Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

By Chris Schultz
Herald Journal

March 7, 2005

A sure sign of spring

Although we are still in the midst of winter, signs of spring are popping up all over the place.

Canada geese are flying, birds are singing, the weather is warming, and as sure as time itself the days are getting longer.

Currently, we are gaining about three minutes of sunshine every passing day.

On Feb. 1, the sun rose at 7:33 a.m. and set at 5:21 p.m.

On March 1, the sun rose at 6:52 a.m. and set at 6:00 p.m.

On April 1, the sun will rise at 5:55 a.m. and will set at 6:41 p.m.

If you pay attention, you can actually notice the sun making its way north.
It’s gradual and hard to notice, but if watch the sunset every day in March it’s easy to notice that the sun is setting farther north in our sky every day.

Spring may not be here yet, but longer days are a sure sign that it’s coming and will be here soon.

Finally, if any of you can remember back to March 5, 2000 – on that day we set a record high temperature of 72 degrees.

I remember it fondly – because it was my daughter Abbigayle’s second birthday.

The first official day of spring is Sunday, March 20.

Prairie Archers to have lessons

Prairie Archers in Lester Prairie will host three archery classes starting Sunday, March 20.

Classes will run from 7 to 9 p.m., and will also take place Sunday, March 27, and Sunday, April 3. The deadline for sign up is Tuesday, March 15.

To sign up, please call Jim Richardson at (320) 395-2721, and the cost is $40. Equipment will be furnished for the first class, with the option of using your own equipment after the first night of class.

A telling time for wildlife

From Tom Conroy of the DNR

It’s over, finally, the month that not even a meteorologist can love February. The shortest month of the year, but the longest.
Bleak and sullen, it’s a schizophrenic month that has never quite been able to figure itself out.

We’re now into March, the month when spring begins to stretch and yawn. And so, with spring waking up on the heels of yet another mild winter, you’d have to believe that Minnesota’s resident wildlife are out of the woods.

Maybe, maybe not. Spring in Minnesota can be a deadly time of year for the birds and critters that live here year-round. Consider what the month of March has thrown at us in the past.

– March 14-16, 1870: A blizzard struck northern Iowa and southwestern Minnesota with up to 16 inches of snow.
The Estherville, Iowa newspaper coined the term “blizzard” (from boxing, meaning a volley of punches.)
– March 14-15, 1941: western Minnesota counties were blasted with 85 mph winds, 75 mph winds at Duluth. Thirty-two deaths attributed to the blizzard.
– March 1-4, 1966: 37 inches of snow near International Falls.
– March 3-4, 1985: Winds in some locations to 90 mph, snow accumulations between 6 and 24 inches.

And, of course, there was the infamous St. Patrick’s Day blizzard of 1965 when over half of the state’s pheasant population was wiped out in just two days. March is not very nice sometimes.

In most of Minnesota, the winter of 2004-2005 has been kind to wildlife. And that could bode well for species ranging from deer and pheasants to grouse and rabbits as they enter the season for producing young.

However, it’s prudent to not count any chicks before they hatch. What Mother Nature brings our way between now and the end of June will go a long way toward determining what the fall populations of many wildlife species will be.

Assume that March does not bring any deadly snowstorms. Winter mortality will have been low and ground-nesting birds will enter the spring nesting season in excellent shape.

However, in Minnesota’s wildly varying climate, where conditions can change dramatically in just hours, the battle to re-build wildlife populations is far from over.

As an example, consider the pheasant. Although she might begin dropping eggs in early April, it is more likely that she won’t get serious about it until late April or early May when she’ll either claw out a small depression in the ground or use a natural hollow.

When ready, the hen will lay about one egg per day. Her eventual clutch may contain as many as 18 eggs, although the average is 12.

During the egg-laying period, temperatures of 28 degrees or colder will chill or freeze the eggs.

Temperatures of 94 degrees or higher will cause the embryos to begin developing. Once the clutch is complete, the hen will begin a 23-day incubation period, adjusting the eggs beneath her so that they receive equal warmth from the featherless brood patch on her breast.

The eggs are even more vulnerable to temperature fluctuations during this time. After two days of incubation, an embryo will live for 48 hours at 45 degrees but after 22 days it can survive just eight hours of 45-degree weather.

Severe storms and floods can also be deadly.

In May 1945, a hailstorm pummeled 1,000 square miles of the pheasant range, killing three-fourth of the adult birds in a 130-square mile area.
A similar storm wiped out thousands of birds and eggs over a 50-mile wide swath from Mankato to Albert Lea in 1982.

Although pheasants bring off only one brood a year, they are persistent.
If a nest is destroyed or even if she abandons the eggs, the hen will make up to four attempts at re-nesting until she either hatches her eggs, loses her clutch late in incubation, or can no longer produce eggs. With each attempt, however, the size of her clutch decreases.

During a warm spring following a mild winter, the hen may begin hatching by mid-May.

Normal spring and early summer weather will result in about 90 percent of the hatch taking place by August 1, although some may not bring off their broods until early September.

Within several hours of emerging from their eggs, the chicks will be strong enough to begin walking and feeding, even though they weigh less than an ounce.

The hen pheasant has strong maternal instincts and will keep constant watch on her brood.

Nevertheless, half of her brood will be lost by September, with mowing, predation and weather taking the biggest toll.

Young chicks are especially vulnerable to cold, wet weather. If exposed to 45- degree temperatures, a young chick will perish within three hours.

If separated from the hen during such weather, the entire brood may be lost – and the hen will not re-nest once she loses a brood.

Yes, winter has been kind to wildlife. But spring has not yet weighed in. Stay tuned.

DNR seeks watercraft inspector applicants

From the DNR

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is seeking watercraft inspector interns for the upcoming boating season.

These inspectors are stationed at public accesses on lakes and rivers infested with invasive species such as Eurasian watermilfoil and zebra mussels. The deadline to apply is March 18.

“We’re looking for enthusiastic young adults interested in doing important environmental conservation work,” said Heidi Wolf, DNR watercraft inspection program coordinator. “Watercraft inspectors inform and educate the public about harmful aquatic invasive species and the threat they pose to Minnesota waters.”

Other duties include assisting with access posting, conducting invasive plant removal and other natural resource projects.

These are full-time temporary internships that start in late April and run through the end of October, with flexibility for students still in school.
Positions are available in the seven-county metro area, Wright and Chisago counties, along the Mississippi River, and in Duluth, Brainerd, and Spicer/Willmar.

Applicants must have a valid Minnesota driver’s license.

For more information or to request an application, contact Heidi Wolf at (651) 297-4891 or write to: DNR, 500 Lafayette Road, Box 25, St. Paul, MN 55155-4025.

Applications and a complete job description also can be found on the DNR’s Web site at: www.dnr.state.mn.us.

Outdoor notes

• The Lester Prairie Sportsmen’s club will meet tonight (Monday), 7:30 p.m. at the club house.
The club is also planning a potluck wild game feed and membership drive for Monday, evening April 4.
Look for more details on the event in this column in the next few weeks.

• The panfish are hitting hard and fast on several lakes in our area, Parley, Big Waverly, Minnetonka and Clearwater have been top producers.
Be mobile, fish with light tackle and fish in 8 to 10 feet of water.

• Don’t double trip: Recently, a few anglers from our area got deservingly nailed for having too many fish over their limit on a northern Minnesota lake.
Their excuse was it was so much fun catching them that they couldn’t stop.
Several other anglers pointed out that the anglers were lucky the DNR didn’t check their freezers at home too.
In Minnesota, daily and possession limits are the same.
Look for more on the incident in next weeks Herald Journal.

• The Crow River Chapter of Ducks Unlimited will celebrate its 25th anniversary at the chapter’s annual banquet Tuesday, April 12.
For more information call Ken Durdahl at (320) 543-3372.

• A waterfowl and wetlands rally will take plcae at the capital mall in St. Paul Saturday, April 2. The rally begins at 1 p.m.

• The spring hunting season for lesser snow geese in Minnesota opened March 1.

• Take a kid fishing, he or she will have fun and so will you.

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