Wild Mississippi

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A new multi-part special, Wild Mississippi will be first aired on February 12 at 6 Central on National Geographic Wild. I can’t watch this when it is on because I don’t get the channel on my TV, but I copped a review copy and have enjoyed it quite a bit.

Here’s the description of the first episode:

Nat Geo WILD travels to the starting point of the mighty Mississippi River — Lake Itasca in Minnesota, where the 2,350-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico begins. Harsh cannot begin to describe the winter in this region, where temperatures reach 33° below zero. Survival strategies are as numerous as the creatures that live here, such as beavers, bobcats and gray wolves. We’ll capture migrating bald eagles as they prepare for the bitter cold and watch a pack of wolves hunt for deer and porcupine, beavers feverishly work to make dens, and the vole, a creature similar to a mouse, create tunnels beneath the snow to scavenge for food. It is truly a test of survival of the fittest in this freezing cold wilderness.

As you know I’ve written quite a bit about the upper Mississippi headwaters, the lakes, the birds, other things of nature (Here are 40+ posts on the topic, go read them all now!). Our cabin is on a lake that flows via various rivers and other lakes into the Mississippi just a few miles from its source at Itasca; The UMN research station is there and I used to go to an annual conference there (Julia and I have fond memories of our first trip); Recently Amanda has been doing an annual New Graduate Student intake and demonstration thing for the Biology department (and I get to spend that weekend at the research station); I’ve actually done archaeology right on the lakeside, though it wasn’t very interesting; And so on and so forth.

The opening episode depicts, among other things, the very severe winters we get here in Minnesota, and I do not need to be redundant with that presentation, but I can point out a few exceptions to the rule. For instance, there was a nearly snow free year about 12 years ago or so, when I first moved to the area, and various conservation experts were concerned that all those animals that turn white during the winter were, well, not camouflaged. The white bunny rabbits were getting scarfed up by birds of prey and cats, and the white ermines were kind of obvious to their prey, and the white snowy owls were blindingly obvious. This year there’s snow but not much, and it’s not too cold. And the bobcat is moving north and inching out the lynx and some folks up north are starting to hunt the wolves again. The beavers are doing fine. Damn beavers.

(Then there was the winter of year of Goldilock,a Very Cold Winter Night, And a Strange Sense of Empty-ness and the spring of The Mystery of The Returned Outboard Motor.)

Do have a look at this post for a bit of history of Itasca: What I had for brunch: A Trip to Bitch Lake. That is not a profanity. It is a French word. Honest.

The second hour is described as such:

It’s been no ordinary winter. The Mississippi River reached extreme low temperatures, causing an unprecedented deep freeze. Now, spring is in bloom, with all the snow and ice from across the watershed melting, triggering a massive flood of biblical proportions. We’ll see how the inhabitants adjust and fight to survive. In the north, the floodwaters bring a new quest for life. Carnivores use high waters to find meals, while a pair of bald eagles patrol the skies snagging small prey flushed out of the riverside. Coyotes also reap the rewards of the flood by preying on rodents and other small evacuees. Spring not only brings a new hunt for food, but babies also begin to make their debut, including wood ducklings that endure a 30-foot jump to find sanctuary in the high tide. Life is beginning to come back along the river as the weather heats up and brings a fresh start.

This is the time of year I wish no one would go to the North Country (except me) because it is when the migratory birds are establishing their nests, and there is a lot of movement among carnivores. Mink and otters have babies so their easier to spot and more likely to come around. If everyone were to stay away the environment would at least seem more pristine when late June and early July came around.

Flooding on the Mississippi shares a characteristic with that on the Minnesota river (see this post) No matter how big the river gets and no matter how much water runs down it, from a certain point around the Twin Cities and on south, the river is always small compared to the Warren River, which formerly ran down the same channel, and was the largest river that ever existed anywhere, ever. (It drained Glacial Lake Agassiz.)

The third hour, which I’ve not finished watching, focuses on the Delta:

Our romance with the Mississippi River heats up as we head south. The river joins with an even more flooded Ohio River to form a union of destruction that challenges man and wildlife. The water rises at a rate of two inches every hour. Those creatures that can flee, do as fast as they can. Trying to make a last-minute dash to safety, some wild hogs can’t make it out. Wide waters force turtles to look beyond their normal sandy nesting grounds for places to lay their eggs, which become vulnerable to predators. Pelicans flock to the swarming fish and work together to round up dinner. And, by night, bats swoop in to collect moths, using their tails like a catcher’s mitt to scoop up their prey. Not only animals, but people are also forced from their homes as the Mississippi River expands to more than 25 miles wide. The beautiful and dangerous Mississippi River is both a life giver and a life taker.

The bits I’ve seen are quite good and you’ll enjoy it, I’ve never been to New Orleans, the nearby Bayou or the Delta, but one of these days I’m going to build myself a raft and head down there for the winter.

(If you are looking for the videos, I’ve removed them because they were not behaving nicely!)

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6 thoughts on “Wild Mississippi

  1. Bitch Lake is not a french name…Neither bitch nor lake.

    It would translate in french as Lac de la chienne.

    Jean Racine

  2. Jean, thanks for the comment. What you’ve got there is a bit of a joke; Read the original post (via the link) to get it. I assure you, the phrase is based on un mot Français. No dogs were harmed during the making of this joke, but there is a wild animal involved!

  3. Sadly Nat Geo needs some help fact checking their shows. In this one they claim all sorts of nonsense like Brainard MN wolves “are the southern most pack in the US”…a simple latitude check shows wolf range in MT, WY, Idaho and Oregon to be far more southern. They show a snapping turtle from the state of Mississippi eat a sauger with small mouth bass swimming around. Carp they claim are “Asian carp” spawning are actually common carp,a totally different species than the Asian carp they then show leaping as the boat goes past.

    For a ‘nature show channel’ they make such goofs in every show.

  4. So you’re saying they got about, say, 25% of their facts wrong. Not bad considering a full 75% of the show is owned by You Know Who.

    I had not noticed those goofs, but I was watching the show somewhat quickly.

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