It wasn’t until April 10 that the ice covering a small pond on the Stony Ridge farm finally receded enough to make possible an open patch of water.
And just like that, the first wood duck of the season arrived with a splash.
“It used to be October was my favorite month. Now it’s April,’’ said Dr. Roger Strand, a retired Willmar surgeon. He has been hosting and keeping watch over wood ducks since he erected his first nesting box on this property near Sibley State Park in 1956.
“Last year and this we’ve had to wait for April until the middle of the month, but it’s worth it when it’s here,’’ said Strand.
By April 14 the pond was wide open, and now, wood ducks and hooded mergansers are nesting and producing their first eggs.
Some years all the activity can get underway in late March.
This is second, consecutive late spring and it’s making for a compressed, spring season.
A snowstorm greeted turkey hunters on the opening day of the first season on April 16. Despite the weather, Lynn Koenen at DJ’s Sports in Montevideo knows of one young hunter who braved the conditions for hours but bagged a big tom for the effort.
It’s only gotten better since. Corey Edman at Pete’s Surplus, New London, said that after a relatively slow start, turkey hunters are reporting lots of activity and showing up with harvested birds as a result.
There are plenty of other signs of spring: The Spicer-based fisheries crew with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources pulled nets from Ringo Lake earlier this week and found plenty of female walleyes ripe with eggs, according to Dave Coahran, fisheries supervisor.
It probably won’t be for a week or so before the ice is gone and they can set nets in the waters of Green and Koronis Lakes to collect spawn for the hatchery. Like last year, Coahran said it will be a scramble to collect what’s needed this year due to the late start.
This year’s goal is to collect more eggs than last year, but right now the odds aren’t great, he noted.
The fisheries crew hasn’t been able to get nets into all the waters they’d like to test for winter kill yet. They know there has been a fish kill on Lake Lillian and were hoping to get nets into the lake to determine its extent after this article was prepared on Wednesday.
The late spring also makes it challenging for crews conducting prescribed burns on prairies in the area.
Jeff Miller, with the Minnesota DNR wildlife office, Sibley State Park, said they were able to manage two sizeable burns- one near Pennock and another near Milan- before rains arrived this week.
Scott Glup, project leader with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Litchfield, said the spring’s late arrival has definitely put the crews behind schedule. In the best of years, they’re lucky to manage 3,500 acres, which is still short of the 5,000 to 7,000 acres they’d like to do. Reaching the 3,500 acre goal this year will be hard. They’ve only been able to manage three burns to date, and funding cuts have reduced the number of workers available.
“It’s moving slow,’’ said Glup.
There is a good side to slow, however. It’s when you’re hunkered in the spring woods in wait for a turkey.
Jeff Miller was able to get out Monday for the start of the second turkey season. He listened for over three hours without hearing so much as a gobble, but he enjoyed all the sounds of spring provided by migrating waterfowl overhead and the newly-arrived songbirds in the woods where he hid.
And then silently, a big tom emerged and now Miller too has reason to rank April as one of his favorite months and well worth the wait.