The Seasons at Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge
Spring is the season when everything comes to life after the winter sleep. The first sign is the welcome honking of the giant Canada geese as they return to any open water they can find. Of course, spring may not be really here as winter does not always want to give way to spring just yet.
One of the most welcoming sights of spring is the lavender-blue pasque flower blooming on the hillsides, sometimes even in the snow.
Spring brings the sounds of the sandhill cranes as they stop to rest on their way north. Even an occasional endangered whooping crane will stop by for a visit.
April and May will find the sharp-tailed grouse doing their mating dance on their dancing grounds (leks). The Refuge has a blind for people to watch and photograph this ritual.
By now the shorebirds begin to appear as well as the birds of the prairie. Again some are just passing through and others are here to stay. In late spring, the western grebes begin their mating ritual by dancing in synchronized pairs across the water. (A dance referred to as water weaving)
Summer is the time for prairies to come alive with wild flowers. The lemon yellow narrow leafed puccoon, the darker yellow western wallflower, the tall colorful blanket flower, the delicate little blue-eyed grass, the beautiful lavender-pink flower with the ugly name - spider wort, the white chickweed, the fragile looking evening primrose, the yellow-white wild licorice, the fuzzy little pussy toes, the white to pink scarlet gaura, the dark red to orange scarlet mallow, the tall stately purple prairie coneflower, the North Dakota state flower - the wild prairie rose, the pink bee balm (or as some people call it) stink weed because of its bad odor if you crush a leaf, or the pink to orange papery flowers of winged dock are just a few of the blooms you might see on the Refuge and the Wetland Management District.
Early June will offer the first opportunity to observe newborn white-tailed fawns. By mid-month most of the migrating birds are gone and broods of geese and ducks will be making their appearance.
In July, Canada geese will be grouping on large lakes in preparation for their flightless period during their molt (growing new feathers). By late summer you'll see migrating shorebirds on the wetlands with exposed mudflats. The roadsides will be white with astors and some dried up wetlands will look bright red with the red samphire in full bloom, the prairie birds will be migrating through from the northern breeding areas.
Autumn is a spectacular season as days turn cooler and the skies are filled with sandhill cranes, shorebirds, ducks, geese, swans, and pelicans. Occasionally endangered whooping cranes stop in the area to feed and rest before heading south. Late fall will usually find Mother Nature telling the birds to move on. Although most small birds go south as the days start getting shorter, some birds like geese and some ducks need some cold snowy weather to let them know its time to go.
Prairie grasses and the trees turn from green to shades of gold as winter snows are soon to come.
Winter does not mean the Refuge is barren of life and covered with snow. A few hardy birds, such as ring-necked pheasant, sharp-tailed grouse, gray partridge, wild turkey, great horned owl, snowy owl, horned lark, snow bunting, large numbers of white-tailed deer, coyote, and cottontail rabbit are just some of the wildlife that spend the winter here.
Sometimes the deep white snow will tempt snowmobiles to come onto the Refuge, but the Refuge is off limits to snowmobiles and any off-road vehicles to better enable wildlife to survive the rigors of winter.
Winter can be tough on wildlife and only the strongest survive. Yet winter can be beautiful too, as we listen to the howl of the coyote or the hooting of the great horned owl in the stillness of a long winter night or see the diamond crystals sparkling on freshly laid snow. It's wonderful to see the sundogs around the sun on a crisp, clear day and to know that spring will be arriving soon with the promise of new life.