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Northland Nature...Onset of spring will lead to some coming migrants

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Northland Nature...Onset of spring will lead to some coming migrants
Cloquet Minnesota 122 Avenue C 55720

Larry Weber


March began as a continuation of February. We had several subzero temperatures and even had one record-setting day of minus 23 during this first week.

But in the second week, as temperatures on several days reached into the 40s, once even the 50s, the feeling became a bit more like April. Now, at the time of the vernal equinox, we are having temperatures and snow that are more conducive to those of March.

And the longer days continue.

Passing the first day of spring, we now have more hours of daylight each day than of darkness. The ample snowpack and iced waterways may be reluctant to surrender their grip, but the new season is slowly moving in.

Each year, in early spring, I like to take a trip of some sort to the south of here that will give me a glimpse of what is to come. This year’s jaunt was only to the southern part of this state, where chilly temperatures and a snow cover still prevailed for the most part. However, in open sites on lawns, I did see flocks of robins, and it was a delight to hear the songs of nearby cardinals.

And out on the Mississippi River, there was open water. bbWhile the moving part of the river was freeing itself from the ice cover, the ponds and lakes remained cold-coated.

Open sites on waterways are quick to attract the attention of water birds, while raptors, red-tailed hawks and bald eagles gathered along the shores. The water birds included ducks, geese and mergansers. The ducks, being mallards and goldeneyes, may have wintered there in southern Minnesota.

If there was any ice-free water, some of these waterfowl would go no further south in their migration. The same can be said for the Canada geese and common mergansers. All are able to find various aquatic meals to survive in these riparian locations.

At the time that I was watching these birds, the rivers, lakes, swamps and ponds in the Northland were ice-covered and devoid of such inhabitants.

But that is changing. The ducks, geese and mergansers of these southern sites are eager to move north.

Indeed, during most winters not as harsh as the winter of 2013-14, it is not unusual to find goldeneyes and mallards remaining in any open waters that they can find on or near Lake Superior. In the slow-to-freeze entry at Canal Park in January of this winter, I saw many of each of these kinds of ducks. Common mergansers will also stay in open waters for as long as they can in the Northland.

But our winter this year gave few places for such aquatic birds to remain. And so, they did go further south.

But now as we move into the latter days of this month, waterways, especially the moving sites of the larger rivers, are starting to open up. Such places are quickly found by these northing birds.

It happens fairly often that by the end of March we’ll see a few kinds of ducks, Canada geese and mergansers out in the opening sites of the St. Louis River, as well as swans (more likely trumpeter swans, and tundra swans, too).

I have had many years when I’ve seen the first great blue heron of the season before the first of April as well.

I don’t expect an early spring this year, but I also don’t expect many more subzero temperatures either. Under the rays of the longer days, the ice will eventually give way and the early water birds will be here.

And it won’t be long before we look out onto the opening waters to see the birds similar to ones that I recently saw further south along the Mississippi River in their wintering sites. Some will remain to nest; others rest before resuming their journey further to the north. They were at home there, with ice along the shore, as they will be here.

Also at these places will be the bald eagles, sometimes in big numbers, as I saw along the river in the southern part of the state.

Keep looking out upon the river: The spring, with its migrants that we’ve been waiting for, will be arriving here before too long.