Troutbirder II

Troutbirder II
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Friday, August 29, 2008

Ironwood: Paradise Lost or Regained?

Fetch it Baron! The surface iron mining pits that Hanna Mining Company closed in the l960's have an interesting history. Many contained springs and filled with water becoming farm ponds and in several instances nature preserves. One, the state managed Goethite Wildlife Management area, is a prime duck hunting and birding area. Baron loves to play fetch there as we walk the area on my birding outings. In at least one pit nearby things did not develop so favorably. The large ore pit was turned into a "sanitary landfill." This is the story of Ironwood.

The region now called "Bluff County (i.e. southeastern Minnesota) contains what is called "karst topography." This means an area full of springs, caves, sinkholes, blind alleys, and disappearing rivers, where slightly acidic waters disolved fractured bedrocks. What is all adds up to is that the complicated connections between surface water and ground water leave the area highly vulnerable to contaminaton. So a large landfill was created in the early 70's - bad enough - and then it got worse.

Surface water going into a sink hole isn't filtered and goes directly into the ground water. In a landfill if the upper bedrock has been penetrated in the mining operations water again goes directly into the ground water strata.

Ironwood landfill was closed in 1980 after irate local citizens brought it to statewide and national attention. Illegal dumping of toxic wastes by a Wisconsin transfer company was occuring and finally discovered. Eventually it became Minnesotas first superfund site. A dubious distinction at best. Over1400 barrels of manfacturing solvents were initialy excavated in 1981. Hundreds of monitoring wells and pump out were installed. Approaching thirty years later, close to 2 million dollars have been spent on the clean up and containment. Hundreds of millions of gallons of water have been pumped out to try and contain the contamination plume. It is sent to a lagoon in the hope that the volatile compounds will disapate safely. Then it is pumped, after reaching an acceptable standard into the South Branch of the Root River (a prime trout stream).

Today most of the water released from the lagoon is below the Health Risk Limits (HRL). However,
the vinyl chloride concentrations remain well above the HRL. Vinyl chloride is a highly toxic breakdown product of the compounds in the illegal barrels and in other landfill materials deposited at the site.
Today the landfill appears as a rather bucolic hayfield with some strange pipes sticking out of the ground all over.
Hundreds of test wells are scattered throughout the countryside.
A twenty to thirty foot berm surrounds the huge evaporation lagoon. Baron and I hike through the whole area . Wild turkeys scatter, an occasional doe with fawns flees into the heavy cover, we see bobolinks and meadow larks, a dozen cedar wax wings in the top of some dead timber. Warblers hide in the red and white pines which surround the base of the berm. We follow the gravel road which connects all the monitoring stations. It a fun place to go for a walk. Baron approaches the lagoon. Wants to go in wading. "No", I yell. "Bad water, Baron. Come." He comes back looking a little displeased. Good walk though. Some bad memories though. Time to go home.
The data for this post was taken from the DNR. Minnesota's fine and often unfairly maligned Conservation agency.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Was It Shangri-La?

Queen B and I just returned from Shangi-La. "Your kisses take me to Shangri-La. Each kiss is magic. That makes my world a Shangri-La. A land of bluebirds and fountains...." Well, not exactly. Actually we've been visiting our friends Don and Sandy, whose homestead Kerkwood, is indeed, an almost mystical verdant hidden valley surrounded by hills, lush forests, and the music of birds. Nor will we be going back to 1974 and the all-time greatest hits of the Lettermen. Instead follow along as we visit our friends along the Maple River in southcentral Minnesota.
It was an beautiful day and on arrival our gracious hosts took us to Gustavous Adolphus College in St Peter. There we hiked a very nice arboreteum at the college. A gourmet fish dinner put on by Sandy followed and we made plans for the following day. The guys would go fishing for crappies on Lake Madison and the ladies would head off to Mankato for a "shop till you drop" outing of their own
The next day was again gorgeous with moderate temps, a slight overcast and breeze and cooperative fish. It couldn't have been any better!
That evening came the highlight of our visit. Don's "Safari Sevice" took us on a jeep ride along the maze of trails throughout the vast estate. There were colorful prairie regions, wooded river bottoms, ridges, tree forested hillsides and open uplands. Enjoy!!!

Shangri-La? Indeed!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Fall Leaf Tours

This year our fall "leaf tour" will be to New England. It will be a group tour, taking a plane to Boston, then north by bus. Our most recent fall trip was to the Ozarks. It was a great trip by car. I picked the routes and the timing. There was only one problem. We got there two weeks too early and nary a leaf had changed.
Ok so I goofed. Now we have an excuse to go back sometime. Actually, the trip was a lot of fun. Some highlights include:

Heading west from St Louis, following the Missouri through the "Rhineland region" toward Jefferson city. Beautiful vista, enchanting small river towns and a visit to a winery. We also visited Daniel Boones home. I like to have thought that perhaps an aged Boone watched Lewis and Clark heading up the Missouri River on their epic "Journey of Discovery."

When we reached Jefferson City we turned south and headed into Arkansaw. Here we were surrouned by a dark green forest as the highway wandered through the Ozarks. Big Springs State Park was stunningly beautiful. One of the largest springs in the United States

We found some nice places to eat back in the woods.
Mountain Home State Park in Arkansas was another interesting spot. Traditional pioneer crafts and concerts highlighted our day.

This year though we are off to Ben and Jerry's and to stop off and visit The Von Trapps!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Well Trained Dog?

This dog is going to kill me yet. I mean it. Or maybe it is just bad kharma. Now, I must admit I've spoiled him rotten. All my other dogs were hightly trained hunting machines. Mr. Baron has the "youngest child spoiled rotten" syndrome.

I trained him to run beside my bike for exercise. So, he cuts in front of me, chasing a pair of rabbits and the ensuing crash leaves me in the emergency room for crash and burn bikers. Then last week I take him fishing-swimming with me and he gets tangled up in my flyline, runs off and puts a fishhook bone deep into my thumb leading to another clinic visit for extraction purposes.

Last night was the coup de grace. We have an invisible fence for his safety. He has the run of the yard. Now he refuses to come when I call him to put him in his kennel. So I have to lure him into the basement so I can drag him up to the garage for his nightly confinement. And then....

And then, holding him by the leash, trying to make sure the cat doesn't get out, I stumble into the darkened garage and smash my shin against the trailer hitch on the back of the pickup. OUCH!!!! There is something about smashing you leg on a trailer hitch that is especially painful. Right up there with a shot to the elbow (crazy bone).

They say German Shephards are especially intelligent and trainable. I wonder about this one. Of course, having Mr Klutz for an owner doesn't seem to helping the situation either. Maybe I should be warming up to Queen B's cat - Simba. At least our interaction so far seems pretty safe.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Few More Summer Wildflowers

I have a few more summer wildflowers pictures from the cache my prairie restoring friend Gary gave me. The prairie he planted several years ago now continues to expand on its own through self seeding. It is a joy to see in all seasons but especially in late summer and fall.

This variety of prickly pear cactus grows, suprisingly, to many Minnesotans in the southwestern corner of the state in places like Blue Mounds State Park. I must have grown it in the backyard of my former oak shaded house for twenty years. It never flowered. I gave a cutting to Gary, who planted it on a sunny south facing slope, near his newly restored prairie. Two years later it had many of these beautiful yellow flowers. It had found a proper home.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

An Early Riser

It's early Thursday morning and as always I am an early riser. As I peer out the window into the slowly disolving darkness, I am reminded of other early mornings and things that go bump in the night. We were staying in a small cabin at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park with our good friends Gary and Rosie. It was three years ago and the first week in October. A long time fishing visitor to the Park during mid-summer, a fall trip for wildlife viewing was a new experience. My three companions were late sleepers. I, being of the early rising variety, decided that rather than stare at the ceiling for a few hours, I would sneak out, book in hand, and walk over to the hotel restaurant to get my early morning cup of coffee.

The previous day we had driven up into the Lamar Valley for some great sight seeing. We saw plenty of elk and buffalo and did a short hike up into the small but colorful Pebble Creek canyon. I even had a chance to talk to some of the "wolf watchers" with their huge scopes and cameras.

The cabin we were staying in was quite small with a bedroom, two double beds and a bathroom. There was a small compound of these cabins surrounding a grassy area. Also attached was a very small wooden porch with a railing and a few plastic chairs. Book in hand I quietly opened the cabin door and took a half of a step onto the porch and into the darkness. It was very dark. Darker than I expected..... especially when the darkness moved. Suddenly, aware that a large buffalo was standing crossways on the porch and blocking the path, I literally leaped and fell over backwards back into the cabin.

Yes, a loud profanity was uttered on my part and the lights came on, with three rather disturbed people questioning my behavior and perhaps sanity. After resolving their concerns by showing them the nightime visitor, still standing on the porch, order was restored. Later, Gary managed to snap a picture of the culprit, who had slowly followed a path up the hill behind the cabins. It should be noted that several park visitors are killed each year by getting to close to these placid looking bovines. I still get up early but look carefully before I step out into the dark.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Summer Birding

It's been slow. Really slow. The Oak Hill Gang went birding yesterday. Well, actually The Baron went swimming but he contributes by racing around in the prairie, stirring up birds tucked down in the grass. I, with my new binoculars, am anxious to spot something new and interesting but no luck. As a neophyte birder it has taken a while for me to really comprehend that spring and fall migrations are the best time to get out there. Patience is not my virtue.
We did see, however, a few birds. The most common by far were Eastern Kingbirds. They make themselves easy to identify, even for a novice, by showing their white tail band. Another helpful characteristic seemed to be their penchant for being in small groups and perching on exposed places, like the ends of branches, dead shrubs and power lines. We saw dozens of them. I wonder if they are flocking as they get ready to migrate?

There are Red Winged Blackbirds everywhere. Anyplace where there is water they are nearby. To me they seem to be the most common bird here in Minnesota. I wonder if this is actually true.

Another interesting sighting this week, oddly enough, has been female Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks. Several were seen in the Goethite WMA and also at home on the feeders. At first I always think sparrow but then realize that its WAY too big. The chunky beak also is a giveaway.

Finally I did spot a Yellow Throated Warbler perched on twig in the grassland. I guess there called "Common" because, well actually it was the only warbler I've seen in weeks.