A lifetime of fishing adventures starts here

 

Rylee Boen with her grandfather Chet Boen waits for a strike while fishing in Olivia's Pond Park.

Rylee Boen with her grandfather Chet Boen waits for a strike while fishing in Olivia’s Pond Park.

Fishing can lead us to some very wild and beautiful places, many of them far from home.

Yet most of us get hooked on a lifetime of fishing in our youth, where access to a local fishing spot that we can reach on bike or foot matters most. Lots of us got started by catching bullheads, panfish or even chubs from local creeks.

Jon Wogen of Olivia got started this way, catching bullheads in a shallow lake in northern Iowa, where he grew up. Now retired from a career in education, he pens a column in the Renville County Register called “Prairie Outdoors.’’ He’s been writing lately about the “free-range kid,’’ a concept promoted by Tom Fenton during an earlier visit to Bird Island and Olivia. Fenton is an active living specialist and Olympic speed walker.  He promotes activities that get kids outdoors.

Wogen is among a group of people who take that message to heart, and have done so long before Fenton’s visit to the area in May.

They went to work a few years ago to convince the City of Olivia that a storm water retention pond that was mandated by the state as part of a utilities improvement project was a blessing in disguise. They could make the most of this pond of water by having it stocked with fish and turning it into a local fishing spot.

Tom Kalahar (standing) and Jon Wogen (seated) watch as Rylee and Chet Boen try their luck in Pond Park.

Tom Kalahar (standing) and Jon Wogen (seated) watch as Rylee and Chet Boen try their luck in Pond Park.

Two years later, what is now known as Pond Park is everything they could have wanted and more. Along with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the volunteers and Olivia Park Board enlisted help from organizations such as Pheasants Forever. The DNR stocks the pond with crappies and panfish, and bullheads found their way into its waters all on their own. Pheasants Forever helped seed the area create 20-acres of natural prairie alongside the park.

City Administrator Dan Coughlin describes it as “making lemonade from lemons.’’ Kids can often be found fishing at the pond, where the DNR intends to install a fishing pier soon. Wogen knows of one 13-inch crappie taken this spring, obviously a survivor from the first stocking two years ago.

Adults are discovering this park too. Coughlin said if you drop by on a summer afternoon you are almost certain to encounter people strolling on the half-mile of mowed walkway along the pond’s perimeter. Swallows, wood ducks and even a resident goose family are part of the entertainment for those who relax on the benches the city placed along the walkway. Some people come just to enjoy a sunset over water, said Coughlin.

Have no doubt. The idea of introducing youths to fishing is what motivated Wogen to push for the community’s new asset. It’s among nine parks in the City of Olivia, and represents proof that there are many who know what makes for a kids friendly community.

Wogen’s love of fishing has led him to some of the most beautiful locations in the country. He loves to catch trout in mountains streams and the hills of southeastern Minnesota.  He once told this scribe that he likes trout because “they are found in beautiful places.’’

He knows the lake country of central and northern Minnesota well too, and ditto for the lakes of Kandiyohi County.

Yet he probably said it all when by way of introducing a visitor to Pond Park, he said simply: “This is a precious place.’’

Pond Park is the latest addition to Olivia's park system.

Pond Park is among the latest additions to Olivia’s park system.

High tech tracking revealing much about elusive plains hog-nose snake

 

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Jeff LeClere, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, holds a plains hognose snake on the Chippewa Prairie.

APPLETON — Finding a plains hognose snake amidst the knee-high foliage of the Chippewa Prairie in western Minnesota is a lot like buying a winning lottery ticket.

It takes some luck, unless you have the advantage that Jeff LeClere has in his search. He now has seven plains hognose snakes that carry surgically implanted transmitters.

He roams this 2,000 acre, native prairie along Lac qui Parle Lake with an antenna that can pick up the telltale beep-beep-beep of the transmitters anytime he comes within 400-feet of one. “You can step on top of it and not know it’s there,’’ said LeClere of how well the hognose snakes can hide.

LeClere is a herpetologist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

He’s also lucky. He and his colleagues knew hognose snakes existed on this prairie when they began their search a few years ago, yet also understood how difficult it was going to be to find one. They put up sheets of wood and corrugated metal to provide the kind of cover garter and other snakes are attracted to, but without success.

And then one day they stumbled upon a hognose snake, caught her and implanted the transmitter. “She led us right to where all of the other snakes were,’’ said LeClere.

Now he and other colleagues come every other day to track their subjects like FBI agents shadowing suspects. Along with the seven with implanted transmitters, they have injected tiny, glass enclosed pit tags in over 100 other hognose snakes. They can scan any of these snakes when they come upon them and know their identity, and hence keep track of their development and movements.

More than snakes are at stake in this research. The Chippewa Prairie is the focus of a long-term study to determine whether we can manage and preserve our remaining, natural prairie lands through a process known as “patch burn grazing.’’

Each year a portion of the prairie is burned, and a small herd of cows is allowed to graze.  It mimics how the prairies evolved, only the herds that once grazed this land were those of bison.

The plains hognose snake is very much a creature of the prairie, specially adapted to this environment, said LeClere. If the patch burn grazing regime compromises this natural environment, the hognose snakes will serve as the canary in the coal mine to tell us.

The snakes are but one part of the mosaic that makes up this landscape. Other researchers are paying similar, close attention to the various prairie flora and grasses to see how this will work.

LeClere’s a natural for this work: When he was a young boy in Iowa he became fascinated by dinosaurs. “Lots of kids grow out of it. I never did,’’ said LeClere.

His interest turned to amphibians and reptiles when he was taught that they were the closest living relatives to dinosaurs. They were something he could touch, catch and keep in the backyard, unlike a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

As an herpetologist, he travels much of the state with the Minnesota Biological Survey program to assess the populations of reptiles and amphibians.

Jeff LeClere holds the antenna that picks up the  telltale beep-beep-beep from the radio transmitter implanted in the hognose snake.

Jeff LeClere holds the antenna that picks up the telltale beep-beep-beep from the radio transmitter implanted in the hognose snake.

He’s part of a team studying several different species of snakes in the Weaver sandhill dunes in southeastern Minnesota. And, he’s part of a group looking at the skink populations in Scientific and Natural Areas in this region.

The hognose snake research on the Chippewa Prairie has been his to coordinate for over two years. Funds allowed him or others to track the snakes every day during the past two summers, weekends included.

One of their first findings was a shock. During the first summer, female snakes with transmitters made their way into a large cattail marsh, a large backwater of the Minnesota River.  They spent the entire summer in its moist and apparently cooler confines.

“It really blew us away,’’ said LeClere. The conventional wisdom held that hognose snakes would never stray from the upland prairie with which they are so closely associated.

They spent some time in the marsh last summer as well, but not nearly so much. It taught the researchers that caring for the prairie by itself was not enough. Caring for the entire landscape is important.

They’ve also learned where the snakes like to hibernate, lay their eggs, and where many of the individuals prefer to hunt their favorite foods. They prey on frogs, toads, lizards, small rodents, and the eggs of turtles, ground nesting birds and even their small fledglings.

The snakes’ ability to avoid detection is their best defense, and they need it. LeClere said it is surprising how many scars are carried by the adults, which usually grow to about 2 ½ feet in length. Raccoons, weasels, raptors, coyotes and foxes are their main enemies.

The other “predator” is people who capture hognose snakes for the pet trade. Fortunately, many captive-bred hognose snakes exist and that has helped reduce the pressure on wild populations, he said.

So far, the research on the Chippewa Prairie has not shown the grazing cattle to be a threat to the hognose snake. One early captured snake was a victim.  It was accidentally trampled by cattle when it took the wrong escape route. The pit tags have also revealed that some snakes fall victim to the prescribed burning of the prairie.

LeClere cautions that due to the limited number of snakes that are transmitter equipped, it’s impossible to answer the larger, research questions that interest many.

Yet he points out that there are enough of the transmitter-equipped snakes to provide the needed answers to the program focused questions, such as the habitat needs and the effects of disturbances here.

Every time he or others track down the beep-beep-beep to an individual snake, they GPS the spot and record the type of habitat within one meter of it.

They’ve also been collecting tissue samples to provide an inventory of the population’s genetics.

Funds for this research come mainly from the nongame fund and the Minnesota Biological Survey. LeClere said he hopes funding can allow it to continue for years, as the patch-burn grazing study itself is intended to be long-term.

In the meantime, he feels like a lottery winner every day that he is on the prairie, doing what he enjoys. “This is definitely what I was meant to do,’’ said the herpetologist. “I feel like this is my place.’’

This is the third year of tracking plains hognose snakes on the Chippewa Prairie.

This is the third year of tracking plains hognose snakes on the Chippewa Prairie.

Black bears raid Renville County beekeeper’s hives

Black bear, photo courtesy Minnesota DNR.

Black bear, photo courtesy Minnesota DNR.

HAWK CREEK TOWNSHIP, RENVILLE COUNTY — Gerald Reinke has been tending beehives at the mouth of Hawk Creek in Renville County for 45 years.

“Never, never, never had a bear down here,’’ said Reinke

Until this spring, when he found two black bears tearing apart hives on his property where Hawk Creek joins the Minnesota River just downstream of the Upper Sioux Agency State Park and near Renville County’s Skalbekken Park.

“It’s the perfect set up,’’ said Reinke of what likely attracted the bears. The property includes lots of woodlands, water, and plenty of wild foods, not to mention 75 active bee hives and apple trees on his property.

Reinke no longer owns the hives, but allows a beekeeper from Butterfield to keep hives on the site. Reinke keeps an eye on the hives, and noticed damage to a couple in late May. Investigating, he also spotted bear prints on a sandbar where Hawk Creek reaches the River.

The bears had opened the bottom boxes of a couple hives to get at the honey, larvae and bees they contained.

Reinke said he realized the bears were visiting the hives at night, so one night in late May he went out and waited until 10 p.m. without spotting them. The next night he returned around midnight, and less than an hour later he heard something rattling the boxes.

“So I shined a light on ‘em and I had a bear standing up, hind legs. Just about the time I turned the light on he turned the hive over,’’ said Reinke.

He shined his beam of light about 25 yards to the north of the first bear, and there were another set of eyes reflected. This bear had already torn apart a hive and was lying on the ground, eating.

Reinke dropped both of the bears with a shotgun.  Reinke said he had reported the predation problem and Minnesota Conservation Officer Ed Picht came to retrieve the bodies. He estimates the bears weighed around 200 pounds.

“Like candy to a kid,’’ said Reinke of what the bee hives represented to the bears.

His experience comes in the wake of a number of reports of black bears being spotted in the area this spring. DNR wildlife officer Jeff Zajac, Redwood Falls, responded to a report of a black bear that was found in a field in Birch Cooley Township in the southeastern corner of Renville County earlier in May. It is suspected that bear had been struck by a car. It had to be euthanized.

There had also been reports in May of bear sighting near Spicer in Kandiyohi County, and in the Montevideo and Benson areas in Chippewa and Swift Counties.

Picht, who is based in Montevideo, said he’s had very few reports of bears in the eight years he has served this area. There was a bear that had damaged bee hives in the Louisburg area a couple of years ago.

This spring seems different. Along with Reinke’s bears, he has had reports of bears in the Montevideo and Benson areas. Just recently, he’s also received photos taken by a woman who has spotted what she believes to be bear scat near Granite Falls.

Reinke said the bears were already making it a practice of striking the hives, and would have continued to return night-after-night. The conservation officer told him that if he should have bear problems again, he could try placing an electric fence around the hives.

Why there are more bear sightings reported this spring is anybody’s guess at this point, according to Picht. We do not know have any way to know at this point if bear numbers are on the increase in areas to the north, and if that is causing some bears to migrate this way.

Bee-hives similar to the one depicted here attracted the bears.

Bee-hives similar to the one depicted here attracted the bears.

When eaglet’s nest comes crashing down, rebuilding crew comes to rescue

 

The eaglet was hardly more than a ball of fuzz when rescued.

The eaglet was hardly more than a ball of fuzz when rescued.

MURDOCK — Timing is everything in rescue operations, but this one took something more.

Rick Bartz and Brad Olson had to figure out in a hurry how to build a new eagle’s nest.

They must have got it right. The eaglet they rescued in the aftermath of storms that knocked down the eaglet’s home 40- to 50- feet above the farmlands north of Murdock in Swift County is doing very well.

“It is one of those highlight moments of a career when you can do something like that,’’ said Olson.

Olson’s career is with the wildlife division of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and not carpentry. He’s based in the Appleton area, and was the person that DNR officials with the non-game office in St. Paul turned to after receiving the initial calls from Bartz for help.

Bartz lives near the eagle nest.  It had stood for all to see on the branch of a large cottonwood tree. It is located in the midst of farmland and not near a river or wild lands.

Bartz was the first to check when he noticed that the large branch and nest must have gone down in the midst of the heavy thunderstorms that rolled through the county during the May 16-17 weekend.

He arrived Monday morning to find that the nest had indeed crashed to the ground. He found the body of one eaglet and then spotted its surviving sibling. The feisty sibling seemed intent on attacking him, jumping up at him, he said.

The feisty eaglet was ready to attack its rescuer.

The feisty eaglet was ready to attack its rescuer.

 

Olson said that DNR officials who Bartz contacted realized immediately that timing was critical to helping the eaglet. It was windy and cold, and the skies were still spitting rain. The hungry eaglet would be vulnerable to hypothermia.

So what to do? Bringing the eagle to the Raptor Center would condemn it to a life in captivity. An eaglet taken that young could never be trained to fend for itself in the wild, Olson explained.

At the suggestion of the Raptor Center, the decision was made to provide the eagle with a new home in the hopes its parents would resume their care for it.

Olson rounded up what tools he could, as did Bartz.  They used a ladder to suspend a platform they built about 15-feet above the ground on the cottonwood tree. They gathered together as much of the original nest bowl as they could and placed it on the platform, to which they re-introduced the eaglet.

“It was just a fuzz ball, a ball of guts and fat,’’ said Olson of the helpless bird.

They had spotted the adult eagles in the area, and had hopes they’d return.

The rescuers left the scene knowing their presence could deter the return of the adults.

They built a platform and suspended it on the cottonwood tree about 15-feet above the ground.

They built a platform and suspended it on the cottonwood tree about 15-feet above the ground.

Bartz held off for a few days before returning, ladder in hand. He took a peek into the nest and saw that the eaglet was alive and well. He also saw the remains of animals that the adults had brought as food for the eaglet.

Now it takes no more than a good pair of eyes, or better yet a set of binoculars to know that the eaglet is doing well. It is fully feathered and can often be seen peering over its nest.

Rick Bartz and Brad Olson teamed up to build a replacement home for the displaced eaglet.

Rick Bartz and Brad Olson teamed up to build a replacement home for the displaced eaglet.

Too many punches putting Green Lake’s walleyes in decline

 

A Green Lake walleye netted during a previous year's spawning run.

A Green Lake walleye netted during a previous year’s spawning run.

SPICER – Walleye appear to be on a long-term decline in Green Lake, a clear and deep lake that has long been regarded as this region’s premiere destination for catching them.

The words of warning about the future of walleye fishing on Green Lake come from two professionals who know this subject only too well.

In the May edition of the Green Lake Breeze newsletter, Dave Coahran, fisheries supervisor with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Spicer, quotes professional boxer Mike Tyson in saying “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.’’ He goes on to explain that the infestation of zebra mussels is the punch in the mouth for Green Lake, but added there have been plenty of body blows to this point as well. Consider:

  • Natural reproduction of walleyes and the survival of fingerlings are poor. Predation on young walleye and the growing amount of dead plant material smothering their rocky spawning areas are the apparent causes.
  • Yellow perch numbers are poor. They serve as forage for the predator fish. A healthy perch population also reduces the predation of walleye fry by panfish.
  • Eurasian watermilfoil continues to expand its range, despite aggressive control efforts.
  • Summer kills of tullibee are becoming more frequent, believed to be a consequence of our warmer climate. Green Lake is one of the southernmost lakes in Minnesota to hold tullibee.  They serve as a rich food source for walleye and northern pike.
  • There is growing evidence that stocking the lake with a strain of walleye from the Pike River in northeastern Minnesota is not the best choice in terms of genetics. Coahran noted that walleyes native to southern Minnesota may have genetics that improve their success in these waters. The Spicer fisheries crew has collected walleye eggs from Diamond Lake this year, which has a very good population of walleye with the desired genetic strain. They are being raised for stocking in Green Lake in place of the Pike River strain.
Coahran

Coahran

Dick Sternberg, a retired fisheries biologist, offers his own warning as well in a report completed for the Green Lake Fishery Project and Green Lake Property Owners Association. He said he had been reluctant in the previous year to say walleye were in decline, but now offers this assessment: “It now appears that the ecological balance of Green Lake is shifting toward bass/panfish and away from walleye.’’

It’s important to realize that these words of warning come despite lots of hard work to maintain Green Lake’s status as a premier walleye fishing destination. The DNR is continuing a very aggressive stocking campaign, and will even ramp it up a notch. Along with stocking what’s hoped to be a better strain of walleye in the lake, the DNR plans to increase the amount of larger fingerlings stocked. It’s hoped the larger fingerlings will be less susceptible to predation.

DNR fisheries staff found a growing amount of dead plant material on their nets during the spawning season. The material smothers the rocky spawning grounds and is a factor in the decline of natural walleye reproduction.

DNR fisheries staff found a growing amount of dead plant material on their nets during the spawning season. The material smothers the rocky spawning grounds and is a factor in the decline of natural walleye reproduction.

And of course, the Green Lake Property Association invests thousands of dollars annually on efforts to control Eurasian watermilfoil and protect the lake from the introduction of other invasive species. Each year volunteers with the Association use GPS-technology to target patches of Eurasian watermilfoil for herbicide treatment. The Association has also contributed funds and works with Kandiyohi County and the DNR to provide a watercraft decontamination station and staffing to conduct inspections for Aquatic Invasive Species at public accesses.

And yet, we do not know what lies ahead now that zebra mussels have delivered that punch to the mouth, Coahran pointed out. The invasive mussels filter out the microscopic phytoplankton that is the foundation for the food chain in the lake.

Pointing out that eventually somebody came along with the game plan to put down Mike Tyson, he expressed the hope that a Buster Douglas may be in the future for Green Lake to knock down its new nemesis.

Summer kills of tullibee are becoming more frequent, likely the result of a warming climate.

Summer kills of tullibee are becoming more frequent, likely the result of a warming climate.