Loon Update #1

Below are a few better photos of our loon family — better mainly because I was able to borrow a real camera vs. just using an iphone. Maybe I should go shopping…

The image above shows the family of three loons occupying our lake this year. Baby loons, called chicks, can swim nearly immediately after hatching, and start diving within 2-3 days. At this point the family abandons their nest and moves to a “nursery area” of the lake while the chick develops.

This chick appears to be thriving. Yesterday we saw it diving and swimming long distances underwater.

The male loon picks the nesting site for each breeding pair and vigorously defends it from loon “floaters”. Floaters are 2-7 year-old unpaired loons that drift from lake to lake — the outsiders of loon society.

The loon in the image above is showing off his territorial display — in this case to warn away me and my kayak.

The geographic distribution of loons over the year is illustrated in a beautiful map provided on the website of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

More updates to come…


In addition to yellow and white, pink and purple are common colors for local wildflowers. Pink and purple are somewhat similar and could be grouped in one post, but that would be too long. So, today I’ll review the pink flowers we’ve seen in June; expect a post with the more purplish flowers soon.

Smooth Wild Rose (Rosa blanda)

When seeing this flower I assumed it was the Prairie Rose (which I am familiar with as the state flower of North Dakota). However, the “Picture This” app identifies these common roadside roses as the Smooth Wild Rose. The two are similar, but the Minnesota Wildflower webpage cites the lack of prickles on new stems as the distinguishing characteristic.

Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)

The Wild Geranium is an attractive plant found commonly in shadier areas along the roadside. It blooms for only a short time in June.

Being familiar only with the geraniums offered by nurseries, I was surprised to learn of this common native related species. This wild geranium can be cultivated for use as an ornamental plant.

Philadelphia Fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus)

Given the name of this plant, I was expecting to learn of interesting links to Philadelphia and stories on how it may be effectively used to repel fleas. Unfortunately , there actually is no evidence that it is effective as a insect repellent, and I found no reason for it being named after Philadelphia.

It is native to North America, and is an invasive species in Europe and Asia.

Here in Minnesota it has light pink to nearly while flowers and has a gangly, weedy form. It is a common roadside plant that has been in bloom since mid-June.

An Odd Thing about Sunsets

Often we walk down to the lake around 9:30 to look at the sunset. At first we see something like the image below, very nice but not breathtaking.

Thinking it is over, we climb back up to the house. Then, looking over our shoulders…we are compelled to run back down to see the encore. Maybe an analogy about aging and retirement could be made….

Happy 4th!

Evenings on the Lake with Loons

The last two days we’ve enjoyed being on the lake in the evenings

The lake was still and slight cloud cover made for dramatic skies

In this image one of the lake’s islands is in the foreground

A family of loons has made the lake their home this summer

Two adult loons are commonly seen (and heard) in the evenings accompanied by a baby. We didn’t get a good picture of the group, but managed to capture a shot of one of the loons singly. I hope to share updates about these loons throughout the summer.

The loon is the state bird of Minnesota, more loons live here than in any other state (except Alaska). According to the Minnesota DNR, in summer we have about 12,000 loons in Minnesota. Our MLS soccer franchise, Minnesota United FC, has the loon as its mascot.

The loon may be best know for its calls that echo across our lakes throughout the season. On the website The Voice of the Loon you can hear the four distinct calls of the loon — the tremolo, wail, yodel and hoot.

Useful Knowledge

The previous posts have information that may be interesting, but is not exactly critical stuff to know. This post attempts to correct that by providing info that is at least somewhat useful.

A Highly Noxious Plant

Western Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron rydbergii)

Poison Ivy is recognized by groupings of three oval pointed leaves, its woody stems, and small green berries that persist throughout winter.

Its sap contains the toxin 3-n-pentadecyl-catechol, aka urushiol, which is found throughout the plant. This poison oozes from poison ivy when it is bruised or broken, and remains toxic indefinitely. Sensitivity to poison ivy varies among people, but very few are totally immune. Particularly insidious is inhalation of smoke from burning poison ivy, which can cause severe allergic reaction.

Our dogs sometimes walk through poison ivy along the roadside with no problems. This is not unexpected, apparently only humans are susceptible. Several animals actually eat poison ivy berries without ill effects.

Under the Minnesota Noxious Weed Law, landowners can be forced to eradicate colonies of poison ivy

Wolves in sheep’s clothing

Orange Hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum) and Hoary Alyssum (Berteroa incana)

These flowers are attractive, but are actually quite undesirable.

We noticed orange hawkweed (aka Fox-and-Cubs) along the Heartland bike trail near Akeley MN. Initial enthusiasm about finding something new evaporated upon learning that it is a highly invasive non-native species. Originally it is from Northern and Central Europe, first coming to North America in Vermont as an ornamental import. Its entrance to Minnesota was through Duluth, and has since been spreading south and west.

Hoary alyssum, another European native, is prevalent in roadside ditches. The main concern with this plant is that it is toxic to horses. Cattle, sheep,and goats seem to be unaffected by it, but severe adverse effects are seen in some horses. The specific toxin in the plant is unknown.

And a plant handy in an emergency

Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)

The leaves of this plant are large and soft, and its colloquial names include Camper’s Helper, Charmin of the woods, Fishermen’s Friend etc. I’m sure you get the idea.

Another interesting aspect of mullein is that historically it has been used to poison fish. Seeds of the mullein were ground up and thrown in lakes or ponds to create a “fish sting”. Its toxin caused fish to float to the surface where they could be easily scooped up by the “fishermen”. Of course this is now highly illegal.


Following up on the recent post featuring yellow wildflowers, today’s entry will focus on another of the common wildflower colors, white. The pictures were all taken within the last two weeks in the MN north lake country.

First, a sunset….

Canada Bunchberry

(Cornus canadensis)

Canada Bunchberry is interesting because it is in the dogwood family, but is a creeping plant only 8 inches tall. It grows slowly across forest floors by spreading slender rhizomes. Edible red berries follow the flowering, they are a favorite of bears and jelly-makers.

In 2017 it received about 80% of the votes in an unofficial online poll to suggest a national flower for Canada. However the Canadian government declined — they have done well for 150 years without a national flower, and decided not to dilute the impact of their main emblem, the maple leaf.

Downy Arrrow-wood

(Viburnum rafinesquianum)

This is a native, medium-sized shrub with attractive clusters of white flowers followed by dark blue berries. Birds like the berries, although they are not edible for humans. The leaves turn eye-catching red colors in fall.

Its name reflects that the narrow straight stems of these bushes were used to make arrows by Native Americans.

Common New Jersey Tea

(Ceanothus americanus)

Another interesting name; supposedly during the American Revolution it was used as substitute for green tea, prior to the Revolution it was called Red Root. One website describes the tea as excellent, even though it contains no caffeine — I’m skeptical.

The plant is a short shrub that prefers sandy soil.

Ox-eye Daisy

(Leucanthemum vulgare)

The ox-eye daisy is native to Europe and Turkey, and it is one of the hundreds of species first formally described by the French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamark. In North America, it is an invasive species and spreads aggressively. The ability of this daisy to spread is evident in our lake region, where some open fields are currently covered in its white blossoms. It actually appears on some lists of noxious weeds in Minnesota.

Despite all this, the flower is attractive.

White Campian

(Silene latifolia)

This is another import from Europe/Asia, possibly arriving to North America in ship’s ballast. Another source says it may have arrived here in contaminated crop seed. In England it is sometimes known as the Grave Flower, because it is common in cemeteries.

The plant has a weedy appearance; but on the positive side — its roots and leaves are extremely toxic to mosquito larvae.

Kayak Excursion Big Bass Lake


Big Bass Lake is largely undeveloped, and was terrific to explore in kayaks on Sunday. In it areas of open water are connected by shallower channels.

The shallow channels and the water edges are crowded with lily pads and other vegetation.

Yellow Pond Lily

(Nuphar variegata)

In Big Bass Lake these Yellow Pond Lilies (a.k.a Water Cabbage, Cow Lily, Frog Lily) were interspersed with the more common white water lilies (Nymphaea odorata).

In reading about plants like this, I’m learning that nearly all of them are edible and/or medicinal in some way. Also medicinal properties typically are all over the board. Too complicated to write about all of it, so I won’t bother…

Harlequin Blueflag

(Iris versicolor)

These are scattered around the shore of Big Bass lake. When seeing the first clump, I wondered whether it might be a remnant planting left over from an abandoned cabin. However, they are prevalent and present in totally inaccessible marshy areas, so clearly they are native.

Consulting the Minnesota Wildflowers website, I learned that there are two varieties of native iris in the state. South of the cities Iris virginica  predominates, and in the north it is Iris versicolor . The species overlap to some extent, and are roughly similar. The MN wildflower website provides tips to distinguish between the two.

Tufted Loosestrife

(Lysimachia thyrsiflora)

This “tufted loosestrife” is also in marshy areas at the edges of the lake, but it has a small flower much less showy than the iris.

The story behind its name is that Lysimachus, a king of ancient Sicily, once calmed an enraged ox by feeding it some of this plant. So, the plant caused the ox to “loose” “strife”. This must be true — I found it on-line…

Beaver Lodge at Big Bass Lake

There must be a lot of them here — the lodge is huge.

Included an image of the sunset yesterday at home

— an extra because it was really nice.

Solstice Panoramas, Spittlebugs and Cow Parsnip

Panorama at 9:30 PM of the summer solstice

Disappointed at overcast skies during the latest sunset of the year.

Panorama photo during kayaking today. Still overcast, but with dramatic effect on the sky and water.


This is a strange thing that we noticed on several different plants during today’s dog walk — masses of bubble-foam. Online search quickly identified this as the work of “spittlebugs”, which are the nymph form of the froghopper insect. A good explanation of this behavior is given in a recent NY Times article. Terrific images of the spittlebug in action are available on a webpage from Ohio State.

Cow Parsnip

This is a Cow Parsnip plant along the Paul Bunyan bike trail between Hackensack and Backus. It a very dramatic big plant, and we had no idea what it was before consulting the “Picture This” app. It is a native plant, but is a close relative of a nasty invasive weed, the Giant Hogweed. Exposure to sap of the Giant Hogweed causes severe phytophotodermatitis — which results in rashes when the skin is subsequently exposed to sunshine. The Cow Parsnip can cause the same issue, but to a lesser extent.

For those who are risk takers and/or exceptionally hungry, many parts of the Cow Parsnip are edible. A webpage from Forager Chef will tell you all you need to know to enjoy Cow Parsnip in your next meal.


Yellow, purple/pink, and white are the most prevalent colors for wildflowers here in the Minnesota lake country — maybe that is true in general. I’d guess these colors are most effective in attracting pollinators, which would be good subject for a future post — after I’ve done some research. In any case, as the title suggests, the subject for this post will be yellow wildflowers that we have seen here in late May to mid June.

Golden Ragwort

(Packera aurea)

It turns out that there are two different sorts of plants, both called ragwort. There are several varieties in the genus Packera that are native to North America, and there is another ragwort, Senecio jacobaea, native to Eurasia.

The European ragwort is considered an undesirable weed, although it does provide considerable nectar for desirable pollinators. Its unpopularity is reflected in colloquial names like stinking Willie, and cankerwort. Several alkaloid compounds are present in this plant that are somewhat toxic to livestock.

The North American version of ragwort, as pictured above, doesn’t have the same negatives. It is described as a hardy effective ground-cover, and is available from nurseries specializing in native plants.

Yellow Salsify

(Tragopogon dubius)

This one is very common, but is surprisingly attractive if you take the time to look at it closely. The colloquial name, yellow goats-beard, is another plus. Its habit is to shut its blossom at mid-day, which explains another of the colloquial names, Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon. The native habitat of the Yellow Salsify is southern Europe and central Asia, but now it is widespread throughout North America.

Silver Cinquefoil

(Potentilla argentea)

Silver cinquefoil is one of the 300 species of potentilla. The undersides of its leaves are covered with silvery hair, which explains “silver” in its name. “Cinquefoil” comes from the Old French “cinc” (five) and “feuille” (leaf), so; five-leafed. Cinquefoils grow wild in most of the cooler regions of the world.

Large Flowered Bellwort

(Uvularia grandiflora)

This one we saw only briefly in late May. It is an unobtrusive plant, but it makes me wonder — why are so many plants named “wort”? The definition of wort I’m familiar with is the liquid solution of malt sugars that is fermented to make beer.

As you’d expect, google readily came up with the answer, courtesy of the blog gardeningonmars.com. “Wort” comes from the Old English “wyrt” which means root. In general “wort” is used to indicate that a plant was thought to have some medicinal value. The original convention was to use -wort as a suffix attached to the word for the health issue that it supposedly benefited, e.g. liverwort, bloodwort, feverwort, etc..

Early June Wildflowers

Walking dogs once or twice daily, you notice that there is a huge variety of flowering plants along the roadsides in the Minnesota lake country.  Also, as the spring and summer goes on there is a procession to the flowering, from one type of wildflower to another.  All very interesting, but up until this year I had nearly no idea of what plants I was seeing.

So, earlier this year I downloaded an app, Picture This, that does a good job identifying plants photographed with your phone.  It has been real informative.   Using this app, along with some on-line research, mnnorthlake.com  will regularly share photos and information about local plants.

The plants will be shown in approximate order of their flowering, from spring through summer and fall.  I’ll start with a terrific plant that I had not known about before:

Hoary Puccoon

(Lithospermum canescens)

Strange name, right?  In plant ID’s the word “hoary” seems to come up frequently.   In this context it denotes plants with leaves that are covered with short, dense, greyish white hairs.  “Puccoon” is derived from a Native American word referring to a plant that produces pigment.  Apparently its taproot yields reddish-purple juice that can be used as dye.

The Hoary Puccoon was one of the first wildflowers that we noticed blooming in late May, and it is still blooming in mid-June.  It is common alongside county roads, typically in small “bouquets” as seen in the picture.  According to comments on www.minnesotawildflowers.info (a great website) puccoons are difficult to successfully propagate – otherwise they’d likely be popular garden plants.

Inland Serviceberry

(Amelanchier interior)

These bushes were blooming early this year just as other trees were getting their leaves in late May.  There are several species of serviceberries that are difficult to distinguish.  Because inland serviceberry is common in Minnesota, it is my best guess as to identification.  Serviceberries are native plants to Minnesota, but are also used in landscaping as ornamental shrubs.

Serviceberry plants are a favorite food of deer and rabbits.  The berries are edible and reportedly taste like blueberries; the berries ripen in June which is why the plant is also called Juneberry. 

 Red Columbine

(Aquilegia canadensis)

These columbines are very common in the area, both in ditches and alongside trails through the woods.  They started blooming in early June and are still going strong.  Most other wildflowers are white, yellow, or pink/purple, so these salmon red flowers really stand out.