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Pink Lady Slippers, Tamarac NWR, MN

Sunday, July 20, 2014

He had me right in the palm of his hand

It hasn’t been what you would call an exciting week around here.  Other than the blonde turkey, it’s been pretty mundane.  After mowing on Thursday, I worked the VC on Friday and Saturday. 

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Had to resort to taking some pics of wildflowers in the newly seeded prairie area outside of the VC.  Haven’t even been ambitious enough to figure out what they are.

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                                            I thought this grass had some interesting seed heads.

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After two slow days in the VC, I was more than ready to have today off.  I decided to take a little road trip just to change things up a bit.

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I took the Lake Country Scenic Byway from the refuge to Walker, MN, with stops in Nevis and Akeley.  None of these towns are what you might consider booming metropolises.  First stop was Nevis.

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This is a town with a population of a little over 400, but who wouldn’t want to stop to see the Worlds Largest Tiger Muskie?  Winking smile  Apparently, too many visitors wanted their picture taken with their head inside the muskies mouth, so now there’s a ‘KEEP OUT’ sign there.  There were no signs indicating where I might find this behemoth, so I just drove around the few streets until I found it.  I knew from the Roadside America site, that it was on County Road 2 somewhere.

After that thrill, I made my way to Akeley, but couldn’t find what I was looking for there.  I found the Wood Tick Theater (not sure I’d want to sit inside for a play),  but according to my map the roadside gem I was looking for was a little further down the road.  I struck out, so continued on to Walker.

County Highway 34 is a two lane road running east to west/west to east.  I couldn’t believe the traffic for a Sunday morning.  It seemed like I passed a thousand trailers, 5th wheels, and motorhomes going the opposite direction as I headed for Walker.  That town has a population of 900 something, but has at least three stoplights and traffic was backed up for miles.  It’s right on the edge of Leech Lake, and I’d guess half the population to the Twin Cities (Minneapolis/St. Paul) was exiting after a weekend up north.

That’s where I turned around to head back for home.  I didn’t stop there since visiting all the tourist shops on the main street is not my thing.  It seemed they were doing a booming business though.

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On my way back through Akeley, I found what I missed earlier on the way through.  How could I not have seen this giant Paul Bunyan on the side of the road?  Akeley claims to be the birthplace of Paul Bunyan, not Bemidji. If you look closely, you can see Paul’s baby cradle next to him.

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After I stopped to get a photo, several more cars stopped too.  I asked one of the other visitors to take my picture in Paul’s hand so you can get an idea of his size.  I get a kick out of finding these roadside oddities along my travels.  I hope my brother shares the same passion as we make our way from Minnesota to Arizona this fall.  There must be a lot of Worlds Largest things along the way.

Sorry to say, I had to leave Paul behind and head back to the rig.  I really liked his big blue eyes…

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…but then I never was a fan of facial hair.  Disappointed smile

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Have you ever met a bleached blonde turkey?

Along about 10:30 this morning Bridget and I headed out in the refuge truck to do litter patrol.  Neither of us mind this assignment as it gets us out on the roads of the refuge, and you never can tell what you are going to see.  Bridget had spent the early morning helping Janice clean the pit toilets on the refuge.  That’s an onerous task that I have thankfully pretty much been able to avoid. 

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As we made our way down County Road 26, we passed the beaver lodge in one of the ponds and caught this white-tailed doe making her way along the edge.  We’ve only seen the resident beaver once at work on his lodge, but we always stop to take a look just in case he’s out and about.  It was a nice calm day to be outside working.

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There was also a report that one of the refuge maps had been stolen from one of the boat launch areas, so we checked all of those as well.  At the Waboose Lake boat launch, the area was alive with Compton Tortoiseshell butterflies.

When we stopped at the North Tamarac Lake boat launch, sure enough, the heavy map plaque of the refuge had been removed from the kiosk.  It takes a special kind wrench to remove the screws holding the plaque in place, and it was obvious that it had been carefully removed.  I sure don’t understand why anyone would do such a thing.

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We also found this rather beat up white admiral butterfly resting on some grass seed pods.  It looked like it had some encounters with birds trying to catch it for dinner, but it gave me a nice view of both its upper and lower sides.  These guys get most of their nutrients from mammal scat, puddles, and wet sand or pavement, so that’s how I knew it was probably just resting.

We picked up three five gallons pails full of litter along the refuge roads today.  There were lots of beer and pop cans and several McDonalds/Burger King bags of debris.  Again, I don’t know why folks can’t take their garbage home with them rather than throwing it out the window.

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On our way down Bruce boulevard, we had our encounter of the day.  There was a very pale wild turkey standing along the road amongst the wildflower blooms.  I’ve never see such a light colored wild turkey.  Looked like a bleached blonde to me.

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It had another normally colored companion with it, and we couldn’t figure out why they were hugging the edge of the road so much.  I shut off the motor to the truck, and we just waited.

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Being patient showed us why. Very soon a whole bunch of young ones came out of the tall grasses.  They were of various sizes, so I’m guessing these two moms had banded together.  There is safety in numbers, don’cha know.  The challenge for tonight is for you to spot at least nine baby turkeys (don’t know what they’re called) along the road and in the grass.

Now before you go commenting about blonde turkeys you have known, I just want to say that before I aged and became a Q-tip, I was a natural blonde.  Not sure if I was a turkey or not. I don't know smile   At any rate, bring it on!  I can take a joke.

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                                                                                THE END!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Monday, July 14, 2014

Another tour for special visitors

Merikay and Craig showed up right on time at 10:00 on Sunday morning for our scheduled tour of the refuge.  They are staying at a campground right outside of Itasca State Park, about an hour away.  Of course, since I had all of a quarter of a mile to drive, I was a little late.  Embarrassed smile

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Weather wise it was an absolutely gorgeous day to be out and about on the refuge.  Moderate temperatures and a beautiful puffy cloud studded sky heightened the enjoyment.  I thought we might see some busy beavers at this pond along Teacracker Trail, but no such luck.

There was no lack of conversation as we made our way around to the eight kiosks on the refuge so I could restock pamphlets at each of them.  Merikay and Craig are fulltime RVers that have only been on the road a couple of months.  Seems like that was a long time ago for me.  The selling of my house and such is but a distant memory.

White Admiral

                                                                            White Admiral

While we didn’t see any mammals throughout the day, we sure did see a lot of butterflies.  Catching them sitting still long enough for a photo can be a challenge.

Northern Crescent

                                                                        Northern Crescent

I had planned that we would have lunch at the Chippewa picnic area, but time was marching on so we just pulled out our sandwiches at the roll-over dam bridge.  The Otter Tail River was gurgling in the background as we lunched, and the breeze along the fast moving river kept the mosquitoes and deer flies away while we ate.  It is one of my favorite locations.

Aphrodite Fritillary

                                                                        Aphrodite Fritillary

There were claw marks and black hairs stuck on a couple of the wooden bridges that we crossed during the day.  Black bears seem to like these bridges as places to scratch their backs.  We also found some pretty fresh wolf dung nearby.  We didn’t see any of these creatures, but I think it’s exciting to find evidence of their presence.

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After finishing with the kiosks, we had enough time to take the Blackbird Wildlife Drive.  I asked Craig and Merikay to pose for the obligatory blog portrait at the Blackbird Lake Overlook. 

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Blackbird Lake is one of the few places on the refuge where kayakers can enjoy a nice paddle.  This is the first time that I’ve seen any out on the lake.  It sure looked like they were having a good time.  A bald eagle was also soaring overhead as they made their way down the lake.

Eyed Brown

                                                                     Eyed Brown butterfly

As we were finishing up the wildlife drive, Craig asked me if I knew anywhere to find some wild rice to purchase.  I had told them how the Chippewa/Ojibwa Native Americans harvest some of the wild rice that is abundant on the lakes of the refuge each year.  With a smile on my face I said, “Of course.  Right in the visitors center nature store.”   We sell bags of rice harvested on the refuge in the old traditional way.  Next stop… the VC!

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                                                           Dun Skipper  (?)

We then headed back to the rig, and I got ready to grill some burgers and dogs on my new Weber Baby Q.  I’ve only had it a couple of weeks, but I’m really liking it so far.  Merikay had brought a Key Lime Pie for desert, and I had invited John and Bridget to join us.  It was a tasty meal, and soon afterwards it was time for our visitors to leave.  Another enjoyable day with friends to put into the memory book.

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                                                                                THE END!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Had another brainstorm last night

This morning I was up and out the door fairly early to lead a bird tour on the refuge.  I really didn’t expect anyone to show up at 8:30 in the morning in this out of the way location, especially in the middle of July.  It’s not exactly prime birding time.  Late May is the prime time here to see and hear all kinds of birds setting up their breeding territories.  By the middle of July many birds have stopped singing as they’re all busy raising families.

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I was surprised on two counts.  First, eight people showed up for the tour.  Secondly, we spotted a Wilson’s snipe sitting atop a burned tree perch to start the day.  What an uncommon find.  It was a good birding day, and everyone was happy by the end of the tour.

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This group of birders was interested in more than just birds, and we enjoyed finding other natural things like this morning glory with a couple of pollinators. 

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I think this is a Compton Tortoiseshell butterfly that we spotted also.  These guys hibernate over winter in the shelter of hollow trees or under bark.

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I found my first monarch caterpillar of the season snacking away on a milkweed plant that was just beginning to bloom.  Everyone else in the group was excited about this find as well.  Leading a group of enthusiastic nature lovers is so much fun.  No one even complained about the deer flies and ticks.  I had to chuckle when one woman said, “Don’t look up at the inside roof of the van.”  It was covered with deer flies, but no one asked to have all the windows closed.  They wanted to see and hear everything.

I worked the afternoon in the VC, and along about 2:30 or so Merikay and Craig showed up to say hello and watch the refuge movie.  They’re fellow full-timers and bloggers.  We’ll be getting together again tomorrow for a refuge tour and BBQ.  I’m going to put them to work helping me fill pamphlets in the kiosks.  Winking smile

Last night as I sat outside with Emma, I perused my road atlas maps contemplating my trip when I leave here in the middle of September.  I do love to page through the maps dreaming about routes to take and places to see rather than relying on the internet.  That’s when I had a brainstorm.

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Perhaps some of you remember when my brother Kurt (aka Nurse Ratchet) came to stay with me and help me survive my hip replacement at Okefenokee NWR about a year and a half ago.  Well, I got to thinking that I know he likes road trips, he’s retired, and I would be heading down to Arizona to visit him before my next assignment at Imperial NWR for the winter.  I gave him a call and proposed that he be my traveling companion from Tamarac to there. 

He said he liked the idea, but would have to check with the ‘Boss’, his wife Jody, in the next week or two.  What a surprise today when I got an email from him that said it was a go.  She had agreed.  Cool beans!  After eight years on the road alone, it will be nice to have someone else to share adventures with along the way.  I think we’ll both be checking maps and things to see over the next two months.  I do know he’s never been to Yellowstone, and it’s one of my all time favorite places.  Let the planning begin.

Jody still works so that’s the reason we all couldn’t do this.  She did have one condition though to this idea.  We won’t be allowed to visit any places in Arizona without her.  I can live with that.  Maybe she could get a few days off and meet us in, say, the Grand Canyon?  Otherwise, if she can’t, I’m not sure how I’m going to drive through Arizona with my eyes closed…Surprised smile

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Had two ringers in my tour group today

Every other Thursday at 10:00, I lead the refuge ‘excursion’.  It’s really a tour of the refuge with some history lessons thrown in.  We visit the CCC camp area, the Chippewa spirit houses, and what’s left of the roll over dam that was constructed during the logging era of the early 1900s.  Then I take folks on one of the back roads that are not open to the public.  Today, two of the five people that showed up were my ringers.  I’ve known them for several years, but never met them in person.  They had never been to Tamarac before.

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We made a stop at one of the water structures that were originally built by the CCC.  That water structure formed what is now Chippewa Lake along the Otter Tail River.

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As we road along the back trail everyone seemed interested in the blooming prairie lilies, so I stopped the van and everyone piled out.

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It’s always nice to have enthusiastic photographers along on the tour.  Can you guess who my ringers are yet?

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After the tour, my visitors and I had a long picnic lunch along the Otter Tail River.  We had planned to go kayaking on Lost Lake, but the afternoon got away from us, and the skies were threatening rain.

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We did visit Lost Lake, and came upon a damselfly mating frenzy.  I thought it was cool beans how many of the pairs formed a heart once attached.  How romantic! Red heart

It was soon after 4:00 and we headed back to the rigs for a BBQ.  Bridget and John also had visitors so we had a nice group of nine to share dinner with.

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In case you haven’t guessed, Sherry and David were my ‘ringers’… fellow bloggers and RV full-timers.  It sure was nice to meet them in person and have a day together.  If the stars align themselves correctly, we may try to do that paddle on Lost Lake again next Tuesday.  Oh, and for you foodies, see that bowl of snacks on the table?  John whipped up some fried pickles for us.  That’s the first time I’ve ever had them.  I’m thinking I need to conjure up another BBQ so he can fix them again.

All of the visitors were pretty impressed with our RV sites, and two even remarked on the neatness of the lawn care.  Ha Ha!  That’s my department.  Of course one of them was Sherry, who knew who did the mowing, but the other person had no idea.  Sure glad I mowed yesterday.  Winking smile

It seems I may have more visitors this coming weekend.  That will surely help make my next two days in the VC more tolerable.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Some visitors get put to work

When I got up early Sunday morning, I wasn’t sure if Daniel and Crystal were going to head home or stay another day.  I had to set my alarm because there were only two days left to finish the Minnesota Loon Count, and I had three more lakes to cover.  All surveying of the lakes must be done before noon, and not on days with high winds or heavy rains.  I told them that they were welcome to come along and help with the count.  Daniel was of a mind to head for home, but Crystal was more of a mind to do something that not many people get to do.  I was happy that Crystal persuaded Dan to stay another day.  After all, they hadn’t even been to the visitors center yet.

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Bridget and I hopped into the refuge truck and squashed the ‘youngsters’ in the back seat.  We were off onto the Teacracker Trail to find Squaw Lake. (It has a more politically correct name now, but I can’t remember it.)  We had to bushwhack our way down to the edge of the marsh to see the lake.  Dan and Crystal led the way with Dan carrying the scope and tripod.  (There was method to my madness of having them come along. Winking smile)  We did find one loon, but sorry to say there were two Chippewa men harvesting leeches in their canoe.  You can just barely see them in this pic.  They were paddling around the edges of the lake.  Two trumpeter swans thought about landing, but changed their minds when they saw the canoe.

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We kind of took the long way around to the next lake so I could give Dan and Crystal a little tour of the refuge.  The wind was picking up in the prairie section so I told Dan to hold the flower still so Crystal could get a good picture.  Crystal was happy to have the head net I gave her to use to ward off the deer flies.  You can also see that we all had our socks up around our pant legs to help combat the ticks. 

Prairie Lily

These are prairie lilies, and they’ve just begun to bloom.  Some of you may think the bugs are just awful here, but it pays to be prepared.  They sure haven’t kept me away from this beautiful place.

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For the next lake, we had to climb up to the top of a ridge for our first view.  I’m glad I had my walking stick along.  Once again, Daniel toted up the scope.

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We didn’t spot any loons here, but there were eight trumpeter swans.  This is what I mean about getting put to work if you come to visit me.  Dan and Crystal live in the city of Rochester, MN, and I think this outdoor time did them good.  I know we all had lots of fun.

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Bridget and I hopped up on the back of the truck for a second view of the lake that was hidden from us up on the ridge.  We added four more swans for a total of twelve.  Refuges are very conscious about safety, so I hope you notice that we are wearing our orange vests while perched in the middle of the road.  Laughing out loud

We surveyed one more lake before heading back to the rig.  The young folks needed a nap, don’t cha know.

I knew Dan wanted to give fishing one more try, so I woke them up and sent them to a different spot to try around 4:00.  I figured I wouldn’t see them again until around sunset. 

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To my great surprise, they were back in short order with the evening’s dinner!  They had caught three nice sized bass in under 30 minutes.  Dan was a happy camper.  I had told him before he came that I planned on his catching enough fish for dinner one night.  Of course I had those butter garlic chicken brats just in case.

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We invited John and Bridget over to join us for this tasty feast.  What a wonderful ending to the holiday week I got to spend with most of my kids.  I hope my youngest son, Andy, and his family get a chance to come up this summer too.  I know two young grandboys that would love to catch some fish.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy