March 9, 2016
I felt miserable with a fever and chills, achiness, and a nasty cough that violently shook my body. I felt so awful, it seemed I could barely walk. Despite being sick, I met up with Larry. (We had scheduled to go to the dunes two days earlier and I didn’t want to cancel.) The purpose of this adventure was birding, mainly viewing the migrating water fowl. It was another cloudy, cool day.
Instead of turning on Highway 84 like we normally do, we passed it, going down below Minneiska. Our first destination was a boat landing and a viewing deck overlooking the Weaver Bottoms. Other than small little patches here and there, the ice was almost completely gone. To Larry’s amazement, it had melted quickly. He said, “I was just ice fishing on Monday. I can’t believe it.” In awe, he repeated this several more times throughout the morning.
Standing on the viewing deck, gazing upon the Weaver Bottoms, we were awestruck, not by the stunning scenery of the water and the magnificent bluffs in the background (though it was indeed awesome), but rather by the number of bald eagles we observed. We marveled at their numbers. Larry wondered why there were so many. It was truly an amazing sight especially since it wasn’t too many years ago that spotting a single bald eagle was rare. Seeing so many in one lake was encouraging and exciting.
Three eagles soared above the water, white tails and heads flashing. So majestic. My heart soared with them, climbing higher and higher, gliding on the air currents. I was filled with a deep beauty that fills the soul. They were straight ahead, flying downstream. Another eagle, coming from our left, flew out over the water ahead of us.
Larry began counting the eagles, “One, two, three, four…thirteen, fourteen, fifteen…thirty one, thirty two, thirty four…” he muttered almost under his breath… “sixty. And I wasn’t counting them all.”
The bald eagles weren’t the only birds that we observed in the Weaver Bottoms in great quantities. A large flock of ducks, black dots against the blue-gray water floated out in the distance. We didn’t even bother to count them. Larry observed canvasbacks, buffleheads and widgeons, but I was unable to identify them.
Soon I was distracted by the eagles again. Individual birds dotted the water here and there. In that poor lighting and set against the water, their feathers appeared more black than brown. There appeared to be just as many juveniles as adults. I observed an adult and juvenile bird close together. Though their size was about the same, the adult bird was more impressive and majestic. The juvenile’s feathers were a mottled brown and white, looking quite scruffy and almost silly if not for its fierce beak and talons marking it as a bird of prey, not to be messed with.
We observed ring gulls too. A few individuals sailed in the air far above the water. A large flock stood far out on the water, perhaps on a thin sheet of ice. Their tiny bodies so white, they almost glowed. After taking in the scene for several minutes, Larry and I departed.
We got back on 61, taking it to 84. We continued on, past the bridge to Pritchard’s road. We pulled into the graveled parking lot for the boat landing. Before we descended the hill to the water’s edge, we observed a small group of tundra swans. We could hear their cooing, a wild, lovely sound. Sadly once we descended to the water’s edge, the swans were out of sight, but their voices echoed across the water. A flock of ducks flew over the swans, chattering. Larry was still amazed that he had just been ice fishing out there on Monday. There was large flock of coots bobbing in the water and another flock of ducks. Larry observed mallards, canvasbacks, and goldeneyes; my eyes only picked out the mallards. The many voices of the various waterfowl filled the air and could be heard a long ways off. Ringed gulls circled about. Red-wing blackbirds called in the trees along the shore. There was still some ice, but it was now breaking up in large pieces, in some places it was still a thin sheet. We observed several eagles there as well. A juvenile perched on top a pile of snow far out in the water, which looked like an iceberg.
Before long we were on the move again. We drove down to Half Moon Landing. Past West Newton, in the channel Larry and I had stood by admiring its beauty not quite a month earlier, were a couple pairs of wood ducks. Half Moon was still frozen. A couple of guys were ice fishing, probably for the last time this season. Larry was surprised and thought of ice fishing one last time. We walked out on to the ice. I was fascinated by all the rings in the ice, which had been holes for the fishermen. We didn’t linger, but soon were back off the ice.
We drove around to the other parking spot, the canoe landing area. Further down the channel was a large beaver lodge, a pile of sticks up against the far bank. A trapper in his boat was out laying traps, hoping to catch a few of the residents. We walked back across the tiny parking area and followed a narrow path through the trees. Peering through the branches, we observed more waterfowl on the water. Mallards, wood ducks, northern shovelers, and blue-winged teals. Larry reveled in the beauty of the teals, they seemed to be his favorite.
On the road again, we paused at the bridge, walked out on it. Gazing out over McCarthy Lake, Larry marveled at the wild rice, “god, that’s a lot of rice!” There didn’t appear to be much water out there. A small beaver lodge was positioned near the northwest end of the bridge. We walked across the road to the other side of the bridge to take in Schmoker’s channel. Mallards flew off as we approached. The water was a gorgeous blue green, reflecting the trees that grew along it. The beauty of the channel winding through and around the bent wild rice and rushes, trees on its border, with fiery red dog wood was breathtaking.
“Didn’t we just walk that two weeks ago?” Larry asked in amazement.
“No, actually it’s been just over a month ago now.”
“We should canoe down this soon.” He turned and looked at me, “Remember how we were talking about things looking barren, now it’s starting to come to life!” Larry said, a twinkle of excitement in his eyes. We stood watching and listening a few more moments before we turned back to the truck.