Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

By Chris Schultz
Herald Journal

March 6, 2006

Spring is almost here

Personally, I associate spring with ice out, or the first day our area lakes become free of ice. That day is usually some time in early to mid April.

On the calendar spring officially begins on March 20.

In either case, spring isn’t here just yet, but it’s sure getting closer.

Here are some sure signs of spring to be looking for in the next few weeks:

• The sun. The days are getting longer and if you really pay attention you will notice the sun’s southward path every evening.
For the next three weeks, chart or mark on the western landscape, or even through the windows on the west side of your home, where the sun is setting. You will be amazed with the results.

• Look for wood ducks and other waterfowl to be arriving in the area. In the past few years, it seems Canada geese have been the first arrivals in our area.

• As the ice melts on our area lakes and streams and the shoreline becomes open, keep your eyes pealed for bald eagles and other wildlife.
Bald eagles love to follow the ice out line to nesting areas farther north because ice out provides a quick and easy meal of dead fish.

• Make sure you stay on the road, but get used to dodging raccoon, skunk, and other wildlife on the roadways. As the days get longer and the weather warms up, so does wildlife activity.

• Take some time to listen. As spring nears, you can hear snow geese during the middle of the night, songbirds chirping at dawn, and the drip, drip of melting snow and ice.

• Although robins have been sighted in the area already, watch for more of them arriving on a daily basis.

• Look for fog and mist lifting from the ground and when you see it, take a big sniff and experience what earth and soil smell like again.
That fog or mist is the snow melting and frost leaving the ground. It’s a great aroma after a long winter.

• Finally, be prepared to get warm. On average, we get at least one 70-degree day in March.

Wood ducks

As the days get longer and the thermometer begins to rise, people start to get the spring cleaning bug.

Everywhere you look, you see garage doors open with the grime that has accumulated over winter being swept out.

Just like your garage needs a good spring cleaning, wood duck nesting boxes also need to be cleaned and maintained to remain productive.

Each year, many good intentioned people put up wood duck boxes in their backyard, at the cabin, or in a local park.

They anticipate the boxes being used and if they are lucky enough, catching a glimpse of newly hatched ducklings jumping out of the box.
Unfortunately, interest in maintaining the box is usually lost shortly after it is put up.

Boxes in various stages of neglect are easy to spot. Some have missing roofs, while others are full of leaves from squirrels that decided to move into the box.

Boxes lacking annual maintenance most likely will not be used by the wood duck hen when she returns to nest which defeats the purpose for putting it up in the first place.

The best time to clean boxes is before March 15. Cleaning them before this date assures that they are clean before the first wood ducks arrive.

The easiest way to clean them is when there is still good ice especially for boxes mounted on posts in the water.

Be sure to clean out all of the previous years nesting material and any other material that has accumulated from mice or squirrels using the box.

Because they are sometimes filthy, it is recommended that you use disposable gloves or a stick to remove the old nest material, leaves, or mouse nests.

Once clean, add 4 to 6 inches of fresh wood shavings to the bottom of the box.

Cedar shavings work the best because they are naturally decay resistant, dry out quickly if they become wet, and repel insects.

Cedar shavings packaged for animal bedding work well and can be purchased at any pet or department store.

Stay away from using sawdust which clumps together when wet and retains moisture.

When you are cleaning your boxes, also be sure to carry along a cordless drill, hammer, screw driver, extra house parts, wood screws, lag bolts, and any other thing you think you need. You never know when on the spot repairs will be needed.

If you would like more information about wood duck boxes or like to build one, be sure to attend the 7th annual “Carver County Youth Wood Duck Box Building Day” Saturday March 18th.

The event is being held from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the Watertown Rod and Gun Club which is located on County Road 122, about a mile west of State Highway 25 south of Watertown.

Youth and their families will be able to build a box at no cost (up to 2 boxes per family).

Demonstrations will also be given on the proper way to mount the boxes so they are protected from common nest predators such as raccoons.

In addition, free hotdogs, chips, and pop will be provided by the Watertown Rod and Gun Club for all participants.

Sponsors for the youth day include the Watertown Rod and Gun Club, Minnesota Waterfowl Association, Carver County Chapter of Pheasants Forever, Hamburg Hunting and Fishing Club, Hollywood Booster Club, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

This year, remember to get out and clean your wood duck boxes and adopt any other boxes that are not being maintained. It is a great way to see if they were used last year.

You will also get some fresh air to chase away the cabin fever you caught over winter.

Snow conditions good for winter sports in northern Minnesota
From the DNR

While most of the snow has melted in the Twin Cities metro area, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Trails and Waterways staff reminds snowmobilers, skiers and other winter enthusiasts there is plenty of snow in northern Minnesota. There are eight inches or more of snow cover in that part of the state.

“We have had the groomers out working and the trails are in great shape,” said Les Ollila, DNR Trails and Waterways supervisor in Grand Rapids. “There may be some bare spots where trails cross plowed highways and gravel roads and in south-facing exposed areas,” he said. “So, we ask riders to use extra caution in these areas.”

The DNR urges snowmobilers to ride to the right and slow down for curves - there may be someone coming from the other direction.

For more information on trail conditions, check the DNR Web site at www.dnr.state.mn.us. On that page, the map on the right shows snow depths.

To find out the condition of a specific ski or snowmobile trail, click on the links below the map.

DNR complete ATV study of North Shore Trail
From the DNR

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) released its study examining the feasibility of adding summer season all-terrain vehicle (ATV) use to all or portions of the North Shore State Trail.

ATV use is currently prohibited on all but six miles of this 146-mile state corridor trail, which is used primarily in winter for snowmobiling.

The study, which was requested by the Minnesota Legislature in 2005, identifies those trail segments that are physically capable of sustaining ATV use, either as is, or with specified mitigation, modification or reroute. It also provides cost estimates for projected modifications.

The final report contains detailed data on the physical capacity of the trail to handle ATV traffic based on a thorough, mile-by-mile corridor inspection and technical analysis.

This analysis, conducted in coordination with county and federal land managers, describes surface water and wetland issues, trail stabilization needs, potential corridor use conflicts and land ownership concerns.

It identifies segments of the trail that would require alteration, and the estimated costs for modifications deemed necessary to accommodate ATV travel without displacing current trail users.

Trail modifications are also intended to protect surface water quality by minimizing the potential for soil erosion and stream sedimentation.

In addition, the report identifies a number of administrative and logistical issues that would need to be addressed prior to authorizing ATV use of the trail.

These include such things as updating corridor use and landowner agreements, environmental review, and the required amendment of the existing North Shore

Trail master plan, which does not currently permit ATV use except for the six-mile segment near Finland.

Improved mapping, signing, increased maintenance and enforcement would also be needed to head off potential visitor conflicts or safety issues stemming from the addition of summer-season ATV traffic.
DNR Trails and Waterways Director Laurie Martinson thanked officials from Cook, Lake and St. Louis counties, and the Superior National Forest for their help with the study, and “for their strong commitment to cooperative management of ATV recreation on public lands along Minnesota’s scenic North Shore.”

The “All-Terrain Vehicle Use on the North Shore State Trail: A Feasibility Study” is available on the DNR Web site at www.dnr.state.mn.us, and at www.findthetrails.com.

A new book for deer hunters

A new book designed especially for deer hunters will be unveiled Saturday, March 18 at the Silver Lake auditorium in Silver Lake.

The official unveiling will take place at the Big Little Deer Hunting Expo and Auction, a free family event with booths and seminars.

The expo runs from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., but the book unveiling itself is scheduled for 3 p.m.

The 174-page book titled, “Devotions for Deer Hunters,” contains 90 unique devotional entries which were composed by more than 40 different authors.

Each devotional entry also contains a suggested Bible read, and a brief prayer.

Although there are a number of new entries in the book, many were taken from various volumes of a small booklet distributed free by the Christian Deer Hunters Association.

To date, the association, a national organization which began in McLeod County, has placed about 240,000 devotional booklets into the hands of hunters.

A number of the authors will be available after the unveiling to sign autographs for those who choose to purchase the book.

The book, “Devotions for Deer Hunters,” will also be available for purchase at a later date online.

For more information, call Tom at (320) 327-2266 or see online at www.christiandeerhunters.org

Outdoor notes

• If you have any outdoor information to share, please call me at (320) 282-7865.

• Fish houses needed to be removed from our area lakes by the end of the day Feb. 28. The season for walleye, bass, northern pike and muskie closed Feb. 26.

• Don’t forget to purchase your new 2006 Minnesota fishing license.

• The rabbit and squirrel hunting seasons closed Feb. 28.

• The Lester Prairie Sportsmen’s club will meet tonight, at 7:30 p.m. at the clubhouse.

• The McLeod County chapter of Pheasants Forever will host its annual banquet Sat. April 8, at the Commercial Building on the McLeod County Fairgrounds in Hutchinson. For more information, call Mark Reinhart at (320) 864-6325.

• Get ready for a sunburn and some great late ice panfish action. Lat year in March, I basked in the sun and nabbed some dandy sunfish on Lake Washington. I’ll be heading back to the same spot in a week or so.

• The 2006 Minnesota fishing opener for walleye and northern pike is set for Saturday, May 13.

The bass season opens Saturday, May 27, and the muskie season opens Saturday, June 3.

• The stream trout fishing season in Minnesota opens Saturday, April 15.

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

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