Monday, April 22, 2013

another week of waiting.............

Returning birds make the best of the late spring
Arriving into a surprising winter landscape
Feeders need filling twice a day

Purple finches
Ovenbird (1)
Wood ducks
White hawk on a kill in the sideways snow.  Looked like a Gyr - couldn't be - maybe a Prairie Falcon
White throated sparrow
Red wing blackbird
American kestrel
Turkey vultures

The beaver emerges from the only open hole on the lake
A muskrat is squashed on the commuter route
Turkeys and deer cluster along the south facing slopes of the highway, seeking bare ground

Waiting for forty degrees
Lake winter kill a definite possibility


Monday, April 15, 2013

Trout Opener

It was kind of a non event in the fishing and catching department.
You couldn't fish without ice in the guides until @ 10:30 am, so I floated about  six or seven miles of beautiful river during the middle of the day.  I had not been down this stretch of water in about fifteen years. The stage was quite low and I was all alone. This river reach has changed quite a bit in those intervening years, since last I paddled here. Those changes are likely the result of a confluence of highway engineers and fisheries managers implementing their respective ideas concerning "progress".  It is debatable what those changes may have done for the trout population. It is not debatable, however that fishing opportunities have been diminished.

The sun was out for the first time in a long time and I even got sun burned, although the mercury never made it to forty. An exercise in solitude, well relished. 

Catch of the day.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


We went back to the south facing shoreline this evening.
The good news is - it only snowed two inches today
The bad news is -it snowed two inches today
The good news is - the dogs flushed three woodcock !


The bad news is - it's still freakin' winter around here !

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Bare ground

Each day now a bit more bare ground is revealed by the retreating snow pack. On this evening's walkabout, I took the dogs to a place where I made a sneak on a flock of ducks last November. The south facing shoreline is now mostly free of snow. Good sniffing for the dogs and good traction for me. Also a good place to sit on the grass and the softening ground to remember November.

I had stalked those ducks alone, knowing that if I had one or both dogs with me, we would have blown the deal for sure. I had glassed what looked like maybe six or eight, nine mallards at the end of a point and very near the cattail fringed shore.  They were feeding and looking comfortable, so off I went with shotgun in hand and murder on my mind.  Using the terrain to my advantage I got to where I thought the birds would be after about twenty minutes of high anxiety.  As I raised up to look, I could see two absolute shiner drake ring necked ducks about thirty yards from the shore, but................... where were the mallards.  I eased back down and waited a bit for my heart to stop pounding.

Peering through the trees and cattails, I could see nervous water between the shore and the ring necks and I figured that the mallards were right there in front of me, even though I couldn't see them.  Presently a green head appeared between the cattail leaves. Then I saw a hen and then two more green heads. The heart began pounding again.

It was time to make my play. Take a few deep breaths. Creep forward another five yards. Stand and deliver!
Up go the mallards and there are two dozen at least - not half a dozen. Confusion! Confusion! OK. OK.
In the nano-second that it takes to pull on a drake, I found the mark and the right lead and touched off the shotgun - just as a hen crossed right in front of my intended bird.  Boom! and down goes the hen! Confusion! Confusion! OK OK.  I found another drake and Boom! down it goes.  Both downed ducks are on the water and are NOT dead - heads up and boogying hard for the far shore.  I immediately covered the hen with my last shot and she dove!  I stuffed three more shells into the gun and swatted the drake three times.  Nothing!  I stood there in disbelief watching, slack jawed as those two iron clad birds both headed for the far shoreline, sinking lower and lower into the water until just the tops of their heads made little V shaped wakes behind their escape. Man, I hate it when that happens !!!

I watched for about ten minutes with the binoculars and marked each bird as to where they had disappeared into the cattails.  Both had gone to ground, as mallards often will and were about a hundred yard apart. I figured they were both mine.  Back to the house for the youngster.

It was nearly an hour before I hiked back to the other side of the pond with the dog heeling on the leash at my side. At this point in his short hunting experience he had only retrieved about six ducks and a couple of grouse, so even though my hopes were high, I still had doubts.  I sent him for the drake and he came up with the very lively bird almost immediately.  What a good boy.  The hen was a little harder to find, but it was my fault for not sending him into the right spot.  A fifty yard adjustment and he had her, too.  What a champ !

In all the confusion of the initial gunfire and poor shooting last fall, I was only able to find five of my six empties, but today the youngster hunted the last one up.  He might make something of himself yet.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The song is but a murmur........

She has begun to sing, but I can barely hear her.
Each day a few more notes are added to her song.
How long can Borealis keep her quiet ?

Great Blue Heron
Sandhill Cranes (2)
Geese (dozens)
Rough Shouldered Hawk (3)
Hooded Merganzer (pair)
Common Merganzer (dozens)

                                                Upper Ottertail River,  Becker County, MN

                                     Flooding over anchor ice.  Shell River, Becker County, MN

 Continued snow and cold predicted for the bulk of this week.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Migrants and Emergers

A few more signs of spring.......

This morning, as the bread rose in the kitchen, I walked out to the bluegill spawning grounds.  Last spring I was paddling by now.  It could be another month before that happens, if April continues her depressing progression.

One sharp shinned hawk
One merlin
Three purple finches
One rogue robin
Two chipmunks
Four goldeneys (whistling overhead)
Six Canada geese (flying)

Pretty skinny for April 6th
Waves of crusted snow where water should lap...............


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Veni,Vidi, Vici

I came............ to celebrate the end of winter, to add to the continuum of tradition, to reconnect with kindred spirits, to hike a fabled valley, to fish in open water, and to feel the irresistible power of spring. The drive over to Wisconsin was washed in snow blinding sunshine that finally and for the first time pushed the air temp above the freezing mark. Forty-five degrees, but all the little creeks and feeders were still deep beneath the snow. No water flowed. A couple of eagles perched roadside on the old carcass of a hit and run deer, harassed by crows now instead of ravens. As I traveled farther east, the rigors of the office, the consultants, the project deadlines and the contractual strictures of work began to relax and fade away like dwindling western sunlight. Only one true sign of spring showed - a marsh hawk floated over the still blanketed Wildlife Management Area, as I turned off of Highway 13 and onto the gravel. But I said "Hello harrier, welcome home".  Then it was time to say goodbye to the digital age, if only temporarily.

I saw.............. both the ancient and the new. The eternal struggle for survival was written in the snow on the hike down to Harvey's on opening morning.  Some things remain constant, and encountering a wolf killed deer is part of it.  What was new was the shredding of moss from the base of the trees around the kill site.  That is a behavior that I have not seen before. Perhaps the wolves are not responsible for it, but is a new observation for me.

The lower Brule was still solidly locked in as predicted, so a hike upstream was required to find the edge of the ice. Fog and rain added to the wilderness feel of the valley, and by the time we stopped to fish, the booming and crunching of the river ice as it was loosed from its stream side moorings added even more primitive sensation to the morning's atmosphere. We perched like vultures on the slanting ice shelves that dangerously disappeared into the center of the channel. The ice rolled by in chunks and sheets, crashing and grinding relentlessly north toward Kitchi Gummi.  No crowd here.  The sports and novices were all very far upstream from us, where the fishing and wading conditions were much safer.  The fish, however, were with us.

The conquering........................   was not about catching fish, although both steelhead and down bound browns were landed, as well as a few crappies from Friday's ice fishing foray.  The conquering, for me is more about the survival of the passage of time. One more year and one more winter have passed, and I and the river and the run of fish and the boys and the wolves are all still here, dancing one more time to the endless music of the vernal pulse. In a place like the Brule Valley, protected by a State Forest and a non development ordinance, natural processes can endure and biota can flourish, despite societiy's best intentions to ruin them.  Yes, neither the steelhead nor the browns are native to the watershed, but it is really the habitat that matters.Without protection from the stressors of our collective capitalistic drive, places like this do not survive.  It has been said that if you really love a place, don't go there, don't tell anyone about it.  Perhaps I have broken that rule by posting here, but this place, unlike most others has been rightly protected for future enjoyment.  I hope to experience all of it again and again.

I made quick run through Duluth on Sunday to look at the rivers.  My beloved North Shore is in very bad shape.  After several years of serious drought, the streams and rivers are nothing but solid masses of anchor ice.  There is a decent snow pack to provide melt water, but there was but a trickle on top of the ice.  I'm pretty sure that there are no living fish under that ice.  Time will tell how this spring's run of fish will fare and if these old rock bound cascades can be repopulated.  For now, winter has returned again.