Headwaters

Headwaters of the Mississippi River at Lake Itasca

The photo sort of says it all. From this outlet of Lake Itasca, a little stream merges with some other mighty rivers to flow more than 2500 miles to the Gulf of Mexico.

Itasca State Park was established in 1891, the first state park in Minnesota and the second in the U.S. (after Niagara Falls).  Extensive logging of the native red and white pine timber had already begun in this area, since the 1830s, but one man’s lobbying effort persuaded the MN legislature to preserve an area near the Lake Itasca outflow for future generations — by a margin of just one vote!

Headwaters of the Mississippi River at Itasca State Park, MN

Just in case we weren’t paying attention, a sign tells us the significance of this little stream.

Headwaters of the Mississippi River at Lake Itasca State Park, MN

It’s sunset in Lake Itasca State Park. There should be moose in these wetlands that drain into the Mississippi, but their numbers have declined significantly in the past two decades in this state.  Wolves, beaver, black bear, and a variety of other mammals still reside in the park, but are infrequently seen.  A variety of warblers sing from the deciduous trees mixed in among the red and white pine. And all around us…lots and lots of mosquitoes, deer flies and giant horseflies! It’s been a wet year here.

Showy Lady's Slipper orchids at Lake Itasca State Park, MN in July

Bunches of Showy Lady’s Slipper orchids are clumped at places along the sides of trails where it is especially damp.

Red Pine forest at Lake Itasca State Park, MN

Red Pine, like these here, would have dominated the old growth forest in this area, with a scattering of white pine among them.  Deciduous trees were probably in low density in the old growth forest before European settlers came here.

Itasca’s old growth forests are almost as famous as the lake and its Mississippi headwaters.  They are one of the few remnants of such old growth forest in the state.

Tallest White Pine, Itasca State Park, MN

Only a few of the really big trees are left, like this 112 foot White Pine, the oldest and almost tallest in the park (it lost its top and the record a few years ago).

Even though logging here ceased in the 1920s, reforestation of the native pines hasn’t really taken off.  Increased numbers of White-tailed Deer browse the seedling pines setting their growth back, and suppression of fire actually retards the growth of the pines that depend on fire to clear out the undergrowth and open up the canopies.

Barn Swallow male, singing

A Barn Swallow dad took time off from feeding his youngsters to sing a few songs in the evening sunlight.

Barn Swallow fledglings

I found the Barn Swallow chicks sitting in the middle of a bush, chirping wildly to attract the attention of their parents.

Barn Swallow fledglings being fed by a parent

Barn Swallow parents apparently perform a “fly-by feeding”, zooming in, depositing food, and flying out again in just a couple of seconds.  It must take a lot of flying around to get everyone fed to their desired fullness.

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