There is wildlife to be witnessed in the neighborhood

Published 3:13 pm Saturday, October 6, 2012

Column: Woods & Water

The first half of this past week we probably experienced some of the nicest fall weather that I can remember. Like good things it eventually had to come to an end but I did “Savor the moment” as they say. The pelicans were still in the channel in full force along with quite a few white herons (egrets). This was quite a sight to see.

Speaking of sights to behold, I was on my morning walk and as I walked down Newton Street, which is on the route I usually take every morning, I spotted a critter walking parallel to me trotting down the middle of the street. After I did a second take I saw the white tip on its tail and realized that it was a fox! I watched as the fox crossed in front of me and seemingly in no particular hurry disappeared into some trees and heavy brush between two houses. On some of my walks in past years I’ve seen not only the usual squirrels and rabbits but also woodchucks, skunks and I’ve even had deer run across the road directly in front of me. After all that I’d have to say that this is the first time that I’ve encountered a fox and it really took me by surprise.

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The other morning as I was driving out South Broadway I spotted a red-tail hawk sitting in a cornfield just off of the road it was a large and colorful adult. Before I could finish savoring the moment three wild turkeys ran across the road in front of me close enough so that I had to step on the brakes to avoid them. It’s pretty good when you can see so many of nature’s critters and not have to venture far from home.

The autumn colors and a chance to observe wildlife are the two main reasons that I enjoy taking that fall drive in the country. The colors in most of the state are at their peak right now and it won’t be long before we will be raking and bagging those colors we are now admiring. The days of burning leaves in the city are long gone and statewide it is burning with permit only or no burning at all in some counties. As dry as it has been in our area we have been pretty lucky to have only a handful of fires. Be mindful of how dry it is because it wouldn’t take much to start another fire.

There are a few folks that I know who look forward to fall each year with their sights set on “jumbo” perch which seem to be pretty active right up to ice-over and shortly thereafter. For years my Uncle Ben and a few friends would head to Winnie in search of those big perch. For many years I couldn’t figure out why you’d drive way up north to fish perch. In my younger days I had a fixation with walleye and northern fishing and I always said “I don’t sit around all winter dreaming about catching perch”. That still hasn’t changed much but after spending one October fall day catching some of those “jumbos” I realized what it was all about.

After rowing our small boat out to the far edge of some cabbage weeds on our little lake I commenced to fish and it wasn’t long before I had a very nice perch in the boat. I mean to tell you it was a dandy! I had never caught one that big — It was longer than my boot and I’m sure it was at least a pound and a quarter if not more. I then commenced to boat about 28 of them in that range: keeping only eight to bring home for a fish fry and releasing the rest. That’s when I realized what the fuss over fall perch fishing was all about. It had taken me way too many years but I did finally figure it out.

Fishing in the fall can sometimes be feast or famine but just spending time on the lake this time of year makes me feel like my stringer is always full. Another nice thing about fall fishing is that there are times when you are not sharing the lake with anyone; it is almost like you have your own private lake. In October you may share a more popular lake with some late season musky fishermen or the sound of gunshots may ring out as a flock of ducks or geese pass overhead. This time of the year can be one of the most rewarding experiences of the open water season.

Although we never really look forward to winter it is inevitable and like it or not it will be here before we know it. There are however, many opportunities for outdoors enjoyment to be had. Topping the list for most sportsmen would probably be the “hard water” fishing season. It will be interesting to see what is going to happen this year with the water levels being what they are. Although I’m not planning on building an ark any time soon I hope that something (moisture) will happen to bring the water levels back up on our area lakes and streams. The pheasant hunting season will open on Oct. 13 and run through Jan. 1. With the mild winter that we experienced I’d expect the outlook to be pretty good. A mild winter followed by a warm spring contributed to a significant increase in Minnesota’s pheasant count, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The pheasant population index increased 68 percent from 2011. Pheasant hunters are expected to harvest about 290,000 roosters this fall. That’s up from last year’s estimated harvest of 204,000 but roughly half the number taken during the 2005-2008 seasons when hunting was exceptionally good.

“While the 2012 increase reflects movement in a positive direction, the counts still remain 51 percent below the 10-year average,” said Kurt Haroldson, the DNR biologist who compiled the survey.

Until next time, take a little time to enjoy the outdoors experience and the world of nature that surrounds us.

Please remember to keep our troops in your thoughts and prayers because they are the reason we are able to enjoy all the freedoms that we have today.

Dick Herfindahl’s column appears in the Tribune each Sunday.