Friday, March 23, 2012

Early Swan Fall

Hundreds of Tundra Swans in Warren

"Hey, have you seen all the swans in the fields down 190th Street?" Randy Trudell asked me when he stopped by to give me an estimate on a tree removal job at the Audubon Center.

"When?" I asked.

"I saw them just now when I drove up here,"  Randy said.

No, I hadn't.

Soon as we were finished looking at the trees, I got in my car and drove west on 190th Street towards US 75.  I didn't get more than a mile when my eye caught a half dozen big birds flying, like moths attracted to a street light - around in a circle over the CRP.

The sky was overcast.  It had been raining all morning.  So the light was not so good for photos.  I got out of the car and took a picture anyway.

One of a half-dozen Short-eared Owls

Short-eared Owl on 190th Street

I wondered when we'd start seeing Short-eared Owls again, but I didn't expect it soon - and so early in the day.

Seeing them reminded me of an unforgettable experience I'd had years ago - watching these birds do their breeding display - barking like dogs and "wing-clapping" at dusk.  Maybe we'll get lucky and see the "show" here in Warren this spring.

After the owls flew out of view, I got back in the car and continued down 190th looking for the field full of swans.

I didn't have much further to go.  I could see hundreds of them in the farm field off to the north at the intersection of 190th and 300th Ave.

But they were skiddish - taking off even though I was driving ever-so-slowly.

I've seen (and heard) hundreds of Tundra Swans whistling on the Mississippi River near Nelson, Wisconsin - but never did I expect to see them in Warren, Minnesota.

They're here thanks the Middle-Snake-Tarmarac Rivers Watershed District's new Agassiz Valley Water Resources impoundment just east of Warren on Minnesota Hwy 1. 

Tundra Swan in a muddy field

The best time to see them (and the thousands of other waterfowl at the impoundment) is dawn or dusk... and if you're lucky - midday in the fields south of Warren.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Visiting Bear Dens

UM-C Student Chris Anderson

Agassiz Audubon volunteers got an invitation to join University of Minnesota scientist Mark Ditmer and DNR bear biologists Karen Noyce and Dave Garshelis on their annual winter bear den check in northwestern Minnesota.

Black bears are slowly pushing westward into the agricultural landscape of northwestern Minnesota – the western fringe of this animal’s Minnesota range.  The DNR-University of Minnesota research team has been studying why - and how these bears are adapting to their new habitat. 
UM-Crookston student Chris Anderson at a bear den near Strathcona, MN

How do they locate the dens? 

They use high-tech GPS collars that relay movements of bears to the researchers in near-real time. 
When they get to the dens, scientists sedate the bears and then check their general health and their heart monitors – tiny subcutaneous implants that provide data for scientists from Medtronic and the University of Minnesota’s Visible Heart Lab who are studying the physiology of hibernation.   The researchers also collect hair samples to take back to the lab to analyze - to how much corn is in the bears' diet. 

500+ pound boar sleeping in his cozy den near Strathcona

Chris Anderson, a UM-Crookston student, was one of several volunteers who took turns keeping the cubs warm, while the scientists checked out a sow.   “It was awesome to get this close to these bears,” said Anderson. “This was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had in northwestern Minnesota.”