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Backyard to Backwoods: Animals showing affection are great for photos

Swans won't be collared anymore because of the tendency of the neck collars to ice up and become detrimental to a bird's health.(Steve Maanum/For the Enterprise)

In one of my January columns I talked about the swans that are spending the winter on the Fish Hook River. I ended by asking what a male swan is called. The answer is a cob. A male is a cob and a female is called a pen. I bet you always wanted to know that, didn't you?

While we're on the subject of swans, have any of you stopped at Monticello to view the impressive number of trumpeter swans that winter on the Mississippi River? At this one location, there can be in excess of one thousand swans. One of the neighborhood residents, Sheila Lawrence, feeds them approximately 1,200 pounds of corn each day. You can read about her online if you type in "Monticello Swans" and you'll learn that while she's watching and feeding, she is collecting some valuable data. I was surprised to know that the neck collars worn by some swans for identification can ice up on cold days and become detrimental to their health. Due to that fact, Minnesota is no longer using the neck bands.

Monticello is only one Minnesota locations for viewing winter wildlife. February is also a good time to visit the National Eagle Center at Wabasha where dozens of eagles gather before spreading out to their breeding territories.

If you don't want to go that far, visit some of the natural areas that our area has to offer. Last week I was at Itasca State Park and I think we sometimes forget the beauty it possesses at this time of year. You may have biked on its trails in the summer, fished in its many lakes, camped in its campgrounds, or driven through to see the fall colors, but what about now? Winter offers great opportunities for skiing and snowshoeing, for winter camping, snowmobiling, and for photography.

You can sit by the fireplace in the Visitor Center and watch the birds at the feeders while relaxing with a cup of hot chocolate. It seems like the naturalists, Connie and Sandra, always have some kind of activity going on. For a schedule of events you can call the Park or look in the Enterprise.

Valentine's Day is here and that means showing affection in some special way. It might be with a card or jewelry. It might be with a box of candy, a vase of flowers, or a dinner and a movie. It might be just staying home and spending a tender moment together. How do nature's animals show affection? You can see displays of wildlife affection captured on film by going to the Internet and typing in "Animal Love, Best Photo Shots" and that can be your own photo challenge for February. Try to photograph a tender animal moment.

We're about sixty days from the start of wood duck nesting season so if you are going to attempt monitoring them this year by placing a camera inside the nesting box, it is not too early to begin planning.

Steve Maanum can be reached at sdmaanum@