The Outside World, In and Around Duluth


Eagle Hunting Mallard

A couple of months ago, I saw a mature bald eagle hunt and finally catch a mallard in the water. It was pretty cool to see, and I didn’t figure I’d get to see anything like that again soon. I was mistaken.

During this year’s Brrrrdathon (supporting the Friends of Sax Zim Bog), I had the chance to see – almost – that entire scene played out again.




Tornadoes in Duluth?

No, probably not.

But not impossible, either.

I don’t actually think much about the possibility. But when NOAA put out a cool new graphic mapping the frequency and intensity of tornadoes in the US, I thought about the axiom I’ve heard – that Lake Superior protects Duluth from tornadoes, and I wondered if it held water, historically speaking.

NOAA reviewed the previous 56 years of tornadoes touching down, it looks as if the North Shore has in fact, been spared of too many touch downs:

Click to enlarge. Image via Data courtesy National Weather Service.

Isn’t that a cool graphic? Makes you wonder what’s happening, meteorologically speaking, that splits the country in half. Mountains, sure. Same thing over along the Appalachians. But what do the mountains do exactly? How do they affect the air? Hmm, a question for another day.

But what about us? Of course, NOAA isn’t particularly concerned about Duluth. But we are, so let’s zoom in a little closer:

Interesting. As I look at this, I see maybe a couple close to Duluth, and neither of those particularly large (heavier line indicates stronger tornado).

A little more searching shows that, since 1950, Duluth has had 9 tornadoes at level F2 or higher:

Data from

And of course, who remembers the details of the F-Scale? Not me – here was the original:

  • F0 (Gale)
  • F1 (Weak)
  • F2 (Strong)
  • F3 (Severe)
  • F4 (Devastating)
  • F5 (Incredible)

I love the adjectives.

Slightly less exciting, and perhaps more understandable:

And to really geek out on the metrics of a tornado, you can visit the Enhanced Fujita scale site:

So do we get tornadoes? I suppose we could. But in the same way that really good winter storms seem to have a tendency to miss us with depressing regularity, so too do tornadoes.

Kind of fun to do a quick little research on something that strikes your fancy, isn’t it?

American Kestrel

We went for a walk in the big meadow behind Hawk’s Ridge this past weekend, and saw an American Kestrel hovering in place, watching the ground:

Okay, okay, it’s a pretty crummy picture. We were pretty far away, I was zoomed out as far as I could go, I didn’t have a tripod, and it’s pretty hard to focus on something that far away, when it’s flying.

Even so, if you click on the picture to see it larger, I think you can see the cheek stripes, the nice orange back and some of its spots.

Someday when I have more time, I’ll head back and try to find him again.

Early Childhood Nature Play

Hunting Frogs

In my Program Evaluation class this week, we had the first of our two final presentations. This was the bigger one, where we presented the findings of our research project to a meeting of the MN Children and Nature Connection (part of the Children and Nature Network). The smaller one, presenting an EPA grant request, is next week.

The research looked at reasons childcare providers didn’t spend more time bringing their preschool aged children outside into natural, wild areas for unstructured play.

Methodology in a Nutshell:

We sent out 400 surveys to childcare providers throughout the state, received 81 back, called a few non-responders to make sure their answers more or less tracked the respondent’s answers, and then we analyzed the data.

Apparently, when you are a student at UMD, you can use some statistical software that helps makes sense of survey data. Good to know, since my thesis is looking like it’ll include some sort of questionnaire (not that I’m thinking about methodology yet…). Nice that those tools are there. I haven’t looked, but I wonder if there’s pretty much just a single program that everyone uses, or if it’s like citation software, and everyone uses their own pet program.

Once we wrapped our heads around the big picture of all of our data, the class wrote a comprehensive summary report, created a presentation and a poster (which we never displayed, unfortunately), and went down to the Twin Cities to present our findings.

This was a formal presentation, so we all gussied ourselves up. This is toward the beginning of our presentation:

About half the class took turns presenting, for about an hour, then we broke out into small working groups for another hour. Each group had a different topic to banter around. We captured all of the possible solutions, wrote it all up and will be emailing it out to everyone.

That’s the quick and dirty version of it. And really, the whole process was quick. Julie drove us along at a pretty good clip, and I think it took us all a while to really understand exactly what we were doing. I think we were already doing the project before we really ‘got it.’ At least that was my experience. But what’s neat is that you can go from zero to sixty with a research project in very short order… especially when you know what you’re doing and have twenty helpers!

The nice thing about being involved in this project is that it’s really helped me to see what aspects of my own project might look like. Handy, how that works – school and all.

House Finch

Sticking his tongue out…

Falcon Cam

Cool – the peregrine on the Falcon Cam has a couple of eggs!

I had been waiting for this peregrine to bring some sticks up to this nest box, but I didn’t realize they typically nest in a small depression of gravel. Like this.

Peregrine falcons typically clutch between two and four eggs. There was one egg yesterday. And unless the temperatures get below freezing, she won’t start incubating the eggs until she’s done laying, so we may have another egg or two on the way.

Where Are the Birds??

I stopped by Wild Birds Unlimited yesterday and asked if they had any ideas as to why we haven’t been seeing any birds at the feeders this year.

I mentioned that we started feeding last year, and we immediately had tons of finches, pine siskins and redpolls. This year, we have more feeders, and a wider variety of food, and we’re hardly seeing any birds (okay, we are getting occasional chickadees and downy woodpeckers).

The gal there told me that she wished it was just a matter of using a different bird food, but in fact, everyone in the area is seeing a decline in the number of winter finches and redpolls this year. Darn. I was kind of hoping that there was some magic bird food blend that was doing the trick.

She did say that she thinks the starlings and crows are particularly numerous this year, which could be having some affect. I can certainly agree with her about their numbers – we’ve got a flock of 20-30 starlings that hang around our block on a regular basis.

Humph. Oh well…