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An Amateur's Guide to the Forests, Fields and Skies: What the heck is that critter? You tell us

Kathy Dennis took this fantastic photo of a loon with a baby on its back last weekend on Potato Lake. "They just swam right up to us," she said.

"Dick and June Axelson here. On Little Mantrap Lake, we have blackbirds, chickadees, and orioles, all feeding on the grape jelly feeder. We've never seen this before. Are they hungry!"

That seemed intriguing so I put out my grape jelly feeder, which I hadn't had an opportunity to do this spring, when the orioles were here. (You will begin to see why this is called the amateur's guide.)


But maybe something will find the grape jelly attractive, like a bear. Then think of the photo-ops!

Candy Parks has been noticing a pileated woodpecker standing atop her compost pile this spring. She sees the bird eating fruits, especially grapes, that have been thrown on the pile.

I'm wondering if a compost pile would keep two pileateds from tearing apart my wood siding.

Dianne Wylie of Park Rapids sent in two questions.

"What are those bugs that look like mosquitos?" she wrote. "My home is being swarmed by millions of them. They are on the siding, in the garage and on windows. They squeeze through the seals on doors and windows if I have the hallway, kitchen or garage lights on. You can hear the hum of their wings!"

Here's where readers can help. They could be midges or crane flies - or something altogether different.

Both resemble mosquitoes. Both likely can be eradicated with a household flying insect killer.

I tend to favor Malathion, but it has a wicked stench, so I minimize the use of it indoors.

Dianne also asked why her hummingbirds don't like the commercial nectar.

I'm stumped there.

But nectar is easy to make yourself.

Try my mom's recipe, 4 parts water to 1 part sugar. I think it's pretty universal.

Because we have so many hummers and a ginormous feeder, she mixes batches with 4 cups of water and 1 cup of sugar. She boils the water to preserve the syrup longer. Don't use any red food coloring. Hummers don't need it. They're attracted to anything red and most feeders are that color.

Ever tried walking round your feeder in a red shirt? That's when the fun starts. Prepare to be dive-bombed!

Someday I'll tell you all about the big black cat visiting "Camp Grandma's" that decided to tip over the syrup cooling on our counter. He was stuck to me in the morning when he then snuggled up in my bed.

Send your photos and sightings and comments to

Please understand that we get many low resolution photos that are unusable in the paper. But as digital cameras improve, we encourage shutterbugs to send in your work.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

(218) 732-3364