River tie to Yosemite Nat’l Park

 Riverbuffs watching Ken Burn’s THE NATIONAL PARKS Sunday evening might be interested to know that the Upper River has a tie to Lafayette Bunnell, who named Yosemite Nat’l Park. From DISCOVER! AMERICA’s GREAT RIVER ROAD, Volume 1, p. 78 . . .

“Five miles south of Winona, in the tiny village of HOMER, MINNESOTA, is the historic “Bunnell  House.” This gothic gem was the home of Willard Bunnell, the first permanent settler and last Indian trader in the area. Bunnell’s brother, Lafayette, was among the men who discovered and gave the name Yosemite to the National Park in California.”

Sandhill Cranes and SPRING in the valley.

crex-meadow-sandhill-11-copy1I had an Australian friend who never understood why spring was such a joy to those of us in the Upper Midwest—until she visited here in Winter.

Yesterday the sun was out, the wetlands were wet instead of icy and the Sandhill crane pair were “walking the land” as they do every spring. Normally they arrive with the yearling from last year, but this year there are only two. When they walked into the bottomland forest, our new resident eagle flew out! It was a great moment of birding on the farm.

I’m curious now to see whether nesting will be delayed this year by the slightly later spring (normally they are on the nest by April 5). And I wonder how they will feel about raising young with a pair of adult bald eagles hunting in the same bottoms.

Something unique! Condos on the River.

Thought you might find this blurb interesting….

The floating condo city, the Marquette, is the newest addition to the extensive and comprehensive real estate inventory available at Condo.com.  It is envisioned that the 600-foot-long, 108-foot-wide vessel formed by four barges will be topped with 185 to 200 condos, which will travel 6,600 miles along the Mississippi River, connecting rivers and intracoastal waterways annually.

Thirty crew members will join the 350 residents aboard The Marquette, which boasts a long, open-air center atrium complete with plants, benches and six elevators for accessing the vessel’s various levels. Each condo, ranging from 528 to 924-plus square feet, is complete with a private waterfront balcony and will be able to access high-definition television as well as high-speed Internet.

Costs will range from estimated prices of $54,600 for two months spent in a 528-square-foot condo to a full year at $499,000 in a 924-square-foot residence; Homeowners’ Association fees are an additional cost and pay for staff salaries, port fees and insurance costs.

Isn’t that the darndest thing?

                      The “Rarest and Cutest” Creature on Earth!
A White Phase Lion cub with siblings!

Do I love this? A white phase lion cub with siblings!!!!

You may know that I have a special interest in “white phase” critters on this earth. On a recent trip south, the airline magazine featured the “cutest and rarest creature on earth.” Guess what? It was a white phase LION cub. The article noted that it was not an albino, but a “white phase” LION due to a recessive gene.To recap, it takes TWO parents with recessive “white phase” genes to produce a “white phase” cub. Why a recessive gene in an African lion???

On a recent birding trip to Panama in December, I was priviledged to sit next to a Smithsonian scientist who had been studying tropical Panama for 30 years. He spoke of the difference between cold weather creatures and tropical creatures. The key word for mammals that must survive in temperate climates is ADAPTABILITY. Tropical plants and animals are experts in finding SPECIALIZED NICHES. Lions have not always been confined to Africa! More about that to come!

Meanwhile, visit our new TRAVEL PHOTO site at www.greatriver.smugmug.com to see photos from the Panama Trip!

Landing a giant catfish, Turtle Man, and SHANTY BOATS!

OK, folks, I have just found the best You Tube pieces on fishing for river cats (including a GIANT) and catching snapping turtles!! Here they are! First watch the TURTLE MAN catching snappers by hand. Play it through and then you have a choice of several more at the bottom. Try the GIANT CATFISH in film #6. Whew! Finally, if you have a little time, join the “Moron Brothers” in the SHANTY BOAT! A little pickin’ and grinnin’ and fishing! Then check out our weekly fishing updates from Pool 8.  Or read a first hand story of a young man’s shanty boat adventure on the Mississippi River in the 1930s.

Save the Delta Queen – An American Treasure

Ways to help. | Contact talk radio and Presidential candidates

My Goodness, I am a fan of the Delta Queen and all the cruising steamboats.  Enjoy the U-tube video then have a look at the Blog entry below. There’s lots more to the tug of war over the DQ than is commonly known. 

The Delta Queen is equipped with the latest in modern fire monitoring devices and a powerful sprinkler system, and includes 3 onboard crew dedicated to safety monitoring on a 24 hour basis. The steamboat has had an 82 year spotless record of safety on the river, and is popular with tourists who want a one-of-a-kind experience. So why is so-called fire safety being noted to force it out of operation? Read the full story.

Last word on Snow Country

Photo by Rich Middleton, White Phase Sparrow, flying with a flock of field sparrows near La Crosse, WIWell, now that our Sandhill Cranes, bluebirds, red-winged blackbirds, Kestrel, and Canada geese are back in the valley, my observations on snow country must suddenly give way to spring. But not before I share some pictures of one of my favorite “collector” items…Every so rarely a genetic WHITE PHASE appears in animals that are normally not white except as albinos. But the two pictures shown here are not albinos, but a “white phase” black bear and a “white phase” sparrow.

I’ve also heard of river islands with concentrations of “white phase” muskrats, and “white phase deer”, and of course, white phase buffalo.  I’d love it if you could share photos of your “white phase” creatures for use in a future feature article.

Any way, the short story is that these “white phase” or “Spirit” creatures are expressing recessive genes that helped to protect the species during the ice ages. In Wisconsin, a northern game warden told me that in his life time, he’s only heard of two white phase bear cubs… both in the vicinity of Superior, Wisconsin. Hmmm… makes sense. The same game warden has seen only one white phase sparrow… nearly 40 years ago. I wonder if the white phases of various birds of prey are also expressing recessive genes related to living along the edge of glaciers?

Anonomous Photo, White Phase Black Bear Cub, near Superior, Wisconsin

Above is a very rare “white” black bear cub. Also known as Kermode or “spirit” bears. Normally found only in areas where the recessive white gene was encouraged by small populations cut off from the larger populations, probably by glacier formations. The white gene would have been advantageous to bears living on the edge of the snowfields.

Ice and Snow

Photo by Rich Middleton, deer in snow
While walking through deep forest last weekend with a game warden … snow nearly 3 foot deep and no snowshoes… I learned a lovely “Indian trick”… to walk directly on the deer paths visible in the snow. As deer walk their paths through the winter, the snow is compacted. So while the 3-foot deep snow off the paths had us floundering, walking directly on the deer paths provided solid, easy footing.

River ice is to be measured for the next week to develop a forecast for when the first commercial barges might be able to come north through Lake Pepin. According to KTTC, Rochester, MN, the ice is measured at 25 coordinates between Wabasha and Frontenac, Minnesota.

The tows generally begin pushing up river in mid-March, but ice depths must drop below 12 inches. Currently, the ice is still 17 inches thick. If necessary, barges are lined up in SINGLE FILE to get through the ice. It’s called “mule training.” One new barge dispatcher remarked, “I didn’t even know we still used mules!”

For some great photos and observations from one of those towboat pilots who had to push through Lake Pepin every year, I recommend ONE MAN and the MIGHTY MISSISSIPPI by Capt. Norman Hillman. Look for the “Riverbooks” dock on the home page at www.greatriver.com 
MORE SNOW! and dealing with the MELTOFF
Finally we are expecting more snow today, hopefully without any plummeting temperatures. Snow was melting yesterday, so talk of spring floods is starting to perculate. Thus far, official suggestions are that flooding will not be a big issue along the Upper Mississippi. But we haven’t seen this much snow in many years, either. My guess is that further down river flooding will be more of an issue. So we will be posting updates as we get them.

Have a great day! Click on the word COMMENT (or “No Comment” perhaps) below each entry to contribute YOUR comment. Spam control on the BLOG is excellent, so this may take the place of our Bulletin Boards. I love the feedback from our river buff readers.