January 31, 2008

I got to take a hike around Springbrook this afternoon (one of the nature centers I work at, occasionally) after helping teach 73 seventh graders how to make fires in the woods. Everyone is expected to make a full recovery.
Actually it wasn't too bad, it was cold, but if there's fire-building involved, who better to enlist than a seventh grader, really.
So after standing around for a few hours I figured I had better stretch my legs and get my core temp back up, I decided to walk some paths I never seem to walk, and follow the frozen canal to the marsh for a change of scenery. In taking one of these weird little turnouts that the path system there has, I came across these in the swamp scrub and thought, wow, Tamaracks! I didn't know we had Tamaracks in our bog (they're usually more of a northern, wet bog, cedar, pine sort of tree):

Then after getting closer I noticed the buds (cones?) had this white fuzz coming out of them and if you crushed them slightly, it looked a little like cattail fuzz. And there were leaves on the red stalks. Tamarack is a conifer, pine with needles, not leaves. Not a Tamarack. So after spending an hour tonight web-searching for fuzzy cones (it's actually a math term) I still can't figure out what it is. I hate posting stuff like this because I'm supposed to be Joe Naturalist and know every rock, plant, bug, bird and bit of hair that is in Minnesota, and I get stumped (if you'll pardon the expression) all the time.
So I'm going back to more thoughoughly smoke my clothes again tomorrow, and I will have to acquesce and ask the 'masters' at the NC and be ready with a quick , "I knew it!" at the right time.
On the hike along the brook near the spring that is our park 's namesake, I heard a tapping, tapping. Since there were no windowsills I figured it couldn't be a raven, and by the velocity of the blows it had to be a pretty good-sized woodpecker. I was hoping for a Pilated, as I have been trying for two years to get a decent picture of one in the wild, but no soap.
But I like all woodpeckers, if only for the fact you can blow away any kid's mind with the fact, "The woodpecker's tongue is sooooooo long, it actually wraps around their brain to cushion it from the impact of pecking on a tree!"
Anyway this is a Red-bellied woodpecker, and I know, I know, it has a red head and a white breast.
You can see why it's easy to get confused about this whole naturalist thing.
So, keep your eyes open, your lens caps off, and spend some time outside while it's still there. Happy February! It's almost time to look for Punxsutawney Phil.