Ralph LaPlant


Ralph LaPlant is a conservation officer based in Holyke, MN.

Content By This Contributor:

Thu. Dec. 4th, 2014

The Beautiful Bluebell

Ralph LaPlant

The brilliant, hanging blue flowers grow from long and slender stems that usually face the same direction. Stems can be white or yellow.

Thu. Nov. 27th, 2014

The American Avocet

Ralph LaPlant

The American Avocet is one of my all-time favorite birds. Even when I was a kid viewing these birds with my father on a MOU (Minnesota Ornithologists Union) field trip to Western Minnesota

Fri. Apr. 12th, 2013

The Garter Snake

Ralph LaPlant

With over 2,500 species of snakes worldwide, the most common snakes in North America are the garter snakes with 12 species located in the United States, Mexico, and Canada. If you were to draw an imaginary line from Rochester to Thief R

Mon. Apr. 8th, 2013

Most Violent of All Storms - The Tornado

Ralph LaPlant

Back in about 1985 I had the opportunity to attend a Skywarn program. The purpose of this course is to identify tornadoes as they form, so the public can be made aware of the situation as soon as possible. The course was infor

Sat. Mar. 9th, 2013

The Curious Sora Rail

Ralph LaPlant

Spending much of its time sneaking curiously around and through reeds in marshes, the Sora Rail is almost continually looking for something to eat. Loaded with fat by fall, they still have the appearance of being as thin as a “rail.”

Fri. Jan. 25th, 2013

True Lover Of Woodlands – The Northern Waterthrush

Ralph LaPlant

I had set up my camera gear using my house as a blind. The usual species of birds were flitting around. Robins, blue jays, cowbirds, an occasional redstart and other warblers appeared and then, suddenly a bird I had not seen before.

Fri. Dec. 28th, 2012

The Remarkable Lichen

Ralph LaPlant

Most of us have at one time or another looked at a red oak tree and upon closer examination observed green and yellow splotches on the trunk’s bark. These splotches are lichen. Lichens are indeed remarkable. They are composed of organisms of two diffe

Thu. Dec. 13th, 2012

Hudsonian Godwit

Ralph LaPlant

The Hudsonian Godwit is our only shorebird with an upturned bill and a tail that is white-ringed. Further observation reveals a pink bill that is black tipped, black wings wi

Fri. Nov. 30th, 2012

Legend, love and cultivation… Christmas trees and tradition

Ralph LaPlant

Several legends try to explain the origin of the Christmas tree. About 1,200 years ago in northern German an English missionary met a group of Druids who were going to sacrifice a young prince to the God Thor. The missiona

Mon. Nov. 26th, 2012

The Quin-Zhee Snow Shelter

Ralph LaPlant

In 1989 I met a lady in Churchill, Manitoba who told me a story about her father, at trapper, who was out on the tundra near Hudson Bay when bad weather rolled in. Caught in what could be called a “situation,” he built a primitive, but efficient shelter, the Quin-Zhee. She attributes this shelter for saving his life. The Quin-Zhee’s principle is simple. You make a windbreak

Fri. Nov. 16th, 2012

The Steller’s Sea Lion

Ralph LaPlant

Being “eared seals,” The Steller’s Sea Lion is that family’s largest member. Named, in part, after the German explorer of the 1700s, Georg Steller, who explored Alaska’s coastal waters, the name sea lion comes from the idea that they resemble terrestrial lions of Afri

Mon. Nov. 12th, 2012

The Polar Bear

Ralph LaPlant

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by bears. I can remember being a youngster and going to the Como Park Zoo in Saint Paul, Minnesota to see their polar bear. Later, on a family outing, we went to northern Minnesota and saw a black bear in the woods. As an adult, I have been fortunate to hunt black bear and to travel to observe and photograph polar bears. On recent trips to Alaska, I was able to see grizzly bears

Fri. Oct. 5th, 2012


Ralph LaPlant

Of all the birds I have photographed, the horned puffin is one of the prettiest and, at the same time, oddest in appearance. I traveled to the Kenai Fjords south of Seward, Alaska in July of 2004 and was disappointed with my photographs of these birds, as the weather was overcas

Fri. Sep. 21st, 2012

Nature’s palate - Autumn’s changing color of leaves

Ralph LaPlant

Most Minnesotans, when asked which their favorite season is, will say fall. The reasons are many, such as hunters who have their season then, bird watchers who watch the migration south, people who are just plain sick and tired of the heat, humidity, and bugs of summer (that be me), and th

Fri. Sep. 7th, 2012

Living In The Forests’ Canopy… The Scarlet Tanagera

Ralph LaPlant

The male scarlet tanager is colored with a flaming scarlet body and contrasting black wings. The female is dull-green over dull-yellow in color. When seen against the contrasting green of the forest, the male sticks out “like a sore thumb.” Females tend to blend in with their surroundings.

Fri. Aug. 31st, 2012

Aspen, The Tree In Demand

Ralph LaPlant

The aspen, or poplar, is a tree that is in great demand by those in the wood products industry. Fortunately it is abundant as it is also a great source of habitat to wildlife.

Fri. Aug. 24th, 2012

The Abundant Ring-Billed Gull

Ralph LaPlant

It has been said that young “birders” are making progress when they are able to determine a ring-billed gull from a herring gull. The ring-billed gull is a bird about 19” long when mature, has a black ring around its bill, and has yellowish green or pale green legs. The herring gull is a little larger, has a red spot on its bill, and has flesh colo

Thu. Aug. 16th, 2012

Black-billed Cuckoo

Ralph LaPlant

The black-billed cuckoo is a bird that is most often heard before seen as it favors thickets of vegetation to reside and move about. It is a relatively rare bird to observe, often moving about and singing at night.

Fri. Aug. 3rd, 2012

The Snapping Turtle

Ralph LaPlant

Of the two species of snapping turtles in the United States, the Alligator Snapping Turtle is located in the state of Florida. The other species, named simply Snapping Turtle, is located everywhere else east of just east of the Rocky Mountains, except in northern Maine, where it has questionable residency.

Fri. Jul. 27th, 2012

The Swift And Predatory Dragonfly

Ralph LaPlant

There are 26 orders of insects, with the dragonfly falling into the one meaning “tooth”. It is the order Odonata. Damselflies also fall into this order. One difference between the two is that a dragonfly holds its wings, at rest, out to the side. Damselflies hold theirs up and over their backs. Between the two, there are over 4,90

Fri. Jul. 20th, 2012

The Stately State Bird – The Northern Cardinal

Ralph LaPlant

The northern cardinal is indeed a stately bird as it is the state bird of Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia and is the namesake of many professional, amateur, college and local sports teams. Easily recognized because of its red color (the female’s is tan), a

Fri. Jul. 13th, 2012

Be Aware Of Poison Ivy!

Ralph LaPlant

Growing in all of the United States, except Alaska and Hawaii, poison ivy is a notorious pest. As with most toxic substances, it is best to avoid contact. To do that you will need to recognize poison ivy and learn where it grows.

Fri. Jul. 6th, 2012

The largest deer in the world - The Moose

Ralph LaPlant

Covering northern Eurasia and most of Canada, Alaska, a portion of the continental United States including down the Rocky Mountains, northern Maine, and northern Minnesota, the moose is indeed the largest deer in the world. The moose crossed into North America across the Bering Land Bridge over a million years ago. From there they spread across the

Thu. Jun. 28th, 2012

The Great Horned Owl

Ralph LaPlant

The great horned owl is a regular and common resident of Minnesota. It is common throughout the state except for the north-central region where it is uncommon. Some tend to migrate from the northern regions of the state during winter months. They range over all of the United States and most of Canada, preferring prefer conifer

Fri. Jun. 22nd, 2012

The River Otter

Ralph LaPlant

Having at one time lived throughout most of North America, the river otter is probably the most common otter species of the 13 worldwide with all continents except Australia and Antarctica having otters present. Fossils of the river otter date it

Fri. Jun. 15th, 2012


Ralph LaPlant

There are two types of crappies that swim in Minnesota waters - the white crappie and the black. Both species are similar in shape and size, but the difference is in the dorsal spines (forward dorsal fin), just forward of the dorsal fin. The Black Crappie has seven or eight spines and the White Crappie six. Other differences are that the Black Crappie is darker in color, relative to the white.

Mon. Jun. 11th, 2012

Army Worms March On

Ralph LaPlant

It if isn’t the mosquitoes or deer flies, it’s the army worms. During the past few summers it appears we have been plagued with these creatures. They visit us every 10 to 15 years and it appears we are in the middle of the current visit, which will probably be peaking for a few more years.

Thu. May. 24th, 2012

The Red-bellied woodpecker

Ralph LaPlant

Often the range of a bird changes. The red-bellied woodpecker is a bird whose range has changed possibly because of the loss of elm trees (a nesting site) due to epidemics, a gradually warming climate and because of a dramatic increase in bird feeders. The result is that the range of this bird had move northward and westward. Interestingly, the northwest range of this bird is the southern half of Minnesota, where it is considered a regular and permanent resident.

Fri. May. 18th, 2012

The Garter Snake

Ralph LaPlant

With over 2,500 species of snakes worldwide, the most common snakes in North America are the garter snakes with 12 species located in the United States, Mexico, and Canada. If you were to draw an imaginary line from Rochester to Thief River Falls, in Minnesota, you would have divided the ranges of the two most common garter snakes in the state. The red-sided would be to the west and the eastern to the east.

Fri. May. 11th, 2012

Those Darn Blue Jays

Ralph LaPlant

The blue jay is a bird that is common, if not too common, to those of us who have active bird feeders. John James Audubon, probably the world’s most famous ornithologist of the 1800s, found his distaste for the blue jay tempered by its grace and color.

Fri. May. 4th, 2012

The Blue Winged Teal

Ralph LaPlant

The male blue winged teal is the only small duck with a white facial crescent. Both genders have a blue patch on the forewing. These signs help make the blue winged teal an easy duck to identify. They are about 15 inches long.

Fri. Apr. 27th, 2012

Black Bear Is One That Frequents Northland

Ralph LaPlant

The black bear is the only bear of the four species on our continent that frequents our area. It came over on the Bering Land Bridge about 500,000 years ago. A larger black bear male weighs between 300 to 400 pounds. It does not have the shoulder “hump,” characteristic of the grizzly bear. It has a straight face when seen in profile. It has 42 teeth, with the canines being long and well pointed. Each foot has five toes, each having strong claws. It is the only North American bear that often climbs trees as an adult.

Thu. Apr. 19th, 2012

The Great Blue Heron

Ralph LaPlant

The great blue heron is the largest of the truly American herons with a height of up to 52”. Slate blue in color, they are easily recognized by their long legs and neck and dagger-like bill. In flight their neck is folded. This bird is territorial. Its territory, during the breeding season, is the area imm

Thu. Apr. 12th, 2012

The Growth And Nurturing Of Young Birds

Ralph LaPlant

With nearly 9,000 bird species worldwide, birds are survivors. Keeping this in mind, let’s get going on the journey of a bird’s life once it is hatched. There are two basic types of birds. Atricial birds are those that are helpless at birth and need their parent’s assistance to survive. Among others, robins and sparrows are classified as atricial. Precocial birds, on the other hand, only partially need parental guidance as they are born with their eyes open, have down feathers and are able to walk. Precocial birds include ducks, pheasants, quail and others.

Thu. Apr. 5th, 2012

The Intelligent Red Fox

Ralph LaPlant

Being a member of the dog family and having a reputation of being sneaky and mean, the red fox is actually and animal of intelligence and fortitude. If you were to take away the sometimes-beautiful fur of a red fox, you would observe a creature that is very lean. Weighing only between 6 and 15 pounds and being up to a little over 40 inches long, including the tail, which can be up to 15 inches, the red fox is about 16 inches high at the shoulders

Thu. Mar. 22nd, 2012

The Vocal Killdeer

Ralph LaPlant

Most of us can probably relate to the killdeer because we have heard its voice and seen its gestures. The killdeer a common spring and fall migrant throughout Minnesota and also resides statewide. Once settling down at a breeding ground, males often take time before establishing territories, but once they start, frequently show displays of collar-showing and horizontal runs. The collar-show is nothing more that lifting its head and exposing the neck, allowing more

Thu. Mar. 8th, 2012

Wild Rice, Minnesota’s Contribution To The World

Ralph LaPlant

Also called Indian Rice or water oats, wild rice has a common name of foran annual aquatic grass. It is a member of the grass family and is not closely related to common cultivated rice. Wild rice starts to grow in spring after the ice melts in swamps and in the swampy, shallow parts of lakes and slow moving rivers. Preferring shallow and moderate water depths, in about mid-June, it surfa

Fri. Feb. 17th, 2012

The Rose-Breasted Grosbeak

Ralph LaPlant

At my bird feeder were the usual species. I saw purple and goldfinches, blue jays, chickadees, nuthatches, downy and hairy woodpeckers, and sparrows. All of a sudden I saw a brilliant flash of white and black and observed a red patch on the breast of a bird a little smaller than a robin. I was pleased to see this addition to the “crowd,” a rose-breasted grosbeak, and within a few days I saw his mate.

Thu. Jan. 26th, 2012

The Ruffed Grouse

Ralph LaPlant

Those of us who take advantage of walking through the woods in autumn or winter can probably relate to being startled by the sudden departure of a ruffed grouse from its position of cover ...

Fri. Jan. 20th, 2012

The “Grand Slam Of Bears” Is Worth The Huge Effort

Ralph LaPlant

It has been for sometime a goal of mine to get the “grand slam” of North American bears (black, grizzly, polar and Alaskan brown) with a camera. I had numerous black bears in my photo stock that I had taken around northern Minnesota with some ...