Author Archives: Tom Mortenson


In 2018 a cougar visited the Horseshoe of the Snake River in northern Kanabec County.  He first appeared on one of my game cameras east of Woodland on March 5, then again on March 30, then a mile or so farther east and heading east on May 1.  He has not been seen on my cameras since then.  Individuals have reported seeing cougars in the area in recent years.  But the wildlife biologists at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources insist on physical evidence to verify sightings.  Cougars are very rare in Minnesota.  There may have been only three verified sightings in 2018.

You can learn more about cougars in Minnesota at the Cougar Network website at:








Lightning Strikes

I apologize for the absence of fresh images of the Snake River on the front page of our website.  The cause is lightning.  In some past years a lightning strike would disable our StarDot camera.  We would send the camera back to California to have its motherboard repaired.  In 2018 this happened twice.  So far in 2019 this has happened three times.  The last lightning strike completely fried the camera and the modem through which the signal from the camera is collected and transmitted.  We have ordered a new camera and replaced the modem.  I hope to get the image restored very shortly.

Not only are we being hit by lightning more often than in the past, but the water level in the Snake River is far above historical averages.  This is due to climate change–specifically the warming of the air.  Warmer air carries more moisture than cooler air, and so rains are more frequent and heavier than in the past.  Minnesota seems to be more affected by warmer temperatures than other parts of the United States.  The evidence (and consequences) of warmer air and heavier rains are evident on the front page of this website.

Great Horned Owlets Rescue

larger_owletIMG_0644  owlet_in_nest_052314 owlet_on_edge_Photo

In the summer of 2014 my daughter Cali Mortenson Ellis spent some time at the cabin, and gradually became aware of nesting Great Horned Owls in a spruce tree near the bunk house.  On April 20 she found two owlets on the ground, below the tree and they were stranded.  In her words:  ” The owlets needed help.  Their feathers were too downy for them to fly, and they were not in good shape.”  She asked me what she do.  I suggested she leave them on the ground and let nature take it’s course.  She screamed at me!  So I suggested she call the Raptor Recovery Center at the University of Minnesota.

The next day a volunteer named Jim arrived from St. Paul with a replacement nest that he had built.  Jim put up the new nest near the old one.  The owlets were placed in the new nest and left alone.  Amazingly the parents returned at dusk a day later and resumed feeding their owlets.  For the next week the owlets would start screeching around dusk when the parents returned to feed them.  One owlet fell out of the nest on April 26 and we returned him to the nest.  A few days later we left the cabin and the owlets.  When we returned several weeks later the nest was empty.

We hope they made it, but we do not know.  Sometimes we see great horned owls in the woods around the cabin.  We wonder: Is this adult one of last year’s owlets that Cali and Jim saved?

Bear at Garage


This bear walked past my open garage at 4:30AM.  No food or garbage in the garage, which probably kept him out.  Now starting to close the garage door at night.  These guys have torn up food at campsites and chewed on my cabin in the past. – Tom Mortenson

Kayaking the Snake River

The Snake River is great for canoeing and kayaking–but only when there is enough water in the River.  On the upper stretch of the River, canoeists and kayakers often put in at the Aitkin County Park or the Silver Star Road, north of Woodland off Highway 65, and canoe down to the township bridge on Olympic Avenue east of Woodland.  This stretch of the River contains the Upper Falls, and Lower Falls, and terrific white water when the River flow is high in the spring or following heavy rains during the summer.  The next stretch of the River is a more gentle, less dramatic downhill slide with some easy rapids on the Horseshoe and long pools down to the Hinckley Road north of Knife Lake.  The Snake River drops again between Pine City and its mouth at the St. Croix River.

Some kayakers have taken videos of their white water rides on the Snake River, and posted them on YouTube.  Make sure the sound is ON when you watch these.  Here are our favorites:

  1.      May 13, 2014, 6:44
  2.       2008 & 2009, 5:39
  3.       May 23, 2015, 3:45
  4.       May 24, 2014, 28:16
  5.      2011, 2:36
  6.      April 19, 2014, 2:23
  7.       April and June, 2013, 7:37
  8.     2013, 2:27
  9.     April 2010, :50
  10.     June 4, 2011, 8:45

Note the time of year on these videos–most are in the spring, following snowmelt and runoff, when the River has substantial flow.  At this time of year the water temperature is cold!  But following heavy summer rains the River level rises and is passable again.

Some advice:

  • Be prepared for trouble, like swamping, losing paddles, soaking your sleeping bags, and the bugs of summer.  We have three summer bug seasons: ticks, followed by mosquitoes, followed by deer flies.
  • Always wear a life jacket.  Plan to dump in the rapids and to get banged up on the rocks when you do.
  • We have rescued many canoeists over the years.  Rescues follow from trying to canoe when they swamp or there is too little water in the River.  People lose paddles, walk out of the woods barefoot because they lost their shoes, have insulin shock, hungry, bug devoured, etc.  Murphy will accompany you on the Snake River–anything can go wrong.  And there are virtually no exit points between launch sites.  This is truly a wild, wild River–and we want to keep it that way.
  • Be sure there is enough water in the River before you launch.
  • Tell someone when you expect to get out of the River, and tell them when you do.  The local sheriff  knows us too well when looking for lost canoeists.
  • Enjoy the River.

TimeLapse Replay of Webcam Views

You can watch a replay of today’s webcam views of the Snake River by clicking on the TimeLapse link just below the live webcam view on the front page of the website. I use this feature to check on what is happening in the field of view every day–even when I am traveling (and today I am in Madrid, Spain as I write this and I just checked what happened today at the webcam in northern Minnesota).

When you click on the link, you will be taken to the page where all images taken by the webcam are stored.  Click on the arrow in the center of the image (you might have to run your cursor over the middle of the page to see this arrow).  Then all images from today will load (takes a few seconds), and then replay automatically from dawn up to now.  You can run this scenario backward and forward to review what you might want to see again.  You can also adjust the replay speed from the bar just below the image.

After you have viewed the webcam images from today, you can also review:

  • Last 24 hours
  • Yesterday
  • One week
  • One month to watch the yo-yoing of the River going up and down based on big rainfalls
  • One year for a full review of the four seasons
  • Full recording since we launched the webcam on November 20, 2009

Your might see deer, snowmobilers, kayakers, and canoeists–and I have seen geese, eagles, bears and a few wolves.  From time to time you might even see me and my boat crossing the River in front of the webcamera. Try it now.  -Tom Mortenson

Wolves Up (Very) Close

P00-254-344-256-318-000h-0011-c11-l062-02-0360-1080-0359-1079-000-LB00-0 P00-254-344-256-318-000h-0011-c11-l051-02-0360-1080-0359-1079-000-LB00-0 P03-252-316-256-463-000h-0080-c11-l065-02-0360-1080-0359-1079-000-LB00-0 P00-255-344-256-327-001h-0006-c11-l065-02-0360-1080-0359-1079-000-LB00-0 P00-253-337-256-383-000h-0028-c11-l055-02-0360-1080-0359-1079-000-LB00-0 P00-253-335-256-394-000h-0028-c11-l056-02-0360-1080-0359-1079-000-LB00-0 P251-352-256-341-00h-006-02-0360-1080-0359-1079

Just how close can you get to a wild wolf?  These guys stay far away from me when I am out in the woods of northern Kanabec County (Ford Township).  I might catch a glimpse of a wolf once every three or four years.  But my game cameras are out there in their territory 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, just waiting for something to walk by and take a pcture.  So here are some very close up views of the wolves that I live with.  All were taken within a mile of my cabin–some within sight of the cabin.  I have hundreds of photos of wolves taken by my game cameras since wolves moved into my area around 2010.  But most were taken at night by infrared light, and are in black and white.  These are daylight shots and in color.  These wolves were within 10 feet of my camera, and some just a foot or two. – Tom Mortenson

My Local Bear

Bears started showing up on my game cameras on April 3 this year.  They come out of hibernation hungry because they have not been foraging since last November when they hibernated.  So in April and again this month the bears are showing up occasionally on my cameras, and in many widespread locations.  They are on the move.

This bear has been around my cabin since April 3.  Looks healthy and active.  In the past we have had problems with bears when we were careless about garbage.  They have terrific sniffers, and several years ago one came up on the deck at the cabin after we had grilled dinner then left the grill cover open to cool and air out.  They have also gnawed and clawed on the cabin and biffy, and I have found bear paw prints on cabin windows. But they are bashful, and on occasion when I walk up on a bear in the woods they scurry away.

My main problem with bears comes when they find my game cameras and decide to play with the camera as a toy.  At least half the time when I get a picture of a bear, the bear will see my camera, turn toward it, stick his face in the camera, then begin batting it around.  One bear tore the camera off the tree and the subsequent pictures from the camera included sky, grass, eyeball, sky, weeds, bear, sky, grass, face, sky, etc., until he got bored and moved on.  This is why some of my game cameras are located in metal bear-proof boxes that are cable-locked to trees. – Tom Mortenson

MOULTRIE DIGITAL GAME CAMERAP03-000-256-256-256-0f3h-0367-c10-l083-02-0360-1080-0359-1079-000-LB00-0MOULTRIE DIGITAL GAME CAMERAMOULTRIE DIGITAL GAME CAMERA

Deer and the Porcupine

While checking some of my game cameras today, I found on one a wildlife confrontation that I have seen before: the standoff between a porcupine and a deer at a salt block.  The porky’s love salt–I find pictures of them wherever I put out a mineral block to attract deer to my cameras.  Of course the deer love salt too.  They both return often to my mineral blocks.  And when porcupines and deer meet at the salt block, the porky is always in charge.  The deer maintain a respectful distance until the porky has had his taste of salt and leaves.

There were several encounters between porcupines and deer at one particular location.  Here are some of the pictures from one of my game cameras located there to observe whatever shows up. – Tom Mortenson


Wolf and Beavers

Until about September 10, 2014, all of the wolves that my game cameras have photographed have been very gray colored.  Then, first on September 10 and again twice on September 15, new tan colored wolves began to appear.  These tan wolves are not related to the alpha pair that have been reproducing around my cabin since 2011.  I will continue to monitor the wolves with my game cameras, but it is beginning to look like there is a new family in town, and because the packs are territorial, they may have displaced the gray pair.

I got these pictures yesterday morning when checking a game camera aimed at a now flooded beaver lodge.  Wolves hunt and eat beaver–I see this often on my game cameras.  They visit beaver lodges, including this one, frequently.  I don’t know why they do–the beaver are secure within the lodge.  But I am sure the wolves can smell the presence of beaver through the vent hole in the lodge and perhaps they hope to catch a foraging beaver on the riverbank.  This male wolf is one of the new tan colored wolves that moved in last September.  This picture was taken about 250 yards from my cabin, and about six hours before I visited my camera to see what the camera had photographed since I put it out two weeks ago.  When I check the photos on the SD cards from any game camera, it is like opening Christmas presents.  Always surprises. – Tom Mortenson