like a ghost.  That I was never really there at all, since the person I am now is so distant from that past self.   There are so many years between us.   Following breakfast, we set out on our birding adventure.


Our first sighting was just outside of Tamarack, MN.  We noticed a grayish, hawk-like bird on a power line, overlooking two pastures.  I turned the car around to get a closer look.  Unfortunately, this scared the bird away.  After a careful pursuit, I managed to get a photograph of the unknown bird.  The zoom capacity of my camera is not that great, but it is enough to aid in the identification of birds (even if the photos themselves are not that wonderful).   We flipped back and forth between the camera image and our bird book.  Finally, we determined it was an American Kestrel.  I wrote it down in my little notebook.

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Our journey continued towards Savannah Portage State Park.  The road wound around various lakes, where we caught sight of swans.  However, the shoulder was too narrow and the ditch to deep to stop and look at the swans.  My mother promised that I would see swans later, but it was frustrating to have to pass up so many of them along the way!  Finally, we arrived at the state park.  I bought a sticker for the year and a patch (I am collecting state park patches).  What should I do with my collection of patches?  My mother suggested that I could sew them onto a jacket, which I wear for my state park adventures.  This seems extremely nerdy, but also like something I might actually do.  I like having special apparel for various occasions.


Savannah Portage State Park did not have many birds.  The small lakes in the park were still frozen and it was the middle of the day by the time we arrived.  We went on a short hike by a lake and over a bog walk.  This was neat, since we found frozen pitcher plants and overturned trees (from the storm last summer).   I would like to visit again during the summer.

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We drove around Big Sandy Lake, spotting more swans.  In 1850, Sandy Lake was the site of a massacre of Native Americans.  Although I never learned this in school (and grew up just 30-40 min away), over 200 Ojibwe died there from illness, starvation, and cold.  They were told to go there to receive their yearly annuity payment and supplies from the BIA, which arrived late and in short supply.   There is a small plaque memorializing the events at a rest area along Highway 65.   This is a reminder that the area really doesn’t belong to settlers, even though it serves as a recreational area today.


After stopping at the Dairy Queen in McGregor, we continued on to Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge.  This is where we spotted many birds.  Our first encounter was on a small bridge, where we saw various ducks.  Of course, the ducks were shy and quickly scattered.  I used my camera to try to hone in on some of the distant waterfowl.  There were some unique sightings.  The first sighting was a duck with a light gray colored back, dark head, and black chest.  This was hard to identify and we wrongly identified it as a canvasback.  However, after re-examining the photos, it was actually a Greater scaup (or it could be a lesser scaup?).  The duck had a blue bill and yellow eye.  It was my first time identifying a Greater scaup.  Another duck, was a small, black and white duck which frequently dove underwater.  We identified it as a bufflehead.  This is the first time that I have identified one since I began birding.

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We explored the many lakes and roads of the wildlife refuge.  Interestingly, when we were stopped on the bridge, a friendly Native American man on a makeshift motorbike stopped by to invite us to watch him make maple syrup.  We didn’t take him up on the offer, but he said that there was a group of people making syrup in the park.  Even though the refuge is mostly used for recreation and bird watching, it was also a reminder that it also has cultural significance.   The park is still used by Native Americans for harvesting wild rice, which as the name suggests, grows in the lakes of the area.  The park also features burial mounds which may date back to as far as 1000 BC.


On Rice Lake itself, we spotted bald eagles, trumpeter swans, various ducks, a muskrat, and an Eastern bluebird perched nearby.  We heard whooping cranes from somewhere in the area.  The ducks were too far away to identify, but the area was teeming with life and I finally was able to see the swans!


We returned to my mother’s house about 20 minutes away.  Near her home, we spotted a killdeer and a turkey.  The turkey was quick to escape my camera, so I only obtained a photo of its rump.  We also saw two more trumpeter swans on School House Lake near her house.

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Overall, it was a fun day.  Birding can actually be tiring, since there are highs and lows.  It is definitely a high to see a bird that I haven’t recorded before.  The fact that birds move quickly or might be too far away to identify is a low.   It also requires some degree of focus and vigilance, since birds can appear anywhere and may be hard to spot.  By the end of the day, I was tired!

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12 Things I did for My Birthday: 2017

 

 

12 Things I did for My Birthday: 2017

H. Bradford

2/12/2017

   Today is my birthday, which is normally a pretty big deal.  However, I have been very busy lately.  As such, celebrating my birthday feels a little more like a chore this year.  It is just one more thing to add to my “to do” list.  Yet, I really want to push myself to celebrate.  I feel that I have been in a black hole of work and activism, so taking time to celebrate is a very important “to do” list for the month of February.   With that said, here are some of the things that I did this weekend for my birthday.  Of course, my birthday celebrations usually last the entire month of February, so this is just a sample of what the month has in store for me.  Why bother?  Well, I happen to like being alive.  I won’t always be alive…so I best enjoy it while I can!  I won’t lie, this year’s birthday weekend was a little less fabulous than most years.  But, I did my best to make the most of it.

1. Worked:

Ten hours of my birthday consisted of working.  This isn’t the most fun way to spend a birthday.    Work has been a little stressful this weekend.  I can’t go into details, but I work at a domestic violence shelter and things can get a little stressful at work.  So, yep, there you go, I spent a good portion of my birthday working.

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2. Felt Sick to my Stomach

I worked on Saturday night, but felt sort of bloated and gross.  My stomach discomfort continued on Sunday.  I could not sleep well.  The howling wind outside of my window and my heavy stomach kept me awake.  I could hear the crows cawing in the creaking trees outside.  I even had a dream that there was a giant crow in my bedroom window.  In the dream, I debated if it was a crow or a raven.  The thicker beak and wedge shaped tale told my dream brain that it was actually a raven.   In any event, I had planned on going to a Darwin Day celebration hosted by the Lake Superior Freethinkers.  That was supposed to be the highlight of my actual birthday.  However, my stomach felt unhappy, so I decided to stay in bed.  I actually called in sick to work because I felt that if I moved around too much, I might become sicker.  I try not to call in sick, but I figured that I didn’t have to push myself through a shift on my birthday.   Thus, aside from working, I spent a good portion of my birthday in bed.  Thankfully, my stomach eventually felt less icky (after 12 hours in bed).

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“Caw, caw, wake up!  Wake up!  Will you throw up?  Is it just diarrhea? Caw, caw!”


 

3. Drank Tea:

Wow, who would have known that February 12th is Hot Tea Appreciation Day?!  At least it has been hot tea appreciation day since it was established in 2016.  I certainly appreciate tea.  It is my caffeinated drink of choice.   While working on Saturday night, I took time to drink some Bhakti brand Fiery Masala Chai tea while at work (I really like the flavor of this tea, which we actually have for residents).  Well, whoopee I drank some tea.  Still, sometimes having hot tea is like a bubble bath for my innards.  It is the little things in life.


4. Read:

I’ve been pretty good about reading lately.  On Friday, I finished a really interesting book about the environment history of Russia.  Saturday, I started on a very short book.  It is Anton’ Treuer’s Ojibwe in Minnesota.    The book is a very quick read that offers a basic overview of Ojibwe history in Minnesota.  Here are a few interesting facts:  1. The 1898 Battle of Sugar Point at Leech Lake was the last conflict between a U.S. tribe and the military. 2. Ponemah on the Red Lake Reservation has never held a Christian funeral.  3. The Ojibwe and Dakota formed an alliance, wherein they shared territory and were at peace for 57 years- before the better known conflicts after 1736.

 

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5. Full Moon Snow Shoe Hike:

On Friday, in celebration of my birthday weekend, I went on a full moon snowshoe hike with UWS’ outdoor adventure program.  I signed up at the last minute and wasn’t sure if I wanted to attend a three hour snowshoeing excursion before working a 10 hour shift.  I went anyway.  The night was lovely.  At the beginning of the trip, the sky was clear and the temperature was about 35 degrees F.  The outing offered me a good view of the full moon (which was experiencing a partial eclipse) as well as some wintry constellations like Orion, canis major, Taurus, Gemini, etc.  Because the moon was slightly dimmed by the eclipse, the constellations were easier to spot than during a regular full moon.  The snowshoe hike itself was along Lake Superior on Wisconsin Point.  We clambered up the ice hill along the lake and continued that precarious path for about an hour before turning around and heading back.  I imagined that I was walking along a glacier or ice cap in Greenland as I carefully trod across the small mound of snow and ice.  It was fun, but it wore me out!  Thankfully, I survived my night shift on Friday night.


 

6. Watched Documentaries:

 

Since I took Sunday night off of work,  I had some free time for some sedentary activity.  I filled this time by watching documentaries and videos about the “stan” countries on YouTube.  I am planning on traveling to several of the “stan” countries this summer, so I have been reading about them lately.  I read a book about the Great Game in January and finished a book about early communist policies regarding the stans earlier this month.  I read a book about the Silk Road in December.  I am slowly increasing my knowledge of the stans, which I will meet in person in June.  Anyway, on Sunday night I watched a BBC travel series about the “stans.”  I also watched a short video about Turkmenbashi, the former dictator of Turkmenistan and another short news video about upcoming elections in Turkmenistan.   I have enjoyed learning about this region of the world.  Nevertheless, like always, I have some anxiety about the upcoming trip.  I worry the most about health, but also the conditions of travel.  This trip will involve overland travel and camping.  The camping conditions will be more rustic and challenging than my previous trip to southern Africa.  Am I up to the challenge?  On the bright side, I will probably get to see part of the Aral Sea and the giant gas crater in Turkmenistan.

 

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7. Fed the Squirrels:

After finishing work on Sunday morning, I decided to head to the grocery store to pick up a few items.  I decided to pick up some hazelnuts and leave them out for the squirrels in my yard.  I know that Flappy’s favorite food was hazelnuts.  Thus, the nuts were a little Valentine’s treat for my squirrel friends.  I love squirrels.  Happy Valentine’s Day to my favorite rodents!

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8. Went for a Walk:

I went for a walk with Dan in the Superior Municipal Forest on Saturday evening.  I didn’t actually want to walk, as my stomach was already starting to feel a little iffy.  But, it was nice to be outside and I felt better once I was walking.  I chalked the iffy stomach up to nerves or stress from a busy weekend at work.  Perhaps that is all it was?  Perhaps it was just a very mild bug?  Who knows.


 

9. Ate Mexican Food:

After taking a walk on Saturday, Dan and I went to Guadalajara Restaurant.  I really like Mexican food.  After eating, I felt bloated and that feeling didn’t go away for about 24 hours.  I don’t think that this is what made me feel ill today, but probably added to my uneasy stomach.   Oh well, it was worth it since I really do like Mexican food…


10. Drank Lime La Croix:

So, two of my twelve activities involve drinking.  While most people probably have a drink on their birthday, it probably isn’t tea and lime sparkling water.   Well, I am a teetotaler.  I have never drank an alcoholic beverage in my life.  Oddly enough, I have not smoked a cigarette or tried an illegal drug.  I am not against these things and don’t look down upon people who do these things, but when you haven’t done them there is a certain momentum to maintaining the identity of a teetotaler.   And, I have plenty of other vices…such as junk food.  However, my drinks of choice remain unsweetened tea and lime La Croix.  I was very happy to find 100 cans of La Croix in the kitchen when I finally rolled out of bed today!  Thanks Adam.   February 12th should also be Lime La Croix appreciation day.

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11. Booked a Trip to a Sloth Sanctuary

Next November, Dan and I are going on a trip.  We haven’t been anywhere together for about seven years.  He rarely gets time off of work and really isn’t that interested in travel.  Thus, for the most part, I travel alone.  However, in November 2017, he was able to take some time off of work, so we are going to go on a cruise.  While this trip is a long while away, I booked a trip to visit a sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica today.  I thought it would be a small way to prepare for that trip and brighten my mood about being sick.   I am more of a squirrel person and Dan’s favorite animals are toads.  Still, sloths are really cute.  And, my bloated, slow digesting stomach…coupled with my lack of energy….certainly makes me feel like a sloth today.

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12. Wrote a Blog Post

Last year I wrote a blog post about 12 things I did for my birthday.  I didn’t work on my birthday last year…and I wasn’t sick, so I had a bit more time/ability to do fun things.  Despite it all, I think I successfully managed to squeeze some birthday fun out of my weekend.  Perhaps it isn’t the most fun I’ve had for my birthday, but the month isn’t over!

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