Sunday, July 1, 2012

The eaglets have landed -- and they're big babies

The young bald eagles in Seven Mile Creek Park are flying well, but still dependent on their parents.

   It's been more than 10 weeks since the bald eagles on the Minnesota River at Seven Mile Creek Park began feeding their hatchling(s), but we hadn't been able to see the young in the nest on the other side of the river.
   They would have grown rapidly since then, reaching nearly a foot high three weeks after hatching and they should have attempted their first flights in the past couple of weeks.
   This weekend we went to see if we could get a glimpse of them -- a long shot considering the heavy foliage now blocking views of the river.
   And a long shot that they both would have survived this long. While two are often hatched, one sibling sometimes kills the other to get more food. And when an eagle takes its first flight, they will perish 40 percent of the time.
   Not far down the trail along the river, we heard loud high-pitched screeches, similar to, but louder than the sounds made by seagulls. Following the sounds brought an unlikely surprise.
   Peering through the brush along the bank, we could see two immature bald eagles perched on a large, partly submerged log just 25 feet from the bank. They were unconcerned about visitors, even those with a dog -- a sign perhaps of youthful inexperience.
   Even knowing how fast they grow, the siblings were surprisingly large.
   One of their parents was perched atop a cottonwood tree far across the river, next to the nest. The parents duties aren't over. For a month or more they will still provide all the food for the young eagles as they stay near the nest  and develop their feathers.
   After that, their hunting skills will have to be taught and sharpened over the remainder of the summer -- vital lessons if they are to survive the first winter on their own.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Camping season popping up

Campsite A14 offers a perfect view of the river below.
I’ve never been to a campground when no one else was camping, but that was where we found ourselves when we went for a mid-week camp-out at Minneopa State Park.
The solitude was wonderful — like owning your own sprawling wooded estate.
Cranking up the pop-up camper during the first trip of the year is exciting. It’s also the time you remember everything you took out of the camper last fall and forgot to replace: Dish soap, lighter fluid, bowls, forks and a coffee pot.
All of which are minor annoyances, except for the coffee pot — that’s like forgetting the batteries for your implantable cardiac defibrillator. But there is always cowboy coffee, brewed in a pan, slowly filtered through paper towels into plastic cups (we forgot the coffee cups, too).
I’ve always loved a pop-up camper — compact, more luxury than a tent but with   canvas sides that keep you closer to the outdoors than the walls of a camper do.
It lets you experience all the night sounds, while buried under the quilts — and there were plenty of sounds high on the bluff overlooking the Minnesota River: Geese and turkey settling in for the night, the chilling calls of a barred owl, trees whipping in the wind and the rumble of a Union Pacific train rolling by.
A perfect first outing.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Llife and death in the spring

Wild violets

   Henry David Thoreau had the whole Zen Master thing down cold.
    In his two years at Walden Pond he reveled in the idea of “mindfulness” -- slowing down to absorb nature. He often went to a spot as the sun rose, sat down and barely moved until it got dark , absorbing what nature presented.
    I have trouble sitting still for long, but taking pause in our valley in the spring to look at the rebirth and new life has its rewards.
    With our unusual spring, the wildflowers are making their appearance early. But if you don’t stop and look, you’ll miss most of them. The tiny bloodroots and wild violets are making their showy displays -- as pretty as any flowers we spend money on and toil over in our gardens. 
    But death is prevalent in the spring as well. Baby birds and animals succumbing to the hazards, early buds frozen to death and mighty and healthy trees felled by ravenous beaver emerging from their  winter semi-hibernation. The freshly gnawed, downed trees litter the river banks in the area.
    A beaver can supposedly take down up to 200 trees a year. From what I've seen of their work, it sounds about right. I have a history with beaver; a long war carried on at our cabin north of Brainerd.  I surrendered long ago.
    Trying to trap, shoot and harass beaver seems only to amuse them. There are reportedly more beaver in the U.S. today than there were before settlement. They have a tenacity and work ethic we can’t match.
    Best to just sit down along the river bank and admire their handiwork .
The beaver have been busy at Minneopa State Park.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Feeding the eaglets

   The Rev. Robert and Holly Mehltretter ventured out to the bald eagle nest on the Minnesota River along Seven Mile Creek Park (see earlier post for directions) to find the parents busy feeding newly hatched eaglets.
  How many young there are in the nest won't be known for about a month when the eaglets began walking and venturing out to the edge of the nest.   
  It takes a couple of days for an eaglet to break their way out of the egg, and once they do they're hungry.
The parents spend most of their time finding food for the babies, carrying a fish, duck or other animal to the nest, then shredding it to pieces and offering morsels to the eaglets.
  Holly’s photo shows one eagle, fish in claws, headed to the nest and the parents then get busy pulling it apart and offering pieces to the young. 
  The eagles ball their talons into a fist when they walk around the nest to avoid killing the young.
  The babies will grow fast, packing on a pound or more every week, but they won't be ready for their first, dangerous, flight until early or mid June.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Granite raiders of the Minnesota River

Granite outcropping on the Minnesota River near Redwood Falls

   There is beauty all along the 335-miles of the Minnesota River, but nothing compares to the stretch from Ortonville -- at the start of the river on the South Dakota border -- down through Granite Falls and Redwood Falls.
   Exposed ancient Granite outcroppings along the river bluffs are stunning and unique, with specialized plant and animal life rarely found elsewhere in Minnesota.
   That's why groups like BWSR, USDA, DNR and some counties have spent years on programs to help pay landowners to protect the outcroppings.
   So local residents in western Minnesota are none to happy a mining company
wants to spend the next century blowing up the granite, breaking it into
crushed rock and shipping out one of the areas most valuable assets. The
Ortonville Township Board passed a moratorium aimed at protecting the
   North Dakota-based Strata Corp. has been fighting to get permits to mine the
granite, and in the face of stiff local opposition hired legal powerhouse
Malkerson Gunn Martin to represent them. Big Stone County commissioners are
weighing the company's request.
   Patrick Moore, head or CURE -- Clean Up the River Environment --
(, said the company is taking a no-prisoners approach to
getting their way. Corporate officials flew in on the private jet recently
and ferried county commissioners to the proposed site.
   But to keep any annoying media or citizens from tagging along, the company
took out just two commissioners at a time. That's because the state's Open
Meeting law only kicks in when three or more elected officials are together
on business.
   The company wrapped up the day lunching with the chair of the county board.
If you go on Strata's web site ( you see the normal tabs:
"about," "history" and "services" which give the basics about the mining
   If you click on the tab labeled "Environment" it takes you to a blank page.
   Not a good sign.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Carcasses, tombstones and eagle nests

An eagle peers out of her nest near Seven Mile Creek Park.
  You don't need to go far from the urban din to find natural wonders and
interesting mysteries in our valley.
  A short outing just a few hundred yards from busy Highway 169 between
Mankato and St. Peter this week produced a majestic eagle perched atop her
eggs, the skeletal remains of a white-tailed deer and a piece of a grave
marker mysteriously leaning against a tree.
  They can be found in Seven Mile Creek Park, but not in the main park most
people grill, hike and play in. Instead, take the road toward the river
(east) and drive all the way back to the boat launch. There, a flat, easy to
walk trail winds back and around the perimeter of the park along the
Minnesota River.
  While I've come to expect surprises along the river and in the woods, the
marble cross with the initials J.H.S. propped on a tree at the start of the
trail was not the usual find. It was apparently either found in the river
and propped up by someone or found (taken) from somewhere else and brought
  The nearby white-tail  carcass -- bleaching white after being picked clean by
coyotes, vultures, bugs and other critters -- offered a rather artistic, if
stark profile in the wheat-colored grass.
  The deer could have died there after being wounded nearby during hunting
season. But more likely it was a carcass discarded by someone who had
butchered a deer they killed.
  A couple of hundred yards down the path, toward the southeast edge of the
park, a tall tree across the river is topped with an eagle's nest. Good
binoculars will show you the large white head and distinctive golden beak of
the eagle as it eyes you from afar.
  The eagles -- but mostly the female -- will sit tight on the eggs for about 35
days before they hatch. They have been on the nest at least two weeks
already. When the eggs hatch, one or two usually emerge alive. If it's two,
it often ends badly for one. It's not unusual for one chick to kill the
other so as not to have to compete for food.
  If you check in about the middle of June the young eagle, if it survives,
should be taking its first short flights along the river. It's a dangerous
time -- as many as 40 percent don't survive the first days of learning to
  It can be a tough life along the river just outside the bustle of urban