Sunday, April 24, 2011


Wow, who would've thought that there'd be so much misleading or contrasting information out there on Pasqueflowers?

Ours is just opening today and I thought it'd be interesting to learn more about the plant. I know it's a prairie plant and even can be found in tundra areas. I know it's the state flower of South Dakota and that it has medicinal properties. It's also the provincial emblem for Manitoba

And I know it's one of my favorite spring plants.

Other than that, it seems like there's a lot of misinformation out there. Wikipedia has it listed as Prairie Smoke, which I always thought was a different plant, apparently not? Wiki's never been a favorite source of mine, so I'll use the USDA and the MNDNR sites as references.

The medicinal properties affect the nervous system and were used by the Chippewa and Blackfoot tribes for everything from congestion, to arthritis to childbirth. It was also used to prolong sex due to the fact that it depresses the nervous system. Too much of it though, and it'll cause vomiting and kidney pain. Careful!

Back to the flower...

I love the light green furry foliage, out of which erupts these gorgeous large (4-5") purple flowers with bright yellow stamens. They just have a very unique appearance. Sometimes they look like flowers out of a fairy tale:

I believe this one is a cultivar since it's never reseeded or spread throughout the garden. Every year we get anywhere from 8-16 blooms, after which it provides attractive lacy foliage; a perfect backdrop for other plants.

This year the Pasqueflower is opening nine days later than last year, but only two days later than in 2009.

Spring is finally here!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Downy and a Hairy Side-by-Side

I had a cooperative Hairy and Downy Woodpecker on the suet log the other day and snapped a few photos. I've learned if you have the opportunity to show them side-by-side you do it. So many people haven't seen them next to each other to get an idea of size comparison.

Hairys have a wide range of length: from 8-12." Downys on the other hand, rarely venture outside the 5.5-6.5" length.

In addition to the overall size of the bird, you can look for these two identifying features:

1) beak length.  A Hairy Woodpecker's beak will be nearly the depth of its head. It's very balanced in appearance. On the other hand, the Downy Woodpecker's thin, tiny bill looks small on its face; typically measures half of its head depth. I like to think that the Downy's beak looks like a little ice pick whereas the Hairy's beak is more like a true woodpecker's beak.
2) bars or spots on tail feathers. Here in Minnesota (and the Eastern part of the U.S.), Downy Woodpeckers have black dots on outer white tail feathers; Hairy Woodpeckers have solid white feathers. Oddly, in Newfoundland and in the Pacific Northwest (wouldn't you think they'd be closer geographically?), Hairy Woodpeckers often have the black tail markings of Downy Woodpeckers.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Spring Blooms...and snow

Just a few days ago this is what greeted me one morning:

This morning, it's a different sight. The pasque and crocus are completely buried under 2" of fresh spring snow:

I'm holding out hope that our forsythia will still open. Only once in the last 9 years have we lost the blooms due to cold weather, and that was on April 9, 2006.

The bright yellow of a male goldfinch is a welcome splash of color:

Even the deer came out to check out a downed tree:

Friday, April 8, 2011

Cricket Radio

Here in the frozen tundra of Minnesota, spring is slowly emerging. Tulips have broken through, crocuses and squills are blooming and, if you're quiet at night, you can hear the first frogs beginning to call.

For me, nothing speaks more of the northwoods and summer than the lively chorus of frogs, toads, crickets and other night insects.

Several weeks ago I enjoyed listening to an NPR broadcast focusing on all these sounds with guest author John Himmelman.

Himmelman's written a book titled "Cricket Radio" about the night's "nature sounds" and what prompts these critters to produce them.

The sounds swept me away with the promise of warm summer nights. Himmelman's voice detailing what I was hearing, and why I was hearing it, was perfect.

Here's the "Cricket Radio" site where you can listen to the NPR program and learn more about Himmelman's book.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Midwest Crane Count

Gather around Citizen Scientists:
The annual Midwest Crane Count is next Saturday, April 16.

Join more than 3,000 other volunteers as we record crane counts in six Midwest states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa and Indiana.

To volunteer, just contact your county coordinator.

And, this morning on WPR at 11am (during Larry Meiler's show time) staff from the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wis., will talk about the upcoming count and how crane populations are doing here in the U.S. and around the world. Should be a fascinating program!

(for those not familiar w/WPR's online stream, follow the link and then choose the "Ideas Network" streams.)

Many thanks to WRC for the use of the juvenile Sandhill Crane photo.

Archived WPR stream (2nd one down, 11am on Tuesday, April 5)

Friday, April 1, 2011

Friday Coffeebreak

I haven't been to this site in a while, but the travel bug was biting so it's the perfect Friday coffeebreak:

NASA Astronaut photo quiz

Thanks, NASA!