This past Saturday, I joined a local non-profit called HIKEhoppers on a glow-stick laden, s’mores filled night hike at Warner Lake County Park in Clearwater, MN. Warner Lake County Park site is 264 acres surrounding the 30 acre Warner Lake. The park was founded in 1973 when the Campfire Girls Inc. donated the first 33 acres—a place formerly known as Camp Suima—to Stearns County.
Now, the park is prime for paddling, picnicking, swimming, campfires, relaxing at the beach, and—of course—hiking.
We began our hike at the parks nature center, a space that you can actually rent out )for a fee). We traveled back with the lake on our left hand side over a bridge where we made our first stop. There, we spotted a familiar critter with beady brown eyes and an oily coat moving twigs across the waters surface to a stream head before somersaulting below the surface. It was a beaver! He was in the process of building a rather impressive dam and the scene lent itself kindly to a brief naturalist moment discussing this beaver behavior.
We continued on to a clearing with several benches where we paused for a time. In that pause, I did a brief lesson on the epic of nature that is the Twilight Zone, wielding a great horned owl puppet and a pair of iPhone headphones as just one part of the segment.
For those of you who were there and would like to learn more, or anyone for that matter, The Wild Life actually did a full episode on this back in season 1.
Afterwards, we continued our hike along a sandy pathway through tall stands of red and white pine as dusk turned to dark, guided by the light of the moon and our glow sticks. Along the way, we made a pit stop to observe an army of American Toads, during which I was pooped on, but such is life, am I right? No? Of course, I gave my spiel about letting them cross, the wart myth, the difference between frogs and toads and other tidbits (or should I say…rib-bits)
Soon, we were at the beach where a warm campfire awaited us and all of the fixings for a variety of s’mores. For the base, there were Fudge Stripe Cookies, Ritz Honey Wheat Crackers, or Graham Crackers. Marshmallows were at the center, of course! For the chocolatey center, we had either assorted Ghirardelli Chocolate flavors, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, or Hershey’s Milk Chocolate.
What had been expected to be a chilly, rainy evening could not have been more perfect. We returned to the parking lot where we parted ways, but not before pausing to appreciate a dazzling show being put on by the first fireflies
I will be joining them again as a guest naturalist, which is all ahead of my new hiking series with them beginning this fall! It’s a naturalist hike series where each hike has a certain theme to allow you to learn about nature while you’re out in nature! Stay tuned for more details.
The Wild Life is joining forces with HIKEhoppers, a central MN non-profit organization, whose vision we share to connect people to nature through hiking events and educational learning experiences.
At 8:30 pm this Saturday, 6/15, join us for a night hike at Warner Lake Park in Clearwater, MN!
But before we get into the details, I wanted to share a big announcement with you all. This joining of forces isn’t going to be just a one time thing. Starting September of 2019, I will be hosting a themed naturalist hike on the second Saturday of each month. Exciting stuff, right?! More details are to come, so please stay tuned. I could not be more excited about this new path forward.
Okay, now back to the Hike @ Night details.
There will be GLOW STICKS, Bonfires, and specialty S’mores! There is NOTHING like viewing nature at NIGHT! Explore a Stearns County Park through night vision and enjoy a night out for less than the cost of a movie and popcorn! I will be joining, nat bag in hand, to share fun nature facts and tell you all of the things you never knew you wanted to know about that bug, or that weird thing some moths do to avoid bats.
Price includes: One pass for a Nocturnal Hike, a variety of Glow Sticks, and access to the S’more bar. For group pricing or questions please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Please Note: When you register for HIKEhoppers events and programs you are acknowledging and agreeing to our Terms and Conditions for ALL participants in your order. Only parents and legal guardians may register children under the age of 18. Same conditions apply. All hikers (and/or guardians) must read and electronically sign Terms and conditions before registering thank you. HIKEhoppers Terms and Conditions
As you patiently wait for details on my upcoming hikes with HIKEhoppers, I highly recommend you check out their current work and events. Visit www.hikehoppers.org for more information on this wonderful bunch of people.
A few days back while at the park with my son, we were sitting beneath a shady cedar tree watching a family of Canada Geese graze in the grass when, from above, came a familiar summer song— po-ta-to chip, po-ta-to chip. Just then, a pair of birds, one a vibrant yellow and the other olive-yellow in tone and lacking the trademark black mask, dove out of the tree. The skimmed the surface of the grass below as the made their way to a tree across the path with a bouncy undulation like that of a beating heart. They were a male and female American Goldfinch—presumably a breeding pair. One indicator of their pairing was their nearly identical call in flight.
The American Goldfinch, like so many birds, is sexually dimorphic, meaning that the males and females exhibit different color patterns. If you know anything about birds, you’d likely assume the male is the more vibrant. You’d be right! This palette difference doesn’t last all year, however. These birds molt twice per year, meaning that in the winter, the males look quite a lot like the females. When in full color, the vibrancy can be quite striking. The golden feathers and sunset orange beak are the result of carotenoid pigments acquired from their food. (Just for a moment, imagine if you turned color based on what you ate. Uhhhh, no thank you.) As summer ends, the American Goldfinch undergoes yet another molt, losing its vibrancy in favor of a drab, dirty-yellow dress.
As you might assume, the females usually go for the most vibrant males. Why? The theory here is that, in doing so, they are inadvertently also choosing the most successful males in terms of ability to gather food. After all, the most colorful must be the most healthy. I say ‘inadvertently’ for one reason: the females likely have no concept of health or how Stan over here must be a good mate because he clearly knows where to get the goods. Maybe she just likes orange and yellow? Maybe she just wants her man to look good? That’s an evolutionary debate for another time.
The American Goldfinch is quite abundant as compared to some other species and can be found throughout much of North America, certainly the US, depending on the time of year. In general, with the exception of those who stick around parts of the western US, the Midwest, and east coast, this finch will spend its winter months in more southern areas and summer months farther north—just like you would if you had wings and no responsibilities. This is especially important when you take into consideration what their preferred habitats are and their primary food sources.
In the summer months, this stick of butter size bird can be found plains, fields, the edges of some forests, and right at your bird feeder. Their diet is one of the most strictly vegetarian of song birds, eating almost entirely grains—a fact you can see right on the face of this bird by its conical beak structure. Two such grains are the seeds of milkweed or the thistle seed. Having a diet dependent on plants means you must travel when those seeds are accessible and available. This may sound like a hard life, but it does come with some added benefits. For example, their seed-filled diet protects them from brood parasitism. Some birds, like the Brown Headed Cowbird, will lay their eggs into the nest of another bird and leave them there, tricking the mother of that nest into taking care of their (Brown Headed Cowbird) egg. However, the solely-seed diet isn’t sustainable enough for Brown Headed Cowbird hatchlings…
Speaking of breeding and nesting, the American Goldfinch is unusual in its timing—often not until late June. But again, this is believed to be related to their food source. The flowering of the thistle occurs just before the begin nesting in the summer months. Because of the late timing, it is most common that a goldfinch pair will have just one brood of 2 to 7 eggs per year, incubating the nest for nearly two weeks. However, every so often, the female will ditch the male with the eggs, leaving them in his care, before going and finding a new man. Kind of messed up, but sometimes it be(ak) like that.
Want to see more American Goldfinches at your bird feeder? Check out how to safely do so here.
McGraw, K. J. and A. L. Middleton (2017). American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis), version 2.1. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.amegfi.02.1
Have you always wanted to know what it feels like to be in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, but don’t know if you’re ready to brave the wilderness just yet? Retreat to the wilderness of Savanna Portage State Park in McGregor, Minnesota—just 60 miles west from Duluth and 150 north of the Twin Cities. This isolated paradise is nearly 16000 acres of scenic hills, serene lakes, and so-quiet-you-can-hear-your-heartbeat bogs.
There you can hike historic passageways like the Savanna Portage Trail. As is its namesake, this trail was used as a 6 mile portage by Dakota, Ojibwe, and fur traders for over 200 years. It took an average of 5 days to reach the West Savanna River using this path.
The Continental Divide also cuts through the park, marking a split in the flow of water into two: western water flows into the mighty Mississippi River, while eastern flows migrate towards Lake Superior.
During the summer, you can swim at Loon Lake, paddle or fish for panfish and bass at Lake Shumway across from the main campground, or camp in isolation at your very own paddle-in camp site on the far side of Wolf Lake.
This park boasts 10 miles of mountain biking trails and 27 miles of hiking opportunities.
During winter, snowmobile on 32 miles of trail or snowshoe your way through the quiet wilderness.
The landscape of Savanna Portage, like much of Minnesota, was shaped by miles thick sheets of glacial ice which carved through the landscape for thousands of years. The tamarack bogs, which are my personal ecosystem in the park, were once glacial lakes, since filled with sediment and sphagnum moss in a stunning example of ecological succession. These bogs will, over time, continue to fill in, eventually allowing the forest to overcome its surface. These bogs are filled with Labrador tea and carnivorous plants such as the pitcher plant and Round-leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia).
Is wildlife-watching your thing? Living within Savanna Portage are deer, bear, skunk, beaver, wolf, moose, and coyote. The park also has excellent birding opportunities!
In terms of camping and lodging, Savanna Portage has camper cabins, the Garni Guesthouse, a canoe in camp site, a 30 person group camp, 6 backpacking sites, and 61 drive-in sites (18 electric).
Chelsea (@teacherwhohikes): Okay, so like I am a people person, but I am also not. I like being alone in nature. This park was exactly what I needed. It is super North Shore without the people. There is even some unique campsites there that I excited to try soon. In this park, we canoed a lot. We also saw wildlife. I am not super obsessed with predators (outside of owls) like most Minnesotans, for I appreciate birds, rodents, deer, etc almost more. This is the place to see these animals! We saw beavers every single time we hiked. The bog was also breathtaking in that it is scientifically the most interesting type of ecosystem. Like bro, carnivorous plants everywhere! The water had bryozoans, which again, bro, yes. And again, there weren’t annoying touristy campers with loud music and dogs there. It is not like “the park” to go to, so it is often overlooked.
Devon (@devonthenatureguy): Everything Chelsea said. Plus, we were there at a time when a lot of wildfires were going on elsewhere, so that made for some breathtaking sunsets and sunrises. We watched a beaver devour, like, 40 lily pads before it smacked its tail at us, saw a bunch of carnivorous plants in the bog which is my all time favorite habitat type, and overall had an experience I wouldn’t change or alter for the world. This park is legit the closest state park to the BWCA that I have ever been to and I am stoked to get out there again, probably summer after next, to try out one of their canoe in camp sites!