Seasons of Wildlife
Prairie grasses and flowers begin to bloom; waterfowl return from the south and take up residence on the district. Songbirds migrate back and provide unlimited photo opportunities for the experienced or novice photographer alike.
Otters frolic in the water, eggs begin to hatch, frogs and toads scamper about, filling the nights with their voices. Colorful flowers and grasses sway in the breezes, new life spring forth as deer, fox, coyote, mink, muskrats and other forms of wildlife emerge.
Colors change and there is a crispness in the air. Refuge staff collect seeds from native flowers and plants for later planting. Pheasants fly about and the deer are plentiful. Migratory birds begin their trek through the refuge, stopping to rest and eat, as they travel south.
Cold air descends, treating us to visions of beauty with frost covered trees and grasses. Lakes and river freeze in place and turn into ice. Snow begins to fall, gently at first, and becoming seemingly heavier with each new snowfall. The birds will have headed south, but there may be an occasional eagle or turkey making an appearance. Deer forage for something to eat, pheasants flitter about and life on the prairie is peaceful and serene.
Here at Big Stone Wetland Management District, we grow ducks! We provide breeding habitat for more than 15 species of ducks, geese and swans. Our most common nesting duck is the blue-winged teal. Like most prairie ducks, blue-winged teal need both wetlands and grasslands. They feed, rest and raise their ducklings in shallow marshes, but build their nests in grasslands. They are common in the area, but look carefully – blue-winged teal are one of our smallest ducks. They like to feed and rest along the edges of shallow wetlands and are among our latest ducks to arrive in spring and earliest to depart in fall.
With their warbling, musical call, the western meadowlark has long been a beloved bird in western Minnesota. Their appearance is as distinctive as their call: meadowlarks are mostly brown, with a bright yellow breast crossed by a black, V-shaped mark. Meadowlarks prefer large, open areas of grassland, but the males like to have a small perch to sing from – a low shrub or fence post will do. Long-time residents of the area often comment on how they don’t see many meadowlarks anymore. Big Stone Wetland Management District is working hard to help protect and restore the grassy areas these songbirds love.
The grasshopper sparrow is a secretive bird found in the open prairie grasslands. This sparrow is more often heard than seen and gets its name not only from its diet, but also from its insect-like song.
The upland sandpiper is a large sandpiper closely related to the curlews. The adult is 28 to 32 centimeters long with a 50 to 55 centimeter wingspan. It has long yellow legs and a long neck and tail. The head and neck are light with brown streaks. The breeding habitat is open grasslands and fields across central North America and Alaska. Unlike other sandpipers, it is not associated with water. It is a long-distance migrant and winters in South America.