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Spruce Grouse

The Spruce Grouse—A Most Elusive Bird

In this week’s column, Stan Tekiela takes us deep inside the northwoods of Alaska in search of a hard-to-spot bird, the spruce grouse. Deep in the northwoods of Alaska, and stretching eastward to the dense conifer forests of Maine, lives a bird that superficially looks and acts more like the familiar Eastern Wild Turkey. It is the Spruce Grouse (Falcipennis canadensis), also known as the Fool Hen, Black Partridge, Canada Grouse, and Spotted Grouse. Standing about 15-17 inches tall, it’s a good-size bird. You would definitely notice it if you saw it, not like those small, brown, nondescript birds. It resembles a chicken or perhaps a miniature turkey. Some who might be familiar with the Ruffed Grouse might also be confused. But the Spruce Grouse is much darker then the brown Ruffed Grouse. Male Spruce Grouse are nearly black with large white spots on their sides and belly. They have a bright red patch...

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Dinosaur Destinations

Waco Mammoth National Monument

Jon Kramer, Julie Martinez, and Vernon Morris, authors of Dinosaur Destinations, explore the most exciting dinosaur and fossil sites near you. Today, we take a look at Waco Mammoth National Monument, a famous enclosed bone bed of mammoths located in Waco, Texas. About Waco Mammoth National Monument On a fine spring day in 1978, Paul Barron and Eddie Bufkin embarked on a search for arrowheads and fossils near the Bosque River. They soon stumbled upon something else altogether: a very large bone eroding out of a ravine. They took the bone to the Strecker Museum at nearby Baylor University, where it was examined and identified as the femur of a Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi). The museum organized a team to search for more bones, and digging soon began. This paleontology party hasn’t stopped; since then, scientists have found 19 mammoths. Today, the dig site is now enclosed and climate controlled, and it was recently named a National Monument. Waco Mammoth National Monument—A River of Mammoths When you...

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Starry sunset

101 Amazing Sights of the Night Sky

George Moromisato’s 101 Amazing Sights of the Night Sky is a curated guide to the best the night sky has to offer. This magnificent full-color guide will be available in March 2017. George shares with us some tips and pointers that make a night under the stars exciting and meaningful. Once, we were all astronomers. Before electric lights banished the Milky Way, and before digital clocks announced the time, and way before GPS satellites let us know exactly where we were on Earth, the night sky was our entertainment, our timepiece, and our compass.ofUnderstanding the night sky was a matter of life or death. The North Star guided wandering hunters back home, and the rising of the constellations determined when planting should start or when the Nile might flood. Today, thousands of years later, we’ve gained knowledge our ancestors could never imagine.  We are awed by the scale of the universe, thrilled by the beauty of colliding galaxies, and humbled by the work and dedication...

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Searching for the Elusive Bobcat

In this week’s column, Stan Tekiela discusses the elusive bobcat. I’ve been sitting for hours, driving for days, and staring through binoculars at distant hillsides for longer than I can remember, searching for the bobcat (Lynx rufus), the smallest of our wild cats. Today, I am in California, trekking the foothills, hoping for a glimpse. No doubt the Bobcat is the most widespread and common of our four cat species (bobcat, lynx, cougar, and jaguar). In some regions of the country, bobcats can be fairly common, while in others not at all. Here in California, they are fairly common but extremely hard to find. Days upon days of searching have resulted in seeing about eight bobcats so far. Spotting them isn’t the hard part. Getting close enough to capture some images is. When approaching these wild cats you must take into consideration not only not being seen and heard but also not being...

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Mountain Lion

Mammals in the Desert

If you took a flight over a desert, what would you think as you flew over? Many people would probably think they were flying over a barren wasteland. But deserts aren’t dead; far from it, they are teeming with all sorts of specialized plants and animals. The Sonoran Desert alone boasts more than 500 species of birds, 130 species of mammals, more than 100 species of reptiles, and more than 2,500 plant species. And if you spend any time in the desert, you’ll see, hear, or smell evidence of all of this life: Coyotes howl during the evening, owls call out, breezes bring the sweet smell of flowers and plants, and it’s impossible to miss the towering saguaros, the flowering ironwood trees, and the vivid displays of wildflowers, or the butterflies and hummingbirds zipping from one bloom to another. There are four major deserts in North America. The Chihuahuan Desert is the largest and covers about 175,000 square miles in Mexico, with fingertips in southern...

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Bluebirds in winter

Winter—A Challenge for Our Resident Birds

In this week’s column, Stan Tekiela discusses how challenging winter can be for birds. Winter can be a very challenging time for the birds who don’t migrate. The rigors of winter, lack of food, reduced access to fresh water, and extremely long and cold nights do represent a lot of challenges for our resident birds. The other evening I was out filming a pair of Barred Owls. The sun had set and the blue shadows of winter descended upon the landscape. I call this the cobalt hour: after the sun sets, when everything outside is cast in a cobalt blue color. It’s a magical time of a winter day. I was hiking back to my truck with my oversize camera and tripod hoisted over my shoulder when I heard a Pileated Woodpecker giving a loud call. Glancing to my left, I saw our largest woodpecker species land on a dead tree and slip into...

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Christmas tree

The Christmas Tree Conundrum

Just in time for Christmas, Stan Tekiela, author and wildlife photographer for many Adventure Publications books, considers the question of which is best—a fake tree or a real one. Are you like me? Each holiday season I ponder the whole fake tree/real tree conundrum. Which one is better for the environment? To understand this question, let’s look at some history. The first Christmas tree lot opened on the streets of New York in 1851 when Mark Carr hauled two ox sleds loaded with trees from the Catskill Mountains into town. Today, about half a million acres of land are used by 22,000 Christmas tree growers, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These tree farmers produce more than 32 million trees each holiday season. The question remains: Is cutting down a tree for temporary use in your home during the holidays good or bad for the environment? Let’s first look at some facts about artificial trees (which...

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The Lives of Wolves, Coyotes, and Foxes

Wolves—The Epitome of Wildness!

Few animals in the wilderness elicit such strong emotions in people as wolves. Loved by many who cherish wild places and intact ecosystems, wolves are however loathed by others who regard them as competition for natural resources. Stan Tekiela, the author of The Lives of Wolves, Coyotes and Foxes lives in Minnesota, a state with more wolves than any other in the Lower 48. To Stan, the wolf is the symbol of all things wild—the epitome of wildness! Today, Stan shares with us his fascination for these mysterious mammals. Living in close proximity to them makes me feel more connected to the wild, and for that I am grateful. Wolves, along with coyotes and foxes, are a group of animals that I’ve always found fascinating throughout my career as an author, naturalist, and wildlife photographer. I have been studying and photographing wolves for more than two decades, but I still get excited each time I see one...

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The Migration of Hummingbirds

Migration Remains a Great Mystery Much of migration remains a great mystery to science. While we can only speculate how it started and why it continues, there are a number of facts we do know. Migration allows an expanded bird population, including hummers, to exploit food resources and breed elsewhere. Nearly all species of hummingbirds in the United States travel thousands of miles to find food and reproduce with intense competition from others of its own kind. Ruby-throats, for example, fly north after wintering in the tropics of Central and South America and fan out in spring across the eastern United States, where they find many sources of food and breeding opportunities. We also know that hummers return to the region where they hatched. Ruby-throats hatching in Missouri will return to Missouri the next year. Others hatching in Michigan will return to Michigan. Once at the breeding grounds, hummers look for a suitable territory with enough food to sustain themselves for the entire summer. Hummingbirds are so small that they often will not...

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Backyard Birds

Backyard Bird Feeding: A Relatively New Pastime

Stan Tekiela, author of Backyard Birds: Welcomed Guests at Our Gardens and Feeders, understands the thrill of bird-watching. The award-winning author and naturalist has been studying and photographing backyard birds for more than 25 years. Backyard bird feeding is a relatively new pastime. It wasn’t until after World War II that people started to feed birds for recreation. Eventually, when people moved off farms into urban and suburban settings, we started losing our relationship with the natural world. To reconnect, we began feeding the birds in our yards. Most of our backyard birds are small. Take the Ruby-crowned Kinglet, for instance. At only 3–4 inches tall, it’s one of the tiniest birds in your yard. Many of our backyard birds are also fabulous songsters. Have you ever noticed that it’s the small birds that sing so much and so beautifully? This relates to their environment. When a tiny male bird is in a big forest with tall trees, thick underbrush, and lots of shade, it’s hard to be...

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