SNG in late winter

Posted February 22nd, 2010 by kcorliss. Comment (0).

I only spent about two hours, all told, strapped into the trusty showshoes. The location I choose to traverse is very near a trailhead of the North Country Scenic Trail which cuts a meandering swath through the Sheyenne National Grasslands in this section.

This part of the grasslands is anything but grassy. It’s river bottom with a mix of eastern hardwood trees in the low areas with oak/aspen savanna occupying the upper portions so it’s not as if a person is crossing an ocean of grass. To the contrary, this is a zone which is quite scenic and satifying, shattering as it does, the mind-numbing sameness of snow-covere prairie.

Additionally–and this is a major league draw for me–there is silence. I don’t mean the quiet which normally accompanies an early Sunday morning in town. No, I’m talking about an utterly complete lack of any sound whatsoever. A person’s own heartbeat, blood rushing through ears, and breathing are the only sounds. It’s the sort of tranquility unnerving to some. Not me.

Birds were scant as expected but I was treated to a couple nice sightings: an adult red-tailed hawk and an immature bald eagle in the same tree. Then in the middle of the woods I happened upon the largest single flock of purple finches I’ve ever encountered in North Dakota, maybe anywhere. They were quietly working the upper reaches of a mature green ash tree scattering seeds to the deep snow below. Every so often one would call. In all I counted 27 individuals.

Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are gone this time of year. But their handiwork remains. These woodpeckers drill a series of holes in bark in order to feed on the nutrient-rich sap flowing down the bark from the leaves. I assume the bugs attracted to the sapwells are also a target.

In this case the target is an American linden, basswood to the lumber folks.

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