Monday, December 31, 2007


Howdy, Critter lovers!

How are you this December 31st? R and I are unsure of our party status as he is in the midst of a cold, and I am recovering from the same one.

To facilitate healing, yesterday I made a pot roast in our new dutch oven! It was a Christmas present from R.


These veggies look beautiful in the pot, I think:


We also watched an episode of the show,"Be the Creature", which was previously mentioned on the Critter Corner. The Kratt Brothers were profiling the relationship between Ethiopian wolves (red with upright ears, super cute!) and burrowing rats.

I thought, "What cute rodent have I yet to feature on the Critter Corner?" And it became apparent. One of the rarest rodents in Minnesota is the bog lemming! So here we go.

So cute!

Lemmings, along with muskrats and voles are part of the subfamily Arvicolinae, which in turn is a member of the superfamily Muroidea, which with its members rats, gerbils, hamsters and mice is the largest mammalian family on Earth.

These fuzzy rodents weigh around one to four ounces and are three to six inches long from snout to tail. Lemming ears and tails are smaller than most other rodents, possibly due to their northerly range.

There are populations of lemmings throughout the northern hemisphere, and they are famous for their rapidly fluctuating populations. Norway especially is home to lemmings that will cycle between numbers in the thousands to near extinction. Scientists are unsure why. Another possible misconception is that the number of lemmings predict the number of predators, wolves for example. But now researchers think the opposite might be true.


Lemmings do jump off of cliffs, but this action is not a mass suicide. Rather, the lemmings migrate in huge groups once a region become overpopulated. These travels sometime require swimming, so lemmings may jump off a ledge in order to get into the water to swim to another location. This may lead to some fatalities, of course.

In Minnesota there is a small population of bog lemmings. These live in the far northern reaches of the state, including habitats in Itasca, Lake of the Woods, Roseau and Koochiching counties.


Apparently there are two types of bog lemmings in Minnesota, the northern and southern species. One of my sources says the southern bog lemming has six nipples compared to the eight mammary glands of the northern bog lemming. But the MN DNR site says the species cannot be identified with the naked eye.

Bog lemmings moved north as the most recent glaciers retreated, about 10,000 years ago. The former lemming populations in Kansas and Nebraska are now extinct, but populations exist from Washington state east to Maine.

Like other rodents, lemmings eat plants and roots, ingesting tough material to wear down their continually growing teeth. The northern bog lemming also eats slugs and snails, and prefers an environment that is open and wet. Considered an animal of special concern in Minnesota due to loss of wetlands, one place to spot a lemming is at the Big Bog Wildlife Preserve.

Side Note: R, I really want to go to this giant bog! Let's camp up there!

Lemmings follow animal trails to find food, and make their own, tunneling through undergrowth or making snow tunnels like voles. They are active day and night.


These rodents have two to three litters of babies per year. Four to six tiny lemmings are born each time, and the Mama can become pregnant again the day after she gives birth. After five to six weeks, the babies are sexually mature too. It seems lemmings live in colonies, and often don't survive for more than a year.

A babykin lemming.

Fun fact: The collared lemming is the only rodent to completely turn white in the winter. They are residents of Canada and Alaska.

Have any of you ever seen a lemming?! Any critter sightings today? I hope you all celebrate safely tonight!

I love lemmings,

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A New Addition to the Family!

Dear Critter Lovers,

It's true! R and I have purchased a new vehicle! We picked up this 1988 Toyota Land Cruiser in Menomonie, WI today and are really excited about it! R named it LC Elsie. (I spelled it wrong, according to R.)


Yay! We wanted a more rugged vehicle than our Road Toad Honda Accord, and the Land Cruiser is perfect; cool-looking, hopefully reliable, comfortable, well taken care of by the previous owner and affordable enough for us to purchase with cash. R only drives on the weekends or when I'm using the Road Toad, so this should be awesome!

Even better, Elsie made it up over the mound of snow at the bottom of our driveway! R just turned on the four wheel drive and up she went!


We should definitely be able to track down some critters with this truckster!


Ok, I think after our early, snowy excursion east to buy the vehicle, it is now nap-thirty and I will retire!


Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas Delights

Hello Christmas Critter Lovers!

How are you? I hope everyone had a good holiday and didn't come home with a cold like I did.

I'm honestly looking forward to my boring and predictable New Year's Resolution of losing weight. Man, did we eat and eat!

First we had a Christmas brunch with the B family. Sis JB had big news! She and JF are now engaged!

JB and Baby B:
Baby B was unsure about the lion costume.

Congrats sister J!

The required Aunt/Uncle/Baby B photo:
Photography hint: always position the baby to hide your double chin.

After driving to central Wisconsin in snow, rain and heavy fog, respectively, I was reunited with my budster GH, the Domestic Nemesis!
We hadn't seen each other since Labor Day weekend.

My sister L's sweetie, CC, appears skeptical about the W/S Christmas party:

I just realized I didn't take any photos of L and CC's new puppy!

The men huddled together to watch the Vikings game. Let's just say R stayed pretty quiet! (The Vikings lost.)

The ladies were having more fun anyway.


Who is JS calling?!

HS is on the phone, with my sister K and her boyfriend JL supervising.

My Dad and L share a moment. (Look how shiny her hair is! That's what happens when you stop dying it.)

Even sister A and T-Dogg's pup "Kung Fu" was festive in this little polo shirt!

Christmas morning was delightful as always...we even slept in until 8!
A critter present!

R's dreams came true!

You know you're in Wisconsin when:
T-Dogg is a big Brett Favre fan. Note "Kung Fu" in the bottom of the photograph, wearing the new doggy fleece R and I bought him!

We also had a great time with my Mom's side of the family on Christmas eve, and my Dad's side later on Christmas day. I don't think we took any pictures of these events, however!

Yesterday on our ride home we spotted hawks, deer, cows, horses, goats, buffalo and a dead fox!

More critter reports to follow. Have a great Friday!


Friday, December 21, 2007

Owl Pellets and Christmas.

Hello everyone! Are you already traveling prior to Christmas?! R and I are having a B Family brunch tomorrow morning, then leaving directly to my hometown to celebrate the holiday. I love the W family Christmas traditions, which include one night of revelry with my parents best friends, the S family. Here are some photos from last year, featuring my Mom and JS engaged in laughter and deep thought, respectively:


The gathering:

Then, for Christmas Eve, my Mom hosts her side of the family. It's a lot of fun.

On Christmas morning my littlest sister K wakes us all up too early to open presents.

K and R.

Then we relax for a while, have a fashion show of any new clothes and get ready for an afternoon at my Aunt and Uncle's house down the street. This is R's favorite activity, as he gets to eat awesome food and relax and watch sports and chat with folks all day. This year we are going to stay at my sister A and her new hubby T-Dogg's house in a nearby town. Here they are with their little dog, "Kung Fu"!


Hopefully I'll have some new pictures to post after this holiday!

Here is our new owl ornament!

In my previous owl post, I forgot to mention one of their important qualities: the ability to make owl pellets. Who dissected these as a kid? I did, and it was awesome; you can see exactly what the owl had been eating!


Unlike other birds, owls are lacking a crop, which is a loose bag in the esophagus which collects food for later consumption. Because owls are predators, their meals consist of difficult to digest things like bones, hair and feathers. These objects are collected in a muscular stomach organ called the gizzard, which manually crushes food. Since most owl food is swallowed whole, this is very important.

After a while, the indigestible contents of the gizzard are compressed and pass upward into the chemical stomach, or proventriculus. The pellet is stored there for several hours. The owl cannot eat while the pellet is in the proventriculus, so the regurgitation of a pellet can often indicate the owl is about to hunt. Prior to regurgitation, the bird closes its eyes and makes a "face" and then the owl pellet just drops out!

OMG, an owl video from YouTube!

When R and I buy a house, hopefully this year, we are totally going to get night time motion detection cameras!

I hope this post puts you in the Christmas spirit, AND I hope you don't end up regurgitating over the holidays!


Sunday, December 16, 2007


Gentle readers,

How are you? I hope you've had a good weekend. Saturday I had to work at my temp job, which was weird as I used to work EVERY Friday and Saturday night at my former second shift job. It's been nice to have weekends off for the last year and a half, let me tell ya!

As for critters, PG just reported a deceased mouse in her apartment. She also reported that the budster, recent new doggy owner and Critter Corner fan AH has moved into the apartment downstairs! Yay!

This week I had a dream about giving my friend SH an Adopt An Owl for Christmas. Of course I immediately went to the computer as I awoke, and searched for this possibility. But SH is also a big fan of foxes and goats. I decided to email her about my quandary instead of actually sponsoring a creature in her name!

So today I dedicate this owl post to the lovely SH; friend, artist, chef, bridesmaid and fellow critter lover!

Baby burrowing owls!

Owls are members of the Strigiformes order, 200 species strong. As with other raptors, their taxonomy is under investigation as more DNA is researched. Divided into two groups, Tytonidae, or barn owls, and Strigidae, or typical owls, these birds cover every continent except for Antarctica and some isolated islands.

Some owls have ear tufts, some do not. Most owls have flattened feathers around their eyes, creating their distinctive masked appearance. These are called facial discs, and help funnel the sounds of prey towards the ears of the birds. Some owls have ear openings that are unevenly placed on each side of the head, which also help with sound detection. Obviously, owls have great vision, especially at night. Their eyes are fixed in their sockets, which necessitates increased neck flexibility. Most owls can turn their heads 135 degrees or more. Owls cannot see clearly a few inches from their faces, however. While some owls are active in the early morning or late evening, only the burrowing owl parties in the day; the rest of them are nocturnal.

Minnesota is home to many species of owls, more than I expected. These include screech, barn, short-eared, barred, boreal, long-eared, hawk, great grey, burrowing, snowy, great horned and saw-whet owls. I'll focus today on the last four in the list.

Burrowing owls are one of the most endangered owls in Minnesota. This is because burrowing owls are prairie birds, and as that habitat disappears, so do they. In 1985 burrowing owls from South Dakota began to be reintroduced into southwest Minnesota.


These non-tufted owls are small, from eight to ten inches high and weighing five to seven ounces. They have long, smooth legs for digging! If you chase a burrowing owl, instead of flying away he will run to his hole and jump in! Burrowing owls will often use abandoned burrows of prairie dogs, badgers and ground squirrels for their homes, but they can dig their own as well. They eat lizards, insects, rodents and birds.

Even smaller than the burrowing owl is the saw-whet owl. These little guys are named for their screechy cry!

The cuteness.

Weighing only four ounces, saw-whet owls are seven to eight inches tall. They nest near bogs and swamps and prefer coniferous forests. These tiny owls enjoy amphibians along with the usual insects and rodents.

On the other side of the size spectrum are great horned owls!


These birds are the largest tufted owl, standing at 18 to 25 inches tall and weighing three to five pounds. They are one of the few animals that kill skunks, and can eat up to 4,000 mice a year! These owls also take rabbits, squirrels and waterfowl. They're found from Alaska to the southern tip of Patagonia. Also great horned owls have long eyelashes!

Finally, our wintry friend, the snowy owl!


Weighing up to five pounds, snowy owls are among the heaviest. Their range is circumpolar, and they actually do not nest in Minnesota. Like many arctic and subarctic animals, snowy owls rely heavily on the populations of lemmings and other small rodents. In years of especially snowy weather or reduced numbers of lemmings, called "invasion years", snowy owls will fly south to the northern United States to hunt. They've been spotted as far south as Indiana. Snowy owls also hunt hares and ptarmigan, and nest right on the ground!

Fun Fact: A group of owls is called a parliament!

Perhaps because they are nocturnal birds, or because they nest in heavily forested areas, owl nooky has not been studied much. With most species courtship and nesting territorialism begins in wintertime. The owls begin vocalizing even more during this period, sometimes creating love duets. Some owls practice ritualistic preening, and often males bring their honeys a meal. The latter is probably the most important as most males provide all of the food for the nesting female. Usually owls "nest" in January and February. Building lovely nests is not a priority for owls; mostly they will use hollow trees, existing nests from other birds or squirrels, or protected rock ledges. One to five eggs are laid separately, hatching 30 to 37 days later. Like with the snowy owl, sometimes the amount of eggs laid is related to the size of the local rodent population. The owlets may leave as soon as six to nine weeks, or may stay with their parents until the end of the summer.

Great horned owlets:
Fuzzy, fuzzy, cute, cute!

Aren't owls cool? I love them and want one as a pet. He could live in a special dark box in our apartment (with a camera in there) and then have a special owl-door to fly outside at night! Our owl could live right next to our pet bats. Check out the cool Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota to see some owls!

Do any of you have owl stories?

Happy Almost-Christmas week!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Not Minnesota


How are you? Tuesday finds me tired and dry-eyed after starting my new temp job at the University of Minnesota! A two week adventure! I'm wishing it was spring/summer/fall though (wait, it IS fall...) I mean, not 20 degree December weather, because this workplace is within easy biking distance and even walking distance. I'm busing it instead.

In the Critter News:
The brightest meteor shower of 2007? (I know meteors aren't critters but you could encounter a creature while observing the night sky outdoors!)

Here's some good news about Earth!

The New Mexico meadow jumping mouse is threatened. So cute!

A new dinosaur that used to live in Antarctica!

I have a great idea for a Creature Feature that came to me in a dream! But for now, some photos from my sister in law, JB, who has recently relocated to Colorado! R and I are hoping to visit her during Spring Break.

From a few weeks ago:

Sis JB herself, rapidly renewing her boarding skillz!
(R snowboards too, which is really hot. I've decided to stick with skiing.)

Fresh pow: a view from one of the lifts at Monarch Mountain:


Thanks for the lovely photos, J!

The title "Not Minnesota" prompted me to think about what is the exact opposite of Minneapolis on the globe. Yikes! After messing around on Google Earth for a minute, it seems like if you type in the Minneapolis longitude and put in an eastern latitude, you end up in a mountainous region southwest of Weihai, China!

Hope you're well, more l8r.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Wendell's Weaknesses

Hey all,

Any adventures lately? Any critter sightings? Yesterday R and I spotted three deer crossing a frozen swamp off of 494 in Maple Grove! A hawk swooped past as well.

The end of the year is a time of reflection, and the approaching holidays illustrate clearly one of my weaknesses. I am bad at wrapping presents. This is a source of much derision and hilarity from my family; maybe I don't improve my wrapping skill on purpose to maintain the status quo.

Other weaknesses include a limited ability to open packages, such as milk cartons, bags of chips, etc. Like everyone, I do have some superpowers as well, such as the aptitude to sing fast and high, the possession of wash-and-go hair and the ability to make homemade pie crust.

This sounds like a Domestic Nemesis post, so I'll dedicate it to Ms. Non-Sequitur, as she is busily finishing papers for her penultimate semester of grad school! You can do it, G!

Photographic evidence.
Once a co-worker helped me wrap a package; she used the box to estimate the size of the wrapping paper needed and then ROTATED it 180 degrees; the present was wrapped perfectly. Maybe I have trouble with spacial relationships.

The finished present:
It's not too bad.

It's hard for everyone to wrap soft presents, right?

It's just a little wrinkly at the corner.

Giant presents are the hardest. I really like using all the scraps of wrapping paper, hence this half and half gift:
Disaster. Ha ha, it's for R!

This one isn't too bad from the side:

But can you see the strip of paper I used to cover the exposed box?
It's either feast or famine with my wrapping; way too much paper or definitely not enough!

Ah. It feels better having admitted one of my weaknesses! I hope you're all having a great day!


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Trees, bagels.


I hope you are enjoying the sun today as we recover from another dumping of snow. Even though I live about three miles from my job downtown, it still took me an hour to get home last night! R was wishing he could have jumped out of the window of his bus (on the same route I took) because it would've been faster to walk!

We live near the top of a hill, and I love the southwestern-facing view from our office window. Here is a sunset from a few weeks ago:

And what it looks like this morning:

When there are still leaves on the trees, and the sun is setting and sort of sparkling through the foliage, I really want to be a painter and try to capture that on canvas. Do you ever feel that way? It might be fun to experiment with art, which I haven't done too much since junior high.

The B family is really into silly hats, costumes and props for family functions. Thanksgiving was no exception. Sis AB found a giant bagel at Goodwill and it became an important photo op for the holiday. Of course the cutest photos feature our nephew, Baby B. Even though I, myself sat on the bagel, it probably makes the most appropriate seat for him.


Happy Tuesday!