Sunday, April 25, 2010

Terrestrial Animals of Minnesota

I'm taking another Minnesota Master Naturalist class this spring. We are studying the "Prairies & Potholes" biome of Minnesota this year. Our class session last week was about terrestrial animals of the Minnesota Prairie and we were fortunate to be able to take a field trip to Oxbow Park and see some of these terrestrial animals up close and personal.

Our first visit was to the White-Tailed Deer enclosure. The park currently has 4 deer: 1 buck, 1 doe, and a couple of yearling fawns. In the photo below are the yearlings and the buck (if you click to enlarge this picture, you will see that the antlers are just starting to grow on this buck -- he's on the left.)

The doe was quite tame and came right up to the fence for her favorite treat: apples! (My classmate Emma got the honors of breaking up an apple to feed this doe.)

Even when they're in smaller pieces, apples are still difficult for a deer to munch on!

Elk were once a part of the Minnesota prairie landscape too, although I believe they're long gone now except for a small population in the far northwest corner of the state. Oxbow Park also maintains a small herd of elk in their zoo. Three cows......

......and 1 bull elk (who is also just starting his new set of antlers for this year).

Oxbow Park is also the home to a small herd of American Bison. Here's what Stan Tekiela says about them in his Field Guide to Mammals of Minnesota, "A massive animal, hard to confuse with any other." In the photo below is the bull and 1 cow, and from this picture it's difficult to appreciate how huge and majestic these animals really are. Just standing next to the enclosure and listening to them breathe reminded me of standing next to a steam locomotive that's waiting to accelerate down the railroad track. Fortunately these animals seemed really docile. The park naturalist leading our group was quick to point out to our class that the large metal cable and fence seperating us from the bison would "only slow them down" if they actually did decide to charge.
As I was standing there looking at these animals and seeing them losing their winter coat, I was wishing I was a spinner so I could collect that fleece and spin it into some yarn. I've only knitted with buffalo yarn once -- it's quite expensive and I'm sure the logistics of collecting that fleece is one of the reasons why!

There was also one yearling buffalo calf with this herd. What a cutie, don't you think?

Another mammal still present in the rural Minnesota landscape is the American Badger. Oxbow Park's Zollman Zoo also had a badger for us to observe. I think these are really neat animals, but I know a lot of farmers don't like them because of the huge holes and mounds of dirt they leave in the fields. This one wasn't the least bit happy to see all of us humans standing around and staring at it. I think they're quite beautiful, but would definitely want to keep my distance if I ever encountered one in the wild.


KGMom said...

A real live badger--wow.
I love all the pics, but the badger looks so fierce.

Carol said...

I don't think I want to corner a Badger..or even a Bison. I did like the picture you painted of gathering the fleece from them...

Mel said...

Hola Ruthie!
Enjoy your new class! You have to teach me afterwards!

Anonymous said...

Oxbow is one of my favorite places. Last year when grandson Charlie was here we took him there. He loved the river otters and to be so close to the animals, he enjoyed himself. I'm glad you had a class there, it is such a fascinating place.


Gaelyn said...

How very cool to take another naturalists class. Field trips are always fun. But that Badger looks pissed.

Jayne said...

How fun Ruthie! Love taking your Naturalists class with you!

Bonnie said...

I never saw an American Badger. What a very beautiful animal. Have a great time at your class.

Unknown said...

I didn't know about this program. I'd love to do something like that sometime.

Kelly said...

LOVE that badger, and the bison are gorgeous. Good luck with your new class! It sounds very interesting. When Matty goes back to college, I'm going to take some of those classes. Right now, they are all centered around Columbus with a few in Dayton...a bit a trek for me with my schedule now, but in a few years! :-)

troutbirder said...

One of our favorite places to take the boys when they were young. They've certainly upgraded it since those days.
btw - my birding buddy Mr. Science too the same class down at Whitewater, I think.

Ruth said...

I would enjoy your classes and would love to see these animals up close. You would think that buffalo would love to be brushed to remove that old coat ;-) wonder the yarn is expensive.

RuthieJ said...

Hi Donna,
That badger was hissing the entire time we were standing by its enclosure. I'm sure it would be more happy digging holes in a wild field somewhere.

I agree with you Carol. It sure would have been something to see a huge herd of wild bison roaming the prairies back in the "olden days."

Hi Mel,
I think we're going to have one session on birds, so I'm looking forward to that class. Watch for more pictures and stories!

Hi Mom,
Oxbow is a nice place. I think the last time I was there was with Charlie too, but I think he was only 3 or 4 then.

Hi Gaelyn,
I'm really glad I had the opportunity to take this class. One of our future field trips is to a small tract of remaining native prairie in Iowa. I'm really looking forward to that trip.

Thanks Jayne. Glad you're enjoying it too.

Thanks Bonnie. I've seen large badger holes out along some country roads, but never seen one in the wild either. They're beautiful and scary at the same time!

Hi Penny,
The classes are offered through the Extension Program of the U of Minnesota. Here's the website link if you want to learn more:

Thanks Kelly. I think you will really enjoy classes like this when you get a chance to take them. But for now, enjoy your time with Matty!

You're right Ray.....Oxbow Park and Zollman Zoo have really been upgraded from a few years ago. It's a neat place to visit.

Hi Ruth,
I know you would enjoy these classes too.
On that big buffalo where more of the old fleece had fallen off, his hair was really short and sleek looking like a seal. I'll try to get back there sometime this summer and take a picture of how they look in the summer.