Racoons work the night shift

Photo by Ken Hupila of Snotty Moose Studio

By Bill Teftt. Photography by Ken
Hupila of Snotty Moose Studio.

Wildlife watching plays a prominent
role in lives of northlanders. Daily conversation
spins around observations
that were made while watching the
forest, the open patches of river, the
birdfeeders and animal tracks in the
snow. Even human behavior becomes
a revealing sign of associated animal
activity. The cars parked along the
highway and the gathering on the river
provides a March reminder of late
winter crappie fi shing. A car packed
with skis and sleds at an access to
portage and the frozen lakes beyond
means lake trout adventures.
After the initial greetings and cordial
pleasantries, talk of family, friends,
health, and weather turns to a round
of the recent encounters with animals.
Some sightings are common enough
to build a round of comments. The
report of behavior of species after
species - shrike, evening grosbeaks,
pine marten, deer, red squirrel etc.
leads to a wave of reflections and
interpretations traveling around the
table or room.
Over the past couple of weeks,
reports have focused on behaviors
associated with nesting. Bald eagles
on nests, gray jays gathering nesting
material, and nest locations activity of
ravens begin the 2017 breeding bird
season. These are the kind of routine
observations that enrich life here and
are expected by residents and visitors.
Sharing of local knowledge and experience
builds a bank of local wildlife
lore. Social gatherings in the midst
of millions of acres of forests, lakes,
parks, wilderness areas and other
public and private lands are “base
camp”-like setting with participants
bringing in fi eld reports and informal
studies. Scientifi c research can be
formal or informal, but in either case,
it has great value in building a better
understanding of the world inhabited
by humans.
The tools of observation – cameras,
sound recorders, binoculars,
telescopes, microscopes, journals,
thermometers, gps receivers and
compasses, monitors, traps, samplers
– often discover species less common,
visible, or regular in seasonal activity.
Eyes and ears on daytime and lighted
nighttime feeders, nests, road kills and
other wildlife gathering sites result in
some observations. Spending lots of
time observing and traveling the natural
landscape and using the tools at
hand, the same continuum of including
abundant, common, regular, uncommon,
occasional, rare will exist in the
experience of each person.
Some species may shift on a person’s
sense of their place on the continuum
with experience, knowledge
and a developing search strategy. But
everyone hears questions of “How
often do you see a _________?” Or
“Where is a good place to see a
Some things are kind of known, but
one doesn’t really know if or when they
will see something. If bird feeders are
visited by birds, uninvited squirrels,
and occasionally deer throughout the
winter, when will the fi rst bear arrive?
For many people, it is not the excitement
of seeing a bear, but it does off er
evidence of seasonal change.
Some of those same people want to
avoid the damage to bird feeders that
often provides the evidence.
This past week, exterior lights illuminated
nighttime carnivores that
were visiting the bird feeding station
on Ken Hupila’s deck. The observation
raccoons which were already out from
their winter rest in March came fi rst,
and then a photo was taken to prove
it. Raccoons are not abundant or even
common in northeastern Minnesota,
but they are present. Opinions vary
from excitement to distress when
raccoons visit or become regular visitors.
Some people know they have
them and choose to feed them, others
accept them or try to outwit them, and
others stop feeding until they have
moved on.
For those at “base camp” that
don’t believe raccoons exist in the
Ely area, more records have arrived
as evidence from the fi eld. Raccoons
are studied and even hunted in much
of the United States. Historically,
they were common to southern parts
of North America. Although not well
adapted to the extreme cold winters of
the continent’s northern regions, their
range has spread as far north as some
southern parts of Canada.
Spring is mating time for raccoons
in Minnesota and by summer they will
have new families. The raccoons here
are known as a subspecies referred
to as the Upper Mississippi Valley
Raccoon, Procyon lotor hirtus. The
raccoon subspecies found primarily
east of Lake Michigan through the
eastern states are somewhat smaller
and not as dark colored. Referred to
as the Eastern Raccoon, that subspecies
was the fi rst discovered and
named Procyon lotor lotor by Linnaeus
in 1758.
Raccoon ancestors developed millions
of years ago into animals capitalizing
on more omnivorous diets than
many of the other carnivores. That
niche has served them well through
the eons and gives them the ability to
live off the land. They even adapt by
utilizing a deck railing as a welcome
nighttime food shelf.
If you have questions, observations,
reports or requests for this column,
contact the Ely Field Naturalists at
elyfi eldnaturalists or visit www.elyfi
eldnaturalists.wordpress.com If you
would like to join in the postings or
get information about group events
contact Bill Teff t by email at efnbill@
gmail.com or phone at 235-8078. View
more of Ken Hupila’s pictures at www.
fi nnbayphotography.com