Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him c/o firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Foxes and coyotes are common neighbors throughout the winter, and it was not the recent thaw that brought them out. They were responding to other changes. These January days are their breeding season. Since we are cold and a long way from spring, it seems a bit weird that this month and the start of the next would be the breeding time of coyotes.
About the size of a blue jay, the shrike is light on the undersides, gray on the back with wings and tail black. Adults also wear a black "mask" over the eyes. Taking a closer look, we see also that shrikes have a hooked beak as seen in raptors. And like raptors, they are winter predators of birds and small mammals. Since their feet lack talons, they are classified as songbirds not raptors. Shrikes will go after smaller birds and if catching them, they need help to feed on them. Prey is impaled on tree branches or other convenient sites so that they can use the hooked beak to feed. Due to this behavior, they have called "butcher birds." <
Back at the house, word spread among local birds that food was available here. The seven species that regularly came here — chickadees, jays, nuthatches and downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers — were joined by others, and the number of kinds almost doubled. Wild turkeys have been here each day as well as pine grosbeak, goldfinch, redpoll, pileated woodpecker and a junco that came back after an absence of three weeks. <
Like many others who spend the entire cold season in the Northland, I put out food for birds. Unlike some of the local avian feeders, I do not keep the feeding sites stocked with grain throughout the year. I began the feeding and watching of birds this year about the middle of October.
Deer, fox, coyote, squirrel, mouse, vole and shrew tracks are present nearly every time I winter walk and so were not a surprise. But others were here, too. In the forest, a porcupine waddled through. In the field, I noted where a weasel leapt through the crusty snow. In the woods, its cousin, the fisher movement was discovered. And in a few secluded sites, I saw where the snowshoe hare, probably turning from brown to white, had hopped about. <
These big dragonflies are of several colors, but mostly blue-green with various spots. Also here are the small red meadowhawks. Plenty of variety is seen also with these little dragonflies, but mostly, the males are red, the females are yellowish. Among the darners, a common one — the green darners — are restless now as they are taking flight on a south-bound migration.
Butterflies, frequently the white cabbage and the yellow sulphurs, are here along with stinkbugs, crane flies and small red dragonflies. Here too are a couple of kinds of grasshoppers. All of these insects are living their last days as we move towards October.
Berries are small fruits that have formed a covering their seeds. (An exception: strawberry seeds are on the outside.) Often they are very colorful and good tasting to get the attention of passing animals that will pick and eat these berries, thereby dispersing the plants seeds. Though many are edible for us, we are not going to eat lots that I see in the woods.
With no chlorophyll or need to use sunlight to manufacture food, fungi thrive in the shade. They are of many shapes and sizes. And though colors can vary and also be quite pronounced in fungi, they are not usually green. We tend to think of mushrooms when thinking of fungi, but the familiar mushrooms as seen on our lawn are only some of what we can now find in the woods.
And at Hawk Ridge in Duluth, the raptor flights are going overhead by mid-month. With these activities in the lives of birds, they are no longer singing. August days can be strangely silent, devoid of bird songs. This void is partially filled by insects as crickets, grasshoppers, katydids and cicadas all add their noises to the scene. Not as abundant as they were in July, local Lepidoptera of butterflies and moths are still active. We see them each day. But there is much more in this awesome month.